New Jersey

warning: on this ride, you may get wet

August 1- August 27, 2012:

From the Windy City Chicago, to Madison WI bike trails and green space, to Stevens Point WI for PaddleQuest adventure race, to Southern VT for BLR Play It Forward, to Upstate NY for Finger Lakes and wineries, to Toronto Canada for a first time visit to check one big one off the leap list, back to Upstate NY, to Middleburg VA to a horse farm and dessert shop visit.

Whew!

The past 26 days have included runs through green fields, corn fields, soccer fields, dirt roads, paved roads, farms and over bridges, time with friends kids, a wedding, boat rides, swimming in rivers, swimming in quarries, fresh grown food from gardens, gifted dinners, dancing under a tent, some seeing old friends, meeting new friends, mistakes, accomplishments, time with family, the biggest event I have ever planned, so much pride and joy, a bunch of tears too, locally brewed beers and locally made wine, a border crossing, intriguing strangers and unexpected connections, life lessons, lots of fun, tons of laughs, deep thoughts and reflection, some regrets, buckets of excitement, another birthday, more miles on a trusty Honda Civic than I have yet to calculate- and then some.

It’s amazing what can happen in a month or less of life. I knew this would be an “epic” August, but I never imagined at the tail end of it I’d be sitting typing reflecting like I am right now. This month proves once again that you just never know. The things you think are going to be off the charts amazing and perfect- often times end up less than stellar, and the things you don’t ever expect- often end up being beyond any stellar you could’ve imagined. Pads and shin guards anyone?

Here’s to being able to roll with the punches, letting yourself feel every bit of the tilt-a-whirl ride, and the wonder of what wild unexpected adventure will come next..

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day 18: nyc to east brunswick, nj

Today was my last day on what has been a most incredible trip. There couldn’t have been a more perfect way to celebrate hope, freedom and possibility (what Blue Lollipop Road is all about) than taking a trip to Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty. I can’t thank everyone enough for the votes that ended up sending me there! An absolute best grand finale for this 18 days on the road in my loaned Honda.

It was a beautiful day for an early morning drive out of the city to Liberty State Park in NJ to catch my ferry:

Ferry to Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty

The first stop was to Ellis Island:

Ellis Island

Ellis Island

Ellis Island

…where I walked up to enter the building and was met by “tough” S.W.A.T Policemen Gerry and Malichi:

Yeah, they were big softies and having fun, but as soon as I started rolling the video camera they put their straight faces on. Just wait- there’s more coming with these guys later…

It was time for me to explore and learn about the millions of people who had been on Ellis Island arriving in America for a new life. I have to say I was completely in awe of the stories, facts and images I saw inside that building. It was almost as if I could feel the souls of those who had been there. I was completely captivated by what I saw and read. I overheard other visitors around me from all over the world speaking different languages (some I’d never heard before) looking for traces of their lineage. This was one of those times that I was reminded again that behind every single human, there is a interesting story. A pretty powerful feeling for a Monday morning for sure. I was so intrigued by my surroundings I spend hours just wandering and taking it all in.

A few photos from things I saw. Luggage used by the travelers:

Ellis Island

…items found during the restoration of the building:

Ellis Island

…The Registry Room:

Registration Room: Ellis Island

Registration Room: Ellis Island

My favorite story from The Registry Room of course being that of the kissing post.

Other signs and quotes that caught my eye:

Ellis Island

Ellis Island

…and one image of a little boy that I could not stop staring at:

Ellis Island

Have you ever had one of those times when you get what seems like an adrenaline rush and feeling of I want more, more, more more!? That feeling when you know you have a true passion for something? That’s how I felt today at Ellis Island. Learning about people, their lives and culture has always been my favorite thing about traveling. Standing in the history of where millions of people from around the world once were there made me want to jump back in time and just be among all of them learning everything I possibly could. (And surprise, surprise- has given me an idea for a project.)

Thank you Ellis Island. You are now among my favorite spots in my travels.

On the way out, it was back to my not so “tough” new S.W.A.T pals Malichi and Gerry. I had fun sassing them and they gave it right back to me. (Boy do I love that.)

Meet smiley Gerry:

S.W.A.T guy Gerry outside Ellis Island

…and Malichi:

S.W.A.T guy Malichi outside Ellis Island

Yeah, I pretty much told him his muscles had nothing on mine:

S.W.A.T guy Malichi outside Ellis Island

Gerry and Malichi- Considering you have already left a comment here, I know you are reading this. I also know you are laughing. Good times right? Good thing I didn’t blow your tough cover. (Malichi, I can’t believe you managed a straight face in every picture! If only the people knew…)

Thanks for being such good sports!

Goodbye’s were said and off to the Statue of Liberty I went, back on the ferry:

Statue of Liberty

…and time to walk up the steps to the pedestal:

Statue of Liberty

…where I met National Park Service Employee, Walter. Friendly teasing and heckling about about the amount of steps to climb:

Oh the characters I meet and all the people like Walter I wish I could sit with for hours. I bet that man has put thousands of smiles on faces over his 20 years there.

So nice to meet you Walter! Thanks for putting a smile on my face.

After my walk up, I had time for one final video to give a thumbs up:

…and back to my afternoon car drop off time:

What’s next? Well, an immediate 850 mile drive back to Chicago to work at job #2 in 24 hours, lot’s of wrap up from this trip, a big time announcement about something very exciting I’ll be doing in a month and maybe…a nap?

These 18 days may have just ended, but the Blue Lollipop Road does not. Just one adventure ending, in time for another one to start…

THANK YOU HONDA!!!

***Total miles driven today, day 18: 44

***Total miles driven on trip: 2,822

***Total blue lollipops gifted/left behind: 27

(A side note for Big Apple travelers: CityPASS offers discounted admission to the Statue of Liberty, as well has 5 other top attractions in New York City for $109. This is a 40% discount, compared to the combined regular box office prices. I love a good deal- so check this one out if you’re planning a trip!).

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day 16: philadelphia to camden, nj

Whoa nelly Koch’s Deli! (That rhymes. I’m giggling.)

Koch's Deli: West Philadelphia

I don’t even know where to begin on this zany, crazy, fun, feast of a stop.

My “plan” for today (once again, plans when I travel seem silly to even bother to make most the time) was to explore at least a couple food spots friends and readers had suggested around the City of Brotherly Love before we hit up the Honda Civic Tour show. I usually like to eat a little here a little there- like a smorgasbord of a city so I can fit it a bunch in when I only have a short time in a place. Well, that was so not happening after our entire afternoon at Koch’s Deli in West Philly. (And I cannot tell you how 110% Ok I was with that!)

Let the best kind of madness began:

…and then we went inside:

Surprises left and right, me stuffing my face again, (Mom- aren’t you proud?) and so much happening I couldn’t keep my head on straight. (Actually, that’s probably because I was on a cheese and pickle high.) Ezra continued to stuff everyones face as he lovingly heckled not only us, but allllll the customers. We made friends with everyone around us including Brita in the orange sweatshirt who was, like my friend Jocelyn- a “virgin” first-timer to Koch’s:

In case you don’t know this, I can eat. (Review above videos and nearly every post I write.) I’m not afraid of some food and a 5 mile run after to work it all off, but my god I ate more food standing in line at Koch’s than I eat at Thanksgiving sometimes! I had about 62 kinds of cheese, 342 pickles and I’m sure equal amounts of meat. Ezra was scolding me to “eat, eat, eat!”- so I threw vegetarian life to the wind and went in head first in a carnivore-fest. I tried pastrami types and random beef something or other. Meats I would never ever usually touch, have never eaten before, or haven’t tried in 10 years. It was out of control and I was in the moment going all the way. At Koch’s there’s something in the air that makes you want to scream NIKE!- and just do it. So I did. The overall vibe and scene in this place is a come, eat, laugh, and whoop it up. You can’t be shy here. I love that. It’s very clear by the hundreds of photos and notes covering the walls that lots of others love it too:

Koch's Deli: West Philadelphia

Koch's Deli: West Philadelphia

Koch's Deli: West Philadelphia

I finally got myself organized from the sensory overload, to order my hoagie: Honey turkey, onion-cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato, sweet peppers and oil and vinegar:

Koch's Deli hoagie

Did Ezra slice it right there and make me try with yet another pickle? You bet he did!

Chowtime at Koch's

Then he gave me a smooch:

Ezra smooching Diane at Koch's Deli

…and I gave him a blue lollipop:

Diane and Ezra at Koch's Deli

Of course I left blue lollies for the other staff too. Barbie (who actually was the one who made my sandwich) and Bryce who was slicing and dicing behind the counter. When Bryce heard I was driving a Honda he grinned, piped up and said excitedly: “Hey! My first car was a 1991 Accord and it had 300,000 miles on it!” Meet Bryce, fellow Honda fan:

Bryce at Koch's Deli

After meeting the whole staff, talking to the regulars, and eating what seemed like ten thousand samples of meats and cheeses, we collected our sandwiches, said our goodbye’s and out the door for a wrap up video. You guessed it, the surprises were not over:

Oh Koch’s- I will so be back! You might go down in history as my most favorite sandwich experience ever. Thank you Ezra, Barbie and Bryce for such a great afternoon.

Stuffed beyond stuffed, we were off to Camden, NJ to hit the Honda Civic Tour at the Susquehanna Bank Center:

Outside the Susquehanna Bank Center

Diane and Blue Lollipop Road  at Honda Civic Tour

Naturally I wanted to check out all the Honda stuff, so we wandered to where the Civic Si Coupe giveaway was. (Custom designed by the guys of Blink 182):

Diane and Blue Lollipop Road  at Honda Civic Tour

Did I sign up to win it? Heck yeah! Then I got tattooed up for the night:

As we wandered the masses before the show started, I spotted this little rocker dude and had to ask his mom if I could take a picture. Meet Ricky:

The Ricky The Rocker

How adorable is he trying to be all tough with his mohawk?!

We found our seats and the show was about to begin:

Opening act Matt & Kim came on and got the crowd riled up:

Matt & Kim at Honda Civic Tour

They were hilarious! A sassy duo you would totally want to hang with and get into a little trouble. There couldn’t have been a better opener leading up to the show, starting with My Chemical Romance:

My Chemical Romance at the Honda Civic Tour show

This show was my first time hearing much of these guys. They were awesome, the crowd loved them, and was excited to find another band to be a fan of! Blink 182 still had my heart though:

(Crush time!) Yep, I am still carrying a crush I had over 10 years ago that started after seeing them at a music festival in Upstate, NY. I picked an old-school song of course, to go with my old-school crush.

The amphitheater was packed and the crowd was on their feet and just going nuts the whole show. (We were too!) It was SO MUCH FUN. Being there made me feel like I wanted to be a rock star and wonder why I don’t go to more concerts. Thanks Honda! The guys announced on stage that this was the biggest show crowd on the whole tour and I got to be there thanks to you- yeah!

What’s the best surprise after jumping around all night screaming and singing with thousands of strangers and being exhausted as you sit bumper to bumper trying to get out of an after-concert parking lot? Koch’s Deli leftovers to nosh on! Mmmm…midnight snack. We were so glad we had those. What a day. Talk about going to bed full, exhausted and smiling…

Tomorrow I head to NYC to be close to the ferry for my final day Ellis Island and Statue of Liberty tour!

***Total miles driven today, day 16: 53

***Total miles driven since trip start (9/2/11): 2,661

***Total blue lollipops gifted/left behind since trip start (9/2/11): 25.

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day 1: east brunswick, nj to albany, ny to bennington, vt

My Civic:

The BLR-Mobile

…getting all organized for my transfer to the loaner Civic. Ahhh…the shiny and beautiful hybrid:

Loaned Honda Civic Hybrid

It was a bonus to meet the STI crew I’ve been talking to for a while now, and find out they were even nicer and more accommodating in person! They all helped me get the vinyl on the car and looking perfect:

They all cheered and got excited with me?! How cool is that?

Meet Vern, Paul, Daniel, Badri, and Gary:

The STI crew

No surprise I wanted to geek out about the car a little bit, so Paul was up for being my videographer too:

Thanks guys! You really made start to this trip fantastic. I appreciate all your help!

I was off to the races in this gorgeous car. Traffic wasn’t bad at all even though I made my way through the NYC area close to rush hour time. I decided to still have my traffic-jam dance party anyway. Spoiled with a gazillion XM Radio stations- are you kidding me? I’ll take some hip-hop and 90’s jams every day of the week please. I couldn’t resist making a video of my solo dance party too, when my total fav, Young MC; Bust a Move came on. I’ll save that video for someone else to find someday and blackmail me with. One can only geek out and post videos showing it all so many times in one day!

I made it to Albany, NY in perfect time for dinner at the highly-recommended Van’s Vietnamese:

Dinner at Van's BLR Honda Adventure day 1

Van’s doesn’t look like much from the outside, but the food was de-lish, and the service fabulous. I was stuffed silly for my last hour of driving to VT . Here I am! It’s actually 4:41am as I am typing right now so I am technically into day 2. I better get to bed because I have an early morning run calling my name again. Eat, run, eat, run.

After I run in the morning I’ll be heading to the oldest farmers market in the state of Vermont for my first time ever. (Unfortunately the location has changed because the hurricane wiped out the commons it’s usually on.) I’m looking forward to meeting the participating farmers and artists. (Apparently there’s a place near the market I need to get chocolate cake too. Yes, I know- maybe I should up my running mileage!) The second stop for tomorrow will be the Southern Vermont Garlic & Herb Festival. Yeah!

Maybe after that stop, my stinky breath and I will sneak in a nap…

***Total miles driven today, day 1: 244.

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meet gabriela

This is my day 3 in NYC and only at lunchtime. I am whooped. It’s whooped in a good way, but my lord you can do some walking, touring and seeing just about everything in this place. I have lots of stories I’m looking forward to sharing, but I must first go back to my night in NJ with Gabriela and Phil on Tuesday…

Gabriela started reading my blog about a year and a half ago. She wrote a comment to a post that I had written about how ignorance is bliss and I responded. She replied back to me and we have been email buddies ever since. We have exchanged stories, photos and pretty much been pen pals, like we all did in elementary school. Just notes, but never meeting face-to-face until this week. When Gabriela learned that I was going to be driving north for my first leg to Alaska, she wrote and told me it’d be “an honor” to host me. It was actually an honor for me to meet her, a stranger who I’ve bonded with and who’s been a loyal reader for so long. She’s never put off by the utter nonsense and babble I often write, but has promoted and encouraged it.

Upon my arrival to her home, I got an excited welcome like you get when you go home for Christmas. She and her husband jumped up from their chairs on the patio to greet me and immediately offered me drinks and anything else I might want. We chatted as if we’d been old friends for years and they toured me around their gorgeous property. There was so much green and everything was so lush, it was hard to imagine I was only 30 miles outside of NYC. They had vegetable gardens and blueberry bushes, pretty flowers, a fire pit and slate patio, and even a white fence. I learned that the house was put up in 1926 after it’d been ordered out of the Sears catalog. It’s The Del Ray model. These houses would arrive in 30,000 pieces. Price; Just over $2,000. The garage is The Avenue model and came at a price of $173. (How neat is that?) Every little piece of the home and property was just lovely. Here are a couple photos:

Gabi and Phil house

Gabi and Phil house, NJ

Gabriela is from Brazil- her family all still there. She came to the states for work about 3 years ago where she met Phil. They’ve now been married a year. They host and attend lots of bbq’s with neighbors during the summer, so were excited about grilling up some veggies and meat and stuffing me too. (I was excited to be stuffed!) Gabriela made a Brazilian “sauce” that is essentially the garnish and big pop of flavor you pour over your dish. The sauce that night was yellow and green peppers, tomato, onion, red wine vinegar, olive oil and salt. It was incredible. Here’s my first helping of dinner:

Dinner with Gabi and Phil

(It’s officially impossible to be a vegetarian on the road or eat light with these types of meals, but really who would want to? I I’ve been an absolute carnivore in the past few days and I have to say I am loving it. I might switch back to vegetarian status in due time.)

We all grilled together, visited and scarfed. Grilled corn, asparagus, and squash fresh right out of the garden 15 feet away. After dinner Phil made us fresh espresso and surprised us with ice cream. This night was a feast like you read about. Full and long conversation with so called strangers who ended up being not so much strangers at all, but more like those friends you’ve had for years. They told me stories about a pesky raccoon who they’d been trying to catch for days and the strategies including all kinds of food bait and waiting up all night trying to nab him. The stories were hilarious. I’m convinced the raccoon was playing with them, barely defying them every night flipping them the bird as he ran away with all the treats they had put out to bait him. (Phil spent hours outside that night with another friend trying to catch the bugger with still no success. That varmint must be one smart cookie.)

Exhausted from a long drive, lots of good chatter and a feast, Gabi and I snapped a quick photo before we all retired to our rooms for bed:

Di and Gabi

She was off to work in the morning so Phil generously accommodated me with breakfast, coffee and even lead me to the interstate to make sure I found my way ok. Before leaving the house, he wanted to make sure I got a photo of the back of the shed that he had painted. I happily snapped this:

Gabi and Phil shed

I’m very thankful to have met people like this. They were 1,000% generous to me for no gain other than to be just that and share good company. My favorite thing to do in this life is to feast, visit, and spend time with people that I care about who are interesting and fun. This was no doubt one of those times.

Thank you to Gabi and Phil for welcoming me with open arms as if I were a part of your family. I look forward to staying in touch for many years to come and hosting you sometime in your travels down the road. Cheers to new friends!.

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