Over 30 years ago John McPhee wrote about a place that was disappearing. The Pine Barrens are a vast area of southern New Jersey where, back in McPhee’s day, not much happened. People lived without telephones or electricity. The Barrens were primitive, despite the fact that they are located about an hour east of Philadelphia and 90 minutes from New York City. McPhee wanted to see it before it became modern.
It’s still rather rustic in the Barrens but there are now two-lane highways criss-crossing the area. Vacation tourism was evident here and there. I saw jet skis on the waterways. I should go back and read McPhee to see what it was like back in the day.
I drove down from central New Jersey where I stayed the night. My day began with a visit to my maternal grandparents’ grave and their house, still standing. It was decorated tastefully and the porch was fixed up a bit, but it was still an old, old frame house. The side yard once had a garage and decrepit barn. Both are gone, replaced by a modern middle-class home. There is no arbor on the side of the house, no grape vines hanging from it. The big vegetable garden is gone too. My grandmother died when I was ten, during a summer that also took my paternal grandmother and godmother. My funeral suit got a lot of use that summer. It was weird getting birthday presents at one of the wakes. I just wanted it to end and to go back to the routine of school. My grandfather lived for another 15 or so years. He died in his bed in the house.
The starting point of my ride was Batsto Village State Park. Batsto was once a thriving a close knit community built around an iron furnace, mills, and such. People lived in orderly two-story, unpainted frame houses. The folks who lived here had to get along; there was nobody else around. The village is in the middle of hundreds of acres of sandy soil and trees, mostly pine trees.
On the drive to Batsto, I stopped for breakfast at a New Jersey diner. Diners are New Jersey. The food was starchy and hot and creamy and filling. The coffee gave me a jolt. After gorging, I drove on to Batsto passing a few miles from Lakehurst, the site of the Hindenberg disaster. My mom told me that when she was a little girl she waved at dirigible passengers as they passed overhead. She probably didn’t wave at the Hindenberg that night on account of a tragically violent thunderstorm.
The parking lot of the diner was filled with bicyclists getting ready for a ride. I overheard the diner owner saying he expected about ten of them to come in without a reservation disrupting his quiet Sunday morning. Oh the temerity.
As I drove I passed large groups of cyclists riding in and out of the dappled shade of the woods on either side of the road. Some miles further on, I passed cranberry bogs.
After parking I began a 43 mile loop ride on Little Nellie through the Barrens. The roads were high speed but the traffic was light and the pavement smooth and free of debris. And flat. Pool table flat.
I rode past blueberry farms. Miles of them. Billions of sweet little blue berries. Kerplink, kerplank, kerplunk!
Trees rather scrawny, the result of the never ending sandy soil. The road frequently crossed streams and inlets. Some of the smaller roads had wooden deck bridges.
I spotted an osprey nest on a pole next to the road. Two ospreys were clearly visible making a racket. One flew off as I approached. It had a critter of some sort in its talons. The remaining bird stayed at the nest squawking. The flying osprey circled the nest as I rode by as if to say “Look at me!” My guess is the nest had young ‘uns in it.
A few of the turns on my map were unsigned. So naturally I missed a turn. Fortunately, I discovered my mistake at a point where a brand new road doubled back toward the route.
I didn’t bring enough water so I was starting to flag after only 30 miles. With temperatures in the low 80s, low-ish humidity, and light winds, I felt a bit like a wimp.
Did I mention it was flat.
More sand. More trees. A canoe with a man and woman came toward the road as I crossed a creek. They were framed by overhanging trees. It looked perfect.
Unpaved pathways intersected with the roads. Some were hiking trails. Some were more like sandy roads.
A mile later a doe and her fawn stood on the side of the road. They regarded me with caution then started to meander away. How many deer must there be in this place?
About a mile from Batsto, I looked down a sandy road to my left. Two wild turkeys were walking along. They looked like they might be talking to each other. Of course, when I tried to get a picture they turned and walked away from me. Don’t you just hate antisocial turkeys?
My ride ended back at the car. I don’t recall ever riding a bike at my grandparents’ house when I was little so this was my first-ever ride in the state of New Jersey. It’s my 18th state. (The others: New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, California, Maryland, Virginia, Hawaii, West Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Ohio, Indiana, North Carolina, Michigan, and Wisconsin. As well as the District of Columbia.)
I placed a bunch of pictures on Flickr.