Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Weather and Whither

The past 2 weeks have been dominated by two issues: the weather and trip planning. We had 2 days of waiting out rain all day, 3 days of near misses, and 2 soakings. On trip planning we succeeded after much effort in working out our route to Ithaca and, much harder, finding lodging that was available and would not also subject us to a soaking of sorts.

We left you in Berlin MD. We stayed in our B&B 'til the last moment before checkout time and succeeded in missing the morning showers and in beating the next round to Ocean City, our destination.
Ocean City has a boardwalk, like Virginia Beach to the south and like every city and town on the Delaware (i.e., both of them) and Jersey shores. It was wider and more bike-friendly than many, and of average tackiness. Further north was a row of condos that reminded us of the statues on Easter Island,
gazing forlornly out at the ocean. It was still 2 weeks before Memorial Day, and the beach was empty and the condos nearly so. We found a chain motel not far from the public library and spent the rest of the day and all of the next (while it was raining) on the library computers trying to find a place that would watch our tandem for one day the following week while we took a train in to NYC. The Princeton Holiday Inn came to our rescue after many others declined, and we'll tell you more further down about that side trip.

Our next overnight was in Rehoboth Beach, which we'd heard was quite nice. It did have a nice beach and boardwalk and a large neighborhood of gorgeous homes near the beach, but the only motel we could afford was tucked between two outlet malls out on the highway.
The town of Lewes DE (pronounced "Lewis") was a very pleasant surprise, with over a dozen 18th century houses and even this one that dates to the 1660s. In Lewes we picked up the ferry
across the mouth of the Delaware to Cape May, where ocean swell coming upriver gave us sea legs in our 80 minute crossing. Rain was again chasing us, but we managed to see the lighthouse, bike along the 2-mile seawall, check into
the impressive Inn of Cape May, walk past
dozens and dozens of beautiful B&Bs that rent rooms for $150-300 a night even in the off season, and even have dinner before the rain came.

The first drops were literally as we approached the Inn. Within an hour it was a full-blown humdinger of a Nor'easter. Our room was on the windward side of the Inn, and the 40-60 mph wind found its way through the window frame to rustle the curtains in our room. We emerged only to walk, tilted to the wind, two blocks to the library the next day, back for lunch, then back to the library. By late afternoon it abated enough for our friends Jim and Anita, the boaters we've been tag-teaming up the coast, to catch a taxi from their marina out of town in to our Inn to join us in the dining room for dinner.
They told a wild story of riding out the storm surge at high tide that morning at 4, when the water rose above the wharf they were tied up to, and that we're standing on the next day when we stopped by to see them on our way out of town. It's convenient having your kitchen and bedroom always available, but we're not so sure we would enjoy the bouncing that comes with that convenience, particularly when the weather is as rough as that!

We were worried about the ride north the next day, as there was supposed to be a 20-30 mph headwind,
but somehow or other it never seemed that strong except in this one spot where the surf made for an exciting ride. All in all, we had a pleasant ride along the Jersey shore, jumping from barrier island to barrier peninsula to barrier island. One of them, Wildwood NJ,
had a most unusual lighthouse shown here, but the waterfront had otherwise been despoiled by the tackiest boardwalk yet, an unremitting wall of ugly buildings you wouldn't buy dog food from let alone the fried and sugary concoctions they were trying to hawk.
But Ocean City NJ made up for it with a beautiful boardwalk that stretched 3 miles from a residential area to the south to the small and remarkably clean-looking cluster of shops and small-scale amusement parks to the north.
We found a motel pressed up against the boardwalk where we could see the waves from our room. Ah, this is what we've been biking up the coast to find!!!

At last we said goodbye to the coast just before Atlantic City, seen in the distance here, and headed inland with no plans to see saltwater for a month. As we left the coast, we saw dogwood blossoms. Hey, we posted a photo two months ago of dogwood blossoms buried under Spanish Moss in
Beufort SC, then a month ago in Virginia Beach VA. We have been following Spring north, even though the temperatures have been largely in the 50's and 60's since leaving Florida, not the 70's we'd hoped for! We stopped for a visit to two relics of the past, the ruins of Hopewell Furnace and the restored village of Batsto,
both of which turned bog iron into cast iron stoves and kettles and, during the Revolution, cannons and cannon balls, both of which had spent their careers by the mid-19th century.

And then the weather turned again. We woke up to a steady rain and decided that getting drenched was preferable to hanging out in Pemberton NJ, where the B&B was almost 2 miles from the only real restaurant in town and there was no library to retreat to. Half-way to Princeton and quite thoroughly moistened, shall we say, we weren't so sure we'd done the calculation correctly, but it was a bit late for that. We stopped in a trendy-looking coffee house to revive ourselves for the last 10 miles of our 40-mile slosh, and one of the employees came out a few minutes later to mop up the rather large puddle where we had landed. But make it we did, and the Holiday Inn had a guest laundry where, minutes after arrival, a large portion of our clothing was awash in suds.

Thanks to Holiday Inn agreeing to hold our bike for a day and night while we were gone and to frequent-sleeper points from a motel chain, we had an interesting trip on a New Jersey Transit train to the Big Apple.
Louise's son Brian had a gig at the Buddhist Church of New York with his group, the Happy Fun Smile Band. We had seen photos of Brian and his band in action, but seeing, hearing, feeling it was something else again. Brian is lead male singer, and emcee and primal energy source for the group. At one point this nominally Okinawan band struck up a waltz and Brian came down the hall to dance with his Mom.
Later they did a Japanese Obon Odori dance that looks a lot like the hokey-pokey. It was so much fun to see them at last! We spent the rest of the afternoon
with Brian and with Louise's brother Richard, who also lives in New York, then spent the night at the Eastside Ramada in midtown. Good thing we weren't paying, it would have been $230 for a very small, rather plain room. New York is a great place to visit, but wow is it pricey. Next day we had lunch with Brian and experienced $14 sandwiches which looked remarkably like some $6 sandwiches we've had earlier on the trip.

We left Princeton hoping to beat the rain once more. No such luck. For the morning, however, it was intermittent and so light that we did not even bother with rain jackets for a while. Hey, we're from Seattle! No bigee! We reached the D&R (Delaware and Raritan) Canal at Washington Crossing NJ
-- yup, where Washington crossed the Delaware to catch those sleeping Hessian soldiers on Christmas morning 1776, roughly where the camera is looking from the bridge that wasn't there then -- and the canal path was a pleasant alternative to the busy shoulderless road nearby.
As it went along the Delaware, still a fairly large river here, the trail morphed into a railtrail, and we found a wonderful lunch spot in a restored train depot. But the rain gathered force and became a steady pour not unlike the day into Princeton, and we had another wet one. Fortunately, it was only 5 more miles to our destination, and we had the trail to ourselves.

When we made reservations for the Stockton Inn, we had no idea we'd been hearing about it for years from two of the icons of American musical theater,
Rogers and Hart. This is the small hotel of the song that goes "There's a small hotel, with a wishing well, wishing we were there, together..." The dining room dates to 1711 but with charming idealized scenes of the locale painted during the Depression by artists trading their art for room and board. When the owner saw how bedraggled we were on check-in, he upgraded us to a gorgeous suite where we soon had everything out on hangers. What a fitting way to end this segment, drying off and looking forward to our last push to Ithaca.
Indeed, the rain ended about the time we had dinner, and we got this moody picture of the Delaware just after sunset.

We have 7 days to go now to reach Ithaca, following the Delaware for the first 5 of them along NJ-PA border to Port Jervis and then the NY-PA border toward Binghamton. We'll talk to you next from there!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Up the Eastern Shore

We are now on the Eastern Shore, aka the DelMarVa peninsula, heading from the mouth of the Chesapeake to the mouth of the Delaware. We crossed the former by means of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (the CBBT), and will get across the latter by ferry from Lewes DE to Cape May NJ.

This part of our trip has been reworked more than any other. The original plan was to bike to Reedville VA, 80 miles north of Williamsburg, and take a ferry from there to Tangier Is. in the middle of Chesapeake Bay and then a second ferry from Tangier to the Eastern Shore. Turns out the ferry doesn't begin its season until 2 weeks from now.

Then we decided to bike back to Norfolk and take the Bridge-Tunnel. The CBBT Authority will carry bicyclists over by pick-up truck, the cyclists just have to pay the
$12 toll. However, we did not love our route from Norfolk to Williamsburg two weeks ago, so we planned a different route back via Suffolk that was a bit longer but put us on back roads for almost an entire day.

Then that plan had to go. Four days before we would have set out for Suffolk, a tornado went through. 50 houses and businesses totalled, 100 seriously damaged, 300 others somewhat damaged, and the road we planned to take goes right through the heart of the disaster zone! So we took our earlier route in reverse, and it went OK, since this time we were mentally prepared for the narrowness of the roads and the traffic that had to be endured.

Crossing the CBBT was interesting!
It opened in 1964 and was expanded in 1999, and will begin another expansion from 2011 to 2017. It goes 17.6 miles from shore to shore, with 12 miles of trestled roadway, two truss bridges, four man-made islands and two tunnels, each one a mile long. The tunnels allow ocean-going vessels of any height to enter the Chesapeake heading either to Hampton Roads to the south or
towards Baltimore to the north. You can see the roadway disappearing for the more northerly of the two tunnels in this picture, particularly if you click on the photo to enlarge it.

Best part of the CBBT was that it put us on the Eastern Shore. This has been FANTASTIC biking country! We have been almost entirely on quiet country roads like
this one en route to Modest Town VA (that's it's name -- seems a nearby town was known a while back as "Hell Town," and this one got a contrasting nickname that stuck). The roads have been flat, scenic and devoid of traffic. On top of that, we've had tail winds for most of our four days of riding northward. This is Biker Heaven!

We stayed at two nice B&Bs in small towns on the bay side of the peninsula, then in a small apartment in a motel in Chincoteague, near the ocean, that is more like a resort, but at modest off-season prices. Today we're in another small town, Berlin Maryland, and once again in a B&B. Over the next few days we'll see Maryland's tiny Atlantic Ocean shoreline, much of it covered by touristy Ocean City, and all of Delaware's, also quite short (each state has about 30 miles of ocean frontage).

En route here we stopped at Eyre Hall, an extensive plantation that we biked a full mile to reach on a ruler-straight entry road lined with cedar trees on both sides, with verdant fields of wheat stretching out parallel to the road. The white clapboard plantation house is set back a short distance from Chesapeake Bay and has been in the same family for 250 years.
The garden is open to all, but not publicized. Our B&B put us on to it, and it was stunning. The highlight is the old
family burial grounds and the ruins of the orangerie, a brick greenhouse that once was used to grow orange and lemon trees. The garden was a series of "rooms" set off by hedges and trees, each one the size of a small house.
It was well worth the side-trip.

Chincoteague Island is on the Atlantic side of the peninsula, in Virginia just below the Maryland line. We had to ride a narrow causeway to get there. After a rest day we rode without our luggage further east to Assateague Island, which is directly on the Atlantic. Assateague is entirely preserved, part as a National Seashore and part
comprising a National Wildlife Refuge. We've both grown up thinking of islands as land surrounded by water. Islands along the Atlantic are frequently much more complex, with large areas within the island covered by either seawater or freshwater, as they are rarely more than a few feet above sea level. Assateague was like that, as you can see in one shot of some distant Sika Elk, an asian species that was introduced to the island some years ago,
or another of some resting waterfowl on a tidal lagoon.

Assateague however is most famous for ponies that have run wild here for well over a century.
Misty of Chincoteague is a well-known children's book and movie that dramatizes the annual round-up and auctioning off of wild ponies. It started as a money-maker to fund a local volunteer fire department in the 1920's, and immediately became an annual event that now draws tens of thousands to see the ponies driven at low tide across the channel between Assateague and Chincoteague Islands. There were several miles of paved bike trails that gave us great viewing of waterfowl and of the ponies. The pony to the left appeared to be the boss of this herd,
watching guard while the rest of the gang had lunch.

As promised in our last blog, here is a map of the rest of our route to Ithaca and tentative plans for our exploration of New England.
We haven't yet decided whether we will leave Ithaca via the Erie Canal route or by reversing our route from Port Jervis to Ithaca, but those are the two main contenders. We definitely want to see the Hudson Valley, then head toward Hartford to see a variety of friends, including at least two couples we've met on this trip. Our idea is then to island-hop to see the eastern end of Long Island, Block Island, Martha'a Vineyard and Nantucket, trying to avoid the narrow roads and hordes of tourists in lower Cape Cod by taking a ferry from Provincetown to Plymouth. We'll probably swing wide to the west around Boston, but otherwise stay relatively close to the coast from Salem Massachusetts on to the north.

We need to be back in Ithaca by September 8 or so, and have not yet decided how we'll get from Maine there -- possibly over the White, Green and Adirondack Mtns., possibly by taking the ferry to Nova Scotia, biking to Halifax then taking the train to a point north of Ithaca. Stay tuned!