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July Recap: first month on the road report

The little trip that we first envisioned as a fortnight’s drive across the country has now expanded into its second month.

Because we were busy getting the hang of things, as well as battling some patches of rainy weather, we’ve built up some good stories that haven’t made it to Your Milage May Vary yet. Here is a quick recap of where we were and what we got up to in the month of July.

July 1
We hit the road on July 1 and launched this trip. After eating a delicious farewell breakfast at The Black Sheep, one of the places in Richmond that we will really miss, and running some frantic last-minute errands, on the first official day of the trip we drove all of about 150 miles from Richmond, Virginia up Interstate 85 to Fairfax City in Northern Virginia.

July 1 to July 13
We visited with our friends Janet and Walter Oleszek in Fairfax July 1 to July 13. (For any political science students reading this: yes, I’m talking about the same Walter Oleszek who wrote your college textbooks.)

Unfortunately, Janet and Walter have cats, to which I’m severely allergic, so they volunteered their amenable and generous retired neighbour Herb Persil to put us up, despite the fact that we’ve only met once before, and in particular despite the fact that on that occasion I was wheedling him to door knock in the August heat for a campaign I was working on. (Some people are very forgiving!)

The Oleszeks and Persils have been neighbours in Fairfax since shortly after I was born. After years of apartment living, and with most of our friends still in the Ikea stage of their lives, it was both soothing and grounding to be in two beautiful homes full of family photos, real furniture, and mementos from a lifetime of adventure.

Neil would get up early and wander over to Janet’s for breakfast, then plug into his lap top for a day of programming. I’d sleep late—when we first arrived I was sleeping 12 to 18 hours a day—and if I was lucky I’d catch Herb in his kitchen when I came downstairs for a visit over toast and tea. I’d visit with Janet while Neil worked, and in the afternoons (after my nap) Janet and I would head out for a grand tour of the local markets to pick out the ingredients for her culinary ambitions of the day: Wegman’s, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Magruder’s (the only locally owned supermarket chain in the DC area), and Hmart, a great Korean market. (The Japanese-style, agar-based fruit jellies we picked up at Hmart were a big winner; the sweet kelp bar snacks however didn’t go over quite as well.) Then we’d head home where Janet would whip up amazing gourmet meals, which we’d dine on in the frequent company of Herb along with various of their amazingly intelligent, articulate, politically-engaged friends.

(Janet has lectured me on the importance of intellectual and social stimulation, and having met her circle of friends, I finally understand where she was coming from.)

Neil and I had hoped to stay until July 5, so that we could avoid celebratory drunks on the road on Independence day, and we really hoped that being there for four nights wouldn’t be imposing too much.

Little did we know that Janet had other plans.

We wound up staying for 2 weeks at Janet’s brook-no-refusals insistence, until it was time to drive back to Richmond for a training session Neil had to attend in his office.

We’ve joked about how we were held hostage and force fed gourmet food, but the truth is that we are deeply indebted to Janet, Walter and Herb for their incredible generosity and hospitality that afforded me an opportunity to rest up and build up my strength before Neil and I really hit the road.

We made a side trip up from Fairfax to Maryland July 7 to meet up with our friends Mark and Trish Slatin for lunch, and our typical comedy of errors ensued. We had planned to meet at Great Sage, an organic vegetarian restaurant in Conscious Corner, a little eco-friendly shopping center in Clarksville, MD that also includes Roots, a natural foods market; Nest Natural Home; and Bark!, a natural pet store.

Of course, none of us had thought to double-check the hours beforehand, and it turned out that Great Sage was closed on Mondays.

We piled into the Slatins’ car, and trucked over to historic downtown Ellicott City, where we managed to find the only cafe open on Mondays in the whole region. Founded in 1772, stone buildings still stand cheek-by-jowl along the steeply sloping streets. It’s where Babe Ruth got married (in 1914), it was utterly charming, and we weren’t in “road mode” enough yet to remember to bring the camera, so we didn’t get a single picture. But we did have a great lunch and a marvelous visit. (A later reprise of our lunch date turned out even better, too.)

We met Trish and Mark this spring in Miami, as guests of Charlie Green at his Trusted Advisor Workshop. (The road trip to Miami doubled as a dress rehearsal for our current road trip.) Mark and Trish are the founders of True Colors Consulting, and making their acquaintance was one of the highlights of the Miami trip for us. They are entrepreneurs, bloggers, and road warriors in their own right; we’re looking forward to an update about the incredible cross-country tour they are on with their daughter Jackie right now.

July 13 to July 17
On July 13 we drove back to Richmond for Neil’s Monday-Tuesday training—which wound up being held on Tuesday-Wednesday.

Even though we’ve lived in Richmond for the past 4 1/2 years, we still managed to pull into town on Sunday night right at 10 pm, which is when Richmond rolls up the sidewalks. All the restaurants and the grocery stores were closed, and we wound up sitting in our hotel room, in the middle of a medium sized city, dipping into our emergency camping food stores. It pays to prepare! (It also pays to plan head and to pay attention, but at least we got one out of three right.)

Jason Twice, the sales manager at the Quality Inn (at Broad and Parham) was helpful and generous in extending our stay for us at their (significantly discounted) Internet rate. (Thank you, Jason!)

Since Neil’s counterpart department from St. Louis were in town for the training, Neil’s boss Shane and his wife Stacey threw a massive barbecue / shindig / extravaganza for everyone at their house. Shane and Stacey are entertainers extraordinaire, and Neil’s coworkers are a great group of sassy technical people. We had a marvelous time and it was a treat for me, at the 11th hour, to put faces to the names of a handful of Neil’s colleagues whom I hadn’t met yet.

I also wound up babysitting, in the hotel…which is really a much longer story. For now I’ll just say that having a sink and mirror that are outside the bathroom proper is pretty darn fascinating when you’re 22 months old.

July 18 to August 4
We had hoped to visit with our friend Patrick in Baltimore when we left Fairfax on July 5, according to our original plan. When we let Patrick know our arrival date wouldn’t be until July 18, he informed us that he was leaving on a trip the next day! And, he graciously offered to let us house sit while he was gone. (In other words, he very generously gave us his house keys and gave us the free run of his house in his absence, in exchange for dropping him off at the airport and picking him back up.)

Our stay in Baltimore, or to be more precise in Owings Mills, was restful and pleasantly uneventful. We had an accidental adventure in Mt. Washington (part 1, part 2, part 3). We also tried a few local restaurants (very good), we got caught up on laundry (an Olympics-worthy event comprised of wind sprints between his ground floor laundry room and his third floor guest room), and on Patrick’s return we enjoyed a catching up on all our news since Patrick came to visit us about 5 years ago.

We still have gaps to fill in, but there is our July adventures in a nutshell. The support and encouragement of our friends turned our first month on the road into a much more relaxed, sociable and inexpensive prologue to the trip than we had dared to hope for.

We are both feeling much more rested and ambitious than when we started on the trip, and August has already been far more action-packed than July. Plus we’re getting better about remembering to take pictures, too.

The verdict on July: we are having a great time, the trip is meeting or exceeding our expectations, we are extremely lucky to have such amazing friends, we’re in no rush to stop travelling, and somewhere in there we transformed from two people in a jam-packed Mini into two camera-wielding travelers in road mode.

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