The Great Connecticut Road Trip

My daughter is enrolled in the law school at the University of Connecticut for the fall semester. The school in located in Hartford which is allegedly a six hour drive from our house. Last Thursday we drove there to scope out the school and the nearby rental properties.

The easiest way to get there is to get on I-95 for 300 or so miles to New Haven then drive 50 miles to Hartford on I-91. I hate I-95 in Maryland so we used US 50 and US 301 through the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware. This alternative route is much prettier, has less traffic, and avoids two tolls. Or so we thought. As we crossed into Delaware we encountered a brand new Hwy 301. Unlike the old highway it was limited access, had a 65-mile-per-hour speed limit, and had very little traffic. It also had a brand new $4 toll. Oh well.

We rejoined 95 past the Delaware toll plaza and crawled through concrete spaghetti to the Delaware Memorial Bridge and into New Jersey. We then took the Turnpike toward New York City. Just outside of Woodbridge NJ we took a break at a rest stop. Wanting to avoid 95 through much of New York and lower Connecticut, I turned on the Google and submitted to its routing wisdom. Strangely the Google routed us off the Turnpike, over the Gowanus Bridge, then up US 1 and 9. Not really knowing why we were routed in such an odd direction we slavishly followed the instructions.

After an hour of stressful Jersey urban traffic the Google put us back on 95 and we crossed the George Washington Bridge. After a half hour of crawling the Google sent us up through Westchester County and eventually across Connecticut on I 84. All the while we were stuck in traffic jams. After nine stressful and perplexing hours we made it to Hartford.

I later discovered that my Google Maps app was set to “No Tolls”. This explains the bizarre routing.

After checking in to our hotel we needed some thing relaxing to do. As luck would have it, our hotel was a short walk from Dunkin Donuts Stadium, home of the Hartford Yard Goats AA minor league baseball team. It was a beautiful park and the seats were cheap. We sat behind home plate for $17 per person. The game was a blowout, 11-1 in favor of the visiting Somerset Patriots. The beer selection was decent and the junk food hit the spot.

Our appreciation for major league baseball players was greatly increased by our AA outing. Players in the big leagues make difficult plays look routine. We did see one fielding play, the final out, that was exceptional though. The Patriots second baseman caught a line drive to his left side with a deft sideways leap.

The next day we drove to the UConn Law campus in Hartford’s West End neighborhood. The five buildings all were done in collegiate gothic style. They, and the absolutely perfect grounds, made for a gorgeous campus. Easily in the top ten percent of campuses I have seen (and I’ve seen over 50).

After walking around a bit (all the buildings were closed), we started driving around looking at neighborhoods and rental buildings. There are some mighty nice homes nearby. Curiously, the nice places gave way to once-nice homes that had been neglected seemingly at random from one block to the next. The main commercial road nearest campus seemed to cater to the poor and inebriated. After driving around aimlessly, we took a tour of one apartment building. It was priced right but the neighborhood was sketchy.

We drove around some more and checked out West Hartford, the adjacent suburb to the west. This was much less gritty and reminded me of Bethesda, Maryland.

After a dinner at a downtown Italian restaurant, we crashed at the hotel.

Saturday we toured two more apartments. One was in a cluster of old buildings near campus. The other was a brand new place in West Hartford. For about $400 per month you get seriously nicer housing with a five to ten minute car commute.

It was too early to sign a lease but we at least accomplished getting the lay of the land and the housing market. Afterwards we headed to Guilford Connecticut near Long Island Sound. We had lunch in a deli on the town green. Ah New England! After lunch we drove to Jacobs Beach a few miles away. The beach is relatively small but uncrowded. A nice place to chill after so much driving.

We headed back to Hartford on back roads. It was an hour of immersion in postcard New England. I had forgotten how beautiful this part of the country is. It must be amazing in the fall.

Back in Hartford we ate dinner al fresco at a downtown Mexican restaurant. The food was quite good. The margaritas were too.

The next morning we headed back to DC. This time we re-set the Google to “Tolls” and had a much shorter trip. I-91 to a cars only highway that became the Merritt Parkway. Just before New York we stopped to partake in New England communion at the Dunks at a rest stop.

The Google routed us to the GW Bridge where we encountered the usual traffic snarl. After a 20 minute delay we were back on 95 speed southward. Occasional delays notwithstanding we made good time to Delaware. The temperature was in the 90s so we decided to avoid the beach traffic on 301 and took I 95 instead. One massive back up and 100 mind numbing mile later we arrived at home.

In case you are wondering, a yard goat is the slang term for the engine used to push rail cars around in a rail yard. Even though my grandfather was an engineer and my father and uncles worked a bit in the yards, I had to look it up.

The Mulch Gymnasium

My yard looked like hell. Not surprising considering I have spent the last four years riding a bike 40,000 miles. So with cool weather and, until recently, uncertainty about doing anything involving humans, I decided to spruce things up a bit.

My first project involved repainting a metal stoop. Next up was reworking some landscaping timbers that had been undermined by a massive tree root. After much deliberation, I raised the timbers to avoid cutting the root. The tree owes me one.

A tree company came and took down some trees and ground the stumps. Stump grinding results in a big pile of useless mulch mixed with dirt. I did my best to separate the shredded wood from the dirt and redistributed the shredded wood as mulch in the perimeter garden in the back yard. This project also involved digging up and chopping (of course) some roots from previous tree work. If you take roots out of the soil there is nothing to hold the dirt in place and it becomes a quagmire.

The timbers that I worked on were part of series of six steps that cascade through a garden on the side of the house. The steps are filled with pine nugget mulch. The mulch hadn’t been changed in a few years so I dug it out and replaced it with fresh mulch. As with the stump mulch, I distributed the old mulch in the perimeter garden.

The perimeter garden had once been separated from the lawn by brick pavers. These had been absorbed by the lawn years ago allowing the garden to be overrun with grass and weeds. I dug up about four dozen pavers and manually edged the garden. This created some left over dirt which I put in the stump holes and the tree root quagmire. I later augmented this fill dirt with several 40-pound bags of topsoil.

The final step was to spread dozens of bags of mini pine nuggets on the perimeter garden. On part of the garden I simply buried the invasive turf grass and weeds. On the rest I scraped all the undesired vegetation out of the garden. Ill be interesting to see if the extra work was worthwhile. Finally, I spread the mulch.

All this work took me about a month. At the start of the project I learned that my local hardware store stopped delivering mulch so I had to make multiple runs to the big box hardware store. Seeing as how my car’s trunk holds about eight bags of mulch, this process added several hours. I also have back issues so I made sure not to work more than 2 1/2 hours per day. Finally, rain caused me to skip entire days. I can’t complain because the weather was cool.

The end result looks pretty decent.

Who needs a gym, anyway?

Video Tutorial on Riding across the USA

I am often asked about how I go about planning my bike tours. I do my best on this blog or in person over brews of various kinds with friends but it’s hard to convey what planning and riding a bike tour is like.

I came across this video today by Ryan van Duzer. The video goes well beyond planning a tour. Ryan, who has no shortage of enthusiasm for bike tours, can’t help but share his joy of touring.

As you will see, Ryan makes liberal use of drone shots. They make for amazing panoramic vistas but, sad to say, most of the time bike tourists don’t get such amazing perspectives. And exception is when you are in the mountains and can look out over the landscape. Northern Cascades and the GAP Trail east of the Eastern Continental Divide are notable exceptions.

This is a quibble. Good on Ryan to lug all that electronic stuff with him so you don’t have to. Here’s the video.

My only disagreements with Ryan have to do with riding direction and riding yourself into shape. I agree with Ryan that you’ll encounter headwinds regardless of which direction you go. As the famous bike tourist Milton Friedman once said, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” I disagree with the concept of riding yourself into shape. You’ll have a much better time if you get your body ready before you leave, especially if you are riding west to east. The reason is that the first few days heading east involve beaucoup climbing. I heard from a Warmshowers host in eastern Washington that it was not uncommon for eastbound riders to quit after only a few days. The Northern Tier route that they use goes from sea level to over 4,000 feet in a matter of 100 or so miles. Then there are four climbs over 5,000 feet in the days that follow. I had over 3,000 miles under my belt before I hit this climbfest. So eastbounders, bring your A game. folks. (Not to belabor the point but the climb from Sacramento to Carson Pass on the Western Express route goes from near sea level to over 8,000 feet in 90 miles. Good thing it’s pretty, because I didn’t see any cardiac care units on my ride west out of the Sierras.)

Fair warning: Ryan’s videos are addictive.

While I am on the subject, another source of great bike touring info are the videos of Bike Touring Mike. He’s a bit droll but he knows his stuff.

It would suck to be a cow in Cuba

Today’s Washington Post had a story about a large Chinese rocket booster that is expected to fall to earth in the coming days. The story, written by Christian Davenport and Matthew Cappucci, explains that the odds of space debris hitting people are very low. The earth is 70 percent water. And most of the land is sparsely occupied. There has never been a reported incident of a person being hit by falling space debris.

The story does point out that “a cow in Cuba did lose its life in 1961.”