Scoot Commute

Riding in the Jersey Pines

Posted in 2011 New Jersey, Pleasure Ride, Suzuki DR-Z400SM (Elsa) by sbahn on 2011/05/26
The beautiful New Jersey Pine Barrens in the Wharton State Forest

The beautiful New Jersey Pine Barrens in the Wharton State Forest

I got down to my mom’s on Friday night with the intention of leaving Wednesday morning. We went to the art museum in Philly on Saturday in a wikkid rainstorm so I could see the Roberto Capucci exhibit. A girl likes her silk velvet. On the Sunday my mom had a baby shower to go to that now, in retrospect, I think she may have wanted me to go along, but not only did I not know anyone, but the idea of hanging around with a bunch of women cooing over baby clothes is not my idea of how I want to spend any second of my life.

Quaker Bridge Road, New Jersey

Quaker Bridge Road, New Jersey

She headed off to the baby shower; I headed into Wharton State Forest. This was my first time riding in sand. I was alone on the SM wheels with 80/20 Avon Distanzias. It had rained a lot the day before so I didn’t really know what to expect. And oh, yeah, there was the Pine Barrens 300 going on so I wanted to stay out of their way.

I had mapped out a ride that would bring me into the pines at Atsion Lake where we used to swim when I was a kid (ah that cedar water!) up to Carranza Memorial (Mexican pilot crash memorial), then double-back to Apple Pie Hill (a fire tower), up to Moores Meadows blueberry farm (where I worked for two grueling summers), and then into Tabernacle to have a poke around at how things have changed (or not as is most likely the case). But once I got a bit into the woods, I decided that my directions were going to be useless because there’s dirt roads everywhere and no signs. I don’t know why I thought it would be more signed since I grew up here and it never was back then. You just sort of knew where you were going.

Wharton State Forest, New Jersey

Wharton State Forest, New Jersey

View off Quaker Bridge Road

View off Quaker Bridge Road

The sand was difficult. I stayed in second gear most of the time and was just happy to remain upright. I knew I had hours to play around and as long as I eventually got to a paved road, I could get back to my mom’s house.

I stopped at the actual Quaker Bridge where the woods become a giant crossroads of five or 6 different roads. I wanted to turn around and of course dropped the bike right at the river’s edge. For the life of me I couldn’t get it back up because both me and the bike kept slipping in the mud. I found a kindly guy and his son who helped me get it up and onto higher ground. I asked him which river this was, thinking it was the Mullica, but he said it was the Batsto. I had canoed the Mullica with my dad once, and I thought the river looked familiar. I suppose most of the rivers look the same in Wharton; cedar water, overgrowth at the banks, narrow.

Batsto River, Wharton State Forest, New Jersey

Batsto River, Wharton State Forest, New Jersey

The guy also told me that there used to be a tavern at the crossroads but it burned down a long time ago. I don’t remember that story from when I was little but I doubt the school tour would have included the site of a former tavern. We only got the Batsto Village and the Wheaton glass works.

It was the crossroads that I took my first wrong turn. I wound up on a small road, thick in sand, heading north. If you’re unfamiliar with the sand in South Jersey, it’s this white powder with black/grey undertones that is very porous. Water runs right through it so even after a hard rain, the sand is thick and slippery. I thought to myself, “Right now, knobbies would be nice.” I kept going very slowly, trying to pick a decent line. As I got further and further from the crossroads (which were fairly busy as it’s where several hiking trails cross), I started to think about turning around. “I don’t think this is going to get any easier,” I thought. Plus, who the hell knew where this road was even going. It’s very easy to get lost and the forest is massive.

Oh how I wanted knobbies

Oh how I wanted knobbies

The forest needs fires to regenerate

The forest needs fires to regenerate

I turned around. I rarely give up, but I decided it was safer to turn around and stay on a harder packed, larger road than get stuck in the sand all alone. Back at the crossroads at Quaker Bridge, I took a road that was part of the PB300. I wish I hadn’t taken this road as I was going the opposite direction of the riders and didn’t want to get in their way. I did my best to pull over or give them plenty of passing space; a couple of times riders told me I was going the wrong way but I let them know I was just out for a little ride on my own.

To see these guys on massive 1200GS bikes navigating through the slippery sand and gooey mud was something. My hat’s off to you.

Eventually I wound up on a very wide yellow dirt road. This is the kind of dirt you can go fast on as it’s not slippery silica; it’s more dirt like. It collects water and mud puddles form. I don’t have the words to describe the different types of sand, but the South Jersey people know what I’m talking about. At one point there are 5 or 6 bikes pulled over to the side, so I slow down and stop to ask if they need anything. I don’t know what I was thinking because what could I offer them? Bad directions and some Carmex? I actually wound up asking them what the hell road I was on so I could check my little printed map to figure out how to get to Apple Pie Hill as I had abandoned the ride to Carranza as it was getting late.

Somewhere in Wharton State Forest

Somewhere in Wharton State Forest

They were interested in the bike and where I was from and why was I here and why was I alone. The one guy couldn’t believe I didn’t have a GPS. They were all very nice, just taking a break from the PB300. None of them was local so they didn’t really know which way I should go, but they had recently passed by a ranger so I headed in that direction.

I came to some campsite area that didn’t look like there was camping any longer. It was here that I came upon the ranger. He asked if I was with the ride and I said that I was just tooling around and wanted to know how to get to pavement in the direction of Tabernacle. He was very nice and got me headed towards Route 563 where I should make a left.

All told I did about 10-12 miles in the forest in about 3 hours. How’s that for pace!

Apparently County Route 563 is a favorite among cruiser/touring bikes because I saw a gazillion. It’s also a route that sports cars with a lot of aftermarket ooomph like to ride on. I was just tooling away, riding a little above the posted limit, passing by the Ocean Spray processing plant, when five cars came flying, quite literally, flying by me. The sound was fantastic! They all had to be going over 100mph.

Moores Meadows blueberry field, Tabernacle, NJ

Moores Meadows blueberry field, Tabernacle, NJ

At Moores Meadows Road I took a left and headed to the blueberry farm. The road becomes private property but my mom had said if I see anyone, just ask for Neva. She was the person who gave me my first non-babysitting job when I had just turned 13. You can work the farm legally at 12 so I’m surprised my mom didn’t press me into servitude the year before.

I walked around the packing house which looks from the outside like it has a few more amenities (like a faucet and a sink as opposed to an old hand-pump), but the windows had paper blocking my view inside.

The fields of berry bushes looked the same.

Moores Meadows

Moores Meadows

Blueberry packing house

Blueberry packing house

It was sort of surreal being there, as I had started working there weeks after my brother had been killed in a car accident. The adults in my life thought it was would be a good idea for me to work 12-hour days in the sun, picking and packing berries, with the chemicals making my skin itch and the spiders getting into my ice tea. I learned that I did not want to do this for a living, but $45 a day to a 13 year was a lot of money back then. That equates to 150 flats packed; 12 pints to a flat. By packing, it was I who put the cellophane top held down with rubber bands on your pint of blueberries. Every finger was ripped raw from the rolling of the rubber bands.

One of my fellow packers, Dale, used to bring her baby and have him in a playpen next to her packing area. She would bring me home if it rained and we had to finish up early for the day. She drove a Pinto. I just couldn’t imagine having to do that type of work to support a family. But that experience is a big part of who I am today. Work is hard.

Apple Pie Hill fire tower, Tabernacle, NJ

Apple Pie Hill fire tower, Tabernacle, NJ

So after my musings in the berry fields, I headed back out toward Apple Pie Hill. The road is barely noticeable from the main county road but I did remember it was near a gun club. The sand was again that thick, slippery white/grey stuff that humps up in the middle. I found the tower, parked my bike, and proceeded to walk up the tower.

I didn’t go all the way because, well, I didn’t want to. I know the view as I had been up there before, and the wind was making the tower stairs move. When I decided that I wasn’t having fun anymore, I turned around and walked back down. As I was there, two guys on KLRs went by; I’m assuming they were also from the PB300 as all the big bikes seemed so impractical to me for a local to be riding in the pines.

I got back out to the pavement, County Route 532 which I know as Tabernacle Chatsworth Road, to head into the center of Tabernacle. I stopped at Russos to pick up some corn at the request of my mom, but they were already closed as it was Palm Sunday. I also stopped by the middle school to visit the tree my classmates donated in remembrance of my brother. Sheesh, it’s thick now.

This is South Jersey (view from Apple Pie Hill fire tower)

This is South Jersey (view from Apple Pie Hill fire tower)

Notice the sand...it never ends, it just gets thicker

Notice the sand...it never ends, it just gets thicker

I rode by the Old School which is now some alternative school or prison school or something. It was nice to see that the building is still there, a traditional brick schoolhouse. It was a lead-infested nightmare when I was there. I vividly remember a Girl Scout leader screaming at me to stop peeling the paint in the community room in the basement. Needless to say I didn’t stay in Girl Scouts very long. Who needs that? Everyone loves to peel paint.

Finally I stopped at the Church that my mom helped build. It’s even bigger now. Who knew there were that many Catholics in Tabernacle? I was happy that the doors weren’t locked and I was able to walk all around. When I was leaving, though, a Church member parked their minivan right in front of the doors next to the big “No Parking” sign. It’s my favorite kind of hubris.

I rode out on Medford Lakes Road and it was sad to see the huge parking lot around the Church, eating up all the land that used to be planted with cabbages (ugh, the smell in the fall!), and that the Coppolas don’t look like they’re farming anymore. I got home only a half an hour after I said I would, so that was good. No one was mad at me. And I got to have a cheesesteak for dinner…mmmmm!

All told, I did 33 miles. And I was exhausted.

Fitzie's tree

Fitzie's tree

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