Week #17 - Battlefields, The White House & Snow

Monday October 21st to Sunday October 27th

Monday October 21st

The battlefield and the town of Gettysburg in the background

The battlefield and the town of Gettysburg in the background

A section of the Cyclorama painting at the Gettysburg Visitor Center.

A section of the Cyclorama painting at the Gettysburg Visitor Center.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. I was staying with a wonderful family: Laurie, Ellie, Terri, Tom, Julie and Josh. They kindly took me to the Gettysburg Visitor’s Center to see the multiple exhibits they have there. And then toured me around the area, taking in all of the battlefields which cover a large area.

At the Visitor’s Center they show an excellently produced movie about the Civil War & Gettysburg’s role in it. They also have a Cyclorama room– a 360° painting of the battlefield which lights up in sections when the story is recounted over the speaker system. The first version of the painting by Paul Philippoteaux was completed exhibited in 1883. It was then lost and rediscovered in 1965. To think that one man painted this massive 360° extremely detailed painting is incredible.

The Gettysburg battlefields, the movie, the cyclorama– it all saddened me. Men and women killing each other, the pain, the lost limbs, the destruction of families, towns and cities. How can we do this to each other? How can we stand on a battlefield and shoot someone, bomb them, tear them apart and possibly leave them mangled for the rest of their lives? I watched the scenes and thought of these young soldiers– terrified, standing courageously under orders, fighting for what they believe in. I understand that sometimes war is necessary– to prevent a holocaust, torture and slavery– the extremely honorable sacrifice of lives for the benefit of humankind. That is amazing! What courage! But I wish war and armies weren’t necessary and I wish that we only went to battle when absolutely necessary. There are too many wars fought for causes that aren’t absolutely necessary. And I realized that I’ve led a very blessed life not to have ever faced war firsthand.

A bright, sunny day with good company. I felt a part of the family I was staying with. They all made me feel so welcome. But I have to keep going. I left Gettysburg and headed to Washington, DC, where Phill and Britt were waiting for me.

In the evening Phill, Britt and myself went for dinner and then a very amusing and wonderful tour of Washington, DC in Phill’s Jeep Wrangler, with the top off. Britt and I would jump out at various sights– The Jefferson Memorial, The Washington Monument, The Lincoln Memorial, The White House, the World War II Memorial– and Phill would drive around until we were ready to jump back in again. It all felt very SWAT team… Go! Go! Go!… Jump out, tour… “Pick you up on the corner”… Jump back in… Go! Go!Go! It was a great tour, lot’s of fun and all of the monuments were so beautiful at night. Added to that: an almost-full moon, bright white, shining mistily through the clouds above. Surreal.

Tuesday October 22nd

The Old Post Office Tower in Washington DC

The Old Post Office Tower in Washington DC

A sightseeing day in Washington DC. I rode the motorcycle to see the White House– amazing to think I got here! I wasn’t sure that I would. I never am sure that I’ll get anywhere. Every day is a present to be opened and to see what’s inside.

Meanwhile, the embers of my relationship back at home were slowly dying out. It didn’t look like our relationship would survive the journey. It’s been a struggle with me being gone.

After the White House I headed to the Newseum– a museum focused on news and media. I enjoyed the Pullitzer Prize Winning photo exhibit, Ethics in Media exhibit, and the 4D movie with my chair moving and wind blowing. I spent some time in the museum as I wanted to understand how stories are told. I have ideas. Throughout the museum I wondered why we focus on the bad news and misery. What about the good news? News and media has to be truthful, unbiased, and report hapeenings in the world, but must it focus on the deadly, the sadness, and the shocking? Couldn’t it focus on the heroic for example?

Then I went to the Old Post Office Tower and made the climb to the top to see the view over Washington DC, and to see the bells given to the USA by Britain to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the cessation of hostilities.

In the evening Phill, Britt and I decided to go Geocaching– something that my host Gail in Kenora had told me about. It’s a scavenger hunt via an App on your phone. “Caches” are placed around your city and you hunt for them via the App which provides GPS coordinates, mapping, a description of the location, hints and clues. We found two Goecaches that night and had fun reading the clues and hunting for the small packages left behind by others.

Wednesday October 23rd

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

Laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery

Laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery

I headed out to see the Arlington National Cemetery. Thousands of grave sites. I wondered around for about an hour taking it all in, then headed towards Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

On the way I was riding along country roads and came across Bull Run, or First Manassas as it’s also known. This was the site of the first major conflict in the Civil War. Much like Gettysburg there is a large area of fields preserved from the battle site. I toured the visitor’s center and wondered why I am visiting so many sites of war recently.

I headed for Luray, Virginia. It  was cold, in the 30’s with a severe weather alert: a freeze warning for the night.

I stayed in a nice B&B overlooking the mountains of Shenandoah. Such a beautiful view– whole mountainsides covered in multi-colored trees.

My relationship back home comes to an end. It is sad. We’ve been best friends for two years.

Thursday October 24th

Luray Caverns

Luray Caverns

Now that the journey’s end is a little over a week away and my relationship has dissolved my thoughts are turning more towards how I would like the future to look. Certainly a journey like this makes you not want to return to life as it was. A journey like this shows you other opportunities and possibilities. It makes you realize we are all human and each on our own adventure– no better or worse than any other, just different and unique.  It gives you a sense of community.

I headed out to Luray Caverns to hunt down the organ and hope that it would be playing as I went through the caverns. Arty had challenged me to post a video of the organ playing in return for a donation to charity. I’ve been in a few cave systems and I would say that Luray is one of the most beautiful, with thousands of stalagtites and stalagmites. I recommend a visit. The organ was playing (it plays for every tour group that goes through). They hold several weddings here each year in The Cathedral– the cavern that contains the organ. It’s quite a unique place to get married. I threw coins into the wishing well and made a wish.

My only goal today was to make it to West Virginia, only a few miles away from Luray. I had figured out that West Virginia was the last US state remaining in which to ride the Triumph on the North American continent– a goal I now wanted very much to achieve. Little did I know it would take me right into the cold weather system that was coming through.

Driving over the Shenandoah Mountains and through George Washington National Forest was a dramatic experience in the Fall. Stunning tree-lined roads, mountains roads that climbed and fell steeply with sharp curves. Long straight roads in the valleys with trees that formed multi-colored, natural road tunnels. Beautiful! I made it to the top of the mountains. It was so cold. I kept putting my gloved hands on the engine to warm up my fingers and letting the warmth flow through the rest of my body. It was there that I crossed into West Virginia. Goal achieved! Every single state– me and the Triumph Bonneville.

I had looked at Google Maps and really couldn’t see any town to stop in. I had no plan. It was the afternoon. The plan became: ride through West Virginia until I found a place to stop for the night. I rode through Franklin. The weather was getting colder and colder. The next town was Monterey (back in Virginia), then Hot Springs and Warm Springs. One of these towns should have a place to stay hopefully. 21 miles to Monterey. It was dramatically colder on this side of the mountains and getting colder. I guessed the temperature was in the 40’s and dropping beyond 4pm. By the time I reached Monterey I had been riding through a snow shower for half an hour. Finally snow had caught up with me.

I pulled into Monterey and asked a lady walking across the gas station lot where the next town was, if there was anywhere to stay and eat in Monterey. She advised it would be best to stay in Monterey– not much of anything further on. I realized I was standing there with my teeth chattering. Ok, I was done for the day.

I headed to the motel a block away and booked myself a room. Turn up the thermostat and keep all the layers on. I stepped outside– still snowing. More snow predicted through the night. Temperatures below freezing predicted and into the morning.

I was concerned about the cold the next day and riding in it. I had two days to ride 270 miles to Raleigh, North Carolina where my friends Todd and Meredith were expecting me. The plan for the next day: bundle up as much as possible, get out of Monterey and try to ride at least 50 miles to the east where temperatures promised to be around 15 degrees warmer. If I was lucky I could perhaps make it 135 miles– half way to Raleigh.

Friday October 25th

The snow of the previous evening. Temperatures only went lower!

The snow of the previous evening. Temperatures only went lower!

29°s in the morning, with a high forecast in the 30’s. Six layers of clothes on the top, four layers on the bottom, balaclava, two pairs of gloves, and two pairs of socks. I’d stay as warm as I could. I just had to make it 50 miles over the mountains to the other side. It was the coldest day of the journey so far.

No snow this morning. I half expected the bike to be covered in snow when I woke up but it wasn’t. Blue skies and the sun is shining. Thank you!

I made it over the mountains and I felt relieved. I had stayed warm. I could keep going. The only cold parts of me were my fingertips and my nose. Everything else was A-ok. The journey was beautiful along Route 250 east towards Staunton– a drive I would rate very highly. If you’re ever in the area take Route 250.

I kept going. My thinking was ‘get as far south as you can today and maybe head into warmer weather.’ 135 miles, half way to Raleigh and I still kept going, just in case tomorrow was also a frigid day.

The roads I took through Shenandoah were amazing. Tight mountain switch back turns, 15ph stuff at points. Gorgeous tree lined roads. Then through farmlands. Virginia is gorgeous. I was heading east and then south. Got to keep riding and get as far as I can.

I kept sneezing. I hoped I wasn’t coming down with something. Orange juice. Vitamin C. If I kept going I would also make the 21,000-mile mark. I kept going. 21,000 miles! Made it! And Raleigh– I made it the whole way! 270 miles today. How on earth did I do that?

I found a room at La Quinta because I was now a day ahead of schedule and Todd & Meredith hadn’t received my message in time that I had made it to Raleigh. I didn’t want to inconvenience them at the last minute. I was feeling more ill. I headed to Walgreens to buy cold medicine and then went to bed hoping I would sleep the symptoms off.

Saturday October 26th

I woke up with a full blown cold and feeling run down. I didn’t want to get Todd & Meredith sick so I booked another night at La Quinta, stayed in my room, slept, watched a movie (“Craigslist Joe”), blogged a little, ate, rested and rested more– as much as possible. Tomorrow I had to be back on the road to keep on schedule for the finish line in Miami. My hope was that I would wake up feeling well enough to ride 250 miles as planned.

Watching “Craigslist Joe” I felt some affinity with his journey. We had very different journeys and I would say his was harder than mine since I never had to sleep in such rough conditions or stay up until 4am with nowhere to lay my head. I’ve been very blessed with comfortable rooms in people’s houses and motels. But there are certain commonalities– the sense of community, the not knowing where you are going to stay, listening to people’s stories, the generosity of people, inspiring people and being inspired, touching moments, gifts, feeling you’d been with someone for a month when it had only been two days, the sadness of poverty, having to leave people behind– all this is the same.

Sunday October 27th

Todd & Meredith welcome me in North Carolina.

Todd & Meredith welcome me in North Carolina.

My plan was to go to church. However, because my cold had prevented me from seeing Todd & Meredith yesterday as planned I made them the priority and headed to their place for breakfast with them before setting out on the road. We caught up and spent a few hours together, after 6 or so years of not seeing each other. I was wonderful to see them.

Day #3 of my cold. Not feeling great on the road isn’t very much fun. I managed to ride 150 miles or so before the light of the day set behind the horizon and I quickly found a place to stay. The temperatures were up in the 60’s today and I can’t tell you how good that felt after the recent cold weather. There’ll be no more cold weather from here on out. It’ll just get hotter and hotter. And I am looking forward to it!

Exactly one week until I cross the finish line. It’s beginning to feel very close and very far away. Right around the corner but a world away from mine for the last four months. It’s going to be very strange, very different, and it’s going to take some getting used to. I arrive in South Carolina. This is the final stretch towards home.



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