Tag Archives: wanderer

Day 25: Medford Lakes to West Hartford – The Garden State

Close your eyes. Think New Jersey. Picture it in your mind’s eye. Take a mental snapshot. What do you see?

Years ago, I stood on a train platform in New Jersey watching train car after train car zoom by. I think it was a trash haul. It smelled like a trash haul. I’ve driven the New Jersey Turnpike in awe of the 16-lane wide interstate lined petrochemical storage and industrial facilities. There are so many lanes, they have dual exits – one at the right and one at lane 4 flying up to an over pass. I’ve stayed in a bed and breakfast in Jersey City that took a measure of bravery and luck to safely reach on foot from the subway. But until Day 25 of this ride, I never really knew what put the “garden” into the Garden State.

Prior to hitting the road that morning, I toyed with the idea of riding the full length of Manhattan to Montauk and catching a ferry there. I was talked out of that, in perhaps rightfully. I knew I had no desire to ride the petrochemical stretch of the New Jersey Turnpike. So, Margo and I hatched a plan for me to head straight north out if Medford Lakes along the New Jersey boarder then cross into New York at the Newberge bridge and head to Connecticut. Google maps didn’t care for this idea, so I had to rely on my brain to get me past Trenton, avoid the New Jersey Turnpike, skip the Garden State Parkeway and head north into New Jersey farm country. It does exist. Really, it does.

My head buzzing with a whiskey hangover (look at the horrifying picture and know my hangover was strong), I parted ways with my spirit animal on the promise that soon we would gather with other bad ass women adventure warriors to break bread, talk story, plot new adventures and probably drink more whiskey. Ouch, no more whiskey for now. I tee-up the appropriate New Jersey soundtrack. Nope, not the Boss, not some Jovi, but the best New Jersey Album you never heard of – Meadowlands by Wrens – a melancholy little rock album that was fitting for the morning.

Headed north from Medford Lakes, I had my hang over and a running list of memorized directions to contend with. North on 206, past the on ramps to the New Jersey Turnpike (for fucks sake, don’t get on the New Jersey Turnpike). Take a left at Dunn’s Mill Road by the Wawa store. Suddenly merge onto It 130 then take 295 around Trenton to Route 31. Then, turn on the map and plot an off-highway route to Newburgh, NY. And, most importantly, don’t get your ass flattened by those New Jersey drivers while your at it.

I don’t totally recollect that part of the ride except that riding the morning rush hour around Trenton was an abrupt awakening to the fact that I had fully crossed into he urban north east which is chalk full of north east drivers. A special bunch with special skills.

Despite having put more than 4000 miles on two wheels between myself and the west coast, I did not look forward to riding with the drivers of the urban north east. Until now, most drivers had offered at least a small moticum of respect for motorcycles. Not in this part of the country. They are aggressors. They don’t believe in personal space on the roadway. They don’t signal; it’s a sign of weakness. They don’t offer nicetities like not tailgating or not cutting you off or not letting you know their thoughts with finger signals and fists. They like their horns. Don’t get me wrong, in a car, I generally like this. I am one of them, really. But on two wheels, I finally realized why “Motorcycles Are Everywhere” is so prominent in the north east. The drivers here, that’s why.

Perhaps the extra shot of adrenaline was good for sweating out the whiskey toxins because when I emerged on the other side of Trenton, well the other side of the many northern suburbs of Trenton, I was rewarded with the late-September ride of a motorcyclist’s dream.

The air held the promise of the coming fall- still warm, but tinged with a chill. The sun, in full retreat from the long-ago summer solstice, stayed high above my my back and warmed me even if my fingers lingered just on the cool side. Everything seemed to sparkle with contrast. The few trees starting to change stood out while I chased my shadow along the blacktop. These were long stretches of New Jersey farmland that made it the Garden State. It was complete with winding roads, rolling hills, cows chewing cud, farmhouses and quaint, idyllic towns. It’s a shame you pictured the crowded, smoggy, industrial, urban part of New Jersey when you closed your eyes earlier because this is much better.

For miles, a pair of touring bikes followed along accompanying me in silent acknowledgement of the perfection of the day. When we finally stopped in a single traffic light town, they asked “Did you ride that from California?” As the light changed, I shouted back “Yes!” I noticed, in my review mirror, he raised his hand in a fist pump acknowledging my accomplishment. We later split at a fork in the road. I headed toward Interstate 84 and they to more farmland probably. We parted with a sort of salute of solidarity. Good to share the road with you, my friends.

Although I could have extended my farm country jaunt into New York then Connecticut, the day’s ride was waning on and I had friends, a hot shower, a cozy bed and a beer waiting for me in West Hartford. So, I scuttled out of the countryside and onto the highway.

I will spare you my rant about New York drivers, see above only dial up the aggression and tighten up your size of acceptable personal road space to mere inches and you get the idea. To save my sanity, I alternated between highway and side roads.

What might have been 5 harrowing hours along the New Jersey Turnpike and I-84, turned into a day of stark contrasts – city, industrial, countryside, small town, highways, and side roads. And my longest day in the saddle – 9 hours.

Worth it.

Happy cooking and happy holidays.

Day 21: Asheville to Durham – Blue Ridge Parkway

Approaching the end of a long trip is bitter sweet. Anticipating the destination is exciting, but the journey is ending. I am sure there is some inspirational poster that says something about journeys and destinations, but I won’t go there. It’s a bit cliche, isn’t it?

Getting to Swansboro wasn’t so much a destination, but a layover. I timed this trip to arrive before for my nephew’s birth, but he would arrive a bit early and I, a bit late. Regardless of timing, I planned to stay for 12 days and be helpful or at least not be in the way. After that, I would head back to the place I called home back in June, which despite my feelings of heartbreak and homelessness X days and nearly 4000 miles ago, after spending the last 5 days with my husband, felt less like headed toward uncertainty and more like headed toward a something renewed or fresh or different or not so acrimonious.

At anyrate, I was closing in on some kind of terminus – the Atlantic – but that was still two days away. Today, my husband and I would ride together for a few hours then go our separate ways toward our respective destinations.

After such a long layover in Asheville while being so close to my destination, it was good to get moving again. Irma passed and left the North Carolina foothills cool, cloudy and foggy. At least I would make my new gloves and neck gaiter from the Moto shop useful for a few hours. Rather than the straight shot to Durham, we headed to the Smoky’s. Plans for riding along the Blue Ridge Parkway were quashed because the Parkway remained closed, but there were plenty of options for curvy mountain roads.

I find it calming to wind my way through mountain roads and sleepy towns on cool morning where the fog delivers a blanket of peacefulness to slide through. It’s as if the sky and the trees and the earth are snuggled down and holding each other and I am just lucky enough to float through this intimate moment.

We did manage a few miles on the Blue Ridge Parkway. It was littered with leaves and branches. Then, just as suddenly as we entered, we encountered a closed gate and had to return to our Plan B or Plan C or something.

It was a cold morning, but it was a good morning.

After a quick breakfast and coffee in Boone, NC, we road on together for another 10 or so miles before parting toward our respective destinations. As we headed opposite ways at a highway intersection, the 1/4-mile range of our helmet intercoms dwindled away and we said our goodbyes. I fought the urge to turn around and catch him for several miles but then filled my helmet with loud music and focused my thoughts with my soon-to-arrive nephew.

The cold morning and calm roadways gave way to the highways around Winston-Salem and Durham. A feeling of emptiness settled into my gut and I opted to ride the big slab in the interest of reaching a Durham faster. The welcome mat of a friend’s house seemed like a much needed distraction to fill the void.

Indeed, it is always good to roll into a drive way and have a friendly and familiar face greet you there. I’ve relished in that feeling these last three weeks. No luxury hotel roo. With a view, infinite cable channels, mini shampoos, continental breakfast, or other hotel amenity can make up for that. I’ve heard lots of apologies for the state of a house and the disruption of family activities and the craziness of life, but I will definitely take that over a sterile hotel room. I say that as I lay on a hotel bed in a fluffy robe after a hot shower using fancy toiletries with cable tv prattling on in the background. This is a nice reprieve, but I’ll take the friendly household most days.

As I would finish crossing the continent the next day, my friend asked what about the most interesting thing of my trip. The question caught me off guard. I had nothing. Despite all the hoopla and perceived risk and anticipation and preparation and contemplation and blogging and miles, there was not a “most” I could articulate. I told her “the people.” It was not a cop out. The people I did meet were amazing and beautiful and awesome. But, unlike previous road trips, I didn’t meet anyone I would have a long lasting relationship with. They were all momentary meetings, fleeting. I could have just as easily said “the scenery” or “the roads” or “this city” or “that city” or something. They would have fit the bill for interesting.

But, I suppose finding a most interesting wasn’t really what this trip was about. It was about being alone with me. Doing something extraordinary for no particularly extraordinary reason. It was me escaping me, even if for a short time. I dunno, I suppose what’s most interesting will come to me with a bit of time. Or maybe this was just a little hiccup in the relentless march forward of life with nothing meaningful or interesting, just a pause. And nothing profound will result.

Hmmmm…

And with that, I leave you with a cliched quote about the journey and the destination…

Happy cooking and journeying.