Well, I guess this is technically the first real journal entry. Its the first one that I'm doing on the road, and if you're reading this, then that means that I seem to have found a way to get access and put my journals up - or at least I have once.
Leaving on this trip had to be, hands down, one of the most hectic times of my life. I just didn't have enough time to do all of the things I really wanted to do. Or even needed to do. The guy who bought my house ended up having his movers reschedule and needed to move in a couple days early. We worked it all out, but I really didn't think I was going to live through the ordeal of getting everything out in time. But in the end, all of my worldly belongings fit in to a 4runner and about half of a 5x5 storage unit.
I got a storage facility in the most backwoods hick-town I could think of - Fredrick, MD, only because I knew it would therefore be cheaper than any other place I'd find, and it was. It didn't matter where I was keeping my stuff anyway. But Frederick was 2 hours away, and as my brother pointed out, there was a lot of irony in the fact that heavy traffic was the straw that caused this trip to happen, and now the worst traffic DC has to offer (the 270 spur Friday afternoon) would now mark the start of my trip. I hate traffic. As I listened to the radio, I realized that DC radio stations have 16 different ways to describe traffic, so that they can keep the reports interesting. "We've got slowing over the Wilson bridge, a back-up on the outer loop, you're looking at brake lights on the spur, some congestion through Tysons, stop and go around Bethesda…." It just keeps going. It'd be easier to just tell where there wasn't traffic. I hate traffic.
I've put stickers on my truck with my website address on them so that people who see me can email me. That's a tip from a friend of mine, Marty, who did a similar expedition in his Land Rover. But now I'm much more conscious about cutting people off like I used to. Its kind of like having one of those "How's my driving?" stickers on the back. I'm afraid if I piss someone off, they'll send me hate-email.
Anyway, after dropping my stuff off at my storage place, I headed to Virginia Beach to spend a few days there with my girlfriend. I have never mentioned any relationship on this website before, as its something I like to keep personal. But in case anyone is wondering how I could make a trip like this when I was dating someone, I'll elaborate just a little. I started dating my girlfriend in November and a couple weeks after we started I told her I had always wanted to make an epic trip, but never knew if I could, and thought it was unlikely, as it hadn't happened for years. In February, I saw a way to make it happen and discussed it with her, and she knew how much it meant to me and was very supportive. Seeing as I was leaving, we broke up for a brief period, but in the end decided that we liked spending time enough together to continue seeing each other until I left. The rest of the details I'll keep personal.
On my way out of Virginia Beach, I finally felt like this was the start of the trip. It felt like it had begun. Up until now, I was driving on roads that I'd be driving on going back the other way. This was the first time I'd be on a road that I wouldn't be coming back on. I think the reality of the trip set in at that moment. The silence of the open road. It was a bit more lonely than I had expected. With all fairness I was only about 1.5 hours in to this trip. J And I thought to myself, the whole idea behind this trip is to really have no plan. Or to be willing to make any changes I wanted to. So if that means selling the truck and finding another means of travel, then so be it. I think when I realized that I had that choice to make if I wanted to, then I began to get a lot more relaxed.
When I reached DC, I stopped by my old office and had lunch with my co-workers and visited for a while. Then I headed over to the Travel Health office to get my last vaccine. Walking out of there, I felt like superman. I was now impervious to just about any disease you could think of. $600 later, I should hope so.
Driving out of the Health office, I had to drive along the same road I took when I rode my bike to work last year. That seemed like so many lifetimes ago. Then a few miles later, I passed the exit to my old house, and again, it felt very strange to not be exiting. To know that I'd never be headed back to that house where I lived for 6 years. I have so many fantastic memories of that house which I will never forget. That was truly one of the greatest periods of my life.
I had to go back to my storage facility in Frederick to put and take a couple more items. As I was driving out of town, I passed a gas station that I thought was the turn off to go to my friends' parents house. Now, it had been a full 5 years since I had been there. But I have this strange ability to find my way back to wherever I've been, regardless of how long its been since I've been there, especially if I was the one driving. Sure enough, I found the house and stopped in to say hi.
Next I was on to my parents house just outside of Philadelphia. I should explain that the first month or so of this trip is really dedicated to spending time with friends and family who I might not see for a while because of the trip. My 11-year-old cousin Travis was staying with my parents for about a week, so I got to see him as well. I stayed in Philly for 3 days, and mostly just talked with mom and dad. We did get out on Saturday to a bike racing track where you could rent racing bikes like they use in the Olympics and use them on the banked racing track.
From Philly, I headed to New York City to see one of my very best friends, Julie. I've had some rip-roarin throw-down weekends when I've visited Julie when we've partied until all hours of the night, but this wasn't one of those trips. It was more just to visit as I was passing through. Julie had to work while I was there, and the TV show she works for was going on break for the following 3 weeks, so she was working overtime getting extra shows done. That left me with some time to kill in NYC, so I mostly wandered around the city, and hit some stores to get a few things I needed including my "Spanish for Gringos" lesson tapes. J Julie also set me up with a couple of passes to get in VIP to see tapings of shows at her network, which are always fun to go to. I went to a taping of "Who wants to be a Millionaire" and "The View", which is her show. I was one of about 4 males in the audience. We went out at night, but just to local bars and jazz clubs, which was just perfect as we were both tired from our schedules. As fun as NYC is, its not the kid of place you'd want to spend too much time at if you were on a long trip, as its extremely expensive to go out. For what you pay for one round of drinks in NYC, you can drink for a whole night (and buy rounds) in Buckhannon, West Virginia. On the way out of NYC, I stopped and got some pictures of my truck right in the middle of Times Square, in the thick of all the neon.
As I was driving out of NYC, and on the road, exit 15 west of the NJ turnpike marked another milestone in the trip. It was the first time I had been on a road which I'd never been on before. From here on out, the entire trip would be unchartered territory for me. Although, it still doesn't seem like the trip has begun. I think if I stayed in a hostel, then perhaps it might.
As the miles of the highway wear on me, I begin to develop a greater respect for the truck drivers that do this day-in and day-out. It must be a very lonely job.
I have an EZ-Pass on my car. For those that don't know what this thing is, you attach it to the front window of your car, and when you go through an EZ-Pass equipped toll booth, it pays the toll for you, so you don't have to stop. We'll, now they're able to track that if you pass one toll booth at 3:15, and the next at 5:40, then you were speeding between those 2 points. This is seriously putting a damper on my driving style. J Once I get out of New York state, I'll no longer be in areas of the country which accept EZ-Pass, so my troubles will be over in that department.
I crossed the border to Canada at Niagara Falls. I decided to stop to have a look. I ended up getting my bike out for the first time and realized how glad I was that I brought it. I was able to cover so much more of the park than I would have on foot. In fact, I might not have even stayed 10 minutes if I was on foot. The bike gave me the freedom to go all over and explore.
When I was still in NYC, I had Julie use Mapquest to print me directions to Toronto, which up to the border had been pretty accurate. One I got over the border, my directions said it was 160 miles to Toronto, when the sign I just passed said 233 to Toronto. It wasn't until MANY miles later, that I realized the signs were in KM and not miles, and that Mapquest was OK.
One of the first things that threw me about Canada, was the first place I stopped to gas up, I came to a stop light, which then started flashing green when it changed. If I was first in line at the light, I wouldn't have gone. But others went, so I did too. Turns out, that's the equivalent of a green left-turn arrow. Good to know.
As I approached Toronto, I became very intimidated. The city was larger than I expected, and as it loomed in the distance, I realized I had no clue where I was headed. When I traveled around Europe, I had guide books. Furthermore, the train drops you off at the station, so you don't get to choose where you enter the city. Now, I was faced with all of these new situations. Where to I begin to look? What am I looking for? Are there bad areas to this city? Am I headed right for one? I decided to find a phone book and see if I could find a hostel. I got lost for about 40 minutes just trying to find a phone, or to even find the highway again. Finally, I found a phone book, but no listing for hostels. But I did find a number for what appeared to be information on places to stay other than hotels. I forget exactly what it said, but it was listed in the blue pages of the phone book. I called it and told the lady what I needed, and she promptly gave me the number to the homeless shelter. It took a little clarification, but eventually she caught on that I was a backpacker of sorts, and gave me the number to a hostel. Turned out they were only a few minutes from where I was.
I headed to the hostel, and found a parking lot nearby. Toronto reminded me a lot of a small New York City. But I got the same uneasy feeling that one might if you left your car parked in a gravel lot in NYC. I asked the attendant if the car was safe there, he said "Oh sure, you don't have anything inside, do you?". Well, yes, everything I own. He handed me my money back. He told me that the hotel had covered parking you could use, even if you weren't a guest. I used it, but it turned out to me more than my room. J I could have actually slept in my truck there, but wanted to meet people, which is why I chose the hostel in the first place.
I got to the hostel, checked in, got my sheets and towel, went upstairs, and being the first one in the room I had the pick of the 4 beds. I made my bed, threw my towel and bag on the bed and headed down to the bar.
It was only 8pm, so things were still slow. I met a couple people at the bar and started talking. After a while, I wandered over to the pool table and asked the guy who just won if he wanted to play. He said sure. He was from Ireland, and was traveling with his girlfriend. After a few drinks and a few games of pool, people in the bar area decided to go out and hit the town. We ended up getting a group of about 8 of us, with your usual international mix that you find in hostel groups, headed out to a club. Just about every club had a line, and the one we wanted to get in to seemed too stuffy for our tastes, especially for the size of the line, so we headed back to the hostel. I ended up staying up until about 3 am drinking with 2 very nice girls from England. One was from the north of England and one from the south, they just met today. They said usually people from the other end of England don't get along much, and laughed about how silly they thought that was.
When I got back to my room, there was someone in my bed. Whats more, my bag was tossed on the other bed, with what appeared to be his sheets. So, he got in my made bed and left me his sheets. Bastard. I was so upset, I wanted to yank the sheets off of him and say "Hey, I'm not your mom, get out and make your own bed." Furthermore, I chose that bed, as it had the best view of the city, including the needle tower. But then I realized this might be someone who doesn't speak a lick of English, and might not even know what I'm saying. Whats more, this would obviously cause a fight, and a weird sleeping arrangement then, and who-knows-what. The easier solution was to just let it go, although I badly wanted not to. When I woke up in the morning he had left, and his receipt said he was from the US. Those Americans!