Where there’s a will, there’s a way…

The Centerton Bridge in Mount Laurel  was abruptly closed three years ago due to being found structurally deficient. I don’t remember the first time I found this 186-year-old bridge, but I do remember crossing it a couple of times, discovering an historic section of Rancocas Village on the other side, for which the creek is named and over which the bridge spans.

http://rancocasvillagenj.org/wths_history/

My very first blog post was about this bridge. It was the first picture I posted on Facebook for my brother Michael after deciding to photograph my bicycle rides as a means of entertainment while he was in and out of the hospital.

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September 16, 2015

And, for some reason, I return to this site every September 16th, secretly hoping the bridge will be open once again.

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September 16, 2016
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September 15, 2017

In a later blog I vowed to find an alternate route that would bring me back to Rancocas Village and finally sat down to look at a map. I was also inspired by a friend who asked if there was any kind of loop around the Rancocas Creek where he was not required to simply turn around and return home the same way he arrived – there is only one bridge about six miles west of Rancocas Village or an overpass on Route 130, a six-lane highway to hell including multiple entrance and exit ramps. Thanks to a frigidly cold winter followed by days of rain that never seemed to end,  I was also way behind in my training for the American Cancer Society Bridge to the Beach Bike-a-thon in less than two weeks – I needed to ride at least 35 miles if I was going to be ready for the 55 miles close on the horizon. Not only did I manage to find my alternate route around the creek, the loop would be at least 35 miles long!

Between MapMyRide, Google Maps and my backup handwritten notes, I managed to find my way to Bridge Street in Rancocas Village…but not without threatening storm clouds that followed my travels the first 15 miles, temperatures in the high 80s with suffocating high humidity for the remainder of my journey, some rather creepy neighborhoods, long stretches of nothingness and frighteningly narrow bicycle lanes on four-lane highways. Oh, and don’t forget the crazy ass bitch who wailed on her horn behind me screaming, “Get the f**k off!” and attempted to run me off the road. Needless to say, I didn’t recommend this route to my friend…

And guess what I found? Pretty much looks the same as the Mount Laurel side…

I once again defied the DO NOT ENTER sign and walked up to the barricade and looked around, finally getting a look to the east I’ve waited three years to see once again.

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I was happy to read a recent article discussing the possibility of reopening the bridge as a pedestrian/bicycle bridge…trust me, I won’t be holding my breath on this one. I have a feeling that on September 16th I’m going to be disappointed again.

As I stood on the bridge pondering my steadfast determination to get through to the other side, it dawned on me that exactly six weeks after posting that first bridge photo on Michael’s Facebook page, he would lose his battle with cancer. He had gotten to the other side, but I wasn’t allowed – DO NOT ENTER. Even in my defiance, a complete crossing over just isn’t in the cards any time soon…and I’m more than happy to wait…

Desperate to get in more long rides, five days later I finally decided to bite the bullet and attempt to ride to the cemetery where Michael is buried with both my parents and our brother Arthur. Remember Thank you Pearl and f**k you heart! (May 7, 2017)? Yeah, me too…

I was feeling equally dreadful this year about the distance. The last few long rides were painful, with me once again questioning if I could do the cancer ride (which is actually a stupid question because I’ve done it). However, I knew that at the core of my anxiety was my heart. Despite not having any SVT episodes since having a cardiac ablation in January (It only hurts when I burp/January 18, 2018), along with a new pair of Shebeest capris with a cushiony chamoise, a new iPhone 7, my portable charger fully charged, a new micro bluetooth speaker to play my iPod tunes and both fully charged, two jugs of water, a bike kit, two extra inner tubes, a bike pump and my backpack filled with the usual ID, debit card, snacks, house key, lip balm, hand sanitizer, wipes, eye drops and reading glasses, I was scared…

So on Memorial Day I headed to the veteran’s cemetery to pay my respects. This time I remembered to keep a slow and steady pace – I would be doing at least 56 miles this time. No devices died in Maple Shade and the little voice didn’t make a peep. Flying by the Moorestown nipper dogs and the Mount Laurel Target, I stopped in Mount Holly to take a breather and accidentally found the oldest active volunteer fire department in America.

Although a cloudy, chilly day with occasional spritzes of drizzle, I made my way through North Hanover Township and stopped at the local farm market to pick up some arrangements for the graves.

Cemetery

Thinking ahead, I brought a map of the cemetery with everyone’s gravesite numbers clearly marked and headed to visit Michael first. With no SVT attack in sight, I was grateful for my big brother’s advice and having gone through with the cardiac ablation – he was right…thanks Mikey Bro.

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Next and last stop was mom, dad and little Arthur, where we had a little snack together.

The ride back was physically difficult, but I did it. It took eight hours altogether, but I listened to my body instead of the little voice this time and managed to ride a total of 60 miles. A year ago I asked myself at what point I would concede before not getting away with defying death. I still can’t answer that question, but I can tell you this – I’m not quite ready to cross that bridge yet…I’m more than happy to wait.

“Well, I traveled a long way
And it took a long time
To find you
But I finally found you”

I Found You – Alabama Shakes

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump

Unfolding the past

This past winter was a bitch. She wasn’t giving up on her reins of terror for nothing. But spring wasn’t giving up and finally managed to kick winter’s ass to the curb.

There’s not one photo of evidence to prove that I’ve ridden my bike over the past two months. In fact, if not for iCloud Photos, I wouldn’t have remembered the one ride I took in late March. But I can’t post these photos because they’re pictures I took on my new iPhone…which now saves as heic (high efficiency image format)…and I can’t convert to jpeg…because I didn’t know how to use the camera properly…and somehow saved the photos on my phone as “live” (whatever that means)…and my computer doesn’t understand how to modify the file…

But now we gotta get serious here. I’ve decided to do the American Cancer Society Bridge to the Beach Bike-a-thon again this year and Old Bessie’s been sleeping in the garage a lot more this winter than last. The planned route is 55 miles – 61 if I ride from home. I am definitely not feeling as prepared as last year. The last two Sundays I rode 20 and 25 miles and felt like I was dragging my body through quicksand…and this week I needed to do 30…ugh…

Looking for a destination 15 miles away that would give me 30 miles round trip, I was at a loss…until my sister Regina called.

Back in the late 1980s, I started exploring my family genealogy. It wasn’t as easy back then – we’re talking when dinosaurs roamed the earth…there was no internet. My only means of research was to either make contacts on the telephone or through letters of correspondence – right, just like the poor old cavemen had to do. And when Al Gore finally invented the internet, it was S…L…O…W…and most services required large fees. Needless to say, my inability to sustain interest and the impending birth of the kid put my kinship on a to-do-much-later-in-life list. Thankfully, my father was looking for something to do in his retirement and happily took over the research. Once dementia kicked in, however, dad was incapable of continuing the task, his death screeching the brakes to a halt on anything more. When mom died two years later, that was it. I and my surviving two sisters would have no parents to ask about our family history – it was all so permanent…until Regina decided to pick it up again.

Up until that point, most of the genealogy consisted of the Doherty line – dad’s side of the family. My mother was not very forthcoming about her past, so we never really knew much about her family. Separately, Kathy, Regina and I had snippets of information we managed to get from mom over the years, but it wasn’t enough to piece together any kind of life story (Meemaw – December 5th).

Having found my mother’s father’s grave back in December, Regina made another recent discovery – my mother’s father’s mother, Sallie, was buried in a cemetery in Burlington County – 15 miles from my house. Guess where I was going?

I was heading to Beverly National Cemetery in Beverly, New Jersey. Looking at a map of the area, it struck me that I had been within blocks of the cemetery at some point last year when I got lost on a ride. This time I knew exactly where I was going and easily made the 15 miles to Beverly.

Locating the cemetery, I couldn’t figure out how to access the grounds, briefly contemplating jumping the iron fence until I noticed the spikes at the tip. I stopped in a parking lot to check with Google.

It’s called The Green Cafe at Whitebriar B&B Inn. Realizing it was an old bank building turned restaurant, I walked around outside to peruse the “library” and discovered some old history. And, thanks to Google Chrome, I figured out how to enter the cemetery without impaling myself.

http://whitebriarbedandbreakfast.com/

Quickly putting two and two together, it dawned on me that it was a cemetery for military veterans. One slice of info mom had given me decades ago was that Sallie had been remarried to a German man named Otto, who we now knew was buried next to her. I realized he must have been a veteran but wasn’t sure what his involvement had been. Riding in circles and making all the wrong turns, I finally found their plots. Otto was in the 3rd Pioneer Infantry, army grunts who were used for engineering and construction tasks during World War I.

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Searching cemetery files, I learned a lot about this family – a history of German immigration, divorces, remarriages, blended families, childless unions. I had so many questions for mom that will never be answered in my lifetime. Why so many secrets? Did she know all these people? Did she know their whereabouts when living? Did she realize so many relatives were living and/or buried within a 20-mile radius of her home? Sallie died when I was 9-years-old – why didn’t I ever meet her? Why did I care?

This was a question Kathy had asked me and Regina last year – why did we care where our family came from? I’m not sure I can respond with a clear answer. On the one hand I’m interested in the people of my past. Who were they? What were they like? Where did they live? How did they make a living? Do I look like any of them? Are there any personality traits passed on through our genetics? On the other hand, why do I care? Many of my relatives are dead and gone, having taken the mysteries of the past to their grave. Any remaining relatives are scattered throughout the planet, most of whom I have had little or no contact with for most of my life.

So maybe that’s it – in a world of nuclear families who themselves split up after children reach adulthood, technology has made it easier for us to find one another but it has also thrust us further apart…there’s a need for reconnection. For now, it’s just me and the hubby, two empty-nest orphans all alone in the world…that’s why I care.

Packing up my pity-party-sorry-assed-self, I walked over to the church cemetery next door, meandering through randomly placed tombstones of families dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries.

I need to find more cheerful places to ride…

As I headed back for the next 15 miles, I stopped along the way to catch some gorgeous views of my perfect blue sky with the puffy clouds.

And I managed to ride 31 miles without too much huffing and puffing.

“Oh, got no reason, got no shame
Got no family I can’t blame
Just don’t let me disappear
I’mma tell you everything”

Secrets – One Republic

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qHm9MG9xw1o

“I had run for 3 years, 2 months, 14 days, and 16 hours.” – Forrest Gump