We decided that The Rock and surrounding area were not sufficient to retain us.
One issue was that we could see, as well as hear a whole lot of human activity. From our vantage point on the side of the mountain we could see Green Pond Road, the main road through the area. Also, there was Hewlett Packard and their constant comings and goings. On top of that, there were the dirt bikers ripping up the old field at the base of the mountain. I think that was really the issue; that constant dirt bike motor whine. It spoiled the sanctity of the woods, the quiet and solitude. It pissed us off.
Dollar’s older brother lived in South Jersey on the outskirts of the vast Pine Barrens. Dollar reported that he had found an area far out in the Pines where we could do our thing without interruption.
Our first trip there was on a rainy Wednesday evening, the day before Thanksgiving. I remember speeding down what was called the Red Road (it was mostly red clay), in an area known as the West Plains, in Walt’s Mazda pickup. Radio blasting, chasing deer (it really is fun), skidding, hydroplaning, but not caring much about any of it. We crashed into the trees when it came time to turn, but that wasn’t as bad as it sounds, because the trees were only about 10 feet tall, pitch pines, and we pretty much plowed right through them. Plus they cushioned the impact. No, we weren’t wearing seat belts, no one did back then. If we got stuck, we would push the truck back onto firm footing and carry on.
Stuart and Dollar were in Studogg’s Mom’s full sized pickup (with cap). We turned down one unmarked road, then another and before we knew it, we were as far away from civilization as you can get.
Or so it seemed. On a map (we didn’t have the luxury of Google Earth back then) we were only a couple of miles from Route 72, as the crow files (if said crow didn’t get blasted out of the sky) but certainly in the middle of one of the most desolate stretches of forest that road goes through.
The New Jersey Pine Barrens are a unique ecological area, comprised of mostly Black oak and Pitch pine, those being the only trees able to adapt to the poor, sandy soil and frequent wildfires. Where there is water, you will find Atlantic white cedar.
Another unique feature of the Jersey Pine Barrens is that they are prone to sweeping forest fires that turn a verdant ecosystem into a scorched, blackened wasteland suitable for filming post-apocalyptic nightmare movies. It is these fires that keep the trees stunted and short, hence the term ‘scrub pines’. (I always like when a opportunity to use ‘hence’ comes up). In the Plains (West and East) trees don’t top much over12 feet.
But, true to the mystique of the area, the scrub pine and oak have adapted to the more-than-occasional burn. In fact, the forest is dependant on it. It is the very thing that destroys invasive plants and trees. Both the scrub pine and oak can regenerate from their rootstock, which has survived the heat beneath the sand. Within days of a fire you can see pine seedlings sprouting. A couple weeks later the blackened trees have leaves.
And that is all pretty cool, except when you are on a long hike in the blazing summer sun and there is nothing overhead to shade it. Or when a frigid, steady wind is blowing unimpeded across miles of scrub, cutting right through your outerwear straight to your bones.
Or when it’s raining.
The first Thanks-giv-o-fest in the Pines was a soaker: four days of showers, downpours and drizzle. I remember going hunting and having to turn the barrel of my shotgun downwards to drain water out. Not that we cared much, though. Thinking back, I am impressed with our tolerance of the crappy weather. We were having a good old time camping, hunting, drinking and enjoying our freedom.
We did manage to bag something that weekend, though. A pheasant flew across our path as we went on one of our food excursions. We ate it that night. Talk about a Thanksgiving like our forefathers enjoyed.
We strung up a huge canvas tarp between the pickup trucks. We built a fire and promptly burned through all of our available wood. However, there was a series of half buried pallets in a low area off to the side of the road. This was a little used (at that time, at least) motorcycle trail. Occasionally that area would be wet, during wet years and the bikers must have dropped pallets to aid them in traversing this low point. You would not have known it by the continuous rain we were encountering, but it was a dry year. And that was fortunate, because we excavated nearly every pallet and burned them.
Pallets burn hot, if used properly. These were slightly wet, it was raining for a couple of days, but they only needed to be dried around the fire for a half hour before they were ready to burn. Then we would kick them into the flames. How hot? We melted beer bottles into little globs of green glass.
We had not planned this trip as thoroughly as our previous excursions and needed to make daily excursions out of the woods seeking food. We visited everyone that Dollar knew in the area – his brother, sister and their most gullible friends. We would gratefully take whatever was given – a loaf of white bread, can of beans, packets of instant oatmeal – then drive back into the woods.
One night, vittles were in short supply. The rain was coming down hard and we were holed up beneath the tarp. Beer was plentiful, though, so we were good.
We cooked up the last of our food – instant oatmeal. I’d like to say it was one of the flavored varieties, but I’m pretty sure it was unflavored. It makes sense. Those usually are the last to go. Again, we hadn’t planned well for this trip, so we were short on a few utensils. We all had a spoon, but there were only 3 coffee mugs to mix in. So the drill went like this:
You would take two spoonfuls of oatmeal, and pass the mug to the right. In short order a mug would be handed to you from the left. If you tried to sneak a third spoonful you got kicked in the ankle or shoved off of the cooler. It worked for us.
Eventually everything we had was soaked and we ran out of pallets to burn. We left for home, but knew we had established a new area of operation. Our next trip there heralded a new era for the Birdcrew.