Carol welcomed me inside with a tall glass of ice water, which I irresponsibly drank in two gulps. I shook the ice, signaling for her to pour more. Her husband Mark was out buying beer and their son Christian would be home after his shift at the restaurant.
The house tour started outside in the vegetable garden. All kinds of goodies were growing out here, and we would soon be eating some for dinner. When I remarked at how large the garden was, Carol said, “Well you know New Jersey is the Garden State.”
And then it hit me. Sure I’ve seen the license plates, but had always assumed Jersey’s nickname referred to flowerbeds in affluent North Jersey suburbs. Having biked 175 miles down the shore, I only now understood these gardens were about produce and not peonies.
Jersey tomatoes are a summer delight, but Carol said sod was in fact New Jersey’s primary agricultural product. I was learning the better side of a state I once mocked for chemical smells that could peel the paint off cars driving down the turnpike.
In the kitchen, chunks of bleeding pink watermelon beckoned me from a bowl on the counter. I tried hard not to eat every piece. Watermelon has to be a cyclist’s best friend—light, sweet and full of water.
Just then Mark arrived with two six packs of smooth beer from Dogfish Head and Lagunitas. We headed to the garden patio to sip and chat before dinner.
About my hosts
Before moving to Cape May in 1987, Carol lived in Lavallette, NJ (Lavallette!) where she met Mark while waitressing. They took a romantic weekend trip to Cape May, and the rest is history.
“We got drunk, were hungover and said this would be a nice place to live. And exactly a year later we moved down here,” she said.
I asked Carol what in particular she liked about Cape May.
“The breeze, a different pace, this little corner of heaven,” she said, pointing to the T intersection on Broadway where familiar faces walk and drive by. “This is it.”
Hershey, a golden retriever specializing in tennis balls, was also happy to be here. I gave in to his desperate doggie attempts to play ball.
Carol is a social worker in a special services school district while Mark is a physical enabler. He’s an accomplished yoga teacher, bicycle guide, drummer and carpenter. Yoga blocks and drums are found throughout the home. At the height of his drum circle team building days, he worked corporate events… my (not so) favorite industry!
Mark’s stories were better than mine because he worked in headier times when flaunting money was not a concern. I worked post-crash with clients having champagne taste and beer budget. Speaking of beer, damn, this Lagunitas Undercover Investigation Shut-Down Ale was good and potent.
Farm fresh dinner
It was time to have food with our drink: pasta and pesto, grilled shrimp, grilled corn and obligatory Jersey tomatoes sprinkled with cheese. All of it outstanding. The beers and stories kept flowing. I had only met the couple two hours ago, yet we were kicking back like old friends. Their warmth and generosity helped dissolve more of that rock of doubt lodged in my mind about this undertaking.
Inevitably the convo shifted to biking. My hosts have done tours in Canada and Cape Cod, but dream of more.
“Biking across the country is definitely on the bucket list, maybe on a tandem bike,” Carol said. “Like you, Jeffrey, I haven’t seen much of the interior of the country. It would be fun to see it up close.”
Later that night while Carol and I were sitting around the kitchen counter (noshing on more watermelon), Christian came home early from work. It was nice to observe the mother-son interaction and to meet him.
The clock ticked towards tiredness. Just before bed I went back downstairs to get something out of Travoy, which was parked on a screened-in porch. I was surprised to see Christian strumming a guitar by candlelight with two friends.
I was just planning to grab and go, but his friends were curious about me so I took a seat and opened a can of PBR. Five minutes later two more guys appeared with more beer, followed by more friends toting a 30-pack. So much for having just one drink. We passed around something that made my brain tingle. A late-night prayer meeting this wasn’t. Does this happen every Monday night, I wondered. Many of Christian’s friends work in the restaurant and fishing industries and have Monday or Tuesday off, so this was their weekend.
The conversation turned towards fishing and I quickly got lost in the lingo. I excused myself to get some rest. Tomorrow was a big day: I was crossing the Delaware.
New Jersey Totals
Miles biked: 175.6
# cars honked at me: 0*
# cars I flipped off: 0*
Final remarks: biking through New Jersey shifted my perceptions.
It’s a better state than my NYC-centric mind had imagined.
*ties World Record