As the two-week mark approaches to when the catastrophic Hurricane Sandy pummeled our state, my eyes still quickly fill with tears as more and more pictures come out.
The amount of damage statewide is unbelievable. Of course, being from Point Pleasant Boro, the devastation that has changed our precious, beautiful shoreline forever is literally gut-wrenching to the thousands of us who were lucky enough to grow up here.
On the Wednesday after the storm, my husband and I rode our bikes up towards the beach. We both needed to see what happened with our own eyes. We needed to see something - anything, really, because at that point, our power was out and all we had was a battery operated radio at home. We hadn't really heard much.
Neither of us was expecting to see what we saw. And I know I will never forget what I saw, because I couldn't believe what I was seeing and what I was looking right at it.
I have been riding my bike all over the place for years, but especially during the last few years, when things were pretty stressful in my life. I took these bike rides and carried my iPod with me - turning the volume up nice and loud as I rode down to the beach - as a way to just help me relax.
One of the roads that is my absolute favorite is Osborne Avenue, down in Bay Head. If you grew up here, you know Osborne, unfortunately, floods quite frequently, which is why I was afraid to make that turn off Bay Avenue.
But we did. The sight we saw was one that took my breath away. What the heck was that at the end of the road? I thought.
The road I had been down so many, many times was completely different. It was very scary, but we rode toward it and we rode fast.
That's when I really started crying. We got over the railroad tracks, but we soon had to get off our bikes and push them.
We saw a massive pile of sand that was truly hard to comprehend. The best way to describe it is it looked like we had at least four feet of snow. We saw a man's car halfway buried in sand.
As we trudged through, we looked down Lake Avenue and saw water everywhere. But when we got to Route 35, all we saw was sand. People's belongings were filled with sand and washed away from their homes.
From there, we rode where we could and just saw more and more sadness.
A bike ride too far
Usually, my bike ride will go down as far as Mantoloking Road. But that area was cut off, and part of that section of the barrier island was swallowed by the Atlantic Ocean and Barnegat Bay.
Instead, I now have to rely on aerial photos from the governor's office, and the ones I've seen are incredibly hard to look at.
They show the mass amount of damage to our beloved coastline towns from above. But the one that truly hits home is the one I just saw a few nights ago. It showed the Mantoloking Bridge looking east.
I sat and stared at this. I recognized the house immediately. It was the one on the corner of Barnegat Lane and Mantoloking Road. It's where I usually turned right to ride over the bridge on my bike, or cut across the road to hop on 35 towards Lavallette.
That's why, as I stared at this picture, I couldn't wrap my head around why I could see the ocean so close. Where was the traffic light? Where was that realtor on the corner of 35? Where were all those homes and that little wall that I know I would see from this angle? What I was hoping to see just wasn't there anymore.
And yet I knew that. I was probably just hoping it couldn't possibly be that bad. After seeing this beloved area up close, I determined that it was worse than I ever could have imagined.
As time goes on, I am hoping and praying that for all the families that were hit so hard by this nightmare that life for them will, at some point, be happy again. I am hoping and praying that our beaches and boardwalks, the ones that so many of our amazingly happy memories are built on, will somehow be at least close to what they were.
But we all know they will never be the same. I just wish I hadn't taken the gift of living here for granted like I did and had more pictures of things that are gone forever.