I pedaled merrily along Ocean City's boardwalk, past boarded-up pizza joints and lemonade stands and signs prohibiting ball playing, seagull feeding, skateboarding, and bike riding after 10 a.m. The afternoon sun shone down, reflecting off the happy smiles of bikers, skateboarders launching from benches, and bundled children tossing bread bits up to wheeling gulls.

Snubbing the rules was fun. So was walking into hotels and restaurants and receiving the sort of attention Robinson Crusoe might have lavished on shipwrecked Hooters girls.

But the best thing of all was the beaches. I meandered for hours, accompanied only by the occasional solitary walker and stoic gulls that congregated on the sand like lost barristers.

The wind blew off the ocean with a goose-pimply chill, and the waves left puddles of foam shivering at the water's edge. When the gray clouds parted, the sun flared furious and squinty bright, as if aware of its limited time on stage.

Summer's heat produces torpor, a pleasant, languid ignorance that leaves the mind addled and sun-doped. Winter's cold, however, seemed to bring life front and center.

By the time I reached the lovely Victorian town of Cape May, New Jersey, I was certain that, in bucking convention, I had done the right thing.

Sipping hot clam chowder inside The Ugly Mug, I saw a sign on the wall that nicely summarized my trip thus far. "Mix a little folly with your wisdom,'' it read. "A little nonsense is pleasant now and then.''

CASTING A LINE
Ocean City, New Jersey

Two mornings later, I went fishing with an old friend, Rick Horn. Rick had weathered 16 winters in the barrier island town of Ocean City, and so he had a pretty good idea of what winter was about.