Capital Investment

Last week, the Voyager travelled as far South as South goes, encountering All Hallows’ Eve in Key West before visiting Baloo in Orlando. In week thirteen, the journey heads North on a state-a-day quest through Appalachia towards the nation’s capital and beyond.

Day 85 – Orlando, FL to Charleston, SC

So today would be our absolute final goodbyes to Aaron & Jess, at least until we cross paths somewhere in the Welsh countryside. They have a ten-day Floridian holiday to look forward to, swimming with manatees and dolphins, whilst we face the bitter chill of the North, swimming with polar bears and pneumonia. First stop, a five-hour journey along the Atlantic coast to Savannah, Georgia.

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With little or no food left in the Voyager we, without ignominy or any other considerations, sought out a McDonalds, devoured four burgers and then decided to drive around the town instead of walk. Upon sipping our gargantuan orange soda that we had taken with us to the car, we realised something quite shocking: we were turning American. In addition, not the fit Coloradan sort but the rotund Texan sort.

Following our moment of realisation, we disposed of the fluorescent soda, re-stocked the bananas and hoped the damage we had done was reversible. With daylight failing, we left the Interstate in South Carolina – state number thirty-six – and headed to Charleston, which we would walk around tomorrow.

Day 86 – Charleston, SC to Galax, VA

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Charleston would be our first major civil war landmark town along an Atlantic coast littered with forts and ramparts designed to keep the good old British from bombing the life out of them. For once, the historic part of the town was historic and the French quarter French. It gave the impression of New Orleans but without the city’s peculiarities or eccentric inhabitants.

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Everything and everyone seemed reasonable and moderate here, a far cry from Orlando or Key West or anywhere else in Florida, and this rare American sensibility continued well into North Carolina. We travelled inland to Charlotte, another charming Carolinian city, and the home of the Carolina Panthers football team.

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Being Aaron’s beloved organisation we felt it our responsibility, no our duty, now that we had parted ways, to make him as envious and resentful as possible by taking as many photos as we could around the rather impressive stadium and grounds. With numerous colossal panthers guarding the entrances, and black marble and granite detailing all around, it is certainly the finest stadium we have seen to date, and we have seen many. Carolinas completed, Virginias await.

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Day 87 – Galax, VA to Harrisonburg, VA

Miserable weather had followed us around since the second we left Florida, but today… was absolutely no different. Our grand plans of travelling along the spectacular mountain passes of Blue Ridge and the Skyline Drive inside Shenandoah National Park before camping somewhere close to Washington were completely scuppered by dank, dreary drizzle.

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Nonetheless, we decided to commence the murky Skyline Drive, which in this weather held a distinctly lonesome, chilling appeal. Given its proximity to several major cities, Shenandoah is one of the most visited National Parks in America. Not today. Like a scene from Sleepy Hollow, this would have been a horrific location for the Voyager to finally say it had had enough. Thankfully, it did not.

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We crept through the fog for several years until we finally reached a park exit, which we gratefully accepted, and swiftly made for nearest settlement. Harrisonburg, Virginia, provided our refuge and our Amish macaroni salad.

N.B. We have yet to discover what makes it Amish.

Day 88 – Harrisonburg, VA to Laurel, MD

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A dawn alarm and a frosty breakfast did nothing to heighten our excitement of returning to Shenandoah this morn. However, today could not have been more of a contrast. Clear skies, a crisp morning chill and the appearance of actual, living wildlife transformed the Skyline Drive from a horror movie into a period romantic drama where the only stresses were, not the prospect of breaking down, but trying not to eviscerate a deer.

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A bit like the Brecon Beacons’ bigger black-bear-filled brother, the park offered some striking vistas that could only have been dreamed about twenty-four hours earlier. Yes, we were about a month too late to witness the Autumn leaves at their burnt crimson finest – in fact too late to view leaves of any description – but who cares, it was not raining and West Virginia was on the horizon.

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If a sign had not appeared telling us that we were now in West Virginia, as opposed to bog standard Virginia, we would have been none the wiser. We could only afford a flying visit and Harpers Ferry would be our chosen historic West Virginian town.

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So historic that the whole town is conserved by the National Park service; whilst cars are deemed ‘too destructive’, meaning a bus is required to get there. In addition, countless warnings are posted all over town of things you cannot touch or do or look at, all in the name of preservation. Despite its apparent fragility and imminent collapse, the FOX network has been granted permission to use, and indeed take over, the entire town to film season three of ‘Hotel Hell’. Corporate America in a nutshell.

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Our whistle-stop Appalachian tour would pause here as we headed back towards the Eastern coast, and an hour’s drive is all it takes to transport you from wilderness to business. Washington, D.C. The capital, the fifty-first state, the American Rome, the home of the big guy. It was indeed Barack Obama’s achromatic domicile which we had to have a glance at before the day ran out and we needed to find a camping spot. Not easy in metropolitan D.C. The oddly-shaped Maryland, our fortieth state, would have to be our host for the next couple of days.

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Day 89 – Laurel, MD

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Miserable weather bit back with a vengeance today and the capital was cloaked in grey from dawn till dusk, which decided to emerge at two in the afternoon. Nevertheless, with more landmarks than a teenagers face, Washington still won out. The monument, along the mall, then Lincoln’s memorial; all impressive, all within walking distance – very un-American.

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Even more un-American was the fact that all museums in the D.C. area are free to enter. Given that there are eleven Smithsonian museums alone meant that I wish we had spent one less day looking at a large plastic buffalo in North Dakota and had one more day to spare now. The most illustrious, the Museum of Natural History, would have to suffice. I take that back; the buffalo was tremendous.

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We could have spent our entire three months there as the museums many rooms, corridors, halls and galleries are packed to the rafters with more peculiar objects and oddities than in Michael Jackson’s attic. The best of which, the remarkable dinosaur fossils, were a pleasure to behold and well worth the visit alone. One final twilight visit to the White House was all we could squeeze in before we had to head back to our Maryland base camp; further North tomorrow.

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Day 90 – Laurel, MD to Manahawkin, NJ

Day ninety. Three months in the Voyager and our final Northern leg is starting to get a little chilly, as we knew and feared it would. The broiling, mosquito-infested climate in Florida feels more like five weeks ago than five days and sleeping bags alone are no longer sufficient. The emergency blankets are paying for themselves now.

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Our first stop of the day would be Fort McHenry, Baltimore and the birthplace of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’, America’s national anthem. It was rather interesting, to begin with, until cringe worthy patriotism and constant looping of the song intervened. Without my knowing, I had learnt every word and was being lulled into an American nationalist trance. I just managed to escape but the young schoolchildren in attendance did not stand a chance, they had been Americanised.

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We made a quick stop off at Baltimore’s American Football stadium before continuing on into our next state, Delaware. Nobody knows anything about Delaware, indeed most people only find out it exists when they drive along its twenty-mile stretch of Interstate between Washington and New York. Its page inside our guide book is mysteriously blank and we believed this was probably because it was too normal and too dull to mention. Unfortunately not.

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The reason nobody exits the Interstate to view ‘wonderful’ Delaware is because it is anything but. The largest city in the state, Wilmington, which we wanted to have a stroll around, looked more destitute, depressing and dangerous than Detroit did. In need of quick food, we were forced to utilise another McDonalds and, having received our order, had to take it back to the car in order to eat comfortably.

Or so we thought. Upon getting in the Voyager I was approached by a man asking my name, and not in the welcoming hope-your-having-a-good-day way. In an attempt to look busy, I moved to the boot whilst the man fidgeted and stared back. We have been approached by countless homeless people on our trip asking for everything from porn to pills to pickles but this man was not the same. As he turned his back, I jumped in the front and Shu sped us off as he trailed behind. This was not a singular crazy person, this appeared to be normality in Wilmington, Delaware. We swiftly crossed the border into New Jersey, hoping for more pleasant inhabitants…

Day 91 – Manahawkin, NJ to New York, NY

Far more pleasant they are! A free shower at the local community centre restored our faith in Americans, as well as our personal hygiene levels. Last night we camped on the New Jersey shore – a well-known Summer location for holidaying New Yorkers – a short drive from the very beautiful, and very deserted, Long Beach island.

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Usually a surfing mecca, now only hardy fisherman, and us, remained. We drove to Barnegat Lighthouse, on the Northernmost tip of the island, got drenched and decided we had spent enough time in Maryland and Delaware and New Jersey to last several lifetimes. Actually Maryland and New Jersey weren’t bad, only Delaware was an inhospitable slum. We got in the Voyager, put New York in the sat nav and headed straight to its centre.

Not the greatest idea we have ever had as it cost us fourteen-dollars in toll fees as well as several near-fatal heart attacks given that driving in a raining Manhattan is like closing your eyes, putting your head in a washing machine and hoping for the best. By some miracle we did not get hit and managed to find a street-level parking spot in the heart of Downtown Manhattan. It was only now we realised that New York state became our tenth this week, not including Washington D.C., and forty-third overall. Splendid.

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Following a rather stressful three-block walk, we got our first sickly taste of the commercial capital of the world, Times Square. The ludicrously bright advertising screens, as well as bringing about the onset of cataracts, bewilder the brain in to believing that night is day. Add this to thousands of rude commuters and selfie-stick wielding tourists, odorous street vendors and pushy ticket sellers and you get Times Square. I actually thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Next week, the Voyager must get used to city life as New York City becomes its home. Following a visit to my sporting nirvana, the journey continues North to New England and the last states left standing.

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Total kilometres: 24,849

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