For the past five years I've dreamed of Cross-country (XC) skiing on one of the beaches near Cape May, NJ. My wife, Cathy, and I have lived on the Delaware Bay near Cape May since May of 1995. Our first winter was punctuated by several big snowstorms. I particularly remember a day when Cathy and I walked on the beach in Cape May through nine inch snow that went right down to the water line. That day I badly wanted to ski on the beach. Unfortunately, my skis were in Shippensburg, PA where I was teaching (at Shippensburg University) that year. Shippensburg was affording many opportunities for XC skiing that winter on the corn fields and rolling hills that surround the town. Consequently, I didn't bring my skis down the Shore with me on my weekly commute.
Finally, in May 1996, I left my job in Shippensburg and moved all of my belongings to the Shore. Thus my skis found a new home in our shed under the house. The skis languished untouched through the snowless winters of 1996/97, 1997/98, and 1998/99. It wasn't until today that I dusted off the skis and lovingly applied a liberal coat of speed wax. Dust, mildew, and cobwebs had covered all of the surfaces of the skis, testament to my unfaithfulness. I went to the attic and found my ski boots, goggles, and gloves. Meanwhile, about four inches of beautiful snow had fallen on the dunes around our home. I decided to try the beach at Wildwood Crest.
Wildwood and Wildwood Crest to the south have the widest beaches on the Jersey Shore and perhaps on the Eastern Seaboard. Not only are the beaches wide, but they are also flat and hard-packed for the most part. Those beaches become one of my focal points in the late fall, winter, and early spring. I jog on the beach when snow or ice covers my usual route on local streets; I ride my mountain bike at the water's edge, sharing the sand and surf only with seagulls and other shore birds; I launch my kayak into the ocean here when the west wind makes it impossible to paddle on the Bay; I fish from the beach and have caught a small striped bass here; Cathy and I walk the length of the beach at least once each year. Therefore, this was an appropriate site for my first skiing experience on a beach.
I hadn't skied in over four years; would I be able to do it? I parked my Jeep at the southernmost beach of Wildwood Crest, walked to the beach, and started to ski to the north. The natural motion of XC skiing came back to me at once. Digging my ski poles into sand under the snow felt a bit strange, but I quickly got used to it. I stayed on the higher part of the beach where most of the snow lay. The northeast wind howled and blew snow in my face as I skied; it was exhilarating. The roar of the ocean made a wonderful harmony with the sound of my skis sliding across the snow. Seagulls flew overhead to investigate the strange sight that I presented to them; I imagined that they tried to feed in my wake as if I were a fishing boat ploughing through the water.
As I went along I reminisced about one of my last skiing afternoons in Pennsylvania. At that time I was accompanied by red-tailed hawks, swooping and screaming overhead. In Pennsylvania, my skis often buzzed as they passed over a remnant of a corn stalk; in New Jersey, my skis often buzzed as they passed over a clam shell. In Pennsylvania, rednecks on snowmobiles occasionally destroyed my tracks; for some reason, ski tracks put rednecks in a destructive mode. In New Jersey, a couple of rednecks in pickup trucks destroyed part of my tracks for the same reason, whatever it is. I was amused by the realization that rednecks will be rednecks rather than being annoyed by their ignorance.
I skied on the beach for a couple of hours. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I hope to reprise the experience another time this winter.
William G. McArthur
January 20, 2000