By the Seat of Our Pants: 3 Nights in Southern New Jersey
I have always wanted to do a self-contained tour. Not being able to take three months off for a trip across the country, I opted for a four-day, three-night excursion around southern New Jersey. I picked this area because it’s flat and I didn’t know how well I could ride with a loaded bike. I approached my 21-year-old son Justin about the idea, and he was very excited. We decided the last week in August would fit into both our schedules.
I purchased a Hagstrom Southern New Jersey map and Geographia Quick-finder Southern and Central laminated maps (very good, I might add). We decided that state parks would be the most economical way to go. We mapped out a triangle from Englishtown to Bass River to Parvin State Park to Lebanon (now Brendan Byrne) State Forest and back home.
We packed on Sunday and rolled out on Monday at 7:30 a.m., with my wife and in-laws taking pictures and wishing us well. Over the years I have purchased tents, panniers, air mattresses, and sleeping bags, all with the goal of keeping it lightweight and easy to carry on a bike. Still, the bikes with equipment weighed well over 50 pounds each, and I was a bit nervous as to how well they would handle over some of the hills. (We were pleasantly surprised.)
At 50 miles we stopped for lunch at Wawa and felt great. We still had 30 miles of riding to do through the Pine Barrens. Now I know why they call it barren! We arrived at Bass River at about 80 miles for the day, after many stops to check our maps. We set up our tents, showered, and were ready for dinner. Unfortunately, this state park is in a secluded area, so we had to travel another seven miles to town for food. We found a local tavern and had great burgers and cold beer. The seven miles back in the dark was interesting. I must say the Cateye lights are quite good and we used them as flashlights, too. After talking about what a great day we'd had, we turned in and went to sleep at around 9 p.m.
Tuesday, at 7:30 a.m., we headed west to Salem County and Parvin State Park. It was 20 miles before we found a place for breakfast. We were a big hit as people admired our loaded recumbent bikes. Eight miles before Parvin we stopped in town and had lunch. We also purchased sandwiches and drinks for later. (Now I know why you need two sets of panniers per bike.) After 60 miles we arrived at Parvin. By 8 p.m. we had finished our drinks and sandwiches and again talked about our great day. Our only regret was not being able to go out for some entertainment; so, by 9 p.m., we had no choice but to go to bed.
Wednesday we headed northeast toward Lebonon. This was by far the most scenic country in the southern area that we rode through. Five miles into the ride the crank came loose on Justin’s bike; although I had brought along some tools, I did not have a socket to tighten it. We were in nowheresland and we knew it could be another 10 miles before we reached civilization. Fortunately, we found a mobile glass shop three miles down the road. An employee there fixed the bike and advised us of a great diner for breakfast. He was right about that, and we were right on track for our quest to reach Lebanon State Park.
Two miles from the park it started to get dark, with thunder and lightning. Just as the first drops hit we saw a country market and pulled in. They had a large overhang for the bikes. We had a great lunch and, by then, then the rain had stopped. Three miles more and we had set up camp at Lebanon. We later went back to the country market and tavern for dinner. We talked with the locals who'd just had a horseshoe contest, and reminisced over our perfect day.
Thursday we headed home, a bit sad it was over, but excited about our accomplishment -- 271 miles in four days. Great trip, great company. An experience we will cherish forever.
Tip for this adventure: Southern New Jersey is a great place to try out short tours. It is very flat, easy to navigate, and the Pine Barrens area is quite unique. It also provides easy access to the beautiful Jersey Shore.
Favorite local bike shop: The Bicycle Rack in Hightstown, New Jersey. I have known Van for 25 years and it is worth my 17-mile ride to his shop.