Monday, May 22nd, 2006 – Distance Travelled 586 Miles
Because my friend had to go to his job, we had agreed an even earlier, 06:00 “sharp” leaving time. This suited me because, although I had no specific final destination in mind, I did have a couple of things that I wanted to do. I had a brief “window of opportunity” to see a good friend who was then living in Philadelphia. She was due to fly into that town, from Texas at about noon, but needed to go to an important meeting and then fly out again, this time to Oregon, at about 19:00. We had a provisional arrangement to meet in a cafe, close to the Liberty Bell at 17:00. My outline plan was to ride up to Gettysburg, have a look around and then move on to Philadelphia. After that, I would have to see.
Anyway, unsurprisingly, I was up, showered and packed (which means I put my dry laundry in my bag, together with my toothbrush) by 05:15. When I went downstairs, my friend was talking to a woman in the kitchen where the breakfast (another “healthy” one) was all laid out. This lady was my friend’s sister. It seemed she had heard so much about me, over time, that she had got up at around 03:30 and driven over eighty miles just to meet me before I left. She had been visiting her two sons, who were both Navy Seals and were currently at a base near Yorktown doing something they could not tell her about. We had unknowingly driven within a few miles of her location the previous evening. She was very nice and the next 45 minutes or so passed in a blur in which she managed to reveal several unknown (and acutely embarrassing) things about my friend that I was previously unaware of.
Time waits for no man, particularly navy people and exactly at six o’clock we set off down the road. My friend in his Toyota and me on my trusty Harley-Davidson. When we came to Lively and Route 3, we stopped and shook hands. My friend headed east, to his job in Lancaster and I headed west towards Warsaw, where I took Route 360 back over the bridge to Tappahannock before turning north-west on Route 17. I followed this, faster, road all the way back to Fredericksburg, noting the junction of Route 3 where we had arrived from the previous day. To make better time, I swung around the town and took the I-95 and make good time I did, despite the already heavy Monday morning traffic heading towards Washington DC. The interstate had nothing to recommend it although there were tempting signs to Civil War sites such as Brandy Station, Gainesville and finally Manassas (or Bull Run) where the Civil War kicked off in earnest, with a Union defeat, in July 1861. Although I suppose I already half knew it, the distance (or rather the lack of it) between Manassas and Washington DC surprised me. Abraham Lincoln MUST have been able to hear the distant artillery.
I circled Washington, to the west, on the I-495 which took me over the Potomac River and out of Virginia into a new State, Maryland, where I took the I-270 Spur and then the I-270 proper near Bethesda. Here, I finally began to go against the traffic as I headed just west of north until I came to Frederick where the I-270 morphed into Route 15. I rode up this lesser road, through Emmitsburg and into yet another State, Pennsylvania. At Fairplay, which seemed a curious name for a town in the light of all the blood spilled nearby, I left the main road and headed into Gettysburg along the Emmitsburg Road. For most of that famous battle, Confederates under General Lee were to the left of that road with the Union army on the heights to my right.
I know a lot about the battle of Gettysburg, which was fought in early July 1863 and where defeat for the Confederacy was the beginning of the end of its struggle. The fighting went on for three days and the battlefield itself is so extensive that it was hard to match my knowledge to the actual terrain. I spent almost four hours in Gettysburg and its surroundings, I rode up and down the various roads that figured in the battle, almost back as far back as Taneytown on top of the ridge and then stopped here and there and walked to spots where incidents of particular note had happened. It was hard to get a feel for it, just as it must have been hard, during the fighting, for anyone to really know what was going on. The whole area is dotted with countless memorials to the various regiments, from both sides, that fought there and some of the rocks are still scarred by bullets.
When I stood by what is still called the Peach Orchard, it was hard not to feel sad. When I looked up at where the Union defences had been, high on Cemetery Ridge, it was hard not to think about all the poor souls killed in the sloping meadows in front of me during the ill fated “Pickett’s charge”. It was hard to walk up that slope, let alone charge up in in the face of murderous cannon and small arms fire. How unspeakably brave they were. I was becoming morose, it was time to move on.
I went into Gettysburg, passing, as I did so, an eating establishment called “General Pickett’s Buffet”. I wondered what that proud, brave Southern gentleman would have thought of that one. I passed again the crowded cemeteries and the site where Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” was delivered before leaving the town on Route 116 which soon brought me back to Route 15 and I headed north. At the junction with the I-76, called “The Pennsylvania Turnpike”, I turned east again and, after crossing the broad Susquehanna River I followed this Interstate all the way to Philadelphia.
As I headed into town, I got what I am probably the only person in the world would think of as a bonus. Once I left the Interstate for the streets, it was soon clear that Philadelphia, like Prague, has a tram network. I was waiting at a light when, what should come along, but a tram 11. That is the same number that passes my house at home. I could not resist a photo.
As usual, the clear signing to points of interest worked well and I was easily able to find my destination. I quickly braved the crowds surrounding the famous Liberty Bell in its (then) very new pavilion (526 Market St, Philadelphia, PA 19106). This is not my photograph as you will hear later.
Then I secured a table at the designated La Columbe Coffee House (100 S Independence Mall W #110, Philadelphia, PA 19106) fifteen minutes ahead of my schedule. My friend duly arrived, dragging her hand luggage and we spent a cheery hour exchanging news and chatting about old times. She is a senior and, dare I say it, quite well known lawyer who I met when she headed a congressionally funded legal practice body in Prague. She was now semi-retired and was running a children’s charity. The charity has a significant national profile which, as she joked, only required endless travel and sixteen hour days. We drank coffee, caught up and then she headed off in a taxi to the airport to do more good. I jumped back on the Harley and headed north again.
When I was at school, we learned about the huge blast furnaces at Bethlehem Steel which was in Allentown in the north of Pennsylvania. I was aware they had now been decommissioned, but had been told they were still extant and still visible from the freeway. It was still quite light and I had seen a sign on the way into town that indicated Allentown was only about fifty miles away. I rode back out of town on the I-76 and quickly switched to the I-476, billed as the “Pennsylvania Turnpike Northern Extension”, for the comparatively short trip.
Although no longer working, the steel plant has been adopted by the community. It was well signposted although getting there did entail leaving the Interstate and making a slightly tortuous diversion across countryside and the outskirts of Allentown before joining the I-78. The furnaces were a short distance from junction 67 of the Interstate and were simply gigantic. Their size and number gave an indication of just how much steel must have once rolled out of there. I noted that some had gone into the Hoover Dam and, with a little click, the Wheel of Life moved around another notch. Again, as you will hear later, neither this photo, nor the one at the top of the post, were taken by me.
I was keen to move on, so I took a couple of pictures and headed back to the I-78. Boston, where I needed to be the next day, was still a long way off and I was keen to utilise the remaining daylight to reduce that as much as possible. Still on the I-78, I emulated George Washington and crossed the Delaware river. This also meant crossing out of Pennsylvania and into yet another State, this time New Jersey. There was not much to see, but I was really only trying to burn up some road anyway. At a place called Liberty Corner, I swapped Interstates and took the I-287 northbound. I was still in New Jersey, but running almost parallel with Manhattan which was about ten miles away to my right. Sometimes, I could just make out the tops of some of the taller skyscrapers, but they were too far away to be really distinct.
I carried on, up the western side of the Hudson Valley and, near somewhere called Mahwah, I crossed yet another State Line and entered New York State. According to the large, detailed maps I had seen in petrol stations, when refilling my tank, I would probably need to cross the Hudson River in a town called Newburgh. It was almost full darkness before I came to the outskirts of that town where I then followed the signs to a Super 8 Motel (1287 NY-300, Newburgh, NY 12550) and checked in. I felt absolutely shattered, it had been a long day which, with all the meandering around Gettysburg had taken me almost 600 miles.
From where I was parked outside my room, I could see the signs for a restaurant called Yobo (1297 NY-300, Newburgh, NY 12550). It was a short walk and turned out to be a Korean Barbecue place which was, at least, a bit different. The Korean ethos was almost “overdone” but the food was wonderful. I had Crispy Orange Beef, which I would recommend to anyone and a local Angry Orchard Cider, which I would not.
I returned to my room, took a very welcome shower and collapsed in a heap.