Friday, August 13, 2010

Sykesville to Washington D.C., 60 miles/ 2046 total miles

Monitoring the weather this morning, I once again decided to get an early start. The remnants of last night's storm still lingered and light rain was predicted. Leaving Sykesville this morning at 6:45 and facing a half mile climb will wake anybody up. The wet roads made for careful but cool riding. The Liberty Reservoir and Patapsco Valley State Park are beautiful forested areas north of Washington and I passed through them on my route. Many of the small towns that appear on a map in the region are just a gathering of a few houses so I make sure I always carry at least a half gallon of water on board. Actually that has become my standard practice anywhere on my journey. Brookeville seemed to be a bit raveged by the storms as I saw downed trees and power lines throughout the area. However, the 18th century stone buildings seemed indifferent to all the downed branches. In order to enter Washington D.C., there are a series of trails and paths that traverse the otherwise busy main street highways. In order to begin my approach, I entered the Bethesda area from the north through Rock Creek Regional Park. This picturesque wooded preserve also showed signs of storm damage and wreckage. The creeks were swollen and downed trees and mud covered the paths everywhere. This became a 'cyclocross' bicycle event for me to move south this morning. The Rock Creek Trail however, nicely intersects the Georgetown trail at ninety degrees and I connected to this path. This is the perfect alternative to take into the city and it is clearly marked and paved for the most part. It seems to be a local favorite. The old railroad bed that was converted to a bike path reminded me of the nice trail from Cincinnati to Xenia, Ohio. This route moved along the Potomac River and is a great way to get into the Washington Mall. I met a local cyclist who rode the length of the trail with me which deposited us just behind the Lincoln Memorial. I truly appreciated his help in navigating me downtown! The cloud covered cool day was a perfect day to enter the city. After changing a flat at the Memorial, I rode towards the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue! Home free at last. My journey that left Springfield, Illinois at the front door of Abraham Lincoln's home on July 11th took 34 days and covered 2046 miles. I reached the front gate of the White House at 2pm eastern time today!

This has been truly an epic experience that I have to now let settle in and reflect upon. The last 3 weeks of the trip have been a solo journey which required me to be extra vigilant in keeping track of my navigation, equipment and personal well being. I used an Iphone and GPS to navigate and carried 50 lbs of equipment including tools, stove, fuel, sleeping bag, tent, food, and water. In spite of my modern conveniences, I was traveling at a 19th century pace at times. Each landscape I traversed was carefully mapped and paid attention to. I know that while driving a car, it is easy to daydream at times, this is not possible on a bicycle. My awareness for the past 5 weeks has been constantly focused on the present task at hand and this has been the gift of the journey. To see the landscape for what it is and to 'work' the land by moving through it under my own accord revealed a beauty that I took for granted or just did not notice. Many times a farmer would wave as I rode through the spaces. He might not have understood why I was cycling but we both shared in a dialog with the land. I was always aware of the wind, the rain, the weather, and temperature. Though it was hot at times, I truly felt the coolness behind the shade of a silo or an oak tree. This simple experience is what I think has changed the most in the past 150 years. Thinking about what it took to get me to Washington and how much the landscape has changed and how far away Springfield is, I couldn't help but to reminisce about the early morning mist rising from the inland seas of corn in Sangamon County central Illinois. I can't help but think that this kind of longing could quite possibly have contributed, among other things, to Lincoln's melancholy. (Travel was difficult and most people never left the county they were born in.)

In Washington D.C. on March 4, 1861, Abraham Lincoln was inaugurated the 16th President of the United States. I think the address he gave to the people was one of the most profound and eloquent statements a President has made to the nation (and world) at a time of extreme uncertainty and civil violence. I think it is a good reminder for us for today as well. I memorized the last paragraph of his address and discovered something interesting. It was difficult to put to memory. What I mean is that usually it is easy to pick up the meter of a verse and then automatically fill in the words based on the syntax of the writer. I couldn't do this because of the particular pauses in the prose. True, Lincoln's writing was influenced by Shakespeare and the Bible, but I believe that there was also a direct influence of the central Illinois landscape,- a tree appears as an island, and then it is not and it reveals it is actually part of a grove. Maybe a slight turn in the road shifts for no apparent reason other than to mark a county line. This landscape is about pauses and reflection, and that is how I read it. I felt like I was learning to see the landscape throughout my journey in this manner. It was truly a lesson in learning and listening.

"We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passions may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature."
[A.Lincoln, 1st Inaugural Address]


I would first and foremost like to thank Amy, my wife, for her love and support on my journey, and my son, Anders, (who rode from Springfield to Cincinnati with me) and my daughter Julia (also a cyclist). Also thanks to my sister JoAnn's great text messages, Mark and Pat Cleveland (great friends, supporter, texters and riding partner from Cincinnati to Cleveland), And thanks for the support and great text messages from Trudy Welker, Marilyn Ferris, and the Ferris clan! Also, I truly appreciate the blog commenters all along the way! And thanks to Perimater Gallery, Chicago, and the Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago, Dr. Jeffrey Allen, Vesna Grbovic, and Michael Robinson.

I also want to thank the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois with help in shouting this project out. Also thanks to Dave Bakke at the Springfield Journal Register, WGRZ/CBS and WKBW/ABC in Buffalo, New York, NBC and Fox News in Philadelphia, and KYW Newsradio 1060 in Philadelphia for your attention.

In the spirit of "the better angels of our nature", I am also collecting a 'penny per mile' for the Livestrong Foundation to support Cancer research. If you wish to contribute please send a check made out to the Livestrong Foundation in any amount to Illinois Institute of Art, Chicago, c/o Don Pollack, 180 N. Wabash Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60301. -If anyone wishes to match a 'penny per mile' that would amount to $20.46. (I will bundle the mailing in one envelope)

I plan on creating an exhibition out of this project, "Taking Measure Across America" and most likely will announce it on this blog. It will appear on my website as well,