Making landfall in New Jersey was embarrassing. I was the last one to exit the Seastreak ferry, and the staff volunteered to wheel off Travoy while I took care of the bike.
“I just want this Citi Bike off the boat,” said the crew member. I couldn’t tell if he was joking.
A line of passengers waited to embark the same ferry to Manhattan. I avoided everyone’s eyes as I wheeled my contraband cargo.
“I don’t think you’re supposed to take the Citi Bike out of the city,” murmured one woman to her friend.
I bypassed a tented asphalt path to the parking lot and opted instead to roll my stuff out of sight on the uneven gravel access road.
In the parking lot I started covering Citi’s logo with blue painter’s tape. At the time it felt like the right thing to do. It wasn't my brand and I was in uncharted territory with this bike, hereafter referred to Countri Bike for having left the City proper. So clever, right?
I was taping in front of a parked car whose driver needed to back out. He rolled down the window to give me some advice on how to get to Sandy Hook Beach, assuming I was a day tripper renting a Citi Bike, which he recognized with or without the logo. He helpfully pointed to the Henry Hudson Bike Trail, a waterfront path that was partially paved and partially clay and puddles.
A hill in Highlands
Countri Bike handled the off-road sections well and got its first taste of Jersey dirt. Now in Highlands, New Jersey, I didn’t think much about the name until the first hill. I can rock the Manhattan Bridge on a Citi Bike, but Countri Bike had no chance on this incline. Pushing the bike and trailer uphill felt like dragging a bobsled on the beach.
Crossing over the bridge to Ocean Avenue, sweeping views emerged of Sandy Hook to the north and the rest of the shore to the south. And then it hit me: I’m going down the shore on a Citi Bike.
A steady stream of Friday shore traffic was expected, but the narrow shoulder pitted with storm drains gave me more apprehension. Keep in mind I’m rolling with Travoy, which hit a drain and rolled over, ripping the rain cover. Luckily there was no other damage.
In the beginning, I was making better progress than anticipated under purely sunny skies. I passed through Sea Bright, Monmouth Beach, Long Branch, Deal, Asbury Park, Belmar, Sea Girt and Manasquan.
Pumped full of adrenaline and sea breeze, I actually didn’t take a sip of water until Deal where I snapped a pic of a fancy home. I also ate a protein bar because I realized I hadn’t eaten anything either. All this on two hours of sleep. I stopped for a smoothie and bathroom break in Bradley Beach and called my parents.
After Manasquan my mood soured. I didn’t want to listen to music and my thoughts trended negative. Route 71 in Brielle leading to the bridge to Point Pleasant merged with fast-moving Route 35. The cars were traveling at Garden State Parkway speeds and the shoulder disappeared. How the hell was I going to bike on this?
I re-checked Google Maps and sure enough this was the only way forward. Luckily, around the bend the shoulder reappeared and I could walk my bike on the bridge’s elevated sidewalk.
To get off this deathtrap, right after the bridge I cut across Route 35 to Broadway, but it took three traffic light cycles just to cross 35 because the walk sign was shorter than a New Yorker's patience. Along Broadway and Ocean Avenue in Point Pleasant Beach the pavement sparkled like a kaleidoscope from all the broken glass. The pieces were small and unavoidable. Anxiety ran high.
Ocean Avenue was full of carnival rides, mini golf and other amusements. I smelled cotton candy. Motels had no vacancy. Everyone was gearing up for a fun weekend while I headed straight into the unknown. The carefree screams of kids contrasted to my worry about the tires hitting broken glass or the Point Pleasant Beach police stopping me to say, “Hold it right there, buddy, that’s far enough. Back to NY you go… in the back of this cruiser.”
Moody in Mantoloking
The 3pm sun burned bright. I reflected to this time last year when I would be getting out of work early for a Summer Friday. I’d run outside, find a Citi Bike at the Port Authority and bike down the Greenway paralleling the West Side Highway. Yoga class in TriBeCa would release my mind from the petty drama at work, and I relished the freedom of having the whole weekend ahead.
In Mantoloking I was freer than ever, yet feeling trapped like a Monday morning. I actually wanted a flat tire so I could stop and give up. Only the name of the town cheered me up. It’s so fun to say out loud to yourself. For 30 blocks. Mantoloking. Go ahead, try it.
Overnight in Lavallette
Finally, a new voice echoed in my head. Google Maps told me to turn left and my destination was on the right. I had made it to Lavallette, or Lava for short. I had arranged to camp in the backyard of a house whose owners were on a weekend bike ride in Pennsylvania. Aren't cyclists so hospitable?
But the yard was concrete, so after a hot solar-powered outdoor shower, I attempted to set up my Alps tent on the wood porch. Camping hits hard at my weakness for assembly and outdoorsy stuff. After a few flubs, I got the tent upright and headed to the beach for some sand after 38 miles of asphalt. For the first time all day, I smiled and relaxed.