My first stop was Valley Forge National Historic Park with my Uncle Chris. We got to see Washington's headquarters, artillery fortifications, and replica huts the soldiers themselves constructed in which to spend the winter. If I thought my Northwest cabin was small, they crammed 12 guys into less than 200 square feet! There were great exhibits on camp life, winter hardships, and the training implemented by Baron Von Steuben. It's humbling to realize how tenuous the Revolutionary War was in the early years - utter defeat for Washington seemed to loom around the corner of every campaign.
|Valley Forge camp life for the enlisted guys|
|Valley Forge life for Washington|
Back at Chris' house I engaged in the most epic Nerf battle of my life. Oh how Nerf technology has improved since I was a kid. Nerf guns these day can fire in full automatic and had 20 dart detachable magazines. My cousins and I blacked out the entire basement, raided all the furniture in the house for cushions to make forts, and shot it out with flashlights taped to our Nerf guns!
I continued my tour of early American history by visiting Independence National Historic Park in downtown Philadelphia. Some folks might not readily know that Philly, vice Washington DC, is the true birthplace of our country. It was awesome to stand in the same chamber that Jefferson, Washington*, and Franklin first declared independance and then drafted the US Constitution (more on that later). I can't remember a time before when I've felt such a connection to such a substantial historical event.
*Washington didn't actually sign the Declaration of Independence. He was too busy preparing an ambush for the British in New York. #welcometoMurica!
|Let freedom ring!|
|Armor collection at Philadelphia Museum of Art|
|Armor for an elite unit of midget knights|
|Cape Henlopen, Delaware|
A train south from Philly brought me to Baltimore, Maryland, home of Under Armour, the Orioles, and my sister. I had a good visit with her and her friends and a night on the town in Fells Point, a cool cobblestone historic area along the harbor, rife with seafood restaurants and pubs. I recommend trying a burger topped with bacon and crab dip, served with potato chips seasoned with Old Bay.
It's a short hop from Baltimore to DC. I enjoyed navigating the city via Metro and by the end of my four days in town I'd like to think that, excepting my enormous backpack, I didn't look like a bumbling tourist while trying to buy a fare card. I got to visit some old Coast Guard buddies fighting the good fight against the bureaucracy and ineptitude of headquarters! Keep up the battle gentlemen! Tim Ozimek and I got to do a little hiking at Great Falls National Park. The Billy Goat Trail was a fun scrambly treadway along the Potomac River that I'd recommend to anyone in the area; just be prepared for some crowds. Whilst at Great Falls we learned a lot about the C&O canal and I immediately started plotting a future pedaling and paddling adventure along the towpath.
|Great Falls of the Potomac. Whitewater rafting anyone?|
|Air and Space Museum|
The Natural History Museum had a great mammalian exhibit that would make a taxidermist proud and PETA cringe. As an unexpected bonus, they had a temporary gallery for the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act that contained beautiful photographs of landscapes and wildlife across the country's best wilderness areas. I was happy to observe that I had the privilege to see many of them in person and was also served a large dose of inspiration for future endeavors in wild places.
However, by far the best experience I had in Washington DC was my trip to the National Archives. There you can see the most hallowed documents in America, the holy writ of freedom! I stood in solemn awe before the Declaration of Independence, the original US Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. No photos were permitted, but I completely understand. The intervening 250 years haven't been kind to the parchments and it was sad to see that the ink has faded to the point of being barely legible. Now they are preserved in titanium armor cases, filled with inert argon gas so that nothing will chemically react with the paper or ink. Woe unto the unknowing tourist who pulls out a camera and takes a flash photo cheap shot at democracy; armed security guards were standing next to each display to prevent further UV destruction.
I spent an evening with more of my large extended family in Maryland, assembling a model train around the Christmas tree with my cousins, before embarking on the final leg of my own train journey from Washington to West Virginia. Done in the summer with a longer span of daylight, it's a scenic ride through the Virginia countryside and deep in the New River Gorge. In the winter it gets dark too soon to see much of anything. I was seated next to a pretty Australian girl on "summer" break from university. She had a jam packed itinerary of most major American cities and I felt like I had finally "arrived" as an accomplished domestic traveller, as I was able to recommend a number of things to see and do in all her stops except for LA. I really don't care to ever go to LA.
Thanks to all the friends and family that hosted me along the way and helped out with my logistics. Getting back out on the road was just what I needed! I'm looking forward to spending more time with family for the remainder of the holidays and wish all of my readers a very Merry Christmas.