Happy 2015! Thankfully I made it through 2014 somewhat alive. I hope you did too. If you are reading this and did not successfully live through 2014, then that means you are a Zombie and 2015 must be the year of the Apocalypse. Freaking great. Don’t go biting me yet – I have too many plans for this year. I am finally getting back on track with my regular blog posts here and over at The Sarcastic Muse. This week’s “Before I die…” is a post I have been looking forward to for writing for awhile. Unfortunately, I had to get into the right mindset to write it because I flat out despise this Bucket List location… I could really have lived my life without visiting. The moment you step foot within this location, you just feel like your soul is about to be ripped from your body and transported right to hell… ok, I am embellishing a bit on that. But the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey is just a freaky, energy-sucking place.
The Pine Barrens covers about seven counties in Southern New Jersey. It is a heavily forested area that never saw much success in any any kind of farm cultivation. The soil is sandy and acidic… disgustingly sandy. The majority of the forest is made up of evergreens, specifically pine (hence the name). Orchids and other carnivorous plants can also be found in the forest (about the coolest things about the area). For the most part, the acreage of the Pine Barrens remains undisturbed and undeveloped. It is wild land… in New Jersey.
And a devil lives there.
A real demon of a devil.
In 1735, a woman by the name of Mrs. Leeds gave birth to her 13th child. Apparently 13 is an unlucky number, so the child was cursed. 13 kids is a bit crazy… I would think she was cursed to get pregnant that many times. Anywho, the 13th kid came out as a monster or a devil as the locals call it. Maybe the devil with a capital “D”. The baby is described as having a horse’s head, big old black bat wings on its back, sharp talons on its hands, and hooves for feet. That little beastie popped right out of Mrs. Leeds, attacked her and her nurse, flew through a window, and into the Pine Barrens where it haunts the forest to this very day. He is known as the Jersey Devil.
When he isn’t in the Pine Barrens, the Jersey Devil can be found in West Virginia playing Parcheesi with the Mothman. Ok, I made that last part up.
The carnivorous plants and the Jersey Devil are about the extent of my tolerance for this dismal place. I hope I never step foot in the forest again… Here is MY story of the New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.
Just picture it, the year is 2009 and one of my best friends, Jen, and I signed up for the “MS City to Shore” bike ride to raise money to fund research towards Multiple Sclerosis. On a cool late summer morning, the bike ride started in Cherry Hill, NJ and would ended at Ocean City, NJ. Day 1 was 100 miles, day 2 was 80 miles. Jen and I were avid cyclists, so 180 miles in 2 days was no sweat. Especially since Southern New Jersey is flat.
All was going perfect on the ride until we reached the damn Pine Barrens forest. The moment our wheels touched the area, it was like all the energy was zapped from us. The road was incredibly flat, and I felt like I was climbing a 60 degree slope. Every curse word known to man probably slipped through my lips as I slowly pedaled along. Let me add, that this was probably around mile marker 50 – and I was used to riding 50-60 miles a day on the hilly roads of the Lehigh Valley. So all these miles on flat-as-a-pancake roads should have been nothing! Jen didn’t complain as much as I
did am doing now. However, I could tell that the area was having an affect on her too. There had to be a vortex amongst the trees that existed to siphon our souls.
At every turn in the road, I eagerly anticipated a rest stop. When we finally came upon it, I actually gave peddling past it a quick thought. I am torn to state if the rest stop looked like it should have been a scene in the movie Deliverance or Wrong Turn. The rest stop was in the parking lot of a small one room church where cannibalistic hillbillies were probably waiting behind each tree for a weary cyclist to ride past. I never let my guard down for a moment. I wasn’t in the mood to get noshed.
Thirst and hunger claimed my better judgement and we pulled in for a quick refill.
Unclipping from my pedal, I placed my foot right into pile of sand. The damn sand! Ever speck of land around that church was SAND. We were several miles from the ocean, but the whole parking lot and grounds of the church was sand. If you are a cyclist and wear cleats, then you know why I am flipping out. It was in my shoes, cleats, pedals. The sand made pedaling for the next 30 miles painfully gritty.
I was not happy to be there and the moment we left the church rest stop, I flew down the road like the Jersey Devil out of Mrs. Leeds womb. I just wanted to get the hell out of there. The rest of the ride though the Pine Barrens was still exhausting. And only in the Pine Barrens did Jen and I have flat tires – 5 between the two of us.
Yet, the moment we left that hellish forest and rode out onto the ocean plains of Southern New Jersey, we were rejuvenated. Our energy returned. Neither one of us was bogged down or tired – even as we rode on to our 80th, 90th, and 100th mile. It was only in the God-forsaken Pine Barrens when the life was zapped from us.
Lucky for us, on day 2 – the return back to Cherry Hill, NJ – the route went around the Pine Barrens. Needless to say, I felt perfectly energetic the entire ride home. There was never a moment where I was winded or broke a heavy sweat.
Tread to this location with caution. We were not the only ones who had a dramatic loss of energy within New Jersey’s Pine Barrens. Many cyclist had a similar experience. There is something odd and upsetting about that forest.
Maybe somewhere deep within the woods, the Jersey Devil was trying to harvest our souls…