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Going Long

August 7, 2011

For some strange and unknown reason, the thought occurred to three disparate sophomores — Dick Van Benthusen, a normally staid dorm buddy, Tony Bovenzi, the legendary lady’s man and resident Cool Guy, and me, a rather lost soul in search of himself — to walk home at the end of that college year. This may not sound so unusual but for the fact that the college was Seton Hall University in South Orange, and home (for two of our three — mine was Bergenfield; not quite the same cachet) happened to be the Jersey shore.

What possessed us to carry it beyond idle chatter to actually follow through is even more of a mystery. We had no concept of how long it would take and did little planning as to the exact route — just head south towards the smell of salt water and the sight of seagulls circling overhead. We didn’t really think to bring much in the way of supplies, either. The idea was to get up very early and simply head out.

Bovenzi, as it turns out, changed his mind at the last minute in one of the few rational decisions he made during college and decided not to go. However, our traveling threesome was preserved when the elder statesman of the dorm, Bob Windrem, senior editor of the Setonian and walking sports encyclopedia who happened to live in Cliffwood Beach, decided on the spur of the moment to go along with us.

We set off shortly after dawn with birds chirping their encouragement and the morning sun beginning to filter through the trees. Bob, ever the journalist, jovially read aloud the notes he was making on his notepad as we walked. We decided to stick to smaller highways, mostly Route 1 & 9, and as the morning wore on, energized by coffee and conversation, our journey became a reality.

Around noontime, we realized exactly how long of a trek this actually would be having only arrived in Rahway after five hours of walking. We were sweaty and tired, and thoughts of giving up began to weaken our resolve. However, mostly because of the dogged determination of Dick and the optimism of Bob, we forged on.

Late that afternoon, the Raritan River lay before us. No pedestrian pathway existed on either the Parkway or Route 1 & 9 at that time, so we searched for an alternative way to cross over. The only available route in sight ended up being an old, rusting railroad bridge.

The trepidation of that crossing (at least on my part) was tremendous not knowing how often trains used this line. The footing was poor, the bridge exceedingly narrow, and I had flashes of possible newspaper headlines involving our gruesome demise beneath the wheels of some southbound freight.

We did manage to make it over safely, and Cliffwood Beach was not far ahead. Bob’s house provided a welcome respite from the sun and a place to stop to catch our breath and rest our tired feet. It turned out that Bob, wearing the clunky oxblood wingtips that were his trademark, was the only one without major blisters. After a bathroom visit and several glasses of water, Dick and I bid Bob adieu and headed out again.

Perhaps it was the absence of Bob’s motivation, perhaps the extreme weariness we felt, but as late afternoon turned into evening and found us only in Keansburg with at least another ten miles to go, the proverbial writing was on the wall. At the next phone booth, Dick called his folks, and the final leg was completed by car in silent chagrin.

After some supper, a good shower, and much rationalizing, the silver lining emerged. We had, after all, walked to the Jersey shore even if not all the way to Dick’s Long Branch home, and we were one up on Bovenzi, a rare occurrence for us indeed. But most of all, we had carved our names into the considerable legacy of crazy stunts carried out by the young residents of Boland Hall back in those tumultuous days, and we had a story to tell that forever connects us even though we’d become separated by the divergent courses of our lives.

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