Biking the Island

Biking the Avenue

Distance: 4.4 miles
Time: 8:30 a.m.

I would rank Beach Avenue as the easiest bike ride for visitors. For one thing, you can roll out of bed and, without having to do too much thinking about where you are going, enjoy a nice morning bike ride.

My cycling partner Macy and I arrive at my old friend Dennis Flynn’s Village Bicycle Shop on Lafayette Street around 8:30 a.m. to rent our bikes. Our ride, therefore, begins at Ocean and Lafayette streets, continuing down to Beach Avenue where we turn left and sail on without incident until we reach the end of the avenue, at what locals smilingly refer to as, Poverty Beach. Yeah smilingly, because it is so not impoverished. Anything but, really.

It is a beautiful August morning and the heat of the day has not yet taken hold. As we make our way back up the avenue toward the Cove, at Second and Beach, we realize that we are awfully hungry and can’t help noting the abundance of choices for breakfast along the way, which of course makes us all the hungrier. Starting with Pier House at Beach and Pittsburgh avenues, anyone looking for breakfast with a view will not be disappointed. Other choices include the Harry’s Ocean Bar and Grill, McGlade’s, George’s and Uncle Bill’s Pancake House (both at Perry Street and Beach), Ocean View Restaurant and last, but certainly not least, the Cove Restaurant.

It’s been a while since either Macy (who is 20 something) or I (considerably older than 20 something), have been biking and we are thrilled to have navigated our way through traffic without endangering ourselves or any innocent drivers, pedestrians or fellow cyclists right up to moment we cross over Beach Avenue and bike onto the Promenade.

Biking on the Promenade is permitted from 4 a.m. to 10 a.m. and let me just say, it’s a good thing we both had our sea legs by the time we set our course down that path, because by 9 a.m. it is painfully clear that we’re not the only ones with the brilliant idea of getting some exercise with a view of the beach and the ocean to inspire us along the way.

It takes some skill to maneuver among groups of six, to whom the concept of single file, or even two by two, is lost in their enthusiasm to converse. Or to avoid a collision course with the quintessential biking family – mother, father, older brother or sister and baby biker, whose trike or two-wheeler with training wheels, all too often zigzags across the pavement in a pattern hard to predict for the person trying to pass and get out of harm’s way. I dare not even venture to look behind me to see how Macy is faring, but she apparently manages because we make it to Sunset Pavilion and are pleased as punch with ourselves. So pleased, that after sitting for a spell and watching the other bikers make their way to the end of the “road,” we cannot resist rewarding ourselves with breakfast from The Cove Restaurant. Hmm. There is nothing like French toast covered with maple syrup or eggs over easy to quell the shock of suddenly doing physical exercise.

It’s time to get back to work. Yes, this biking is on company time. Hey! It’s a tough assignment, but someone has to do it. Emboldened with success and food, we bravely bike into traffic and proceed straight up Beach Avenue to return our bikes. Except for beach goers crossing the street, we breeze along and make it back to the Village Bike Shop in no time. Total trip including breakfast and gawking at the ocean was about an hour and 15 minutes. A word to the wise, always be on the lookout for the car door that can suddenly pop open and clock you as you obliviously try to speed on by.

Biking at Sunset: Sunset Boulevard, the scenic route

Distance: 6.9 miles
Time: 6 p.m.

Now this is what I’m talkin’ about. A little more difficulty, far fewer people, gorgeous scenery and great scents.

We pick up our bikes at the Village Bicycle Shop around 6 p.m. Denny encourages us not to bike along Lafayette to Perry to Sunset Boulevard, but to instead take the scenic route. Who are we to question the bike man? And so Macy and I set off along Elmira Street. We only get as far as Cape May Creek when Macy and I stop to look at the beautiful white heron in the creek. We cross Park Boulevard to Leaming Street. We are now in West Cape May, what used to be, and still is, just not as much so – the agricultural part of the island. What a pretty street Leaming is. It seems each house has a doll house-like quality with a pretty garden in front. Now for the brave part of this exhibition – crossing Broadway. No problem. We find ourselves twisting around until we are on Sixth Avenue with a large open field on our right, very few cars, and the quiet of twilight beginning to descend and the rich smell of nature all about us.

“Wait! What’s that, Macy? Are those pigs?” For full disclosure I should share with you the fact that Macy and I are not the most agile, graceful cyclists you’ve ever seen. It takes us each at least four push offs to get going. And stopping? Hmm. Sometimes, when excited, we just jump off without braking, tangling ourselves about the bikes like a contortionist without a sense of direction. Perhaps we can invest in bumper stickers for the back of the bikes, something like: We brake for piglets. And we did.

Apparently it’s dinnertime for Momma and her baby piglets, plus there seems to be an overprotective aunt looming about as well. How very cool is this? Thrilled with our find, we continue on down Sixth, make a quick left onto Bayshore Road and a quick right onto Stevens Street. We are now truly in the heartland of Cape May’s agriculture scene. Rea’s Farm is dead ahead and dominates the landscape along Bayshore and Stevens, but just a little further up the road and we are in farm country. Beach Plum Farm and Willow Creek Winery are located along Stevens Street. There is not a car in sight, except those in the driveways as we approach a more residential area of the street, and it is so quiet you can hear the crickets in the distance telling us night will be upon us soon. The end of Stevens Street is also home to Cape May Carriage Company and that brings us to Sunset Boulevard. We check the time and it is not even 7 o’clock. So, we adjust our trip to include the Cape May Lighthouse. Crossing Sunset Boulevard we again opt for the scenic route and take Sea Grove Avenue to Lighthouse Road.

Sea Grove Avenue is my FAVORITE road and I do forgive it for being in Lower Township not Cape May, West Cape May or Cape May Point. A sense of peace comes over me as we turn the corner and smell the honeysuckle. It’s just me and Macy and the sound of birds getting ready to turn in, but the moment doesn’t last long enough and before we know it, we are on Lighthouse Road heading to this wonderful monument to the past. I love this area and especially love looking at the Lighthouse keeper’s house, wondering what life out here in this desolate area must have been like for him and his family.

Macy doesn’t let me wonder too long, however, because it’s time to make our way to Sunset Beach for the Evening Flag Ceremony. The lowering of the American flag is a 43-year-old tradition and Marvin Hume has been at the mast for 35 of those years. The 86-year-old Hume owns the property at Sunset Beach which includes a couple of gift shops, a clothing boutique and Sunset Beach Grill, where Macy and I break to have a light dinner (well Fish and Chips, not so light, but awfully good) while watching the setting sun and the many travelers who begin to arrive by car, by foot, and by bike to witness this miracle of nature and partake in a little slice of patriotism, the Cape May way.

A few minutes before sunset a loudspeaker goes on and someone, sometimes Marvin Hume, sometimes someone else, explains the ceremony and introduces the family who will help lower the flag that night. All the flags flown at the mast are veterans’ casket flags donated by the families of the deceased. There are always, as there is on this night, representatives of the deceased veteran. Mr. Hume asks which of the children feel they are most able to help lower the flag, and afterwards he shows the family how to properly fold it. Kate Smith can be heard over the loudspeaker singing God Bless America and that is followed by the Star Spangled Banner. Gentlemen are asked to remove their hats. Most stand with hands over hearts. The flag, the sunset and the honored. Is there any better way to end your day here in our little slice of Paradise?

Because it has been a long day and it is now a little after 8 o’clock, Macy and I bike straight down Sunset Boulevard into Cape May and lock our bikes at Denny’s shop.

Biking to Higbee Beach

Distance: 7 miles
Time: 7:30 a.m.

Although Denny is at the helm, Macy and I have our locks for the bikes we used the night before. Again, it is a lovely morning and the heat and humidity which will make the afternoon sticky and stifling are absent. We make our way back down Elmira to Park and wind our way around to Broadway turning left onto Stimpson Lane. We are so lucky because there is virtually no traffic on the roads and in no time we turn right onto Bayshore Road, again in front of Rea’s Farm and buzz on down to New England Road. Macy and I cannot get over the rich smells of the country and sea air and as we get closer and closer to Higbee Beach, a quiet comes over the countryside, broken only by the delightful (I never use this word, so when I say delightful, I mean it) sounds of song birds. I feel like I’ve just stepped into a scene from Snow White. Soon I will be dancing with the birds and they’ll be helping me to make a dress for the ball.

We park our bikes and make our way down one of the paths which ends at the beach. I never get over that. You are walking through what I perceive to be the woods, and then there is a clearing over a little crest of a hill and the beach, the ocean and sky greet you like long lost friends. It was my intention to have a picnic breakfast on the beach, but something went wrong with that idea – like the fact that I didn’t get up early enough. What a wonderful way to start the work day, or any day for that matter.

Now, we ARE plagued with saddle sores on the trip back, but it’s our own fault for doing nothing for weeks on end and then trying to vie for Olympic biking champ status three days running.

I urge all of you – be you locals or visitors – to get on that bicycle and explore the island and parts nearby. Cape May is perfect. It is relatively flat and incredibly beautiful and diverse, plus you’ll save on gas and get the blood to the arteries. Anyway you look at it, it’s a good thing.