For the past several years, Ocean City, New Jersey, has become our family vacation destination. My wife and I get together with our two daughters and their families, rent an apartment, and, for one full week in June, do what many other vacationing families do there—relax on the white-sand beaches, stroll the legendary boardwalk, and dine out at a variety of restaurants.
Promoted as America’s Greatest Family Resort, Ocean City lies on a barrier island off the eastern shore of New Jersey in Cape May County. The city’s list of awards is about as long as its eight miles of beaches, winning such prestigious recognition as: Best Beach in America; Best Destination for Family Vacations; Top Ten Boardwalks in America; and, No. 1 in the Most Wanted ‘Second Home’ Spots in the U.S.
To the west of the island lie the waters of Great Egg Harbor Bay, which isolates Ocean City from the mainland of Somers Point. Connecting these two seaside communities over the bay is a nearly three-mile long engineering marvel known primarily as the Rt. 52 Causeway, which carries the nickname Ninth Street Bridge. With a total width of eighty-four feet, and a fifty-five foot water clearance in key spots, the massive causeway is traversed by four lanes of traffic separated by a shared-use pedestrian and biker’s pathway.
One fine morning, my daughter Jennifer and I (pictured above) set out from our 13th and Wesley Avenue rental to bike the causeway to Somers Point and back. While the rest of our family was occupied with other activities, we rode out through the alley, then steered toward Ninth Street via West Avenue, which accommodates a bike path. Summer days in Ocean City create an influx of tourists and second homeowners that pushes its population many times above the off-season numbers. Hence, traffic congestion, especially on a weekend, and especially on Ninth Street. The reason is two-fold: nine city avenues intersect Ninth Street, plus it’s the entrance and exit for tons of vehicles crossing Egg Harbor.
Weaving our way in, around, through, alongside, and across traffic, we pedaled past the welcome sign and started up the first incline of the causeway and out of Ocean City. Our first point of interest partway across was the Welcome Center overlooking an island refuge. Several species of nesting birds and other wildlife that reside there are frequent subjects for birdwatchers and photographers. We took it in then continued on.
The splendor of the June day had lured many people out to enjoy the atmosphere of the causeway: young and old, walkers and runners, loners and lovers, and bikers. Bikers exercising or pushing their physical abilities, while just across the divide tires pounded the pavement as the flush of tourists and workers motored by.
The temperature had reached the upper seventies by the time Jenny and I arrived at the mainland of Somers Point. We gulped some water, spent a few minutes reading a marker commemorating the amazing structure we had just ridden over, then headed back to Ocean City. During construction of the Rt. 52 Causeway, four piers were specifically built into its framework to accommodate fishing and crabbing enthusiasts. Shallow waters combined with deep channels in the bay provide ideal habitat for such species as sea bass, croaker, flounder, striper, tautog, and crabs.
Jenny and I had pedaled a fair distance back when a long downhill stretch played into view. Switching gears, we intentionally picked up speed. Jenny was about thirty yards in the lead as we cruised past one of the fishing piers. That’s when I suddenly felt an eerie resistance against my torso, like some bizarre force was actually lifting me off the bicycle seat. Though I had slowed somewhat, the momentum of the bike kept pushing me deeper into the invisible force until finally I began feeling a burning sensation on both arms just below the shoulders. For a moment I thought something was stinging me.
In the mere seconds that it took for me to hit the brakes, whatever had attacked me had now slowed me considerably. That’s when the invisible force became visible—fishing line. I’d been caught in someone’s fishing line that had somehow been stretched across the bike path! The line had at that point cut through my skin on both arms just under the short sleeves of my tee shirt. With both hands I pulled the extremely tight line away and up over my head, releasing its incredible tension. That’s when I let out a holler to Jenny.
Looking back, I noticed other bikers fast approaching the scene. I dumped the bike and ran toward them waving my now bloody arms and yelling “stop, stop” above the noise of the four-lane. Running to the edge of the causeway, I looked down over the side, to the fishing pier, and noticed two fishermen amongst the others waving their arms, gesturing for me to free their line. “I got caught in it!” I shouted with a scolding voice. “Look what it did!” I said as I exposed my arms. “We’re sorry, we’re sorry,” was their reply. Obviously right after Jenny had cruised by, the line was accidentally cast up over the upper deck and across the bikeway where it had snagged on something and I became its first victim.
Pulling it tight, I traced the line to the guardrails where I jumped over, exposing myself to the rushing traffic. The line lead me to a storm drain where I discovered the hook—baited with a piece of chicken—and its massive sinker were lodged in the grates. Gathering it all up, I walked to the side and gave it a toss over the edge toward the appreciative, but undoubtedly very inexperienced, anglers.
Jenny was stunned when she saw the wounds from my untimely accident, and naturally I was still “reeling” from it all when she arrived on the scene. While my arms were hurting, I just felt extremely lucky that the lead sinker—at that casting velocity—had missed my noggin.
Jenny and I made it back to our rental without any other incidents. The bikes were stowed, the story was shared with the rest of the family, who listened in disbelief, and my wounds were doctored. I’ve often wondered what those fishermen told their families when they arrived back home. I can just hear somebody asking them how the fishing was, and I can also conjure up their laughing reply: “You’ll never guess what our ‘catch of the day’ was.”