Thursday, June 26, 2008

Connecting With Connecticut Friends

It's been Old Home Week in Connecticut these past ten days. We started with a very pleasant ride from the Berkshires over to the upper Farmington River valley and then down along the banks of this pretty stream for some 30 miles
past a covered bridge and on to lunch at an inn from the 1700s. At one point the river surged past a boulder and of course an eddy behind the rock. As we looked over, we were going the same speed as the water, making it appear still, but the eddy appeared to be roaring upriver. For a moment it looked like we were going the wrong way, upstream, until the brain sorted out this confusing scene.

In Collinsville we met up with Fred Fletcher, a college classmate of Jeff's who joined Jeff in 1968 for his very first overnight bike trip, from NYC to Boston in 3 days!
Fred took us by car for a tour of town, including up to this cemetery that reminds him, and us, of Thornton Wilder's play Our Town, with its cemetery residents who watch the goings-on in town from a similar perch. Fred's wife Mary joined us for dinner in the railroad station turned restaurant, and they filled us in on the history of the town, which once was the country's lea
ding manufacturer of axes, machetes, plows and other edge tools.
The train line that once served the mill is now a railtrail that we took out of town two days later, seen here crossing the original railroad bridge.

Fred kindly took the next day off from work and continued playing tour guide while catching up on 30 years since he and Jeff last met. We did some nice hikes up nearby ridges, but the misty weather dampened the views.
We did make it up to Heublein Tower, which once served as a unique weekend getaway home for the distilling family of that name. After a second dinner together we said goodbye to Fred and Mary and headed to Hartford, where we toured the Mark Twain House.
It is gorgeous inside but no photos allowed, so all we can offer visually is the equally striking exterior view.

Next stop was the Fish Family Farm in Bolton, about 20 miles east of Hartford. We met Don & Sharon on Amtrak en route to Palm Beach in January, then visited them at The Breakers. The more astute among our readers might recall their picture there in their room overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Don is in his Real Estate personna here, but he and Sharon do run that dairy behind them as well.
They milk about 5 dozen cows, all Jersey, and have their own bottling plant so they can offer all-Jersey milk, which is richer and higher in protein & calcium than 'standard' milk. It certainly tasted better to us. And did we mention the ice cream that they make themselves as well?
Best pistachio ice cream cone we ever had!

Don & Sharon treated us to something we desperately needed, a planning day with access to a computer. A few days earlier we decided to scrap our planned route along the New England coast via Block Is., Martha's Vineyard, Nantucket & Cape Cod. Too expensive, and almost impossible to get reservations. Jeff had spent 5 hours in Stockbridge trying without luck to reserve one weekend along this route.

Sooooo .... here's the new route on the map.
We start with a week up the Connecticut River to White River Junction, near Dartmouth College, then head inland to spend some time hiking and/or just sitting on the porch at the Appalachian Mtn Club's Cardigan Lodge. Next a week on the Concord and Merrimack, or more appropriately along those two rivers that Thoreau loved so much, bringing us via Concord MA to Louise's home town of Weston MA. Next we'll head over to the North Coast of MA to Marblehead, Salem and Gloucester, then up the NH and ME coast to about Kennebunkport. On August 1-3 we'll be in the company of 120 other tandems for the Eastern Tandem Rally in Durham NH.

We considered continuing then up to Nova Scotia, but decided to change that plan as well. Our current plan is to bike north after the rally through ME and NH to northeastern VT, with a stop at Lake Willoughby, where Jeff's family spent 3 weeks every summer for a dozen of his formative years. We'll then kiss the Canadian border then turn around and bike the length of Vermont down Wonderful 100, a much-loved biking route through the center of the state. When we get to Albany we'll either bike westward back to Lisa and Ray's place in Ithaca, or hop Amtrak to Rochester and explore the western group of Finger Lakes en route to the family.

With a general route plan decided on, we were much happier campers when Don and Sharon treated us to dinner at their favorite restaurant that evening. After a few parting waves to them and to their Jerseys the next day and an action shot of us by Sharon,
we took a wonderful route
to Mystic CT that Jeff plotted out from the Connecticut Bike Map, available online. For about 5 miles we rode a soft-surface rail trail shown here, but mostly took small roads through quaint towns with incredible numbers of houses bearing signs proclaiming their origins in the 1700's and,
occasionally, even earlier. We had lunch on the Flower Bridge in Willimantic overlooking these renovated mill buildings.

We arrived in Mystic early enough to drop our luggage at a motel and head out for a "fun" (i.e. unloaded) ride to Westerly Rhode Island,
so that our "collection" of New England states will be complete. That's it on the left side of the river, across from Pawcatuck CT. On the route back we came through amazing Stonington, a colonial port that retains its charm and dozens of historic homes. It also has a beach -- that is the entire beach, all 50 feet of it.
Be sure to notice the New England style of ocean swimming, which consists of walking into the water up to your ankles and enjoying the pleasant numbness that settles into your feet, then walking out before they freeze up.

Next was a full day at Mystic Seaport, an amazing museum. The prize piece in their collection is the Charles W. Morgan,
the oldest commercial ship in the US still afloat!
It was a whaler, and they gave an interesting and occasionally sad and grisly explanation of how six men in a small boat were able to find and kill the those wonderful animals. There was much more at the museum, and we spent a full day absorbing it all
and working up an appetite for a great seafood dinner that night in town -- sorry, we did not have pizza in Mystic!

Final stop in our tour of Connecticut friends was in Lyme to see Steve and Carol Huber, who befriended us in Georgia and put us up for two nights on Hilton Head. We had a great time together there, and they sent us emails every few weeks wanting to know when we'd be in their part of Connecticut so they could put us up in their summer home up here.
We once again were treated to an automobile tour of the region, with the most interesting stop being their antique sampler shop in Old Saybrook, seen behind them in the photo. The older part of the building is to the right, dating to 1649, and the larger part of the house was put up in 1740.
We also enjoyed several meals on their screened-in porch overlooking Uncas Pond, and of course had another round of the card game we taught them in Hilton Head, Oh Hell.

Oh Heck, this blog has gotten long enough. We're off to the north now, to see about half of the 400-mile-long Connecticut River.

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