Enfield to the Sound                                        © 2010 by Karl Meyer

May 2, 2010

This will prove the downstream ride’s best day—actually the best day of the trip.  At 6:00 a.m., I check the skies above the sprawling pavement surrounding my Enfield address.  There’s high, grey cover.  It’s humid and cool, but already in the upper 50’s.  The TV update says upper 80’s today, with afternoon showers.  I grab my own shower, and then head to check out.  The kind woman at the front desk tells me I get a free complimentary lunch at the chain next door, “Do you have time?”

I go and order up a cooked, breakfast sandwich, to go.  It takes about 15 minutes, but I pack it on my bike, grab a quick cup of the motel’s complimentary coffee, and I’m off, coffee in hand.  I scoot back down south through Enfield, a combination of newer homes, with the occasional colonial place delineating the original town layout.  I dive right, down Old Depot Road, to Thompsonville and Warehouse Pt., examining the landscape that dictated where humans first walked here, and fished, and where Pynchon found it necessary to build his trading warehouse in the 1630s, due to the rapids just upstream.

I intersect Rt. 5, and head south.  It’s 7:45 a.m., and traffic is generally light on this Sunday.  In places this road has a real urban edge, with stores and commerce spread broadly across the river terrace.  Other places are given over to pasturing horses, and idle land, with a few farms and garden center operations in between.  Most telling, to someone traveling in the silence of a bike, are the hundreds and hundreds of fertile acres given over to pavement—oil atop earth, for the sole purpose of auctioning off thousands of new cars, here sitting in storage.  As I ride past this, a great oil slick is spreading over the surface of the Gulf of Mexico.

I keep watch for the Scantic River.  Dr. Boyd Kynard tells me there used to be a pretty good blueback herring run up this river.  When I finally dip into its crossing in East Windsor, I stop on the narrow bridge, looking down to the semi-dark waters as a scattering of trucks shoot past.  It’s a tripping little river here, semi-dark in the bottomland woods.  I can make out no fish in the morning light—not that they would be moving necessarily at the moment.  A mallard scoots away, and two Canada geese take flight.  There may be another dam between me and the mouth of the Scantic, but I think not, as I’m only a mile away.  Later I discover that the first dam is miles upstream in Enfield, and that this river had a pretty good run of shad in the 1970’s, and even today a few river herring knock on the door of the dam each spring.  Both, have been left hanging for decades without assistance.

Stripping down to a t-shirt, I head out of the bowl of the Scantic and quickly find my way onto North Main Street.  This turns out to be a wonderful secondary road, laid out in the mid-1600s above the Connecticut’s broad, flood plain.  It’s quiet, straight, and flows down through the old settlements, with many of the old houses still standing.  The East Windsor Hill Post Office, from 1727, is still in business, as is the refreshingly untidy Porter House, dating from 1694.  I follow south, largely untrammeled by traffic.

Other cyclists heading north for a recreational ride slide by in twos and threes.  At South Windsor I pass the birthplace marker for the Reverend Jonathan Edwards, born in the first years of the 18th century.  This connects me back to an upstream town.  When I lived in Northampton, MA, Edwards and I were neighbors of a sort.  I lived across the tracks, less than 200 yards from Edwards Square–his old digs when he was an early fire and brimstone preacher.  The citizens of Northampton had the good sense to run Edward’s and his brand of fear mongering out of town.  His bloodline apparently continued though, as I read that Aaron Burr was his grandson.

Continuing on down South Main through East Windsor, the road grows slowly less rural, with less of the preserved, cookie-cutter, historic ambiance it cultivates at it most opulent horse-farmy acreages.  It was time to leave this quiet anyway.  Soon I’m in East Hartford, which would have been a real challenge on a weekday, but at 10:00 a.m. on a Sunday, is highly doable.  I’m still on the old, historic path, but the road widens, merges with Rt. 5 as Main Street.  I cross the entrance to one sprawling Pratt and Whitney plant, and not long after, another.  It astonishes me at the time how much of our wealth is derived from the implementation of industry in service to warfare.  What a sad use of the earth’s good soil.

In the center of East Hartford, beneath its looming spire, I chat briefly with another cyclist while stopped at a busy intersection.  He’s pleasant, though he can’t offer much in the way of good directions heading south.  I just try to keep on Main Street, ever leaning toward the river, which should lead me into Glastonbury.  Though I do lose the trail at times, I eventually make it to a back street intersection that is tempting: Naubuc Avenue.  It’s again a quiet, colonial path—very likely of Native American origin, and it goes through an old, and unpretentious colonial neighborhood, interspersed with modest, early and mid-20th century houses.  Plain, working people.

This is another fine, straight, route, which takes me a few miles, including down a short side chute to Keeney Cove, and old meander of the Connecticut.  Here, in the 80 degree morning sun, people have parked a few pickup trucks and cars.  They are angling for fish at the lip of the Cove, which has yet to be unburdened on the recent spring floods.  Part of the pavement is under water.  I ask one shirtless, tattooed young guy who has just waded in from a small, dry rise in his bare feet if the guys fishing there have caught anything.  He can’t say for sure.  I head back out, not knowing if this is a shad or herring site, with a connection to the main stem Connecticut.

It is warm.  I fidget my way onto Main Street in Glastonbury, where it’s sunny, flowery, and well-off.  Hills and narrow roads close in, a function of the ancient geology here, and plate tectonics.  The road gets busier as I head south toward Portland and Cobalt.  I pass Moodus, the place of a memorable earth quake in the 1700s.  Suddenly I’m adjacent to the motel/inn that I’ve scoped out for the end of today’s journey.  It looks ok, but a bit forlorn on its little siding, with the nearest commerce a gas station 1/3 of a mile away, and no where to walk on narrow Rt. 66.  It’s 11:15 a.m.; there are no rain clouds apparent.  If I stop now, I’m stuck in a boring pocket for the day.  I head on, not knowing where I’ll end the day.

I grab an iced coffee in Cobalt, against the heat, and find I’ve missed a turn south.  A woman tells me I can take the adjacent road I’ve been eying, back over the Rt. 154.  It’s Hog Hill Road, an interesting old colonial route dating back at least 2-1/2 centuries.  I hear wood thrush and oven birds, and yellow warblers.  Soon I’ve scooted down to my river route and the entrance to Hurd State Park.  It’s hot, but, I want to keep rolling.  One hill, then another, takes me over the ridges of Haddam Neck, a rocky ridge reaching to the Connecticut’s shore that once hosted a nuclear plant.  It was shut when valve problems threatened to uncover the reactor’s core, which the public never learned.  Repairs were too pricey to ever restart it.  Today, it has been dismantled, but its toxic nuclear legacy remains stored and guarded on site, costing citizens a million bucks a year to safeguard it.

I shoot down a long curve and up along the last few miles of the Salmon River, stopping on the bridge above to scan for fish.  I walk down an old side road, where the Leesville dam has long had a set-up to pass—wouldn’t you know, salmon.  The place is posted up and down about salmon, and how to ID them.  But I see not a single leaping salmon.  However, as I crouch down nest to the gurgling waters before the dam as silver-grey fish writhes and disappears in an instant.  Its perhaps a little more than a foot long, and the only fish I can equate with this behavior in the shallows is American eel.  Gone in a flash.  As I’m left pondering this I note the head of a smallish northern water snake lifted out of the water just a few feet beyond.

I drink in the heat and get back on the bike.  Soon I come abreast of Salmon Cove, the long marsh leading to the river’s intersection with the Connecticut.  Two boats sit fishing just beyond where the Salmon flows in.  Quickly, I’m in Haddam, tourist town and home to the Goodspeed Opera House, and a bridge across the river.  It’s busy.  I’m heckled by two punks in a pickup, and can’t resist giving them the finger.  Not a place for a cyclist to linger today.  I cross the river and bridge in good traffic, stop on the other side at Tony’s Market, where they have “Connecticut River shad and roe” for sale.  But I’m just there for a Gatorade at this point, which I slug down.

Quickly I’m heading downstream toward Chester, and traffic thins.  Pretty views of the Connecticut roll toward me.  One of the lovely things that you rarely get on roadways while moving through beautiful spaces is the quiet.  Suddenly, every now and then the cars disappear, and you can experience the beauty and the quite in tandem.  And it is lovely.

Chester is so compact, old, and set up so neatly in the landscape that it’s hard to deny its charm, despite the obvious tourist and money bent.  I stop to say hello to a friend’s brother, who I’ve yet to meet.  He the chef at little place called Simon’s.  I get the cook’s tour, including the little alewife stream out back that bisects the town center.  Alan buys me an iced tea, and tells me its not too many miles to the coast—I’m guessing less than twenty.

The roads continue good, and I pass through Deep River, and am just on a southward roll, smelling the salt and that final destination—the Connecticut’s mouth.  The skies are holding.  I reach the turn-off for Essex, which I’ve never explored.  The sign-posts say I’m only six miles from crossing into Old Saybrook, and the skies are holding.  There’s still a little gas in my tank so I pedal toward town.  It’s old, the architecture is interesting, but the place is so meticulously preserved, and already chockfull of tourists, that it’s hard to see beyond the opulence and check for a soul.  The landing and harbor in this tidal section look out on a broad reach of river.  There’s a regatta in progress, and I can already see that the water will be overwhelmed by the expensive boats sitting, Saran-wrapped in the marinas, within just weeks.  I quickly put Essex behind me.

The last miles into Old Saybrook are uneventful.  I find my way to a siding on the wrong side of the railroad tracks and Rt. 1, but get directions from a friendly woman who runs a bric-a-brac shop.  Tired now, she sends me back over the railroad bridge, and gets me on track to Springbrook Road and the Liberty Inn.  The place, it turns out, is curiously wedged between the road and I – 95.  It’s literally at eye level with the highway, and not 100 yards off.  Remarkably, it’s quiet in my room, and comfortable.  After a shower and the end of a losing Red Sox game, I drag myself, tired, back into Old Saybrook Center to pick up the family-size pizza special, advertised in the Inn’s pages.  The package stores are closed, so I am forced to leave my bike, pizza attached, outside, while I have a celebratory Sam Adam’s at a counter of Pat’s Kountry Kitchen.  The beer is cold, and goes down nicely in honor of the river, and a fine day’s ride.  No storms yet in sight.