Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Off the Bike and Back Two Centuries

We last left you two weeks ago at a B&B in Portsmouth VA built in 1784. We have been largely in the 18th century since. But first we paid a visit to Jim and Anita, our new friends who have been boating up the Intracoastal Waterway parallel to us. We met them at Dafuskie Island, then ran into them by chance in Georgetown SC.
This time we had a planned reunion at their boat, which just happened to be moored near our B&B! Jim prepared a great scallop dinner, we added wine, and a good time was had by all as they say.

We next biked two days to the northwest, to Williamsburg. The route scared us, but Jeff found someone who posted a bike commute on that used the roads we needed to take (without a very lengthy detour, that is). We admire that person's courage if he/she truly commutes on those roads. We got through safely, but they were challenging due to narrow or nonexistent shoulders and a fair bit of traffic. Virginia may be for lovers, but not for bike lovers.
As we got close to Jamestown we did get on this lovely country road, one of the first actually since we have been largely on the coast, where you just don't get "away from it all" like here.

In Williamsburg we locked up our bike at the Alice Person House B&B and walked to the train station to meet
Jim and Nancy Schoepflin. This photo is NOT at that train station but rather at Union Station in DC, more about that later. For the next 5 days the four of us basked in the 18th century
at Williamsburg, 3 days there plus one day each at Jamestown and at Yorktown. And had one foray into more recent history with the most astonishing coincidence yet, which we'll also get to down further. Jim and Nancy are not bikers, so we had a pedestrian two weeks. The B&B, however, was anything but pedestrian. It's a large comfortable and attractive place, and Jean the innkeeper went above and beyond with things like storing our tandem and panniers while we went to Washington DC, ferrying us over to Williamsburg, and entertaining us at breakfast with hilarious stories. She's "Exhibit A" for why we like B&Bs.

The four of us agreed afterwards that 5 days was a good amount of time to see all we wanted to see without OD'ing on history. We particularly liked the dramatizations at Williamsburg, including both music and
yet more musket and cannon-firing but also an intriguing little love story, played out in three 20-minute mini-dramas in different buildings around the town, showing how the revolution affected even that area of life
(her dad was a patriot, his dad a wealthy Loyalist who eventually left for England -- without the son, who became a patriot and later Washington's first Attorney General).

Jamestown was surprisingly interesting, particularly the museum built by the National Park Service to house artifacts and skeletons unearthed in just the past dozen years. It was astonishing to see what forensic scientists could deduce about the deceased from the bones and traces of clothing,
such as buttons and pins, that they found (e.g. lots of buttons meant all the clothes were left on, which meant death of an infectious disease, as nothing was removed from the body before burial). The State also has a museum in Jamestown that was equally captivating, including full-size replicas of the boats that brought over the settlers. This was the LARGEST of the three boats!

Yorktown was so interesting that Louise and Jeff came back by bike a week later and rode a dozen miles on gorgeous one-way roads
through the battlefield and to this quiet field where 7500 British soldiers laid down their arms in 1781.

Earlier with Jim and Nancy we explored the area where the British had essentially boxed themselves in. When the French Navy successfully fought off a British rescue mission, Cornwallis found it "quite annoying" as one diarist described it, with cannon balls falling all over town. The so-called Clinton Building had two of them still there, one up high and the one in close-up about as high above the ground as a man's head. Boy, one of those could really ruin your day!

After our 5 days in the "Historic Triangle," the four of us took off by Amtrak to Richmond for 2 days and Washington DC for 5 more. We found downtown Richmond interesting, particularly the State House and the Confederate White House (actually never white but rather grey, then and now), where President Jeff Davis lived until Grant was about to enter town. He headed south (of course!) hoping to reach South America but was captured. The Museum of the Confederacy nextdoor showed a popular cartoon showing Jeff Davis captured in women's clothing,

but insisted that this was a misunderstanding by newspaper reporters, and asserted that this outfit was in fact what he was wearing. Gee, can't a politician do a little cross-dressing now and then without someone trying to cover it up?

After exploring the recently rebuilt canal around the rapids that led to Richmond's founding at the fall line, we continued on to DC. We had sent to Williamsburg a suitcase with clothes we took to Austin for Becky's wedding in January, and

here we are at the Kennedy Center in clothes we normally don't have with us on bike trips! We heard a great concert featuring Saint-Saens' 4th Piano Concerto, and Jeff enjoyed seeing this magnificent facility for the first time.

After the concert we went on to Alexandria and next day went with Jim and Nancy to the Metropolitan Opera (yes, that Met up in New York City), in the form of a simulcast screening in a movie theater. The Met has signed up 700+ theaters around the globe for 8 performances this season, 11 next season, and we strongly urge the known or potential opera lovers among you to check this out. The price was an affordable $20/ticket, and the surround sound was almost as good as in person. The close-ups of the singers made the drama of the opera come alive, and we LOVED the performance! It helped, of course, that the female lead in Donizetti's comic opera La Fille du Regiment was a great comic who had us rolling with laughter as well as enchanted with the singing.

We also explored the old part of Alexandria, and were astonished. It was gorgeous! It has as much 18th century architecture as Williamsburg, or so it seems, but in a vibrant living city. Of course no costumed interpreters, and lots of "modern" stuff from the early and mid-1800s, but it was an interesting contrast and complement to
our week in Williamsburg. We closed out our stay in Washington with 2 days at the home of Louise and Masaharu Shimizu, Louise's best friend from their years together in Tokyo. It was great to catch up on our respective families. On our way back to Amtrak to return to Williamsburg, we stopped at the National Museum of American Art and caught a beautiful special exhibit of the work of little-known artist Chiura Obata. This is one of his lush watercolors-turned-woodprint that he painted in Yosemite in the 1920's.

And what was that about an astonishing coincidence? We know Jim and Nancy through Jeff's former job as an attorney for the University of Washington and Nancy's as the equivalent at Washington State University. On day 2 at our B&B a couple arrived in the evening and Jeff discovered that the husband (we'll call him "John") went to his alma mater and that the wife ("Jean") was from Seattle. The next day our group of 4 plus John, Jean and their 12-year-old daughter were sitting around the breakfast table when Jean mentioned that she had gone to the University of Washington. Louise and Jeff said that they had just retired from jobs there. When Jean asked where we had worked, Jeff said the Attorney General's Office. Jean replied that she was once married to someone from that office.

Jeff, Louise and Nancy looked intently at her to hear who. She named someone we'll call "Jay," who spent 10 years in the office DIRECTLY next to Jeff's, and who had regular email exchanges with Nancy over legal issues both handled at our respective institutions! Problem is, "Jay" separated from his wife "Jane" several years ago, and Jean was clearly not "Jane" (whom Jeff and Louise knew well) or the woman "Jay" ran off with! We sat there speechless, trying to comprehend this (and quite failing...) when Jean finaly said, "It was quite a while ago, when we were in our early twenties." In unison, Jeff and Louise said, wide-eyed, "You mean "Jay" was married to someone else before "Jane"!!!

Well, it's time to head north to see who else we can run into, or failing that to return to Ithaca. From here we bike to Norfolk over 2 days and get a lift from the bridge authorities across the tunnel-bridge that spans the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. That will put us on the DelMarVa peninsula and on the road ultimately back to Ithaca, which we hope to reach by the end of May. We'll say more about our route there and then from Ithaca to New England in our next post.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Welcome to Tyler Davis

We are happy to announce our new grandson Tyler Davis, born on April 16 to Jeff's son Matt and his wife Akiko. He was a little early but still weighed in at 6 1/2 pounds and almost 20 inches. Courtesy of the internet, we already have pictures of him and his family and share these with you.

Needless to say, this has been a very, very happy time for our family. Thank you for sharing in our joy!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Experiencing the Outer Banks

At last the time came for Steve and Janet Sisson to join us, on Friday April 4. Enterprise Rent-a-Car picked us up at our B&B and drove us to their office a few miles away and set us up with a Crown Vic so we could fit in the Sisson tandem, and off we went to do some chores before their flight arrived. Found a laundromat with a barber nearby and started the laundry, then Jeff walked through a time warp into the barber shop. It was a one-room white wooden building that appeared to have been decorated by Norman Rockwell, and for the first time in 30 years, Jeff was in a barber shop where the barber and all the other customers were older than him. Since none of them had a lot of hair left to cut, it wasn't too long a wait. It did give Jeff a chance to check out the magazines, and an issue of Ducks Unlimited had a very informative and useful article on how to handle your duck when you plan to add him to your trophy collection. Rule #1, even if your dog has lost all his teeth, DO NOT let him retrieve your duck, go get it yourself and hold him by the legs. Rule #7 was one FedEx must love: When it's time to take your duck out of the deep-freeze and ship him to your taxidermist, spend those extra bucks and use next-day delivery, not 3-day ground. Oh, the things we are learning on this trip!

Steve and Janet flew into New Bern, about 40 miles from our B&B in Beaufort, and we got to see what those "Share the Road" signs look like at 55 mph on the way there. Whew, glad we weren't biking that road! Had lunch at a restaurant where our table was next to a floor-to-ceiling mirror,
and got this self-portrait with the help of the timer on our camera. At last the Sissons arrived and off we went to Beaufort with their boxed tandem in the trunk
(there's a second steel case in the bottom of that deep trunk!).

Beaufort NC is an old, old city, and we had a nice walk around town on Saturday after a group effort reassembled the Sisson tandem. Came to a 250+ year-old cemetary with more than its share of stories.
One was the grave of a woman whose husband was lost at sea. She remarried and had a child. Then husband #1 showed up. The gentlemen talked it over and reached an agreement: she could spend the rest of her natural life with husband #2, but would spend eternity buried next to husband #1, where she indeed now rests. Then there was the little girl who wanted to see London in the 1700s. Mom was against it, but Dad said not to worry, I'll take her and bring her back. Off they went and had a nice time of it. On the voyage home, however, she died at sea, weeks away from Beaufort. Dad was disconsolate -- he had promised to bring her home! At last he had an idea, and purchased one of the barrels of rum also making the voyage. Today she is known as "the little girl buried in a barrel of rum."

On Sunday we began our bike trip to the Outer Banks. We had to make it 40 miles to the ferry by 2 pm, and got there in plenty of time to set up our little stove and heat up soup for four, accompanied by cheese and crackers.
The ferry ride was nothing like the ones in Puget Sound. The boat is fairly small, the trip was 2 1/2 hours, and we went so far out into Pamlico Sound that you needed binoculars to be sure that was land on the horizon when we were half-way out. We landed in the small but attractive town of Ocracoke, with its small lighthouse,
and had very comfortable rooms at "Edwards of Ocracoke" and a great seafood dinner nearby.

Monday was another story. The temperature was in the mid-50's all day and the wind was now 15-20 mph in our face. There was an occasional mist that captains Jeff and Steve had to keep wiping off their glasses to see the road. The scenery was stark, but the weather no doubt made it seem all the more so. We stopped once to take this shot of the beach on Ocracoke Island,
almost all of which is protected seashore, then had a short respite on another small ferry that took us on a 40-minute voyage to Hatteras Island. We were delighted to find hot-air hand blowers in the rest rooms at the visitors center, which we used to restore feeling to more body parts than just the hands.
We slogged out a total of 53 miles in this weather, only stopping for lunch and for the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, tallest in the US and more ambulatory than most -- in 1999 it moved 2900 feet back from the eroding seashore where it had been for 129 years.

Needless to say, this was one of our toughest days in a vey long time. Then we got to our motel and found out that all four of the restaurants
in Rodanthe NC were either closed for the season or closed on Mondays. The motel owner lent us a microwave and drove us to a convenience store, and you can visually share in our repast of microwaved broccoli and cheese and
microwaved lasagna, washed down with convenience store red wine. Yum!

Well, things went downhill from there the next day. Not literally, since Rodanthe is as close to sea level as you can get without a soaking. And on this day, a little below that. We biked this time to the convenience store and breakfast at their little breakfast-and-lunch counter, and learned that the road ahead was washed over.
After breakfast we rode 1/2 mile up to assess it, and sure enough there was at least half a foot of water over the road, with no dry way around. It was now in the low 50's and the headwind was staying fairly steady at 20 mph. We tried for 1/2 an hour to thumb a ride from a pickup, but it was a hard sell with two large bikes and four riders standing there. No luck, and hypothermia was beginning to seem like an option. So back to the convenience store to formulate Plan B.
The store owner told us about an inter-island taxi sevice that had a pickup truck, and $95 later we were loading the bikes and bags on and scrunching into the narrow back seat of the truck. Good thing!
Not only was the water deep enough to have risked drenching our feet had we tried to bike through, the 3-mile bridge a little further on turned out to have a shoulder of only 6", which is essentially no shoulder at all. Biking it in that headwind would have been not very vacation-like.

We did manage to bike another 10 miles after we got dropped off in the town of Nags Head, and it was a tough run against the wind and cold but manageable thanks to a bike lane the whole way. Our reward was the Atlantic Street Inn. It's a former lifeguard boarding house converted into 6 bedroom suites plus a common kitchen and dining room, and we were the only guests. We emptied the panniers and headed back into the elements, returning an hour later with four bulging panniers holding the makings of 3 great suppers and 3 big breakfasts and a few "adult beverages." The wind could blow all it wanted now, we were going to have a nice time of it!

Wednesday it was still blowing hard out of the northeast and cold, so we stayed off the bikes and walked to the beach. And quickly left, as it was NOT FUN! Instead we found a good lunch spot, then hiked 2 miles over to
the spot made famous by the Wright Brothers, ironically the most famous bicycle mechanics in history. The museum was great, and you can see the full-size replica of their plane in the museum (the original is in the Smithsonian).
Our docent gave a terrific explanation of how they solved the problems of flight, in part with the help of this wind tunnel Steve is examining. Outside they have markers for the take-off point and landing points for the four successful flights of December 17, 1903.
They were SHORT! Most of you can probably ride no-hands on a bike further than the first three flights, which Louise, Janet and Steve are demonstrating, and even the longest flight that day was less than 3 football fields in length (you can see the stone marker in the distance past Steve). For the record, the first flight was 12 seconds and 120' long, at 30 mph against a 22 mph headwind for a ground speed of only 6.8 mph. The longest flight that day was 59 seconds.

At last the wind calmed down to 5-10 mph on Thursday, and the air warmed into the low 60s. We left our panniers at the inn and biked 40 miles over to Roanoke Island, known best for the "Lost Colony" that disappeared into the mists of time sometime between 1587 and 1589, when the next ship arrived.
On the way back we stopped at Jockeys Ridge State Park with its immense sand dunes, highest on the East Coast, and at Nags Head Woods, a gorgeous nature preserve owned by the Nature Conservancy,
where we took in these remarkably dense woods on the lee side of the Outer Banks, and looked out over Albemarle Sound back towards Roanoke Island.

Friday was our day to head northwards again, and Mother Nature apologized for the early part of the week with a nice tailwind for the next three days. We took back roads mainly on the west or leeward side of the Banks that morning, and found rolling sand dune hills that were now covered by trees. The topography and flora reminded us of the Northeast. The Atlantic beach is interesting at this time of year, but it is a hard, harsh environment. There was none of the sense of Spring there, which surrounded us on the west side with clouds of dogwood blossoms, azaleas in many front yards, wisteria in full bloom climbing trees sometimes up to 30 or 40 feet above us, and pale green leaves sprouting everywhere on the trees.

We ended our 10 days together with two nights in some of the nicest B&Bs yet. The owners of Barclay Cottage B&B in Virginia Beach were some of the friendliest, most helpful innkeepers we've ever encountered, and they served a great breakfast.. The inn was a late-19th century Victorian only 4 blocks from the ocean, which we explored on the way in, and out the next day, on this nice bike path We also rode several miles en route to Norfolk on this old railtrail through the woods, although the soft surface was a little worrisome for our skinny road tires.
Nonetheless, we made it through intact.

Our final night was in The Patriot Inn in Portsmouth VA, a town that claims to have the most historic homes of any city between Cape May and Charleston, and the Patriot Inn was one of them with a construction date of 1784. It was gorgeously restored by the current innkeepers, but it IS an old building, and 6' 4" Jeff whacked his head three times on the 6' 3" doorway to our room until Louise rigged up this Early Warning Device
out of a hanger and some bike gloves. And did we mention the baked eggs and homemade crepes we were served for breakfast! What a windup to our Davis-Sisson adventure.

Steve is one of those guys who still enjoys work, however, so off they returned to Seattle. Remember that 8-foot-long tandem they were riding? It's right there in those two steel suitcases in the back of their taxi to the Norfolk airport. Since we have an almost identical Rodriguez tandem which will have to end up in two
exactly identical steel suitcases next September, Jeff paid very close attention to the disassembly and packing of their bike.

It's now off to Williamsburg and a vey different adventure with Spokane friends Jim and Nancy Schoepflin. They are meeting us for 2 weeks of non-biking exploration of Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, Richmond and Washington DC, the latter two cities to be reached by Amtrak. We'll then take Amtrak back to Williamsburg on April 29 and resume biking north. We may be "blogging" again even sooner, however -- Jeff's son Matt and his wife Akiko are currently at the hospital in Tokyo, and we're anxiously awaiting word about little Tyler, as their son will be named when he gets here.