Monday, November 3, 2014

Down the Jersey Shore, Then a Sudden End to the Bike Trip

We left you at the end of our last post on Wall Street, in downtown New York City.  We'll take you this time down the Jersey Shore to Cape May and by ferry to Lewes, Delaware.  However, when Jeff went to take a shower at the motel in Lewes, he discovered a bright red rash on his upper chest, on the left side only.  A quick Google search for "rash on one side" resulted in a 'diagnosis' of Shingles, and sure enough, a real doctor confirmed it the next morning.  Luckily we were in a very nice motel, which became our home for six nights, after which we made an early return to Seattle. 

We'll tell you more about this unanticipated end of the trip at the end of today's blog.  We'll start, however, with our departure from New York.  After breakfast we headed to the Seastreak ferry dock at the foot of Wall Street, four blocks south of our hotel and four blocks east of the New York Stock Exchange, the pulsing heart of the world of finance.  Helicopters landed and took off every few minutes on an adjacent dock, bringing hedge fund managers and their ilk by ones and twos, either in to Wall Street or off to catch flights at JFK to Europe and Asia.  Meanwhile, the bright orange Staten Island Ferry appeared from behind Governor's Island, bringing in the back office minions to their Wall Street desks by the hundreds.  We and Little Red hopped on, Little Red got tied down to the railing, and we watched as our boat headed away from New Jersey.  Yes, we passed under the Williamsburg Bridge (that's the Empire State Building in the background) to a second ferry terminal at E. 35th Street, where commuters coming in from New Jersey hopped off and the boat became fairly empty for the 65 minute ride south.  We headed again under the East River bridges -- next photo is of the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge -- and then under the Verazanno Narrows Bridge between Brooklyn and Staten Island.  In just over an hour, we were in another state and, in many ways, another world. 


Our ferry dropped us in The Highlands, an upscale neighborhood on the north Jersey shore.  A 15-minute bike ride brought us to a bike trail that headed north up Sandy Hook to Sandy Hook Light, the oldest continuously-operated lighthouse in the US, and then to the view above at the far end of Sandy Hook.  That's the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in the distance, the longest suspension bridge in the Western Hemisphere and the world's longest from 1964 until 1981, when the Humber Bridge in the UK surpassed it.  It is so long that the towers are not parallel!   Due to the curvature of the earth, the tops are 1 5/8 inches (41 mm) further apart than the bases!

We were now in a world apart, the Jersey Shore.  For the next 200 miles to Cape May, at the southern tip of NewJersey, we followed the coastline.  For over half the way we were on trails, boardwalks or roads right next to the Atlantic shoreline.  From Tom's River / Seaside Heights to Ocean City, however, we had to head slightly inland, as the barrier beaches in that area are peninsulas and islands that connect with the mainland, but not directly to one another.  Nowhere on the whole route was there anything resembling a real hill.

 After hopping off the ferry, we spent a few hours exploring Sandy Hook by bike trail.  Thanks to the long-term presence of the military, it escaped development and is now Sandy Hook National Recreation Area, 7 miles of bike trails, beaches and wildlife areas, with a cluster of military buildings frozen in time near the tip.

After a leisurely ride around Sandy Hook NRA, we headed south to Ocean Park for our first overnight.  To our surprise, it was a charming community of Victorian homes.  It began in 1869 as a place for Methodist camp meetings, gatherings that were religious in intent, though perhaps more than a little social in nature given the nearby beach.   At least one block is still filled with tent-like structures, similar to what folks built in the early days.  There is an enormous assembly hall in the center of Ocean Grove, but nowadays it is as likely to have a political speaker or a concert as a religious event.   The religious conservatism nonetheless was so strong that no cars were allowed into Ocean Park on Sundays right into the early 1980's.  The quiet charm of the place so entranced us that we spent two days there, enjoying the beach and the extravagant architecture.

Our next day was 44 miles, but we had a decent tailwind much of the way.  A few miles from our destination, however, we ran over some glass.  We stopped and looked at the tires but saw no glass in the rubber, so continued on.  Then, not once but twice before we got to our B&B, we had to stop to fix flats, each one caused by a tiny sliver of glass that had worked its way through the tire.  The next day we were happy to see the tires fully inflated, but our joy was not for long.  Two miles down the road, another flat.  A few miles further, a second one.  In fact we had four flats that day, plus another long-ish day at 49 miles.  We can't say for certain, but perhaps this had something to do with Jeff getting shingles right after this difficult day.

Our spirits picked up when we rode into Ocean City.  We visited here in 2008 on our bike ride from Key West to Canada, and we were quite taken then with its charm.  It took a serious battering in Superstorm Sandy in 2012, but most of the damage has been repaired.  The bridge from the mainland out to Ocean City has a terrific bike path on the south side.  Unfortunately, a tandem headed the other way apparently missed the entry to the bike path, and took the wide shoulder of the roadway instead.  They had a safe enough time of it -- it's a wide shoulder -- but we missed the chance to chat and compare notes with a tandem couple who were obviously out for more than a day ride.

Ocean City has a wonderful boardwalk.  Near the heart of the city it was quite wide, then it narrowed down when it reached a more residential area before finally sending us off onto roadways.  Only rarely did we see places where rebuilding from Superstorm Sandy was still going on. 

We had booked an apartment in a resort in Avalon.  We had another 40-miler to reach it, this time without tail winds, but thankfully without flat tires either.  We were almost there when we came to a bridge that hops from the island we were on to the island Avalon is on.  CLOSED said the road sign.  We rode around the barrier to a toll booth, where a seriously underemployed fellow was waiting for the bridge to reopen to have something to do.  He told us we were free to cross if we wanted to, but that we might find waves crossing the road as we rode by.  Heck the EXACT same thing happened when we crossed this very same piece of road, going north that time, on May 13, 2008.  This next photo is from the '08 trip, the second one below from this year's southbound journey.  We made it through in '08, and with much smaller waves this time we had no trouble the second time around.  Whew, that was a close one, as the detour route around the 'closed' bridge would have added 12 miles.


The apartment we had booked in a resort complex had its own kitchen, so we picked up 2 days worth of groceries on the way in and stayed two nights.  We had a splendid walk along the beach the next day, with entertainment from wind, waves and sandpipers.

For our last day in New Jersey we followed the shore to Cape May, a city full of charming Victorian  homes, many of which are elegant B&Bs.  We rode around town admiring some we remembered from our swing through here in 2008, some new, then found a cozy place for lunch.  With plenty of time to spare, we then hopped on the tandem for the 4-mile ride out to the ferry that crosses Delaware Bay to Lewes, DE.  We had not counted on New Jersey's surprise for us, however, yet another flat!  It wasn't a fast leak so we pumped up the tire twice then pedaled our hearts out until we could feel the tire get soft again.  By the end of the second round we were 100 yards from the ferry ticket booth, so we walked the bike, flat tire and all, onto the ferry and fixed it later, after we disembarked.

The ferry ride was a scenic 75-minute crossing past two sister ferry boats and fishermen on a jetty, with Delaware always in view in the distance.  On the Lewes side, once the flat was patched, we had a nice route to a Comfort Inn.  Lucky for us, it was a comfortable inn as well, as it became 'home' for a while as Jeff dealt with his shingles.

Both of us got the Shingles Vaccine 5 years ago, inspired to do so by meeting another cyclist whose tandem trip with her husband was interrupted by this annoying condition.  However, the vaccine is said to be only 50% effective in preventing it, and that seems to be the percentage of Team Redtandem who have avoided it so far.

One doesn't actually "catch" the shingles.  It is a resurgence of the chicken pox virus that has been lurking in your body since childhood, if you had chicken pox then (99.5% of Americans fit that description, at least prior to the introduction 15 years ago of a chicken pox vaccine).  It usually aggravates nerves in a limited part of your body, almost always on one side only.  For Jeff this was the left side of his chest and lower neck.  If you've ever held a candle to your finger, however, you are quite aware that the amount of body surface involved is not necessarily proportional to the discomfort you can be in when part of you is in pain. 

Some folks have the rash, usually for 7-10 days, then recuperate rapidly.  Others get the 'extended play' version, and can have nerve pain for months, a condition called post-herpetic neuralgia, or PHN.  Jeff did all the things that tend to lessen the chances of PHN: the vaccine, plus early treatment with two particular medications once shingles appears.  Nonetheless, he's fallen into Group B and is still in varying amounts of misery as we write this, four weeks later.

Our Comfort Inn, however, was a pretty good place to be miserable in.  It was indeed comfortable, with a nice mattress on the king bed and a sofa, plus a microwave and small fridge.  There was a large Safeway next door that had a deli, so we were able to have reasonably healthy meals for our 6-night stay.  Louise was able to do a little shopping in a nearby outlet mall, and by day 5 Jeff was up for a bus ride to nearby Rehoboth Beach and a walk along the beach.  On day 6 our good friend Louise Shimizu drove over from Washington DC, bringing us good cheer plus the suitcases we needed to pack up our tandem.

Louise S's arrival greatly cheered us up, and we went out for a nice dinner together before coming back to disassemble the bike.  The next morning we checked out but then spent a few hours exploring Lewes, particularly the Swaanendael Museum.  The first European settlers were actually from Holland, and to celebrate the 300th anniversary of their arrival this museum was built in 1931, modeled on the town hall of Hoorn in the Netherlands.  As you can see, it has attracted a lot of visitors from all over Holland! 

The Dutch left in 1664, when all the Dutch colonies in America were handed over to the British, including New Amsterdam, which then became New York City.  The town of Lewes has a lot of pleasant old homes, but any Dutch touches are recent, such as these cute planters made from wooden Dutch shoes.

We're back in Seattle and settling into our winter routine, and Jeff is getting additional medical attention for the shingles.  That's not stopped us from planning for next year, of course. The tentative plan is to combine the best of our 2013 and 2014 trips:  two months in Europe, two months in New England.  We have all winter to work out the details.  Come back and see us next Spring, when we restart the blog yet again, and thanks for following us throughout the Northeast on this year's adventure.

Happy Trails to you all!