Tag Archives: New Jersey
24 February, 2015

A Winter to Remember

The thermometer read -8.7º F (-22º C) when I came down for coffee this morning. The snow outside, blanketing the field out the window of the bedroom-turned-office I spend my days in, fell over a month ago. It doesn’t melt, it only deepens, compacts, and hardens. I had forgotten what winter felt like. Sure, we’d get occasional snowstorms and a couple days below freezing at our house in western Washington, but winter weather — real winter weather — was something we dealt with only by choice. It was tucked away in the mountains to our east, always there if you wanted to visit, but not something that you had to deal with on a daily basis.

Short-lived snow showers like this one don't add up to much, but sure look pretty coming down.

Short-lived snow showers like this one don’t add up to much, but sure look pretty coming down.

It’s been 17 years since Kristin and I spent a winter in the northeastern United States, and even then it was only to bundle up for the dash across a Pennsylvania college campus. With no shoveling responsibilities of our own back then, it hardly counts. So, in reality, it’s been over two decades since we experienced winter life in New Jersey, dealing with the cold and the snow and wind-chill and the ever-changing road conditions and fretting about the lack of tire-tread on the car we’re driving.


One of the many snowy days since our return to NJ.

This much I now know: Sub-freezing temperatures feel a lot warmer when you only experience them while strapped into a snowboard or snowshoeing through knee-deep powder with a pack on your back. Recreation makes everything better. Warmer. Running errands, going for a walk, and taking the garbage out, on the other hand, exposes you to a cold I had long since forgotten existed. We’ve been back in New Jersey for over a month and the daytime temperature has only risen above freezing a half-dozen times in that span. Too many days failed to exceed 26º F (-3º C). The layer of ice on the driveway and front walk has existed for over three weeks. An inch-thick slab with no signs of budging, it has stubbornly ignored the sprinklings of salt and chemical de-icer I apply.

Went for a hike on the mountain bike trails at nearby Chimney Rock Park, one of the first places I ever mountain bikes with my brother.

Went for a hike on the mountain bike trails at nearby Chimney Rock Park, one of the first trails I rode with my brother.

There was a period last summer, during our ride through New England, when we began to think that settling in Vermont might be worth considering in order to be closer to family. As far as New England states go, Vermont’s geography and politics offers a close approximation to western Washington, its landlocked nature aside. But now? Hell no, screw that, not in a million years! The cold and snow we’ve been bemoaning for the past month in New Jersey is but a mere sample of a typical Vermont winter. No thank you. The inevitable drought that will plague the Pacific Northwest  later this year could be severe, but those balmy spring-like conditions Seattle has been enjoying lately sure seem nice from this side of the country.

I wrote most of the preceding paragraphs yesterday morning: then the ambulance came.

Kristin’s father was in terrible pain throughout the weekend, pain that was suddenly manifesting in nausea and trembling. The comforts of home were no longer enough to keep him comfortable. Fortunately, he’s got a great team of doctors and was admitted into the hospital, assigned a cozy single-patient room, and is close enough to home for frequent family visits. It may or may not be directly related to the cancer, we’ll know more soon.

Nothing like a walk through the woods on a freezing cold day.

Nothing like a walk through the woods on a freezing cold day.

Life is a funny thing. We’ve been back in the United States for over six weeks now and, if we’re being honest, we really miss our bikes. We think about them daily, miss being on the move, and have even questioned the length of this unexpected trip home. Sure, we’ve gotten to spend more time visiting family this winter than we have in years, but it’s not our nature to sit idle. We’re restless people.  We just want to get going again. But then something like yesterday happens and we’re so relieved that we happen to be here. Kristin’s mother was glad that Kristin was in the house to call her sisters as she dealt with the EMTs. Kristin, in turn, was happy to hand the phone to me when she began to sob. Our brothers-in-law were both available to accompany Kristin’s sisters to the hospital while we babysat our niece and nephew.  The day went as well as it could, the strength of this family I’m happy to have married into fully on display. Back home after another visit, I cooked dinner so Kristin’s mother could pack a bag and get back to the hospital quickly. Kristin tended to her father’s pertinent email as her sisters called with updates from the hospital. Nobody needed us to be here, but we’re sure glad we were.

Kristin's parents dogs enjoying the snowy weather from the comforts of their chair.

Kristin’s parents dogs enjoying the snowy weather from the comforts of their chair.

Kristin and her dad were supposed to have left for Washington D.C. yesterday morning for a three-night father-daughter getaway. They had even arranged for a tour of the White House with the local Congressman. That trip to D.C., the other Washingtonisn’t going to happen. Or maybe it will. The one thing we’ve learned this past year is to not try and predict the future. We were supposed to be in Greece by now. We’re not. Instead, we’re headed to Japan in two weeks. Or maybe not.  We’re flexible.

Future Travel: When we left Italy last month we did so planning to spend March and April in Japan before heading to Bhutan for an 11-day trek in the Himalaya. That trip was cancelled last week due to a shortage of signups (we declined the option to pay extra for a private tour, as it was already budget-bustingly expensive to begin with). Not wanting to head back to North America or Europe after just going to Japan, we decided to book the entire month of May in Bali, in a small house in Ubud that will serve as a perfect writer’s retreat and basecamp for exploring Bali, Lombok, and Komodo. I miss surfing. Kristin misses yoga.

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Special Thanks: Kristin wanted me to once again thank you all for the wonderful comments and encouragement you left in response to our Detours Ahead post and to make sure we provided you, our faithful readers and friends, a short update. Those wanting a bit more information might be interested in this article about Kristin’s father, Eric, that was recently published in the local paper here in NJ. We’d also like to thank my mother for her generous contribution to our “cherry blossom party” and her sister Susan, my aunt, for a lovely Valentine’s Day gift. And to all of our family and friends who we’ve spent time with this past six weeks, letting us eat your food and drink your beers.

5 February, 2015

The Ghost Town Down the Shore

Having not lived in New Jersey since my teenage years, I should have no reason for knowing the casinos of Atlantic City as well as I do. I shouldn’t be able to reminisce. I shouldn’t be able to tell you about the time, at age nineteen, I made it to the final table of an invitation-only craps tournament and was a single roll away from winning ten grand. If only the stogie-smoking old-timer had rolled a five. My eternal optimism be damned, he crapped out and I only won $500. Nor should I have ever been comp’d a dinner of New Zealand mussels — the one thing I’m allergic to in this world — and be able to tell a story about me nearly vomiting on a casino table, only to grab my chips, cover my mouth, and sprint through the casino to the nearest bathroom. Security gave chase, after all I was a young man with a handful of chips running through the casino. With facing doors at the end of a narrow hallway, I couldn’t help but hip-check a woman into the wall as she exited the ladies’ room. Go Devils! I found a toilet in time to catch my half-digested shellfish. Security, winded from the chase, thanked me for not puking on the casino floor. We never did make it to the Brian Setzer concert that night. Remember him?

Despite the problems with the hotels, the boardwalk and beach looked better than ever. Well, at least since my last visit.

Despite the problems with the hotels, the boardwalk and beach looked better than ever. Well, at least since my last visit.

I’ve got a number of stories like that from my trips to Atlantic City. Of course, if I still lived in New Jersey, I’d just call it AC. Las Vegas gets shortened to Vegas. Atlantic City becomes AC. And that’s about it for the similarities.

The news of the casino bankruptcies reached us during our travels in Europe. My dad, the one who taught me everything I know about gambling, filled me in. To my surprise, like so many other New Jerseyites, he had moved on to casinos closer to home, albeit in Pennsylvania. The only show in town suddenly had too much competition and unlike that glitzier city in the desert, Atlantic City was nobody’s vacation destination. Trump Plaza was closed, Showboat had shuttered, and Taj Mahal was on the ropes. A new casino, Revel, closed in under two years. “It should have never been built,” my dad said, before describing a litany of marketing mistakes Revel had made. It seems they made the cardinal sin: confusing AC for Vegas.

Just us, the seagulls, and a few security guards on a lovely Friday afternoon.

Just us, the seagulls, and a few security guards on a lovely Friday afternoon.

So it was with equal parts morbid curiosity and nostalgia that we decided to make the drive down to Atlantic City last Friday. Kristin’s sister Lindsay, who we were staying with that week, had a conference to attend at Bally’s. I offered to drive. She accepted. And so the three of us set off early in the morning on a bitter cold day, barreling down the Garden State Parkway in a borrowed minivan with personalized plates — JOYFUL, indeed. With NPR’s “Morning Edition” playing at a reasonable volume, cruise-control set 9 miles over the limit, and our headlights on for safety, we were total rock stars. “AC, Baby!” Said no one. Ever.

Two hours of salted highway later, we arrived. A quick stroll over to Mickey D’s for breakfast took us past several blocks of outlet shops that were new since my last visit. Banana Republic, Guess, Clarks, Ralph Lauren and so on and so forth. Halfway there I realized how ridiculous this was. We were walking away from the boardwalk. And not in fear of being murdered. Where was the ghetto? Was I misled? Had AC turned the corner? Had the heavy helping hand of government managed to transform this place from a degenerate seaside city of sin into another characterless shopper’s suburbia? Maybe the financial difficulties were overblown. Maybe the city wasn’t doing so bad, after all. Seriously, Ralph Lauren? In AC?

As it turns out, stories of the city’s demise had not been greatly exaggerated.

We came in out of the cold at Wild West Casino, a themed area of Bally’s, and were immediately greeted with the full-body wagging excitement of a lonely dog whose owner had been away too long. “Thank you for your business! We’re so happy to see you! We hope you enjoy your stay!” It was awkward and sad, and also weird. The two greeters standing attentively inside the windowless street-side entrance were the only two employees we saw in the casino. We walked the entire length, from street to boardwalk, and not a single table was open for gambling. Not a single cocktail waitress carried a tray. Not a single patron was parked in front of a slot machine. Feeling like trespassers, Kristin and I hurried down the hallway that connects the casino with Caesar’s, the much larger casino and hotel next door. Caesar’s wasn’t completely empty; there were a few people playing the slots and a smattering of table games open, but it was quiet. Too quiet, like someone had died.

Trump Plaza: 1984-2014.

Trump Plaza: 1984-2014.

That someone was Trump Plaza, the casino next in line down the shore. We fought the wind south along the boardwalk past the vacant husk of Trump Plaza, the fourth Atlantic City casino to close forever in 2014. It was 30 years old. Famed narcissist and late-night punching bag Donald Trump sued to get his name removed from the forlorn property (he doesn’t run the property management company that bears his name) but the outlines of the lettering remain.

We marched on, southward, to Tropicana, the lone hotel on the boardwalk that a person of sound mind can visit without needing to pop a Prozac on the way in. My last time in Tropicana was for a friend’s bachelor party in 2005 and though it’s Caribbean-slash-Cuban theming still looked largely the same, it was in the process of getting new marble flooring and carpet near the craps tables. Nice to see at least something getting maintained in this town. I sidled up to an empty table, took the dice, and thirty minutes later, content with my contribution to the casino’s future upkeep, colored up and left.

A wonderful day to go for a walk.

A wonderful day to go for a walk.

Back out in the cold, clear weather, we continued southward along the boardwalk past the remaining hotels, to where the sidestreets are no longer named after states and presidents and Monopoly properties. Ahhh, there’s the ghetto! Just how I remembered it!

With the wind at our back we marched some two and a half miles northward past dollar stores, myriad Chinese massage parlors,  hot dog stands, and closed-for-the-season souvenir shops. One of the many security guards stationed along the otherwise vacant boardwalk noted that we were walking more that day than even he does. We walked all the way to the gleaming, silver curves of the beautiful building formerly known as Revel. The most expensive casino ever built in Atlantic City at 2.4 billion dollars closed last September, just two years after opening. It’s an alien structure that appears comically out of place, with a shining mirrored facade that will surely blind many a beachgoer long into the future.

Revel: 2012-2014

Revel: 2012-2014

With a couple more hours to kill, we turned back to the south and, for old time’s sake, climbed the steps to Trump’s Taj Mahal casino, the only one of the three Trump-branded casinos still in business (the other, Trump Marina, had been sold to Golden Nugget in 2011). The Taj Mahal was, in 1990, the first billion-dollar casino to open on the east coast. Today’s visitors can see what it looked like in 1990 firsthand. All they have to do is open the door. Whereas most of the casinos smelled musty, the Taj welcomed us with a noxious cloud reminiscent of the heating oil tank we had in our basement when I was a child. Carl Icahn’s 20-million dollar investment in the casino should keep it open for a few more months (signs throughout the empty gambling floor celebrated the casino’s ability to stay open), but it’s sure to prove too small a lifeline for too large a drowning victim.

Taj Majal: 1990-2015(?)

Taj Mahal: 1990-2015(?)

Disappointing as it was to see so many places where I had spent time closed and empty and going bankrupt, not to mention the thousands of jobs lost, we had a nice day. There are no bad days on the Jersey Shore, particularly in winter (fewer New Yorkers, no offense). And so we whiled away the day walking mile after mile back and forth up and down the empty windblown boardwalk, watching the waves, remembering the dozens of trips we had made to the shore when we were younger, and ultimately agreeing there was no reason to ever come back to Atlantic City.

AC, baby. What a shame.

23 January, 2015

Surprises, Ghost Stories, and a Road Trip

“Do you see them? Maybe Dad’s sleeping. Do you see anyone?” I hid in the corner by the front door peppering Doug with questions as he rang the doorbell to my parent’s Florida beach house. I had butterflies in my stomach and couldn’t wait to see the look on their faces. After all, they thought we were cycling somewhere south of Naples, Italy, not driving north from Naples, Florida.

“Shhh, your dad’s coming. Get ready!”

The door opened and Doug and I jumped out. I gave dad a huge hug and kiss and said, “I got your email this morning and came right away.” He went white and looked like he had seen a ghost and didn’t say a word. We’d later realize it was just the shock of seeing us, but he looked deathly ill. I thought he might faint from shock and Doug was ready to catch him.

Email? That was the most amazing part of this surprise. Let me explain.

For the past year, my parents were planning to come meet us somewhere in Turkey in March.  But about a week after Doug and I bought our plane tickets to Miami, dad emailed asking if I would consider taking a few days off while Doug watched the bicycles and gear, so he and I could spend a few days together in Europe alone. He wanted to go in late-January or early-February instead of waiting until March. He said his pain management was getting a bit more difficult and he didn’t want to wait until he was too drugged up to enjoy our time together. I knew that my dad didn’t want to interrupt our trip for his illness; he must have thought long and hard before asking. After rereading it, I smiled, and insisted that I come to the United States so he didn’t have to endure an eight hour flight. He said that he still wanted to come to Europe and suggested meeting up in Athens.

Nearly every tree in Savannah drips with Spanish Moss.

Nearly every tree in Savannah drips with Spanish Moss.

So Doug and I spent the past several weeks being vague about our itinerary for the coming months and evading my dad’s efforts to start making plans. I still questioned whether returning to the U.S. was the right choice: Was I depriving my dad of one more trip overseas or was he was really coming to Europe just because I was there and he was afraid he’d never see me again? It wasn’t long before I knew we had definitely chosen the right time.

After a lovely month in Italy and a visit to Everglades National Park, we were ready to finally surprise my parents. We split the drive from the southern tip of Florida in half and spent that Sunday night in Naples, Florida, camped out at a sports bar watching the NFL playoffs. The next morning, right before we left the hotel, I checked my email one more time and saw that an email from my dad arrived. It was titled, “Our Trip” and detailed some unexpected medical issues he was having that almost cancelled his trip to Florida. He also hesitantly asked if I would still be willing to come to the U.S. and perhaps spend a few days with him at the beach house in Florida. This is the email I referred to above when he opened the front door. Doug and I drove away from the hotel and were giddy with excitement.

And that brings us back to the front step of my dad’s house when we arrived. “We got your email and came as fast as we could,” Doug joked. He had only sent it that morning. Dad eventually found the words to invite us out back to sit on the lanai with him until mom returned from lunch with some friends. When we heard her car drive up, Doug and I hid in the corner. Dad went inside to meet her and ushered her out back insisting that she come see something. We sprung out from our hiding place and tears welled up in my mom’s eyes and she hugged me tightly for a long time. After seeing my parents’ reaction to our arrival, there was no doubt in my mind that we had made the right decision at the right time. My parents believe our arrival was divine intervention.

Doug and I only stayed for three days so my parents could enjoy some time alone before returning to work in New Jersey. Not wanting to miss a chance for a road trip, we drove my father’s gold Cadillac to his house in NJ.

Kristin slept soundly knowing I was on ghost patrol.

I slept soundly knowing Doug was on ghost patrol.

Our first stop was Savannah, Georgia. We never made it there during our five years living in Greenville, NC, and always regretted that. Same for Charleston, South Carolina. We finally did, if only for two nights. We arrived at the 17hundred90 Inn, supposedly one of the haunted hotels in Savannah. While I do believe in ghosts, I’ve never seen one or evidence of one and didn’t expect to see anything unusual. We spent the evening relaxing and after a good night sleep in the cozy, nest-like bed, Doug returned from his shower to let me know that “Anna” was very clearly written in the fog on the mirror. Our scientific minds went to work and quickly wrote it off as one of the staff writing on the mirror with RainX to be revealed only after a steamy shower. After all, the hotel had a reputation to uphold. Neither Doug nor I thought much of this when we mentioned it to the manager and housekeeper while we ate our breakfast. Their reactions told a different story. They both looked quite surprised and the housekeeper said to the owner, “Don’t tell the other girl cleaning the rooms. She won’t go up there if she knows.” These women were either great actors or there was more to this ghost story. The manager asked if it was written in lipstick, as some guests have had that happen to them.

As a former Girl Scout, I couldn't come to Savannah without  stopping by the Juliette Gordon Low house. Anybody want to buy some cookies?

As a former Girl Scout, I couldn’t come to Savannah without stopping by the Juliette Gordon Low house. Wanna buy some cookies?

After a nice breakfast we headed out to wander the streets of Savannah. It was a bit dreary in January, but we enjoyed the day out of the car. We walked around seeing several historical buildings and Forsyth Park where we saw the Confederate Memorial, fountains, and beautiful Spanish moss dripping from the many varieties of trees. We agreed that the gardens and parks must be beautiful in the spring and is probably worth a return trip. After a few hours, the cold temperatures got the better of us and we returned to our room to warm up and enjoy the fire. Doug was stretched out on the sofa and I was on an arm chair a few feet away enjoying our cups of coffee when I got up to grab something from the other room. When I returned, Doug’s laptop bag was on my chair. Neither of us put it there. Then, just a few hours later, Doug called across the room asking why I opened the door to the adjoining room. I didn’t. We both looked at each other and decided that Anna was in fact real and while we didn’t see her, as some other guests mentioned on Trip Advisor, she certainly made herself known.

We rolled out of Savannah the next morning continuing north towards North Carolina. We were fortunate to meet up with one of Doug’s friends from his childhood, Christy, and her family in New Bern, NC. We had a great dinner and lovely evening catching up and playing with their adorable children. As we were wrapping up the evening, Christy mentioned that she always remembered how Doug used to ask all the girls to dance at their 7th and 8th grade dances so that no one felt left out. What a sweet husband I have! But I already knew that!

The next morning, we took a slight detour eastward to the small town of Chocowinity to see the land we own. We bought it on a whim about 15 years ago after seeing an ad in the paper. What had started as a “let’s go take a look” trip ended with a signature and an acre and a half of land about a half mile off the water. As you can see, we have a long history of making impulsive decisions. It looked just as we remembered. We parked in front and walked down to the water remembering the excitement we first felt of walking just 10 minutes to be in the water kayaking or paddle boarding. It still is a great spot. Options…

We might never build a house in NC, but with a bay like this just a short walk from our land, it sure is tempting.

We might never build a house in NC, but with a bay like this just a short walk from our land, it sure is tempting.

We continued north over the 20 mile long Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel on a beautifully sunny, but frigid day. It is an amazing structure built in 1964 with three elevated spans and two tunnels, each a mile in length. The first and only other time we went this way was the first time we drove to North Carolina to look for apartments before our wedding. I wondered how 18 years had already passed. We stopped for the night in Rehoboth, DE, before getting on the ferry to Cape May, NJ. Never heard of Rehoboth? I hadn’t either, but lucky for me, Doug knew it was where Dogfish Head Brewery was. We had many interesting, and quite strong beers that night. We also made some new friends. The wait for a table was over 30 minutes and when we were finally called we invited a couple we had been chatting with in line to join us. We had a wonderful evening and they were so appreciative that they surprised us with a bottle of Dogfish Head’s Wit Spiced Rum. The kindness of others continues to follow us on our journey.

After many days of sunshine, clouds and rain finally caught up to us as we were boarding the ferry to NJ so there were no views to be had on the boat or the drive. We arrived at Doug’s sister’s house around 1 p.m. on Sunday which allowed for plenty of time to get settled and make final preparations before an afternoon of football. Our beloved Seahawks somehow found a way to beat the Packers in the final minutes of the game. It was an unlikely victory but so much fun to finally be watching football with family instead of alone in the middle of the night in a hotel room. Jessica had Monday off, so we were able to watch movies, catch up, and relax. It was so nice to just be still and lazy for the day.

My niece was so excited to decorate Doug with Disney princess stickers.

My niece was so excited to decorate Doug with Disney princess stickers.

We left Tuesday morning to spend the day with Doug’s mom before driving to my parents’ house where we would finally be able to settle in one spot for several weeks. That is not to say that we will be lazing around doing nothing. We each have some big projects in mind that we’ll talk more about in our next post, but for now, we are both relieved to know that we are in the right place at the right time.

Special Thanks: We want to again say thank you to everyone who has sent well wishes for Kristin’s father and our family. We so appreciate everyone’s thoughts, prayers, and support during this difficult time.

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18 July, 2014

Manhattanhenge 2014

We interrupt this month off the bikes to share a series of photos I took last weekend in New York City. Our good friends Alan and Katrina traveled east to spend a week with us in New Jersey and that nonstop whirlwind tour of city, beach, and amusement park landed us in Manhattan during the annual “Manhattan Solstice” event. For those who, like me, had never heard of the so-called Manhattanhenge phenomena, twice a year the setting sun aligns perfectly with the grid-shaped orientation of Manhattan’s urban landscape, creating a mesmerizing effect as the glowing ball of light falls perfectly between the buildings of Manhattan’s cross-streets.


According to Wikipedia, the term was first coined by everybody’s favorite COSMOS celebrity, Neil deGrasse Tyson. The effect is most striking during the days immediately following the alignment. This year, by sheer luck, we were there on July 11th, the day of the full sun alignment. We positioned ourselves on the corner of Madison and 34th (we were told to find one of the wider cross streets, which 34th is) and so, after a few drinks at the Morgan Museum’s happy hour, we joined a crowd of dozens and rushed to the center of the street every time the light turned red to grab our photos and soak in the crimson glow reflecting off the steel and glass canyon.

No filters have been applied to the photos in this post, nor have any lighting or saturation adjustments been applied. Seriously. And to make it a little more unbelievable, I’ll add that I took these shots with Kristin’s waterproof compact camera, the PowerShot D20







8 July, 2014

Cycling Into New Jersey in July

We rolled up the driveway of Kristin’s parents’ house in Far Hills, New Jersey on Saturday, June 28th, following a trail of red and yellow balloons through the last couple turns of our 4,885 mile journey. Sisters, parents, and our niece and nephew maintained a constant watch for our arrival, ready to provide just the reception we may have imagined if we ever stopped to ponder just how far we’ve come.

Crossing back into our home state.

Crossing back into the state of our youth.

With the obligatory trip to the Atlantic completed, we spent the next nine days riding southwest through the mountains of New England, averaging 63 miles and 3,200 feet of elevation gain per day. Make no mistake, our most physically demanding days took place in the hills of western Maine and New Hampshire, with back-to-back rides over 70 miles in length and containing over 4,000 thigh-burning feet of climbing per day. The lofty mountains of the west bide their time and unleash a single, occasional, haymaker. Absorb that lone, predictable blow and live to fight another day. Those worn down, ancient Appalachians beat you into submission with a flurry of jabs that never ends. It’s death by a thousand tiny hills. And more than a few kicked up to a 19% gradient.

Our WS host in New Hampshire said nobody ever got the bikes up the hill. I pedaled it clean (challenge accepted) and Kristin only had to push the second half.

Our WS host in New Hampshire said nobody ever brought their bikes up the  half mile hill to her house. Doug pedaled it clean (PNW mountain bikers, represent!) and Kristin only had to push the second half. Challenge accepted!

Those nine days of steady riding back through New England landed us at the doorstep of the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, where we spent our final rest day touring the museum and walking the steamy streets of this quaint lakeside town. I always knew I’d make it there before a Mariner player.

Continuing south across Sussex County, NJ and through Allamuchy State Park.

The day off the bikes in Cooperstown was bittersweet as we knew three days later, we’d be off them for a month. We made the most of those final miles in New Jersey, slashing a southerly route through the northwest corner of the Garden State on a collection of backroads most would never associate with the state. With neither an exit number nor refinery nor skyline to see for a hundred miles, we turned the bikes onto gravel paths, dirt trails, and even some singletrack. We spent much of our final day on dirt, choosing to enter this most densely populated of states the way I know best: through the woods. Rolling through Stokes State Forest I recalled the hunting trips I took with my father as a young boy; passing Allamuchy State Park reminded me of my brother’s many stories about his mountain bike racing. Crossing the upper branches of the Delaware River reminded me of childhood canoeing trips. No, I’ll probably never end up living in New Jersey again, but I’m sure glad I grew up here and wouldn’t change my memories for anything. It’s great to be back.

Kristin rolling some singletrack in Sussex County, NJ.

New Jersey through the back door, with all due apologies to Rick Steves.

Our nephew Anthony was outside waiting for us when we finally rolled up the driveway.

Our favorite little man was outside waiting for us when we finally rolled into town.

We’ll be spending a full month visiting family and friends in New Jersey, my longest summer visit since I was a teen. Trips to the city, the shore, and Great Adventure are, of course, planned (i.e. New York City, the beach, and Six Flags for those not from NJ). Of course, we have a wealth of chores to tackle before we leave on the Queen Mary 2, bound for the UK, on July 28th. Here are a few tasks you might find of interest.

TwoFarGone Website Updates

I spent the past few mornings working on some updates for the site including a new video slideshow, an update to our Countries Visited page complete with route map and expense data for our North America segment. I also made a few updates to the gear lists. Here’s the new North America video.

Best viewed at 720p (click the gear icon) in full-screen. May not be playable on mobile devices.

Our route across North America.

Matters of Gear

The vast majority of our gear worked out as we had hoped (or better) but a few items did break, some was lost, and one or two items were eventually deemed unnecessary and won’t be continuing with us to Europe. A couple of lowlights:

  • Going TarplessWe’ll be leaving the tarp behind. We only used it once thanks to the immense vestibule of our tent and the Kelty Noah 12 is just too big, heavy, and cumbersome to bother carrying any longer. It’d probably be a good tarp for car camping though I wasn’t very fond of the shape.
  • Odor Proof Food BagsWe bought several very large odor-proof ALokSaks and never ended up using them. In bear country, I just hung the entire pannier. And we never had enough left over to worry about significant odors, as “wet” foods were always eaten the same day they were purchased and carried outside the panniers, under the cargo net.
  • Bike Pump: The biggest disappointment of all was the Crank Brothers Power Pump. I had to use it twice and both times, no matter how careful we were to brace the wheel, to prop the base of the pump, and to be as gentle as possible, the action of the pump caused a slice in the valve stem as it sawed back and forth against the rim. I cut a total of four valve stems while repairing two flat tires. I ordered the Topeak Mini Morph which not only has a foot peg, but a hose connector so we won’t be stressing the valve stem ever again. Considering I once went through three pairs of Crank Brothers “Candy” pedals in one season, I’m forever done with this company’s products.
  • Rain PantsKristin’s Novara rain pants (bought in 2010) started to wear out in the seat after just a few uses. I have the same pair and they’re holding up just fine so we think this may have been a freak occurrence. We already exchanged them at a nearby REI in New Jersey for the new and improved model.
  • ALokSak Troubles: Though we never did use the large odor-proof ALokSak bags, we did use smaller ALokSak multi-pack bags for our toiletries. That is, until both bags split below the ziploc seal, essentially allowing everything to fall out inside our larger toiletry packing cubes. We’ll be replacing these “premium” resealable storage bags with EagleCreek’s spillproof zippered bags that have proved very effective for containing our electronics and bike parts. Stay clear of these bags, as they are completely unreliable.

Other incidentals that need tending to include the broken metal braces on our Planet Bike Cascadia 29er fenders (fixed en-route with a rubber band); one broken spoke on my rear wheel (presumably from the last day of riding); both drivetrains need to be replaced and parts are en-route; Kristin’s front blinky went missing and needed replacing; my rear blinky met an untimely death somewhere in Ontario and also needed replacing. We also lost one of the Ortlieb rack-spacer adapters from Kristin’s front bag and the snaps on our Ortlieb handlebar bags are all being replaced with Velcro, as the snaps proved to stick, hang, and just generally annoy us on a daily basis. Lastly, I’ll be sanding and repainting the Tubus racks and wrapping the mounting rails and rub-spots with thick automotive tape to prevent corrosion and wear as the bags jostle and rub against the racks.

Press and Promotion

We did an interview a reporter from the Courier News the other day so those in central NJ should look for an article about us to appear in the Courier News and their sister-paper the Home News Tribune sometime in the next few days/weeks. We’ll be sure to link to it when it goes live. To that extent, the Snoqualmie Valley Record in Washington ran a story about us in June.

While in New Jersey, we’ll also be giving a presentation to the residents of the retirement community where Kristin’s mother works. We’re going to try and record it and post portions of it to the site.