Connecticut

“Good thing it’s Saturday,” said Hilda as they discussed the route over breakfast. “The last time I was here, getting past New Haven was an off-road adventure in a construction zone. We might be able to get through today.” 

“Are you talking about the the new and improved Exit 44?” asked Jack. He switched to Google Earth and zoomed in.

“Yes. See how they’re starting to pave it in this photo? It might be finished.”

“If it’s not, we can go under the Connecticut Turnpike on Kimberley and back under it again to Sea Street.”

“That’ll work, and on a weekend getting past the ramp exiting I-95 will be easier.”

Soon they were rolling over the bridge into New Haven. There was asphalt past the construction zone. They reached Bayview Park easily.

“Feel like riding some off-road, ‘Em?”

“As long as it’s well-packed.”

“It’s packed gravel.”

“No problem.”

The Long Wharf Nature Preserve was a little jewel hiding between the busy Interstate highway and the coast. The gravel trail turned to asphalt at Long Wharf Drive, and traffic was light on US 1 crossing the lift-bridge over the Quinnipiac River.

“This is so cool,” said Emily. “Those people up on the freeway have no idea, do they?”

“Nope. The Boston Post Road parallels I-95 for most of Connecticut. There are lots of cyclists, so the local traffic isn’t threatening.”

They waved to a foursome of cyclists racing in the opposite direction, tricked out in flashy bicycle kits.

“That guy has a Colnago like mine,” said Emily.

“Feeling the pull, Em?” asked Hilda.

Emily did not answer immediately. She gave a small sigh and said, “A little, but I am having way more fun touring with you guys.”

“I’m glad. I’m sure slowpoke back there would agree with me.”

“Slowpoke? Did someone call my name?” Jack geared down to catch up with Hilda, who laughed. They turned off the Post Road to follow the coast. Hilda led, because she had ridden the route before.

“I think that there are only two blind curves like that one,” she said, nodding to the bend up ahead. Jack nodded.

“You thinking ambush?” Emily asked.

“Anything. Driver turning wide, stalled truck, yes, even an ambush.”

They made their way along Route 146 and the Post Road through East Haven and Branford. For most of the way, they enjoyed having no motor traffic at all on the disconnected portions of the Branford Trolley trail, which was hard gravel and asphalt. Winding through wetlands and marshes, it flanked the main Amtrak and Shore Line railroad in places, and crossed rivers that forced the road traffic farther inland. When the trail ended, they climbed back up to the 146 and rode into Guilford, with its picturesque village green.

Outside Guilford, they returned to the Boston Post Road. Traffic remained light and the east wind in their faces abated in the afternoon as the temperature rose. They were sweating by the time they parked outside the Stop N Shop in Madison for lunch, and to buy food for supper and breakfast. They rode back to the Madison Green to eat their sandwiches and salads, and to split a half gallon of orange juice.

“Ashley’s Ice Cream Café is on our way to Route 1. Dessert, anyone?”

Jack and Emily gathered the trash, dumped in the waste bin. Soon they were enjoying sundaes outside Ashley’s.

“We’re only 5km from the park,” said Hilda. “And halfway there, we’ll pick up the Shoreline Greenway.”

“We’ll be there by two,” said Emily. “This is a good day for a swim. Is it that kind of beach?”

“Yes.”

An hour later, camp was set in the last space left that would take their tents and bicycles. Jack rode his bike to all the other camping areas and the RV sites.

“Kind of crowded, eh?” he said, when he returned.

“It’s the weekend,” said Hilda. “These folks probably came down yesterday. Anyone we know out there?”

“No Saturns. No eggplant-colored cars. No familiar faces.

“Let’s hit the beach,” said Emily.

They enjoyed an idyllic afternoon, swimming and lying in the sun. Emily noticed that Jack and Hilda never lay down at the same time. One of them always was sitting up, usually reading a book on their phone. She moved her towel over next to Hilda. Jack was lying on Hilda’s other side, a magazine over his face.

“You two can never relax completely, can you?”

Hilda smiled. “No, not until the two Forebears are caught, and we figure out what the Fab Four are doing in New England.”

“That’s sad.”

“It is what it is, Em. It’s a lot easier than being in an active combat zone.” She took Emily’s hand. “You can relax. We’ve got this.”

“I wish I could do something, too.”

“You already have. You have stayed alert when we could not see behind us. Keep that up.” She squeezed the hand. Emily smiled.

They lay there until about four. Jack was lying down again, when Emily said, “OK if I walk down to the pier there?”

“Sure, mind if I come along? A walk would be nice.”

“Mmmff,” came from under the magazine. Jack waved.

“Got it. We’re leaving our stuff.”

“Mmmff.”

The two women laughed and started walking south to Hammonassett Point. The crowd was only beginning to thin as a few families began heading to wherever they planned to have supper. Sleepy toddlers were draped over their fathers’ shoulders, and ten-year-olds walked somberly, clearly exhausted enough now to go home.

A dozen young people were playing volleyball on the beach. The ball came flying toward Hilda and Emily. Hilda put her hands up to catch it, but it vanished as Emily pulled it down in front of her. She spiked the ball back to the far team, who caught it with a shout of thanks, and set up their serve.

“Didn’t the near team win the ball?”

“No. They blew the serve coming at them and just powered it at us instead of back over the net.”

“Very sharp, Em. I’m impressed. I was watching the men on the other side of the game.”

“Oh, those. Yeah.” A half-dozen young men the same age as the volleyball players were gathered around a cooler of beer, mostly laughing at each other’s jokes, and sometimes cheering one or the other of the teams.

“Not your type?”

“I like the three guys playing ball. They’re doing something.”

“I hear you.”

“Hilda, what’s the drinking age in Connecticut? I never thought to check.”

“21 in a bar or restaurant, but you can drink with us in private.”

“Really? Just like that. Without my parents or something?”

“Your mother took care of that. She gave me a power of attorney as your legal guardian as long as she is not with you.”

“She never told me.”

“No big secret. It just didn’t come up. But if you want to sample an excellent craft beer with us sometime, just ask.”

“On a day like today, I think a cold brew would have hit the spot. Just a little bit.”

“I agree, but tomorrow might feel even better. It’s 100 km to Windsor Locks, and we’ll be climbing some small hills before we follow the Connecticut River north.”

“Small hills are often steeper.”

“That true. Especially the first 30 km. No climbs more than 100 m, though.”

“Piece of cake. But I don’t mind trying a beer if it’s as hot as today.”

“I’ll make sure Jack tells his friend Bill to stock something worth riding there for.”

They walked out on the pier at the point and looked back at the beach on one side and the Natural Area to their right.

“I never thought that marshes and sea grass could be scenic,” said Emily.

“I like a view without any modern buildings. Even the desert can be beautiful that way.”

“I guess. Maybe I’ll see that, too, some day.”

“If you want. It’s all just a bike ride away.”

They walked back the way they came. The beer drinkers were much louder now. The volley ball game was over, and the players were packing up.

“I thought the guys with the cooler were with them,” said Emily.

“Me, too. Guess not.”

The men shouted and whistled as Emily and Hilda walked by. Two of them began singing “Brown Sugar” off-key. Emily grabbed Hilda’s hand.

“Hilda! –”

“I know, Em. Just ignore them but keep both hands free.” She reached down and smoothly scooped up sand. “and maybe palm some sand.” Emily imitated her. They walked steadily until the men returned to laughing at their own jokes.

Hilda let the sand out of her hands.

“Do you get a lot of that?” Emily asked, as she emptied her hands, too.

“Define ‘a lot’. It felt constant when I first came to the States, and the harassment was daily in boot camp. In college and after commissioning, I think it dropped off, but I don’t tense up anymore if I hear crap like that and the voice is not coming closer.”

“You think in their own drunk way, they’re complimenting you?”

“Nope. The beer just loosened their inhibitions and judgement enough to let their inner feelings leak out. Tell me, Em. What do you see when you look at me? What strikes you first?”

“Your height, your eyes and your high cheekbones.”

“Not my skin?”

“It shines, like a wet stone.”

“Really? Not that it’s black?”

“Well, yeah, there’s that. But you asked what I saw first.”

Hilda was silent for another 50 metres. “You are a remarkable young woman, Emily Hampstead. Are you sure you’re American?”

“Well, yeah. Why?”

“Because the only American who has ever honestly noticed those things before my skin color was Jack.”

“Your cheekbones?”

“Well, I think he listed the way my uniform fit before the cheekbones.”

Emily giggled. “He would.”

They walked back to their spot on the beach in amiable silence. Jack appeared not to have moved.

“Is it alive?” said Hilda.

“Tickle it and find out,” said Emily.

Jack hand shot out and caught Hilda’s wrist just as she bent down. She fell on top of him, laughing. Jack reached up and tickled her until she convulsed with laughter. Emily laughed until tears ran. They lay there until they caught their breath, then Hilda got up and pulled Jack to his feet. They walked to the campsite, collected their toilet kits and trooped to the showers.

While they were eating their supper at the picnic table, a Park Ranger walked by and paused to look at their bicycles stacked together.

“Nice bikes,” he said, “where have you come from?”

Emily filled in the silence. “Charlottesville, Virginia.”

“Charlottesville? My older brother lives in Charlottesville. Well, not now. He’s doing what you are doing – living on his bike.”

“Cool. Where is he now?”

“I don’t know. Somewhere in Europe. He was in Italy until last month.” The Ranger pointed to Emily’s bike. “When he came through here a couple of years back, he was riding one of those.”

Jack spoke up, “Nice park and beach you have here.”

“Thanks.”

“This has been the best day yet since I left home,” said Emily. Hilda and Jack both nodded.

“I’m glad to hear that,” said the Ranger. “You enjoy yourselves and come back soon.” He waved and moved on to check on the other campers.

“Friendly,” Jack said to Hilda. “Have you ever had a Ranger visit your camp site and not tell you that you were breaking some rule?”

“Never. Makes me want to take him up on the invitation to come back.”

It cooled rapidly as they finished eating. Jack put some water on for tea.

“Let’s check in. I’ll call Pete this time.”

“Want me to call Ted?”

“Sure. He’d probably like that.”

“Should I call Greg?” said Emily with a wink. “Never mind. I’ll call Mom.”

They laughed as they pulled out their phones.

When Emily hung up, Hilda was putting water and tea bags into the mugs.

“Well?” asked Hilda.

“Oh. Everyone’s fine. They both have things finally to a point where they can go to the Northern Neck. They’re there now until next weekend.”

“Good for them.”

“And Mom loves the dress. Dad wants to see her in it, too.”

Hilda laughed. Jack hung up and joined them. They looked at him expectantly.

“Abdul and Hassan are definitely in Canada. They were identified by people in the Muslim neighborhood where they were hiding, when they tried to recruit a kid into the Forebears. The Sûreté de Québec collected them – I can hardly say arrested – when they crashed a stolen car in a chase in Laval. They’re in a hospital in Montreal now, under guard until they can be transferred to prison.”

“Stolen car? That means that they have Canadian warrants on them.”

“That’s right. Grand theft auto. Recruiting for a terrorist organization. Fleeing the police. Not to mention going 100 km/hr in a residential neighbourhood.”

“Aren’t they wanted here?” asked Emily.

“Of course, but now, they’ll have to face Canadian courts and jail time before they can be extradited to the US. I don’t think that they’ll be going anywhere unless they break out.”

“There’s always that,” said Hilda. “But we can stop worrying about them until they do.”

“Could they escape?” asked Emily.

“Not likely. According to Pete, their arrest is big news in Canada. People are furious that they were hiding there, and that they tried to recruit one of their kids. Their pictures are all over the news. If they escape there would be nowhere to hide, because people would turn them in and anyone trying to help them.”

“Why? They seemed to be moving around easily.”

“They were using stolen identities,” said Hilda. “Muslims in Québec probably include a large contingent of refugees from Syria and Iraq, just the sort of people who were fleeing the Forebears and their ilk.”

“I get it. So, now we have only the Fab Four.”

“Ted had news on them,” said Hilda. “The Saturn was found in the long-term parking lot at Bradley International Airport in Hartford this morning. TSA and the Connecticut State Police were on the lookout for them, so they did not fly out. The consensus is that they rented a car at the airport, but the detectives are still checking that out.”

“If they did, we’ll get a new car description, won’t we?”

“Probably. But having Abdul and Hassan arrested changes the game. What are they doing in New England? No point in meeting the Forebears, is there, Jack?”

“Like we wondered before, they may be looking for us or here for something completely different.”

“But they would still recognize Hilda if they saw her, wouldn’t they?” asked Emily

“I’m sure of that. Even if it were a complete coincidence.”

“And as of this morning, they were between where we are and where we’re going.” Hilda looked away, exasperated.

“True,” said Jack. “Are we ready to leapfrog?”

Hilda started to say something, then shut her mouth. They sat there for a minute in silence.

“We could catch the Vermonter in Springfield, and we’re unlikely to see them tomorrow, unless they are incredibly lucky. Let’s see what develops tomorrow.”

“OK. I’ll call Bill to let him know that we’ll be in tomorrow evening.”

Emily waved at Hilda. Jack looked at her, then at Hilda with a  quizzical arched eyebrow.

“Oh, yes, and, Jack, would you ask him have something cold ready, anything better than Sam Adams, if you get my drift? Tomorrow is going to be hot, with the winds from the south.”

“Like Fat Tire, maybe?”

“That would be great.”

He pointed at Emily and held up three fingers with a questioning look.

“Sure, but I may drink it if you don’t.”

Jack called his friend in Windsor Locks.

They turned in while there was still light on the western horizon.

“A good day, Jack. Almost like a holiday.”

“Who knew lying on the beach could leave me so tired?”

“You should be baked and burnt.”

“I did wake up every hour to reapply the sun-block.”

“Good. Tomorrow will be more challenging, a good workup for what lies north of us.”

“Good night, beautiful.”

“G’night, handsome.”

The next day, they rolled out of the Park before eight. In the cool of the morning, they got a good start, putting the steepest hills behind them on the first 30 km. By midmorning, they were coasting more than they were climbing. They stopped for lunch in Middletown. By staying on neighbourhood streets, they made their way across greater Hartford in the heat of the day, shaded by trees. North of Hartford, they began running close to the Connecticut River. The south wind was warm, but it also pushed them along at a good clip. With little traffic and bicycle friendly streets, they rolled into Windsor Locks at about three p.m.

Bill Lanman met them at the door of his freshly-painted home. He was of average height, thick with muscle, with short gray hair and a ruddy complexion. He gave Jack a big bear hug and introduced himself to the two women. They stowed the bikes in the garage behind the house and carried their panniers into the house. Bill had a pair of guest rooms with dormers on the second floor.

Hartford Riverfront and walkways on the Connecticut River, Hartford, CT

“Bill Jr.’s in Texas, and Sarah’s in Oregon. They won’t be needing the rooms anytime soon,” he explained.

“I’m sorry about Maria,” said Jack. He turned to Emily and explained. “Bill’s wife died two years ago. I was in Iraq at the time.”

“Thanks, Jack. She’s with me everyday, you know. Life goes on. Moving ahead until we meet again is not so bad.”

“You have a lovely place,” Hilda said.

“It keeps me busy. I retired just last year, and I actually enjoy working on the place.” He led them into the kitchen. “It’s a scorcher today. You guys want a brew before your showers or after?”

“How about both?” said Jack.

“Good enough. I happen to have two six-packs of Fat Tire in the refrigerator already. I know that’s good after a ride.” He reached in and pulled out three bottles. He got glasses from the cabinet. Then he pulled out a pitcher of filtered water.

“Emily can share mine,” said Hilda. Bill got another glass out, and they all sat down in the dining area.

“Cheers,” said Bill, as they clinked their glasses.

Emily tasted her beer. It was cool and not as bitter as the beers she had tried before. It did feel good after a hot ride. “What did you retire from last year, sir?”

“Bill, please. Airport security over there.” He waved in the direction of Bradley International Airport. “It’s like running a small city or an Army base.”

They chatted for a while, then the cyclists went up to shower and change. They checked in with Ted, Pete and Katherine. No news was good news at that point.

“I think the Fab Four would be nowhere near here after dumping their car less than a mile away,” said Jack.

Downstairs, Jack offered to take them all to dinner, so the Bill would not have to cook. Hilda suggested that they make dinner together the second night. Bill’s favourite seafood restaurant was only a 20-minute walk across the river. With their stomachs full and feeling clean and relaxed, they only lasted until ten p.m. before the yawning started.

The jets landing and taking off did not disturb them in Bill’s well-insulated home.

===========

Until next time,

Smooth roads & tailwinds,

Jonathan

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