Monthly Archives: September 2011

Seen from the train, No. 2

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Again from Newark, the kind of place that gives the old hazardous waste remediator in me palpitations. At the same time, it’s a remarkable remnant of industry from a time long ago, a time when companies were generally named for what they produced. There’s no way anyone would call their venture the “Diamond Hard Chromium Company” today &endash; the marketing wonks would come up with a moniker like “DiHarCo.” Why, back in the old days, marketing wonks would have disappeared in one of the vats in the back.

Seen from the train, No. 1

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Generally, I would say that Newark, New Jersey is best seen from the train. Securely wrapped in steel and moving right along. I’ve seen it the other way, too, and prefer the rails. But sometimes as I’m speeding through I see something I’d love to see better, and this building is one of them. It looks much larger than it appears in Street View, and much more imposing. For a long time, I don’t know if it was an old factory, an old school . . . perhaps a factory school. Either way, I thought it was lovely and severe at the same time, and has a quality that modern architecture never does.

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A quick look around the corner reveals that it’s the Murphy Varnish Company. I hope they were proud.

Update: Turns out it’s on the National Register of Historic Places, too.

The Flat State

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I take back everything I may have said about cycling in Delaware. For those who don’t know, I now spend a significant amount of time in The First State, so named because it was the first state to get a commemorative quarter back when that was the big thing. The fact that there are almost no paths, that any route out of Wilmington is through the kind of neighborhood that doesn’t feel welcoming to spandexed speedsters, and the generally hellaciously high traffic levels, combined with my inability to find more than one or two rides even mapped on MapMyRide, made me despair of finding a decent ride around here without driving for miles and miles to a decent starting point. But I ventured down to New Castle, pretty much like Colonial Williamsburg except people live there, and picked a couple of rides starting at its Battery Park. Yesterday I tried The Coastal Evacuation Route, which gave me no assurance that it would ever, in event of a coastal disaster, lead me to any kind of higher ground, but it did take me through refineries and industrial areas down to Delaware City. The shoulders on these roads are not to be believed — routinely 8 feet wide, in perfect condition (except for strewn glass), and generally used only for turning. When they are used for turning, signs require drivers to yield to bicycles. Who’s the bike-friendly state now? Well, I did get a flat tire, but I didn’t let it stop me, and I took on another 14k after that to stick with my plan.

Tonight I tried another run out of Battery Park, around the suburbs of Christiana and so forth, and it was more of the same. Only faster — MUCH faster. I posted my highest average speed ever in the history of ever, 31.9 kph, over 51k — and in reality I was doing more like 32.5 until I hit some sloggy traffic at the end. It was astonishing, and I wasn’t even trying that hard. The combination of flat, smooth and straight just delivered an amazing boost to my speed.

And then after that, of course, I sought out the Performance Bike store and picked up some new jerseys (well, actually that’s across the bridge) and a proper raincoat, justifying it all with the commuting I say I would be doing, if I were ever actually in Albany to do it.

The flood this time

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What is there to say about what’s been going on in this corner of the world since tropical storm Irene started a dump of rain that has barely let up for a day since? Yesterday was another day of that mounting sinking feeling, compounded by being away and worried that I wouldn’t be able to get home. There was also substantial flooding down where I was, with delays and backups all over the place, and as I watched news feeds and Facebook and saw the bridge closings and evacuations up here all over again, it became hard to pay attention to anything other than whether I was going to have to get reacquainted with the Greyhound schedule in order to get home. In the end things were okay, a little delayed but the tracks didn’t go underwater.

Stunning to me is the damage to the Barge Canal. Infrastructure that has survived a hundred years has been damaged or destroyed in a system that was held together mostly by bobby pins and the good will and ingenuity of the people who run it. Underfunded and misunderstood, I can only hope that this is an opportunity for the Canal, that its importance will be recognized and its transformation from pure transportation to a phenomenal recreational resource will finally be understood. But it looks like it will be out of commission for the year, and some locks, bridges and dams may be seriously compromised.

The end of the summer

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There really couldn’t have been a better way to wrap up a summer, much as I would like it not to end. Went from too much free time in the last few summers to not nearly enough in this one, with a lot of travel and and a very slowly healing ileotibilial band. So when friends were gathering in one place and family was gathering in another, the bike had to be ridden to one or the other. Picked the first but decided to take the shorter route with the much steeper climb two-thirds through. I raced the BusPlus on the nice fresh pavement from the Capitol into Schenectady, where I left it in my dust. Took a couple of breaks to look at flood damage along the way through Scotia, and then had to hit the hill. Up Waters Road because I’ve done it before, but apparently amnesia set in and I didn’t remember there was a hump in the middle, which amounts to wasted climbing that I started to think I didn’t have my legs.  Had a few minutes of bonk as the computer showed my speed in the single digits, and not some of the higher ones. But once I was up and over it, the last 15k or so were fine.

So a lazy, hazy day with old friends, the kind we see once a year but think of all the time, then a drive over to family to celebrate with a three-year-old who was much more interested in cake than presents, and back across the river again for a campfire and smores. A campfire and smores! What could be more fun? Well, perhaps singing along to Beatles and McCartney songs all the way home. All together, couldn’t have been a nicer time.

Love living in a region of rivers, but the post-Irene destruction really gave me a new appreciation for, and concern for, bridges. They were closing left and right last Monday, to protect from runaway barges, potential scouring, who knows what else. Yesterday, I crossed the Mohawk and Hudson 7 times in our running around. Miraculously, only one of the bridges, in Rotterdam Junction, is closed. The flooding has receded, leaving everything coated in clay and endless debris and very strong currents, so it may be a while before we can put the boats in again.

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