- Where We Started: Boston, Mass.
- Where We Ended: Great Falls, Va.
- Miles Driven: 569 (20,125 total).
- New States: Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey, Delaware.
- States Still to Go: Nada. Zilch. Bupkis.
THE DAY'S HIGHLIGHTS
The final day of the FHMA journey didn't quite have the feel of a victory lap, as we had to bust our tails to accomplish the goal of hitting all 48 contiguous states. But, in the end, we got it done, and even managed to close the FHMA journey with a late-night ride past some of the nation's most symbolic sites.
We started the day in Boston, however, happy to escape our seedy hotel without encountering any gunfire or bedbugs (as far as we know, at least on the bedbugs). Our first stop was a swing past the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum, located on Columbia Point, alongside Dorchester Bay. The building, designed by I.M. Pei, is -- in my opinion -- the most striking of any presidential library. Unfortunately, that's the only review I can give, since we didn't have time to go inside. Because we needed to be in Fairfield, Conn. for lunch, and we'd slept in a little bit longer than intended, we were already behind schedule by 9am. The good news: Since Joan's sister lives in Boston, we'll be able to easily go back and go inside the Kennedy library. But since the building is a Pei creation, we thought it warranted a photo.
From there, we had to start heading south toward Connecticut, so we had to skip a visit to Brookline to John F. Kennedy National Historic Site, which houses JFK's birthplace. Luckily, the birthplaces of three other presidents were kind of on our way. The first was in Milton, Mass., where George H.W. Bush was born. The home where Bush was born is gone, but there's a marker at the location. We only managed to get Fred to interact with the marker by placing a treat on top of it.
Fred finds a treat atop the George H.W. Bush birthplace marker in Milton, Mass. (And, no, we wouldn't do this with a gravestone.We learned our lesson when Fred peed on Ernest Hemingway's grave in Ketchum, Idaho on the 2003 trip).
Not far from Bush's birthplace is the Adams National Historic Park, which houses many sites relating to John Adams and John Quincy Adams, including their birthplaces and graves. No two presidents were born closer to each other, and it's a record that's unlikely to be broken, since they born mere feet apart.
After concluding our Massachusetts presidential tour, it was time to tackle Rhode Island. After heading through its capital of Providence, we made our official stop there, at Goddard Memorial State Park, in Warwick. The goal here was some off-leash time for the beagles, who were facing a long day in the car. So we let the dogs loose, and the boys took a run in the park. All of them.
From Warwick, we shot down I-95 to have lunch with Joan's family in Fairfield, Conn. Afterward, we did our Connecticut photo op at St. Mary's by the Sea Park in Bridgeport.
Fred and Hank enjoyed some beach time at St. Mary's, which was great. They then decided to enjoy some dead crabs, and rolled in them for a little while, which wasn't great. We managed to get them out of the muck pretty quickly, but not before it became obvious we had another foul-smelling dog problem. This time, however, we were not willing to suffer through a hellish ride home, so we decided to bathe them once we found a good place. So we stopped in Westport -- Joan's hometown -- and picked up some bottled water to go with the dog shampoo we already had.
Deciding to avoid the traffic nightmare that is the George Washington Bridge, we chose to loop through Westchester and across the Tappan Zee Bridge, and then dipped into New Jersey, where we made a few stops. First, we cruised past the Grover Cleveland Birthplace in Caldwell, N.J., to see where our 22nd and 24th president was born. Then, spotting a nice park -- which turned out to be Grover Cleveland Park -- we decided it was time to give the beagles their public bath. So we poured bottled water over them, lathered them up, rinsed them off and wiped them down with towels from the car. As soon as that was done, they both sprinted the park around wildly for five minutes trying to dry themselves off. At home, we call this bizarre ritual the "crazy wet dog."
So with our odor problem mostly resolved, we continued our journey south, making a stop at The Thomas Edison Center in Edison, N.J. The main attractions at the Edison Center are a small museum and a tower dedicated to the famed inventor. During Edison's most productive years, his laboratory was located near Edison, in the small village of Menlo Park. Unfortunately, when we arrived, we found the place to be in complete disrepair. First, there was a fence around the tower that kept us from getting close to it. Then, seeking another place for a photo op with the pups, we spotted a plaque. Unfortunately, that wasn't a great option either.
We left kind of sad that such a historic place had been left to rot away, but I'm happy to report that some Web research turned up the fact the entire facility is currently being rehabilitated (although we didn't see any signs at the site that communicated this). The bad news: After three years, the project's current state is the "development of construction documents." Wow, documents! Coming soon, I'm sure: A blue-ribbon panel to evaluate the documents. That'll be followed by an RFP process, careful evaluation of the applicants and maybe -- just maybe -- at some point, actual construction. FHMA's predicted date for completion of the renovation: 2015.
Before leaving Jersey, I had one last mission. As someone pretty familiar with all the roads between Washington and New York, I've always been intrigued by New Jersey's missing segment of I-95. Those of you who drive up the East Coast have probably encountered this: When you're driving north on I-95, you hit a fork right after you reach New Jersey, where I-95 heads toward Philadelphia and I-295 becomes the New Jersey Turnpike. Then, if you get on the Turnpike, after about 60 miles, the road -- for no apparent reason -- suddenly changes from I-295 to I-95, even though there's no interchange or any other intersection with I-95. There's a long history associated with this gap, and plans to close it. But until the gap is closed, I-95 will remain the only interstate in the original plans for the Interstate Highway System that has not yet been completed.
Because of this geographical oddity -- and the fact we wanted to pass through Philadelphia anyway -- we decided to get off the Turnpike, and find the "beginning" of the stretch of I-95 that takes you all the way to Miami. In Lawrence Township, N.J., we found it: a spot off of Route 1 where the only option for I-95 is to go south. (The northern part of I-95 starts about 10 miles away, on the Jersey Turnpike). It was getting dark and Joan was on the phone, so I could not get a picture, but here's someone else's photo of the sign we saw. I am a highway geek -- and who wouldn't be after logging all these miles? -- so this may only have been interesting to me (and the guy who put together the site linked to above), but now I can say I've been on every mile of I-95 except the northernmost 50 miles in Maine.
Now, we'd decided about a week ago that we wanted to close out our trip with something special. In looking at our proposed route home, the one thing that jumped out at me was the opportunity to do a symbolic end to our journey by cruising through two of the country's most historical cities, Philadelphia and Washington, and getting photos of some of its most symbolic locations. So, at about 9:30pm, we reached Philadelphia, hopped off I-95, parked near the National Constitution Center, and took a walking tour of the famous sites in that area.
The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia.
A pedestrian is framed in a moving bus zooming past Independence Hall in Philadelphia.
While we'd now completed half of our symbolic tour, we were well aware that we had one last state to conquer. That last state -- ironically -- was the United States' first state: Delaware, which earned that honor by being the first state to ratify the Constitution.
After eating dinner outside Wilmington, we still needed a canine photo op, so we headed down to the city's pretty riverfront area along the Christina River. Now pushing midnight, we didn't have a lot of light to work with, but we managed to get what we needed.
Once we departed Delaware, all that was left on our itinerary was downtown Washington. Despite the fact it was getting awfully late -- or awfully early, depending on how you look at it -- we still felt strongly that a visit to the National Mall was the right way to end the trip. So, at about 1:45am, we parked along a deserted Constitution Avenue, and starting shooting.
The front of the White House wasn't visible without parking and walking some more, so we did skip that, and instead chose to make the U.S. Capitol our last stop.
Finally, at 2:54am, to the ironic strains of Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up," we pulled into the driveway. After 75 days, 10 hours and 54 minutes, I officially declared the Fred & Hank Mark America tour completed. Despite Peter Gabriel's words, after 20,125 miles, it was indeed time to give up.
FHMA PROGRAMMING NOTE
- While our trip is now over, and this will be the final daily report, there will still be a few more posts. We'll do a Best & Worst of the trip, pick our favorite photos, show a completed trip map and cover a few other odds and ends. So we're not quite dead yet.
- More importantly, thanks to all of you who followed this journey for the past three months. It was a memorable trip, and we saw so many amazing things, but your participation made it that much more special to us, so thanks so much to all of you. If I'm lucky enough to be able to turn this into a book, I have all of you to thank for it.
- While we admittedly had to shortchange some states on the Fred & Hank Mark America tour, I hope you don't read anything into that. Many of the states we sped through for FHMA were states we spent a lot of time in on the 2003 Fred Takes America tour. On that trip, we worked our way out west by going through northern states, so we spent a lot of time in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio and Michigan. In fact, we spent so much time in the northern part of the U.S. in 2003 that we had to kind of rush back through the south. That's why, for FHMA, we decided to focus more on the south and southwest. But we are not "statists," who have anything against specific states. (OK, maybe a few; I'm looking at you, Florida.) In 2003, we visited -- and loved -- Acadia National Park in Maine; we spent a weekend at Lake Winnipesaukee in New Hampshire; we explored the beautiful Lake Champlain area of upstate Vermont; we hit Mackinac Island and the UP in Michigan; we visited Door County and Milwaukee in Wisconsin; we swung through Minneapolis and saw the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota; and we spent time in Cleveland, Columbus and many other areas of Ohio. If this sounds slightly defensive, well, it is. Just didn't want anyone to think time spent in states reflected any kind of value judgment on our part.
- The best trip stat, as far as I'm concerned: I got no speeding tickets. I know, I'm as shocked as you are.
- Sign of the Day: "Dear Crossing," in Quincy, Mass. This sign is to let you know there are elderly folks nearby. We didn't get a picture of this actual sign, but found a photo of an identical sign from -- big shock here -- Florida. I'd never seen one of this before. Brilliant.
- Random iPod shuffle song of the day: "The Trees," by Rush. I sense that there's a bit of Rush fatigue, so I won't belabor this. Great song, though.
- Here's the Day 15 report on our A-to-Z iPod Exploration:
- First Song of the Day: "A Different Drum," by Peter Gabriel.
Last Song of the Day: "Don't Give Up," by Peter Gabriel.
- Best Songs: "A Different Drum," by Peter Gabriel; "Digging in the Dirt," by Peter Gabriel; "Dirty Day'," by U2; "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap," by AC/DC; "Dirty Laundry," by Don Henley; "Dirty Work," by Steely Dan; "Discipline," by King Crimson; "Distant Early Warning," by Rush; "Do You Feel Like We Do?" by Peter Frampton; "Do You Remember Rock and Roll Radio?" by The Ramones; "Do You Wanna Dance?" by The Ramones; "Dogs," by Pink Floyd; "Don't Be Cruel," by Elvis Presley; "Don't Change," by INXS; "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," by Blue Oyster Cult.
- Pleasant Surprises: "Disconnected," by RJD2; "Dolls in the Shadows," by Tangerine Dream; "Cloudless," by Peter Gabriel.
- Guilty Pleasures: "Dim All the Lights," by Donna Summer; "Disco Inferno," by The Trammps; "Do You Believe in Love," by Huey Lewis & The News.
- Bad Songs by Good Artists: "Dirty Movies," by Van Halen; "Dirty White Boy," by Foreigner; "Don't Get Me Wrong," by The Pretenders.
- Great Rediscoveries: "Difficult to Cure (Beethoven's Ninth)," by Rainbow; "Dig Me," by King Crimson; "Do It Again," by The Kinks; "Do They Know It's Christmas?" by Band Aid; "Doesn't Anyone Stay Together Anymore?" by Phil Collins; "Don't Answer Me," by The Alan Parsons Project; "Don't Come Around Here No More," by Tom Petty.
- First Song of the Day: "A Different Drum," by Peter Gabriel.
- After a little more than two weeks of this A-to-Z experiment, I made it through 1,799 songs out of the 8.932 on my iPod. So had I started this experiment on Day 1 of the trip, I would just about have made it through every song. Now I wish I'd done that. Oh well.
- Lunch: Super Duper Weenie, Fairfield, Conn.: Ironically, this was also my nickname is elementary school. No, I'm just kidding; it was much worse than that. Anyway, we met Joan's family for a quick lunch at this well-known hot dog place right off I-95. At one time, Super Duper Weenie consisted only of a truck that roamed the Fairfield area. But, in 1999, the popularity of the dogs led to the opening of the Super Duper Weenie restaurant. The buns are delivered fresh each morning, the relishes are all made from scratch, as is the chili that you can get atop the dogs. Joan got two plain dogs, and I got one Italian sausage and one chili dog (hey, it's the last day, why stop now?). The hot dogs were excellent, especially my chili dog. One interesting note: the chef at Super Duper Weenie is a classically trained chef who worked at a high-end Italian restaurant in Norwalk, Conn. before we was bitten by dog fever. Definitely an interesting place with an interesting history. Jim Nutrition Rating: 0 stars (out of 5). Restaurant Rating: 4 stars (out of 5).
- Dinner: Charcoal Pit, Wilmington, Del.: We'd hoped our last official FHMA meal would be a memorable one. Sadly, it wasn't. While this place had the perfect ambiance for a diner -- classic 1950's decor and a wait staff that looked like they'd worked there for 50 years -- the food just wasn't very good. We went to this place after seeing it listed as serving one of the best 100 burgers in America. While my burger wasn't bad, it did not come close to living up to that hype. The fries were pretty good, though. Joan went for a salad and grilled cheese and found them so memorable, she couldn't remember what she had an hour later. Jim Nutrition Rating: 1 star (out of 5). Restaurant Rating: 2 stars (out of 5).
- Now, the moment you've all been waiting for (and I've been dreading))... the weigh in. Yes, after 75 days and countless hamburgers, thousands of fries, many pounds of cheese and a pig's worth of bacon, my weight -- which was 248 when we left Virginia on March 6 -- officially ended up at 251. Yes, folks, after all that, I gained a mere three pounds. For those skeptics out there, I ask you this: If I was willing to publicly announce my weight before the trip and then list everything I ate for 75 days, what possible motivation would I have for lying at this point? I believe there are four reasons for this relatively insignificant weight gain:
- I did not drink much at all on the trip; I had maybe 10 beers over 10 weeks;
- There was a fair amount of hiking and walking on this trip. No, we didn't do any five-mile hikes, but we did something just about every day that certainly qualified as exercise. Hey, and if you think about it, moving a ton of luggage back and forth from a hotel room to the car every day qualifies as weightlifting, at least in my book.
- Until the last week of the trip, we held firm on not snacking in the car. All we kept in the car were almonds, some fruit and a box of Saltines. We arrived home with two of the four strips of Saltines were still unopened. I will admit that, as fatigue set in late in the journey, we did break down, and bags of Funyuns, Dots, Jujyfruits and a few Charleston Chews did penetrate the car. But, overall, we did pretty well.
- We never really delved into this in the blog, but we hardly ever ate a bad breakfast. Pretty much every hotel where we stayed had a continental breakfast, and every day, Joan would stop by and grab some fruit for me and yogurt for her.
- You can only Imagine how pissed off Joan was when she found out that -- after her healthier eating -- she weighed exactly the same as when we left, 142 pounds. Now, she thinks this is highly unfair because, as she says, "I ate better than you did the past 10 weeks." My response: "So did 99.9 percent of the human beings walking the earth."
- Hank was the biggest loser on the trip, dropping from 26.1 pounds down to 24. Fred has not had a weigh-in since we have not brought him to the vet, but we think he's pretty much the same from when we left.
- Chez Brady, Great Falls, Va.: What an improvement since the last time we were here. The water works and we were able to get a very, very late checkout. Hotel rating: 5 stars (out of 5).
COMMENT OF THE DAY
OK, I have to close with the best endorsement ever, from friend and former executive editor of The Washington Post, Len Downie (who just wrote his own novel, "Rules of the Game," which has gotten excellent reviews):
BONUS BEAGLE PHOTOS
BONUS FHMA GROUP PHOTO
Per previous requests, here is -- finally -- a photo of the entire FHMA crew, taken by the wife of Joan's brother, Alison Pugh, at St. Mary's by the Sea Park in Bridgeport, Conn. And, no, Joan is not choking Fred; it just looks that way. (Photo by Alison Pugh)