Until kayaking Saturday, I still considered myself a Benny.
For 22 years of my life, I was the person many Jersey Shore residents despise, bucking the traffic to enjoy your beaches all weekend.
I moved to the Jersey Shore from up north after I graduated college because, well, I had nowhere else to go. My parents had decided to downsize, and living costs were much more affordable down here. It took approximately five months before I got a job and when I did, it was on the Jersey Shore.
Two years later, it still doesn’t exactly feel like home.
But on Saturday, I discovered a new-found appreciation for the Jersey Shore environment — one that I think is what differentiates those who are raised here and the Bennies.
When I arrived at Cedar Creek Beach Saturday morning, I put a life jacket on, wondering what the chances were that I would actually need it. It was my first time kayaking.
The water was calm — after all it is a narrow watershed — and the scene was beautiful, lined with the large cedars. I’ve since learned that the Cedar Creek covers an area of 54.3 square miles and is almost entirely within the Pinelands National Reserve. A part from the Barnegat Bay, the Cedar Creek is a Jersey Shore haven of its own.
With Rob and George Allan of the Forked River Outdoor Group, two young Boy Scouts and one of their fathers, we ventured out to the Barnegat Bay in multi-colored kayaks. The paddle was organized as a partnership between the group and the Recreation Department.
I practiced paddling as Rob and George instructed — stroking right and then left trying to use my torso instead of arms to conserve energy — waiting for everyone else to get in the water. Without knowing how to stop, I let the kayak drift… into the trees lining the watershed. I grabbed a branch and held on.
As the other paddlers got ahead, I started to drift again, and Rob taught me how to get out of such a situation.
The rest of the ride was pristine as we made two stops on marsh and an island, learning about the channels for boats, declination of the bay and different forms of nature. Did you know fox could swim? Neither did I.
The wetlands were peaceful and unlike any nature I’ve experienced as I’ve only seen the marsh from afar. Butterflies flew about and wind blew through the high grass. The surroundings generated a certain tranquility that reporters don’t get to often feel in the midst of their hectic days.
We rode past a shack that duck hunters utilize to hide, a random plywood coyote and bear in the marsh. As we walked ashore we found treasures — a royal blue ball with white stars, the door of a mailbox, dead blue crabs and the shell of a horseshoe crab, cacti, fox holes and hundreds of baby crabs crawling about.
Thorns scratched my legs but it was worth it.
With sand and water in my shoes, we sat back in our kayaks for our last row, paddling across the Barnegat to Berkeley Island Park.
Across the swells and past a sailboat, I saw the Bay from an angle I never had before. I saw it in all its glory, despite the challenges it will continue to face for many years to come.
The Forked River Outdoor Group was created to develop an awareness of outdoor surroundings, and the paddle did just that. As a former Benny, North Jerseyans don’t necessarily have quick access to such an environment.
George described their pastime and love for the Jersey Shore environment as a “passion,” one that I’ve come to share.
“That’s what we live for,” he said.