Rambling After Work

August 16, 2010

There are many many things in life for which I must count myself lucky. These include, of course, my delightful children, my marvelous wife, the good fortune of being middle class in a prosperous and free democracy, and Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies. Three other things that came together to make me feel thankful on Friday were (1) the fact that I have a boss who lets me leave early now and then when there is nothing pressing to do; (2) the fact that I have friends who can easily be persuaded to embark on an unplanned bike ramble on short notice; and (3) the fact that I live in a place where natural splendor, dirt farm roads, and river ferries are all within a manageable distance and accessible by bicycle from the city.

Friday was a gorgeous day, and I figured it would be a good afternoon to ride the ferry between Glastonbury and Rocky Hill, something I’d been meaning to do for a while. I figured I’d cross the river in Hartford, ride down through East Hartford and Glastonbury, take the ferry over, then meander wherever the spirit might lead me. I called Chris around 2:00 to see if he wanted to come, and he said that as long as we could swing by an event at the Capitol at 3:00, he’d be good to go, so we agreed to meet there.

The event was some sort of rally in support of tolerance for Muslims, which is a sentiment I can get behind, especially with all these crazy people talking about how private citizens shouldn’t be allowed to build a mosque and Islamic cultural center near the World Trade Center site in New York (because, obvious arguments in favor of tolerance aside, aren’t Republicans supposed to be about private property and its immunity from government intervention? but anyway). (Also, there was apparently some stupid incident of harassment of Muslims by some fools in Bridgeport claiming the mantle of patriotism.)

Now, when I call it a rally, it is a generous interpretation of the word, for I usually think of rallies as having a little more passion, if not spontaneity. This event, in contrast, was eminently boring, as it consisted of various speakers from different faiths reiterating that being Muslim doesn’t make a person less American (true!) and that we shouldn’t harass Muslims (also true! but dull after the fifth or sixth repetition). I took some pictures to pass the time:

Rally against anti-Muslim discrimination

Rally against anti-Muslim discrimination

In short order, Chris showed up on his mighty cargo bike, and after a few more minutes of listening to good will and speechifying, we set off down Elm Street toward the river. It was not too hot, for a change, and the sky seemed a little baleful as we passed the old Colt factory:

Brooding skies over the Colt building

But the weather held! We crossed the Charter Oak Bridge and headed south through East Hartford into Glastonbury.

Duct Man, Glastonbury, Conn.

The suburbs pretty quickly give way to semi-rural land, and shortly after passing this duct-man, we were amid tobacco fields.

PICT1109

PICT1108

We turned off Rte. 17 onto Rte 160, which, according to the signs, would lead us to Rocky Hill. Only later do they clarify that you should not attempt to drive straight there:

PICT1111

It’s not hard for me to imagine someone following his GPS right into the river at this spot:

Rte.160

Luckily, we had the patience to wait for a ferry to take us across. The ferry showed up within five minutes, and for a measly buck a piece, we were able to continue on our merry way. The ferryman and the tug captain, by the way, were talking about “Desperate Housewives” while they secured the tow ropes.

Ferry Landing, Glastonbury, Conn.

The ferryman and the tug captain discuss "Desperate Housewives"

Our bikes aboard the ferry

Looking South on the Connecticut River

Once on the western shore, we turned north and went from the park by the ferry landing to a series of hard-packed dirt roads that cut through fields of sod, tobacco, and corn:

Farm road, Wethersfield, Conn.

Farmlands, Wethersfield, Conn.

It was around this spot that Chris remarked upon what I was thinking at the same moment: That we are lucky indeed to live in a place where such uninterrupted agrarian scenes can be enjoyed up-close upon riding one’s bicycle under an hour from the busting city. It is a grand thing, don’t you think?

After a while, the farmland gave way to more wildly vegetated plots, and we were all at once in the midst of live gunfire. Apparently, the land adjoining the road we were on belongs to the Wethersfield Game Club. Live gunfire is a little bit alarming, but we had seen a turf farm truck and a couple of cyclists come from the direction in which we were headed, so we assumed that the local sportsmen knew not to strafe the roadway. It worked out. We saw more sights:

Connecticut River

No Ice Fishing

Connecticut River, Wethersfield, Conn.

After stopping in Wethersfield for ice cream, we decided to head west to Newington to look at the sunset from the bluff overlooking the quarry there, behind Cedarcrest Hospital. (Here’s the view from a previous visit.) Unfortunately, after getting as far as the parking lot (photo below), we were politely but firmly told to get the hell out by a patrolling security guard (never mind that we actually wanted to leave the property, just via a broken back fence rather than the open front entrance).

Cedarcrest Hospital, Newington, Conn.

Undeterred, we entered the Cedar Mountain trails via the nearby Human Society property, which welcomes nature lovers. Our hope was to go around the adjacent hospital property and reach the bluff over the quarry that way. Instead, we followed a trail that petered into nothing and we ended up schlepping our bikes through the woods for a while, trying to find a way out. Props to Chris, who did all this on a heavily loaded, long-tail cargo bike:

Chris pilots a cargo bike through the woods

Eventually, we did emerge from the woods, not at the top of the quarry cliffs as we’d hoped, but at the bottom. More specifically, we were at the back of the Tilco property, where old quarry machinery goes to die. As it was after hours and night was falling, the whole place was very quiet and felt rather otherworldly:

Truck, Tilco Quarry, Newington, Conn.

Tilco Quarry, Newington, Conn.

And then we emerged on Hartford Avenue in Newington. Chris headed northeast to his place in Hartford. I headed west to my place in West Hartford. It was not quite 8:00 in the evening and we had had a marvelously unhurried 25-mile meander, all before dinner. Ain’t life sweet?

Friday Afternoon Ride

P.S. Did you know that Chris will be very happy to sell you one of those awesome cargo bikes, or a utilitarian folding bike, or sundry other bike items? It is very true! Check out his site: Daily Rider, LLC.

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Ordinarily, television and sprawl are not my favorite things, but last night they came together magically to make happiness for me and my darling wife. Naturally, there was a bicycle involved.

You see, there is a television program called “So You Think You Can Dance.” I feel the title should have a question mark, since the essential premise is of competition, and the show’s organizers are challenging America to show off its dancing skills (in other words, the tone of the title is really, “so you think you can dance, huh?”). If that were my only complaint about the program, it would be far better than it is. In fact, it is a very very bad program. There is dancing, which is usually athletically adept, and sometimes choreographically inspired. But the dancing is like the cartoons in the New Yorker if the New Yorker were AARP The Magazine, which is to say, the good stuff is a handful of beautiful sailboats bobbing sadly in a vast sea of garbage. The garbage is commentary by judges and montages of the contestants’ rehearsal sessions and of their hardscrabble back-stories. The commentary is the worst, because the judges are pompous and they talk about how moved they are after every dance, and they say stuff that doesn’t make a lick of sense. The other filler is just tolerably trite.

Maybe I am not making myself clear, so let me get right to it: I hate “So You Think You Can Dance.” Inexplicable, my wife, who is very smart and generally has good taste, adores the program. Luckily for both of us, she has found a community of otherwise sensible adults who like the show. It is lucky for her because she can share her deviant vice with others similarly inclined, and lucky for me because it banishes the viewing of the program from my house on most occasions. The only bad part, if you can call it that, is that Anna’s “So You Think You Can Dance” viewing parties, which happen at a friend’s house in a suburb about 15 miles away, are an important part of her social life and she is sad that she cannot share this with me. I’m not too sad about this, but I do like the people who attend, and I want to support Anna in her weirdness if possible.

Usually, notwithstanding any tooth-gritting goodwill on my part, I cannot attend these gatherings because I have to stay home with the children, who are sleeping and thus safe from “SYTYCD.” But last night, the kids were with their grandmother in Cape Cod, leaving (sigh) no impediment at all to my attendance. And then, inspiration struck: Anna and I had finished dinner, and she wanted to take a shower before leaving for her friend’s house. Having just replaced my bicycle’s inappropriately knobby, off-road-type tires with skinnier, slicker tires, I was eager to take it out for a spin, so I proposed that I leave by bike while Anna was in the shower and we meet at the viewing party. Here’s the genius part: Because our friends live in Cromwell and we live in West Hartford, Anna would traverse 14 miles by highway and arrive by car just about in time for the show, while I would travel 17 miles by bike and miss at least the first hour!

It worked out very nicely, indeed. Night was just falling when I set out, so Hartford’s typical mugginess was giving way to a pleasant summer evening, and I chose a different route than usual, which happily traversed more of those strangely rural pockets that cling tenaciously to the suburban sprawl of Central Connecticut. So while Anna was hanging on every awful word of Nigel Lythgoe (the requisite British judge) and Adam Shankman (the requisite flamboyantly gay judge), I was enjoying cool, dark, country roads and the happy thunder of crickets. Hooray for America!