We made one scheduled stop on our way from Rhode Island to Connecticut. Our Cummins engine had informed Mike that it needed its hydraulic fluid and filter replaced. We had an appointment scheduled with a diesel engine repair shop near our Wawaloam Campground, so we got an ‘early’ start and pulled out of our spot around 10:00 on the morning of our travel day. When we dropped the bus with the mechanic, I asked him where we should go in the vicinity to walk around and maybe grab a bite to eat while we waited. He suggested East Greenwich, so we piled the dogs in the Honda and made our way to the waterfront village. The downtown area of East Greenwich was situated up on a hill and full of historic buildings. Down at the bottom of the hill was the waterfront with several marinas and restaurants. The community sits on a cove of Narragansett Bay, so the view actually looked more like a river with undeveloped land on the opposite banks.
We found a parking spot by the water and started our walk. The weather was beautiful that day with clear blue skies that made everything seem to sparkle. We passed the local yacht club and a few other marinas. Gleaming sailboats and fishing boats of all sizes bobbed in the calm blue waters where they were moored. The color of the water matched the color of the sky. The forest of trees from Goddard Memorial State Park across the water seemed like the artistic backdrop of a stage. We could have situated ourselves on one of the quaint park benches placed along the water and absorbed the picturesque view for the entire afternoon, but I was starving and we were on a mission for food. Since the climate was so perfect, I was hoping we would find a waterfront restaurant with patio seating. We passed several restaurants and bars, but nothing was open at 11:30. This seemed a bit odd. As our path lead us away from the water, we started up the hill toward the center of town.
The Main Street of East Greenwich was lined with shops, businesses and dozens of restaurants. When we discovered that most of the restaurants in town were also closed, I remembered why. A mandate to boil water had been in effect for the county for several days. I had seen on the news that a storage tank was contaminated with E. coli bacteria. Our campground was located just outside the boundaries of the affected system, so we had not had to deal with the problem first-hand until now. We walked the length of the central business district and decided we would try a Chinese food restaurant in the center of town. They had a sign on the front door assuring customers that they were using bottled water for everything in their kitchen. There was no outside seating for the dogs to join us, so we walked back to the Honda and returned to the restaurant’s parking lot in our car. We found a shady spot and rolled down the windows so Piper and Cessna would not be too miserable while they waited for us to have some lunch. They were tired from the exploring, so they just slept in the back.
This turned out to be the cutest parking lot in which we had ever left our car. The owners of the restaurant had created a garden around the boundaries of their parking lot. They had built beds of soil in wooden boxes above the asphalt. Then they had erected an elaborate trellis (about 8-feet tall) above the planting area. A dense garden of vegetables acted as a barrier between neighboring buildings. We parked in front of a giant squash that dangled from the trellis. The water might not have been fresh inside, but the produce was most certainly local! After lunch we drove back to the engine repair shop in hopes that the mechanic had finished his job. We were pleased to learn that he had, so we attached the Honda to the tow bar and set out for Riverdale Farm Campground near the Connecticut shore. Engine work is so much more enjoyable when it is not a surprise!
Our drive was only 70 miles to Clinton, so it was another easy travel route down I-95. Our new campground was a 100-acre family owned farm on the banks of the Hammonasset River. The park’s literature boasted spacious sites, which was a joke… there were maybe 10-feet between the edge of our bus and the hook-ups for the spot adjacent to us. Our fire pit was literally 2- feet from our front door. If they had eliminated every other camping spot, the sites would have possibly been spacious. However, the price was pretty good; we had 50 amps of power, free Wi-Fi, free cable, good water pressure, and a tennis court! Fortunately, we did not have neighbors on one side of us – so we used the neighboring fire pit and made ourselves at home while we enjoyed our first night martinis as the sun set.
The customers at Riverdale were about 2/3 seasonal campers and 1/3 travelers like us. The place got really busy and LOUD over the weekends. Everyone knew each other. They would cruise around the park on their golf carts and stop to visit anytime they saw neighbors sitting outside… catching up on the happenings of the week since they had seen each other last. I have yet to understand this golf-cart-thing. It seems standard in every campground. People drive around in them for hours. We have only stayed in one or two ENORMOUS parks. Everywhere else has been compact and navigable on foot. Why not walk and get some exercise? One loop around the campground and I would be bored to tears, but we saw the same couples pass by us 20-30 times in one day – every day. No kidding. I don’t get it.
We made our way to the tennis court the second day we were there. I was determined to hit the ball every chance we got. You may or may not know Mike and I met because of tennis. We were set up on a blind date to play mixed doubles in a tennis tournament. We made it to the finals, and played against our friends who set us up. They beat us. I thought Mike was such a gentleman because he gave me his 2nd place prize – a gift certificate to the pro shop. After 10 minutes of hitting the ball at Riverdale, he busted a string. I guess our equipment had become a bit brittle with irregular use!
In order to get the racket re-strung, we drove into New Haven. It was the next largest town with the standard collection of big box stores. We got dog food at Petsmart, picked up something at Home Depot, and then dropped his rackets at a Sports Authority. Since we love to tour any college campus, we drove toward Yale after our errands were complete. We parked the car at a meter on the street near the cemetery and walked the dogs all through the campus. The university is the third oldest institution of higher education in the United States. The U.S. News & World Report ranked Yale third among U.S. national universities for 2014, as it has for each of the past seventeen years, in every case behind Princeton and Harvard. It was hard not to be inspired after touring the campus. The Gothic architecture was amazing. Stone sculptures are built into the exterior walls of the libraries and halls. Leaded glass windows made all the buildings look like castles. If we didn’t look at the people that we passed on the sidewalks, it would have seemed like we had stepped back into the 1700’s when the place was founded. Stone archways and iron gates separated courtyards and plazas. The campus covers 260 acres, so we did not see all of it. We happened to be there on a Friday afternoon. It was football season and the beginning of a home game weekend. There seemed to be an extra level of electricity in the air as parents and alumni were arriving to visit their children and cheer the team.
We stumbled upon the most interesting sight of the day as we were finding our way back to the car. Some English Literature students (no doubt) were staging a live 24/7 reading of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina on the lawn outside one of the libraries near the law school. It is a long book, so I guess they were dividing themselves into shifts so there would be no interruptions. Many consider this to be the best novel ever written, even though the piece of realist fiction was published back in the late 1800’s. Although the idea seemed very dramatic to me, the “stage” was slightly hum-drum. A handwritten sign explaining the endeavor was taped to a metal music stand. One student was doing his shift of reading aloud. One other student was seated on a folding chair, listening. Everyone else just walked by as if they were invisible. Although I did feel slightly smarter after our time in this magnificent academic environment, I still expressed to Mike that particularly intelligent people have a very interesting way of enjoying themselves! This is not an idea I would have come up with when evaluating options on how to spend an afternoon (or however long it was going to take those students to get through 864 pages of moralistic life lessons). If they had placed a tip jar anywhere, I would have thrown in a bill or two just to commend their undertaking. I hoped they were doing this for a grade, and I also hoped they all got A’s. Lastly, I hoped it didn’t rain before they finished.
The best thing about our time at Riverdale Campground was its proximity to Hammonasset State Park, located 3 miles to our south. We ended up spending a lot of time at this park since it was so close and had so much to offer – for FREE. It is Connecticut’s largest shoreline park with over 2-miles of sandy white beach looking out onto Long Island Sound. In addition to the beach, they had miles of walking trails, a jetty for fishing, and camping. The spot was also popular with birders, as lots of water fowl congregate in the marshlands between the beach and the mainland. We drove over several times to walk the dogs. Mike went a couple of times to fish on the jetties. One day the weather was warm and bright enough to put on our swimsuits and enjoy an actual day at the beach! If anyone had predicted we would be hanging out at the beach in Connecticut during October, I would have declared them crazy at the beginning of our trip. However, we were more than happy to take advantage of the oddity and soak up some sunshine.
Another State Park, Rocky Neck, was located about 30 minutes north of us – also along Long Island Sound. My friend Janet used to camp there with her family when she was a kid and living in The Constitution State. One of our servers from our day in Boston had parents who had a shore house near there. Everyone we talked to (that knew anything about Connecticut) told us to go to Rocky Neck. So we did. We picked another beautiful warm day and made the short drive back up I-95 with the dogs in the back of the Honda. We lucked out when we got there because dogs are not allowed on the beach until after October 1st. We were clear by about 36 hours! The sand was softer and more pure here than at Hammonasset. Although the beach was not as long, the scene was still beautiful. This beach was set on more of a cove with a tidal river on one side and a salt marsh on the other. The water was calmer and more shallow here since its horse-shoe shape provided a small barrier on both sides. The most interesting thing about this beach was that there was a train track between the parking lot and the beach. Every quarter hour, or so, an Amtrak passenger train in transit between New York and Boston would whizz past us. I must say this was the first time I had been to a beach beside an Amtrak line. We could have gone on a wonderful hike while we were there. Mike could have fished here too, but we got lazy with all the sunshine. We ended up hanging out on our beach blanket from the time we arrived until it was time to go. The salt air and warm sun seemed to mesmerize us into a trance, so we spent our afternoon at Rocky Neck absorbing as much Vitamin D as possible… and doing little else besides some championship people-watching.
When our time had come to drive back to New Haven and pick up the tennis rackets we plotted a new route for the drive. The show Diners, Drive-Ins, & Dives had done a segment on a diner called O’Rourke’s in Middletown. We planned to drive in a big circle while executing our list of errands. We drove west to New Haven to pick up the rackets, go back to Home Depot, and make another stop at Petsmart. After we completed those tasks we drove north on I-91 until Hwy 66 took us into downtown Middletown. It was an easy 30-minute detour in the name of LUNCH. Middletown is located in the central part of the state along the Connecticut River. The community was once a busy sailing port and then an industrial center. Now it is primarily a residential community with Wesleyan University situated near the downtown core. The thick inventory of historic buildings along the Main Street is evidence that it was once the largest and most prosperous settlement in Connecticut. Not anymore. We parked our car at the first meter we found and decided to walk the dogs around town and find O’Rourke’s on foot. We must have passed 50 homeless people on the sidewalks. Many of them were lingering around a plasma center waiting for it to open so they could make a donation and receive a small amount of cash. We found O’Rourke’s at the end of the main corridor. There was one outside table where Piper and Cessna could have joined us – but we were at the edge of a busy intersection and we didn’t think we could enjoy our steamed burgers while inhaling exhaust from the traffic. We walked back through the homeless population and moved our car to a side-street near the diner and in the shade of a building. The dogs waited in the car again while we went in to eat. It was yummy. Mike had one of the famous steamed burgers; I had roasted butternut squash soup and a Rueben. We also ordered a steak sandwich to go. We were pigs.
After two weeks at Riverdale it was time to leave Connecticut and add New Jersey to our list of states on the Lower 48 Tour. We generally plan to travel early in the week. It seems like driving is less stressful on a Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Between Thursday and Sunday traffic becomes more frenzied as motorists get on the roads for weekend get-a-ways. Traffic seems to slow down and become less congested once the work week starts and everyone gets back to their regular routine. It was a Monday and the alarm was set to wake us up so we could start the usual travel preparation routine. It usually takes us a few hours to secure everything, and without any rushing we seem to always pull out around 11am. Today was no different. We went through our standard routine. I got the inside ready, Mike got the outside ready. We were almost set when I told Mike I wanted to run down the street in the Honda and take a few more pictures of some beautiful fall leaves I had seen on a back road.
I was only gone about 10 minutes… long enough for Mike to check the weather radar. When I got back he had an unexpected proposition. It seems that a strong thunderstorm was gaining strength between us and our eventual destination in northern New Jersey. If we started driving, we would be heading toward dangerous winds and tornado warnings. A scenario neither of us was excited to experience. If we waited it out at Riverdale, the weather would pass over us later in the day. The following day was forecast to be dry and clear. We decided it would be best to postpone our trip if possible. First we went to the office to make sure we could have our same spot for one more night. Next we called the park in New Jersey to see if we could postpone our week-long reservation by one day. After everyone said yes, we stopped packing up and took a nap. Later that afternoon, I went to the store for some groceries so we could cook a nice dinner. We roasted a pork tenderloin and paired it with some tortellini in pumpkin sauce. After enjoying a couple of martinis and a delicious meal, we called it a night. The plan was to repeat our actions from the morning on Tuesday instead. By the time the storm passed over Clinton, it had weakened significantly. Our decision to post-pone travel was a smart one and made the day much less stressful than it could have been. Mike was worried I would be frustrated because we didn’t stick to the original plan, but it turned out I was very proud of our spontaneous weather avoidance. Better safe than sorry, that is for sure!