Family fun for a Karmel Knocking Around Hike and Slice™

Alan had an idea to get both of our families together for a Hike and Slice™. We decided the beginning of June would be ideal before it got too hot. You all know I can’t stand the heat.

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We wanted a close and easy course so we chose Cheesequake State Park in Old Bridge, New Jersey, and one of our favorite pizza places, Denino’s, a short ride from the Park in Matawan.

We started to spread the word via text and phone about two months prior. Our list was about 25 people. Some said “yes” right away, some said “maybe,” some said “no” immediately. We know it’s hard to gather a large group of people at any given time. Other obligations – work conflicts, unexpected illnesses – that’s part of life. A week prior to the Hike and Slice™ we had about 10 people.

Alan and I took a ride to Cheesequake State Park after work a few days beforehand to get an exact measurement of the hike. We also decided that instead of the 3.1 mile hike we usually undertake, we would shorten it down by half…a Hike and Slice™ Jr., if you will.

We wanted to ease everyone into it as not everyone was used to hiking. The hike was a flat loop course, with only one small incline, mostly shaded, with a section of boardwalk crossing over a crabbing bridge totaling 1.25 miles. Easy enough.

The weather was perfect that Saturday morning. My dad came to my house and we drove together. When we got to Cheesequake State Park we were pleasantly surprised that there was free entry that day. We all met down by Hooks Creek Lake to start our journey. By “we all” I mean, Beckie, Alan’s daughter, and her boyfriend, Austin, my dad Bob, and my cousins, Elizabeth and Nate. So there were a total of seven of us. A far cry from 25 but it is what it is.

Alan tried to instill the rules I impart on him before our hikes (no making friends, head down, no eye contact, don’t pet any dogs) but I said that those rules were only for him. 

The view from the crabbing bridge at Cheesequake State Park

We started by crossing the crabbing bridge which is a boardwalk where there were over a dozen people crabbing and fishing. My father, being an avid fisherman, stopped to ask one of the guys a handful of questions. “What kind of crabs do you catch?”; “How big do they have to be to keep them?”; “Do you need a permit?” This was about .01 into the hike.

Dad breaking the rules and making friends…

Beckie and Austin led the way, hand-in-hand, as we walked on the matted pine needles past a bird watching platform and around a pond. After a small incline, and past a crazy looking tree, we came to a crossroads. I said we should go left and Alan said we should go right. I said, “Are you sure?” and he insisted. OK, fine, because I have the worst memory and I couldn’t even remember from three days prior so we took Alan’s route. 

The funky tree at Cheesequake State Park

We all chit-chatted along the way, catching up and telling stories, as we approached the trail signs for the Red and Blue Trails. OK, I definitely didn’t remember that from a few days ago. And when I voiced my doubt, Alan said “That’s what you said the other day.” I even looked at my watch and we were like .75 in already which meant we should be more than halfway back and I knew we weren’t. But ok we’ll just keep going along the Blue Trail now.

The path along the Blue Trail in Cheesequake State Park

Fast forward another 1.2 miles later and we weren’t back near the crabbing bridge – not even close. My dad and I had fallen back and when we caught up I questioned Alan and he finally admitted that because he was talking so much to Nate, he made a wrong turn way back and we took a longer route than expected. AH HA! I knew I was right. That’s all my dad had to hear and then exclaimed “You should have listened to my daughter. She’s always right!” Thanks Dad!

A view from the path at Cheesequake State Park

We all laughed as we made our way back to the original loop and over the crabbing bridge once again. Of course we had to stop to evaluate the day’s catch in people’s buckets.

By the time we were done it wound up being a 2-mile hike instead of 1.25. But the weather was perfect and everyone had fun so…no harm, no foul.

We all piled into our respective cars and off to Denino’s we went. Denino’s gets pretty crowded on the weekends so we called a few days ahead but they don’t take reservations. There was a “join waitlist” on Google but when I tried to join it there was no wait. Perfect!

Denino’s Pizza Place is on Route 34 in Matawan, NJ. According to their website “Owner Michael Denino’s father created his first authentic New York-style pizza in 1951.” and they have been rated in the top 10 in NYC for the past 30 years. Alan and I have been there numerous times and the pizza and service is always fantastic. I have to admit, we’ve never eaten any of the other food they have on their extensive menu. 

Beckie and Austin got there first and got us a table. As we all sat down and talked about how Alan made a wrong turn, we decided on three pies – plain, meatball, and mushroom. The pies come out piping hot and smelling like heaven and looking as good as they smelled.

The great Denino’s pie

We dove in and our families started raving about the thin crust, the sauce (which, let’s face it, makes or breaks the pizza), and the “no flop” crust as my father pointed out. Because the sauce is the star of the show here, there’s not an excessive amount of cheese. There’s no puddle of grease and oil on your plate either.

We ate and talked like we were all going to the chair and everyone was having a great time. There were a few slices left over to take home for later or the next day. As always, the staff was so friendly and attentive and our server was happy to take the Karmel Knocking Around group picture with our pizzas…and t-shirts, of course.

The Karmel Knocking Around family and Denino’s terrific pizza

I asked the hikers if they could give us some feedback and thoughts about the experience.

This is from my cousin Elizabeth: “Karmel Knocking Around may have discovered the modern day equivalent of “an apple a day….” I was struck by the perfectly simple structure of the day. Gather some people you love, spend some time outdoors on what happened to be a perfect blue sky light breeze kind of day and walk. (even if one of the participants with a bum back can only do loops in the level parking lot). Enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of nature (yes even in the lot) Then go break some pizza with those folks and enjoy a giggle or two. Seems to me these are the simple balancing kind of non-pressure days everyone can afford to add to their life diet. Supplements of joy, relaxation, outdoors.”

Beckie told me “It was a nice trail and fun, not too hot, the pizza hit the spot.” 

And my dad: “The hike was enjoyable. Not too strenuous. And needless to say the company was the best. The pizza at Denino’s was excellent. Tried all three toppings. A wonderful day with family and friends.”

It was a small and intimate family group but we had a blast on a beautiful Saturday morning and afternoon. We’re thinking about opening up a Hike and Slice™ to friends and family in the Fall. What do you think? Who wants to join us?

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