Virtual America day 1-3: Cape Cod to Cleveland

What an incredible start to our trip across America! Since announcing Virtual America on the 1st May we’ve logged 107 activities – totalling an incredible 1012.8 miles – a few more than the 180 miles I was planning to do in real life!

So lets have a look at where we’ve been. After setting off from Provincetown we’ve followed quiet roads of Cape Cod – initially heading East before swinging South and then finally heading in the right direction – West. As this was one of the first areas to be colonised by British people lots of these coastal towns in Massachusetts are named after places in the UK – and especially coastal communities in the South West. We’ve passed Truro, Falmouth, and of course New Plymouth.

We left Cape Cod by crossing the Cape Cod canal, completed in 1914, that shaves 135 miles of the journey of people heading along the Atlantic coast.

By U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, photographer not specified or unknown, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1910428

Much as we want to see Newport – the famous coastal resort of New York’s elite – there isn’t a bike friendly bridge along the coast, so we cross Rhode Island (the smallest state) via the city of Providence. As you’d expect this city is dripping with history, having been established in 1636, just 16 years after the Pilgrims landed. Among other things it’s home to the oldest Baptist Church in America (the First Baptist Church).

A historical postcard of the oldest Baptist Church

After leaving Providence we crossed the border into our 3rd state – Connecticut – the state with with the highest median household income in the US. The word “Connecticut” is derived from various anglicized spellings of a Mohegan-Pequot word for “long tidal river”.

Here we slowly amble North through the town of Manchester (home to about 60,000 people) as we approach the state capital – Hartford. If you’ve heard of this city, it’s probably because this is the home of Richard and Emily Gilmore in Gilmore Girls (and more of this later!)

But we’ve come through Hartford so that we can visit my old School friend Andy who now lives just West of here. I’ve not seen him for a decade now but it’s been great being back in touch over the last year as we prepare for the ride. Here’s where we’d have stayed.

Andy’s House

I was planning on staying here for a few days, so hopefully I’d have had the chance to see some local landmarks, including Heublein Tower (sits on the top of Talcott Mountain and is a local monument). It was actually built to be a rich persons summer house! It was frequently visited by Mark Twain and also hosted Ronald Reagan and General Dwight Eisenhower.

Heublein Tower

Going via Andy’s means that we have a chance to head along route 202, passing through towns like Bantam, Litchfield and New Milford – which served as the inspiration for Stars Hollow in Gilmore Girls! I might not have been able to afford a stay in the Mayflower Inn (which was the inspiration for the Dragonfly Inn) but I’m sure that I’d have had time for a selfie in front of the New Milford bandstand.

We now leave the part of America known as New England, and follow the South County trailway into our fourth state – New York – and then into the heart of New York City. Originally called New Amsterdam, the area of present-day New York City was originally inhabited by Algonquian Native Americans, including the Lenape. We don’t spend that long in New York – we had some time here before the bike ride to sleep off the jet lag. And whilst it’s one of the biggest tourist destinations of the world I much prefer quiet country towns to the hustle and bustle of the city.

After leaving New York we whizz through more of the original 13 states of America – New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. We pass through Philadelphia and Baltimore before reaching Washington DC, which isn’t a part of any state. Home to the White House, the Senate, Congress, and the Supreme Court of the United States this truly is the seat of American power. Avid fans of Hamilton will know that Washington DC was made capital in a deal between treasury secretary Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson in exchange for Hamilton assuming state debts from the American Revolutionary War – increasing federal financial power.

The Washington monument – once the tallest building in the world

From Washington DC we head into states 9, 10, and 11 of our journey – West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. After crossing the Mason-Dixon line we cross the first of three mountain ranges – the Appalachians. Luckily we manage to avoid the worst of these by following the Washington and Old Dominion trail – once an old railroad – and then the Chesapeake and Ohio canal tow path – most of the way to Pittsburgh.

On the way we take a brief detour to see Fallingwater – the famous modernist house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. One described by the American Institute of Architects as “best all-time work of American architecture” this house has always fascinated me.

Fallingwater House

After heading through Pittsburgh – famous for steel mills and it’s “football” team (the Pittsburgh Steeler’s) we keep heading North towards Cleveland and the Great Lakes.

Our journey today ends on the shores of Lake Erie, one of the 5 Great Lakes.

The 5 Great Lakes from space

The Great Lakes contain 21% of the worlds freshwater, and allowed commerce and industry to spread across this region of America before the railroads were build. They are home to many great cities – and we’ll be visiting Detroit and Chicago very soon!

So it’s here that we pause for a moment. We’re three days into the ride and yet we’ve travelled about 1/4 of the total mileage – so we may end up exploring more of the world than originally expected! Thanks to everyone who has been logging miles through https://www.strava.com/clubs/644950 and my website – please do keep them coming!

If you’ve enjoyed our journey so far please do keep an eye on the blogs and my Facebook page. Please also feel free to sponsor everyone taking part at https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/VirtualAmerica – half of the proceeds will go to the MS Society, a cause close to my heart, with the rest going to charities that are helping to deal with the impact of Coronavirus. Anything you can give would be greatly appreciated.


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