Our plans for getting out of New York and down to Washington had swung back and forth many times. One option would take us down the coast, via Atlantic City and inland to DC. The other would go more directly via the cities of Philadelphia and Baltimore, which probably wouldn’t be great for cycling. Because of this, we settled finally on option one, though the sprawling mass of New York meant that the cycling could not actually begin until about 50 miles south of Newark Airport.
Dropping the cyclists off at lunchtime from a carpark in the small town of Browns Mills, I started my first solo drive of any distance towards Atlantic City (as you may recall, Ed was on a Grayhound bus because he couldn’t fit in the car with all the cyclists), although I wasn’t to be alone for long. Less than an hour in, I received a phone call from Neil because his bike had once again failed him. Retracing about 40 miles I collected them from the side of the road and drove west towards any town that may possess a bike shop.
We stopped at a Starbucks where our accents were admired by the staff and I bizarrely had a conversation about David Beckham with the girl behind the counter while buying CDs (I’m not a regular Starbucks visitor, so correct me if this is also the case in the UK, but American Starbucks sell CDs as well as coffee). The sports shop next door directed us to a bike shop which had just the part that Neil needed, so we all hit the road again in our respective vehicles.
By the time I reached Atlantic City, Andy and Alex were waiting at the motel and Ed had been bumming around downtown, mostly chatting up Eastern European cleaners and avoiding being thrown out of casinos for being underage.
I’d love to tell you exciting Bond-esque tales of gambling in the Las Vegas of the east coast, but we decided we couldn’t be bothered heading downtown and instead did our laundry at the Laundromat up the road. Relatively excitingly, our clothes got locked inside as the place closed for the night while we were eating at a nearby diner. As we loitered around the building, trying to shine the car headlights through the glass so as to be able to read the contact phone number inside, a Spanish-speaking man turned up and we were able to convey our problem to him. He returned with his Spanish-speaking friend moments later and they let us retrieve our washing. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that Atlantic City can be any less exciting than Las Vegas.
On Saturday morning we awoke to Harry Potter mania; it seemed that every news channel could speak of nothing else (apart from George Bush’s colonoscopy and the fact that power was transferred to Dick Cheney for the duration). The plan for the day was to cycle/drive to the ferry at Cape May and then cycle/drive from Lewes until reaching the Chesapeake Bay bridges to the east of Washington, at which point people would be conveyed in the monster truck to our motel in DC. As with so many well-made plans, it went a bit awry.
About 30 miles into the 50 mile cycle to Cape May, Leo’s tyre split, prompting me to drive back up Route 9 to find them and provide a replacement. Alex and Andy, unhindered by such delays, had made the 12pm ferry, while the rest of us were well set to make the 1.45pm ferry in our respective modes of transport. Neil and Leo made it to the ferry in the nick of time, but when Ed and I arrived (after stopping to buy four copies of Harry Potter) we were told that there was no space for cars until 4.30pm.
We compared our available options and decided that driving around the mouth of the Delaware river and crossing it near Philadelphia would be a better option than sitting in Cape May for three hours. This replaced what would’ve been a 67 mile journey to the bridge with a 150 mile drive to the same point. It is such detours that illustrate the size of this country; at home such a distance would contribute a sizeable chunk of any journey from, say, the north to the south, whereas this 150 mile journey is but a speck on a map of the US.
Wanting to tick another fast food chain off Ed’s list, we stopped at an Arby’s for lunch. Their special twist is that instead of burgers they sell flat strips of beef, folded up and served exactly as though it were a burger. They also serve curly fries as standard and dispense ‘Horsey sauce’. Interestingly, it later turned out that Neil and Leo had already stopped at exactly the same branch of Arby’s while travelling in the opposite direction towards Cape May.
The journey was largely uneventful, with long, straight, empty roads taking full advantage of cruise control. We passed briefly through the USA’s second-smallest state, Delaware, which proudly claims to be the First State, since it ratified the constitution before any of the other 12 founding colonies. I’m not sure whether anything more exciting than this has happened to the state in the 220 years since.
By the time we reached Queenstown, near the magnificent Chesapeake Bay bridges, Andy and Alex were struggling with the heat and Leo and Neil were only just getting started from Lewes, having had more puncture problems after disembarking from the Cape May-Lewes ferry. Ed and I decided to push on over the bridge to DC (we would have to make a second trip whatever, as there are only five seats in the car). I then drove the 50 miles back across, collecting Andy and Alex in Queenstown, before moving further in to Denton where Neil and Leo had been forced to stop cycling due to the encroaching darkness. Finally, I crossed the bridge for a third time and we arrived at the motel shortly before 11pm. We’d been on the road for at least 12 hours, with the cyclists covering more than 100 miles in baking heat, and me driving over 400 miles in total. Already, at a little over 2000 miles, the monster truck has done more mileage with me at the wheel than it had ever done before.