We took the short ferry crossing from Lewes, DE over to Cape May in New Jersey on a beautiful clear sunny day and immediately came up trumps on the magnet front with a truly gross piece complete with faux diamond. New Jersey struggles to list attractions beyond casinos, beaches, shopping and eating and our magnet tastefully covers two of these with flip-flops and dice - a pair of each.
We head away from the overdeveloped coast with it’s myriad attractions and head for Wharton State Forest. We approach the campground on a narrow sandy dirt road in the late afternoon to find there is no self registration and we must go in person to the visitor centre, twelve miles away. We decide to cycle there the following morning rather than packing up and moving the camper which is just as well as the route we take has a 5 ton capacity bridge, insufficient for our little rig.
We’re rewarded by the opportunity to visit the historic Batsto Village, a site of bog iron smelting from the mid-eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth centuries. Places like this are always a bit amazing to me. I’d never heard of bog iron and the thought of heavy manual work out in the mosquito infested heat and humidity of the swamps doesn’t sound like much fun. The mill is the other fascination. There are two types of millstone: solid American granite stones and French Burr Stones that started life as ballast in sailing ships and were then assembled as millstones after they had served their first function. So, recycling is not a new concept although sadly most of the campsites we visit in the east still haven’t taken up the idea.
Back at the campground we have an opportunity to peruse the literature we have been given at registration. New Jersey State Parks and Forests are in a league of their own when it comes to “Pertinent Rules and Regulations”. In order to fit them on one side of A4 paper, the twenty nine rules have been paraphrased with rule four offering us the most amusement; “Unduly annoying conduct is prohibited”. After much debate we came to the conclusion that expecting campers to travel a round trip of twenty four miles just to register definitely fell under the scope of this rule but then as the saying goes; Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?
Weighed down by so many rules and inhibited in our normally annoying conduct we moved on to look for something a little less regulated. Many of the campgrounds in the eastern states charge at least $25 for a primitive site and so it was a nice change to find Mahlon Dickerson Reservation offering water and electric for $20. The fact that they had vacancies over a weekend made us a little suspicious but we found it to be one of the nicer campgrounds we had visited, except for the mosquitos that is. The trails were well marked albeit still quite boggy in places after all the rain and of course the mosquitos came into their own out in the woods. We were only there a couple of days but returned later that week for another short stay. The second visit was more memorable. Out on the trails we disturbed a pair of Black Bear who had obviously been too absorbed to hear us coming. I’m not sure who was more frightened, they ran off in different directions, one of them stopping on the path in front of us. Sterling managed to get a quick photo on the phone before we slowly backed out of their line of sight. I’ve never been a great one for roller coasters and I suspect it’s because I’m not overly fond of the aftermath of an adrenalin rush like that - shaky legs and a feeling of being depleted. We have seen Bear Aware notices in a few places recently but had thought that they probably meant a bear had been sighted back in 1983. We’re less blasé now; if they’re in New Jersey they could be just about anywhere.
Sandwiched between our two stays at Mahlon Dickerson was a short sprint over to Pennsylvania to meet up with family to celebrate the fourth of July. To Americans this is known as Independence Day, but a small select group now know it for what it is, Upstart Colonial Day. We met Eric and Jeanette (and the kitchen island in their newly acquired Class A) at Parker Dam State Park. On the morning of the holiday Sterling and I had a quite surreal experience out on the Trail of New Giants when strains of the Star Spangled Banner wafted in on the breeze. The trail goes through a part of the large swathe of forest cleared by a tornado in 1985. There are few large trees still standing, the regeneration evidenced by the younger saplings. The tornado left little in it’s wake except for an octagonal log cabin built by the CCC which provided shelter for a troop of boy scouts during the storm.
One quick note about liquor laws before leaving Pennsylvania. At a supermarket we queue with our shopping at the till. All goes well until we get to the beer. We have to pay for it separately at another till attached to their small in-store cafe, adjacent to the alcohol section. Needless to say, there’s no notice to this effect, everyone who lives in the state just grows up knowing such things. We queue again to be greeted by the assertion that we cannot buy the four six packs that we have. Now I agree that usually four six packs may seem excessive but in our defence I will say that we are on our way to meet Eric and Jeanette for four nights over a holiday weekend. We are up against the state laws that have a volume limit for the purchase of alcohol. For beer this is 192 fluid ounces per purchase. We are somewhat stumped but the helpful cashier says she will ring it through in various separate transactions as long as we secrete the booty in the depths of the shopping trolley as we leave the shop.
Tucked to the east of New Jersey is the small state of Connecticut where we had a delightful unscheduled stop in the waterside town of Niantic. We stopped to collect our mail forwarding from the post office and decided it would be a nice place to stop for the night. The town is not a true tourist destination probably because of the railroad that runs along the coast and the nuclear power station in full view out on the point. In spite of that it’s a real place in the way that some more developed vacation destinations often are not and it still has plenty to offer: a beach, a small park on a bluff overlooking the water, a cinema, restaurants and a pub. At the police station we checked whether we could stay in their public car park overnight and once we had the all clear we planned for a night out on the town. One of the shortcomings of traveling without a toad (a car towed behind an RV) is the difficulty of going into town for dinner without packing up and moving the camper, so an opportunity like this is a delight. We go to the pictures to see The Lone Ranger which we both thoroughly enjoy in spite of the lukewarm box office figures, we move on to dinner on a terrace overlooking the bay and finish at the Black Sheep Pub all within half a mile of the camper. We leave in the morning feeling very well disposed towards this unassuming little place.
Our last stop in Connecticut is at the Submarine Force Museum near Groton. Sterling has had a fascination with submarines since childhood and is a font of interesting information. The highlight of the visit is the self guided tour around parts of USS Nautilus. Its fame arises from it being the first commissioned nuclear powered ship in the United States Navy but its interest to me lies elsewhere. The living quarters on Nautilus bear a striking resemblance to an RV. Every last space is used, everything appears to have it’s designated place. There is little in the way of decoration or homely trimmings but the basic design concepts used here look to have been transferred to the very different world of recreational vehicles.
I have never really given much thought to the use of the word log to label these entries about our travels, other than the obvious Star Trek connection. I am enlightened about the origins of the term on our visit to Nautilus. In the days of sailing vessels, a log attached to a log-rope with knots at regular intervals was thrown overboard, the number of knots passing through the hand in a given period of time gave the speed of the ship. Hence the terms knot and log; now I know.
Back in West Virginia we were amused by the idea of Grote Reber building a radio telescope in his mum’s back garden. At the Submarine Force Museum we discover that the U.S. Navy's first successful submarine, USS Holland was bought from another inventor John Philip Holland who had spent several years as a priest in County Clare, Eire before moving to the States and pursuing his passion for submarines.
A few miles down the road we pass into Rhode Island. At a mere 1,212 sq miles some may say it has no business being a state but what it lacks in area it makes up for in density; it is the second most densely populated of the states.
A significant proportion of the population appear to be on the small beach as we arrive in Narragansett, a town with a long history of attracting tourists. The Narragansett Pier Casino built in the 1880’s was a magnet for the holidaying masses and like any good resort offered a broad range of activities from playing the tables to tennis, bathing or dancing . All that remains of it today is The Towers with their connecting arch bridging the main coastal road through the resort. Something of the architecture is reminiscent of a castle on the Rhine which suggests to me that it may have been a forerunner of today’s themed casinos in Las Vegas.
Narragansett’s foreshore is decorated with an on-going work of art. Fashioned by balancing and arranging rocks and pebbles with occasional flotsam the overall effect is of a shrine to the sea and shore. The clean naked look of the more intricate designs give a pagan overtone, the odd symmetry of many pieces betray a sense of humour, the overall effect a delight.
As the summer has set in and temperatures are consistently high, ice cream has featured more than usual; fruit milkshakes for lunch, afternoon or evening snacks, treats whilst out cycling etc. While I occasionally partake, I am a mere amateur when compared to Sterling’s skill, finesse and capacity in consuming the iced dairy product. Of course he has a considerable head start on me and had probably eaten more ice cream by the time he was twenty than I’m likely to put-away in my lifetime; it’s a frozen cow product, he’s from Wisconsin; like most Americans, he believes that you’re never too old to be eating ice cream morning, noon or night while I was under some peculiarly British illusion that ice cream was predominantly for children except when on holiday or on a rare hot afternoon. Our differing level of expertise is particularly evident during the heat of the day in his ability to demolish a three scoop cone while I struggle to stop a child size single dollop from melting and dripping all over my T-shirt before I can finish it. Admittedly, with guidance from the master, I have improved.
On a very hot afternoon, Sterling is pulling his hair out over a particular piece of code so I sent him a little article from the Guardian about ice cream thinking it might both lighten his load and serve as an invitation to chill with a bowl of Half Baked. If I were more of a connoisseur of such matters I would have carefully read the article before blithely forwarding it. In the first section on flavours there is an outright attack on Ben & Jerrys. No self-respecting-ice-cream-eating American is going to take that sitting down and Sterling is no exception. By the time he got to the section on the thorny question of tubs or cones he was virtually apoplectic. Not much evidence of the calming, chilling effect I had been aiming for, he is still ranting about the article a month later and accusing me of middle-class affectation if I order a waffle cone.