Sunday, July 14, 2013

An Adventure That Was Totally ON the Hook

The Coast Guard base where Nathan is stationed is at the very tip of a barrier spit called Sandy Hook (not that one). If you're looking at a map (& now you are), it's located right beneath Staten Island & Brooklyn, pointed up toward the middle of the two. A 30-minute ferry ride from Sandy Hook will drop you off in Manhattan's Financial District, & vice versa.

Running along one side of "the Hook" are three public beaches facing the Atlantic, including one that's "clothing optional"; on the other side is the bay, where people kayak & fly kites & fish & bring their dogs. In between is federally protected land owned by the National Park Service - bike trails, an Audubon society, a lighthouse, a marine academy, &, what I think is the coolest part, a defunct army base called Fort Hancock. It's home to a number of old gun batteries that are mostly closed to the public & in total disrepair, but some of them are open to the public, either to walk around alone or to tour with volunteer guides.

Yesterday, my cousin & his girlfriend came into town for a visit on their way back from the beach to the city, & we decided it was a good day for exploring the Hook. Everyone else was wearing sandals, but I decided to sport my new Portovelo shoes, canvas slide-ons I got a few weeks back. Portovelo's motto is "bringing adventure & love," which was pretty apt for a day of adventuring with people I love! I find that wearing comfy, close-toed shoes on days of adventure makes me more likely to be, well, adventurous - & less likely to be whiny. I hate when my feet get dirty, & flip-flops suck for walking... anyway, these were the perfect choice.


We were going to head to the top of lighthouse, which was built in 1764 & is the oldest working lighthouse in the United States.



Unfortunately, we learned that the only way to tour the lighthouse it is by guided tour, which we weren't feeling. Instead, we admired it from down below & began wandering the grounds of Fort Hancock - in the very hot sun.


First, we checked out an old mortar, now totally empty but open to nosy wanderers like us. There's not much to see inside - all stone & weeds - but it has a notably creepy feel to it, especially where the foundation is crumbling to pieces & exit passageways leading to God-knows-where are locked with wrought-iron metal bars.


Just outside the mortar, my cousin Patrick decided to climb into an off-limits zone. Because Superman.

 

After mucking through a lot of overgrown foliage - including a substantial amount of poison ivy - he found himself atop a stone bridge that crosses from one side of the mortar to the other. While I was very jealous, I was also a bit relieved to be positioned firmly on the ground & unquestionably rash-free. I've never gotten poison ivy before, and almost-29 doesn't seem like the time to start.

 

While Patrick was off on his own, a friendly bicyclist let us know that the battery down the road was open for tours, so when he made his way back down, we headed in that direction. Along the way, we discovered Battery Granger, which was decommissioned in 1943 & is in a pretty shocking state of disrepair. 

Creepy, I know. Signs everywhere indicate that Granger is off-limits, but the fence in front of it, as you'll see in the photo to the far right below, isn't exactly keeping curious tourists off the lawn. In fact, the fence stops right where the stairs start.


So obviously, I went in:


 
The view from the top was fascinating but eerie, & I yelled down to the rest of the group that I felt like I had entered Panem. Of course, none of them appreciated this reference like you will, Internet. Observe:


And that... is as much as I explored because, well, abandoned, dilapidated army batteries are kind of scary, & I wasn't about to be offed by falling rock or military ghosts. One last victorious photo from the top, & I bolted.

It's a good thing I got out when I did, because a park ranger came ambling down the road just a few minutes later. Hey, who says you can't be a little bit rebellious as you near 30?

Battery Granger behind us, we made our way to... Battery Potter. Yes, really.


Of course, both batteries are named for Civil War generals & not for Hogwarts legends, but being the HP nerd I am, I got a little kick out of the coincidence. I must not be the only one, because our tour guide, an elderly parks volunteer named Carl, started off with, "Let's get this out of the way before we start: This place isn't named after Harry." Noted.

Battery Potter was massive & wet & dark, & our tour lasted all of 10 minutes, but it was cool to hear about its background from a friendly army veteran who clearly has a passion for such history. As a bonus, the reinforced concrete behemoth basically has built-in air conditioning, so our time inside was a nice, cold respite from the blazing sun. 

After our tour, we were feeling pretty spent, so we headed out - but not without admiring some prickly pear cacti along the side of the ride first. Who knew that cactus grew in New Jersey? Not I! Garden State indeed.



It's taken me nearly four hours to finish writing this post, but only because I keep finding myself distracted by reading the history of Fort Hancock & other parts of Sandy Hook. I learned, for example, that in addition to the mortar & two batteries we saw/explored, the base is home to (at least) 14 other defunct batteries, all seemingly as dilapidated & overgrown as Battery Granger. I can't believe we live so close to a place filled with such history, & I'm eager to keep exploring, but don't worry,. Mom: I don't think I'll be crossing anymore "KEEP OUT" fences to do it.

Oh, & the rest of our day? Was spent eating Thai food, playing Scrabble, & watching Forrest Gump - because outdoor adventuring is best countered by indoor relaxing.

Disclaimer: My Portovelos were provided free of charge, with only the request that I work mention of them into a blog post. All views are my own, & I was not otherwise compensated. I just really like these shoes, & I think you will, too.

All photos are my own, except for the picture of the front of Battery Granger, which came from Fort Wiki. If you're interested in learning more about Fort Hancock, this is an incredible resource chock full of info & photos.
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