The Baker's Dozen Bike Rides of Wantage
Wantage Township, tucked into Northwestern New Jersey, is a bicyclist’s paradise. Well, okay, maybe “paradise” is a bit much. But it is a pretty darn nice place to ride! About 170 miles of roadway are contained in a sparsely-populated geographic region of 66 square miles. Most of the roads are winding, quiet country byways with little traffic. The farms, fields, and forests of Wantage guarantee to transform short bike rides into intimate encounters with a beautiful environment.
This short booklet is a result of my retirement. After a 42-year career teaching in the Sussex-Wantage School District, I now have time to pursue some crazy ideas that have been percolating in the attic for some time. This is one of them. I’ve always enjoyed bicycling not only as exercise, but as a way for me to feel more connected to the natural world and a way for me to experience, every time I ride, a sense of freedom. I love being on two wheels.
I hope this booklet proves to be not only useful, but enjoyable. I’m providing this guide free of charge in the hope that, if you find it worthy, you might make a donation to a Sussex-Wantage charity or non-profit organization. Please consider giving a few dollars to an organization such as The Wantage Avian Wildlife Center, Friends of High Point State Park, Wantage Dog Pound, a church or school, or any other Sussex-Wantage local non-profit or charity.
My intention for this project was to print and staple a simple booklet by spring, 2020. When the Covid Crisis hit, I hunkered down and put the project on hold. In late fall of that year, I had the good fortune to speak with Jean Perlee, who suggested to transform the booklet into a website. Thanks to Jean, this easy-to-navigate and smartphone-accessible site is available to a much wider audience, even non-bikers who can travel these routes in their armchairs.
Using this Guide
If you just want to ride, follow the recorded mile posts and directions that follow. To be really prepared for the ride, you can download an App such as “Map My Ride” onto your computer and/or Smart Phone. The basic App is free, and you can map out the route ahead of time. You can also study the route on Google Maps or MSN Maps. I’m “old school” and like to have a hard-copy map when I’m in unfamiliar territory. For a fee, the clerks at Wantage Township can provide you with a township land use map. Each ride can be downloaded and printed as a cue sheet by clicking on the Print this Ride button located at the bottom of the ride’s page
If you’re retired (as I am) and you have the time for ramblings and blathering mixed in with some trivial historical notes, then by all means read the text I’ve included below the directions. My sources for the information were varied and both written and oral. I have made a few (Ha!) mistakes in my life, so I apologize for any inaccuracies I’m certain are contained here.
A road bike, hybrid, or even a mountain bike would work just fine for these rides. Having a low gear for the hills is a benefit.
A FEW BASIC TIPS
- Check tire air pressure.
- Check wheels are tightened.
- Check brakes.
- Chain should be lubricated.
- Wear a helmet!
- Eye protection is important.
- Wear appropriate clothing.
- Back pack—ID, bike repair stuff, cell phone, snack or lunch, first aid kit, sunscreen
- Pack water.
- Consider Daytime Running Lights. (I recently became a firm believer and won’t ride on the road without them.)
Need bike parts, advice, or a new bike? Jason and his crew at Sussex Bike Shop (approx. 2 miles south of Sussex Boro on Rt 23) are friendly and knowledgeable.
- LSD (Limited Sight Distance)
Whether riding a bicycle, walking, or even driving a car, one should be vigilant about LSD on narrow, winding country roads. If there is a sudden rise in the road or a sharp curve, a driver won’t see you (and just as important—you won’t see him) until he’s at the crest of that rise or the apex of the curve. LSD increases in summer when the roadsides explode with tall grasses and wildflowers. Being aware of LSD will keep you safe on your ride.
- ROAD SURFACES
Our road department does a great job maintaining more than 100 miles of back roads, and I’ve found our roads to be in better condition than many other places I’ve ridden. Of course potholes can develop anywhere, so always look for them. Some of our roads are “oil and stone” and are re-stoned and oiled about every 5 years, in the summertime. The work is staggered so that only a few are done each year. If you’re riding in summer and see a sign that reads “FRESH OIL” at the beginning of a road, avoid that road, especially with a skinny-tired road bike. It takes a few weeks for the stones to become fully embedded into the road surface. If you’re planning an early-summer ride, check Wantage Township’s website which will tell you what roads are slated to be re-stoned that year.
Ticks won’t be a problem while road riding. Deerfly season is mid-June—August, but they’re mainly a problem in woods and swamps. The only ride in which I use bug spray is the High Point Ridge Road Loop. The deer fly there do bite!
Poison Ivy is not a problem for bike riding on roads. But if you stop for lunch and sit in a field, know what PI looks like—we’ve got plenty here!
Use sunscreen. Lather up all exposed skin, especially in summer.
Bring water—always stay hydrated while biking or exercising!
Biking requires fuel. Eateries are found in the town of Sussex, on the Rt. 23 corridor, in Beemerville, and in Unionville, NY (which is practically in Wantage).
Sights to See Along the Rides
- PLANTS & FLOWERS
Leisurely bicycling allows you to notice things that you wouldn’t pay attention to in a car. In summer, the explosion of roadside wildflowers and weeds along with the insect and butterfly populations that depend on them is amazing. Queen Anne’s Lace and chicory and thistle and milkweed will suddenly become the subjects of your camera.
If you’re an avid birder, you’ll stop lots. Wantage has quite a few good spots for viewing a variety of species, and almost every ride has a few areas of open fields inhabited by hawks and an occasional eagle. But even if you’re not a birder, biking can help you develop an ear for birds. Without the constant din of your car radio, you can begin to identify easily a few birds that have unique calls. Even though you might not see them, you’ll know you passed a towhee, a wood thrush, or a bluebird just by hearing their songs.
- OTHER ANIMALS
Encounters with wildlife are non-threatening, and most interactions will be with groundhogs, chipmunks, and squirrels. However, if you bike enough you’ll see deer, an occasional snake, and perhaps a fleeting glimpse of a fox or a bear. Enjoy!
Bicycling can sometimes bring you face-to-face with your own mortality. “Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return!” Especially in spring and summer, a roadkill sighting is almost a guarantee. One groundhog might be completely intact, lying peacefully as if taking a mid-day nap while another is torn apart, its entrails spread across the road. Depending on your constitution, you can hold your nose and avert your eyes or you can stop to get an up-close biology lesson. I like to send a personal wish: “Brother Raccoon, I hope you are in a better place, where waters run clear and crayfish are plentiful…”
It wasn’t more than a generation or two ago that there were more cows than people in Wantage Township. Until recently, wooden barns, outhouses, springhouses, corncribs and chicken coops could be found on almost every township road. Although most are gone, the remaining are a reminder of how our local ancestors lived and worked. They are a visual and historical delight.
Bicycling brings you closer to our beautiful natural environment, but it also allows you to see a dark side of human behavior—litter pollution. You will see beer cans and bottles, fast food wrappers, cigarette butts, and an occasional bag of illegally dumped garbage. Who are these creatures who can’t see the Garden of Eden in which we live? My observations tell me they generally aren’t hikers, bicyclists, bird watchers, canoeists, or most people who recreate in nature. To help with our litter problem, call the municipal office (973 875-7192) and ask for information about Wantage Township’s Clean Communities Program. Bags, gloves, and safety vests are provided to groups that participate in roadside clean-ups. A stipend is also provided.
- VENTURING OUT OF WANTAGE
Most of the rides stray from Wantage into the neighboring communities of Sussex, Montague, Frankford, Vernon, and Orange County, NY. Although the people, customs, and traditions of these foreign places may seem strange, there is no need for concern. There are no border patrols or fenced walls, and no passport is required. These places are almost as nice as Wantage, and you’re quite safe there.
Kids and Biking
I’ve always been a proponent of kids getting lots of exercise, and I taught my own kids to ride bikes at an early age. Some of my fondest memories of spending time with my children involve bicycle rides. That stated, I would not encourage children, especially younger ones, riding these loops. Narrow, winding roads and limited sight distance areas that go hand-in-hand with country byways require an adult’s perspective. A better outing with kids would be on one of the many rail trails that have been constructed recently and are not too far away. When biking with kids, it’s nice not having to worry about road traffic. A great paved rail trail is the Orange County Heritage Trail. Presently, a 12 mile stretch from Goshen to Harriman, NY is paved, allowing a 24-mile ride. And, work is currently underway to extend the trail to Middletown, almost doubling the trail! Another paved ride that a kid of any age would consider an adventure requires a bit more time since it’s a little farther away. Park at the Tony Williams Park about two miles east of the New Paltz exit of the NYS Thruway and begin your ride on the Hudson Valley Rail Trail. After about four miles, the trail continues seamlessly into the Walkway Over the Hudson. This converted railroad trestle is a phenomenon! After crossing the Hudson River, the walkway segues into the Dutchess Rail Trail which extends 13 miles to the town of Hopewell Junction. A round trip of 36+ miles is possible.
If you have a mountain bike or even a hybrid, there are quite a few unpaved rail trails in our area. Two that are close to home are the Sussex Branch Trail and the Paulinskill Rail Trail. Both trails cross Route 206 just past Ross’s Corner, but there are many places to park along these trails. A map is available at Kitattinny Valley State Park in Andover.