Archive for May, 2014

New Jersey towns change from one to another like night and day.  This ride up the south Jersey shore accentuated that.

I arrived at Cape May, the southernmost tip of New Jersey,  by ferry from Delaware.    I had been to Cape May a couple times previously, but many years ago.  I was prepared to say that Cape May is the best looking beach town in America.  It has an intact infrastructure from the late 1800’s.   Maybe I like Cape May because it looks like I imagine my hometown Virginia Beach used to look, before it was torn down in the sixties, to be replaced by modernist motels, which have now been pretty much torn down as well.      My current judgement of Cape May is that it is indeed great looking, but maybe a bit too cute, too precious.

Cape May oceanfront

Cape May

Cape May is like almost every other beach town in New Jersey; they have this insidious practice of Beach Tags; you have to pay to go on the beach.


As you bicycle up the coast the fifty or so miles to Atlantic City, you pass through town after town.    Some areas look undeveloped, even like the North Carolina Outer Banks.




There is serious commercial fishing going on here as well.


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The Wildwoods, just north of Cape May, have tried to protect modernist motels of the fifties and sixties.   Myrtle Beach and Virginia Beach should copy their actions, if it is not too late.      A lot of the motels in the Wildwoods  have the same types of plastic palm trees.

Caribbean Motel










Many of the Jersey beach towns are purely residential.    One of these towns Ventnor City is just before Atlantic City.   This block between the main road and the beach appears even nicer than my mother’s neighborhood in north Virginia Beach, except that in a half a mile all hell breaks loose, and it becomes casino and slum madness.

Before Atlantic City

Atlantic City is a complete mess.   A lot of the slums have been torn down, so there is a mix of empty lots, gaudy casinos, and slums.





The boardwalk is actually OK; families walking around in a dirty carnivalesque atmosphere.



Away from the beach and boardwalk, and if you are not in one of the garish casinos, the street life is pretty scary.   I was tired from all the bike riding, so on my cellphone I booked a room at the Trump.    I feel guilty that I spent money on a room there.


For dinner, I really did not want to eat at a chain restaurant, or anywhere in those gross casinos.   I found an Irish bar on Yelp,  half a block from the boardwalk towards the slums, and it is on your left.   Once inside, it was really quite nice; great roast beef sandwich.   One complaint:  on overhearing the others at the bar, there was semi-racist talk from middle aged white people.  They felt this place was their final refuge from the hoards of people of color outside.   They felt this country was going to hell.

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The bar had great genuine old pictures of Atlantic City on the walls, including this one of Jack Dempsey.   Looks like Boardwalk Empire.

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There is a Sopranos episode where the city boys coming to the Jersey Pine Barrens find out that doing a mob hit  in the wilderness can get much more complicated than expected.

This area of south central New Jersey really does sometimes feel like a wilderness, although in places it is as close as thirty miles to downtown Philadelphia.  While bicycling inland from Atlantic City and passing the airport, the topography starts to look similar to rural areas of coastal South Carolina that I had recently visited, even down to the high percentage of pickup trucks.    Betsy says that because New Jersey has such limited wilderness areas, they pass laws that restrict development and keep the area wild.       On this lonely stretch of highway, I saw a dog standing in the road, not within sight of a house in either direction.   From the bicycle, I also saw a snake slither off the road.



The places people live out here also looks a lot like South Carolina.


I will confess that I cheated a little on this ride, and about twenty miles from Central City Philadelphia, I caught the commuter train, so that I could stay in the big city that night, and also avoid bicycling through Camden NJ, described by some as The Most Dangerous City in America.   On my cellphone, I bid  low on Priceline dot com for an anonymous hotel, and got this art deco gem.    It tries hard to seem hip; bicycles in the lobby windows, yoga mats in the rooms.

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I had dinner that night at the Dandelion, a gastropub around the corner from my hotel.   The British,  if they actually invented the gastropub, should be proud of themselves.   A pub has always been a warm inviting space, but traditionally the delicious beer was offset by terrible food.  

British dishes like bangers and mash, or shepherd’s pie,  need not be that different in quality from French dishes like steak frites,  if the cooking is done with quality ingredients and careful (French) technique.    At the Dandelion,  I had welsh rarebit followed by salmon, and it was all delicious; washed down by British import IPA, manually pumped.

I had been really worried the days leading up to this ride.   Philadelphia has forty thousand abandoned buildings.    I had thought the first fifteen miles of this trip through North Philadelphia would be through dangerous slums; boarded up houses with white tee shirted young men lingering on the corners.  The Wire.  I did get some excellent routing advise from the staff of a Central City Philadelphia bike shop the evening before, and it turned out all my fears were for naught.

The trip out Aramingo and Torresdale Avenues was really quite pleasant.   And it was a reminder that Philadelphia is huge.    Twelve miles of continuous row houses, with a couple of breaks for commercial development.   There was a nice bike lane most of the way.




Destination that evening was my sister Betsy’s house in Princeton NJ.    The second half of the trip was largely on bike paths paralleling the extensive canal system along the Delaware River.    The paths themselves were great.   Unfortunately, they are not well labelled, and tend to stop and start abruptly.



I got to Princeton in the late afternoon.  George cooked us a delicious dinner.    We went out for ice cream afterwards.    Princeton can boast that it has serious gourmet ice cream shops.    The best ones were closed on Mondays, but the one that was open still had amazing homemade rum raisin.

Here is Betsy and daughter Lynn.



Finding a legal place to park the Ford Focus for four days in Dover DE was difficult.  I finally parked the car in front a housing project near the state capital.  That afternoon I cycled the fifty something miles down to the ferry landing at Lewes DE, for the ferry to Cape May NJ.

Delaware is indeed small.   Road signs advertise town distances in single digits.    I passed through mostly agricultural land.





Most roads in Delaware are great to cycle on, because they are built with wide shoulders.    This road in North Carolina would have stopped two inches to the right of the white line.




The major four lane through the state does have the usual suburban sprawl.   However, on the two lane roads, I passed through small towns, some of which could indeed be described as quaint.


In one such town, Milton DE,  just about cocktail hour,  I just stumbled onto the Dogfish Brewery.    I had seen their beer on the shelves in North Carolina;  they can be incongruously described as a large microbrewery.    Young people were spread out on the lawn in front, drinking beer and playing games.

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Three days later, I rode south from Wilmington back to the car in Dover.   Once I got out of the postindustrial debris of Wilmington, route 9 passes through miles of beautiful wetlands that line the Delaware river.



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