Taking the Scenic Route: NJ to Mass on a Bike . . . . & 8 Ferry Boats

By Steve Friedlander

Editor’s Note: The following submission is the Introduction and Close -excerpted from a well-written day to days ago documenting the author’s 9 day May 15-23, 2007 trip.Go here for the link to read the day by day story– it will be worth your trip!

As a New Jersey resident who grew up in New England, I’ve made the trip to the Boston area and points north countless times by car. A sizable chunk of my holiday and vacation time has been spent on interstate highways 287, 95, 91, 84, and90, often times stuck in traffic. Now that I had recently retired and had some time on my hands, I figured that making the journey from my home in central Jersey to my brother near Boston on a recumbent bike would be far more scenic, adventurous, and hopefully fun.

The more popular bike routes between the New York City and Boston metro areas, such as those mapped out by the Adventure Cycling and the East Coast Greenway associations, as well as the annual AIDS rides, all follow inland routes that avoid the coast. This avoids the more congested urban areas, but also avoids many of the most scenic routes and interesting attractions in this part of the world, which are to be found mainly along the coast – old seaports, picturesque harbors,sandy beaches, and off-shore islands. In order to take the coastal route, however, one has to get off the bike occasionally and take some of the many ferry boats that criss-cross the waters off Long Island and southern New England.

This of course is part of the fun. The two best ways to travel along the coast, after all, are probably on a boat and on a bike, preferably a recumbent. In recent years there has been a proliferation of ferry boats that ply the waters off southern New England and New York harbor. These newer boats tend to be swift catamarans that travel at over 40 miles an hour but do not take cars. All of them do, however, accommodate bikes for a few extra dollars, with helpful crew members equipped with bungees to help passengers load, unload, and secure their bikes. To take full advantage of the many ferry connections available, it’s best to leave the car at home and travel by bike.

My trip from Hamilton, NJ, located near Trenton, to the Boston suburb of Weston covered 433 miles over 9 days on a bike and included 8 ferry boat crossings, as well as 4 rail trails I encountered along the way. The high points included visits to the Hamptons, Newport, RI, Martha’s Vineyard, and Cape Cod. I chose to travel during the latter half of May,an ideal time for bicycle travel in New England. By this time, most of the summer-only ferries have already started operating for the season,even though the tourist season hasn’t really begun yet. Accommodations at motels and B&Bs are easy to obtain in the last minute and generally cheaper than during the summer season, particularly on weekdays. Traffic is lighter, temperatures are moderate, and the long days leave plenty of daylight for early evening rides.

The tough choice was deciding which vehicle to use for the journey. My two bikes consist of an Easy Racer Gold Rush and a Lightning P38. They are both classic bikes, and I love them both. The Lightning is equipped with an F40 nose cone, which results in average speeds that tend to be about1.5 to 2 miles faster than the Gold Rush with its Zzipper fairing. The Gold Rush on the other hand, with its low bottom bracket, would be more suitable for riding through various cities along the route, which included downtown Boston and New York City. In addition, my 11 year old Lightning was beginning to show various signs of aging, and I felt the Gold Rush would be more dependable. Much as I hated to forego theLightning’s extra speed, I decided to go with the Gold Rush. (This turned out to be the right choice. I rode the Lightning on my next overnight journey, and the seat frame cracked after a day of riding.Luckily, this did not prevent me from riding another 50 miles to gethome.)

What next?

After an uneventful trip back to New Jersey by car, it wasn’t long before I started thinking about the next cycling adventure. I’m certainly hoping to cover some of the same ground again in the future. For one thing, it would make a lot of sense to drive out to eastern Long Island,park at one of the ferry terminals, and start the ride from there. After exploring the coast of southern New England, including a few islands,one could then return via the other ferry terminal on eastern Long Island.

If the logistics work out, I’d also like to do another coastal ride all the way to Maine. By relying more on ferry boats to get to Boston (like taking ferries from Montauk to Block Island to Newport to Providence,for instance) and not doing Cape Cod, the total biking distancewouldn’t be much further.

As for riding across the entire USA, fuggeddaboutit, as I’d probably get bored and can think of better things to do for two months. Cycling across Europe seems like it would be far more interesting. I keep getting advertisements in the mail for river boat cruises through Europe. The main “river route” starts in Holland, goes up the Rhine, along the Main, and then down the Danube toward the Black Sea. When looking at glossy cruise brochures, I can’thelp but think it would be more fun to do the route by bike, starting around Amsterdam and possibly going as far as Budapest. I’ve noticed that guide books for cycling along the Rhine and Danube rivers are available, so the trip should be doable. Alternatively, a less ambitious European adventure would be to fly to some place where recumbent rentals are available, such as London or possibly Holland, and do a tour around that area. Maybe some day???