A soldier writes home

June 5, 2014 — 1 Comment

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On Wednesday, March 28, 1951, my father wrote the following letter from Yeongdeungpo, Korea:

Dear Folks:

I write to say hello and to tell all of you that I am fine, hope that you are too.

Today I received letters from all of you plus one from Albert Haigh – am planning to reply to him tonight.

I guess that mother’s chaperoning at Aθπ is probably over now since vacation time must be over by now. I got a big kick out of Angie telling me that a certain individual was caught speeding in that big Town of Moravia and if that’s not bad enough this “20 year driver” did not even have his license. Even I did not forget my license when I got caught in Moravia. You must be careful you know.

I wrote my first PIO story for the 51 as you know and it has been sent out. If it gets in Stars and Stripes I will send you the clippings since you will probably enjoy the big snow job.

I guess that Earl’s chickens are coming along real fine by now and that the 1500 new ones should be arriving about the time this letter does. With that he will have 2500, 4% loss should give him about 2400 good ones. What types of poultry is he raising, layers or broilers? The way I understand it upstate New York is not too advantageous for the broiler type and that layers are the thing so I suppose you will be getting some of Earl’s fresh eggs before long. The way to plan it is to have your big laying season in the spring (April) when the price is high. Or is it late fall? I’m not so sharp on my principles of poultry marketing anymore but there should be a book on it someplace in my room.

I have not received any of those bulletins — the ones for me and the ones for Shanks — I guess that they will probably come through sometime soon though.

My latest accomplishment was the “mastering” of the game of chess — very interesting — much more so than checkers. If I have to stay over here another 5 or 6 months I should be an expert by the time I hit 212.

Give my best to Angie, Earl, Grace, Gil, Angie Rae, Rex and Two-bits.

Love to all.

x x Paulie x x

Letters like these were very important in my family and I have a small collection of the ones my father wrote while serving in Korea. They kept my grandparents from worrying too much about the battles that were raging on the other side of the world and perhaps allowed them to sleep a little more peacefully while they waited for him to return safely home.

Earlier today our President defended his decision to exchange five Taliban fighters in order to obtain the release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl. Speaking in Brussels, the President explained “I think it was important for people to understand that this is not some abstraction. This is not some political football. You have a couple of parents whose kid volunteered to fight in a distant land, who they hadn’t seen in five years, and weren’t sure whether they’d ever see again. And as Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces, I am responsible for those kids.”

Re-reading my father’s letter, I am proud that all our Presidents, from Washington to Lincoln to Bush and to Obama, have held steadfast to the bedrock principle that our Country does not leave its soldiers behind on the battlefield.

My grandparents surely felt the same way too.

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Remember David Kelley

May 21, 2014 — 4 Comments

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David Kelley was born on March 5, 1962 and died in 1973 from Cystic Fibrosis. I married his older sister thirteen years after that. David loved the Peanuts characters and after watching one of the many cartoon specials he would write in his own words the story as he remembered it. Here is my favorite:

Your In Love Charlie Brown

Charlie Brown is in love with a little red-headed girl on a day before the last day of school. When Charlie Brown got to school he decided to write a note to the little red-headed girl and give it to her sometime in the day.

Just then his teacher called on him to recite. He had to take a stack of paper to the front of the class and in his nervousness dropped them all. After considerable fumbling he began to read his report. “Dear little red-haired girl. How I have longed to meet you.” The class roared with laughter. Poor Charlie Brown, he had read the wrong things.

During the lunch hour Charlie felt worse. He just sat alone on the bench. He longed to go over and ask the little red-haired girl to eat lunch with him but that’s kind of a difficult thing to do when you’re afraid of being laughed at like Charlie Brown here.

When Charlie Brown realized the spot he was in he had to do something fast or wait for three months til school started again. At one time in the afternoon Charlie went over to the pencil sharpener where he thought he might talk to her but he got nervous and ended up sharpening his ballpoint pen by mistake.

That night Charlie knew what he had to do. Tomorrow was the last day of school and there would be only one half session. Therefore he would have to meet the little red-haired girl at the bus stop, so just to make sure he got there on time he set the alarm for four o’clock. When the alarm went off at four Charlie Brown woke up. His eyes were barely open when he went outside. When Charlie got to the bus stop it wasn’t long before he was asleep. When the bus finally came Charlie Brown was still asleep. The roar of the bus pulling away awoke Charlie.

He ran after it but it was no use. This meant Charlie wasn’t going to be early he was going to be late. Charlie climbed over the fence and opened the door. He crawled along the floor and was just beside his desk when the teacher saw him. Now he had to explain why he was late and do a math problem on the board besides. It looked like Charlie Brown was trying to solve all the math problems in the world at one time. Then his teacher asked him if he knew what he was doing. “No Ma’am, I don’t have the slightest idea.” For the second time in two days everyone in the class laughed at Charlie Brown.

Soon the morning would be over and school would be out and the little red-haired girl would be gone. Then Charlie thought why couldn’t I meet her at the bus stop. The bell rang and Charlie led all the children out of school. Charlie stopped and looked for his girl. Kids swarmed by. Some more kids ran by. Charlie looked in all directions but the kids were too much for him. Before he knew what had happened the bus pulled away. Charlie said why couldn’t something go right? Why does everything have to go wrong? Wait! What’s this? Somebody tucked a piece of paper into Charlie’s hand. It read:

I like you Charlie Brown
Signed
Little Red-Haired Girl

The End.

I don’t know if David knew he was going to die when he wrote this. He did know he was very sick but still tried to live his life to the fullest. He learned everything he would ever learn about love from Charles Schulz and I don’t believe he could have had a finer teacher. And while he never got to meet his little red-haired girl, he died knowing what love is and perhaps that was enough.

Rest in peace brother.

David John Kelley
March 5, 1962 to April 12, 1973

Reading the run

May 18, 2014 — 2 Comments

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During a typical week of training I run for five hours and bike for ten. To help pass the time I have started listening to audiobooks on my iPhone as I jog through the neighborhood.

I just finished every recording of the books and stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and this morning started listening to Fitzgerald. I am an hour into today’s run when Dick Diver tells an adoring Rosemary Hoyt “You’re the only girl I’ve seen for a very long time that actually did look like something blooming.”

I remember with a smile the first time I read that line. It was the summer before my junior year at Cornell when, rather than return home, I stayed in Ithaca working as a camp counselor and on three nights each week running with another ROTC cadet.

Her name was Val. We became friends after getting lost together while orienteering. Realizing we were hopelessly off course we folded the map, closed the compass and ambled through the woods until we came upon a set of abandoned railroad tracks that we were able to follow back to the parking lot.

We started running together soon thereafter and continued our routine until the end of the summer. We would meet at her apartment, run north past the fraternities and sororities that lined Stewart Avenue and cross the bridge over Ithaca Falls and enter Cayuga Heights. We would run for about 45 minutes until we reached President Rhodes’ house and then turn back.

There was no television at the boarding house where I lived so I spent the rest of my free time reading. That summer I read everything written by Leon Uris, Herman Waulk, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

When the summer ended so too did my runs with Val. She decided that the Army was not for her and gave up her scholarship. I would never again find the free time to read as much as I did that summer nor ever enjoy running as much as I did with Val.

Until today.

On the road again

May 9, 2014 — 2 Comments

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I wake early today for a short bike ride to and around Lake Montebello. This is my second bike ride since the accident and later this morning I will try to bike to work. My arm feels stronger everyday and I hope to be able to start swimming again tomorrow. The black eye is mostly faded and the stitches will be removed in three hours.

Heading home I pass an ambulance leaving my neighborhood. I can’t quite catch the number but think it’s Medic 31. I lift my sore left arm from the handle bar and flash a thumbs up. The driver taps the horn twice and both paramedics give me a wave.

It’s good to be back.

Friends indeed

May 5, 2014 — 7 Comments

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They say with bike crashes that it is not a matter of if, but when. Yesterday was my turn.

I woke early to meet Dave, Bob and PJ for breakfast before the start of this year’s Monument to Monument Ride. I have not made many of Bob’s monthly century rides lately, being too consumed with training for this summer’s Lake Placid Iron Man, but was determined not to miss this ride.

The weather was perfect and we along with nearly 100 other riders leave Baltimore’s Mount Vernon at 8:15 AM. Dave and I bring up the rear to make sure that no rider is dropped and left to finish the ride alone. Along the way Dave fixes a broken chain for another rider and we help a first timer make it to Union Station where she has decided to call it a day.

Bob and PJ are interspersed with other riders, but the four of us meet up again at 6:00 PM on Hammonds Ferry Road and ride into Baltimore together, hoping to make it to Hampden in time for a quick dinner and some beer. We leave the Gwynns Falls Trail and turn right onto Warner Street. Bob and PJ are a bit ahead and out of sight when Dave and I make the turn. Warner Street is criss-crossed with abandoned rail tracks and although I have rolled across them dozens of times before without incident, today is different. I am a bit tired and inattentive and before I know it I am tumbling to the pavement and steel below my left elbow.

I seem fine at first, although my sunglasses are missing and my face is hot and wet. Dave stops and runs back to me. The look on his face tells me I am in trouble. I look down and my jersey and shorts are showing the spots that are forming as the blood slowly drips down my face and off my chin.

Dave retrieves the first aid kit from my bag and opens it. It is very windy and I have stuffed the kit with extra bandages which the wind catch and send skipping down the road. Dave opens a roll of gauze, wads it and hands it to me. Bob and PJ have now turned back to find us and when they arrive the gauze is already soaked through. I start shivering and Dave covers my legs with the sweater, pictured above, that I was wearing earlier in the day.

I am sitting with my back against a jersey wall being kept company by the best friends in the world when Medic 4 pulls up. The ambulance is massive and stops within inches from where I am sitting. Two paramedics climb down, get swiftly to work and before long I am headed to the University of Maryland Medical Center. I am over-anxious and can’t stop talking. They read my blood pressure and I am shocked by how high it is. “That’s not my normal blood pressure,” I almost shout. They reassure me that everything is okay and that my blood pressure spike is a normal reaction to the pain that I am experiencing. I still can’t stop talking. I ask them what it’s like to treat a gunshot wound and they tell me. I ask them about car crashes, stabbings, gun battles and asthma. They take my questions in stride as they drive me matter of factly to the hospital. When we arrive they wheel me to the emergency room and stay with me for a while. Our talk turns to bikes, bike trails and bike shops. I am calmer now and say goodbye without ever learning their names.

A wonderful nurse practitioner takes care of me. An hour later she counts aloud the sixteen stitches that she has used to sew my left eyebrow and lid back together.  Her name is Jodi and she asks me about what happened and how I got help. And I tell her what you are reading now.

When I get home I notice that the face of my Garmin watch is scratched and cracked. I have used this watch to help with training and although it is pretty beat up I don’t plan on replacing it. Instead, if all goes well, I will be wearing it when I cross the finish line on July 27th. And when I turn it off after the race I will remember and give thanks to my friends Dave, Bob and PJ who were with me when I needed them yesterday.

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And the next time you see Medic 4 on the streets of Baltimore be sure to give them a wave and a smile for me.

At 7:45 AM on Tuesday, September 3, 1985, I walked into the Pentagon and began my active duty military service. Over the next four years I would serve as a lawyer on the Secretary of the Army’s legal staff. During my time there I had the privilege of working with young lawyers who would go on to have amazing legal careers. After leaving the Army they would fill senior positions in Democratic and Republican administrations, manage Presidential campaigns, serve as Supreme Court clerks, and prosecute mass murderers. Some would sue tobacco companies while others defended them.

We all belonged to the Pentagon Officer’s Athletic Club, better known as the POAC, and would spend many lunch hours running together. We would start on the north side of the Pentagon, run northwest along the Potomac, cross the Memorial Bridge, circle Lincoln’s memorial and head back. On really nice days we would extend the run and circle the reflecting pool.

Many of my friends trained for and completed marathons but I did not. Until today, that is, when five hours and eighteen minutes after I passed over the starting line I finished the Washington, D.C. Rock and Roll USA Marathon.

The race started at 14th and Constitution and as I arrived the first song that greeted me was “I Can See for Miles” by The Who. This, coupled with a last minute text of encouragement from a friend, reassured me as I waited for the race to begin while watching the sun rise over the Capitol dome.

Washington is beautiful this morning. It is chilly when the race starts but I am covered by the wool sweater that has kept me warm over the last few years at early morning swim practices and on the shores of many open water swims. Today I leave it at the start line where it will be collected by the organizers, given to a nearby homeless shelter and put to a better use.

Most of the runners here today have signed up for the Half-Marathon and both races share the same course for the first 13 miles. We begin heading west on Constitution, then behind the Lincoln Memorial and run over and back across the Memorial Bridge before taking Rock Creek Parkway to the steep hill leading to Calvert Street. From there it is mostly downhill as we head east then south then east again towards RFK Stadium.

At the 13 mile split I watch as thousands of runners turn left towards the finish. I turn to the right and head west. The streets are nearly empty now as we pass behind the Supreme Court, dodge a few early morning tourists leaving the Capitol and run downhill towards the White House. We turn south at 9th Street and take a tunnel under the Smithsonian Castle before circling L’Enfant Plaza. From here we run along the Potomac and around the bend to the Anacostia. We pass the Nationals’ stadium and cross the Frederick Douglass Bridge into Maryland. We head northeast for six miles then cross the East Capital Street bridge to the finish line.

After finishing the race I return to Union Station to catch the MARC train home to Baltimore, repeating a trip I made nearly 1,000 times before completing my military service at 5:45 PM on Friday, September 1, 1989.

I am early and treat myself to a Martini at the bar in the center of the main hall. Sipping it I remember two other lawyers I served with who, twelve years and ten days after I left the Pentagon, were still there when American Airlines Fight 77 was crashed into it. One would die in a conference room obliterated that morning. The other, working just down the hall, would survive, his life forever changed by what he experienced that day.

I finish my drink and board the train home happy, but also a bit sad, that I have returned to Washington today.

January Hymn

January 6, 2014 — 1 Comment

Continue Reading…

Change in my pocket

December 22, 2013 — 2 Comments

Wanting to add a little mileage to today’s run, I extend the boundaries of my normal route. I run up Overhill and down Northway past the million dollar homes adorned with wreaths and red bows. I turn left and pass Sherwood Gardens, just as lovely in the winter as it is when it is full of tulips in April. Turning right I continue to the edge of Guilford and into Waverly, the much poorer neighborhood just beyond the stone walls and fences that separate it from its wealthy neighbors to the west.


I run south on York and it starts to rain. I pass people waiting for the 8 bus, huddled with coats but no umbrellas on their way home or to church or work. The houses here that are not boarded up vacants are run down and in disrepair. I turn at 33rd and head back towards prosperity. I pass Johns Hopkins and the expensive high rise condominiums that overlook downtown.


Running north I reach the intersection of Roland and Cold Spring. It is raining harder now. A figure stands in the median strip with a cup and a cardboard sign that I can’t read from my side of the street. Five cars pass him by, but one stops. As I get closer I notice that he is an old white man with a dirty white beard. He is thin and his coat is brown, dirty and wet.


I continue north and pass Baltimore’s most desireable private schools before turning south. It occurs to me that if the bearded man had been wearing a Santa costume and ringing a bell next to a kettle, everyone would have stopped and contributed. Yet when confronted with a real person in real poverty only a small fraction of my neighbors were willing to part with even a few coins.

And I am no different. Just two days ago, while on my way to court, I passed another person in need. “Spare some change?” he asked, crumpled on the ground and leaning against the corner of the building. “Sorry, don’t have any” which, while true, was not the real reason I wasn’t going to give him anything. “Merry Christmas” he said sincerely as we walked by without saying anything in reply.

Today I wonder how many others passed that poor man on Friday and offered excuses but no change. I also regret that I was not more like the driver who stopped instead of the five who ignored the man with the white beard on the corner of Roland and Cold Spring.

On my second lap he was no longer at the intersection. Even if I had change to offer, it would have been too late to help. I turn for home having made my New Year’s resolution ten days early. From now on I will always carry change in my pocket and be the one who stops.

On Wednesday and Friday mornings the pool opens shortly after five and swim practice starts at six. Normally there are four or five of us and we take two lanes, swimming counterclockwise as we complete a workout printed in black marker on a white board.

During a typical workout I will approach the walls at the ends of the pool one hundred and sixty times, check my position with respect to the cross on the wall and the “T” on the pool bottom, flip and start back the other way. During each lap I watch the other swimmers in our group, trying to keep close to the person in front of me and far enough ahead of the one behind me. I’m constantly watching where I am and where I’m going.

On some mornings, if I get to practice early, I watch Brad Snyder finish his workout in the lane that I will use starting at six. Brad swims with sleeves on his arms that protect him when he rubs up against the lane lines. His strokes are perfect and well-measured. I watch and count. He takes seventeen strokes each length, then extends his right hand tentatively until it touches the wall. He glides and bends his arm until his forearm comes into full contact, then turns and starts back the other way for another seventeen strokes. His brother Russell swims in the next lane and checks on Brad’s progress from time to time.

When they finish, Russell gets out first and stands over Brad’s lane. Brad uses two arms to press himself out of the lane and to the deck, then extends his right arm to where he knows Russell will be. Russell places the outstretched arm in the crook of his left arm and slowly guides his blind brother from the edge.

I sit quietly and never say a word as I watch, with both eyes open, Baltimore’s greatest swimmer head to the locker room arm in arm with his brother.

Day Runner

December 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

Reading through the Athlete’s Guide to the 70 mile triathlon I recently completed, I was drawn to the admonition that “Triathlon is an individual event.” I found this a little ironic given that there were nearly a thousand athletes signed up for the event which would begin with hundreds of us thrashing through a tiny swim course at the same time. Once I crossed the finish line, though, I appreciated just how true those words were.

In all my previous long distance swim events I was one of a group of friends who trained, competed and celebrated together. This one was different because I came to the triathlon alone that day and, while waiting for the swim to start, regretted it deeply. I was nervous, a bit scared and needed a friend to talk to and keep me from worrying about what lay before me. Unfortunately, despite being in a crowd of hundreds, I was alone.

Then, as I walked slowly to the water’s edge, the person behind me asked why I had chosen not to wear a wetsuit. When I started to answer he interrupted me. “Dave,” he asked after hearing my voice, by which time I realized that the question had been posed by an old friend who had been walking behind me the whole time.

Glenn and I worked together in the mid-90s, but had not stayed in touch after I left to start my own firm. After recognizing each other we laughed a bit and then spent the next ten minutes reminiscing about the times we used to run together during our lunch hour. Our conversation put me at ease and I felt relaxed and confident by the time we reached the water’s edge, wished each other good luck and started the swim.

The swim was crowded with people all around me at all times. No matter how many swimmers I passed, others remained in front of me. During the bike ride it also seemed that there were always other racers close by. Some were ahead of me who I caught and passed and others seemed to fly by me effortlessly never to be seen again. There were still others on the horizon who I would never catch but with whom I would keep pace throughout the 57 mile ride.

The run was different. By this time we were all exhausted and struggling to finish. We were all in the same battle, but were each fighting it alone.

I didn’t see Glenn again until he crossed the finish line a few minutes behind me. We congratulated each other and made plans to run together again. And last week we did just that.

Together with another old friend, we started at my office and ran through the Inner Harbor past the carousel that Abby loved to ride when she was younger. We continued jogging around the harbor and behind the Domino Sugars factory before making our way back.

Our run together brought back fond memories of the times over the years when I have had the opportunity to run with friends, first while stationed at the Pentagon and then when Glenn and I worked together. And while I look forward to running with Glenn again, the reality is that over the next several months more often than not I will run this course alone.
And that’s the way it should be.

Night Rider

November 17, 2013 — Leave a comment

On October 1st, I moved into a new office in the heart of downtown Baltimore and stopped driving my car to work. Sometimes I take the bus or catch a ride with Kathy, but most days I ride my bike.

With the shorter days much of my riding is done when it is dark outside. When I swim in the evening, my trip home starts at 9:00 PM.

Leaving downtown, I bike up Charles Street past the Washington Monument. At Mount Royal the traffic lights rise to a hillcrest at 28th Street and look like runway lights inviting a takeoff.

At Penn Station I catch and pass the number 11 bus but it passes me at North Avenue. A large line of riders waits at 25th Street and I beat the light while the bus loads. It does not catch me again this night.

At 29th, I cut behind the Johns Hopkins campus and wave to the security guards I pass on San Martin Drive. Tonight I surprise two deer who have strayed onto the campus from nearby Wyman Park.

I arrive home forty-two minutes after leaving swim practice and turn off the front porch light.

Running on empty . . .

October 7, 2013 — 3 Comments

On Sunday I started and finished my first triathlon at Centennial Park in Ellicott City.

The swim was wonderful. It was slightly less than a mile in distance and the water was warm. The 56 mile bike ride that came next went better than I had expected. I had trained on the course several times over the summer and knew it well. I got off the bike three and one half hours after I started the swim and all that was left was a 13.1 mile run.

By this time I was exhausted. My back was sore and it was way too hot to be jogging through hilly Ellicott City. I would spend almost as much time as it had taken to complete the bike course to finish the run.

As I slowly jogged, mile after mile, I found myself thinking back to the first time I had to run a race against a clock. It was during the summer of 1979 when, rather than return to lifeguarding, I volunteered to attend two weeks of training with the 101st Infantry Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

On the first day we were organized into a Company composed of two Platoons and for some unknown reason I was made a Platoon leader. Three other ROTC cadets from Dillard University were also given leadership positions. Parnell and John were two of my squad leaders and Dave, a senior at Dillard, was made Company commander. The four of us were put in charge of front line infantry troops serving with the 101st and none of us knew what we were doing.

Early on the Drill Instructors punished our mistakes by making the four of us do push ups. When our performance didn’t improve, they made everyone under our command join us, which only made our jobs harder as we quickly lost the confidence of the soldiers we were supposed to lead through formations and march to training.

I was overwhelmed and in way over my head. I thought I had signed up for a couple of weeks of rappelling out of helicopters and instead found myself being ridiculed at every turn. I remember standing in line for the pay phone, using a handful of quarters to call home to tell my dad in a shaky voice that I didn’t know what I was doing. There was nothing he could say during that call to make me feel better.

Dave caught the brunt of the Drill Instructors’ harassment but, unlike me, he never let it get to him. He knew he was doing it wrong, but rather than make excuses or feel sorry for himself he worked to get it right. Over the next week the four of us became friends. We borrowed a copy of the Army’s field manual on “Drill and Ceremony” and learned the proper way to organize a formation and to march troops. Eventually the push ups stopped and we settled into Army life.

In our free time we would play pick up basketball at a nearby enlisted-mens’ gym and John would try, without much success, to improve my jump shot. We talked about our plans for the future. They all wanted to be infantry officers. I hoped to go to law school. Parnell was already a father. I had not yet had a girlfriend.

There were silly rules that we were made to follow during the course, one of which was that only people who had passed the course could walk on the bridges over the many ditches that surrounded the training facilities. Every day we would come to a perfectly nice bridge, pass it by and instead run through a ditch or jump across a stream. And each time we did, John would proclaim that he was going to dance across the first bridge he came upon after we graduated.

The course consisted of a series of graded exercises and we needed to earn a certain number of points to pass. As the end of training approached, Dave was short on points. The last exercise was a 10 mile march in full gear that needed to be completed in less than four hours. The faster you finished, the more points you earned. In order to pass, Dave would need to finish the march in about two hours.

I had plenty of points and could have walked the ten-mile course and still graduated. Instead I learned about loyalty to friends that day and when Parnell and John declared that they were going to run the course with Dave, I decided to join them. Together the four of us ran in fatigues and combat boots, carrying rucksacks and fake M-16s made out of hard rubber. It was June, we were in Kentucky, and it was really hot. It was hard work and from time to time Dave, Parnell or I would drop back and John would encourage us to keep up so we could all dance across those bridges. I don’t remember what our time was when we finished that run, but later that day we all graduated together and John celebrated by dancing across the first bridge we passed.

I would never lead troops again during my military career, but would instead become a lawyer assigned to the Secretary of the Army’s staff. I never saw Dave, Parnell or John again after these pictures were taken and I don’t know what became of them, although I’m certain they each made fine infantry officers and served the Army well. The badge I earned that hot day in Kentucky is hung on my office wall. I cherish it along with the memory of the three cadets from Dillard who taught me the value of teamwork, friendship and loyalty on a long and hot run in June of 1979.

I eventually crossed the finish line six hours and ten minutes after I started the swim. I sat down, drank a Gatorade and wished there was a bridge nearby to dance across.

Fahrenheit 66.74

September 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

It’s 4:35 A.M. and I am awake. The swim up the Hudson starts soon and I shower, pack, check out and head to the Grand Central taxi stand to meet up with Katie and Krista. I check the event website for the last time and confirm today’s water temperature. 66.74. I decide to leave the wetsuit in my suitcase.

New York may be the city that never sleeps, but Grand Central terminal takes a break from 2 to 5:30 in the morning. Standing on 42nd street I watch the partiers from last night sit along the window fronts waiting for the doors to open, chilly in short dresses and bare feet holding high heels in their hands. The scene is made all the more confusing by the line of customers who have waited overnight to buy the latest iPhone at a nearby store.

Krista and Katie arrive and we catch a cab to the 79th Street boat basin. We are early and stop at McDonalds and Starbucks for a quick breakfast.

We make it to check in, get our caps and numbers and listen to the simple race briefing: “That way [north], that way, 10 K. Stay near the marks.” A right side breather’s dream.

We start in asssigned waves shortly after sunrise. It is colder than last year and the water is dirtier. I taste petroleum from the boat basin to the bridge. The current is kinder though, and I improve on last year’s time significantly.

We celebrate our accomplishments over lunch with an old friend from this year’s Potomac River Swim and a new friend who recently swam the English Channel. We take the A train to 42nd street and bar hop until our bus leaves.

Along the way I teach a bartender how to make a perfect Martini. Three times. It has been a very good day.

I shot the cover photo on this web page last year just before I swam in the Hudson River from 79th street to beyond the George Washington Bridge. Today I am traveling north with four friends to do it again.

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We are on the 1:45 Megabus from Baltimore to New York and will cross three rivers along the way, each of which brings back special New York memories for me.

With 150 miles to go, we cross high above the Susquehanna River at the north end of the Chesapeake Bay. I grew up on this river in a small town called Sidney in upstate New York. In junior high, after reading Huck Finn, my friend Jim and I built a small raft using discarded styrofoam packaging we found behind the Honda Motorcycle dealership that briefly did business in the village. Our plan at the time was to raft south for a few days to see how far we could travel on it. We lost the raft to a heavy rain storm and loose square knot and that adventure ended before it began.

In years to come, I would canoe many miles of the river, first in Boy Scouts and then later in annual canoe races with friends from high school.

Shortly after leaving Maryland we cross the Delaware River into New Jersey. When Abby was younger, we canoed the river along the border between New York and Pennsylvania with other classmates and their fathers. We slept in lean-tos, made spaghetti and meatballs for 16 over a camp stove in the pouring rain and visited the site of Woodstock in nearby Bethel. It was the first of several memorable canoe trips I would take with this group.

We end today’s trip crossing under the Hudson in the Lincoln Tunnel. I have not yet canoed this river but, if all goes as planned, by this time tomorrow I will have swum it twice.

Six of us made the trip last year and all but one have returned to do it again. We drove to my sister’s house in New Jersey the night before, awoke early and took a train to Penn Station. A short subway ride later we were at the start point. We registered, were given color-coded swim caps and had numbers drawn on our arms in black marker.

The conditions last year were perfect. The timing of the tides allowed us to start around 9:30 in the morning and the water was warm. By the time we entered the water the tide had shifted and was pushing us quickly north towards our destination a little over ten kilometers away. It was a wonderful day spent with wonderful friends in a wonderful place.

I expect it will be colder tomorrow, but just as nice.

My favorite bike when I was a kid was a three-speed, banana seated, Schwinn Stingray that looked something like this:

I used it and several bikes that followed to get around the small village where I grew up and the college campuses where I studied.

I bought my first road bike a little over three years ago and shortly thereafter started attending the monthly Rando Ramble rides organized by Bob Wagner. I never truly loved cycling until I started riding the Rambles. The Ramble riders have taught me how to be a self-sufficient, courteous and safe cyclist. The treks laid out by Bob have shown me Maryland at its best, from its quiet back roads to its busy bike trails. Together our group has biked to the heart of the District of Columbia, to the northern and southern shores of the Chesapeake Bay and miles beyond the Pennsylvania border. We often start these rides over coffee and bagels and, whenever possible, end them over beer and stories.

This month’s ride was a 42 mile ride into and around Baltimore ending with a picnic at Charlie’s Catonsville home. The first leg takes us to Jimmy’s Restaurant in Fells Point for a late breakfast. We get there using the bike lane along Frederick Road and the Gwynns Falls and Middle Branch Trails. From Harbor Hospital we turn north and cross the Hanover Street bridge on our way to Fort Avenue. We circle the Inner Harbor and bounce our way over cobblestones into Fells Point.

From Fells Point we cycle east and then north to an ice cream shop in Mt. Washington. After a quick tour of Canton and Patterson Park we climb north using the Jones Falls Trail and the Roland Avenue bike lane.
On the final leg of our journey we bike to the hilltops of Pimlico, then through Leakin Park and finally back to Catonsville.
When we reach Charlie’s house, Mary already has chicken cooking on the grill. We swim in the pool and enjoy some beer while dinneris being finished. It’s a beautiful evening inCatonsville and as I sip Charlie’s home-brewed Arrogant Bastard Ale at the pool’s edge I am grateful that my life’s biking journey has brought me to this fine group of friends.My only regret is that I didn’t keep that Stingray.

 

Facing a long day flying home, I wake early for a run on the beach. I repeat the route I took yesterday, enter the beach at its start, run north for thirty-three minutes and turn around. A fitness program on my phone allows me to play music while it tracks my progress and time. In a nice voice it reminds me every so often that I still cannot run a mile in under ten minutes. At this rate the 70 mile triathlon I have been training for will take nearly eight hours to complete.

The beach is nearly empty this morning. There are a few other joggers but most people I meet are here for a nice walk at the water’s edge. The tide is coming in and I am not always quick enough to get out of the way of the small waves that climb the beach. My running shoes are soon wet and heavy.

I have set the program to shuffle music and despite the randomness the songs always seem to fit what I am experiencing. As I cross under a pier a song based upon an Irish blessing starts to play in my ears.

May the wind be always at your back

And the sunshine warm upon your face.

May the rains fall soft upon your field

Until the day we meet again.

And the roof that hangs over your head

Find you shelter from the storm.

Before the devil knows you’re dead

May you be in heaven my friend.*

As if on cue I come upon an elderly woman facing the sun with her palms raised. Finishing her morning prayer, she makes the sign of the cross, turns slowly and walks away.

The next song starts and I continue jogging north.

* Devil Knows You’re Dead by Delta Spirit

 

Heading home alone

September 4, 2013 — Leave a comment

I left Abby in Obzor at 4:00 PM and drove back to Burgas. I fly home to Baltimore tomorrow.

Over the last eight days we have traveled more than 2,000 miles together from London to the Black Sea. At the start I expected that we would spend this time in long heart felt talks. We didn’t. Those talks belong to an earlier time when I was the only man in her life. I am not that person for her any longer. Instead, we spent most of our trip in quiet reflection as we watched Europe pass by our train windows. She drawing sketches and sharing her experiences with her boyfriend by email and I writing these blog entries.

In earlier trips I was depended upon to make sure everything was in place. On this trip I travel with a partner who did more than her fair share. From finding a conductor to let her on a locked train to retrieve the bag containing my passport I had left behind, to finding great restaurants and an amazing bike tour, Abby’s contributions made the trip better.

When she announced that she had obtained a grant to attend this program I was nervous. This was not like the organized school trips overseas she had taken before and I was frightened of the prospect of her traveling to Bulgaria alone. I realize now that she could have done this without me and has sacrificed some of her independence to let her worrisome father tag along to unnecessarily make sure she made it okay.

We arrived early to the pick up point and waited in a cafe next door. She said goodbye to me there and walked the remaining fifty meters alone. She left soon thereafter already deep in conversation with the people she had just met.

She did not look back.

During our brief layover in Sofia we took the Sofia Bike Tour and spent an amazing morning biking in Sofia with our tour guide Lucy.

We rented bikes from Sofia Bike and met Lucy at the front of the National Theater at 10:00 AM. She rolled up on a Drag mountain bike and for the next three hours led us around the center of Sofia and through its parks.

At the start she advised us that Sofia was not “bike tolerant.” She wasn’t kidding. Bikes were everywhere when we were in London and Paris but there is no real bike infrastructure here. There is a single bike trail in one of the parks that was originally built as a private exercise area for a senior communist official. The trail is still in good shape and is now open to the public but doesn’t appear to get much use.

Bikes don’t share roads here. Most riding takes place on sidewalks and using crosswalks. No helmets are worn, only sun glasses. There are formal walking trails in the parks but we do not use many of them. Instead Lucy’s tour takes us down smaller and narrower paths. We bike across a four lane high-speed boulevard and even down a ramp to an underground mall, a first for me.

At the stops along the way Lucy tells us the history of her country, its current struggles and the reason for ongoing protests in front of the Parliament. It was a wonderfully informative ride and one of the best tours of a city I have ever taken.

As well as being a strong cyclist and enthusiastic tour guide, Lucy is a kindergarten teacher who works with special needs kids. She has studied English since the third grade, is extremely proficient, and wants to visit the U.S. someday. I hope it happens soon and that when it does she will include a visit to Baltimore so I can return the favor and show her my city by bike.

Thanks again Lucy.

The last train

September 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

From The Man in Seat 61. . .How to travel by train from London to Sofia and Bulgaria

Day 4, travel from Bucharest to Sofia by daytime train, leaving Bucharest Nord at 12:30 and arriving Veliko Tarnovo at 19:16 and Sofia central station at 22:00. . . .There is no catering as this is just one Romanian Railways through carriage with 2nd class seating only in 6-seater compartments, so bring your own supplies of food, water, and beer or wine. However, it’s a scenic and interesting trip, so enjoy the ride. Expect an arrival an hour or so late.

The train to Sofia is about as far away as you can get from the Eurostar we took out of London just a few days ago. There is no air conditioning so we move from our assigned seats to a cabin with a window that can open. There are few other passengers and we have the cabin to ourselves. We will spend 10 hours on this train to travel 400 kilometers (roughly 250 miles) on tickets that cost a total of $41.00. A 16 mile cab ride from our house in Baltimore to the airport costs more.

The northern part of Bulgaria is beautiful. There are enormous fields of farmland under cultivation, probaly stretching hundreds of square miles. Soon the geography changes and we are riding above the Yantra River valley. We descend and follow it into Veliko Tarnova. As the sun begins to set we pass by and then under amazing rock formations that rise on both sides of the tracks.

It is nearly 10:00 PM and our train trip is just about over. It has gone according to plan and I have enjoyed every minute of it.

As we pull into Sofia, I recall that when I was in high school I thought I would spend a summer travelling through Europe on a Eurail Pass after finishing college. Law school and the Army got in the way and it never happened. Until now.

Sometimes in life you are given a second chance. When you are you should take it.

 

Jogging in Bucharest

September 2, 2013 — Leave a comment

From The Man in Seat 61. . .How to travel by train from London to Sofia and Bulgaria

Day 4, travel from Bucharest to Sofia by daytime train, leaving Bucharest Nord at 12:30 and arriving Veliko Tarnovo at 19:16 and Sofia central station at 22:00. It’s a tight connection in Bucharest, the Ister usually runs on time but I recommend staying the night in Bucharest and traveling on to Sofia on day 4. There is no catering as this is just one Romanian Railways through carriage with 2nd class seating only in 6-seater compartments, so bring your own supplies of food, water, and beer or wine. However, it’s a scenic and interesting trip, so enjoy the ride. Expect an arrival an hour or so late.

We followed Mark Smith’s advice and spent the night in Bucharest, giving me a chance for a morning jog. The route I pick is down and back the embankment of a small canal that runs into the heart of the city from Morii Lake.

Jogging through Bucharest I get the sense that the transition from a communist dictatorship to a capitalist democracy has not been an easy one. The canal serves no navigational purpose but seems to have been built as a public park or green space, complete with small lovely gardens and playgrounds along the way.

This beauty is offset by the urban decay that starts just across the street from the canal. Many of the buildings there are covered with graffiti and a few car windows have been smashed last night.

There is even a deserted power plant just to the south that dominates the skyline.

Stray dogs are everywhere I go this morning but they do not bother me. I do not encounter any other runners on the canal path and the looks I receive from the people I pass confirm that I am out of place.

Three lanes of high speed traffic fill the road next to the canal and it is rush hour. Just ahead a dog starts to cross. The first two lanes slow, but the lane closest to me does not. I am certain she will be hit and turn away. I wait for the sound of impact but there is none.

Somehow she has survived and is now in front of me, running slowly. I follow awhile and then turn back, happy my jogging partner is okay.

 

The view from Cabin 31.

September 1, 2013 — Leave a comment

The scenery today is magnificent. When I awake we are passing through wooded hills and pastures where cattle and many sheep are grazing. There is some corn being grown, but mostly hay which has already been harvested and put into large circular bales.

We follow the Olt River awhile and then continue through Busteni at the base of the Bucegi Mountains. We will be late to Bucharest but are in no hurry for this ride to be over.

 

Night train to Bucharest

August 31, 2013 — 1 Comment

From The Man in Seat 61. . .How to travel by train from London to Sofia and Bulgaria

Day 2, travel from Munich to Budapest by air-conditioned Austrian RailJet train, leaving Munich at 09:27 and arriving in Budapest Keleti at 16:49. A bar-bistro car is available, so treat yourself to lunch!

Travel from Budapest to Bucharest overnight on the EuroNight sleeper train Ister, leaving Budapest Keleti at 19:10 and arriving in Bucharest Nord at 12:10 next morning (day 3). The Ister has a modern air-conditioned sleeping car (1, 2 or 3-bed standard sleepers with washbasin, 1, 2 or 3 bed deluxe sleepers with toilet & shower) and 4 & 6-berth couchettes. A bed in the sleeper is the recommended option, see the photos below. The Ister should have a restaurant car for dinner & breakfast (euros, lei & forints accepted), but the restaurant isn’t always attached, so take some provisions yourself. Enjoy the descent through the wonderful Alpine scenery of the Carpathian mountains between Brasov and Bucharest. Ister is the ancient name for the River Danube.

We arrive on time in Budapest, have a quick dinner, and head for our next train at 6:30 PM. I misread the departure board and we walk to Track 9. An immaculate overnight train is on that track. It is pristine and even has a full dining car, complete with table linens. We look for our carriage number but never find it because this train is heading to Zurich, not Bucharest.

We find the right track and come upon a train made up of mismatched and heavily worn rail cars.There is no dining car and some of the carriages even lack air conditioning. Abby and I are given separate cabins and many of the lights and handles and drains don't work. The night is cool so I leave my window open. It is peaceful and quiet and I don't care one bit that I'm not on the train to Zurich.

 

Joey, Saldick and Ryan

After finishing my last blog post, I returned to the cafe car to grab another Beck’s. I made it back to our compartment three hours and four friends later.

The WiFi signal was strong so I stayed in the cafe awhile catching up on emails. A short time later I met Ryan and Joey, childhood friends from Springfield, Mass. who were spending two weeks traveling from Barcelona to Paris and Munich. They are big soccer fans and were trying to get the score of the match between Chelsea and Bayern Munich. We followed the game on my iPad, which Chelsea lost on a penalty kick shootout.

Joey has spent his trip through Europe asking people he meets to pose for pictures holding a sign congratulating his sister on her recent engagement. His plan is to make a large collage to present to her when he returns from this trip.

Like me, Ryan had planned this leg of their journey using Mark Smith’s website. Ryan made a minor mistake in the booking and he and Joey have ended up in one of the six seat compartments of which I wrote yesterday. Their efforts to make a last minute upgrade were not successful which is what has led them to the cafe car.

They told me of meeting the Libyan family staying in the next compartment. The father, Saldick, soon joined us. His best English is limited to three phrases, “Libya Good.” “Obama Good.” “Fucking Shit.” We managed to communicate with gestures and a little help from Google Translate.

Saldick wanted to smoke and put a cigarette to his lips only to realize that he had forgotten his matches, which is how we met Derik.

Derik

Derick is a surfer from Cape Town who captains a 75 foot catamaran charter boat sailing out of Guadalupe. Finished for the season, he is meeting a friend in Hamburg to deliver a boat to the Mediterranean. He offered Saldick his lighter and joined us.

Five guys met in a bar car while stopped at the German border and shared beers and stories until the cafe closed. Life is good. Libya good. Obama good. Fucking shit.

 

From Mark Smith’s The Man in Seat 61. . .How to travel by train from London to Sofia and Bulgaria

Day 1, travel from London to Paris by Eurostar, leaving London St Pancras at 15:31, arriving Paris Gare du Nord at 18:47. On Fridays, there’s also a 16:01 Eurostar arriving 19:17. In Paris, it’s a 10 minute walk from the Gare du Nord to the Gare de l’Est. By all means take an earlier Eurostar if you’d like to spend some time in Paris, or if it has cheaper seats available. Also on Day 1, travel from Paris to Munich overnight by the City Night Line sleeper train Cassiopeia, leaving Paris Gare de l’Est daily at 20:05 (20:25 at weekends) and arriving in Munich at 07:10 next morning. It has sleeping-cars (1, 2 & 3 bed compartments, economy with washbasin or deluxe with shower), 4 & 6-berth couchettes & ordinary seats, see the photos & information below or click for more pictures & information about this City Night Line train. Always check exact times for your date of travel at http://www.bahn.de as they sometimes vary due to work on the line, sometimes with an earlier departure from Paris requiring an earlier Eurostar connection from London.

We followed the suggestion of taking an earlier Eurostar and left from the St. Pancras international rail terminal at 7:01 AM this morning. The Eurostar is everything you wish the Acela could be. The ride is very fast and incredibly smooth, there is little rocking and swaying. The ceilings are high and the racks large enough to actually fit your luggage. Freshly baked pastries are sold from a basket, not unwrapped from celophane and served on cardboard.

The trip starts underground and after ten minutes we burst into the English countryside. Heading south, sunrise shines through the large windows lining the left side of the carraige. Within thirty-five minutes we are travelling under the Channel towards France. The train is surprisingly quiet this morning, full of English tourists heading out early for a long weekend and napping while they have the chance. For me, there’s too much history flying by the train windows to risk closing my eyes for a second. Fortunately, the coffee being served this morning is strong.

The train seems to go even faster when we reach France. Just as I catch a glimpse of the ruins of a Chateau, they are gone. As we near Paris, we pass a windmill farm that frames the background of the stone church steeple in the nearby village.

Our first stop in Paris is Gare de L’Est, the station we will depart from later this evening. We store our luggage in a locker and take the 4 Metro to the Left Bank. Paris Metro cars are modern, with large glass walls rising from knee level to the ceiling. They are very bright, illuminated by white lighted subway maps along the edge of the ceilings. The tunnel walls are covered with graffiti that is spotlighted as the well-lit glass covered subway cars pass by.

During our short stay in Paris we visit the Mussee d’Orsay and then cross the Seine and walk through the Tuileries Garden and to the Louvre before catching the 7 Metro back to the train station.

From Paris we head to Munich on the City Night Line 40451, which has turned out to be the most unique part of our trip so far. We start the journey with two trains joined together. At 3:00 AM, we will split with half heading to Berlin and the rest of us heading to Munich. Within each section there are four types of cars. First is a car full of compartments with three seats facing three and a large bike storage area. There are jump seats in the aisle so people can sit outside and read without disturbing their compartment mates. This carriage is filled with the very young trying to get across Europe by, no doubt, spending as little as possible. The next level up is the Couchette, the only difference being that instead of three seats facing each other, there are two rows of triple bunk beds lined up across the small aisle. The window curtains are down so many passengers in these cars also congregate in the narrow hallway, but they stand because there are no jump seats. Next is a economy sleeper cabin, each with its own sink and two to three bunk beds depending on the size of the traveling party. Finally, there is the “deluxe” sleeper, each with a shower and toilet in a separate room across from the bunk beds.

We start our ride with the shade open and watch the countryside coast past our feet. The upper bunk is not quite long enough, but the ladder railing does a nice job holding my beer. It will get a lot of use tonight. . .

London night music

August 29, 2013 — Leave a comment
We arrived in London right on schedule this morning. We visited the British Museum and then headed south to the Thames. We left at dusk and walked north towards Charing Cross Station. As we turned the corner to Trafalgar Square three street performers began playing Aerosmith’s Walk This Way, a fitting soundtrack as scores of people waited at numerous intersections to cross the streets that circle Nelson’s Column.

On our way underground to the Northern Line platform we walked down two long hallways. In the first we came upon a violinist playing an Irish Slip Jig. In the next a man with an acoustic guitar played early Beatles songs.

It was the perfect ending to a perfect day in London.

And we’re off

August 27, 2013 — 1 Comment

From The Start of the Journey:

So why this blog? I guess it all starts with the fact that my daughter, a classics major at the University of Chicago, decided to travel to the coast of the Black Sea this summer to excavate and decipher pottery from Ancient Greece. This rather straight-forward study abroad opportunity led to an invitation to join her on a train trip across Europe on her way to the archeological site.

A close friend recently asked what I planned to do during the long train rides. Would I bring lots of books to read? Take time to visit the cities along the way? Well, writing this blog is what I have decided to do.

At the outset, I must recognize, thank and give credit to Mark Smith from the U.K., better known as The Man in Seat 61. . . for his wonderfully insightful and helpful blog post on How to Travel from London to Sofia and Bulgaria. He has literally shown me the way, step by step.

The above is from my first blog post, published on July 8th. Since then I have been slowly piecing together our trip from Baltimore to London by air; from London to Sophia, Bulgaria by train; from Sophia to Burgas on the Black Sea coast by plane; and finally from Burgas to Obzur by bus, where I will leave Abby as she starts a two week program with the Balkan Heritage Field School.

The program she is attending is a workshop for conservation, restoration and documentation of Ancient Greek potterty and is hosted by the Field School and Apollonia Pontica Excavation Team. During the workshop she will work with authentic Ancient Greek shards and visit the ancient coastal towns of Nesebar (an UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the Archaeological Museum in Sozopol.

At this point I have followed Mark Smith’s suggestions and everything is in place, except for one pair of train tickets from Bucharest, Romania to Sophia, but my understanding is that obtaining tickets at the station will not be a problem. The schedule for the buses along the Black Sea coast is also a little confusing. Other than these minor concerns, everything has come together nicely.

We leave shortly on British Airways flight 216 from Dulles to London Heathrow. We are expected to arrive at 6:40 a.m. local and will spend the day sightseeing in London. Dulles is surprisingly quiet this evening and not very crowded; a far cry from my typical airline experience at the Southwest terminal at BWI.

Abby is sitting next to me reading Sea Change, by S. M. Wheeler, a new novel that I supsect she will finish it before the week is over. This is how many of my adventures start with Abby.

 

Tim (“T-Dog”) Methric

Tim Methric is the nicest swimmer you will ever meet. He is the founder and inspirational leader of the informal “Charm City Masters” swim team of which I am a proud member. If all goes as planned, next weekend he will move from Canton to Ellicott City.

Tim was born on April 1st in the bathroom of the house where his parents still live. That one sentence explains a lot about Tim. He is the type of guy who can’t wait to get started, whether on the deck before a routine practice or on the shore at the start of a long open water swim. “Let’s do this,” he’ll proclaim and then we are off and swimming. Tim out in front and the rest of us trailing behind. At the end of the swim, his is the first face you will see, smiling and offering encouragement as the rest of us finish.

Tim moved to Canton four years ago to accept a temporary teaching position at Towson University. He liked Baltimore so much he decided to stay after he finished at Towson. A life-long swimmer, he quickly joined a Masters swim team. He started with the team a year before me, at a time when it had different coaches. That team was vibrant, full of strong swimmers and tri-athletes who welcomed Tim to his new home. He met his best friend on that team and in several weeks will marry her.

Unfortunately, the team fell apart shortly after I joined, when new coaches were hired and new rules were imposed by the owner of the pool. Tim stayed on after almost everyone else left and over the last three years has been instrumental in our team’s rebirth.

Tim trains with passion and the example he sets has inspired me to work hard and follow him, first up the Hudson River and then on a seven and one-half mile swim across the Potomac. I have written about how Bruce and Abby taught me the joy of swimming. Tim taught me to believe in myself as a swimmer, and that confidence has made all the difference.

And for this I offer my thanks to Tim and my best wishes to Tim and Kathleen as they begin their next adventure, together.

Abigail, a father’s joy

August 22, 2013 — 6 Comments

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This morning in Baltimore was beautiful, much like it was twenty years ago when our daughter Abigail was born.

I slept well the night before, not realizing that Kathy had been up for hours in early labor. She woke me with the suggestion that perhaps we should think about driving to the hospital. A minute later her water broke.

My first job was to pack some clothes for the baby. I picked out six “onesies,” clueless that the stay at the hospital would be measured in hours, not days. This was the beginning of a slow learning process for me. After we brought Abby home, my next job was to buy diapers. I went to the nearby Giant, walked down the aisle where the baby products are sold and picked out four packages of diapers. One for each age grouping from “1 to 3 months” to “9 to 12 months.” At the checkout stand the cashier looked at my purchases and asked how many children I had. “Just one,” was the answer. She gave me a knowing smile and said, “Don’t worry Dad, children don’t grow up that fast.”

No. It turns out they grow up much faster.

Happy 20th Birthday Abby.

Love,

Dad

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I went for a jog in New York City this morning. I started at 44th Street, turned right at Fifth Avenue and headed north towards Central Park.

I crossed in front of the Plaza Hotel and entered the Park. There were hundreds of joggers and bicyclists. The air was clear and cool. Some joggers even wore sweatshirts.

As I ran easily up East Drive, I remembered back to the first time I visited Manhattan. It was the summer after my first year in law school and I took the Greyhound from Binghampton to visit Jim, a friend from college, and Glenn and Jon, my closest friends from law school. We met at the Port Authority bus terminal. Glenn’s dad ran a vending company and lent Glenn his delivery van for the day. We drove downtown and parked just off Wall Street.

Jon started our tour from the observation deck on the south World Trade Center tower. He pointed out all of the neighborhoods in southern Manhattan and from there we walked through each one. We headed north to Chelsea, spent a little time in Greenwich Village and SoHo, then had lunch in Little Italy before passing through Chinatown on our way to Battery Park. We stopped to look at the Statute of Liberty and started walking back to where we had left the van.

Turning onto Pearl Street we stumbled upon The Killarney Rose, a quaint Irish pub. We sat on bar stools and drank pint-sized drafts that cost 50 cents. We talked about nothing of consequence that day and stayed to watch Caveat win the Belmont Stakes an hour or so later.

 

I’ve had many beers in other establishments since then, but have no memory fonder than of the time I shared beers with Jim, Glenn and Jon while sitting at that bar.

Reaching the top of a climb, I turned left to the Reservoir and then headed south. I zigzagged my way down Madison and Park, crossing streets back and forth as the traffic signals dictated and finished my morning jog in just over an hour.

It was the second best time I’ve had while visiting New York.

The trip

August 6, 2013 — Leave a comment

europe_95

On August 28, 2013, Abby and I depart for London for our train trip to the Black Sea. You can follow our travels on the above map. Our rough itinerary is listed in Upcoming Events, to the left. We depart from London and will change trains in Paris, Munich, Budapest, Bucharest and Sofia.

We welcome any suggestions of things to see and do in Bucharest, Sofia and Bourgas, where we have scheduled stop-overs.

Finish.

August 4, 2013 — 1 Comment

Earlier today I finished the 3 mile Purple Swim to support pancreatic cancer research. There was a one mile swim followed by a two mile swim with the option to swim both, which is what my friends and I chose to do this morning.

The day was beautiful and the conditions were perfect. The humidity was low, with a water temperature in the high 70s. The water surface was basically flat. It was like swimming in a pool without having to do any flip turns.

At the end of each swim, I walked ashore and under the purple banner pictured above and remembered all the times my father encouraged me to finish what I started. My father never rushed into these matters. He waited, let things simmer a bit, and then said just the right thing to convince me to keep going.

I now realize that by encouraging me in this way, my father taught me a more valuable lesson. And that lesson was that once you know you can finish whatever you start, you will never be afraid to push your limits and strive for higher goals.

I just signed up for the “Half Full” triathlon scheduled for October 6th in Ellicott City. Until this morning, my plan had been to swim, bike and run for a total of 40 miles. Inspired by the memory of my father's lessons, I instead signed up for the 70 mile course.

I don't know how I'll do on October 6th, but I will finish.

 

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My father, Edwin Paul Hoskins, was born on February 27, 1930, in Ithaca, New York, the youngest child of Edwin Ray Hoskins and Ethel Bernice Williams.

He was not a stellar student. He attended Cornell University for a year or so, did not do well, and enlisted in the Army shortly before the outbreak of the Korean Conflict. After his honorable discharge, he finished college and then law school. He spent a few years as an Assistant Attorney General before starting a law practice in Sidney, New York, where he worked regularly until he died. He married Mary Ann McGrath on January 24, 1959.

He became jaundiced in 1994, shortly after our daughter Abigail was born. The doctors originally hoped that removing his gallbladder was all that would be necessary, but quickly discovered pancreatic cancer. After doctors at Johns Hopkins performed the Whipple procedure, he spent the summer of 1994 recovering at our house in Baltimore, resting for many hours in a hammock we had hung on the porch. Although Abby doesn’t remember much about his stay, he enjoyed visiting with her everyday that summer.

He returned to New York in great spirits and spent the next two years living his life to the fullest. At first the prognosis seemed promising, but ultimately the cancer returned and spread to his lungs.

He died on July 13, 1996, on my mother’s 62nd birthday. I left him earlier that day to drive back to Baltimore, explaining that I would visit him again on the next weekend. He died shortly after I finished the drive. We buried him in Ithaca two days later.

My next open water swim is this Sunday at Rocky Point Beach and Park. Together with several friends, I will complete the three-mile Purple Swim to help raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death and it has the lowest relative survival rate of any major cancer. For this reason, of the 45,000 Americans who will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer this year, only 7,000 will be alive in five years. Because of these grim statistics, pancreatic cancer is the least-studied of all major cancer killers with only two percent of the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget dedicated to pancreatic cancer research. With only so much money to go around, cancer researchers have focused their efforts on other, more survivable, cancers where their research can do the most good.

Although the treatment provided my father did not cure him, I am forever grateful to the doctors who did their best and gave my father two years to get to know his granddaughter. And for this reason I will swim on Sunday in memory of him and in honor of the families who are currently struggling with a disease for which there will likely never be a cure.

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Edwin Paul Hoskins
February 27, 1930 to July 13, 1996

The Atlantic Ocean is an amazing place to swim, but very intimidating. Yesterday, with a couple hundred other swimmers, I participated in the inaugural Ocean City Swim for Brain Research. My good friend and training partner, Claudia, swam the race as well. All in all it was a very well run event. The event staff treated us great and we were well protected both during the swim and after the finish.

The swim course was marked by a buoy line set 300 meters from shore. Swimming that far offshore was a new experience for me. Although the swells were gentle, the bobbing they caused was disorienting. When on top of a swell, you could see for miles. But, if you happened to take a breath while in the trough all you saw was water. These conditions made swimming a straight course difficult. You had to time the sighting to correspond with the swells and catch a quick glimpse of the buoy before sinking into the trough. Although we swam in following seas, the current seemed to push us to the Northeast, away from the shore. We must have zigzagged our way up the coast because we passed within a few feet of some of the buoys, but fifty meters from others.

The air was blisteringly hot in Ocean City yesterday, with no shade at any of the start points. When the nine mile swimmers started at 9:30 a.m., there were a few joggers and bikers on the boardwalk. Two hours later at the start of the three mile swim, it was too hot to even walk on the sand. With no shade anywhere, we tried to keep as much skin covered for as long as possible, and kept spraying and respraying the exposed parts with sunscreen.

The water was cold, about 65 degrees. This caused a number of nine mile swimmers to abandon the swim within minutes of starting. After learning of this, most of the three-milers decided to pull on wetsuits. This wasn’t an option for Claudia and me because we hadn’t brought any. We didn’t bother with much of a warm up before the start. I jumped a few waves and then immediately body surfed the next one to the shore, having decided that nothing would be gained by getting cold before the start. Our original goal had been to improve on the time we swam at last year’s three mile Swim Across America. As we walked back to our towels, that goal changed simply to finishing the swim.

The start of the race involved the new experience of getting beyond the breakers. We took a conservative approach and, because the current was flowing to the North, jogged to the South a little before entering the water to insure that we had the current at our backs when we reached the turn buoy.

I rely on the buddy system when swimming in open water. Even if I don’t have a teammate with me, I always stay close to other swimmers. From a psychological standpoint, I think I need to able to see someone else at all times in order to remain calm and relaxed. Yesterday, swimming far from shore, it proved especially important to have a teammate swimming next to me.

It was too cold to just put your head down and start freestyle so the first hundred yards were swum with heads up breaststroke. After getting our breathing under control, we started swimming for the finish and things slowly got warmer. Although we started close to last, we ultimately caught and passed about a third of the swimmers in front of us, (most of whom were wearing wetsuits) and the paddle boarders who were guarding them. Even with the slow start and sighting breaks, our pace was about 2 minutes per hundred meters.

The bottoms of my feet never got warm. My hands were fine until the end when I started losing feeling in my right hand. The numbness slowly climbed to my wrist and forearm and had reached my bicep by the time I made it to the finish. I had a similar feeling in my left leg as my calf muscle slowly cramped from the ankle to my knee. It was frustrating because I couldn’t find a way to generate the heat necessary to keep my arm and leg warm. Kicking harder didn’t work, nor did clenching and flexing my fingers during the recovery portion of the arm stroke.

At the race briefing we were told that the buoys would be 1,000 meters apart and that the last buoy would be orange and closer to shore. Pretty straight forward, I thought. Pass four yellows, head towards the shore to find the orange, turn left and head for the beach. Each time we neared a buoy, Claudia and I would stop briefly, exchange a few words of encouragement to make sure neither of us had become disoriented, and then ride the swell until we could sight the next buoy. After the third buoy, I repeated a line we often use during a workout, “half-way home.” Then it was head down, elbows high and on to the next buoy.

I had a good sight on the fourth buoy and felt strong as it got closer with each stroke. We reached it, took our break, and I started looking towards the shore for the orange buoy. It wasn’t there. Looking North, all I saw was more buoys. A nearby paddle boarder told us we only had eleven blocks to go. This made me laugh inside because, while that information would have helped if we were walking up the Coastal Highway, it was useless to us as we bobbed up and down 300 meters from shore.

Counting the buoys didn’t matter any more. We’d swim to one, exchange a few words of encouragement and swim to the next. I’m not sure if we passed two or three more buoys, but before we knew it we had reached the orange buoy. A quick left turn and another fifty strokes or so and we were being thrown onto the shore by the breaking waves. Not the most graceful exit from a body of water, but it worked.

A nice sized crowd of vacationers cheered enthusiastically and I felt surprisingly good as we climbed the beach to the finish. We were escorted to chairs and given water and Gatorade. This was followed by chicken and peanut butter sandwiches, bananas, cookies and brownies. I was dizzy for a while, but ultimately recovered okay.

As we sat on the finish beach waiting for the bus to come and take us back downtown, we watched other swimmers finish and, in some instances, suffer. Ultimately three ambulances were called. Two for hypothermic swimmers and a third for a swimmer experiencing breathing difficulties. This brought home to me the harsh reality that open water swimming, despite all of its joys, is not a sport without inherent risks, especially when the conditions are not optimal.

Which is why I am grateful to have had a friend swimming to my right yesterday. Thanks again, Claudia.

I first learned to love swimming in the summer of 1972, when Bruce Rinker was the chief lifeguard at the Sidney Municipal Pool. Later that summer, Mark Spitz would win seven gold medals at the Munich Olympics. Caught up with the Olympic spirit, kids from all of the villages in the area spent June and July competing in a newly formed swim league. Bruce coached Sidney’s team and outfitted us in the same suits that Mark and his teammates would wear in September. Although I don’t remember how we did, I loved swimming that summer because I was part of a team. We played card games and shared candy and cheered each other so loudly we lost our voices.

The swim league folded after a few years and, as I grew older, swimming gave way to Boy Scout camp, summer jobs, and college. I never swam competitively again and eventually stopped swimming altogether.

I fell back in love with swimming starting in 2001 when our daughter Abby joined the Mariner Swim Club. For the next seven years, swimming was one of the most important things in her life and I lived it with her, one swim meet at a time. No one trained with more dedication than Abby or tried harder to make every swim the best one yet. Backstroke was her favorite and she could spend hours gliding effortlessly up and down the lane on her back, sometimes so lost in her thoughts that she would start singing.

Inspired by watching Abby grow up as a swimmer, and with a lot of free time after she left for college, I decided to join a Masters swim team. I now train about seven hours each week with people who I barely knew a year ago but now consider to be my dearest freinds. They have inspired me to swim farther than I ever thought I could. My adventures with them have included crossing the Chesapeake Bay and the widest part of the Potomac and swimming up the Hudson past the Little Red Lighthouse that sits below the George Washington Bridge. Tomorrow morning I will add another swim to that list.

And for all this I thank Bruce, who first taught me the joy of swimming with a team, and Abby, whose love for the Mariner Swim Club inspired me to get back in the pool.

This is the story of Lydia Presbrey and Samuel Hoskins, the man she married on June 13, 1776.

The story begins with the Presbrey family well established in Taunton, Lydia’s grandfather having married Hannah Smith a member of one of the oldest and most prominent families in the Massachusetts colony. Lydia’s father, William, was the oldest son and first in line to inherit this estate. There were four sisters in the family. The oldest was Mary, who was four years older than Elizabeth, who was two years older than Lydia, who was two years older than the youngest daughter, Abigail.

In 1773, their father died unexpectedly at age 47, having only outlived Lydia’s grandfather by two years. At the time of his death, the two oldest children, William and Mary, were already married. A sizable estate was left to the family, but nearly half of it passed directly to William as the oldest son. Lydia’s two remaining sisters, Elizabeth and Abigail, were married in 1775.

All this occurred in the months leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, in the midst of social and political unrest in Massachusetts. On March 3, 1774, for example, the British Parliament enacted the Boston Port Act in response to the Boston Tea Party. It outlawed, by blockade, the use of the Port of Boston until restitution was made for the lost customs duty and the damages suffered by the East India Company.

This blockade and other hostile acts by the British, prompted the Provincial Congress, on October 26, 1774, to call for local militias to organize themselves into companies of Minute (sometimes spelled “Minnit”) Men, who were to be equipped and prepared to march at a moment’s notice.

A week earlier, on October 19, 1774, the Red Flag of Taunton was raised in protest on a Liberty Pole in the village green.

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The Third Regiment of Bristol County was organized on November 19, 1774, and divided into an East Division and a West Division. On February 6, 1775, the East Division raised three Minnit Men companies and Samuel served as a private in the Company commanded by Captain Robert Crossman.

Two months later, on the evening of April 18, 1775, eight hundred British soldiers marched from Boston to Concord to destroy the military stores deposited there. The British fired upon militia men at Lexington early on the 19th, killing eight men, marking the start of the War of Independence in what would become known as the battle of Lexington and Concord.

The reports about Lexington and Concord arrived in Taunton late on the 19th and Samuel along with the rest of Captain Crossman’s Company marched for Roxbury on April 20th to provide support. After the battle, the Provincial Congress ordered that an Army be created. Taunton was required to furnish one Company of men for the new Army and Samuel served as a Private in this Company, which was led by Captain Oliver Soper. This enlistment lasted from May 2, 1775, thru August 1, 1775.

Samuel was home from the fall of 1775 through the spring of 1776 and on May 1, 1776, he joined nearly one hundred other men from Taunton in signing a document known as the Solemn League and Covenant. The signers committed themselves to making war against the British and defending the Colonies, promises that amounted to treason at the time.

Lydia and Samuel’s first child was conceived later that night.

Bristol County’s militia was reorganized in the spring of 1776 and Samuel was ordered to report to his new assignment in Colonel Thomas Marshall’s Regiment on June 27, 1776. Lydia and Samuel were married two weeks earlier, she now well into her pregnancy and he about to leave again for battle, perhaps never to return.

Samuel survived the ensuing skirmishes and had other enlistments through 1781. In 1784, he along with his father’s family moved to Berkshire County and later to Whitehall in Washington County, New York. In 1798, they moved to Scipio in Cayuga County, New York, where Samuel owned a farm in the Military Tract of Central New York

Samuel and Lydia Hoskins spent the rest of their lives together in Scipio and had eight children. Melinda, the child conceived on the night Samuel signed the Covenant, did not make the journey to New York, having died before the War of Independence was won.

SOURCES

1. Hoskins, Edwin Ray, A Hoskins Family Record with Reference to the Descendants of William Hoskins (Son of Henry and Ann Winthrop Hoskins) Migrated to Massachusetts 1633 (E. R. Hoskins 1963) (U.S. Library of Congress, CS71.H351 1963). Samuel Hoskins was born on September 9, 1753, the oldest son of Joshua and Lydia (Robinson) Hoskins. Samuel’s ancestors are traced as follows: Samuel 6; Joshua 5; Samuel 4; Samuel 3; William 2; Henry 1. The first american, William 2 (b. 1615, d. 9/7/1695) migrated to Massachusetts in 1633, and married first Sarah Cushman and second Ann Hinde (sometimes identified as Hinds or Hynes), who was the mother of Samuel 3.

2. The Boston Port Act, 14 Geo. III. c. 19.

3. Emery, Samuel Hopkins, History of Taunton, Massachusetts From its Settlement to the Present Time (D. Mason & Co. 1893), Chapter XX, page 435-39, 445, 483

4. Hurd, D. Hamilton, History of Bristol County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of Many of its Pioneers and Prominent Men (J. W. Lewis & Co. 1883), page 845.

5. Rev. Joseph Waite Presby, William Presbrey, of London, England, and Taunton, Mass., and his descendants, 1690-1918 (1918, The Tuttle Company).

One of my favorite places for a short bike ride is the bike trail that circles the Lake Montebello reservoir in Northeast Baltimore. The lake is a mile and a third around and there is always a breeze, which keeps it relatively cool for biking and adds an element of resistance training on the back loop.

On any given night at the trail you will see Baltimore at its finest, with people of all ages exercising and enjoying the outdoors together. You will encounter cyclists of all abilities, from beginners on training wheels, to couples riding hybrids, to serious racers forming pace lines. You’ll see parents pushing strollers, roller skaters and even a scooter or two. There are walkers, some joggers and a few serious runners. There are even frisbee golfers and people who just like to wax their cars under the row of white pines that line Whitman Drive.

It’s a great place to train, to ride with friends, or to spend a quiet evening pedaling around a pretty lake while listening to music.

My paternal grandfather, Edwin Ray Hoskins, was a professor of agricultural education at Cornell and an avid genealogist. The family history he published in 1963 is full of stories about journeys and choices in life, but none more fateful than the story of a young British sailor who one day decided to walk away from his ship and start a new life in America.

That sailor, William Presbrey, was born in Blackfriars, a section of the southwestern part of old London, in 1690. Parents at this time often “bound out” a child to another family, or elsewhere, to remain until he became of age, to learn a trade. And when William was ten years old, he was bound out for service in the British Navy.

Eleven years later his ship landed in Boston Harbor and, on July 30, 1711, William became a deserter after being granted permission to go ashore. Instead of returning to his ship he fled Boston, walking for four days through the fields and woods until he reached Taunton. There he stopped at the house of Nathaniel Crossman, who was a farmer, miller and shoemaker.

Nathaniel hired William for a year or two and history recounts that William rigged the first properly equipped sailing vessel used on the Taunton River, drawing on his training from the British Navy. William then married Hannah Smith from one of the oldest families in the Colony and lived until he was eighty-one years old. William and Hannah had two sons, William and Joseph, and one daughter Hannah, who died a young woman.

The older son, William, worked as a deck hand on cargo vessels and a shoemaker, and lived in that part of Taunton known as the Weir. He married May White and they had the following children: William (1746-1832); Mary (1747-1832); John (Nov. 15-19, 1749); Elizabeth (1751-1816); Seth (1752-1833); Lydia (1753-1824); Abigail (1755-1836); John (1756-1845); Simeon (1758-1840); Levi (1760-1800) and a daughter born and died in March, 1762.

Lydia married Samuel Hoskins, who fought in the War of Independence. Their journey together is a story for another day.

For now, I’ll close with an ironic quote from Joseph Waite Presby’s genealogy:

Someone has said: “trace your ancestry back a few generations and you will find a gallows and a member of the family hanging on it.” That might be true in some families but it is not true of the descendants of William Presbrey. We have found no record of any one in our family who has ever been tried in court for any crime or misdemeanor, or been sentenced to prison. We do not by any means claim that all have been saints or angels, or even perfect in character; but the members of this family for several generations have ranked among the steady, law-abiding, industrious class of citizens who have helped to develop the resources and business interests of this country and make this Republic a model among the nations. Like most of the settlers in the Old Colony, the Presbreys were immigrants from England, and just the right kind of people to subdue the wilderness and plant the institutions of civil and religious liberty in the new world.

So, while I’ll be sure to remember William’s journey on July 30th, I won’t forget that had the British Navy caught him in that summer of 1711, none of this ever would have happened.

williampresbreyo00pres_0001

Sources

“To The Generations of Presbreys in Coming Time, I Bequeath this Genealogical Document” (1825 & 1845), available at Old Colony Historical Society, Taunton, Mass.

Rev. Joseph Waite Presby, William Presbrey, of London, England, and Taunton, Mass., and his descendants, 1690-1918 (1918, The Tuttle Company).

Edwin Ray Hoskins, A Hoskins Family Record with reference to the Descendants of William Hoskins (Son of Henry and Ann Winthrop Hoskins) Migrated to Massachusetts 1633 (Scipio Center, N.Y., 1963), CS71.H351 1963, U.S. Library of Congress, 118 NEHGR 165.

Military History Now, This is Gonna Hurt — Military Punishment Throughout the Ages

Dear David,

Although we have yet to meet, our relationship spans decades.

I started college shortly after More Songs About Buildings and Food was released, but the song that everyone was playing when I moved into the dorm was, of course, Psycho Killer, from your first album, Talking Heads : 77. I’ve been a lifelong fan since then and was pleasently surprised a few years ago when my daughter presented me with a copy of Bicycle Diaries, a wonderful book of essays about your biking adventures as you travelled around the world.

It is truly an inspiring book. Except for one notable omission.

You write brilliantly about your bike journeys in Berlin, Istanbul, Buenos Aires, Manilla, Sydney and London. And in the U.S. you have biked in San Fransico, New York, Niagara Falls, Valencia, Detroit, Sweetwater, Columbus, New Orleans and even Pittsburg. But as far as I can tell, you have never ridden a bike in your hometown since you left it for the suburbs in 1970.

Instead, you have proclaimed this about Baltimore to the bicycling world:

“I am on a train passing through Baltimore, where I grew up. I can see vacant lots, charred remains of burned buildings surrounded by rubbish, billboards advertising churches, and other billboards for DNA testing of children’s paternity. Johns Hopkins Hospital looms out of the squalor. The hospital is on an isolated island situated slightly east of downtown. The downtown area is separated from the hospital complex by a sea of run-down homes, a freeway, and a massive prison complex. Eastern Europe and the Soviet bloc come to mind.”

Excerpt From: Byrne, David. “Bicycle Diaries.” Penguin Books, 2010-09-28. iBooks. (This material may be protected by copyright).

Ouch! Now while I don’t dispute much of your description (we have, however, advanced to using mobile vans for DNA testing), I think you missed a great biking opportunity when you failed to get off that train.

And for this reason I write in the hope that you will join me the next time you are in town and correct this oversight. I know just the trip to take because my friend Bob Wagner has been planning and leading amazing rides in and around Baltimore starting probably around the time you released Grown Backwards. He also writes some pretty good bicycle diaries at The Rando Ramble and is a really good drummer, if you ever need a fill-in.

He has designed a beautiful ride that starts in Canton and winds its way to Harve de Grace roughly tracing the route of the train ride you write about. It’s about a hundred miles round trip, with a stop for lunch and Guinness drafts along the way. It may not measure up to London or Berlin, but you will be glad you came and it will forever change your feelings about biking in Baltimore.

Hope to see you soon.

Sincerely,

Dave Hoskins, a proud Rando Rambler and Talking Heads fan from Baltimore,

I visited Long Island this weekend to attend a wedding and remembered a conversation long ago with my late mother, Mary Ann McGrath Hoskins, about her father who had died in the North Atlantic during the early days of WWII. According to my mom, Central Islip renamed streets in honor of its war dead, and a street had been named for her father. Although I’d spent many summers on Long Island as a kid, to my knowledge we had never visited the street. On July 6, 2013, with the help of Google Maps, I found it after a five minute drive from the airport:

Lat. 40:47:31.86, Long. -73:12:1.01

Edward F. McGrath was born on April 24, 1912, in New York, the son of Andrew R. McGrath and Winifred M. Mulrooney. He was the fourth of six children. He enlisted on June 4, 1942, at Fort Jay on Governor’s Island in New York. He had previously worked as an attendant at the Central Islip Asylum

Winifred was born in 1876 in the Irish Free State, and emigrated to the US through Ellis Island as a passenger on the ship Ethiopia, a British flagged ship built for the Anchor Line, which set sail from Londonderry in late July, 1899.

ETHIOPIA

Forty-three years later her son, my grandfather, was lost at sea aboard the steam passenger ship Coamo, after it was torpedoed by U-604, while desparately trying to make it home to New York.

SS COAMO

The Coamo was sailing as part of convoy MKF-3 and was about 150 miles west of Ireland when it left the convoy on orders of the British Admiralty and proceeded independently towards New York. At 10:18 PM on December 2, 1942, U-604 fired one torpedo from 800 yards at the Coamo that was traveling at 17.5 knots. The torpedo struck under the bridge and caused her to sink in about five minutes. The ship had eleven officers, 122 crewmen, 37 armed guards and 16 US Army passengers on board.

A few men were seen leaving the ship on rafts but they were likely killed in the gale that swept the area for three days beginning on December 3rd. This was the greatest single loss of a merchant crew on any U.S. Flag merchant vessel during the Second World War.


By my count, twelve families now live on McGrath Street in Central Islip. This is the story of how their street got its name.

SOURCES

1. Bud Shortridge,

http://home.comcast.net/~cshortridge/MERSHIPHIS/AMERSHIPL/SS_COAMO.pdf)

2. Allied Ships Hit by U-Boats, http://uboat.net/allies/merchants/2486.html

 

Some of my best friends write blogs about bicycling. Seriously.

First, there is Bob Wagner, a cycling enthusiast well known for organizing monthly 100 mile bike rides that start and end in Baltimore. He writes brilliant posts about these adventures in The Rando Ramble – Long Distance Biking in and out of Baltimore and freely shares his routes, cue sheets and GPS files. Many bike clubs treat this kind of data like State secrets, but Bob believes in freely sharing his work product and is to be commended for it. One of his most popular rides is the Monument to Monument ride, an annual ride from Baltimore’s Washington Monument to the better known monument by the same name in the center of the District of Columbia. While there may be better known century rides in the area (like the Seagull Century or the Civil War Century sponsored by the Baltimore Bicycling Club), Bob’s rides are elegant testaments to the simple joy of picking a place to visit and then figuring out how to get there by bike. Bob puts a lot of thought into the trips he plans and each ride has a purpose.

Another great biking blog that I follow is BikesNCoffee Bicycles Coffee and Miscellany written by Dave Hopkins. Since we tend to ride at the same speed, many of his posts recount our various misadventures from the perspective of the riders at the back of the pack. Dave writes thoughtfully and from the heart and one of his most inspiring posts is the goodbye he penned to his late father, “here’s to you dad. . .” Dave also designed our group’s cycling sweater and is the author of our unofficial motto: “more about the route less about the numbers.”

I love reading what Bob and Dave have to say and, if I’m honest, their writing inspires me to be a better cyclist, person and friend.

So why this blog? I guess it all starts with the fact that my daughter, a classics major at the University of Chicago, decided to travel to the coast of the Black Sea this summer to excavate and decipher pottery from Ancient Greece. This rather straight-forward study abroad opportunity led to an invitation to join her on a train trip across Europe on her way to the archeological site.

A close friend recently asked what I planned to do during the long train rides. Would I bring lots of books to read? Take time to visit the cities along the way? Well, inspired by Bob and Dave, writing this blog is what I have decided to do.

At the outset, I must recognize, thank and give credit to Mark Smith from the U.K., better known as The Man in Seat 61. . . for his wonderfully insightful and helpful blog post on How to Travel from London to Sofia and Bulgaria. . . He has literally shown me the way, step by step. Check back starting August 28th and you can follow how I do.

And to Mark, as a token of my appreciation, I extend an open offer of a place to stay should you and your family ever visit Baltimore. You will not find the train travel particularly inspiring in Baltimore but, with Dave and Bob’s help, I can show you a very unique way to travel to Washington, D.C. on two wheels.