It’s amazing what cycling can lead to. Most people know that Wilbur and Orville Wright were aviation pioneers, completing the world’s first manned flight in December 1903. But before all that, they were cycle manufacturers. Only five bicycles made by the brothers still exist and we discovered one today at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.
Built in 1898 and called the St Clair it looks amazingly modern for a cycle that is now 116 years old. It isn’t too far removed in style from the retro single speeds that couriers race around London, although you don’t see many machines with wooden wheels nowadays. We must have looked an odd sight asking to have our photo taken by a bicycle instead of the original Wright Flyer which is also on display.
The Wright brothers made their historic breakthrough at Kitty Hawk in North Carolina, a little further south down the Eastern seaboard from where we will begin the TransAmerica at Virginia Beach. The challenge is very much on our minds today.
We are surrounded by extraordinary aircraft flown by brave adventurers who pioneered the early days of flight. Often they were flying off into the unknown. When Charles Lindbergh climbed into the ‘Spirit is St Louis’ to attempt to fly from New York to Paris he knew that if something went wrong over the Atlantic he was facing almost certain death. Six aviators had already died making the attempt. He also had to fly with no forward vision. Carrying extra fuel tanks behind the engine meant there was no traditional cockpit glass. He was sat in a cabin behind the wings – if he wanted to see forward he had to tilt the aircraft on its side and pop his head out if the window, or use a small and rather ineffective periscope.
Surrounded by such incredible pioneers we were both beginning to feel like it was time to get going on the TransAmerica. Rather worryingly we only cycled around eight miles yesterday and we are both aching. We’ve enjoyed DC far more than we imagined and if we don’t head off soon we will be tempted to stay!
Spent the rest if the day looking round Air and Space, including great exhibits on the Apollo missions, before heading to the National Museum of the Native American Indian, which provided an interesting contrast.
Back to the hotel via The White House – something quite special about being able to cycle up to it – and then caught a cab (it was lashing down with rain) to spend the evening with Kay and Paul at a Southern food restaurant eating gumbo and grits. Tomorrow we head for Virginia Beach.