For our ride down the Atlantic Coast we took the route outlined in Donna Ikenberry Aitkenhead’s book “Bicycling the Atlantic Coast: A Complete Route Guide, Florida to Maine”. We stayed as close to the coast as possible because the Adventure Cycling route is farther inland. However, in Jamestown, Virginia, we switched to the ACA Atlantic Coast Route maps.
MAY 15, 2011
We started part 2 of our “big adventure” by car, driving from Long Island to Upstate New York to visit with good friends Tina and Chris. Again they made us welcome in their lovely home and took us to their favorite local winery for good food, great wine and live music. Next day we drove to Pennsylvania to visit with sister Jeralyn and her beautiful family. On May 18 we returned our rental car near Fort Dix, New Jersey and started riding south the next day.
Splendid riding from Wrightstown on Routes 530 and 72 to Brendan T. Byrne State Forest which, we discovered, was not yet open to campers. Peg, who was at the front desk, called Robert Rodriguez, the park manager and explained our situation. Mr. Rodriguez kindly allowed us to camp for the night, even opening a restroom and shower facility for us. We were certainly grateful to them. Nestled in the north end of the Pine Barrens, this upland pine-oak forest offered great camping. Blueberry shrubs made up the understory, but it was too early to be harvesting the luscious fruit.
Bicycling on New Jersey roads was some of the best riding we experienced. Wide shoulders, low speeds and courteous drivers all the way to Cape May. Route 563 through the Pine Barrens was alive with birds that woke us up at dawn and serenaded us at night. We enjoyed the whole route. We camped at Mick’s Canoe Rental in Jenkins, and next day rode into the little village of Chatsworth and met Bill and Nancy, who, it turned out, we taught as Elderhostel participants when we worked at Teton Science School!! Talk about a small world. We continued on 563 to Egg Harbor City where we turned onto Route 50 to Mays Landing found good camping at Lake Lanape County Park. We were able to snag a couple of cans of Foster’s before entering the Park and set up our camp overlooking the Lake. Lake Lanape sports a marina where local folks are able to fish, waterski and speedboat only a short drive from home.
Next day, Ocean City; a carnival of a town. From Mays Landing to Ocean City we crossed more bridges than we could keep track of. Most of them were easy to navigate, some had shoulders, some did not, no one charged us a toll, and the relatively few drivers on the bridges were very courteous. We checked into a motel as no camping was available, and discovered that Ocean City is a dry town. After a steaming hot ride, we were looking forward to a tall cool one at the end of the day, but no dice. From Ocean City we traveled on Coastal Route 619 through many small beach towns: Strathmere, Sea Isle City, Avalon, Stone Harbor, North Wildwood, each of them distinctly different from one another. The beaches are all beautiful with endless stretches of white sand. One thing they all had in common was wind. By the time we got to Stone Harbor, we were so beaten up by the 20+mph hot headwind, we had to stay in a motel for the night just to cool off and relax.
We rode route 619 all the way to Cape May at the southernmost tip of New Jersey. Memorial Day Weekend was approaching and the campgrounds and motels were booked up further south so we were forced to stay at the Depot RV Campground in Cape May until after the holiday. We found that at private RV campgrounds tent sites are located in the least desirable parts of the campground, and tents do not get a lower rate. But, the Depot was close to a farm stand for fresh vegetables and fruit, a mile bike ride got us to the supermarket and to cold beer, and we were close to the beaches (especially Sunset Beach where locals gather to watch the spectacular sunsets).
True to legend, birding on Cape May is extraordinary and we took every opportunity to add birds to our list. We visited the Cape May Bird Observatory and participated in a morning bird walk with the local Audubon chapter to learn some of the eastern birds that were vexing us. For a list of the birds we spotted at Cape May, check the list on our Wildlife page.
It was a short ride from Depot RV Campground to the Cape May ferry that sails across Delaware Bay to Lewes, Delaware. Henlopen State Park is a short bike ride from the ferry and we camped there for two nights. Cape Henlopen, we learned, was a strategic US Navy and Army site during the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, WW I and WWII. Huge metal bunkers and concrete gunnery sites remain on the grounds. Massive dunes provided the observation points for military operations and two lighthouses were built on the bay.
We spent an afternoon exploring the town of Lewes, discovering some charming shops and an excellent Italian deli. From Lewes we followed a bike path that took us the short distance to Rehoboth Beach and Coastal Route 1 that runs the length of the Delaware Seashore. We embraced with the awe of new territory, the beach, dune, salt marsh, ocean theme. A lack of campgrounds however, forced us into a motel in Bethany Beach, but it was here we had our first locally caught soft shelled crab! Not a bad consolation for having to stay indoors; besides, it was beginning to get really hot and humid and we needed an indoor experience.
On June 1 we entered Maryland on route Route 528 and rode along the coast (beaches, salt marshes, dunes) to Ocean City, Maryland. At Ocean City Route 50 took us west across Assawoman Bay. We turned south onto route 611 across the bridge over Sinepuxent Bay to Assateague State Park. The park’s wild ponies graze freely, often bringing traffic to a halt as a band of ponies crosses a road. We camped one night in sandy, shadeless dunes then rode the next day to the home of friends in Greenbackville, Virginia, on the Maryland/Virginia border. This side trip, slightly off route, took us 45 miles on winding rural roads interrupted only by historic old communities such as Berlin, Newark and Basket Switch, and punctuated by Baptist and Methodist churches.
After two days with Joelle and Clyde, we took the ferry out of Crisfield, Virginia across Pokamoke Sound to Tangier Island. (Read about Tangier Island on our blog.) Next day a ferry from Tangier took us to Reedsville where we camped at the ferry marina for a night. Following routes 3/14, we made our way to Kilmarnock where Steve Reiss drove us over the treacherous Norris Bridge that crosses the Rappahannock River. We had crossed many bridges but the two-mile long Norris Bridge with it two narrow lanes, no shoulder and low stone bridge railing was a bicyclist’s nightmare. Steve is a prince!
Continuing on Routes 3/14 we rode to Gloucester Point’s Yogi Bear Jellystone Campground where we camped for a few days during some really hot weather. Enjoyed the pool and other amenities that can be had (at a price!) at a private camping resort. Gloucester is close to Colonial Williamsburg so we rented a car for the day and visited this renowned historic living museum. It is a historical immersion experience which should not be entered into lightly, nor when it is 100 degrees. From Williamsburg we drove to Yorktown and paid homage to the site where the TransAm bicycle trail starts if you are going west, and ends if you are coming from the the west.
From Gloucester we rode the Colonial Parkway about seven miles to the Jamestown ferry. The ferry took us across the James River and let us off at the base of a short, incredibly steep hill that must be climbed because there is nowhere else to go. Drivers and passengers in the cars waiting to go downhill onto the ferry cheered us on as we grunted and sweated our way to the top. I couldn’t have done it without them!
After a series of short rural routes (637 to 258 back to 637 to 623 which merges with 622, then 617 to 626 to 616 to 632 to Hwy. 10, make a right on 634, a left on 636) and 30 miles, we followed the signs to Chippokes Plantation State Park. The campground here is excellent, complete with pool, small snack shop, a historic plantation site, a beach and a visitor’s center. You can read more about Chippokes on our blog.
From Chippokes we followed routes 617 and 637 to Suffolk where we spend one night in a motel as a reward for spending 10 consecutive nights in our tent. From Suffolk we rode south on route 32 out of Virginia and into North Carolina and The Great Dismal Swamp. Seven miles of swamp: bullfrogs, egrets, herons, cypress knees, thick mats of algea, strange sounds and dense vegetation. We loved it! There was no lodging or camping on route, so at Sunbury we rode five miles south and camped at Merchants Millpond State Park. Next morning we backtracked to Sunbury then rode east on route 158 across the Dismal Swamp to Morgan’s Corners. From Morgan’s Corners we took route 17 to Elizabeth City. No campgrounds here and a head cold got the best of me so we spent two nights in a motel.
We were anxious to get to the Outer Banks so we followed the advice of some local riders who recommended we ride route 158 to Jarvisburg as it was more direct than the ACA route and less trafficked. Jarvisburg offered little in services, no campground and only one motel. From Jarvisburg we rejoined the ACA route, staying on 158 over the 3.5 mile Wright Memorial Bridge across Currituck Sound into Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Route 12 traverses the Outer Banks from Kitty Hawk to Cedar Island, with two ferry hops in between; one from Hatteras to Ocracoke, a second from Ocracoke to Cedar Island. Hatteras Island offered a variety of camping experiences at Kitty Hawk, Avon, Waves, Frisco and Hatteras. From Hatteras we took the ferry to Ocracoke Island harbor from where we rode fourteen miles along route 12, a narrow ribbon of road and bike path ending in the lively tourist town of Ocracoke. These small tourist towns also offered some of the most unique and creative local art we have ever seen. If you go, don’t miss the galleries.
A few days of R & R in Ocracoke and we boarded the ferry for a 2.5-hour sail to Cedar Island. We had a good lunch at the Cedar Island harbor then rode on to Otway to camp at a marina/RV park. Route 12 becomes Route 70 on Cedar Island, and we followed it south to Bette where we crossed the North River and rode to Beaufort, a town we’d been hearing was worth a diversion from the ACA route. Indeed it was. We had lunch and visited the Maritime Museum and boat building studio. In Beaufort we got on Route 58, navigated our way through Morehead City and across the bridge over Beaufort Sound and on down North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Route 58 is excellent riding for bicycles with a wide bike lane. Cedar Island experienced an explosion of tourism development some years ago, and the three campgrounds we expected to be able to choose from were all converted to luxury high rise condominiums. In Salter Path, after pleading our case with the local police chief and firemen, they allowed that we set up our tent behind the station. We were able to cool off, shower, and have an excellent meal at the restaurant next door.
The next day we rode to Emerald Isle and camped at an RV city complete with go-cart track and loud music blaring through speakers disguised as rocks. It was scorchingly hot, and drenchingly humid as a record-breaking heat index got the best of us. We managed to ride into Swansboro, but there we surrendered to heat that was already melting us and was forecast to get worse along the route we would be riding. In Swansboro we rented a car and drove north, postponing our southern adventure none too soon as it turned out. Hurricane Irene swooped onto the Outer Banks and the southern coast at a point where we would have been at her mercy.
For more details about our Outer Banks Odyssey, please read the blogs we posted along the way and check out the photos in our East Coast-Outer Banks gallery.