The Delaware River was treacherous with ice on Christmas night 1776 when General George Washington led 2,500 Continental Army soldiers across in small boats during a snowstorm. A bold and dangerous mission, but one that quickly led to a stunning victory over the British and Hessian soldiers occupying Trenton, New Jersey, it revived the morale of a nascent nation struggling for independence. Today, I'm crossing the Delaware River in warm, bright sunshine, riding my mechanical steed along the historic paths followed by the Father of Our Country.
Motoring west on US 46 from Stanhope, New Jersey, I've left the rest of my family to attend a bridal shower for my oldest daughter. After a long and rainy trailer ride from Maryland, my Honda ST 1300 seems to be chomping at the proverbial bit to stretch its legs. With temperatures in the mid-70s and low humidity, it's a perfect day for this leisurely cruise along the banks of a most historic river. After just a half hour on the road, I'm already experiencing sensory overload from bucolic sights, fresh country scents, cool breezes flowing through my helmet, the sound of a well-tuned motor, and that familiar taste for adventure buzzing through my brain.
Traversing the New Jersey Highlands
Northwestern New Jersey seems to be worlds away from the flat marshlands dotted with oil storage tanks that one sees along the New Jersey Turnpike. The first quaint country town I encounter is Hackettstown, population 10,000. When it was first settled in the 1700s, the principal occupation was farming and the operation of several mills, which were located near where US 46 crosses the Musconetcong River. Stagecoach service east to New York City was established in 1775, and a round trip in the coach that left each Monday took a week!
Moving at a decidedly swifter pace west beyond Hackettstown, I roam the fertile valleys unfolding amid a succession of mountain ridges. A right on County Road (CR) 611 at Great Meadows offers me a curvy ribbon of asphalt, where I pass the day's first group of motorcyclists enjoying the beautiful weather. Time for high-five salutations, and then they're gone in a flash.
In the sleepy little town of Hope, New Jersey, I encounter my first "500" series road. In 1956 the New Jersey state legislature established a secondary road network to complement the state highway system set up in 1912. The "500" series of two-lane roads meander through the countryside, connecting small towns and main streets. Many of these roads have their roots in colonial times and some were formerly trails followed by Native Americans in the centuries before Europeans landed in the New World.
CR 519 is a north/south route that follows the ridge-and-valley pattern of the New Jersey Highlands and roughly runs parallel to the meandering course of the Delaware River. Not long after crossing under I-78, though, I'm abruptly stopped in my tracks. Flashing red and blue lights from numerous emergency vehicles clearly pierce the bright daylight as emergency personnel scurry back and forth, attending to a serious automobile accident. The road is completely blocked and I'm forced to detour.
I follow several cars with local license plates, hoping they will lead me back to CR 519, but they turn off at different intersections and I quickly become lost.
Moving in an easterly direction, though, I eventually intersect with CR 627, which takes me to Riegelsville and the 1907 suspension bridge gracefully spanning the Delaware River. It's now well after lunchtime and I'm more than a little hungry. Because the next town of any size is Milford, New Jersey, I decide to delay my first crossing of the Delaware and continue on south where the towering red rock palisades push me ever closer to the river. As the remaining flatland narrows, the two lanes merge into one. Small paved niches allow northbound traffic to pull over so that my lane can continue.