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If you had one hour to be invisible...

Etc - Walking through Monmouth County
05/03/2012 - By Steve Froias

Etc - Walking through Monmouth County

Lions and
Tigers and...

“I’m going to track rattlesnakes next week!”

In Arizona? New Mexico? The United States Congress in Washington, D.C.?


New Jersey.

Who even knew there were rattlesnakes in the Garden State – except on “The Real Housewives of New Jersey”?

But it turns out New Jersey does indeed have its fair share of rattlesnakes, information provided to yours truly by a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialist during a recent hike through one of Monmouth County’s superb parks. I belong to a hiking club of informal and revolving membership, and we have made it our mission to visit every one of these green spaces on scattered Saturdays and Sundays throughout the year.

A GIS specialist uses computer software in conjunction with geographic methods to organize and display data in a useful format. My pal employs those skills on behalf of the State of New Jersey in service to their Division of Wildlife to track wild animals throughout the state, such as found in the woods or Pine Barrens -- not in Belmar or Seaside Heights -- during the summer.

After tackling the hilly Hartshorne Woods along the Navesink River shortly before the winter that wasn’t, we recently embarked once more upon the trails and chose the Manasquan Reservoir in Howell as a good starting point. It is relatively flat, though fairly long at slightly over five miles all the way around, and a good segue into the outdoors after a season of couch surfing. And, I was assured that we wouldn’t happen upon any rattlesnakes. It seems they make their home in North Jersey, perhaps because of its proximity to the Paramus Mall.

Still, for a group of youngish professionals in their 30’s and 40’s, a hike can be a revelatory experience. It’s hardly “Man vs. Nature” -- or “Woman vs. Nature” in this co-ed group --yet revealing nonetheless. This is a group more accustomed to  spending time in downtown Freehold, Red Bank or Asbury Park, after all, and at finer eateries and better barstools everywhere in between.

The first surprise should actually come as no surprise: the 40 year-old mother of three sets the pace. Right out of the SUV, the glam mom who traded in her Jimmy Choo’s for Nike cross-trainers charged ahead during our first hike and left the men gasping behind. She was quickly dubbed the ‘Hiking Demon’ and looked upon with a mix of awe and angst; it’s tough for a guy to get a Guinness gut moving at 8:00 a.m.

Soon, everyone falls into line, although small cliques form. These will evolve  and change throughout the hike over the course of three hours. What is amazing is the sheer volume of confidential exchanges that take place within each, however.

It’s often said that alcohol loosens tongues, but hiking away from the world – as away as being a mile from Rtes. 195 and 9 and perhaps two from the Parkway can be - appears to equally lubricate and so soothe inhibitions. I learn that one person has consulted a pet psychic in order to ‘interrogate’ the family dog and gather information about a home burglary. One on one in the lead, startling details of the investigation into the theft of a laptop, television, X-box and assorted other electronic devices are revealed to me as seen through Fido’s eyes and channeled by a gypsy in Pennsylvania via Vonage!

It’s all very confidential (“I wouldn’t admit this to anyone else...”) and the subject changes abruptly when another member catches up and the two become three and then dissolve into another configuration  where no doubt other secrets are shared.

It’s also remarked upon that hiking through Monmouth County’s parks holds out the promise of benefits beyond the salutary effect on the cardio-vascular system. It’s also a great place to meet people – especially attractive, in-shape people you might want to go on a date with!

The steady stream of vigorous hikers, joggers, runners and cyclists share a robust physicality and pink- cheeked ruddiness which compares favorably to the liquor-rouged, redfaced visages we’ve seen at a  favorite watering hole the night before. Simply put, a lot of the people going our way are hot! The GIS specialist is noting every species of bird you can imagine, but most of us are more interested in  anything in Lycra and sweats rather than feathers.

Yet soon, the end of the trail approaches and we re-form as one unit and discuss the urgent need for a restroom, as none of us has truly succumbed to nature out on the trails. Fortunately, the Manasquan Reservoir has a visitor’s center, which is not always the case in every park we’ve been through. In that case, the best place for lunch is usually the closest.

As we prepare to enter a truly frightening wilderness – traffic on Rte. 9 en route to Panera Bread in Howell – our endangered species guide reiterates that the one snake we have seen was definitely not a rattlesnake – though the slithery denizen of the not-so-deep woods may be romanticized as such soon to give our morning some more panache.

“Besides,” he says “Rattlesnakes shouldn’t scare you. They want to be left alone and won’t seek you out.”

“I’m afraid of the ticks. They are out looking for you.”

And then we are all satisfied that we can feel like Survivors – million dollar prize or not.

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