Saturday, April 5, 2008

In and Out of Delaware, Pennsylvania and to New Jersey

When I first peeked out of the window in the morning it looked as if it was going to be a great day for riding. It was partly cloudy and didn’t seem that cold, gauging it by how people were dressed outside. It was the first day in a few that I was fired up to get out and ride. I just had to contend with a bridge first.

I met Walter at his bike shop for my car trip over the bridge. He gave me a tour of his shop, which was located in a wonderful historic building. We also talked a bit about the East Coast Greenway and cycling in general. We threw my bike on his bike rack and he gave me a ride the mile over the bridge. Cycling over the bridge would have been a non-event. It wouldn’t have even made the list of top five worst bridges on my ride. While there was no shoulder, there was virtually zero traffic. It was Saturday morning after all. I can see not wanting to ride on the bridge at five on a Friday, but on Saturday morning it would have nearly been a treat.

I was eager to get riding as I was hoping to cover some ground in the pleasant weather. It wasn’t raining and it was significantly warmer than yesterday. I didn’t need my long sleeve shirt under my jacket and wore the short finger gloves for the first time in days.

It wasn’t long before I crossed into the state of Delaware. I didn’t spend much time in the state. I was so fired up to have crossed into Delaware that not long after entering the state I missed a turn. I rode two miles past Valley Road, where I was supposed to turn thinking I was looking for Cedar Road. I just wasn’t paying attention. All I needed to do was pull out the directions that I had in my jacket pocket and check. It would have saved me four hilly miles and winding up across the state border in Pennsylvania.

It was unbelievable how many cyclists I saw throughout the day. I ran into about eight separate groups of people riding. I had seen more cyclists in one day than I had in the entirety of my ride up until this point. At least I was riding in the right area if that many people were out and about. I was back in the hills, but also out of the way on back roads. The ride was worth the hills. I caught the scent of farms and only had to contend with a smattering of cars throughout the entire state of Delaware.

I found myself in an idyllic area in which to ride. I knew it would be the calm before the storm as I had Philadelphia to contend with, but that just made me enjoy it even more. I saw a deer drinking out of a stream on the side of the road. It could have been a photo from a wildlife magazine. I sighed as I rode past. A short distance up the road I came across a covered bridge. Smith’s Bridge was built in 1839 and was barn red. As it was a one-lane bridge I had to wait for a car crossing the other direction, but the bridge just added to the ambiance of the ride, as did the stream along which I rode for several miles.

The steepest hill of the entire trip so far was on Beaver Hill Road. I don’t mind steep hills, but the problem was that I wasn’t 100% certain that I was going in the right direction. While I don’t mind the steep hills, I also don’t find myself needing to ride up them unnecessarily. It could be worse. The last time I made a wrong turn I wound up in another state. This time, uncertain where I was going, I was climbing a massive hill at probably a 10% grade or better. Thankfully, it turned out that I was headed in the right direction.

As I rode on I knew I was getting close to Philadelphia, but all of a sudden I rounded a corner and there it was: the Philadelphia skyline. A US Airlines plane flew overhead, who have a major hub in Philadelphia, so it just reinforced the fact that I was in there. The fact that it was Saturday helped my case, but in any event, I cobbled together a pretty darn good route into Philly.

I spun past the Philadelphia Stock Exchange building and then the Liberty Bell on my route through downtown. I had thought about going in to check out the Liberty Bell, as I hadn’t seen it since I was in my young teens on a school trip. The line to visit the bell though was a couple hundred yards long so I wasn’t about to wait, but I did hang out for a bit at Independence National Historical Park. I like visiting things or places that I had seen many years ago. I like to see if my impressions of the thing/place in my mind are still accurate. I have seen and experienced so many new things over the years that invariably I am way off.

Leaving Philadelphia I had no problem finding the bridge to get me over the Delaware River. While the bridge was part of an Interstate Highway, there was a bicycle/pedestrian lane segregated from traffic. The problem I ran into though was that there were some sharp grates on the descent from the bridge. The grates managed to tear off a three-inch section of the Kevlar reinforcement on my rear tire, leaving only a thin strip of rubber between my inner tube and any sharp hazards in the road. I was now vulnerable. I had an Achilles Heel. There was only a small chance that I would run over glass or something when that three-inch section of tire was making contact with the road, but it was a legitimate possibility. There was enough debris on the road to give me a nervous feeling as I rode along. All I needed to do was run hit a piece of glass at just the wrong time. I had a spare foldable emergency tire, but it was for just that, an emergency. It surely would not hold up with how much debris is on the road in urban areas. It would be like trying to drive the Indianapolis 500 on a donut.

Once across the Delaware River I was in New Jersey. One state to go. The road for the first seven or eight miles out of Philadelphia was garbage in every sense of the word. It was bumpy, full of pot holes, had debris all over it, crossed through an urban area with me occupying a lane of traffic, had cars parked on the side of the road where people could unexpectedly open car doors into my path and many traffic lights. At one point the road on which I was riding ended at a blockade. It seemed odd, as it was a fairly major road. I noticed that the road did continue on the other side of the blockade, so I was able to make my way up a small footbridge to get over this concrete wall that was in between New York City and me. As I was hoping, the concrete cordon served as a boundary between the crappy area I was riding through and a much nicer neighborhood. It separated urban and suburban.

Further on I came up to a detour. There didn’t appear to be anything wrong with the road so I decided to ride straight through it. Absent the “No Trespassing" signs, I saw no reason why I shouldn’t ride down the road. It was in great shape. It is always a gamble and this one would have cost me four miles, two in each direction were I not able to make it past whatever caused the detour, but in this instance, I won.

I waffled as to where I should stop for the night. I wanted to leave myself with a fairly short distance to my final destination of New York City as I knew the riding in and around the greater New York area would be slow going. I was looking to burn some of my hotel points as well, so I ended up 15 miles shy of where I would have really like to be. I still had over an hour of daylight and it was fairly warm and dry, but I called it a day.

Once at the hotel I checked the weather for the next day. I was utterly disheartened when the forecast showed rain in the mix; it was a cold rain to boot.

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