My delightful WarmShowers host Devon left very early to begin her three-day shift at the hospital, and it wasn’t until I heard her car start outside that I woke up– sadly, too late to say a proper goodbye. The previous evening, she’d offered me a bunch of organic kale that she didn’t want, playfully ribbing me with the vegetable in hand, “if I find that there’s any kale left in that refrigerator in the morning…”
So I packed up my things and took her up on her offer to fix myself breakfast. I lightly sautéed the greens with the pecans and cranberries I’d picked up the day before. There were two cartons of farm-fresh local eggs with shells that ranged from a soft pastel green to a tawny traditional hue, and since they’d been offered to me, I fried two eggs in a splendidly loved cast iron pan, and hard-boiled one for the road. I boiled water for some herbal tea that I’d thoughtlessly packed, given that I never brought the little stove along with me afterall. It was a nutritious start to the day that left me feeling ready to conquer the coming climbs, of course only after washing the dishes and tidying the kitchen, and leaving a thank-you note on one of the prepared postcards with Petunia’s picture on it.
Starting late at 9 AM, I began the day heading generally east through Litchfield County, pushing hard against the humidity that had already begun to set in and cling to me for the day. Up, up through Canaan, East Canaan, and Haystack Mountain State Park, coaching myself with a variety of little mantras. From the movie Cool Runnings, I borrowed and modified, “Feel de riddim, feel de rhyme, get on up, it’s bicycle time.” From last year’s TransAm ride, I chanted, “you’re a beast, you’re a beast!”. When the 9% grades came, I started bargaining with myself: “If you can just make it 40 yards to that shady spot, you can stop and have a quick sip, and catch your breath.” More than once I would surprise myself by reaching that shady spot and continuing on. “Well, we made it this far, and I can see the top, and I just don’t feel like unclipping my shoes right now.”
I stopped for water and possibly a bite at a cafe in Norfolk where a woman was hanging a sign in the window, but before I dismounted my rig, she brusquely told me, “I’m not open yet.” “Oh. Would I be able to just fill a water bottle, please?” “No. I can’t. Not open yet.” Ah, there’s that New England charm I have so missed. Just around the corner, the majestic Norfolk Library was open. With architecture resembling something between an old Italian church and an historic Yale University building and intimate in size, I wasn’t sure I should go inside, as I was sweaty, somewhat odiferous, and intensely neon in my hi-viz vest and bright yellow sun sleeves. I put my pride aside and went in for much needed hydration. It was the most beautiful library I’d ever been in, with high vaulted dark wood ceilings, stained glass rose windows, a grand piano in a bright open room, high-backed leather chairs, and a loft-like second story balcony of neatly arranged, old-smelling books. I spent some time taking pictures and browsing the stacks, lusting after inviting spines and glossy covers, wishing I could curl up and read there forever, before finally leaving its opulent ambience for my humble odyssey.
But finally, a sweet downhill cruise that began with one of my favorite starting blocks: a yellow traffic sign advising trucks of the approaching downhill grade. I flew down it and started looking for my next turn. It was only supposed to be a half mile away, but then I was at .75 miles, then the net turn wasn’t the right street name…. oh, dear. I missed the turn. And it was at the top of this hill. Navigation fail! Later in the day, my dad would laugh and remind me, “there are no wrong turns. You’re just out for a ride. No schedule, no timeframe, nowhere in particular to be.” And he was right, of course, and it all worked out. And the endorphins from laughing at my little mistake helped me pump back up to the top and get back on the correct route.
The conditions of some of the back roads left much to be desired– the recent hard winter meant that the municipal monies had all been spent on plowing and ruining the road surfaces, and there was nothing left to spend on patch jobs or better. At one point a couple of hours in, it was so bad that I hopped off and pushed around the craters rather than risking a flat. The pit stop gave me a moment to crack the hardboiled egg on my shifter and feed Tunes the yolk, which is her favorite part, and happily for me my least favorite. We’re a good team that way.
The scent of late-blooming lilacs wafted through the air as I entered the town of Riverton, population ~200. I stopped at a deli and general store in town and ordered a veggie burger. Petunia had a stretch in the greenery and I checked my maps again, sizing up the afternoon’s ride. Not much farther to Hartford County in central CT, which is near my hometown. I decide I can go off route and haul the remaining 30 miles to get back home to surprise my mom and brother in Bloomfield. An employee (or the owner?) of the general store came out and she offered Petunia a dog biscuit, which Tunes shyly accepted. “You rode all that way alone? You Should be very proud of yourself.” Her motherly gesture makes my day lighter somehow.
A quiet and pleasant ride beside a branch of the Farmington River was a nice flat stretch, and I saw fishermen in their waders doing doubletakes as we whiz by. Suddenly, a monster of a hill came into view that I recognized as part of the route I took last year to get to Ski Sundown in New Hartford. Riding with my brother in the car, I’d said, “Wouldn’t this be fun to go flying down in a sled?”, and now here I was, huffing up it, watching a range of reactions from pity to alarm to schadenfreude from drivers passing in the opposite direction. But I made it, with two little berath-catching stops, and was rewarded with a stop at the scenic Barkhamstead Reservoir.
Leaving the reservoir, I took a left and began another climb, and soon the threatened thunderstorm and showers came to fruition. I was somehow still going uphill and hadn’t found my turn, so I begrudgingly accepted that I had missed the route twice in one day. I checked in by phone with my navigation team (shoutout to Uncle Mike, my number one fan), and he confirmed directions and I turned around, but at least I got to go downhill a bit. I was about 12 miles away from my mother’s house, and excited for the prospect of being able to say I rode from central NJ to my family home in Bloomfield, CT. One last climb, and then the last 10 miles back home were downhill!
A torrential burst of rain suddenly poured down, and I stopped to put Petunia’s rainfly on her carriage, and a man in his garage across the street hollered out to me and waved me over. The traffic on this route had really started to pick up, as it was about rush hour, and so I waited in the rain for cars to pass until I could duck under his roof. Bernie Merli introduced himself politely and I noticed his two-car garage was full of large metal parts and tools and machinery. He told me he had a tractor museum and handed me a business card, which indicated he specialized in buying and selling old farm equipment. He went to the back of his shop and brought out two small clean pink hand towels for me to dry off with and dry Tunes off as well. A gentle soul, he saw Petunia was shaking with nerves from the storm (she doesn’t like thunder) and he offered her some water and filled my bottle as well. We chatted a bit, and he had a guest book in his workshop, so I signed it and left our website address. I was unble to produce one of my postcards after fumbling around in three panniers unsuccesfully looking for them since moving them out of my overburdened handlebar bag. The rain stopped, the sun was back out, and he wished me luck and safety on my journey as I pulled away, eager to get home.
At last! The summit of what was sure to be the last hill, to be followed by a long coast towards a certain and happy destination! I hadn’t gone very far at all when a tan minivan honked a few times, its driver waving frantically out the window at me. What could this be? I waited for the van to circle back, and when it pulled up along side of me, and the driver got out, I recognized the face instantly– it was Uncle Mike! “I tried to rescue you before the storm hit, but I didn’t find you in time. Want a lift home?” I was surprised to see him, unsummoned and so close to my destination, but I appreciated his thoughtfulness, and didn’t want to turn down the gesture. Between Petunia’s sad, wet state and my aching knee, I thought it wouldn’t be a bad thing anyway. We loaded the panniers in the van, then the bike, and made the short ride to my house, chatting about the journey all the way. There was a lot of traffic on the route, so I suppose it was safer anyway.
No one was home when I arrived, but my brother came back to let me in and to snuggle the pup. I had a chance to wash up, and we went out to dinner with my Aunt Patti, Uncle Mike, & brother Greg while Tunes rested up and blissed out. With a nice rest day ahead on day 6, it was an exciting evening for sure!
Today (Friday, 5/29) I spent visiting family, and may opt to do so tomorrow, since the weather will be so fantastic, and folks have talked me into all sorts of local adventures (kayaking? Cook-outs?I want to get back on the road, but it’s hard to refuse).
Song of the day: Home, byEdward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros