Monthly Archives: November 2013

New Jersey Part I: Flanders

When we were back in Rhode Island, our neighbors were from New Jersey. We quizzed them about what we should see in the Garden State and they gave us lots of good ideas. Based on their information, we decided to make our first stop in the northwest part of the state. From this location we would easily be able to get to New York City to the east, and the Poconos to the west (neither of which is IN New Jersey). Finding a campground in this area was very difficult. There really weren’t any to choose from.  We found a spot in a town called Flanders and made a reservation. Based on the reviews, we weren’t expecting much… but we were extra disappointed when we arrived. Can you say dump?

Fla-Net Park was by no means a vacation destination. It was a trailer park. Probably 90% of the campers were occupied by full-time residents. The school bus picked the kids up around 8 every morning. The dogs barked all day after their owners left for work in their loud diesel engines. The first motors fired up every morning around 5:00, and the last ones to leave got away by about 6:30. After a bit of observation, we determined that most of the occupants were line men who had come to the area after Super Storm Sandy.  Apparently, infrastructure repair projects were still in the works. There were two dumpsters in the park and both were overflowing when we arrived on a Tuesday. One of them was never emptied during the entire week we were there.

We had spot #M3. The sites were spaced more like they belonged in a truck stop. Our spot was so tight that we couldn’t even spend time outside because their sewer connection was so close to our front door. The smell was overwhelming. This means we really couldn’t open windows either because the stench spilled straight into my kitchen. The park did not have cable and our DirecTV signal was blocked by campers parked on a hill above us. No television. Not even over-air channels. We would have happily left, but we had nowhere to relocate, and our reservation was non-refundable. I don’t mean to complain, but the worst part was that the daily rate was on the high end of our budget.  I’m not sure where the owners put their earnings, but they most certainly did not reinvest any of it into the operations of the park.

After we got the bus settled on the first afternoon, we tried to walk the dogs around the park. That took about 5 minutes. There was a wide open space of grass behind a graveyard of dilapidated campers in a “storage area” at the bottom of a hill in front of our bus. Piper and Cessna were desperate for more exercise, so we departed the crumbling roads of the campground and tried to “hike” into the adjacent wilderness. Actually, it turns out that we were hiking in a humongous drainage ditch that happened to be dry at the moment. We had started out at the bottom of the ditch, so we trekked up a steep hill of unmanaged grass that came to my knees. With every step I was waiting to find a snake or a rat under my feet. When we finally reached the top we found ourselves in the parking lot of a Chili’s and Macaroni Grill. As I tried to discover the silver lining of our current adventure, I told Mike we had a $25 gift certificate to Macaroni Grill in my wallet. We could have a complimentary dinner there one night to pass time. Chili’s would also have televisions in their bar area, so we had a place to watch football when Saturday afternoon came around. The dogs wouldn’t be able to join us for the Texas game, but I would be able to walk across the parking lot at half time and let them out for a bit.

Our first full day in New Jersey was predicted to be the best weather for the rest of the week. There was no reason to hang around Fla-Net, so we hopped into the Honda and headed for The Poconos in Pennsylvania.  I had gone online and found a few waterfalls that were about an hour north of us. We thought we would take the dogs on a hike and see some beautiful scenery while we were at it. We were off to a late start because it had taken longer than intended to do the research and find out where to go. The drive up to the northern boundary of New Jersey was pretty with fall foliage along the road.  We even crossed over the Appalachian Trail again, but we didn’t see any hikers this time.

I’m not an expert in geography, but from what I can tell the Delaware Water Gap is part of, or next to, the Poconos.  A water gap creates the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania where the Delaware River cuts through a large ridge of the Appalachian Mountains. The land is primarily designated as a National Recreation Area. Since our brilliant political leaders had shut down the government during this time, there wasn’t much going on in the region. Mike was the driver. I was the navigator. The dogs enjoyed the views from the back window.  We made a couple of unscheduled stops on our way north. First we stopped at a money machine where we could get cash with no fee.  Then we unexpectedly passed a Honda Dealership, so we zipped in to get a new set of windshield wipers we had needed for a while. After I got us lost a couple of times, we finally reached our first destination around 3pm.

Dingmans Falls is managed by the National Park Service, so it was closed.  No problem. We parked our car near the road and walked around the locked gate. There were several other cars parked in the area so we figured we would see other tourists along the way. There was also a sign that said ‘no dogs’, but who was going to come kick us out? We walked in on a long narrow road that ultimately led to a visitor’s center and a trailhead. The landscape was gorgeous. The path through the woods was a wooden boardwalk, so the walk was easy. About 20 yards into the trail, we passed Silverthread Falls. This was a tall skinny waterfall that only flowed after rain. Lucky for us, it was flowing on the afternoon we were there. We snapped a few photos and then continued along the path to find Dingmans Falls at the end of the line. We walked along a flowing stream dotted with rocks and boulders. We were in the shade of the forest and all the trees were bursting with yellow and orange leaves. The sun was shining bright up in the sky, which made it seem like we were in a sparkly wonderland as it filtered through the branches and spilled out into pockets of light all around us. It really was one of the most beautiful walks we had been on in quite some time.

We heard the rushing of the water long before we spotted the second highest waterfall in the state of Pennsylvania. The water dropped about 130 feet into a large pool of water. There was an observation platform at the edge of the water pool, and then there were steps that led up to the very top.  We were there for exercise, so we started climbing the stairs. I don’t know how many steps we had to conquer to make it to the top, but our legs were tired and we were breathing hard when we got there. In reality, the view was much better from below. I think there were a couple of other trails that embarked into the wilderness from that spot, but it was getting late and we didn’t want to get lost in the forest at sunset. We turned around and reversed course.

By the time we made it back to the car, it was after 4:00. We had planned to drive in a big circle back to the campground and our next intended stop was Raymondskill Falls, located south along the Delaware Water Gap. By the time we found the next destination, it was even later and we did not know how long it would take us to walk that path. We decided to skip that one and the next, Bushkill Falls. I would have been disappointed, but we weren’t planning to visit Pennsylvania until NEXT summer. We would just put this area on our wish list and come back to stay for a longer visit in the future.  We made it back to the Monaco just after dark. I hadn’t planned anything for dinner, so we left the dogs at home and walked across the parking lot to burn our gift certificate at Macaroni Grill (thanks Brad and Angela).

Melanie and Bob are our mutual friends who originally introduced us. Mike and Bob have been close friends since high school in Garland. Melanie and I played on the same tennis team in Tyler. Bob’s sister, Lori, lives in New Jersey. She and Mike were in the same grade (Bob is one year younger). Lori’s husband is also named Bob. His family has a restaurant called The Lamplighter which has been in business for the last 30 years. We had always planned to look them up when we got to The Garden State, so now was the time. We googled the restaurant and found out it was located 8 miles from our camp! We couldn’t have planned it better if we had tried.  Mike sent Lori a text and we planned to meet at the restaurant in Chester on a Friday night.  This was definitely the best perk of our stay at Fla-Net Park… we got to talk to other humans besides ourselves for a change.

When the time came, we drove over to The Lamplighter for dinner. Neither of us had ever met Lori’s Bob, and Mike hadn’t seen her in decades. We really weren’t sure what faces we were looking for when we walked through the front door. We told the host we were there to see Lori. It turns out that we were talking to Bob, the owner. She was en route, so he took us to the bar and served us a couple of drinks. The place was crowded during the dinner hour, but he was so gracious. He took the time to sit with us and answer all of our questions about New Jersey, even though he could have been doing a number of other things related to his business instead. Once Lori got there, we sat down at a table and had a delicious dinner. Mike had the largest slab of prime rib I have ever seen and I had one of my all-time favorites: veal piccata. It was perfect.

It seems like the evening passed in the blink of an eye. They talked about old times in high school. We talked about mutual friends of Bob and Melanie that we all knew. They gave us advice on things to do and see when we went into New York City. Before we knew it, they were ready to close for the evening and we were the only people left in the restaurant.  They wouldn’t even let us pay the bill! We felt so bad because we were not looking for a free meal, so Mike left what we guessed would have amounted to our total tab as a tip for the waitress. She was happy and we felt slightly less guilty.

The next day was a big day for us. Texas played at noon. As planned, we spent several hours at the Chili’s bar watching the game. Luckily it wasn’t on Longhorn Network that week! The best part was that we won! We went back home after the victory for a quick power nap and then drove north to Dobbs Ferry, NY later in the evening. We had made plans to catch up with more old friends. This time it was one of my high school buddies.

James and I had been in the same class at Westlake in Austin and we both went to UT after graduation. I ended up pledging Kappa Delta Sorority and he was in the Sigma Chi Fraternity. I took James to almost all of my sorority parties because he was the best date EVER. We were always just buddies, so I was constantly guaranteed a good time with no drama. He was (and is) the quintessential perfect gentleman, we had great fun together, and I was certain I was not going to be mauled at the conclusion of each evening. It was the perfect scenario. We lost touch after college and he ended up moving to New York. He met Sasha from SoHo. They got married and he has been there ever since. Thanks to Facebook, we got back in touch several years ago. He and Sasha live in Irvington, NY, which was a little over an hour from our camp. He is a singer-songwriter on the weekends, and it turns out he was playing at an art gallery exhibit near his home that Saturday night. We drove over to see him, meet Sasha, and hear him play. The evening turned out to be tons of fun. Another band called The Party Faithful was also playing that evening, and the music was great! Even though we got a chance to visit before the show, and again in between sets… it wasn’t enough time to catch up. As we reluctantly left to make the drive back home, we planned to see them again on Monday (Columbus Day). Since it was a holiday, they didn’t have to work that day. We talked about meeting somewhere in the middle for lunch, but they offered to make the drive to Flanders. They wanted to see our “house”, so I offered to make chili and we made it a date.

We finally made it to New York City on the last Sunday of our time at Fla-Net. On Friday night Lori and Bob had assured us that driving into the City would be no big deal on a Sunday. Until talking to them, we had planned to drive our car to a train station in Jersey City, park the Honda, and then take the PATH train into the World Trade Center or 33rd Street. If we drove ourselves all the way into Manhattan, we would be able to take the dogs and we could be gone from home longer. We wanted to make it as inexpensive of an outing as possible. There is so much to do there; we had to select one activity. We chose Central Park. The weather was beautiful, so something outdoors would be the most enjoyable way to spend our afternoon in The Big Apple.

The most direct route from where we were was via I-280 to the Lincoln Tunnel. We still are not sure why we listened to Lori and Bob. If this trip was something that they classify as easy, they are TOUGH people. I’ve said before that motorists in the Northeast drive like maniacs. As we drove east the number of maniacs on the interstate began to multiply exponentially.  As the roads became more crowded, the drivers became more aggressive. It was like we had accidentally entered a NASCAR race. This was not a ‘Sunday drive’ by any stretch of the imagination.  This was full on automobile warfare. Every man for himself. Thank goodness Mike was driving. I would have turned around and gone home.  He probably would have to, if I had suggested it out loud.

As we approached the tunnel, the number of cars remained constant but we all came to a grinding halt. Now we were in a sea of frustrated maniacs. Why did we decide to do this again?  We crawled through the tunnel and it got worse when we came out the other side. I’m not sure why the City even paints stripes to designated lanes on their streets. There are no rules, there are no lanes. It doesn’t matter what color the streetlight is flashing. It doesn’t matter what regulations are posted on the street signs. As Sasha pointed out later… the majority of cab drivers are from third world countries, and that is how people drive in New York. That girl is a smart cookie. I wish we had talked to her before this trip. She also told me later that they really don’t take the tunnels; they prefer the bridges. More good information that we could have used ahead of time.

Before we left the house, I had located a parking garage online and plugged the address into my GPS. I wanted us to have a specific destination as we made our way into the belly of the beast.  I was going to be the navigator, and I was not interested in ‘winging it’ once we got there. My directions told me to take the second right after we emerged from the tunnel. It took us 45 minutes to go 2 blocks. The lights would turn red, but cars would keep driving into the intersection. Cross traffic could not pass, so they would block the lane when their time came to crawl 10-inches forward.  Honking was not helpful, but that didn’t stop anyone.

We finally made it to the parking garage. We were so happy to get out of the car; we didn’t even ask how much the parking fee was going to be. The parking attendant ordered us out of the car and screeched off to a lower level (we actually had to yell at him to stop the car when he took off, so we could get Piper and Cessna out of the back). Geez. Getting around on foot was much better. Central Park was two blocks to our north. It seemed like everyone in the City was there enjoying the weather and smoggy air. Piper was a mess because of the horse –drawn carriages. Remember the white face horse in Tupelo? Well, he was just begging us to give him another chance at one of these equines as they clopped by us every six seconds. We walked along the path between East Drive and 5th Avenue. We passed the pond with the remote control sailboats. We passed the Metropolitan Museum of Art. When we made it to the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir we decided to turn and make our way back south along the paths between West Drive and Central Park West. We passed The Lake which was full of row boats. We passed Strawberry Fields, and suddenly I couldn’t get that damn Beatles song out of my head. We passed Tavern on the Green, but it was closed for renovations.  We came out at Columbus Circle. We decided we needed a bit of happy hour before we would be brave enough to get back in the car and jump back into traffic wars for the drive back home.

A place called the Redeye Grill was located at the street level near the entrance to our parking garage. We were parked at 7th Street across from Carnegie Hall. They had outdoor tables set up, but it was slightly chilly in the shade of the buildings as the afternoon grew later. No one was outside, and it was early for dinner – so inside was relatively empty too. I went in and asked the hostess if we could sit with our dogs outside to have a couple of drinks and possibly some appetizers. She told me it was illegal to have dogs outside, and then she yelled over to a waitress and asked her if she wanted to serve us on the patio. The waitress answered “not really”. So I asked if we could just sit out there and I could come get our drinks myself… We haggled back and forth. I was sweet as southern pecan pie – which was very difficult to pull off. Finally, they relented and told me the grumpy waitress would be out to see us in a moment.  Score!

We each had two drinks. I had two glasses of wine. Mike had two beers. Piper plotted an attack against every horse that passed us on their way to Times Square.  Cessna sprawled out on the sidewalk and took a nap in the middle of the chaos. We decided against appetizers for fear the server would have spit in our food. Our bill came to $68 dollars.  Yes, $68 for four drinks. How do people afford to live in that place? We paid forty more dollars to pick up our car after 2 hours. I said Hail Mary’s under my breath all the way back to the ‘tunnel of hell’. Mike took on the persona of a taxi driver in Bali. We miraculously made it out of NYC without a scratch on the car. Must have been the prayers.  The first thing Mike said to me when we got back to the Monaco was “do you want a martini”? Hell yes, I wanted THREE martinis… through an IV!

When the time came to leave Fla-Net, we couldn’t pack up and get moving early enough. The trailer park was certainly the worst we had stayed in to date. However, with all that said, I’m glad it was one of the stops on our tour. We got the chance to reconnect with old friends, and that opportunity was worth more than each of the drawbacks combined. When I thanked Lori for taking the time to come meet us for dinner, she said “of course, you are family”. This from a woman I had never met before. When James, Sasha, and their daughter Teah left our house after lunch on Columbus Day, it was as if only one week had passed since we were the ones in college. I loved his family, and he liked Mike too. Each of us was so happy to see that the other had turned out happy after we were “all grown up”.  Mike and I had been ecstatic about the chance to talk to someone else besides each other. There had been many more silver linings on this stop than our gift certificate to Macaroni Grill or game day at Chili’s. Silver linings that really mattered.

 

The big waterfall at the end of our hike in the Poconos.

The big waterfall at the end of our hike in the Poconos.

My friend James and the lead singer from The Party Faithful.

My friend James and the lead singer from The Party Faithful.

Central Park, NYC

Central Park, NYC

No TV at this stop, so we had to watch the Texas game at Chili's. The parking lot was adjacent to our park, so we just walked over. Not very glamorous or 'local', but the drinks were cold and the food was hot!

No TV at this stop, so we had to watch the Texas game at Chili’s. The parking lot was adjacent to our park, so we just walked over. Not very glamorous or ‘local’, but the drinks were cold and the food was hot!

So much fun seeing my buddy James, and his lovely wife Sasha.

So much fun seeing my buddy James, and his lovely wife Sasha.

Why in the HELL did we think it would be no-big-deal to drive into the City?

Why in the HELL did we think it would be no-big-deal to drive into the City?

How is this for a beautiful view during our walk in The Poconos?

How is this for a beautiful view during our walk in The Poconos?

The first waterfall on our hike in The Poconos.

The first waterfall on our hike in The Poconos.

 

Connecticut Part II: Clinton

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!

 

One of the beautifully intricate buildings on the Yale campus.

One of the beautifully intricate buildings on the Yale campus.

The Hammonasset River beside Riverdale Farm Campground.

The Hammonasset River beside Riverdale Farm Campground.

The owners of the campground had several beautiful horses too. These are the fields where they grazed during the daytime.

The owners of the campground had several beautiful horses too. These are the fields where they grazed during the daytime.

The jetties where Mike fished at Hammonasset State Park.

The jetties where Mike fished at Hammonasset State Park.

Hammonasset Beach

Hammonasset Beach

We weren't the only ones that took advantage of beach weather in early October!

We weren’t the only ones that took advantage of beach weather in early October!

Just another day at the beach.

Just another day at the beach.

Marshlands at Hammonasset State Park

Marshlands at Hammonasset State Park

Cheers!

Cheers!

Rocky Neck State Park shoreline

Rocky Neck State Park shoreline

A trail to Hammonasset Beach

A trail to Hammonasset Beach