I woke to the alarm at 4:45 wondering about the weather. I’m sure I heard rain but I knew, based upon conditions the whole week, that there was no easy way to call this day. Rain was in the forecast, but it looked more like off and on showers. So, there was no good reason for cancelling. There were about 40+ walkers confirmed, although I knew that was not going to be our final count on a day like today.
By the time I got to Matawan, a little after 7:00, a few anxious walkers had already arrived. There was plenty of free parking at the lot as everyone met and waited for the trains that brought the rest of our initial 20 walkers. Another 10 would be meeting us along the way. The train station is actually about ½ mile from the start of the Henry Hudson Trail in Keyport. At Keyport we began the “Atlantic section” of the trail that would take us about 15 miles east to the Atlantic Ocean at the base of Sandy Hook. From there it would be a straight 15-mile shot down to Asbury Park along Ocean Avenue.
Henry Hudson Trail
The Henry Hudson Trail is a 10-foot wide paved multi-use trail that follows an old rail line and is owned by NJ Transit and leased to Monmouth County Park System under a customary practice of “railbanking.” Under this practice, idle rail lines are used for practical purposes, while still possibly available for some future project, such as creating a future light rail line.
I think its fair to say as soon as you begin walking the HHT you realize that this is more than you would expect from a trail that cuts through some old Raritan Bay fishing communities. Having been first created in 1992, nature has done a great job of showing off itself. For the most part you proceed on a paved trail that is thick enough to give the impression you are in the woods, while every so often breaking to cross residential streets or provide magnificent views of the bay’s salt marshes and inlets.
We began to separate almost immediately with some groups working faster than others. The trail is ideal for walking but probably is more popular as a bike trail. Our overall pace was fairly fast averaging about 3 mph which kept us on schedule. There were others meeting us along the way, so its always a challenging dynamic. I was the one lagging behind this time trying to get some photos of the scenery.
Our First Break – Mile 5
Our first stop was schedule for 5 miles out at around 9:30 am at the Dixie Lee Bakery. Coincidentally, nature happened to be calling everyone for a bathroom break. I selected Dixie Lee because it’s an old fashioned bakery that had a pretty good rep for cake and pastries. We just figured that it would have a bathroom. Wrong! (or at least not for the public. BTW – not worth the stop anyway - I Yelped all about it!). We couldn’t even get a 7-11 to give us access. People here were (at least the ones we met) very inhospitable. Keansburg always had a reputation for being a “tough town.” Luckily a mile further down the road in Port Monmouth we found “Big Mike’s” Deli. They were very friendly and courteous to us. Next year, it’s Big Mike’s for our stop!
New Bayshore Trail
The HHT paved trail ends at Avenue D at the beginning of Atlantic Highlands. To continue, there is a suggested path along streets toward the harbor where you pick up the newest section of trail called the “Bayshore Trail”(opened in 2009) which runs from the harbor to Highlands along the water’s edge where you a great view of the harbor, Sandy Hook alongside natural woods. Everyone agreed that this is a hidden beauty and worth a trip to walk or ride its 1.5 mile path anytime.
A Bayshore Beauty
The Bayshore Trail ends at Pompomora Point and continues into the town of Highlands which is a small commercial fishing town with small shops and good seafood restaurants. At the end of the town is the impressive new Sea Bright/Highlands Bridge that takes you over the Shrewsbury River. This new pedestrian/bike-friendly bridge was built over the last few years replacing the old draw bridge that used to tie up a lot of shore traffic. It offers great views of Sandy Hook and Sea Bright.
Our walk now headed south alongside the seawall for a few miles to the town of Sea Bright. We had staked out a couple of places for lunch but soon learned that Steve’s was closing and Trattoria ‘G’s along with every other place to eat was part of a “Tasting” affair where you could eat at any place in town for $40. Way more than we needed. Luckily, ‘G’s took care of us anyway and we were glad for the chance to take a sandwich lunch break.
Alert: Man Down
Nancy Jonap, who was coming into Sea Bright from Red Bank saw an ambulance near the place where we stopped for lunch and found out that Maurice Tehan, one of our veteran walkers, had fallen and was hurt. We found out that he tripped and just took a bad spill which might require a couple stitiches, but he was okay. Unfortunately, it put him out of commission for the rest of the day. For Maurice, that probably hurt more than the stitches. BTW - a fall is not uncommon, even for experienced walkers.
Long Branch (& The Garfield Assassination)
Our next walking target was Long Branch. You could see in the distance the multi-story residential buildings but they proved to be several miles away. We were headed to see Seven Presidents Park and then the town. The park celebrates the fact that in its heyday in the late 1800s & early 1900s, Long Branch was so popular as a vacation resort that it drew seven different presidents. There’s an old fashioned statue of James Garfield on the boardwalk that seems oddly out of place, especially strange when you realize that he ended his life here after taking an assassins bullet and sending him here on a futile attempt to recover.
Long Branch is probably the most progressively commercial town along the Jersey Shore. Its been transformed from an abandoned resort town to a mecca for a certain type of vacationer or shopper. You can only imagine the investment money that went into rebuilding. But, it looks like the new town’s attraction is sticking as there were plenty of visitors around and at least one big event "Walk Now for Autism" was being celebrated.
Let’s Make a Deal
Our last leg before Asbury Park was going through Deal and some of the older wealthy towns. There is something incomparable to this area. These houses were not just meant for living or vacation, they were meant to show off and appear on the pages of Architectural Digest. Huge lots, a infinite variety of styles, finest materials, manicured landscaping all to impress. It gets one thinking…Is there anyone home?...What would it be like to live there?
Greetings From Asbury Park
You could almost hear Bruce Springsteen singing “Sandy, the aurora is rising behind us…” as we touch base on the boardwalk in Asbury Park. The most famous landmark in the city is Convention Hall right there on the boardwalk. But this day all we could do is admire it from afar as there was a alt-rock festival called “All Tomorrow’s Parties” going on throughout the town and the area was roped off unless you had tickets. Well, by now that was no problem since we were running around 6:00 p.m. and most of us in the party needed to catch the 6:45 train (next train was 8:45). So, we made haste to the Brickwall Tavern and decided that we had run out of time with only about 20 minutes or so to spare. I escorted the group to the nearby train station.
With my sister Carolyn, Jeff and Alan we decided to just relax and have dinner at Ole, a nice BYOB, Latin Fusion restaurant that I would heartily recommend. After Paella, Garlic Shrimp and a bunch of tapas we were fully recharged and just made our 8:45 train with a few minutes to spare. We were on our way home after a long “day trip” at the shore.