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Jack the Riepe: A ride through New Jersey - 43 years ago

Monday, May 4, 2020   (11 Comments)
Posted by: Jack Riepe #116117

It was 1977, the year I learned to fish for trout. I’d always thought trout fishing was for jerks and no one was more surprised than me to discover I was one. A motorcycle will never tell you the truth, and neither will a pristine stream. Motorcycling and trout fishing have a lot in common despite their obvious disparities. A rider can always con himself/herself into thinking a bike will save on gas and commuting expenses. The neophyte angler will use arguments like, “I can catch my own fish and save money on food.”

Both concepts are preposterous. A motorcycle is a six-lane thruway to poverty — through maintenance and the purchase of gear, farkles and other motorcycles to keep the first motorcycle company, plus the attorney to deal with the soon-to-be-former spouse who is objecting to your new 36-year-old riding partner.

I purchased my first fishing rig for $29, with a few bucks thrown in for hooks, sinkers and a couple of stupid-looking lures. Two years later, I pawned my mother-in-law’s iron lung to raise money for a $300 bait-casting reel. This was serious money in 1979. (I couldn’t get the full value for the iron lung as my mother-in-law was still in it.) That $300 reel got attached to a $200 rod apparently made from slivers of hummingbird beaks. This combo was supposed to let you read a bass’s mind. The first bass I caught thought, “This dope spent $500 on a rod and reel.”

This was my summer of distress, during which the first woman I ever really loved left me for horses, cowboys and three months of high living in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains. I took up fishing in lieu of the fact that there was no immediate mystery woman to take up in her absence. Not yet, anyway.

In my misery, I sought to combine the raw carnality of the motorcycle with the pastoral nature of fishing. The plan was simple: Race like hell out of Jersey City on a screaming 1975 Kawasaki H2 (The Widowmaker), to the farthest ends of the Earth — Warren County, NJ — a mythical land of savages and peculiar customs. My agenda was to crash at a typical I Love Lucy-type motel (plastic Hollywood headboards on two single beds) and find a little stream to fish the next day.

The Kawasaki screamed the guttural two-stroke torment of the oil-injected dragon, leaving an occasional vapor trail along US 46, and I found myself on the banks of the mighty Pequest River two hours later.

I stopped at a place called The Seven Dwarves motel, just outside the frontier town of Allamuchy (pronounced Al-ahh-moochie). This Native American name means “Willing Sheep.” The motel was a tired cluster of storybook-themed cabins surrounding an office and souvenir shop. The souvenirs included postcards of the last outhouse in Warren County (1964), toy bows and rubber-tipped arrows, and a row of shrunken heads. One of these heads was attached to stooped shoulders and booked me into the cabin named for Hazy, the dwarf who smoked pot.

The cabin appeared to be designed by Bilbo Baggins and decorated by Trixie Norton. The television got one channel (the PBS station from Allentown, Penn.); the diesel-powered window-mounted air conditioner had one setting: noise. Still, I was here for the fishing, not for the ambience.

Dinner called. There was a tavern down the road under a sign that read “Beer & Beef.” (This was the entire menu.) An addendum announced “Entertainment.”

The bar was empty except for a barfly who’d been watching the bartender dry a glass for the last 15 years.

“Where’s the entertainment?” I asked.

“We thought it was you,” replied the bartender.

The bartender looked like the social director for a maximum security prison. I left.

The sole liquor store in 25 miles sold me a bottle of Jameson Irish whisky, six cans of Schlitz, five Slim Jims and a fishing map. I was deep into Irish culture when the first thunderclap shook the little cabin. The rain fell like a wedding curse, hammering on the roof with hellish insistence. When it finally stopped, a glance out the window on the right revealed a dense fog — backlit by an unseen moon — wafting through rows of tilted and cracked headstones. The same view was framed in the window on the left.

There were no tombstones in evidence when I’d pulled up.

Dawn arrived like a bad suggestion and the fog promised to haunt the entire day. Overcast days are good for fishing and darkly miserable ones are best of all. The fishing map led me to a place called Shades of Death Road, a seven-mile stretch of Stephen King inspiration that paralleled Jenny Jump State Forest. This state park is named after Jenny Henderson, who jumped off a cliff to get out of a bad prom night commitment. They named the park after Jenny as opposed to her date, considering Douche State Park didn’t seem like a good idea.

It took me forever to find Shades of Death Road. Twenty-five miles per hour in the fog seemed absolutely death-defying, and death seemed a recurrent theme in this stretch of woods. For Garden State history buffs, everyone who ever lived along this road was once photographed holding an ax. There is a museum out this way exhibiting old axes, dating back to 1699, when the first one was found in someone’s head.

There is a pond called Ghost Lake just off Shades of Death Road. That was my first stop. My baited hook plooped through the glassy surface of the jet black water in a less than satisfying way. I left after three or four casts. According to the map, a stream crossed under the road and I stopped to fish from a little bridge. I couldn’t even see the water here, but could hear the splash of my weighted hook.

I’d been there for a while when a car pulled up under a red flashing smear. It was a local cop, who opened the passenger’s window to ask if I was okay. We chatted for a bit, though I could barely make out his silhouette. He said this bridge was famous, or infamous, for hosting the ghost of a pretty girl murdered in 1948.

I told him I’d be careful. He leaned closer to the window and I noticed his eyes. He didn’t have any. The car evaporated slowly in the fog.

Twenty minutes later, a girl’s voice caused me to jump three feet in the air. “Are they biting?” she whispered.

She wore a shimmering white dress made out of lacy fog and adorned with a wilted red orchid. She said her name was Jenny and she asked if I had an ax. I pointed to the motorcycle, explaining I traveled light. She gave a little laugh and disappeared.

Not long after that, the scariest sound I have ever heard came from the fog. It wasn’t a scream nor a wail. It was the sound of Satan’s sewing machine, choking on a button. A bike pulled up, its headlamp appearing to change shape in the swirling mist. I had never seen a bike like this before, with its two-cylinder engine sticking out the sides. The rider was a woman wearing black leather that defined her form in implied desire, with more detail than if she’d been naked.

I was born and raised in Hudson County and was no stranger to crowds, but the spirit traffic on this bridge was becoming a real pain in the ass. All I wanted to do was fish in peace. This bridge was a perfect location for hell’s hot dog stand.

The rider in black slowly looked me up and down. There was no mistaking that appraisal. I’d given it a few times myself.

I put my arm around her, with a healthy dose of what would become known as my patented Battered Baby Harp Seal Look.

She knocked me to ground, spit, and said, “I thought you were a ghost. You’re just another New Jersey asshole.” Snicking the oddest motorcycle I ever saw into gear, she rode off into the fog. The last thing I saw was the Pennsylvania plate on her bike. It read “NOT 4U.”

© 2020 Jack Riepe, all rights reserved.

This story was originally written for the New Sweden BMW Riders of South Jersey’s newsletter. It is presented here by the BMWMOA to compensate for my missing column in the May 2020 BMW Owners News. It is made possible through the generosity of Jack's sponsors:

  • BestRest Products — manufacturers of the CyclePump and the EZAir Tire Gauge — Made In The USA. “Guaranteed For Life… Leave them in your will.”
  • Diamond Gusset Jeans — makers of Kevlar®-lined Defender Jeans™ — Made In The USA. “Biker Cool And Rider Tough… Defender Jeans™ Protect your stuff.”
  • The Kermit Chair Company — crafters of the iconic folding camp chair in native Tennessee oak and maple — Made In The USA. “A Valentine To Your Butt.”
All products mercilessly road tested by the author. Buy them with impunity.


Frederick T. Giroux says...
Posted Thursday, May 14, 2020
Did you enter this once into a Hemingway clone writing contest? and, lose?
Dave Ickes says...
Posted Tuesday, May 12, 2020
Great read. Keep it up.
Patricia Clark says...
Posted Sunday, May 10, 2020
Jack, that was a great story! Seriously, have you ever considered becoming a writer? (:-) :-) I'm so funny I kill myself!! :-) :-) (No kidding, Jack. That's good stuff. Take care of yourself. Hang around for a while. The world would be smaller without you.)
Wayne D. Garrison says...
Posted Tuesday, May 5, 2020
The first thing I read in the MOA ON is Jack, the same thing I drink while reading Jack. Stay well Jack Reipe.
Douglas N. Stracener says...
Posted Tuesday, May 5, 2020
Jack, your fishing rod story reminded me of a trip we made to Grand Isle, Louisiana. It is the only inhabited barrier island in the state and home to a very “interesting’ group of denizens. Long story short, our group of a dozen or so “fishermen”, along with about $15,000 worth of gear, decided to hit the ‘fishing bridge’ at the entrance to the island and get some speckled trout.. We hauled the gear out on the bridge, about 500 yards from the parking area and proceeded to hang lanterns and lines owner the side. For hours we fished. Every lure in every box was tried at some point without success. Nothing. Nada. Meanwhile, about 50 feet away sat a small, elderly black lady with a 10 foot cane pole and a bucket of some unknown bait. Her technique: bait the ttraight hook, swing it and the bobber over the bridge and into the water 15 feet below. She would wiggle her wrist a bit and instantly she had a nice trout on and quickly into her cooler. We left totally humbled 😳
Phil Smith says...
Posted Monday, May 4, 2020
Thanks, Jack. Spent a few decades in Allentown one year so appreciate the mention. Get well fast!
Toivo Karhinen says...
Posted Monday, May 4, 2020
Thanks Jack!!
Joseph McAvoy says...
Posted Monday, May 4, 2020
Hafta be careful around those Pennsylvania girls in leather!
T. Redd says...
Posted Monday, May 4, 2020
Only us GS rider fish for Trout - you K bikers only fish for know dat Jack!!
Vicki Anderson says...
Posted Monday, May 4, 2020
Mark Rutter says...
Posted Monday, May 4, 2020
Thank goodness, I can now stop searching the May issue hoping your column will show up after all!

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