Trip 23 -- Diners of New Jersey Walk
Day 14: Wildwood to Cape May (George's Place)
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Today: 16128 steps/13.69 km/8.51 mi/2h 16m
Total: 484889 steps/389.33 km/241.92 mi/75h 40m
There are several ways to get from Cape May to New York City. The most direct is with New Jersey Transit buses. The fare is punitive, and the transit agency does fuzzy math: Plug in Cape May to New York on its Web site, and it spits out a fare of $48.50 -- a stretch considering that when you explore the two legs separately, it's several dollars cheaper, at $5.70 for bus 552 from Cape May to Atlantic City and then $39 for the onward bus 319 to New York. I've flown back from Florida for less.
It's cheaper, and more interesting, to take the ferry across the Delaware Bay from Cape May to Lewes (that's LOO-iss), Delaware, from where three buses and three commuter trains get me to New York's Penn Station. Lewes is a small beach town, a few miles away from better-known Rehoboth Beach; keep going south from there and you hit Ocean City, Maryland. The ferry at Lewes is separated from Rehoboth by Cape Henlopen State Park, which should provide a couple of hours of beauty as I walk to my hotel in Dewey, just past Rehoboth.
Late at night I'm checking the weather. Typhoon Double Omega, or whatever we're up to, threatens all-day rain and wind on Thursday, the day I'm to begin the trip home to New York City. I think about staying an extra night in Cape May and delaying my return by one day. That seems prudent, and I turn off the lights.
I turn them back on again a few minutes later; my body won't rest until I'm sure the trip is entirely doable. No dice: One bus I need in Delaware doesn't run on Saturdays. A rainy walk it will be.
I don't have to walk through the park in Delaware. That's an extracurricular activity; once I've hit Cape May I consider the point of the journey fulfilled, and upon exiting the ferry in Lewes I can take local buses to Rehoboth Beach.
But I still have to get to the ferry's departure point in Cape May. In typical car-centric fashion, it's nowhere near the main part of town, or even anything of interest, but rather about five miles to the northwest, across another bridge and at the end of a highway. There's sometimes a shuttle from the center of town, but it runs only in the summer, and it didn't run at all this year.
There is also timing to think about. In order to escape New York's quarantine requirement I have to spend less than 24 hours in Delaware, which is on the hot-zone list -- by spending less than a day in Delaware I am transiting the state, not visiting it. So the 10:30 a.m. ferry departure is off the table, as the sailing takes 85 minutes and I wouldn't get out of Delaware by noon the next day. I need the 2:30 p.m. departure.
The forecast suggests a slight letup around noon -- from a 100-percent chance of rain to merely 90 percent -- and I decide that will be my opportunity to walk the hour and a half to the ferry terminal. Joan's poncho will have to hang on for one more trek.
Today it's cloudy but warm, in the 60s -- perfect for walking. As I prepare to leave Wildwood, "Good Day Philadelphia" is covering a rather more serious story, the police's killing of Walter Wallace Jr. on Monday. Protests and looting have been going on around Philadelphia for a couple of days, and last night, the police commissioner instructed police to disperse but not arrest people.
It was "like whack-a-mole," the field reporter says of the police's attempt to get a handle on the looting. "Like it was Black Friday, shopping from more than one store." Because the police were focused on the rioting, non-priority events such as mere burglaries and thefts were unanswered. One looter was carjacked and all his loot was stolen.
I think back to Manny's comment the other night -- "F--- the police!" I don't have the answer, but it's clearly time for change.
Then Mike, Alex, and Karen discuss a 2020-scented candle for sale -- it combines banana bread, hand sanitizer, wood musk evoking do-it-yourself projects, and cheap aftershave -- and the occupations of people most likely to ghost others.
"If it's TV people..." Mike says.
And it is: emergency-services personnel, media and public-relations staff, and those involved in finance and legal services top the list. People named Isabella are also prone to ghosting others, as well as nine more traditionally female first names; it's not until number 11 (Daniel) that a man's name shows up. (Women "want to avoid confrontation," Karen says.)
Then there's something about championship cornhole playing, and I skip out the door at ten on the dot.
Today's walk is just 8.5 miles, first along the last few blocks of the Wildwood boardwalk, then on Pacific Avenue and over one more two-mile series of bridges. There are a few surprises -- a plant for Bumble Bee Foods, for instance, and a couple of buildings involved with the Underground Railroad. A Harriet Tubman museum was due to open this year; she worked in Cape May in the 1850s, raising money to bring people north from Maryland.
I reach the intersection with Route 109. Three street signs -- those stick figures of pedestrians, with red lines through them -- are imploring me not to cross the south side of the intersection. I've been walking along Ocean Drive westbound against the traffic, and I'm ready to turn south on Route 109. There's a walkway on the western side of the road, but the signs want me to cross Ocean Drive first (going north, out of my way), then cross 109 and head south along the walkway.
I laugh. In the seaside towns there have been ample sidewalks, but for two miles I've been walking on a narrow shoulder, even narrower along the bridges. Now they're concerned about pedestrian safety? I don't need their help. I cross along the south side, find my way into the median, and then make my way to the southbound walkway when I'm ready.
Lunch is at George's Place, the closest thing Cape May has to a diner. Its menu plays the part: I can have breakfast or lunch up until 2:00, at which time breakfast goes away and I can have dinner instead. It's 1-2-0 and I want a combination of breakfast and lunch: a Greek salad with chicken and a side of scrapple. There's one unusual breakfast -- French toast with limoncello-flavored yogurt and blueberries -- but the lunch salad is just what I need, a giant plate of greens, plus true feta cheese and a stuffed grape leaf. Scrapple is the Philadealphia-area equivalent of haggis or kishke: scraps of pork enhanced with spices. My dish is nicely fried, firm on the outside with a tasty mush inside.
From George's Place, I walk along Beach Avenue. A sign warns drivers, "Pavement Ends 700 Feet" -- this is the extreme southern point of New Jersey as far as roads are concerned. I feel a certain emotion: After I've come so far south, there's nowhere to go but back up.
I check into the Jetty Motel. By a few inches, it's the southernmost lodging in Cape May, and thus perfect for the culmination of my walk. I call the ferry company and they reassure me that as of now, the ferries are scheduled to run tomorrow.
I settle into my room and then go across the street to the true southernmost point of the state, a row of rocks jutting into the rough ocean. I walk westward along the beach for a mile or so; there are few people. The Cape May lighthouse is a plain, uninspired protrusion; it has nothing on its Wildwood counterpart. In front of it is an odd concrete structure, a bunker used in World War II.
I walk through the Cape May Wetlands State Natural Area, a mixture of ponds and trails ideal for bird watchers. Hawks are often seen here, as well as shorebirds migrating between the Arctic breeding areas and the Central and South American tropics, but today it's waterfowl, mallards and sandpipers and American wigeons and black ducks.
I follow the trail parallel to the shore and emerge by the old Cape May train station. Yes, passenger trains once came here, too, starting in 1863 and off and on until 2012, when three people sabotaged the track by stealing tie plates and spikes and damaging cross ties. Today all that remains is the wooden depot; just off the station is a little open-air railcar, and I sit there for a moment. A cursory information board lists the times of the 16 daily bus departures, next to the ticking second hand of a pocketwatch. It's four minutes behind, but that's close enough for New Jersey Transit.
Near the old station is Elaine's, a hotel with an outdoor bar. Someone is playing the guitar and singing. I have a negroni and am congratulated on my good taste in cocktails by Joe, sitting a few seats away, who is enjoying one of his own. We talk about New Jersey for a while (he offers me a place to stay, too) and then I head toward the center of town, where a pedestrianized street takes me by artisan shops and restaurants. It's late by city standards -- I barely make the 8:00 cutoff for dinner at the Cape May Fish Market, and I'm by far the last patron of the evening. I have a 1.5-pound lobster, which seems to be among the cheapest things on the menu.
The moon is almost full, and I step across the road from the Jetty Motel to soak in the beach atmosphere. It's hard to believe that just two weeks ago I was leaving Port Jervis and hiking through the mountains. Here the waves are crashing at the shore, indifferent to humankind. A week ago I was walking along the Delaware & Raritan Canal, where the indifference was the same; the water continues to flow sluggishly after more than a century of use. And connecting the north and south, and indeed the entire state, are myriad highways and rural roads where one is never too far from sustenance at one of the state's defining institutions: the diner.
Five hundred diners in the Garden State,
With countless offerings to satiate.
And as you breakfast, lunch, or sup,
They'll constantly refill your cup.
I've walked New Jersey north to south.
Two hundred miles from top to bottom.
To think of what went in my mouth,
As I pressed onward through the autumn.
All the leaves are changing now.
(Watch them closely as they fall.)
Orange leaves of sugar maple.
(They will not have turned in vein.)
Soon they'll take their final bough.
(Stipulating lush terrain.)
And the branches will be bare.
See the seabirds in the air!
(Gulls are squawking as they pass.)
Great white egrets, great blue herons.
(Hail them as a true ally.)
On the wing and on a prayer.
(Greet them gaily as they fly.)
Inspiration from above!
The world is yours,
The planet calls!
Fourteen days since old Port Jervis,
Fourteen days along the road.
No more bears to make me nervous,
But my feet might soon explode!
Hear me guzzle Coke,
Watch me feast on pie.
When meats are stacked up high.
Next a shake of milk.
See me slurp my soup.
Twenty minutes later
And I'll have to...
Come the winter, I will shiver.
(Seize the day, ere snows attack!)
So it's time to head for home.
(So it's time to head for home!)
But I never tried the liver.
(You can always come on back.)
Do you feel the knee joints sting?
Some Taylor ham
Before I go...
(I've walked.../Hear me.../All the leaves.../etc.)
I'll remember all the scrapple,
Every egg, each broth-filled bowl.
Plus that Stayman-Winesap apple
And Jan's home-baked challah roll!
Fourteen days.../To think.../Hear me.../Soon they'll take.../etc.
Tomorrow I shall leave Cape May.
Tomorrow I shall cross the bay.
Tomorrow I'll recall what this perambulating was all for.
One last night
Go on to the epilogue