Surf Taco Challenge 2016

October 31, 2016 § Leave a comment

I am not sure who had the first thought regarding this event, but it was Andrea Brennan who created the event, and it was an invitation from her in my Facebook notifications to ride this inaugural 2016 event. The original date and I had a conflict, and as it turned out, so did the weather, so rescheduled it was, and as luck would have it, Andrea was treated to a terrific warm and sunny late October Saturday for this event. (video here)

The event would start from the home of our hosts, Andrea and Andrew Brennan in beautiful Manasquan, NJ. As it so happens, they are two blocks from our last Surf Taco stop, but we wouldn’t hit our first Surf Taco until we arrived in Red Bank, NJ. We were starting fairly early just after 9am, and we did need to give the first stop a chance to open their doors for business. Besides, we needed a healthy appetite. In total we would hit five Surf Taco locations in Red Bank, Long Branch, Belmar, Point Pleasant, and finally Manasquan. There are 5 other ST locations, (6 if you count the one that is about to open in New Brunswick), but there just isn’t enough time in the day to hit all of them. We would cover the main ones along the Jersey Shore, not including the Seaside Heights location.

The details of the event are as such. We would ride gingerly from Surf Taco to Surf Taco. It is not a race, so enjoy the scenery. At each Surf Taco we would be required to eat at least 1 taco (earn a point per taco), grab a Surf Taco bumper sticker for your jersey (earn a point), perform some locally pertinent challenge (earn a point) and at the end of the ride, take a Surf Taco Quiz to test your ST knowledge. More points earned. As it turns out there are other ways to earn points, as the judging, and judge is highly subjective. So if you lathered your jersey sleeve with ST stickers instead of your race number, then that gets you points. If you help with navigating, that gets you points. At the end of the day, there would be awards for the top three.

Our entrants were Jonathan Chambers, a giant on the track boards with thighs the size of small Redwoods, Cameron and his son Logan, Steve Gerrard, another trackie from Garden State Velodrome and Atlantic Cycling Club, myself a mixie of track and road racing and general bicycle navigation, and Jeff Holt, another trackie, and maybe many time NJ state TT champion? Hell, let’s just say many time NJ state TT champion. Of course Andrea Brennan, our event host and current Team Pursuit national champ that she gets to keep another year because the event was rained out this year. Score! Her whimpy wussy-assed no-guts dropout baby-seal husband Andrew “wasn’t feeling well” and wasn’t coming along, so seven we were. We would pick up two more riders in Red Bank and they would be Anne Racioppi, a former racing teammate of Andrea, and judging by Andrea’s accomplishments on the bike, Anne’s must be equally noteworthy, but I don’t know what they are, and I am not sure I know her long enough to just simply make shit up. Also joining us was Kristy Hazlett who is relatively new to the cycling community, but has a few years in her legs, and was ready to eat some tacos.

My plans for this event were simply to stay at the back all the way the entire day, and eat tacos. My previous day’s ride was hard, and I was still feeling it, and I was going to baby-seal it at the back and suffer whatever clubbing was coming by way, should there be any clubbing. However Andrew jumped in front of me and took the baby-seal title, and because of his non-attendance, and that most of the people riding were not from the area, navigation aid was needed. I was on the hook to handle getting from Red Bank to Sea Bright, however along the route I started helping Andrea with the navigation, and then added some on-the-fly re-routing to take in some different roads to get to Red Bank.

We enjoyed a relatively lazy jaunt out through Wall, Squankum and around Farmingdale and into Howell. Merrick to Fairfield to Brickyard and soon we are on the South side of Earle Naval Weapon Depot. A short stint on Five Points where it seems like everyone wants to kill you because the speed limit is high and the shoulder is non-existent, and then a right onto the quiet back-country Matthews Lane and soon we were passing Hominy Hill. We stopped in the Bucks Mills Recreation Area for a nature break, and then on through Colt’s Neck. Andrea’s route was to utilize Phalanx to get to Lincroft and take West Front St into Red Bank, but I convinced her to take a little more round-a-about route and we sought out Laird to Longbridge and then up into Holmdel for a bypass of Bamm Hollow and into Middletown. We cut through Middletown South High School and enjoyed the final miles to Red Bank along Nutswamp and Hubbard.

When we arrived at Red Bank ST there were two bikes leaning against the glass window (what other kind of window would there be?) and a young (that is compared to me) woman stood on the other side looking out and smiling at me. Though I alluded to these two earlier, I hadn’t heard that we were picking anyone up along the way, but as with all bike rides, the more the merrier. Anne and Kristy joined us just in time to chow down on our first round of tacos.

Jonathan sprinted out to an early lead by hammering 6 tacos into each of his massive thighs burping “It might be tough to eat twelve tacos at each stop”. At the other end of the spectrum and similar to the Coney Island Hot Dog Winner, it seems like the skinniest ones can really shovel away the tacos and Logan put up a great challenge to Jonathan, but twelve is hard to beat. Logan caved at 10. The rest of us ate only a single taco. Baby seals for sure. Stickers taken, we were now nine off and heading to Long Branch.

A left on Harding turns into Ridge with a short climb up and over Tower Hill where we experienced our second and last flat tire for the day. Tire fixed we were soon motoring along Ridge through the fine Rumson estates and into Sea Bright where the American Flag on the Sea Bright Bridge looked as if it had been starched firm into a North-facing orientation. Winds from the South and pretty strong. Shit!

Aside from the wind, the ride down Ocean Ave from Sea Bright, through Monmouth Beach and into North and then Long Branch is a very pleasant and reasonably scenic ride. The homes are nice, the Beach Clubs look inviting (if you have 5-10 grand to plop down every year), and you can hear the surf on the other side of the sea wall. Soon we reached West End and our second taco stop. We were famished! Our task at this stop was to sample each of the four salsas (Mild, Verde, Baja, and of course Hot). Being the alpha sprinter, Jonathan easily downed a dirty dozen set of tacos again far out-sprinting the competition. Logan found that he still had one taco that had only made it down his esophagus halfway so technically he was still eating a Red Bank taco. I think Anne and Kristy actually shared a taco, so I think they only got half-points for that? Not sure about that. Anyway their smiles probably earned them the normalizing half points as can be seen in their pose together below.

Once you are on the Ocean the main plan is simply to stay on the Ocean, and in that spirit we headed South into the wind and past the once-modern architecture of the seaside residences of Deal NJ. Most of these homes are summer residences, though they seem to nice to simply use them one season out of the year. Before long you pass through the smallest zip code in the state of New Jersey which is Loch Arbor before transitioning into Asbury Park. Here we jumped up on the boardwalk where, after walking through Convention Hall,  we weaved in and out of a dense pack of Saturday strollers. The quiet community of Ocean Grove was soon past and into Bradley Beach we were. Newly re-surfaced road made the ride smooth and we entered Avon-by-the-Sea while the Shark River Inlet Drawbridge was raised. Crossing the reset deck we rolled into Belmar where there was some kind of entertainment activity. Belmar ST is in the main part of town and not along the beach, so we left the beach and soon found ourselves at our third stop. This branch of the franchise is able to hos large parties, and in addition to the normal ST wall murals, contained a large number of hanging art as well.

By this point we all realized that the big sprinter was simply not going to be beat, however a petite challenger found ways to creatively pad her score, and Anne Racioppi was making a challenge sprint inside the rail. What she couldn’t eat in tacos she easily made up for with grabbing the other primes along the way. We apparently had ourselves a race. Three Surf Tacos down, and we still had two more to go! {Burp.}

As you might have picked up by now, this post is a travel log for the upper Jersey Shore communities. Leaving Belmar and heading back to the Ocean (see Jonathan and Logan picture below) we rode through the communities of Lake Como (formerly South Belmar), Spring Lake, and on into Sea Girt where we left the Ocean behind for good. We would bypass the Manasquan ST and head down into Ocean County to hit the flagship Surf Taco in Point Pleasant after crossing the Manasquan Inlet on the Route 35 bridge. Fortunately it has a wide shoulder, and a 10 inch section of the grate was filled in to provide a safer traverse for two-wheeled modes of transport. When my daughters (D1 and D2) were young my wife took them to Jenkinson’s there at Point Pleasant Beach, and on one of those trips my wife “discovered” Surf Taco, at that time only one location. A little too far for us to go regularly, but I did meet the family there once after a ride. When the Manasquan location opened, an argument could be made for getting take out. Now they are in Red Bank and Long Branch, and I can hit them for lunch any time.

At our fourth location we had to analyze the menu and decide what Andrew’s and Andrea’s cat sugar would order. Yes there were points for that! Anne had to be creative to keep Jonathan in her sights, as clearly she wasn’t going to win this by eating tacos. Jonathan was well into fifty tacos by now, and he was so far beyond the horizon that us mere mortals simply stuck with our one and two taco orders. I think I remarked to the young cashier girl taking my order, “I am not sure I can eat any more tacos today”, to which she replied “You came into a Surf Taco and have already eaten tacos? What’s up?” I explained our ride mission, which she found entertaining and she took my order for a straight up flagship store Surf Taco taco. By this point I wasn’t finishing my accompanying chips and I didn’t even hit the salsa bar.

Finally we rolled into the final Surf Taco in Manasquan where Jonathan sealed his victory with a 20 taco sitting that simply left the peloton breathless and holding their own sides in agony. The final tally had Jonathan out front at over 200 points, followed not-so-distantly by Anne at 153 (each taco was 1 point so Anne made up for much with creatively subjective innovations in points creation), and there was a tie for 3rd between two has-beens of the the ancient road who are not worth mentioning.

After it was over, everyone pretty much had to skedaddle as the event took all damn day! A few cell phones rang along the route with anxious cycling-widows at the other end asking that forever asked question “When are you going to be home?”, and receiving that often heard response, “Honey, I love you but we are only halfway into this ride. Did I tell you I love you?”

Thank you to Andrea and Andrew (though he didn’t actually ride) for putting together this hopefully regular and future Fall Classic NJ cycling adventure. We all had a blast, and I think as long as our widows allow us to, we will be back next year. Hopefully with others who after reading all the social media buzz about the event will be chomping at the bit to get in on this totally rad event.

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