Late start for the leaders today and guess what, it’s raining, properly raining. Slow start but we finally decided we might as well stick with the days plans and head to Skyline drive to see the views in daylight rather than the dark and fog Kevin and I experienced last time.
Packed lunches were made and the bus packed up we headed off into the horrible weather. Weather doesn’t improve on the way down so we turn onto Skyline Drive at the first entrance where we were originally planning on leaving to see what the views are like, answer is rubbish!! This is the best photo.
Stopped off at the park information point which has a small shop, the weather forecast was the same all day. After a few photos in the rain we headed a bit further up and ate our lunch before driving back.
To make up for the poor day we headed to Charles Town for a Chinese for dinner, it was very good. Unfortunately Raff and Kevin had to go and visit a team who were having slight issues but nothing which wasn’t easily fixed once there.
After Chinese we sat up and played cards as it was our last night before all the participants came back and we didn’t have peace and quiet.
Today was a leaders’ day off, no more groups to visit so what do we do? Three of us go off to the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, the Air and Space Museum hanger, at Dulles International Airport. This is where they keep all the items which are too big to keep in the main museum on the Mall in Washington City Centre.
We got there early before all the school groups arrived and although the museum itself it free you have to pay $15 for parking.
They have an amazing collection of historic aircraft.
The first thing you see when you come into the museum, which is just a huge hanger full of aircraft, is an SR71 Blackbird, the fastest plane ever built.
Directly behind the SR71 is the Space Shuttle Discovery, standing under a huge US Flag, exactly as it returned from its last space flight. It is amazing how it looks just like any other aircraft and it’s also a lot larger than I expected it to be, not sure why I was expecting it to be small but it certainly isn’t.
The other one of a kind exhibit they have is the Enola Gay B29 Superfortress which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. I found it a very strange experience looking at this aircraft which had caused so much destruction to a city half a world away nearly 70 years ago. It was slightly sobering, it was not something I’ve ever felt before and I can’t really describe what it was like or why I felt it but it was a strange feeling in the pit of my stomach.
They also have a Concorde, Wright Military Flyer from 1909, various space capsules from various launches and lots of other smaller aircraft.
After the museum we had a trip to a local mall on a run for Paul to find an Abercrombie and Fitch hoodie for his sister. Kevin used his usual charm and just walked to the nearest shop assistant and asked for a grey hoodie sweatshirt in large, was promptly handed one and paid. In and out the shop in under 2 minutes.
Always thinking of our stomachs, on the way back to the car we stopped off at the Cheesecake Factory and stuffed ourselves with cheesecake. While sitting there, Raff looks at our “large” hoddie and notices it’s only a medium, Kevin storms back to the shop and apparently the poor assistant looked terrified.
Problems now solved we headed back to the KOA and baked potatoes for dinner.
Today was a slightly quieter day. We had 2 leaders away gallivanting or PhD viva-ing , 3 leaders at 6 flags which left me and Kevin to tour round the teams.
Just a short 3 teams, no reference to their height obviously, of course that means 3 lots of lunch today. First one was found walking down the road so we took them for a rather dodgy McDonalds. I’m slowly remembering why I don’t eat them at home and I’m sure I’ve had four of five since I got here now.
The second team of the day were checking into their luxury 4* ski resort, the same one another team another night but this team managed to secure a room and breakfast for $15, the other team only got to camp in the grounds and use the facilities. Luck would have it that there was a convention of oligarchs (their words not mine, I had to google it) who invited them to dinner so all in all a win of a day for them. This stop included a nice lunch in the hotel café bar.
Final team of the day got themselves a rather nice back packers hostel to stay in and the third lunch of the day was in a small town café.
By this point we’d both had far too much lunch and decided to skip dinner. I was feeling rather fat myself.
When we got back to camp I put a washing on, being the domesticated person that I am. Definitely over packed for this trip, I’ve worn 2 red polo-shirts and 2 pairs of shorts most of the time I’ve been here. I would have worn 3 red polo-shirts but one has gone missing, I’m convinced Louise has stolen it but she’s adamant she’s not and it’s in my bag. Will find out when it comes to packing.
Maybe skipping dinner was a mistake and feeling slightly hungry we tucked into the left over cheesecake from the night before.
Today was an early rise to do a long round trip to visit teams in Washington and Baltimore as well as dropping Paul off at Dulles Airport and Louise in Baltimore to go visit friends.
First stop, Dulles Airport, should have been simple enough with TomTom but for some unknown reason it tried to send up to another airport 140 miles away. Thankfully we know that Dulles is only 40 miles from Harpers Ferry, a bit of map reading and re-setting of TomTom for somewhere near Dulles and follow the signs to the airport. Very simple and drove almost right to the door, bit of a strange experience for us!
Next off to meet the team in a Washington suburb park and take over some poor guys café for a while. Having spent a few days being stuck in the city is was time to get them out of there and into more friendly countryside. Easy enough as their route has them in countryside, just a quick nip up the road to the campsite.
Further up the road and over a bit we met the team who started in Baltimore at a McDonalds. It seems to be fast becoming a favourite meeting place, food, drink and free WiFi, all you need really. At this point we said goodbye to Louise and the group and headed home.
Kevin has an interesting taste in music, it matched his eclectic personality perfectly, everything from gospel, hymns, pop, classical, but by far the most interesting were Fascinating Aida and he songs by Tom Lehrer. Look them up if you satirical comedy songs, they are excellent.
Dinner tonight was courtesy of Robbie “BBQ King” Hay with ribs more steak and more sausages with the associated salad stuff as usual, excellent food again and totally stuffed yet again.
Tonight’s antic was a short trip to the casino. This turned out to be very short as we were there quite late and the minimum bet on a table was $15 and as I was only willing to lose $20 it didn’t last long. One hand of blackjack was enough to clean me out and I retired gracefully much to the amusement of the other guys at the table who were betting $50 plus in each hand.
To console out losses we stopped off at Wal-Mart for cake and came back to the campsite with apple pie and ice-cream. A good way to end the day I’d say.
Another day started as all the rest have, by waking up without an alarm at some silly time when I should still be asleep, especially as the leaders were having a relaxing day today before visiting teams for the evening 4th of July celebrations. Breakfast was bacon rolls.
We then thought it was about time we made use of the facilities provided that the KOA site so off we went for a short swim in the outdoor pool. It was a very short swim as the pool wasn’t that warm and full of kids playing but none the less a few lengths made us feel better about eating lunch. Not that no exercise would have stopped of course.
The afternoon was taken up with crazy golf and the looser had to buy the ice cream, thankfully it wasn’t me. Was very warm and we took a break after 9 holes to move the washing into the drier, maybe a bit redundant given the heat but it was probably quicker.
One of our teams managed to secure a place in the flag party for the opening of Hagerstown 4th July celebrations through the local BSA group there so we drove up to see them. They all looked very smart in full uniform and white gloves. Unfortunately we had to leave half way through the opening, it was very long, but we were there for the national anthem, pledge of allegiance and something else I can’t remember.
Next part of the plan was to drive to Williamsport to see Kenny played bagpipes on stage but we were a bit late for that. We did however meet the guy who had been looking after them and who would be looking after the next group too. He was a member of the local volunteer fire department who had a display at the celebration. They take in young fire-fighters between the ages of 9 and 18 and allow them to go to real emergencies once they are 16. I think those ages are right but I wouldn’t rely on them.
On the way home we decided dinner was a good idea, Raff wanted pizza, the girls wanted Chinese so we pulled up to what we thought was Chinese, went in and got a table and sat down to look at the menu. It wasn’t Chinese… it was Japanese so we stood up and made a hasty exit only to be caught by the waiter who asked what was wrong, to which we replied “it’s not Chinese, sorry” as we ran out the door. Luckily across the road there was Mexican where I had the biggest burrito I have ever seen and somehow managed to eat it all.
Back to Harpers Ferry for a few celebratory Independence Day drinks before heading to bed.
Up early and a drive up to see the Amish and meet the explorer team at Intercourse, it wasn’t just for the name, honest, we’re not that childish *looks innocent*. Though seen as we were there we needed a picture with the town sign. On the way up we stopped off at a traditional outlet mall for Raff to find some shoes for his boats.
Lunch was courtesy of a traditional 50’s diner, except for the free Wi-Fi, catering to the usual stereotype American food of burgers and fries. The food was excellent and we, again, were all totally stuffed after.
Now for the real reason of the visit, too see a team. This team landed on their feet and were staying with a Pastor and his family in a very lovely house in the next town along from Intercourse. More like home hospitality than an Explorer Belt but what are we to say.
A short drive back down the road into Intercourse and the innuendos all started long before we got anywhere near it. A walk through what is traditionally and Amish town we can’t quite understand where the name comes from but the town was known as the Cross Keys until its name changed in 1814. The main street was mostly touristy shops selling traditional Amish furniture, fabric etc. The less traditional shop selling the Intercourse merchandise did a roaring trade as each leader bought at least something from them; funnily enough it wasn’t run by the Amish, or even an American!
Being now about an hour since we last ate it must be that time again so an Ice cream shop was quickly sought out and two scoops ordered and quickly reduced to one after seeing the size of the first scoop.
Now to walk off the ice cream (and lunch, breakfast, last night’s dinner and anything else we happen to have snacked on) we headed to the outskirts of town to get a photo with the sign where we met some other people with exactly the same idea, glad we aren’t the only ones!
Dive home then the left over BBQ we didn’t manage to eat, or even cook, last night so it was chicken and salad tonight.
After dinner we took a short trip to see our lost team who turned the wrong way and check on how they were getting along. They had had an amazing day meeting the local sheriff and learning about his role in the community. They had also secured accommodation in a church hall and had free run of the place to come and go as they pleased. Such a turnaround from the day before.
Another tiring day over, home to bed again. Getting used to this up, drive, eat, drive, eat, eat, bed routines we’re getting into.
Another early start to drop off two teams in Washington and Baltimore. Turns out that Washington team actually wanted dropped off at Arlington Cemetery which, for anyone who doesn’t know Washington, is right in the centre near the Washington Monument, not the best drive for a Tuesday morning. The drop off went smoothly but did cost $7 to get out of the car park as for some reason we were considered a commercial vehicle.
Onwards to Baltimore, and Broening Park, nice looking from Google Maps, not so nice looking on the ground. We found out that it was a very dodgy area of Baltimore but the group were taken in by the local volunteer fire department, fed, watered and driven (in a fire truck) to another station which had accommodation they could use for the night.
On the way home stopped off for a Subway, very exciting, it was just like being at home.
Arriving back in Harpers Ferry to fine one team back already, by all accounts they had left the campsite, managed the first turn OK, the got the second one wrong and walked 4 miles before being spotted by the other bus returning from another drop off which brought them back. A few hours spend looking at maps and re-planning their routes (and a quick lesson on which is left and which is right) they were then dropped off part way through their first day and told to make the miles up at the end.
The next bit of excitement for the leaders was a Wal-Mart shop without a time limit! The things you can buy in Wal-Mart is simply astounding, if you think Sainsbury, Tesco and ASDA have started selling lots of things they have a lot of catching up to do yet!
Dinner was a bit of a protein over does after the trip to Wal-Mart. Steak, sausages and kebabs all on the BBQ for dinner with the normal salads, potato salad and home-made coleslaw. Sort of stuffed ourselves on it which resulted in a night of vegetating looking at routes for teams before bed.
Another dodgy night’s sleep, no idea why this time and it was up early(ish) for breakfast to get everyone ready for being picked up for the transfer to Harper Ferry and the KOA campsite before the start of the proper explorer belt expedition.
The buses returned and picked us up at 11am to take us to Wal-Mart for the groups to get final provisions for the trip while the leaders ran around trying to find the correct gas cans for everyone. Three Wal-Marts later and we sourced enough gas for 2 for each team, coincidentally this was also the total number of gas can the three Wal-Marts had!
The KOA Campsite in Harpers Ferry is very much a Centreparks type place with family activities run all the time. Lunch was in a big barn and was sandwiches, crisps, drink and fruit, it went down very well, even the fruit!
This was to be home to most teams for the night so they were sent off to put up tents and sort out the last of their kit. For three teams though it was time to leave to be dropped off at their start locations for the next day. Two teams headed north with Robbie and Paul, almost a 300 mile round trip which Kevin and I too a team south to Luray and stopped for dinner at a pretty awesome new diner called High on the Hog who did an amazing buffet style meal for us with ribs, pulled pork, chicken and fries.
We then took the team up to their drop off point and drove off, ten minutes later finding their minor challenges still in the passenger door pocket, doh! Drove back up to see if we could find them on the trail hoping they hadn’t got far but after about half an hour of looking I gave up and went back to the car. The forest is a strange place in the dark, especially knowing there are bears and you don’t have a torch or a map.
As we were already at the beginning of the Skyline Road we took the scenic route back, think small north of Scotland roads. Well it would have been scenic if it wasn’t getting dark and the cloud wasn’t low enough to totally obscure the road and leaving us to drive by the sat-nav and guess work. Not the most relaxing drive.
By the time we got back it was quite late and after a quick tour of the camping to see who was still up it was bed time, another long drive in the morning.
After a somewhat broken night’s sleep, not for any other reason than it was an unusual bed, breakfast was a continental sort of cereal and muffin type affair before getting all the participants ready to go get a group photo at the Washington Monument. Unfortunately the monument is under renovation and is covered in a cleverly designed scaffold so it still looks like the Washington Monument just slightly wider than usual.
On the way Blair found a vent blowing hot air and decided a Marilyn Monroe impression was required much to the delight of the bus driver behind (Blair assures me he was wearing something under his kilt!)
From here the teams were given lunch money and sent off to do what they pleased with the younger teams having to check in with leaders are locations throughout the day. First suggested stop, which most groups followed, was the Smithsonian Air and Space museum. This houses lots of very interesting historical planes, rockets and spacecraft. Among the exhibits are nuclear missiles, a V2 rocket, full scale replica of a lunar lander, a replica Wright Flyer and complete 747 nose section.
After the first check-in where everyone (eventually) turned up we moved on to the Native American Indian Museum just up the road from the Air and Space Museum where we stopped off for traditional Indian food for lunch, lots of meat in rolls on offer here. By the time lunch was over it was nearly time for the next check-in which again passed off without losing anyone. We’re getting good at this now.
Some of the leaders took this opportunity to head back to the youth hostel and sort out dinner on the way while others took a walk to Capitol Building before heading back to meet everyone at 5 for the final check-in.
Dinner was successfully organised for the Capitol City Brewing Company, a sort of TGI type place, with a set choice of menu and unlimited (non-alcoholic) drinks.
After dinner it was getting late and lots of people headed back to the Hostel for bed as we had another long day ahead of us.
So today the adventure begins. After 18 months of planning we are finally leaving on the explorer belt. 7am at the airport means a very early start for some and not so early for others. For me 6am was early enough, still 30 minutes earlier than a working day!! Thanks to Louise we didn’t have to catch a bus so that cut some time off the journey and we arrived just after 7 to a mass of scouts in full uniform and some parent looking bewildered. A quick check-in and a headcount to make sure we had everyone we headed up stairs towards security where we were met by Stuart, the Regional Commissioner, who presented us with our UK neckies before a team photo. Security passed of relatively easily and everyone arrived airside with everything they started with.
Unlike the flying I’ve become used to of the last year (easyjet/BA domestic flights) this one seemed to have a lot of waiting around for reason I still can’t get my head round. If they can load luggage onto domestic flights and passengers can get to them in an hour how can’t they do it for long-haul flights? Anyway, that’s a question for another day. The leaders sat in the bar and had breakfast before sorting out the last of the paperwork for each group, ID tags etc.
The flight to Philadelphia was delayed by about half an hour which meant we had even more time to get to the gate than we needed. This did not bode well for the connecting flight at the other end which was a problem for later on.
The flight it’s self was like a blast from the 90’s, the food was the standard chicken of pasta dish which had been in the oven for far too long. I was just about edible and filled a hole but so did the Boots sandwich I bought. The movie was on a central screen down the aisle of the plane and I have no idea what it was, I think there were 3 of them can’t remember my nose was in a book for the entire flight and my ears were paying attention to my iPod.
What was looking like a quick change in Philadelphia of less than an hour became over two hours and then got stretched even more and then a bit more for good measure. I have never been so happy to see a delayed notice against a flight.
The confusing thing about arriving in America is that you have to collect your bags, pass through immigration then customs before returning your bag and passing through security, where I got a good searching, to get to your next gate. Somehow I managed to get through both Glasgow and Philadelphia airports with my small Swiss army knife on my house keys, not going to complain, I quite like having it, it’s now safely stored in my hold luggage for any future flights.
After all the polava of getting through all that lot we started off at one gate, got moved to another then back to the first. Then for good measure the destination on the gate changed before we had boarded just to confuse us.
In arriving in Washington, slightly late, we picked up our extra scout who flew in from the west coast to meet us and lost a sleeping bag off of the outside of someone’s rucksack, an advert for always packing things inside bags when flying if ever there was one. It was later found attached to someone else’s bag, it must have come off and some nice baggage handle attached it to a bag which obviously belonged to the same group.
We got picked up by 2 buses and take to our youth hostel in the centre of Washington about 5 blocks from the White House. After settling into our home for the next couple of nights we went off to explore the area as a group. A walk past the White House for a group photos opportunity then down past the Vietnam memorial wall, reflecting pool and on to the Lincoln Memorial for some night shots.
The trip back to the youth hostel via a 24 hour McDonalds for a very late dinner before bed was very uneventful.
Overall the evening gave the participants a chance to find out what it was like walking in the temperatures they would have to get used to over the next 12 days and confirmed to the leaders that they are glad they don’t have to walk anywhere.