Fiji, my mom and I stayed with Paul Kimmel, a chemistry professor at Rutgers University. He also plays piano quite well. We practiced a couple of songs together. My violin strings were wonky, and my technique suffered from two months of zilch practice.
Prof. Kimmel finished out the night, playing jazz tunes for us. But even the Chinese Food, piano and comfortable bed could not alleviate the nerves my mom, Fiji and I felt.
We woke up around 7am the next day. The rain was coming down, a light drizzle. Part of me wanted to back out and wait for the rain to go away, but Prof. Kimmel encouraged me and said, “Bad weather is apart of the adventure. You might as well not keep pushing it off. Or just go back home with your mom.” It was harsh, but true. I couldn’t let a little water deter me from beginning the trip.
We drove to the starting point, put all the gear on the bike and loaded Fiji in the trailer. My heart was pounding! “How am I going to pull all this stuff? What if I get on and it doesn’t budge? What if I get on and the bike falls apart? What if Fiji can’t handle this? Am I being a good fur mama?”
Not wanting to look like a quitter in front of Prof. Kimmel who had so harshly admonished me earlier in the morning, and not wanting the 16 hours my mom drove to be for nothing, I put on my rain poncho and helmet. Turned on my GoPro and lifted my leg over the bike.
The saddle felt comfortable. Ok, give mom and Prof. Kimmel a hug. Check. Ok, push down on the right pedal. Check. You can do this! We were rolling off, and surprisingly, the bike was intact, and my legs were pushing the pedals without the crazy, over-exaggerated effort I had imagined. I’m not going to lie. It was hard, but more importantly, it was doable.
About 5 mins into my journey, I turned down the wrong road and got lost. I found my way about 15 mins later. 30 mins after that, the cloud burst and the rain came down in buckets. Fiji and I stopped in a residential neighborhood. We sat in front of a white and green house, shivering and drenched. My purple poncho bled red and stained my hands, and Fiji looked too pitiful for words.
To the random passerby, I must’ve looked like a circus act. I had a dog, trailer and bike, and a huge smile of denial on my face. In my head, however, I was cursing myself. You could be at home in that warm bed you sold a couple of days ago, watching Korean dramas on that IMac desktop computer, eating Ben and Jerry’s without a worry in the world. Oh, but no. You had to go and embark on some huge epic journey and for what? You know how silly you look on the side of the road right now? Yes, that silly.
A cop pulled over to see if we were ok. I asked if there was a warm place to stay until the rain passed. She said no and drove off. After about 30 mins, the rain let up. I took off my back pack, grabbed my phone and stopped cold. No, you will not call your mother. I placed the phone back in the dry bag and lifted my leg over the bike once more.
We continued on our route. I let Fiji out a few times to use the restroom. My legs started to feel the load about 35 miles in. We came across several churches, a park and lots of homes, but none of them seemed inviting enough to either ask to camp or stealth camp.
Finally, we came upon a church-ran school and health center. For some reason, it just seemed like the place to ask about camping for the night. I parked Fiji around the back of the school, ran into the health center and asked a stern-looking woman if we could camp on the church’s property… (To be continued)