Day 106

Maplewood, NJ to Souderton, PA
$5 :: coffee, snacks
102.02 mi :: 8.16 hr :: 34.5 mph :: 12.3 mph :: 6921 mi

After breakfast with Rowland I call Grandma Ruth, get Hadie and Earl’s correct phone number, and call them. It turns out htat their schedule works best if I can arrive today. It’s after 10 already, and Rowland has spent the morning extoling Princeton campus to me. He attended seminary there, and I have more or less agreed to go. Rowland seems to take pleasure in organizing things for me to do, and giving me detailed instructions on how best to enjoy them. I humor him, not really planning to go to Princeton. I think maybe I should tell him and save him his efforts, but I keep my mouth shut.

We get the bike out, and Rowland wants to try it. I help him get going. He seems to get the hang of it remarkably fast. He announces that he’s taking it around the block, and off he goes. I wait, a little nervously. It seems to take him a long time. All the things that could go wrong start to occur to me. But he comes around, having shifted into a gear that stretches the chain. No harm done, I pack up, give him another manly hug and take off. I think we’re both a little relieved to finish the host-guest relationship on a successful note.

I’m riding through suburbia. A strip mall, an overpass, a cute wealthy historic community, a rundown paint-peeled satellite ghetto. Even there, people get excited about seeing me. “Eh hey, my man!” smiles a guy from his prior-decade camaro. The highway twists and loses me. I ride for miles through endless neighborhoods, ask directions, find it again, more neighborhoods. Someday the whole east coast will be inhabited like this, I imagine, dotted with only a few parks and preserves. The residences will get closer and closer together, towns will have nothing to separate them but a sign.

The D & R canal offers some relief. There are parks, woods, and fields along it, and the residences spread out. I follow it to Princeton, an on-the-fly change of plans, to find out what an ivy league campus looks like.

It’s just like I’d imagine. A mix of old and new buildings, lots of trees and lawns, and of course ivy. I eat my sandwich while watching some jugglers behind the library with big stone lions at the door. Then I head west through gothic arches, past the physics tower, through a park, and away.

My new plan is a risky one: head northwest on small roads until I meet a road on my bicycle map. It starts well – I find myself on Great Road, which Rowland had mentioned. I can’t believe my luck – I cross county road 602, a main part of my mapped route! BUT, I soon realize I’m in a different county. I take many turns, the roads get smaller and smaller, prettier and prettier. I follow brooks, climb hills. After a long time I hit an intersection with a store that has a map. I’m there! The real 602! I try to call Hadie and Earl, but they’re busy. Now I start racing the remaining daylight.

In Lambertville I reach Earl. It’s 5:15 and I guess I have at least 20 miles to go, so I tell him I’ll arrive after dark. This is a little hippie town. The bridge over the Delaware river has a wooden walkway full of strolling families and couples. There are art shops and coffee houses on both sides of the road.

The country roads are surrounded by stone houses, gardens, woods, and fields. I glory in the twilight sky and fresh cold air while I push up hills and twist through valleys. When it gets dark I have to put on my headlamp because my generator headlight is out. Finally I reach 463, and seem to ride forever in the dark, in the roving lights of passing cars. Shortly after 8 pm I stop to ask directions at a gas station. The attendant confidently tells me where to go, but for some reason I check her directions against a map on the shelf and find them completely wrong. I plot my own course, having to backtrack 1/2 a mile.

When I pull up to house 132 on Wile Ave, I lift my bike up on the porch and ring the doorbell. No answer. It looks dark inside. I push the doorbell again but hear no sound. My exhausted brain goes to work on the problem and comes up with this solution: I pull out my cellphone and dial Hadie’s number. I hear it ring inside. Hadie picks up.

“Hello?”
“Hi, it’s Dylan. Are you home?”
“Yes, where are you?”
“I’m on the porch.”
“What?”
“I’m out here on your porch. The doorbell isn’t working.”
“You’re right in front here?”

She comes to the door and we greet each other, each holding a phone in one hand. With today’s technology, who needs to knock?

I hug my Great Aunt Hadie for the first time. She’s small, a little stooped, grey-haired, confident, and animated. I feel the family connection click right in. When Uncle Earl and cousin Fred return from searching for me, we have a meal of beans and rice, after which I can do nothing but head for bed.

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