Biking deep into New Jersey’s Pine Barrens

This bike ride from Hammonton is inspiring me to bike more in South Jersey.

Our second ride of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance’s 2020 Tour de Pines took us deeper into the Pinelands: A road lined with pine trees as far as you can see, a sandy road that we fortunately didn’t take, a fire tower we didn’t climb. Sunlight glistening off a lake on a sunny October day.

This ride officially started at one of the wineries around Hammonton. But it was Saturday, and we’d been warned that the winery gets busy on the weekends. Would there be enough parking, or would we be depriving the winery of space for paying customers? We decided to play it safe and meet in downtown Hammonton instead. That shortened our ride to 42 miles from 48.

What I didn’t expect was a seemingly thriving downtown — newer signage, no empty storefronts. After our ride, we hit a classic New Jersey pizzeria (thin crust, cash only), complemented by a brewery across the street (two more in town), a Mexican-style we-make-our-own ice cream shop across from where we parked and where we talked biking with the owner ..

…and then drove 4 miles to a barbecue joint described as one of the best in the Philadelphia region (to take home, not to eat right after pizza! Crazy large portions too, so more like several meals.)

When you pick the “I can’t decide” option….

I think I’ve overeaten … and we still have plenty of jerk chicken left.

Yes, bike rides also are all about the food, and I’d come back to Hammonton to explore more. You’ve got three wineries, a pizza joint to try that someone claims is best in the county, a cannoli spot. We stopped by the Red Barn Cafe and Pie Shop, which has beautiful (and pricey) pies that can’t be transported on a bike.

Parking thankfully isn’t a problem. As for the car-light: there is train service to Hammonton — the train from Philadelphia to Atlantic City stops here.

Oh, the ride, you ask? More quiet roads, some freshly repaved so we could really zoom along. Halloween decorations are out, but no sign of that mythical, dangerous Jersey Devil. Not even when we were on our loop through Wharton State Forest where perhaps a handful of cars passed us. What else? Nearby Batso was packed — a friend who has done many rides from there said she has never seen it so busy. A COVID escape on a sunny day! Maybe I shouldn’t have been surprised that we couldn’t get a camping spot in the park for Saturday night … so instead of riding for two days, we came home.

I only knew Hammonton as the place where supermarket pints of New Jersey blueberries come from. The plants love the sandy, acidic soil, so this area calls itself the blueberry capital of the world. And yes, we biked past acres and acres of blueberry fields, with leaves on the bushes starting to turn red and me wondering where the field workers lived.

But given what “expert” campers we’ve become thanks to COVID, we’re now sketching out what a multiday bike ride from home would look like. Could we carry camping gear? Or do loops from a camping spot, like we did in Connecticut last month? Or we could we aim to bike to Hammonton in a day, then rely on trains to get us home that night?

Whatever we decide, I’m ready to explore more of South Jersey … all the way to Cape May or Delaware Bay. I’ll add this fire tower (temporarily closed to visitors because of COVID) to the list of stops — on a clear day, you can see from Atlantic City to Philadelphia. This ghost town outside of Hammonton goes on the list too. And perhaps we can spend a day off the bike and on the water with Pinelands Adventures, an arm of the Pinelands Preservation Alliance. Once life is back to normal, I still want to tour a cranberry bog — also in the Pinelands.

Author: alliumstozinnias

A gardener (along with the Brit) who has discovered there is more than hybrid tomatoes. And a cyclist.

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