Trip 23 -- Diners of New Jersey Walk
Day 5: Long Valley to Bridgewater (Time to Eat Diner)
Monday, October 19, 2020
Today: 39412 steps/31.16 km/19.36 mi/6h 2m
Total: 172721 steps/137.97 km/85.73 mi/28h 23m
I don't usually eat breakfast, but I like the atmosphere of a bed-and-breakfast and am curious to see what's on offer at the Neighbour House. I'm the only guest, and Iris has covered the dining-room table with a spread of cold items. I have a hard-boiled egg, a banana, and some cereal, partly to have an excuse to use the blue-and-white porcelain dishware.
I ask Iris about the music stand in the corner of the dining room. Her son plays the violin; he's in college for engineering, and they get a concert whenever he comes home. He's living in the dorm and attending classes virtually; it can't be inspiring. Earlier this year he decided he could manage classes and playing in the school's orchestra at the same time, just before live music went away.
Iris is going on a hike herself today, in Hacklebarney State Park. She usually walks five miles a day and claims to do it in an hour. She asks what my route is.
"I'm taking Fairmount all the way down to Oldwick, then along Lamington and Rattlesnake Ridge Road to Route Twenty-two. I imagine Twenty-two won't be much fun to walk on." It's a fast highway with lots of retail entrances and exits.
"There won't be too much traffic today," she estimates. "You'll like Fairmount. Lots of ups and downs."
I return a dubious glance.
"Well, not too many. It's beautiful. I like driving it."
I'm ready to leave, and I turn the oversized key to open the front door. It's like one of those old keys you imagine would be used for medieval churches. "That's a great key, isn't it?" Iris says.
Fairmount is the extension of Schooley's Mountain Road, which I walked yesterday. It's hilly at once, but not exhausting, and it becomes the quintessential rural road. Large, modern houses are set back behind giant fields, and many of them have horse pastures. Solitary red farmhouses appear, some with silos. And the trees are showing off their yellow and orange leaves, the maples most vividly. Some of them are just starting to turn; it's just the tips that are orange, as if they've painted their fingernails.
House number 278 is for sale for $669,000 or best offer, and it comes with its own pasture and barn. Number 310 is signed in an old Germanic typeface as "Flemings Fief." The Fairmount United Methodist Church has one of those signs often used for changing Bible quotations, and it says, "Tweet Others as You Want to Be Tweeted." Near the wooden Fairmount Presbyterian Church, built in 1851, is the Fairmount Cemetery. The two monuments that catch my eye are for families named Tiger and Beavers.
Rafi asked me what I think about during my walks, and I told him and Iris about coming up with parody song lyrics based on what I've been seeing. Today I'm thinking about all the creatures I've seen in the past few days. It's been a good trip for wildlife. I haven't seen tigers and beavers, but today I see a large multicolored flock of sheep and my first two goats. They notice me and seem to want to wander away from their area toward me, those rebellious kids.
In a giant field dotted with hay is a family of deer. It takes me a long time to pass, and they stare at me the whole time. These aren't the first deer I've seen, though. Those were in that sprawling office park on the way to Budd Lake, the International Trade Center. It was merely a pair of deer, standing awkwardly in the parking lot as though parked themselves. They were close enough that I expected them to run away, but they fixed their eyes on me and didn't move.
Just two deer;
Not even a few deer.
They're still as a tree:
Them's the animals I see.
Two goats make a fracas;
The sheep bring me glee --
Them's the animals I see.
A snake in the grass, some Beltie cows.
A vulture flies overhead.
A turtle, some geese, more felty cows.
And one mouse -- leave that unsaid.
The dogs bark, the birds cheep.
But don't think my words cheap:
They're music to me.
Them's the an..., them's the an...,
Them's the animals I love to see.
A marker denotes a the remains of a stone kiln from the 19th century: Farmers would burn limestone and use the powder as fertilizer. Apparently if left for 150 years, the ash turns into empty Bud Light cans. Farther along, the Tewksbury rescue squad has a sign that says, "Check Out Our New DeLorean Ambulance -- We Use It From Time to Time."
An insect is crawling in the shoulder of Old Turnpike Road, the extension of Fairmount. I'm pretty sure it's a spotted lanternfly, an invasive pest that's done extensive damage to trees in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in the past six years. I take a picture and, once I sit down to lunch at the Tewksbury Inn, I investigate. The restaurant is in Oldwick, originally another German town -- it was formerly called New Germantown -- that now contains fewer than 200 people.
I've identified the insect correctly, but because it was in a county that's already under quarantine for it (people are supposed to check their cars so as not to bring the bug from county to county), I don't need to report it. However, I should have killed it.
Lunch is fantastic: pork slices au jus with farro, delicata squash, and cranberries. It rings of farms and autumn; the squash is the color of those yellow maple leaves. The server recommends the meat cooked medium, and they underdo it; to me, it's just right.
After Oldwick I head east on Lamington Road for a mile and a half (beyond that I'd have stumbled into a certain golf club in Bedminster) and then go south on Rattlesnake Bridge Road. I see another spotted lanternfly and this time I stomp on it. It's a pretty insect, with black spots toward the front of its tannish wings and broken almost-vertical lines behind the spots. When I squish it, the wings open to reveal its bright-red body.
A car is coming toward me and it stops. "Seth!" someone yells from the passenger side. It's a singer I've worked with at the studio of a nearby voice teacher. She and her mother offer me a ride; I explain my journey. We affirm the glorious weather and the state of the trees; I say I've just had lunch at the Tewksbury Inn.
"We love that place!" the singer says. "We should get takeout from there tonight," she tells her mother.
I turn left and walk through the campus of Raritan Valley Community College -- you'd think a college campus would have sidewalks -- and through North Branch along Route 28 until its junction with U.S. 22. I'm on 22 for about a mile and it isn't all that bad, but it isn't all that pleasant, either. There's a wide shoulder to walk in, but the speed limit is 55 and there are two travel lanes in each direction, separated by a wide median. (At least it's not like the area of 22 near Union, where there's retail in the median as well and people are merging and exiting all over the place.) Logically I feel safe, but because of the wind and the speed, I feel vulnerable. There are frequent, long breaks in the traffic, though, and it's easy to cross to the Hyatt House when I need to.
The hotel is spread out over several three-story buildings; I wind around the pool and past the grilling area to find my spot opposite the basketball court. It's a two-bedroom, two-bathroom suite with a kitchen and sitting area; I should have brought friends. Today is laundry day and so I procure quarters and a small dose of detergent from the front desk.
Dinner is at the Time to Eat Diner, accessible from the northbound on-ramp to U.S. 202. I'm able to avoid going back to 22 -- someone has conveniently cut a hole in the fence to the side of the Hyatt complex, and I head down Country Club Road and then a very dark Route 28 until I find the correct exit from the roundabout under U.S. 202. I enter the restaurant...and realize I've forgotten my mask in my preparation to do laundry. I pull my sweater over my nose and mouth until I'm seated.
The diner has a long row of booths and a long row of counter stools; I'm at the end of the booths. The menu is 2-8-1, including a page of Polish options. There's half a page of "fat cats" -- hoagie sandwiches named for employees of the diner. A Fat Jamie is cheesesteak with chicken fingers. A Fat Jim adds mozzarella sticks. A Fat Bobo is a Fat Jim with bacon and mushrooms. They all come with French fries, but underneath it says "Add French fries $2.50 extra."
There's a section of "Healthy Delights" such as a roasted half chicken or a New York strip steak. Tucked in a corner are entrees and roasts such as ribs, meatloaf, and brisket; the roasted half chicken makes an appearance there as well. Several items, in fact, are cross-listed under various categories. Seafood marinara appears under seafood sautes and pastas, on the same page.
I order matzo-ball soup (this time it's firm and just salty enough) and the Polish sampler: two grilled kielbasa, sauerkraut, four potato pierogi, and two pieces of stuffed cabbage. It's an enormous platter, and it's very good. The kielbasa are thick as a baseball bat and nicely crusty; the sauerkraut is both sweet and sour; the pierogi are topped with sweet onions (I'm not kissing anyone tonight). The stuffed cabbage has a kind of marinara sauce on it, which is a little strange, but I almost went for the lasagna, so I don't mind a taste of it.
I walk the dark 20 minutes back to the Hyatt, wash my clothes, and prepare for tomorrow, the longest walking day of the trip.
Go on to day 6