Last known location: London, England

Route 50: The End of the Road

The following day we set off from Hillsboro into South Eastern Ohio, the poorest and least developed part of the state. It was very rural, and we were definitely in the Bible Belt – every small town had several churches, and there were plenty of anti-abortion slogans on billboards all over the place. The driving wasn’t helped by the fact that the rain was absolutely lashing down! It was quite tricky and we made fairly slow progress!

By early afternoon the rain had finally stopped, and we arrived in the university town of Athens, set like it’s namesake, on a series of hills. This wasn’t the first familiar sounding place we been too; during the previous few days we’d passed through or near Paris, Moscow, Warsaw, Belgium, Versailles and Londonderry! It was a pleasant place, obviously full of students, and we decided to stop for some lunch. The retro diner on the high street fitted the bill, and we had some huge sandwiches before hitting the road. I wasn’t feeling too good, so Gem took over the driving as we continued east into rural West Virginia as far as Clarksburg, where we stopped for the night. Shortly after we arrived (at 4pm) I was in bed with a high fever and chills, where I stayed until the next day!

The next morning I was thankfully feeling a bit better so we got back on the road – Gem back behind the wheel for the day! West Virginia is a very rural state, most of the settlements old mining towns that were founded by Irish and Scots immigrants in the 19th century. The people have a reputation for being fiercely independent mountain types, but the people we met were all friendly enough! East of Clarksburg the Fifty was back down to single lanes, and we passed through a few tiny towns, including Grafton, which claims to be the home of Mothers Day! The road then began to rise into the foothills of the thickly forested Allegheny Mountains, where there were plenty of hairpin bends with 15mph speed limits to negotiate as we slowly climbed. As well as the crumbling prefab houses and ruined pickup trucks in the hamlets there was a bit of wildlife, and we saw a few deer perilously close to the road!

We made a quick stop at the Cathedral State Park, one of the only areas of original forest left by the lumber jacking West Virginians – all the rest has been chopped down at least once, although there are still plenty of trees left! We followed one of the trails through the damp Pine and Hemlock forest for an hour or so and then got back on the road, our legs well stretched. Shortly afterwards the road passed through the corner of the bizarrely-shaped state of Maryland for 7 miles, reaching the modest 4,000ft peak of Mount Backbone before passing back into West Virginia once more.

We continued through the mountains until we reached Virginia, which split from the West during the Civil War. Dropping down into the Shenandoah Valley we reached the small city of Winchester. Stopping for another break we set off to try and find the town’s claim to fame – the world’s largest apple, which weighs in at 5,200lbs. This isn’t quite as random as it sounds, as Winchester is in the centre of a huge fruit growing region and surrounded by orchards. We wandered the pleasant downtown area, sight of civil war battles and dotted with disproportionately large and very grand public buildings, but still couldn’t find it. We did come across an English Pub, but I couldn’t have been fully recovered since I wasn’t keen to go in! We left town none the wiser regarding the apple, despite asking a few crusty looking local youths for directions! Further down the road we started passing through the super-wealthy Hunt Country, where Washington’s social and political elite keep their country estates. There were some huge houses, most of them in such enormous grounds that all you could see from the road were the long tree-lined drives!

Soon afterwards we were approaching Washington, where we were to return our car, but we still had a couple of days left and decided to go beyond the capital and reach the Atlantic. We did make one stop on our way through, at the Arlington Cemetery. The 600 acre park contains the graves of nearly 300,000 American servicemen and public servants, and it was a moving site, with small, almost identical white graves spread over the hills as far as the eye could see. Among the graves are monuments to the Kennedy’s, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where we watched the extremely formal changing of the guard. It was a very moving and peaceful place in the late afternoon sunshine, despite the large number of visitors.

From Arlington, Route 50 continues over the Potomac River and right through the heart of DC, along the National Mall (home to all the famous monuments), and then out into Maryland, East of the city. We found a motel close the western shore of Chesapeake Bay at around 8, and after a very tasty and convenient Chinese we were straight to bed after a long day of travelling.

The next morning we were back on the road early and almost immediately crossed the huge Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The vertigo-inducing, 4 mile long parallel spans link Maryland’s Eastern shore to the mainland, which before the bridge’s completion in the 50’s was only accessible by ferry. Shortly after crossing the bridge we stopped off in the town of Easton to stretch our legs, and take in the pretty Main Street, which had a very English feel to it. Heading west to the eastern shore of the bay we arrived at the tiny town of St Michaels, where the sign proudly proclaims it as ‘the town that fooled the British’. This is a reference to a battle during the war of independence, where the townsfolk blacked out all the houses and set up lanterns in some neighbouring woodland – meaning that the navy did a good job of knocking a few trees over but not much else! There days the peaceful town is full of tourist shops and crab restaurants nestled around a marina full of expensive looking boats.

South of St Michaels, on the other side of the narrow peninsula, a tiny ferry with space for 8 cars and a few bikes runs across one of the many inlets to the colonial town of Oxford. We parked up at the jetty as the only people in the queue, and with no sign of the ferry decided to have a paddle in the shallows. The water in the bay was very warm, sheltered from the cold Atlantic, and we could have stayed there for ages but Gem spotted the ferry arriving! Apart from a couple of cyclists we were the only passengers for the 10 minute crossing to the other side. The sleepy town of Oxford was one of only two ports of entry into colonial-era Maryland, and is evidently little changed since. We decided to stop for lunch at the 18th century Robert Morris Inn, where we were greeted by an English woman who’d been to school in Marylebone! The Maryland speciality is fresh Crab, which are a big deal in the area, with the blue variety the favourites; we both opted for the huge crab cakes, which were delicious and didn’t disappoint! Oxford was a lovely place on the quiet coast, with old beachfront houses and beautiful scenery – if we disappear to Maryland one day then this is the place to find us!

Later that afternoon we drove across to the Atlantic coast and the seaside resort of Ocean City. This marked the end of Route 50, and the completion of our 3,200 mile coast to coast drive from San Francisco, which had taken 18 days! Ocean City definitely shows the tacky side of the American coast; there’s a 3 mile long boardwalk packed with arcades, bars, cheap restaurants and beach souveniers. A bit like Blackpool but with better weather (it was in the high 90’s when we were there!). There were plenty of places to stay – the population swells from 7,000 to 400,000 during Summer, so there are more than a few hotels. We found a bargain room at the Sun Tan Inn, then headed to the boardwalk and the wide white sandy beach. We ended up making a bit of a night of it, and after a brief trip to Shenanigans Irish Pub we ended up at another beachfront bar talking to a Baltimore couple – the woman had had a few too many cocktails during happy hour and was divulging all her relationship problems to Gem, which she enjoyed!

The next day we headed North up the Atlantic coast, passing into Delaware as we left town. The second smallest state in the US is known for its beautiful beaches, and we stopped for the afternoon at the Delaware Seashore State Park, a 6 mile stretch of white sand. It was very quiet, with only a few sunbathers and fisherman for company. The sea was quit lively, but warm enough to swim and very refreshing in the heat. There were also a few dolphins a little way out, but they didn’t come in close enough for us to get a good look, and it was a bit rough for us to venture out to them! After a few hours of sunbathing, our swimming was ended by a jellyfish invasion, and we moved on for the last stop of our road trip.

We stopped for the night in Lewes, founded as a whaling outpost by The Dutch West India Company in 1631 and a port pretty much ever since. We wandered around the nice riverfront park where a live band was playing 60’s hits, and then went for more seafood at Jerry’s Restaurant. Crab Soup and a huge Crab Bomb for me, and Oysters and Seafood selection for Gem – definitely one of the best meals we’ve had on the whole trip! The following morning we had to drive our car back the 100 or so miles to Washington by 12.30, but bad traffic going back over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge made that impossible, although no-one seemed to care at the car rental place, and we weren’t charged any extra! We handed the car back having added 5,539 miles to the clock in 4 weeks – just under 200 miles a day. Needless to say, we were glad to have a break from driving for the next couple of weeks!

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