I left DC mid morning on June 17. I stopped and filled up at an Exxon on the outskirts of the city and headed north. DC was the furthest north I'd ever been prior to this trip. All new territory from here.
I was headed to Garfield, NJ. One of the many towns not too far form NYC. We had friends that lived there, and my Mom and sister were actually there visiting.
I decided to stop in Philly on the way and have an authentic Philly Cheesesteak.
I passed the Staples Center so I pulled off the road for a Kodak moment. Well, a Canon moment, I guess.
I'd done my research and knew it was between Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's for a "real" philly cheesesteak. They were across from each other, conveniently. I decided to do Pat's, for some reason. I got there and the place was swamped. Plenty of people staring at me, munching on their sandwiches as I got parked. I was quite self-conscious in these situations early on in the trip, feeling like my every move was being analyzed as I parked.
I got in line and ordered up a cheesesteak. It was good, but nothing extraordinary. Cool thing to say you've done, I guess. I met a nice couple with their Pomeranian dog that was traveling from somewhere in the Northeast I think. They were fascinated in my trip, as would be pretty much every person i'd tell about it along the way. Took a few photos and headed up toward NJ.
You can barely see my bike covered up behind the sign post to my left.
The competition. Funny how it was a totally different vibe than Pat's.
The rest stops on the Turnpike were cool. Everything you need right there in its own little area. Gas, food, etc. Not something I'd ever seen before. Here's a shot of the bike at one.
The tolls proved interesting for me. I always felt rushed and fumbled around trying to get out my wallet with my gloves on. I learned to keep it in my tank bag for easy access.
The traffic was insane as I approached my destination. It was like 5 o'clock traffic in Charlotte, cars tightly spaced only feet apart, but at 85mph. I was very uncomfortable and on edge. I was tense, knowing my reaction time to a quick stop in front of me would be critical. The last 50 miles or so were awful. Thankfully I had no issues.
The "jug handles" were new to me - you almost never make a left hand turn in NJ. Always get off to the right and go over/under the road. Strange.
I was relieved to arrive in Garfield. My Navigation app took me right to the house. It was a quaint little town, houses close enough to easily spit on one from the other out the window, but nevertheless it wasn't what i'd pictured.
It's a funny story how our family came to know this family in NJ. My parents and sister were vacationing in Orlando, FL at the time I was alone in Nicaragua in 2009. My sister baked cookies one night, and her and my parents mentioned the cookies in conversation while down in the hot tub the next evening. A lady overheard them, and she couldn't help but mention she must be in a nearby room because she had smelled the cookies. Funny stuff. They ended up getting to know each other, have dinner together, and she actually gave my sister and her boyfriend a ticket to Universal to use one day. The lady was an executive with McDonalds there on business. SHe had a son my sisters age, and was close in age to my parents, so they had plenty to talk about. THey spent the rest of their time together on that trip, kept in touch, and she is now my mom's best friend. All from a hot tub conversation.
So, fast forward to June 2010, she had invited us to come stay with her and give us a tour of NYC. I met her sons, both of which thought I was the strangest thing they'd ever seen, being big and bearded with a southern accent. I was in their territory so I didn't have much defense for how weird they seemed to me at first. We ended up having a great time while I spent a few days there, though.
One thing I love about NJ - diners. Open 24hrs, amazing variety of food, and its all pretty good. Here are a few pics from the first diner I ever went to, the Saddlebrook Diner. I got Fish n Chips, my favorite food. Good stuff.
We went into NYC one day. It was very cool. Was nice to be toured around by a local. I took a video of us going through the tunnel into the city. Plenty of pics in the city at the usual attractions. Unfortunately I can't find the majority of my pics from that day and I can't get my smugmug videos to embed.
We ate at an authentic italian place in Little Italy. Great stuff.
I had NY style pizza several times from the local favorites arounf Garfield. Once from Lodi Pizza (Lodi, NJ) and once from Pizza Town (Elmwood Park, NJ). Pretty great stuff. They had these fried dough balls covered in powdered sugar called zeppoles that were fantastic. Can you tell I like food? Yeah.
We went "down the shore" as they say one afternoon. Cost $5 to get onto the beach. THey give you a little wristband. I just wanted to put my feet in the Atlantic, since this was a "coast to coast" trip. I didn't put the bracelet on, just came back to the boardwalk after i'd seen the water and gave mine to a family of four about to pay to save them the $5.
I stayed there for several days, and eventually made plans for heading to Toronto. Mary, who we were staying with, was insistent that I couldn't ride all the way there without stopping, so she booked me a hotel room in Victor, NY, just outside of Rochester. She had tons of reward points with Hilton (and their subsidaries) from traveling so often for business. I remember thinking how generous she was and how amazing it was that we'd made a connection with her how we did. I love those sorts of stories. Mary ended up being a tremendous blessing to me later on in my travels. Probably one of the kindest people i've ever met.
More to come.