This is the last full day of the 2018 edition of the East Coast Greenway’s annual Week-A-Year fundraising ride, and we spent much of it pedaling on quiet roads or trails— including 34 straight miles on the East Central Rail Trail, part of the Coast to Coast Connector that will stretch from Titusville on the Atlantic side of Florida to Tampa-St. Pete on the Gulf of Mexico side. (It’s 80% complete.)
All in all, Florida made quite a positive impression on many of us.
Some trail firsts for me:
– Divided lanes. These showed up at road crossings and made me think divided highway more than pedestrian refuge island. Is this what happens when a state DOT more used to designing roads than trails?
– Roundabouts. Yes, roundabouts. And there never was another trail meeting this one. So why a circle? We heard it was for runners… let them turn back more easily.
– Any idea what these signs are for? Again, no trails merging here. We thought it might be for ATVs to switch between asphalt trail and the hardscrabble, partly grassy surface to the side, but they aren’t supposed to be on the trail. The right answer is equestrians.
Another highlight of the day was an alligator sighting. The group of five I was riding with saw it in the water with just its eyes and tip of its snout peeking out, thanks to a pair of eagle eyes, but a group passing by earlier saw it sunning itself.
The sound of day 5 of the East Coast Greenway’s Week-A-Year Tour: the boom from the SpaceX rocket launched this afternoon at Cape Canaveral that we heard (and felt the rumble) 60 miles away in Daytona.
Second sound of the day: the roar of the ocean, heard from the hotel room balcony.
Yes, we are in the spring break capital of America. And we are hearing that Daytona Beach wants to change its image, attract more people like .. us. That would be adults on bikes.
The sights of the day? We missed seeing the rocket (or were those its smoke trails, rather than an airplane?) so I’ll have to say osprey with fish in their mouth, the salt water marshes and some unimpeded views of the Atlantic and crashing surf.
Much of our route today was on A1A, the main road down the barrier islands. It was busy out of St. Augustine, though with a nice shoulder, but it got quieter The further away we got. Plus we had some trails (though the use of concrete rather than asphalt throws me because it looks too much like a wider sidewalk). I’ll rate the beach town where we stopped for lunch — seafood, of course — as the nicest of the bunch and not ostentatious at all (followed by Ormond Beach close to Daytona). Stop at Flagler Fish Co.!
I’ve discovered a new fish: wahoo, described as the pork chop of fish because it’s so dense and cut thickly.
A couple of other sights from our detour through the salt marshes. Though I learned that gators generally stay away from salt water, so make of the sign what you will.
Another adventure on the East Coast Greenway begins Sunday. About 40 of us will spend the week biking from Savannah to Titusville, Florida. But some of us couldn’t wait, so we rode through Savannah and out to the giant Bonaventure Cemetery, of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil” fame.
My fellow riders seemed more intent on finding the grave of Johnny Mercer, founder of Capitol Records. He’s also the great-grandson of Hugh Mercer, a Confederate general who was the grandson of the General Hugh Mercer killed at the Battle of Princeton during the Revolution.
I do love learning bits of history on bike rides, and there’s more Revolutionary War history in Savannah. The Siege of Savannah in 1779 is a mystery to me, something not taught in U.S. History classes. I learned of the contribution of Haitians and the death of Count Pulaski (remembered through New Jersey’s Pulaski Skyway).
Colonial Cemetery, the first resting place of Nathanael Greene (until he got his own spot in one of Savannah’s famous squares), is the only city cemetery devoid of Confederate graves, I overheard a tour guide say.
This New Jersey connection was a surprise. Though it’s Rocky Hill, not Rock Hill:
No proper Lafayette sighting, unlike further north. Sure, there’s a square named after him, but he seems to have only come through on his Grand Tour on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
Away from the past … how can you not find the tastes of the South? Roasted pecans, sweet potatoe pie, barbecue…. Two out of three at the farmers market.
We’re staying above a bakery that does fancy cakes — got to love the sign in the shop:
And then this sign outside a church:
Didn’t I say that bike rides are all about the food?
In a couple of weeks, we’ll be pedaling out of Savannah, Georgia, headed south for around 300 miles on our bicyles. We’ll follow the East Coast Greenway for six days, to the trail town of Titusville, Florida, near Cape Canaveral, where we will play on the seventh day.
Once again, our route will be a mix of trails away from traffic (sometimes lined with Spanish moss), quiet roads, roads with bike lanes or shoulders — and some not-great stuff, like more of U.S. 17, our nemesis last year. That’s the reality of creating a 3,000-mile route down the East Coast that goes through cities, rather than opting for the middle of nowhere to avoid anything difficult.
We’ll also get a couple of ferry rides, including one chartered just for us. Be sure to bike those 6 miles and arrive before 8 a.m. or miss the only crossing!
Eventually we’ll reach St. Augustine, then Daytona Beach and then Titusville, one of only three designated trail towns in Florida. I love this video that shows how Titusville got big into trails. It’s now a town where three trails meet — the East Coast Greenway, the St. John’s River to the Sea Loop and the Coast-to-Coast Connector that goes across Florida (and 80% complete). I’m excited to see how businesses are benefiting from bicyclists coming through town and spending money. Plus I want to go through the nearby wildlife refuge. And there will be a community bike ride on our day in Titusville.
As many of you know, this is also a fundraising ride for the Greenway. The Alliance works with local, state and federal officials to get trail segments built and wayfinding signs installed. It doesn’t actually own any of the land or build the trail. But without its small cadre of paid staff (plus volunteers and enthusiasts like the 40 of us on this ride), this vision of linking trails and connecting cities for cyclists, walkers, runners — even sometimes people on horseback and on ATVs — would never become reality.
If you’d like to donate in support of my ride, here is the link. All the money goes to the Greenway; we riders cover our own expenses. Donations are tax-deductible if you itemize, and a contribution of $25 or more gets you a one-year membership with the East Coast Greenway.
When you think New Jersey, Bruce Springsteen has to be high on the list.
So I can’t explain why it took me so long to come up with the idea of a Springsteen bike ride, given that I live in the state. But I finally did this year, after being one of the lucky ones to see him on Broadway.
My ride focuses on Freehold, where he grew up, and leaves out Asbury Park, the Stone Pony and other Shore points. The borough doesn’t mark Springsteen spots, but if you’ve read his autobiography, you know some of the highlights. Or use this article as your cheat sheet. Or this one.
Think of this ride as a search for the ghost of a young Bruce, to mangle “The Ghost of Tom Joad.”
I’ve got two options to get you to Freehold — a longer road ride that requires comfort with traffic, and a shorter ride using the Henry Hudson Trail.
We took the road option. From the Princeton Junction train station, plan on about 25 miles each way. (If you want a shorter ride, consider parking at a shopping center in Monroe Township or even James Monroe Park on Dey Grove Road.) We went through Cranbury; Google Maps takes you through Hightstown. Either way, once you get to Woodward (later Main Street in Tennant), traffic really picks up, even on a Sunday morning. And there’s no proper shoulder for some of it. Be warned. (Turning those unused railroad tracks into a trail would be a game-changer…) The good part is you’re less than 5 miles from Freehold once the bad stuff starts.
After the 1778 Battle of Monmouth battlefield, we rode under Highway 9, immortalized in “Born to Run,” before crossing Main Street and then the railroad tracks into what looks like the poorer part of town. If you’ve read the autobiography (and I recommend listen to it instead, because you get the added experience of hearing Springsteen read his words), you know it was pretty much this way when Bruce was growing up.
His early life centered around St. Rose of Lima Church, where we began our Springsteen pilgrimage. The imposing brick church, the church school (which Springsteen attended through 8th grade) and assorted church buildings take up the better part of a block. Springsteen first lived next door, at 87 Randolph Street, with his parents, sister and grandparents in a house that has been torn down and turned into the church parking lot.
When the Springsteens moved, it was a few blocks away to 39 1/2 Institute Street. I remain amazed that there was no hot water upstairs, per his autobiography. This, in the 1950s, in the richest country on Earth!
When you’re on Institute Street, keep going one more block … to E Street. (No, that’s not where the band’s name comes from … that’s E Street in Belmar, at the Shore. We guessed this is a nod to Bruce’s fame.)
The Springsteens later lived at 68 South Street, still within a few blocks of the church. The house is bigger, but the street is lots noisier too. I’m not sure if this was a step up … or down.
People still live in these homes today, so we didn’t want to disturb them. I just snapped a photo and moved on.
Then we biked through downtown to take a look at Freehold High School, his alma mater, before heading to Federici’s, an Italian restaurant on Main Street. Go for the impressively ultra-thin-crust pizza. Bruce apparently likes it too. We had been in Freehold in 2011 to check out the Metz Bicycle Museum (an amazing private collection that was broken up and sold following Mr. Metz’s death, alas, and unknown to us was housed essentially around the corner from the Springsteen ‘hood), and I remember one of the locals telling us how Bruce had attended a high school reunion event there and had picked up the tab.
No sign of Bruce for us.
Downtown Freehold is a mixed bag. Lots of traffic rumbles down Main Street, but there’s no sense that this is a hot destination. There’s restaurants for the county courthouse crowd, but also empty storefronts. At least it may not be quite as dire as in “My Hometown,” where he sings:
“Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more”
Dessert was Jersey Freeze, where a neighborhood runs into Highway 9. Bruce as a child may have liked empty cones best, but not me. When Springsteen was a kid, it was just soft serve, either chocolate or vanilla. Today there’s ice cream too, and plenty of flavors to choose from. A rich chocolate ice cream, or one with bits of apple pie? We opted this time for seasonal.
Still no Bruce sighting.
Then it was time to head home, going back under Highway 9 and past St. Rose of Lima Cemetery, where his father is buried, as are the grandparents he lived with in that first house. We tried a different, more northerly route that, honestly, was less pleasant than the way we’d come, even with no-shoulder Woodward. More county roads, less quiet time. And that’s without the hill. Don’t try it.
And the trail option I promised?
Head north of Freehold to Marlboro and jump on the final, five-mile segment of the paved (and road-bike-friendly) Henry Hudson Trail. It dumps you out on East Main Street, next to the Shell station. Then turn right and you’ve got perhaps a mile on Freehold streets to the heart of downtown.
There’s more of the Henry Hudson Trail if you want to start even further north and can handle a bit of road. You could even come from Atlantic Highlands, where there is ferry service from New York City. All told, it’s 24 miles. Here’s the map.
Whatever you choose, just remember — to mangle another Bruce song — that tramps like us, baby we were born to bike.