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A Rumble in the Park

The recent debacle with our trunk-mounted bike rack has left us a bit soured on the idea of transporting our bikes. We wanted to return to Duke Farms to explore more of the grounds, but since we didn’t have an extra 3 hours to spend wrestling with our bikes, we decided this visit would be on foot. In 15 minutes, we were laced up and out the door. Since it was a warm, cloudless afternoon, we opted for a semi-shady walking path. There were signs along the way that offered a self-guided audio tour accessible through our cell phones.  For an hour, we meandered past stone walls, waterfalls and statues. We stopped to listen to information at the various points of interest along the way. When we reached the Mermaid Pool, we sat in the shade to admire the natural beauty before we continued up the path to Great Falls Lake. I stopped to read a sign explaining the waterfalls’ creation and noticed some ominous clouds looming in the distance.

“Those clouds look daunting,” I said to Oregano.

“The sun’s still shining behind us so I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Let’s follow the path up to Turtle Lake and see if we can spot any turtles,” he said.

We were crossing over a stone bridge when we heard the first distant rumble of thunder and realized that the sun had become completely obscured by clouds.

“That’s not a comforting sound,” I said looking at the sky’s increasing darkness.  I counted for a few seconds, but there were no more rumblings. We still had some time.

“Maybe we should skip Turtle Lake and start walking back towards the car. We’re about 2 miles away.” Oregano suggested.

The wind picked up and a clap of thunder echoed around us. I counted the seconds again and this time my counting was drowned out by another boom of thunder. The storm was getting closer, but Oregano kept stopping to point out interesting sights. I turned to him, “Let’s go!” I said while hurrying him along. “We’re no longer on a sight-seeing mission. We’re on a life-saving mission. We’re in the middle of a park during a thunderstorm. There’s no shelter out here and we’re surrounded by nothing but meadows, trees and lakes. Now is not the time for the audio tour.”

“There’s a single seater bathroom shack over there. We could always use that as shelter,” he said pointing behind us.

“I’m not that desperate yet. Keep walking!” Drizzle began falling and there was another loud clap of thunder.  “You were a lifeguard. What lightning safety rules do you remember?” I asked.

“Get out of the pool!” he said with lifeguard-like authority.

“Well, that’s a helpful rule. Since we’re on land and fully clothed I’d say we’ve got that covered. I remember something about lying flat in a field.”

“What are you so worried about? You’re the shortest thing out here. Lightning’s not going to strike you. Look how many tall trees are around us. It would hit those first,” he said making a grand sweeping gesture with his arms to indicate the trees surrounding us.

“Is that supposed to be reassuring? I think you missed the mark. Check the map. Let’s see where the nearest tram stop is and hitch a ride back to the visitors’ center.”

We realized we weren’t far from the tram stop and briskly walked through the rain as lightning flashed and thunder boomed. A few minutes later we reached the tram stop and checked the schedule; the next pick up was at 2:15.  I looked at my phone. It was 1:48.

“I’m not going to sit here getting rained on for a half hour. We can make it back to the car in that amount of time. Let’s go,” I said already walking.

We laughed at the ridiculousness of our predicament as people were zipping past us on bikes or running for cover anywhere they thought they might find it. The lane of 100 year old sycamore trees was a blur as we power walked towards the park’s exit.

“We could hide out in there,” Oregano said pointing to the old hay barn.

“That would have been a great idea in 1915 before the roof burned down. Now only the walls are left. The interior is a sculpture garden.”

“Wow! Someone paid attention on the tours,” he said while trying to keep up with me.

After we passed the barn there was a bright flash of lightning, an even louder crack of thunder and the rain fell with more enthusiasm. I picked up my pace and for the first time in 20 years, was walking faster than my husband. I didn’t care about my rain soaked clothes or the fact that I was wearing my sunglasses in a storm. My only goal was to avoid being struck by lightning or a falling tree branch that had been struck by lightning.

At the exit gate, we entered the swarm of people creating a mass exodus. It was like a family-friendly wet t-shirt contest. We reached the car and a torrent of rain fell just as the doors thumped shut. It was 2:10. With water dripping off his nose forming a puddle on the seat, Oregano said, “Good thing we aren’t still sitting at that tram stop.”

If the sky over the visitors’ center had looked like this when we arrived, we never would have gotten out of the car.

Surviving an Encounter with The Rack

There has always been an air of mystery surrounding Duke Farms in Hillsborough, New Jersey. Whenever a new tour of the grounds of the 2700 acre estate owned by the wealthy Duke family was offered, we seized the opportunity to see what was behind the stone walls and guarded gates. The strict security and limited access during those tours have always left us wanting to be able to linger and explore more of the natural beauty of the estate. So when the Duke Farms Foundation revised its interpretation of the wishes Doris Duke left in her will and opened 1,000 acres of the estate to the public, Oregano and I were excited to visit. Accessing the 12 miles of biking trails would be a great way to see the gardens and woodland areas while getting some exercise. Little did we know that before we could begin our aerobic exercise, we’d need to warm up with an exercise in frustration by trying to install a trunk- mounted bike rack to our car. During medieval times, the rack was used to torture people. While the use of that particular type of rack fell out of favor hundreds of years ago, Oregano and I have discovered that the modern-day trunk-mounted bike rack could be classified as an instrument of torture.

With the hope of sparing someone from the same torture we experienced, I offer you this user-friendly guide to surviving an encounter with a trunk-mounted bike rack.

**Photos are re-enactments for illustrative purposes. We were unable to find the humor in the situation during the 3 hours it took us to prepare to leave for our bike riding adventure at Duke Farms.**

  1. Purchase bike rack to make traveling to new and exciting bike trails easier.
  2. Attempt to attach the bike rack to your trunk by yourself.
  3.  Untangle the straps you’ve managed to wrap around your body during multiple failed installation attempts.
  4. Place your new bike rack in the garage preferably in a place where the numerous straps attached to it will not trip you every time you walk past it.
  5. Ask your spouse or a friend to help you install the bike rack because your poor visual-spatial skills have led to confusion and frustration.  NOTE: You may need to ask your spouse more than once. In my case, this single step took an entire year.
  6. Hunt through the garage for the installation manual which was right next to the bike rack, but must have been moved over the course of the year it sat unused.
  7. Decide to install bike rack without using the manual that you weren’t able to find.
  8. Return to the garage to search for the instruction manual with renewed vigor after several failed attempts at installing the bike rack to the trunk.
  9. Locate instruction manual after an exhaustive search.
  10. Read instruction manual.
  11. Begin installing bike rack to trunk.
  12. Curse.
  13. Repeat steps 10 through 12 as needed.
  14. Call the bike shop to see if someone can install the bike rack for you.
  15. Accept the fact that the bike shop personnel are too busy on a Saturday morning to assist you.
  16. Repeat steps 10 through 12 as needed.
  17. Celebrate the successful attachment of the bike rack to your car by chugging a vat of ice water and wiping the sweat from your forehead.
  18. Stop celebrating because you realize that you aren’t done yet. The bikes still need to be attached to the rack.

    Step 18: The rack is finally attached to the trunk. Now we just need to figure out how to attach the bicycles.

  19. Attempt to attach the largest, heaviest bike to the rack without reading that section of the manual because it looks self-explanatory.
  20. Consult instruction manual because attaching the bike is not as easy as it looks.
  21. Attach the man’s bike to the rack.
  22. Marvel at your success and give thanks that you are almost done.
  23. Attempt to attach the woman’s bike to the rack.
  24. Remove the man’s bike from the rack because you think it is interfering with your ability to attach the woman’s bike.
  25. Turn the woman’s bike in different directions as you try to attach it. Be careful not to get tangled in the brake cables or jam a handlebar into your ear.
  26. Scratch your head as you begin to realize there is no way to attach the woman’s bike because of its configuration.
  27. Google how to attach a woman’s bike and learn that you need a special adapter which you do not have.
  28. Break the news to your sweat-covered spouse/friend who is desperately trying to make the woman’s bike fit onto the rack.
  29. Relegate yourself to the idea that you have to go buy a $50 adapter because we live in a male dominated society.
  30. Drive to bike shop to purchase adapter.
  31. Celebrate the fact that the bike rack, albeit empty, remained affixed to the car for the duration of the trip to the bike shop.
  32. Drive home.
  33. Reattach the man’s bike to the rack.
  34. Place adapter on woman’s bike then attach it to the rack.

    Step 34: After a trip to the bike store and $50, the woman’s bike is ready to be mounted onto the rack.

  35. Step back to admire what you were able to accomplish with hard work and persistence.
  36. Realize that the front tire of the woman’s bike is dangerously close to the ground.

    Step 36: The jubilation of step 35 was short lived when we realized that the front tire of the woman’s bike was nearly touching the ground.

  37. Remove the woman’s bike from the rack.
  38. Remove the front tire of the woman’s bike. NOTE: Don’t forget to place the front tire inside the car or all of this work will have been for nothing when you reach your destination and have a bicycle with only one tire.
  39. Re-attach the woman’s bike to the rack. By now, you’re a pro at this. Practice makes perfect.
  40. Back out of the driveway to embark on your bike riding adventure.
  41. Pull back into the driveway when you feel the front tire of the man’s bike brush against the road.
  42. Remove the woman’s bike from the rack to gain access to the man’s bike.
  43. Remove the man’s bike from the rack then remove its front tire. (See note at step 38.)
  44. Re-attach the man’s bike to the rack. You should be really good at this by now.
  45. Re-attach the woman’s bike to the rack.
  46. Forget how sweaty, exhausted and cranky you are and hit the bike trails for some exercise.

This beautiful meadow of poppies at Duke Farms was the reward for our persistence.

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