Good news: I slept surprisingly well in the tent and am not sore from Day 1’s ride. Bad news: I ate the worst egg and cheese wrap of my life and had to take my first ever poop in a porta potty. Guess life on the road isn’t that glamorous.
The egg and cheese fiasco was so rubbery and bland that I could only stomach half. However, the mint chocolate chip milkshake was so good that it was all I needed to start the day. Amen.
The second dubious distinction (and unrelated to the first) was that because I was camping I had to use Mr. Bob’s porta potties at the Lavallette tennis courts overlooking the bay. I opted for the handicap stall thinking it would be nicer. It wasn’t.
Back on the bike, I skirted Seaside Heights towards Toms River, seat of Ocean County and home to the 1998 Little League World Series Champs. Crossing the Thomas A. Mathis Bridge is what I call a “pinch point,” a painful reminder that bikes are at the mercy of fast and furious automobiles. A tiny elevated sidewalk offered marginal refuge from the cars barreling by.
Today was also the debut of my reflective vest. Best $6 I’ve spent on Amazon. Although I look like a school crossing guard, the neon vest screams “I’m here, don’t hit me!” and makes me feel a little safer. I highly recommended it to anyone who bikes busy roads or walks (pets) and is worried about visibility.
I got off the harrowing bridge road (Route 37) and took residential side streets like Elizabeth Avenue into downtown Toms River, which looked nice but not nice enough to stop.
A group of children flagged me down. I’m thinking, “Yes, lemonade stand!”
“Mister, mister, come look at our stuff,” said the leader of the pack holding a garage sale sign.
This was an easy decision—I didn’t even slow down. Sorry, kid. Already got too much stuff.
Getting lost with Google
South of Toms River is Beachwood, NJ, which I’ll forever associate as the place that broke my faith in Google Maps. Using bike directions, Google Maps cannot differentiate between a humble push bicycle and something motorized and off-road like an ATV.
I turned down Continental Avenue and quickly ran out of road. Google Maps urged me forward through an overgrown path into the woods. I stopped to double check my phone, which showed a whole network of streets whereas reality was nothing but trees.
Just then a woman who lives at the end of the inhabitable part of Continental Avenue returned home from grocery shopping. She said she sees a lot of bicyclists looking confused right where I was standing, trying to find Floral Avenue and staring at nothing but timber.
These are paper streets, she explained. They don’t exist except on paper and Beachwood is full of them. I continued on, but it was hard to know which streets on the map were actually real. The voice of Google Maps became a pest in my ear ordering me every 200 hundred feet to turn left/right into absolutely nothing. To stop this, I changed the settings from biking to driving, and enabled the option to avoid highways and toll roads.
Biking the Barnegat Branch Trail
Finally I reach what I’m looking for: Barnegat Branch Trail (BBT), a 15.6-mile rail-to-trail initiative for walkers, joggers and cyclists spanning from Toms River to Barnegat Township. The trail is nicely graded and landscaped, a woody oasis from Route 9 traffic. I’m finally able to pick up some speed and actually enjoy being on this bike.
I pause to watch kids cannonball off a trestle bridge into a swimming hole. One of them, eying the trailer, asks me if I've "got a baby in the back of that thing." No. This section of trail empties into a recreation area parking lot, and I don’t know where to go. I’m forced back onto Route 9 where the shoulder comes and goes. No big deal for drivers, but a big deal for me.
I try to reconnect with Barnegat Branch Trail, but it’s overgrown and sandy. Countri Bike plows ahead until I’m discharged into a Wal-Mart parking lot. The trail continues across the street, but is too overgrown, so it’s back to Route 9. This scenario keeps repeating itself, slowing down progress.
I find the trail again and start picking up speed to 10 to 11.5 mph, respectable on an overloaded Citi Bike. I put in both earbuds, turn up some Taylor Swift (guilty pleasure), and enjoy the ride through the woods. I breeze past pitch pine, Virginia pine, inkberry, American holly, white oak, red cedar, Virginia creeper and poison ivy.
At one point a guy passes me on his bike and then wheels around. He works as an accountant in the city at a biotech firm, commuting 1.5 hours each way by bus. He is astounded at how a Citi Bike found its way down here. He wished me luck and offered advice on the upcoming route.
My destination is Manahawkin, which is second only to Mantoloking as my favorite Jersey town to pronounce out loud to myself over and over again. (Sea Isle City placed third.)
Want an even better example of cyclist hospitality than camping out when the host is away? In Manahawkin I’m sleeping on a couch inside the house when the host isn’t home. I arranged this in advance with a few emails and a phone call. The host had said his two adult children may be home for the weekend, but even if they’re not, he told me how to let myself in.
Ok, so lemme get this straight: I’m going to stay in your house when nobody’s home? I could be a deranged ax murderer, or maybe just an overzealous bike share thief.
Hello, umm, yeah I’m…
I reach the address where two cars are parked in the white pebbled driveway. I stand outside hoping someone sees me and lets me in. Walking up to the front door, I practice lines to introduce the situation.
An attractive guy without a shirt on answers the doorbell. Fortunately, he extends his hand to me before I have to explain who I am. He is about to head out for the night and won’t be back until tomorrow night, which means I’m home alone in their lovely lakefront house. I can use any bathroom to shower, including the master, and help myself to cook burgers or whatever’s in the fridge.
America, is this normal? Because this is great. I will travel around the country eating food from your fridge.
I’ve barely wheeled the bike around back when the doorbell rings. This time it’s Dave, my strategy partner with his girlfriend. They’re staying nearby on Long Beach Island and are meeting me for dinner and drinks, which is good because I’m wobbly from hunger and thirst.
Even thought most of us have just met, we’re chatting like old friends. I don’t want it to end. Friends and family drive to the shore to hang out at the beach, barbecue and drink domestic beer. I go down the shore alone on a gorilla of a bicycle with a bag of protein bars and subsist on terrible egg and cheese wraps. Who’s having more fun?
This company right here is what I crave. It’s easily my favorite part of the whole ride and I’m not even pedaling. Dave, an extremely talented photographer who is responsible for the NYC-based imagery you see on this site, begins taking more pics of me in front of the lake.
Both he and his girlfriend convince me to take off the blue painter’s tape covering the Citi logo. Anxiety is ebbing, come what may. I’ve made it two days on a Citi Bike down the Jersey Shore.