The New Jersey part

Tradition demands that a coast-to-coast bike trip officially begin and end with dipping a bike wheel in each ocean. I wasn’t sure if I was going to make this tour fully coast-to-coast, or just start in Philly and call it close enough – the remaining New Jersey part would be something I was doing just to say I did it, and I’m a bit concerned about my timeline (I have to be in Chicago by June 5, but also really want to see the Upper Peninsula of Michigan). Since I was planning in any case to leave in the week of May 1, I decided to do the NJ part as a shakedown ride to test all my gear, and in the process ensure that I retain my ocean-to-ocean street cred. Can’t have people calling me a poser.

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Here’s the official start photo. You’re supposed to get somebody to take a picture of your wheel dip. As it happened, I grabbed the first bystanders I saw for this photo, but felt bad asking them (a whole family) to make the longish schlep down to the actual water, not to mention I felt silly for requiring such a frivolous photo.

I then discovered that the beach was entirely abandoned for the next few hundred feet, so I hauled the bike back over the sand to the boardwalk and processed down it until I came near a place where I’d seen people earlier. Unfortunately I got down onto the beach a bit too early, and before I could get within shouting distance of the first cluster of people, they started walking back to the boardwalk. Not that I’d want to be shouting like a crazy person for people to stop and wait for me, anyway. This is Jersey. They’d probably just walk faster. At any rate, I looked further down the shore and as far as the eye could see was empty beach, with a few groups of people all walking away from the beach, almost in lockstep, back to the boardwalk. They must have sensed me coming.

Clearly this crucial photo was going to have to be a DIY affair, so I made it work. I guess these are the actual official start-of-trip glamor shots.

So after spending a total of about 15 minutes on the Jersey Shore (which is 15 minutes more than I’ve spent there in the last decade or two, I think) I headed back west into a cold rain shower. Did I mention that the weather, after greeting my return from the Middle East with perfect April days sunny and in the 70s, decided to turn back into late-February misery for the start of this trip? No big deal though.

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Yay, bike path! It lasted about 4 minutes. I’ve been sketching potential itineraries through PA that will make more extensive use of such paths, for which the Rails to Trails online resource (www.traillink.com) is very handy.

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Finally most of the way out of the depressing sprawl around Atlantic City, and enjoying some classic South Jersey scenic beauty.

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It did get more scenic. Soon, I was in the woods; pine green mixed with deciduous brown looked more like February than April, though the dogwoods were brightly in bloom. Luckily I like winter forest scenery.

The Mullica River. I’ve been wanting to go for a kayaking trip in the Pine Barrens. Something to look forward to this August when I get back.

The first real point of interest, river overlooks aside, was historic Batsto. I was in a bit of a rush and didn’t stop to read the explanatory signage, if there was any. The area looked like a farm village, but this area is notoriously worthless for agriculture from what I understand (hence “Pine Barrens”) and the main reason anybody built anything here historically had to do with harvesting and smelting bog iron, or producing coal.

The mansion was impressive, and clearly haunted. I don’t know what could possibly be going on in that high tower other than sinister witchcraft and seances. I peeked in the windows to see museum-style rooms furnished with fake food, creepy busts, and similar foreboding items. No baleful, dead-eyed visages gazed back at me in mute appeal from the shadowy interior, but I’m sure that’s just because it was before dark. Totally haunted.

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Made it to camp with daylight to spare. I was lucky to have the campsite to myself, and my pick of five spots. I chose the one furthest from the road, which was still within sight and very much within hearing range. Still, when I awoke in the morning, it was to the sound of birdsong rather than constant traffic.

I got this fancy new “underquilt” for the hammock so that I don’t have to sleep on a foam mat for the next month. So far, so good – it’s like sleeping in a hanging cocoon. I still have some learning to do when it comes to setting it up properly, but I did not suffer in the night from what hammock aficionados refer to as “Cold Butt Syndrome.”

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The next day, I saw quite a few farms of this stuff. If you know what it is, leave a comment; I’m curious.

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Fairly monotonous, though pleasant enough, scenery until Atsion Lake. Another angle of the loaded bike here. I’m still deciding whether or not to use the saddlebag. I’m also figuring out why the handlebar roll insists on sagging like that. Some adjustments are in order before the main leg of the trip begins; that’s the reason for these shakedown rides.

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Atsion Lake, my usual haunt in the Pine Barrens. I like to camp in an undisclosed location on the opposite shore.

Last views of Pine Barrens scenery. There were quite a few horses wearing jackets.

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Camden, approaching Philly. Camden begins suddenly. You can tell because the roads abruptly go from asphalt to this weird pseudo-sidewalk-type surface.

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The Camden entrance to the pedestrian/bike trail over the Ben Franklin Bridge is not particularly welcoming. I had to make two trips up thanks to how heavy my panniers were. I’m sure the Circuit Coalition is on top of implementing some sort of improvement here.

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State #1 down! Note the inventive use of the H&M bag to keep the Brooks saddle dry in the rain showers that began here and lasted until I made it home.

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I’ll miss this skyline for the next 3 months.

I was thinking it would be funny to ride around downtown Philly and get touristy photos of me and the bike in front of various landmarks. As it was, my cross-country bike route took me right past Independence Hall. But it was starting to rain fairly hard, which reduced my appetite for corny antics that only I would find amusing anyway, so I rode my usual route back to West Philly at high speed.

This post is fairly heavy on both pictures and text. I’m anticipating future entries will be less so, since I’ll have to type everything on a phone, and somehow get my photos online from my camera, via that phone. So enjoy all the South Jersey landscape shots…

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One thought on “The New Jersey part”

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