Spokes-Women Take on the 2007
New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge

by Lizard (a.k.a Liz Smith)
November, 2007

What makes a motorcycle trip special (if not perfect)? I’ve found that the most important ingredient is a positive attitude from all the participants. Of course, excellent weather and gorgeous scenery don’t hurt, either!

The 2007 New Jersey Lighthouse Challenge took place the weekend of October 20th and 21st of this year, and I thought it would be fun to try to accomplish the challenge by motorcycle this time. My husband, Charlie, and I had done the trip by car last year, mainly to check out road conditions and parking surfaces before attempting it by motorcycle. I was accompanied by four other Spokes-Women: Linda Brown, Laura Sisto, Mickey Reutty and Adrienne DelFavero. We were also joined by Adrienne’s friend, Sue.

For those not familiar with the Challenge, it is sponsored by the New Jersey Lighthouse Society (NJLHS), and the challenge is to visit all eleven New Jersey lighthouses between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday of the challenge weekend. Participants pick up a “token” at each light visited as proof they were at that light. This year the tokens were small cardboard jigsaw puzzle pieces with the picture and name of each lighthouse. The pieces were designed to fit into a jigsaw puzzle card sporting a map of the state of New Jersey and arrows locating each of the lights. When the challenge is completed participants also receive a special puzzle piece indicating successful completion of the entire challenge.

Another interesting feature of this year’s Challenge was that various lighthouse artists, photographers and book authors were present at some of the lighthouses with some of their items for sale. Hmmm, Spokes-Women and shopping… perhaps I should have built even more time into our schedule!

Saturday dawned a little cool and breezy, but at least the previous night’s rain had stopped and the roads were beginning to dry out. The weather warmed up nicely for our 9:00 a.m. meeting at the Richard Stockton rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike. Everyone showed up on time with smiling faces as we enjoyed the warm, sunny weather. A cup of tea, some windshield cleaner, and a brief gas stop later we were underway on our two-day adventure.

One thing I learned on this trip was that we were not going to be able to stick to the schedule rigidly, but fortunately I had built some flexibility into the schedule to accommodate us comfortably.

Our first stop was at Tinicum Rear Range Light – a sort of metal tower structure – in Paulsboro, a few yards from the Delaware River. As we pulled in to the street on which the lighthouse is situated, I saw that the parking lot looked pretty full, so we parked on the street in front of a private residence. We dismounted and removed our helmets only to see a lady come out of the house toward us. Uh-oh, I thought, she’s going to ask us to move. She approached us with a big smile and said, “I’m so glad you parked in front of my house – everyone will think I’m RICH owning all these bikes!” She came over and admired the five bikes, and we enjoyed chatting with her.

She then shooed us off to go ahead and get our tokens (and the card to put them in). During this stop and many others, the lighthouse volunteers were both curious about the club and eager to share volumes of interesting lighthouse information with us. When one gent saw my “past president” and “vice president” tags on my colors he quickly introduced me to the president of the New Jersey Lighthouse Society, Yvonne Thies, who would be visiting many stops that day. I shook her hand and thanked her and all the volunteers for a wonderful program.

Going back to the bikes, our new friend was waiting for us. She noted that on my colors I had breast cancer awareness pins & JDF pins (pink & silver ribbons respectively) but that I did not have an AIDS awareness pin. She then went over to her husband, removed his baseball cap, took his AIDS “red ribbon” pin off and handed it to me. I thanked her profusely and gave her husband a hug. I explained that I was going to put it away until I could secure it safely with a pin lock, so that I wouldn’t lose it. We took some pictures with these nice folks, and Linda Brown got their names and address so we could send them some prints.

One minor mishap was brought to my attention by Laura Sisto when she informed me that one of her shifter pegs had fallen off the bike. She was able to shift without it but I promised her we would try to stop at one of the Harley Davidson dealers during our travels to find her a replacement.

Back on the bikes once more, we headed to our next destination, Finn’s Point Range Light – another metal tower type structure. We kept our stop there brief, then headed out to our lunch destination, the Toadfish Bar & Grill in Fairton. My plan was to deviate from the NJLHS provided directions to give us some time on some “very” back roads, and the southerly turn toward Fairton from Bridgeton was the beginning of this detour.

We arrived at the Toadfish and parked the bikes in a nearly empty lot. While the Cohansey River was only a few yards away, any view of it was obscured by lush trees, brush and tall grass. There were a few gentlemen there (not on bikes) who came over and chatted with us about the bikes and our trip. One said to me, “So is this your watering hole this afternoon?” I responded to him with a smile, “No, this is our lunch stop. There will be no ‘watering’ until the bikes are parked for the evening.” He grinned and responded with an, “Atta girl.”

While we enjoyed our lunch featuring pumpkin puree soup, BLTs (with fresh local tomatoes), (real) pulled pork sandwiches and a host of other tasty treats, a larger group of locals assembled at nearby tables for a friendly card game. As we departed they wished us a good trip.

Our next stop was in Cedarville for gas. The station was very small, so we had to wait and take turns at the pumps. After I got my gas I pulled over to the side to wait for the others. While I waited I checked my messages and listened to one from Charlie asking how the trip was going. I decided to call him back and found that he was in the local Honda dealership trading in his 599 for a VTX1300C!

After fueling up we continued on to East Point Lighthouse, which is near Heislerville along the southern shore of New Jersey. This has to be one of the most beautifully desolate stretches of shoreline anywhere in the state. It is surrounded by huge areas of wetlands filled with reeds and tall grasses. The lighthouse itself is very interesting, too: a brick structure with a cupola housing the light. And it is always windy here – this day was no exception.

After a restroom stop we continued on to our fourth destination of the day, Cape May Lighthouse – the traditional concrete tower structure we normally associate with lighthouses. While we were in the parking lot we met a group of tourists from Germany. I mentioned that I was born there, and one of the gentlemen asked me (in German) how long I had been in the U.S. I understand enough German that I got the question, but I had to respond to him in English – “since I was six weeks old.” They were very impressed with the fact that we were ladies piloting our own bikes, and asked if they could take a few pictures, which we gladly agreed to. They also were kind enough to take group shots of us with our cameras so we could all be in the pictures with the lighthouse in the background.

As the others went in to pick up our tokens, Laura Sisto and I remained behind in the parking lot. She called the Harley dealership in Wildwood (near our next stop) to see if they would remain open past their scheduled 4 p.m. closing time. They could not guarantee it, but said that they would remain open as long as the showroom had customers, which it did. At that point Laura went on ahead to the dealership, and I said we would meet her there.

When the others returned with tokens and souvenirs (thank you for the pin & patch, Linda & Mickey!) we mounted up and headed up to Wildwood to meet Laura. As we pulled into the very empty parking lot at the dealership we saw Laura just completing her repairs. She told us that they had just closed the dealership when she arrived, but she was able to convince them to open back up for her so she could get the parts she had called about. Off we went to our next destination, Hereford Inlet Lighthouse – the only “Swiss Gothic” style lighthouse on the east coast. The lighthouse is also surrounded by beautiful gardens and is maintained by the city of North Wildwood.

After we enjoyed strolling through the gardens and looking at all the art and souvenirs, we had to make a decision about our next step. We were quite a bit behind schedule, and everyone was getting pretty tired. I suggested that instead of heading to the next lighthouse, Absecon, we go instead to our motel (after a gas stop and a liquor store stop). This way we could get something to eat at a reasonable hour and could pick up Absecon first thing in the morning, and would still have time to complete our tour. Everyone agreed this would be the best course of action.

After checking into the motel the six of us pulled around the back to park and headed up to our rooms with our gear. Now this is the part I mean about a good attitude being the most important element of making a good trip. One of the reasons I chose the motel in question was that it touted a restaurant and lounge. When I arranged the group rate I asked about the restaurant and was told that it only operated seasonally for dinner; it would be closed during our stay. But, I was told, several restaurants in the area would be willing to deliver dinners. Additionally, when I called the motel to check on how many rooms were booked I verified the information with the lady in sales and also discovered that the lounge would be closed during our stay due to a 30-day license suspension, therefore we would need to bring our own adult beverages and could only enjoy them in our rooms. In spite of these setbacks, everyone settled in one room to chow down together. We enjoyed some very good Chinese combination dinners, a few adult beverages, a few soft drinks, and some wonderful fellowship and conversation. And not a single complaint from anyone about the lack of amenities!

Wow – the first of two days and starting at our meeting point we had already traversed seven counties in New Jersey: Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, Cape May and Atlantic. Not counting everyone’s travel to our meeting point we also covered well over 200 miles and visited five lighthouses.

In order to finish at a reasonable hour we would need to meet for breakfast right at 7 a.m. and be on the road shortly after 8 a.m. The reasonably priced breakfast buffet in the motel included freshly scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes, grits(!), fresh fruit, muffins, fruit juice, coffee and tea. We enjoyed a hearty breakfast to sustain us through the day’s busy travels.

After packing up and loading the bikes Mickey lost her glasses and I realized that I had misplaced Linda’s “frequent sleeper” card. Fortunately these were quickly retrieved (through the kindness of the motel employees) and we were underway again.

The first leg of Sunday’s journey took us through downtown Atlantic City to Absecon Lighthouse, which is on the northern end of town on Rhode Island Avenue. Absecon is another traditional “tower” lighthouse structure (like Cape May), and is the tallest lighthouse in New Jersey, standing 167 feet tall at the focal plane. There again we persuaded an “innocent bystander” to take our pictures with a couple of our group’s digital cameras.

As we headed inland from Atlantic City we passed a small wind farm comprising five large wind turbines turning lazily in the steady breeze. Becoming operational in April of 2006, it is the first wind farm built in New Jersey and is the first coastal wind farm in the United States.

We continued on up the eastern shoreline of New Jersey, with our next destination being Tucker’s Island Lighthouse This lighthouse is actually a replica of the original and is nestled in Tuckerton Seaport. Tucker’s Island Lighthouse is another “house shaped” structure with a cupola housing the light. It was decorated with a spooky Halloween theme inside and out.

From there we headed up Route 9 to Route 72 eastward and onto Long Beach Island. A left turn took us the nearly seven miles north to the tip of the barrier island, and to Barnegat Lighthouse, or “Old Barney” as some call it. It is another traditionally tower-shaped lighthouse marking the entry to Barnegat Bay. While the rest headed over to look at the lighthouse I remained behind to transcribe more directions onto my bike’s mirrors. Adrienne remarked about what a pleasure it was to travel up and down the island without stopping, since all the traffic lights on the main streets go to a flashing yellow during the wintertime. She also remarked how much the atmosphere was like riding up and down A1A in Florida.

Next up was Sea Girt Lighthouse, so I led the group on a small detour past my house in Brick where we honked and waved to Mom. (She was not in the front of the house, but she heard us from the living room.) After a gas stop we headed to lunch at Harrigan’s in Sea Girt where Barbara Zimmerman was waiting to join us for lunch and the last three lighthouses. There we enjoyed French onion soup and sandwiches.

Next on our agenda was Sea Girt Lighthouse, another “house-shaped” brick structure with a small square brick tower below the light. This was a fairly quick stop and we were once again underway to our last two lighthouses.

Our next to last stop was Navesink Twin Lights in the Highlands. This route took us near Bahr’s Landing, one of our regular Polar Bear stops and then around under the bridge we had just crossed and up a steep hill with some curvy roads. We had to park in a nearby school parking lot and took the free shuttle over to the lighthouse. The twin lights are two block towers connected by a block building, and aren’t really twins at all since the towers have different shapes. They were also the first lighthouses in the United States to use Fresnel lenses, installed in 1841. One of the very interesting exhibits features a bivalve (two sided) Fresnel lens revolving around two small incandescent bulbs. The amount of light refracted into a single concentrated beam is amazing! Other exhibits there showed the original clockwork gear – the mechanism that originally turned the lenses had to be wound up every four hours.

As we were getting ready to leave, we noted Barbara’s absence, as she was still in the gift shop. Adrienne picked up a traffic cone in the parking lot and used it as a megaphone to call Barbara back to the bikes as the rest of us doubled up laughing.

Barbara finally emerged and we decided to walk across the two school playing fields back to where we parked the bikes instead of waiting for the shuttle. We mounted up and headed for our final destination of the Challenge – Sandy Hook!

The road into Sandy Hook and north to the lighthouse took us through about 6 miles of alternately sandy and rocky beachfront studded with tall grasses, holly bushes and other low-growing shrubs. Because of the nice weather on Sunday many of the parking lots on each side of the road were filled with cars, and we had to watch carefully for pedestrians crossing back and forth. When we reached the sign for Fort Hancock, we took the road to the right that would lead us up to Sandy Hook Lighthouse – once again the more traditional tower type structure, but with eight straight sides instead of being round. This lighthouse is the oldest in New Jersey as it was first operational in 1764. The purchase of the land as well as the lighthouse’s construction were funded by lotteries whose tickets cost forty shillings apiece. Originally called the New York Lighthouse, the Sandy Hook Lighthouse used to be located about 500 feet from the tip of the hook. Due to the northward expansion of the hook it is now about a mile and a half from the northern tip in Fort Hancock.

Once parked a few yards away and “de-helmeted”, we took out our lighthouse puzzle boards and I handed out the pieces to everyone. We had decided to assemble them at the last minute since there was no good way to secure the pieces for transport on the bikes. Once assembled we walked over to the lighthouse building to claim our last pieces – the piece representing Sandy Hook Lighthouse and the special “dog bone” shaped piece acknowledging our successful completion of the entire challenge.

Our small but happy group crowded into the room and stood before the four volunteers staffing the table. Barbara readied the camera, and we showed our filled-in puzzle boards. The volunteers clapped, cheered and tooted bicycle horns to celebrate our accomplishment (as they do for all finishers). We thanked them and accepted our pieces before heading over to the gift shop and more souvenirs.

The challenge was finally complete! Our entire journey from the meeting point on the Turnpike to our last lighthouse in Sandy Hook took us about 370 miles through some amazingly beautiful (and sometimes desolate) parts of New Jersey.

Happy and tired, the group went back to our waiting bikes for the ride home, and carefully packed away our puzzle boards. We even saw the same photographer that had assisted us at Absecon much earlier in the day! He snapped a few candid pictures of the group as we hugged one another and said our goodbyes.

All in all, everyone had a great time enjoying some of the state’s history and perhaps that last perfect riding weekend of the season. Thank you to my small band of riders for making the leading so easy – and especially for having the right attitude to create the perfect weekend motorcycle trip!

 

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