CIA-NEA13 Day 2: Monuments, memorials, and madness


This is day 2 of 5.  Click here if you wish to read from the very beginning.

The day started bright and early, perhaps too early.  It was just after 6am when we all woke up from our less-than-stellar slumber.  The sun was already past the tree line and burning bright in our faces.  While there were grumbles and moans of tiredness, it was obviously time to get the day going.  We drove around to the front of the gas station and each of us went into the restrooms to freshen up and change clothes.  I’m not saying I was overly ripe or funky at this point, but a quick wash up in the sink did not make me feel as fresh as a Spring rain, if you know what I mean.  But it woke me up just fine so I guess if anything I felt reinvigorated and ready to go.

After everyone had finished with their morning routines, we headed back onto the road and onward to Arlington National Cemetery.  We were about 75 miles away at this point, so the time was spent talking about what we were hoping to see and general excitement of the planned sights.  I am very thankful we chose to go on a counter-clockwise route and hit this area first instead of last as initially planned because the traffic was pretty light, what with it being a Saturday and all.  I can only imagine the nightmare this would have been trying to navigate through on a Monday or Tuesday.

Looking at the route intended and the route we actually took thanks to Garmin’s infinite wisdom, we actually took a slightly longer route to the cemetery that had us on the D.C. side of the Potomac until we needed to cross to get to ANC.  Luckily for us, this afforded us the opportunity to see sections of town we weren’t going to see, including the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts.  This made for a very exciting entrance into the city, to be sure.

I see something!

I see something!

I've seen many peformances on TV here, now I know what it looks like on the outside.

I’ve seen many performances on TV here, now I know what it looks like on the outside.

Crossing the Potomac into Arlington, VA.

Crossing the Potomac into Arlington, VA.

Iwo Jima Memorial not far from ANC.

Iwo Jima Memorial not far from ANC.

We got a little lost on our way to the first cache we did.  The roads were a little confusing, and Garmin wasn’t helping matters much with the “Make a U-Turn” suggestions.  We finally found the area and quickly parked (legally, I might add) and headed for the GZ.  It was just before 8am at this point so there was still very little foot traffic around so we were able to make the find with minimal need for stealth.  It wasn’t a remarkable cache or anything, but it still marked my first cache in Virginia so it will hold a spot in my memories.

This cache was just outside the north side of ANC so we had a short trip to the entrance of the cemetery grounds.  I knew this was a large cemetery, but the fanfare and grandeur of it all really took me by surprise.  We all knew this place was going to be special to all of us.

Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington National Cemetery

Parking is that way

Parking is that way

We pulled into a parking spot that was very close to the entrance and noted the method for which we pay for parking, snapped a couple group photos, and then headed into the Visitor’s Center.  There was a cache we were planning on doing that stated we’d need to find out some information and a location where someone was buried from inside the Visitor’s Center so I stuck around to find this information while the others headed outside.  I found the information I needed and grabbed a map of the cemetery and headed to meet the rest.

Now, geocaching has taken me to many cemeteries in the past 3 years.  Some were as small as a house while others were very large.  But never have I been to a cemetery where trams were available to shuttle groups around on tours.  And while the tour did sound very enticing (and came highly recommended by my wife), we had things we absolutely had to do and a tour just wouldn’t work for us.  Perhaps on my next visit to the Nation’s Capital I’ll make sure to set time for a proper tour of the grounds.

Our first stop on this tour was also our main highlight: the Tomb of the Unknowns.  I had done a lot of research on this location during my planning and after reading about the amount of preparation and dedication these guards have to go through in order to serve this post, I felt I owed it to pay my respects, not only to the Unknown Soldiers, but also to those who are serving to protect it.  I had seen pictures and watched videos about it, but actually witnessing the ceremony for the changing of the guard was an experience to behold.  If you have the chance, definitely take in one of these.

Tomb guard

You can see the lines in the stone where soldiers have walked over the years

tomb of the unknown

Simply awesome!

We spent about 20 minutes or so watching the change ceremony, as well as 2 ceremonies to dedicate wreaths to the soldiers.  I was not aware that this would be happening so that was an extra treat.

After we finished with the Tomb, we made our way around back to where the location of the gravesite the cache we were doing told us to go.  However, I noticed that there were a couple memorials that I had to look at first: The Challenger and Columbia disaster memorials and the memorial for the soldiers who died during the Iran Hostage Crisis.

Columbia memorial

Columbia Disaster Memorial

Iran Hostage Memorial

Iran Hostage Memorial

Challenger Memorial

Challenger Disaster Memorial

After taking a moment to reflect and remember, we headed to the tombstone we needed to see to grab the numbers for the coords needed to complete the cache.  It wasn’t until we plugged them in and updated the map that I realized the final cache was not only NOT in the cemetery, but it was about 8 miles away on the northwest side of town.  Panic set in as we had spent a good amount of time on this one cache and most likely we weren’t going to be able to get the find, but we quickly composed ourselves and decided to head to the location of the next cache.  Unfortunately, walking to the first coordinates practically did us in.  While only a .2 mile walk from where we solved the first cache coordinates, it was almost a completely uphill walk.  Coupling that with the temperature and lack of clouds, it became a very grueling walk for us, and knowing the amount of walking we were facing in D.C., we decided this would be the last cache we would attempt in the cemetery, which was pretty sad considering there were 8 caches we were planning on attempting.

What's she up to?

What’s she up to?

We reached the coordinates for the first part of the cache and solved the coordinates for the final location, only to discover that they wanted us to go to another tombstone clear on the other side of the cemetery.  Without the benefit of a car, bicycles, or any other method of conveyance, we made the tough decision to abandon the cache, as well as further caches in the cemetery, and head towards JFK’s memorial.  I’d like to say that everyone was fine with this decision, but I’m sure there was some stings of disappointment.  The JFK Memorial was really nice, even if the normal “Eternal Flame” was off and they had moved the flame to a temporary base behind the actual memorial.

As close as we're gonna get to the Pentagon on this trip

As close as we’re gonna get to the Pentagon on this trip

Sorry for the crap quality...best I could get with 100 others pushing around to get the same shot

Sorry for the crap quality…best I could get with 100 others pushing around to get the same shot

The view from JFK's memorial towards D.C.

The view from JFK’s memorial towards D.C.

With the memorial out of the way, there wasn’t much left for us to do but head back to the van to put away things we wouldn’t need and heard towards the subway station down the road on foot.  This was going to be the first ride on a subway for many of us so that alone was exciting.  After a brief kerfuffle with a Metro attendant about how to use their Farecard system (and some unneeded opinions he had about how we planned to use their system for our day), we made our way to the station platform and waited for the next train to arrive.

Up we go

Up we go

DynamicDs, Team Adorkable, and I waiting for the train

DynamicDs, Team Adorkable, and I waiting for the train

We had to wait about 5 minutes or so for the next train to come and learned real quick just how busy it was in D.C.  The station had a smattering of people here and there, but I would not have said it was busy by any stretch of the imagination.  The train we loaded into, however, was another story.  It was standing-room only in the car we loaded and, again with this being our first subway ride, we were not prepared for just how quick these things move while standing.  It took a bit to adjust to before we finally felt comfortable and started turning to talk to one another.  We had 6 stops to go through before reaching the one we needed to get off at, and luckily seats began opening up and by the time we reached our station, we were all seated.

Subways are cool!

Subways are cool!

We got off at the Smithsonian Station, which put us right smack in the middle of the National Mall.  As we ascended out of the station on the escalators, we were met with the amazing sight of the government buildings.  We couldn’t help but look like tourists as we stared in awe at all the buildings.  Turning West, there was the Washington Monument, entombed in scaffolding as it is still under repairs from the earthquake damage it received nearly 2 years ago.

Smithsonian Station

Smithsonian Station

Entombed!

Entombed!

We didn’t make it very far before we had to rest.  None of us had actually eaten anything substantial at this point, and with it already being around lunch time, and the temperature already climbing into the upper 80s, every step was becoming harder to take.  Luckily we spotted some ice cream trucks parked along the road that offered drinks and small food items in addition to frozen delights.  I needed caffeine and cold wetness fast so I grabbed an ice cold Coke and headed over to some shade nearby and relaxed.  The others eventually meandered over and my brother laid down and, for a moment, looked like he was about to fall asleep.

Is he dead? Poke him with a stick!

Is he dead? Poke him with a stick!

After sustenance was obtained and devoured and rest was achieved, we continued west on our way to the first cache in D.C.  Along the way we saw the Jefferson Memorial off in the distance, but since our planned route wasn’t taking us that way, the best we could must is the picture you see below.  Almost all the caches in the D.C. area are either virtuals, puzzles, or webcams, so we never were in danger of DNFing due to a muggled container.  Luckily all the caches we chose to do took us to some amazing locations that we wanted to see anyway so it worked out in the end.  The first cache took us to the WW2 Memorial in front of the Reflection Pool leading to the Lincoln Memorial.  This was a massive memorial I didn’t even know about.  The cache, a virtual, had a very interesting backstory that we learned only by listening to a guide tell someone about (the topic of the cache, not the cache itself).

Jefferson Memorial

Jefferson Memorial

WW2 Memorial

WW2 Memorial

After redeeming ourselves with the cache find, we headed towards the Lincoln Memorial.  Being my favorite President, I couldn’t wait to climb the steps and see the memorial made famous on money and countless TV shows and movies.  I had always wanted to go but never made it here, so this was my highlight for the trip.  And just how excited was I to be there?  I managed to climb all the steps to the top not once but twice.  Under normal circumstances I would have balked at climbing that many steps just once, but here I was, practically running up them once, then coming down only to find out the rest of our group were still at the top, so I turned around and went right back up, even after knowing there was an elevator.

Just as the $5 bill described

Just as the $5 bill described

I hear there's gold in his head....or caramel corn.

I hear there’s gold in his head….or caramel corn.

Cheese!

Cheese!

I stood where MLK stood!

I stood where MLK stood!

What a view!

What a view!

Of course this was the site of a virtual cache, so that was an easy find for us.  After we had finished viewing the monument, we walked the (relatively) short distance to the neighboring Vietnam War Memorial and got the answers necessary for the virtual cache there.

It's even bigger than I thought

It’s even bigger than I thought

Our next destination, The Ellipse, was quite a bit farther than I imagined.  By this time I was really starting to feel the walking in my legs and feet.  The heat wasn’t helping things either.  We were supposed to do another virtual cache along the way but it was really getting hard to stay focused on the caching aspect of the trip at this point so we decided not to try for it.  This leg of the walk was, to me, the worst part. Even though there was some shade along our walk, there really wasn’t much to look at and the lack of distractions really let the pain in my feet take center stage.  We had to stop several times so that I could give them a rest.  It’s at this point that I began to lament not partaking on the Bike Share system D.C. employs.  I would have gladly plunked down money to ride a bike.  I guarantee we would have done all the caches available had we done this.  Oh well, next time!

When we finally reached The Ellipse, we were able to properly see the White House in the distance, and excitement resumed.  There are a couple virtual caches at the north end that we were to do, but we soon learned that we could not go to the area.  The area immediately in front of the White House had been cordoned off with fencing proclaiming a turf restoration project was in progress.  This meant that not only were we not able to do the caches, but we also weren’t going to be able to get close-up shots of the White House.  I understand these types of projects require heightened security measures, but man did it suck not being able to get close.

Totally not close at all...weak!

Totally not close at all…weak!

Hooray for zoom!

Hooray for zoom!

With the deflated feeling of not getting to do 2 of the caches, and the realization that we were now almost 3 hours into our day in D.C., had almost another mile of walking to go before we’d be able to sit for lunch, and only had a few hours left before we needed to be back on the road, it was decided that instead of heading to Fords Theater and Petersen House to do the cache there (we weren’t going to be able to tour either building so really we didn’t miss too much) we were going to walk to the Federal Triangle Station to do some train hopping and make our way to Chinatown for our lunch and what would turn out to be our last cache in town.  It was at this point that I began to get cranky.  Lack of sleep, food, and now sacrificing caches/sights were all weighing heavily on me.  I had built this trip up to be something amazing and I truly felt like I was letting everyone down.  Not to mention the lack of a map or anything that could accurately tell me where the nearest Metro station was located really unnerved me.  Luckily we figured it out with the help of smartphones and were able to make it to the Chinatown station after some confusion at one of the transfer stations.  Subway travel can be daunting if you don’t know what you’re doing…thankfully I had done enough homework to know which lines went where….it was finding the signs that pointed us to the correct platforms that took some getting used to.

We stopped for a rather late lunch at Fuddruckers, which is just outside of Chinatown.  I don’t know why I have such an affinity for this place, especially when the opportunity to eat some slightly-more-authentic Chinese was just down the road, but I was really craving a burger so sue me.  Anyway, during lunch it was decided that we should head back to our van.  The amount of walking, which turned out to be 5.77 miles when all was said and done, had really run us ragged.  The heat didn’t help things either, as we were all a bit dehydrated and smelling rather ripe.  The thought of being in an air-conditioned car just sounded too appealing, so we decided to skip the last 2 miles and 3 caches and headed back to the Metro station to begin our trip back to the van.  Luckily the location of the final virtual of the day was right outside the Station, so we quickly snapped our photos and got the information needed to make the find, and then went below ground.

This is as deep into Chinatown as we got, unfortunately.

This is as deep into Chinatown as we got, unfortunately.

The final walk towards our van.

The final walk towards our van.

I can’t even describe the relief my feet felt once we got into the van and I was able to peel off my shoes.  While my arches felt good, the backs of my heals and sides were worn ragged and covered in blisters.  But it had been well worth it.  I got to see and do things I had never done before, so it was all a small price to pay.  But, of course, our day wasn’t done yet.  We still had to get to Staten Island before we could call it a day, and there were still caches in Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey to find, not to mention dinner in Philadelphia and a quick stop at MetLife Stadium.  I told you this was a packed trip!

Our Maryland cache was a webcam at Towson University, in the northern burbs of Baltimore.  We made this cache much harder than it should have been.  Going back and re-reading the description properly, it lays it right out that the posted coords do not take us to where we need to go and that we needed to go to a more central location.  Instead, we parked a good quarter mile away and spent roughly 30 minutes walking around with no clue as to where we needed to go.  We finally figured out the location and the picture was snapped on my tablet.  We then hurried (as fast as we could muster) back to the van and then left for Delaware, but not before stopping at a Walmart to grab some provisions we didn’t foresee needing at the time.

The caches in Delaware and New Jersey were pretty run-of-the-mill.  We actually got two caches at the same travel plaza on I-95 in Delaware, one an LPC and the other a travel bug hotel.  I had been hanging onto a couple travelers for a lot longer than intended and this was the perfect opportunity to rid myself of one of them that didn’t have a goal.  The Jersey cache was quick P&G as well.  At this point it was around 10:30 and we were ready to head into Philly for an original Cheesesteak sandwich.  The drive into the city was pretty painless until we got within a few blocks of Pat’s King of Steaks.  The roads suddenly narrowed and cars were lined up on both sides of the streets with just enough room for our van to move through.  This area has a pretty major bar scene going on, with lots of bars, clubs, and restaurants lining both sides of the street.  Team Adorkable handled the streets beautifully and before long we could see the glow of the lights from the more garishly-decorated Geno’s Steaks across the street from our destination.  Parking is at a premium in this area, so we had to do a lap before we happened upon a parking spot that wouldn’t result in a tow.  Philly is notorious for their Parking Authority, so much so that they even have their own reality show, Parking Wars.  And we learned first hand just how harsh they are as my brother was approached by a guy walking around with PPA Violations in his hand begging for money to prevent getting thrown in jail for scofflaw.  Yeah, not going to get into that one, buddy…pay your tickets or pay the price.

Pat’s King of Steaks lived up to my expectations.  The harsh attitudes from the workers was spot on from what I was told.  They don’t insult you…more like hurry you along.  They don’t want to deal with people who don’t know what they want.  You either tell them your order now, or you step aside until you’ve figured it out.  With it being after 11, it was amazing to see how busy this place was.  But then again, we did appear to be in the heart of the bar/club district, so I guess it wasn’t too far of a stretch.

Oh yeah!

Oh yeah!

The cache across the street was easy enough, even if the cockroaches near it were a little off-putting.  I had agreed to drive this last leg of the trip so we loaded into the van and headed towards our next stop, MetLife Stadium, home of the New York Giants.  While I drove and Team Adorkable navigated, my brother and DynamicDs grabbed some needed sleep in the back.  The drive was fairly easy.  At this hour, traffic was non-existent so I could just put on cruise-control and relax.  Things didn’t start getting exciting until we were able to see the Manhattan skyline.  At that point, we were rubbernecking at every turn.  Seeing One World Trade and the Empire State Building all lit up at night was amazing.  It was very surreal as we were still a good distance away from them but we could see everything clearly.  It was after 1:00 when we finally made it to the stadium.  Apparently we had missed a monster truck show and, as such, the stadium lights were on, so we were able to see everything clearly.  We had to drive around a few times to finally find a place to stop, which just so happened to be right next to the building.  We all got out and snapped a few pics.  DynamicDs is a huge Giants fan, so this was a huge thrill for her.  I was so happy to have been able to do this for her, and to see the smile on her face….priceless!

metlife

Also home to the New York Jets….but who cares about them?

After our brief visit to a closed stadium, we got back on the New Jersey Turnpike and headed south to get to Staten Island.  It was around this time that we decided we should probably look for some place to sleep.  There had been talk earlier in the day about staying the night in a hotel as we were really funky at this point and sleep on a bed and a shower sounded mighty good.  So for about 30 minutes, we spent our time driving around Staten Island, trying to figure out a place to stay.  We finally fell upon a listing for a Comfort Inn not far from where we were, so we quickly raced to get there.  We walked in and managed to grab the last remaining room in the hotel, a King sleeper.  The room was very small, with the bed dominating almost the entire floor.  I managed to find myself a spot on the floor and am told I promptly fell asleep while the others took turns taking showers.  Check-in time:  2:52am!

Leg 2

Trip Statistics – Saturday 6/15

Miles traveled

389 miles

Total miles traveled

906 miles

Caches found on leg

10

Total caches found on trip

15

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