Memorial Day Meanderings.

A road trip. The quintessential American adventure, getting in your car and heading to new destinations, seeing amazing sites as you travel the highways and byways of our nation. However, the current global pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives, including greatly reducing our travels, as many of the destinations we would choose to visit are currently closed. For much of the past two months, New Jersey was in a state of lockdown, with only essential services remaining open. However, as my home state’s fight against COVID-19 has taken a turn for the better, the governor has begun a phased re-opening. With parks among the first wave of openings, my wife and I were able to plan a small road trip to Gateway Recreation Area, Sandy Hook, our first visit to a national park in over two months!

As you dive into today’s post, you’ll read of our continued exploration of the parks of Middlesex County (as detailed previously in Walk This Way and Weekend Wanderings). Then, we’ll take you on a trip to a national park at the Jersey shore. Finally, we’ll wrap up with a special feature of a unique high-mileage Honda!

And without further ado, let’s begin:

The Parks of Middlesex County (Part III):

Forest path with sign by entrance that reads MILL POND TRAIL
We returned to Davidson Mill Pond Park in East Brunswick, NJ. Although we had previously visited this park, we opted for a different trail through the woods.
Rocky trail through woods.
Despite a somewhat challenging trail beside the pond, our perseverance paid off with a cool show of wildlife…
Great Blue Heron in pond.
…a great blue heron was fishing for lunch in the pond. These large wading birds can be found throughout North and Central America along coastal areas and wetlands. Opportunistic feeders, they’ll eat fish, amphibians, reptiles, rodents, insects… if it’s small, they’ll probably eat it (via Wikipedia).
Great blue heron taking off from pond.
With a bit of patience, I was rewarded with a takeoff from this magnificent bird. This guy was huge. Herons have a typical wingspan of 66-79 inches, approximately the same as a bald eagle.
White Jeep Grand Cherokee parked in gravel lot.
Our next stop was to Ireland Brook Conservation Area in North Brunswick, NJ. Approximately 2.6 miles of hiking trails cut through the woodlands and marshes in the park.
Hiking trail through forest trees.
With temperatures in the 60s, we had a beautiful day for hiking through the woods.
View of pond, with trees on far shore reflected in pond.
I recently upgraded my phone from a 4-year old iPhone 7 to the new iPhone SE. These two hikes were an opportunity to test the quality of my new phone’s camera.
Hiking trail through forest.
Needless to say, I was thrilled with the initial results. Despite being Apple’s “budget” phone, the camera is a significant upgrade from my previous device. This same scene would have appeared washed out and far less vibrant on my old iPhone 7.
Panorama of forest.
I was especially happy with the panorama function of the new phone – there was a greater level of detail and crispness than what my old phone was capable of producing. While my Canon dSLR is still my go-to device for photography, it is good to know that my phone is a capable camera in a pinch.
White Jeep Grand Cherokee parked on dirt trail, with treelike behind it.
We enjoyed getting the Jeep on the road, so we could get it off the road and explore some backwood paths!

Gateway National Recreation Area, Sandy Hook

Map of New Jersey and New York, with red pin in location of Sandy Hook.
After two months of social distancing and lockdown, we were overdue for a return to one of our favorite national parks.
View of Atlantic Ocean from top of bridge on Route 36.
The best parts of the drive to Sandy Hook: from the top of the bridge on Route 36, it looks like the road takes you straight into the Atlantic Ocean.
Entrance to Sandy Hook, with sign on right saying SANDY HOOK and the National Park Service Badge.
Spotting the entrance sign to the park was like seeing an old friend.
2012 Honda Accord parked near ocean.
As I have said before, my Accord isn’t happy unless it has sea spray on the paint and sand in the floor mats. It felt great to get back to the ocean once again!
Sign by entrance to board walk with social distancing rules.
The park certainly felt a bit different than previous visits. All of the buildings, including restrooms, were closed (portable toilets were stationed throughout the park). For the most part, visitors practiced social distancing (although we were in the minority of people who used masks), and signage everywhere reminded people to follow best practices to keep themselves and those around them safe.
Photo of egret in flight.
With camera in hand, we began photographing the birds of Sandy Hook. This bird, the great egret, flew past me. Fortunately, egrets are slow flyers, allowing me plenty of time to snap some photos.
Closeup of head and body of egret.
The egret uses its long beak to spear its prey. Although egrets will eat small animals, insects, and frogs, it most often prefers to fish, as we witnessed today.
Egret in flight over water.
I shot over 300 photos this morning, and many of them were attempts to capture the numerous egrets in flight. While I had my fair share of misses, when it mattered… I got the shot (although this photo was taken by my wife when she took over the camera… so SHE got the shot!).
Sandpiper searching for food at water's edge.
I enjoyed photographing this little sandpiper at the water’s edge. Speaking of these guys… if you’re looking for an entertaining three minutes, do check out Piper, a Pixar animated short film about the life of a sandpiper. You can find it on YouTube – it’s beyond adorable.
Herring gull in flight, its wings extended as it swoops to the right of the frame.
This herring gull put on quite the air show!
Herring gull flying, carrying a freshly caught fish in its mouth.
It swept down into the water to catch dinner – if you look closely, you can see the fish in its mouth!
Small bird singing in tree.
This is my favorite shot from the entire trip… what I think is a thrush. If you’ve enjoyed these bird photos, stay tuned for a special post that I am putting together with the help of my research team (some eagle-eyed readers) in the coming weeks!
View of Sandy Hook Bay and Highlands, NJ in distance.
Our trip at an end, we stopped to take in the view and smell the salt air one more time before heading home. It felt great for my wife and I to get back to our favorite pastime – road tripping!


A High Mileage Interview:

2003 Honda Accord coupe, in silver, parked in driveway.
As you may remember, in my last post I introduced a new reader, Justin, who has over 645,000 miles on his 2003 Honda Accord coupe. I asked if he would mind answering a few questions about himself and his ride, and he graciously agreed!

Q: When and where did you get your car? What made you choose the V6 coupe?

A: August 2003 from Pensacola Honda in Pensacola, FL. My wife and I had only been dating for a few months at this point.  This was her car purchase and her decision.  She liked the re-design of the 7th Gen.  It was the first year of the 6-speed (manual) with the V-6 and that’s what she wanted.

Q: Most of your miles have come in the past five years. Overall, how would you say the car is holding up?

A: Our car is and has been phenomenal.  I’d say even with the miles I have put on it during the last five years, the problems have been very minimal.  I have averaged very near or over 100k miles per year for going on five years.  In one year, I’m putting on what the average driver would do over a six to seven year period.  The general condition of the car is still very good for its age.  There are no lingering issues that make me think it’s going to need major work to reach one million miles and beyond.  It doesn’t run or drive noticeably different at nearly 650k miles than it did at 150k miles. 

Q: What’s been the biggest repair to date?

A: Hands down – the transmission.  The original transmission developed a slight grind around 280k miles as I would shift into 3rd gear.  Fresh transmission fluid didn’t fix it.  I’ve read about some Honda transmissions having synchro issues with 3rd gear and there were articles online that made it look like Honda might repair it for goodwill.  I tried our local Honda dealer for that, but they said I would have to pay to rebuild the transmission.  I specifically remember a lady in the service department telling me how the car had lasted 281k miles and that was pretty good.  Little did she know what our car was capable of. I drove the car with the 3rd gear problem for awhile.  I had a friend tell me he’d help me swap the transmission.  By 320k, the car needed multiple items including the transmission so in December 2016 we replaced the transmission and everything else that needed fixing.  I sourced a junkyard tranny that supposedly had 52k on it.  It has been problem free ever since.

Q: What do you do that puts so many miles on your vehicle?

A: I work “part time” as a courier.  I mostly deliver medicine to nursing homes and transport items between hospitals.  Some of the trips are pretty long and the miles add up quickly.

Q: With all the time you spend on the road, what do you do for entertainment?

A: I installed SiriusXM in the car and it has been my favorite thing I’ve done to the car.  I’m a rock/metal guy.  I mostly listen to Octane, but I also enjoy Hair Nation, Turbo, Lithium, 80s, 90s, and Rock the Bells (old school rap). 

Q: What’s the furthest you’ve had to drive for a delivery?

A: McAllen, TX to north Alabama.  That was a long weekend trip.

Q: What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen on the road?

A: I saw a semi fully engulfed in flames with cars behind it and traffic in the opposite direction.  As far as I know, no one was hurt or killed.  It was quite odd to see this at a stoplight in a small TX town. Honorable mention goes to driving down a remote stretch of highway doing 75mph and seeing a cow walk in the other lane and almost cause its own (and our car’s own) demise.

Q: What’s your biggest pet peeve with other drivers?

A: People who speed up when you try to pass them.  If you can go faster when I’m next to you, then go faster when I’m behind you.

Q: What’s your dream road trip?

A: Southern CA up the coast into the Olympics in Washington.  Another good one would be Knoxville, TN and wind my way up through the northeast to Niagara Falls.

Car odometer reading 652228 TRIP A 7.5
Justin, thanks for taking the time to send those answers our way! Here’s his car’s latest odometer reading… it read a little over 645,000 in the photo from my last post a few weeks ago. At this rate, Justin expects to hit 700,000 miles by September. Onward, good sir!

Odds and Ends:

billboard over road that says SOCIAL DISTANCE TODAY.
The humorous road signs in NJ continue! I spotted this one that says, “Start spreading the news… social distance today.” My favorite though, was a more recent addition: “Going to the shore, bro? Social distance.” A joke about the Jersey Shore TV series and a social distancing message? Everybody wins.
View of 3rd generation Honda Accord hatchback from behind wheel of 2015 Honda Accord.
A sign I’m slowly brainwashing my family and friends: my Dad texted me this photo of a 3rd generation (1986-1989) Honda Accord hatchback from the drive-thru line at Burger King. My wife can correctly identify a 8th-generation (2008-2012) Honda Accord coupe like my car when we’re on the road. What can I say? I spread Honda love wherever I go.
View of Jeep Grand Cherokee dashboard as the vehicle goes through the car wash.
Grace, my wife’s 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, was recently treated to a run through the car wash to get rid of all the pollen, dead bugs, and dirt she’s accumulated over the past several weeks. Now at 51,612 miles, it continues to roll along without complaint.
Car odometer reading 153370 TRIP A 157.2
Meanwhile, my Accord also continues to happily gobble up the miles… well, given how little I’m driving these days, perhaps I should say that it is nibbling at the miles. The next 46,630 miles feels like it is going to take a loooonnngggg time!

With the state of New Jersey gradually emerging from a months-long lockdown, county and state parks (along with national parks that follow state guidelines) are increasing their hours and the number of services and facilities available. If you are going to go out exploring, do check the websites for the parks, as there can be a wealth of information to help you plan your trip. Have a great time, follow all safety protocols, and enjoy the fresh air! After two months in our homes, time outdoors is not to be taken for granted!

Thanks for coming along on yet another journey down the open road ahead.

‘Til next time.

9 thoughts on “Memorial Day Meanderings.

  1. Great stuff – glad you were able to get out and about to explore a little, and that restrictions are being lifted on travel out your way. I’m sure it’s refreshing to get some fresh air! I enjoy the clever highway signs – they’ve done some good ones out here, too. Stay safe and talk soon!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m glad that the department of transportation has a sense of humor – these are serious times, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have some fun in the process. Glad you enjoyed the post!


  2. Having never been to NJ, it’s really neat to see all of your outdoor shots. I just envisoned big metro areas in that part of the state. This is way different than I expected. With more than our fair share of snakes here, my wife is scared to step off pavement so it’s been a minute since I’ve walked some trails.

    Great shots! I agree your new phone camera looks nice.

    I really enjoyed your interview questions. Maybe Stiller Fan will do the same sometime.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. First of all, I appreciate you allowing me to do that interview! Thanks for having fun with it and giving so much information!

      One of the things I’ve tried to highlight in this blog is how diverse NJ actually is. We’ve got our large metropolitan areas, true, but there are also countless farms, beautiful beaches, forests, and the largest section of the Atlantic Pine Barrens (I know, I sound like a tourist brochure for the state). It’s been fun to show the other side of NJ through this blog.

      Thanks for the kind words- glad you enjoyed the post!

      Liked by 1 person

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