About Peanut Rides
'Do you want to do a peanut ride?' I was asked.
A tricky question which left me floundering a bit.
'A group has organised a cycle weekend with routes that go past peanut farms.' I was told.
Better, but still a few grey areas. After some reading and chatting I found that cycle groups regularly set up events which extended over whole weekends (and beyond) which included trails for all levels of ability. 'Book myself in' I was told. So I did.
I rang the contact number to confirm there was still room for one more and ended up speaking to Robert (call me Bobbie) Wrenn. He advised me that there were still spaces available, that it was going to be a great weekend, and that he had always wanted to cycle in Australia. I put him straight on my origins. 'Make yourself known when you arrive' he said. So I did. Let me introduce you.
The wee guy in the front has Number 1 on his bike. That is because he has connections. His sister gave it to him because she was allocating the numbers. And she got that job because their father is the guy in the red shirt who is the son of the guy on the right, who is Bobbie Wrenn. Connections, see.
Bobbie and his group had also allowed for slow or non-cyclists by including optional bird spotting and nature trail walks. As I had no idea of American fauna and flora, I chose to take part in those activities. My introduction to bird spotting was a lecture on ticks and chiggas which was a bit scary. I made use of the bug spray that was doing the rounds.
As we set out, Bobbie called over to us to look out for a big blue bird. Everybody laughed. Well, I had to ask, didn't I. 'A big blue bird' I was told 'is a Jay'. Oh. I have since found that they are common as muck and surround my house in Maryland. They are also the symbol of some local sports team.
The next hour spent bird watching was fascinating. We saw mourning doves, mocking birds, two different types of woodpeckers, big blue birds, wrens, vultures and to cap it off there were cute little hummingbirds! As a result of this tour I became a passionate bird watcher while in the US. I was quite disappointed when my landlady decided she had a better use for my garden bird bath than I did and took it home with her. I missed that early morning Jay call from my rooftop before it had a bath. Well, I suppose I did get in another hour of sleep each day without it's racket.
We also noted some giant spider webs in many trees. I was told these were 'bagworm' or 'carpetworm' nests. I later spotted many bagworms on the road and took a picture of one. If he looks a bit out of focus that is because that is how they look - fuzzy, sort of. And they wiggle fast so it is a bit of an act getting one to pose.
When I did the nature trail I learned how to identify poison ivy and poison oak. I also discovered that root beer is made from sassafras tree roots. The roots are also used for making sarsaparilla - which is a horrible medicine tasting soft drink.
On Day 1 I chose to do a sedate 25 km circuit to make sure I didn't overload my dodgy New York knee. I hopped on my bike and peddled off into the wide blue yonder, carefully following coloured arrows painted on the side of the road. 5 km later I arrived at the first water stop. Now the reason I call it a water stop, is because that's what they called it. And it did have water. Its just that there was much more. Firstly, there was the 'Good Earth Peanut Co.' store which was like a peanut museum in the middle of the boondocks. I went in and found out all about sowing, harvesting and drying peanuts, plus 20 different ways to include peanuts in food. Most of which were free samples.
After 15 minutes I staggered outside and discovered the pickled watermelon stand - which was run by Bobbie's brother and his wife. So I spent another 15 minutes chatting there and sampling crackers with pickled watermelon in cream cheese, or with peanut butter scooped from a large drum of the stuff. I kid you not.
My knee was feeling very good after all this exercise, but my guts was telling me I had put on more calories than I had burnt off so far. On, on for another 5 km.
Now when I arrived at the next water stop, I was curious about how anyone could do better than the Good Earth folk had done. Well, did you know that there are a lot of ways to prepare cucumber? No? Hmmm, well there is pickled cucumber, there is cucumber in sour cream, there is cucumber dipped in peanut butter. And there were more peanuts. Plain peanuts, salted peanuts, Cajun peanuts. I was beginning to get the picture about water stops. Onto my bike and away again.
The main reason I stopped at the church watering point was that they did not have many folk visiting as they were close to a previous stop. But they had gone to all that trouble, so I stopped and chatted. Somehow the conversation got around to peanuts. I told them I had not seen how peanuts grew so a couple of folk told me that over the road was a paddock full of them - lets go and look. I carefully dug near the side of a plant looking for I knew not what. The couple with me were more forthright and hauled out large bunches of greenery. To my horrified gasp about what would happen if we get caught, they smiled and said this was their paddock. Oh.
So I was introduced to these legumes with their little tubers which grow about four inches below ground level. In the old days the plants were dug from the ground then hung on posts to dry in the sun. Nowadays they have modern drying kilns which blow hot air over them. I took a sample peanut off on my travels.
Another day, another route. This one took me past a paddock of green stuff with white blossoms that had me guessing. I eventually stopped and investigated and found I was looking at cotton fields. Bits of schooling started to come back to me about southern plantations, cotton fields, Virginia and slavery. I also recalled some of the songs dad had played on his mandolin about negro workers in the cornfield, etc. I hummed these for a while, then wondered if they might be offensive. You may not be aware but there are no negros in the United States any more. The term became bastardised by some to 'nigger' which was definitely offensive. The people became known as 'blacks' and later this was changed to the current PC term, 'African American'. The connotations are that if you are asked how you like your coffee, you don't say 'black', you ask for it with milk. Sigh, so many ways of putting your foot in it without realising what you have done.
Anyway, back to cotton. I stooped over and picked a bole of cotton (while resisting the urge to sing cotton bole type songs) off a prickly little bush and thought about the back-breaking task it must have been for the workers to harvest this crop. There was a lot of cotton in one bole and it had a hard little seed inside. I later found that bole weevils had been eradicated in Virginia, but that they still existed in Georgia. Cotton harvesting equipment which came up from the south was always very carefully steam cleaned to avoid another outbreak of the pests. Boll weevil traps, which were little green houses on posts, were to be seen around all the cotton fields.
The keynote ride of the weekend took us past paddocks of peanuts, Soya bean, tobacco, corn and cotton. We ended up at a stately Virginia home with shade canopies on the lawn which covered an array of eats, of a type that I was becoming familiar with. I tried the peanut brittle, pieces of watermelon, chocolate coated peanuts, cucumber, Cajun peanuts and sandwiches with stuff in them. When I asked what type they were, a horrified lady said they were peanut and jelly sandwiches. She gave me a look that seemed to suggest I had just arrived from the moon. Darn, that blew my Kiwi cover.
Peanut cyclists are apparently known for their level of culture and we were accordingly entertained by a harpist who produced some beautiful music. A trivia item about harps which you may not wish to know: the harpists pedals the harp. This is true, because I have seen it done. There are four pedals down the bottom end, which alter little fingers at the top end, which shorten the strings and sharpen the notes. Neat eh?