Thursday, 24 October 2013

THE CAPITAL AND THE WAR PATH

It was another traffic-riddled day, trying to find my way through the cities towards the US capital, Washington DC. My bike mirror had been clipped a number of times by passing cars, and now the headset bearing had disintegrated. I'd improvised by using wheel bearings, but I was a little nervous because Old Saartjie (my bike) was swerving around, barely under control.
Somehow I got into Washington, and my mood lifted as I felt as though I was one of the many tourists crowding the Mall area around which everything seems to happen. The Mall is a large parkland strip in the city centre, the Capitol, the White House, and all the monuments and museums are around there. There are also paths for biking, jogging, and tourist strolling.
I wondered if I'd be able to camp on the lawns of the White House, but there was a fence around with police guards, so I just took a picture.
I went a mile or so further on, looked at some of the sights until after dark, and then I set up camp under a tree in the middle of the park. At 4-30 AM the police discovered me there (I was hardly hidden anyway). They told me that camping was not allowed, but I was permitted to be there as long as I was just sitting around reading the way that I was. (I don't know anybody who pitches his tent in a park, crawls into his sleeping bag, and then reads all night - in the dark!). Strangely enough, when they arrived there the first thing they asked is if I'd seen a bunch of joggers go by? So I carried on sleeping (or reading?) until the sun warmed my tent.
Then I packed up and cycled across the Potomac river into Virginia state, officially into the "South". The first thing I came across there was Arlington cemetery. Then I was sent on a wild goose chase by a series of poor directions before I eventually came across the bike path running alongside George Washington Parkway, all the way down to Washington's estate at Mount Vernon. From there I followed the busy Highway 1, which has become less busy the further South I've gone. This is a historic route, as it follows Washington and Co's march to victory (although according to the picture, by 1936 some had still not conceded). There are also various battlefield museums in the area. It hasn't been totally unpleasant, with some rolling hills bordered by forests changing their colours.
Right now I'm in the city of Richmond, a bike-friendly pleasant city with a university and divided by a river. I'm staying with Warmshowers host Glenn, his wife Laeticia, and their 4 young sons (things can get hectic around here!). She is a teacher, and they all cycle to school, 2 of the younsters on the long back (the older one rides his own bike, and the baby stays at home - with babysitter).
Today Glenn made an arrangement with the local bike shop, and owner Clint fitted a new headset on Old Saartjie, as well as some other emergency fittings and adjustments. So, when I leave here tomorrow I should be less of a hazard on the road! Also staying here are a Belgian couple, Maelle and Jonathan, cycling across the US, so this is literally a crowded house.
Distances cycled since my previous update have been:- Washington DC 67 km; Lorton 57 km; Fredericksburg 71 km; Ladysmith 48 km; and Richmond 68 km. The total distance which I have cycled so far on this trip is 118 335 km (73 959 miles). The total so far in the USA and Canada has been 13 709 km (8 568 miles).

Friday, 18 October 2013

THE URBAN SPRAWL

Leaving New York on a bike seemed as though it might pose a problem. Some directions I looked up suggested a ferry or the train. The problem was not so much in New York, but rather where to go once I'd crossed the George Washington bridge across the Hudson river into New Jersey. From there onwards it seemed to be a maze of Interstates and other "illegal" routes, and the more directions I tried to get from locals, the more it seemed as though I may be stuck.
Instead of painting myself in a corner, I found a nice covered loading platform behind a shopping mall, and I called it an early day. I'd done some shopping and had enough time to cook up a good pot of food, which I enjoyed while taking in the view of Manhattan across the water. This is not the first loading platform where I've camped, especially to escape wet weather, but this was a good one - there was even a "porter pottie". It turns out the shop behind the door was still in the process of being fitted out, and the following morning John and his partner were rather surprised to find a camper on their work-site. It was no problem however, we had a good chat and they even took pictures of me. John also looked up directions for me on his phone, which helped me a long way out to where I found accessable roads.
As I said, loading platforms are a favourite night-time haunt of mine, especially in wet weather, and while I was finding my way through the concrete jungles of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and DC there was a miserable series of rain (sometimes I was lucky to find shelter). I never expected to be in Philadelphia in my life, let-alone arriving there at dusk, and camping in a central park on Lemon Hill, looking at the city lights through the pouring rain.
I also found that the dugouts at local baseball parks made a reasonable shelter, although not all dugouts are covered. At one particular place somebody directed me to the dugouts at the ball park behind their building, but when I searched the place I found no dugouts at all.
Bridges also offer some shelter, but they come with their own problems. Undesirable elements often hang out there, or you may find that the drainage pipe pours out right on top of your tent. On the outskirts of Baltimore I camped in a suspect area between 2 railway lines under the Interstate 95 overpass. Well, the I 95 never sleeps, and the noise of the heavy traffic rattling overhead blasted me the whole night.
Directions are often suspect, as many people don't know their neighbourhoods very well, and especially not bike routes as drivers mostly use the highways. On route 40 through Delaware, although the road was busy, there was a bike lane at the side. However, when I got to the bridge which crosses that part of Chesapeake Bay, bikes were prohibited and the police called a cab to take me across (taking a chunk out of my meagre finances). The cab driver told me about a New Zealand touring cyclist who had just about made it across the bridge by the time he was caught, and made to cycle all the way back to take a cab). Often when I asked for directions (which was indeed often), people were generally curious about where I was off to with all the stuff I'm carting around, wanting to chat at in many instances taking pictures (such as these guys at a workshop in Maryland).
Distances cycled since New York have been:- Edgewater 42 km; Fords 67 km; New Brunswick 27 km; Morrisville 60 km; Philadelphia 63 km; Chester 44 km; New Castle 33 km; Perryville 51 km; Edgewood 66 km; and Baltimore 53 km. Total overall distance cycled so far is 118 024 km (73 765 miles).

Saturday, 5 October 2013

NEW YORK, NEW YORK

The night before I got to New York city, I camped in the woods practically on the border of Connecticut and New York states. Even in these built-up areas I somehow managed to find a secluded site to rest.
Then it was a case of running the gauntlet via New Rochelle, through the Bronx and Harlem. Finding a safe cycleable route through some of these areas was somewhat tricky. New York city seems to be largely a collection of islands connected by huge bridges, and eventually I found my way over to Manhattan. From there onwards the city seems a rather bike-friendly place, with lots of bike lanes, and I cycled all the way to downtown along the Hudson river greenway cycle route.
It was already dark by the time I got to the Brooklyn bridge, but a friendly lady on a bike showed me the bike route over the brige, and from there another cyclist took me to the street I was looking for.
In brooklyn I slept on the couch for 2 nights in Andy's apartment. I'd met him a couple of years ago in the South of Chile, while he was doing a bike trip across South America. He is still a keen cyclist, biking to work and wherever he goes in the city.
I left back over the Brooklyn bridge again, where I was surprised that there wasn't any serious crashes between the camera-toting tourists, joggers, and crazy bikers all sharing the same section of the bridge. I could then take my time through Manhattan, going through China Town, Little Italy, Midtown, and Central Park, where there are also cycle tracks.
I took my time through the city, back up along the Hudson river towards the George Washington bridge, which seems to have been the only way I could get across to New Jersey by bike.
It was a nice day with many locals and tourists out and about. Up to that point things had gone pretty well for me in New York city.
Daily distances cycled since my last post have been as follows:- New Haven 70 km; Norwalk 51 km; Greenwich 30 km; and New York city 71 km. The total distance which I've cycled so far on this trip is 117530 km (73456 miles).