Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Day 41 - August 14 - A traverse across the Philly metro region west to east

Day 41 - August 14 -    West Chester, PA to Hammonton, NJ - 66.7miles (107.3 kms) - total so far; 3320.0 miles ( kms)

Distance: 66.7 miles (107.3 kms)
Total time: 8hrs03mins (including lunch stop) 
Average Moving Speed: 12.5mph (20.1 kph)
Maximum Speed:30.8mph (49.6 kph) 
Calories burned: 3203
Elevation gained: 2247 ft (meters)

Weather: Beautiful day,  one of the best days weather-wise that I have experienced on this trip.  An added bonus was that the wind, strong enough at times, was from the north which helped me.  Humidity was low and the sun was out all day.  A perfect day for biking with temperatures in the mid 70sF (23C). 

Powered by:   Breakfast - 2 bowls of Raisin Bran, banana, bagel, and yogurt.  Lunch of 2  burritos as a roadside stand, snack of 1 Clif bar, 1 McFlurry,2 GU gels and 2 liters of water.

My penultimate day of biking was a long traverse of the Philadelphia metropolitan area from the far west suburbs to the far south-eastern corner, about 30 miles from my final destination.  As the weather was beautiful, the wind from the north and northwest, and the terrain level, I could have easily made it to the beach in Ocean City today. Instead, I'll have a leisurely 30mile ride in the morning, a sort of procession over very flat terrain to meet a longtime friend from Philly at the beach for the ritual photographs.  She will then take me back to a shop in Cherry Hill where I'll deliver the reliable bike to them to be packed and shipped back to Colorado. 

 I was thinking today that maybe Flann O'Brien, the brilliant Irish satirist, was correct when he wrote:  "people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who are nearly half people and half bicycles." (The Third Policeman).  After 3350 miles on a bike, such transpositioning is indeed possible.   I came to regard the Surly as a sort of reliable horse who, without complaint, went to work every day over all kinds of terrain and in all kinds of weather.  As this comment shows, one's mind does start to think strange things when on a bike for 6-10 hours day.    

Center city Philadelphia in the distance from Upper Darby heights

Like other outer suburban rides, the early part of the day was quite unpleasant due to the (former) narrow country roads now crowded with suburban traffic.  Though the hills were not high or tough, there were plenty of them and it was hard to get into a rhythm due to the stop signs, traffic lights, poor quality or non-existence of the road shoulders, and constant guard against wayward and distracted drivers. I got tired of fighting this combination and just headed for a busy 4-lane highway towards Philadelphia, route 3, but one with a good wide and relatively clean shoulder.   As a coffee stop in Newtown Square, I received very helpful advice from a local policeman who also is a long-distance cyclist about the best route into the center city and the Ben Franklin bridge to New Jersey.  He has a lot of experience on the local roads and knew about the dangers and benefits of alternate passages.  His advice was well-received and closely followed – and my path was smoothed into the city and across the center.

Cars have to share the tracks with trollies on Baltimore Pike; cyclists have a nice bike lane

This part of South Street was like a warzone in 1970 - new condos

Once I entered Philadelphia near the 69th street terminus, I steered for streets with marked bike lanes.  I don’t know how long these have been present but they offer a modicum of safety since drivers seem to respect the white lines.  There are still many hazards, including drivers opening car doors without looking into the lane, car drivers who think that a bike lane makes a nice large parking space, uneven surfaces, and the usual driving through at 4-way stops.  It took me quite a while to cross West Philadelphia as I seemed to catch every red light but eventually, I crossed into center city near the University of Pennsylvania.

I came to know Philadelphia in the summer of 1970 when I spent quite some time there and have visited on many occasions, running a few marathons there too.  Visiting irregularly has allowed me to compare memories against current realities.  While large parts of the city near the center that were dilapidated and abandoned four decades ago have now been in-filled with new housing and commercial development, other sections seem to be unchanged or even deteriorated further.  One of the most pleasant surprises was the busy bicycle traffic on Pine Street though I noticed that there were few riders over the age of about 30.  I meandered slowly through the Society Hill area, the part of the city I know best, checking out old haunts.  The oldest part of the city looked mighty fine on a gorgeous summer’s day and the tourists were out in force, walking over cobblestones old and new, on unsuitable footware.

Pennsylvania  hospital, oldest  in the US - founded 1751

Infilling of previously empty lots with pseudo-colonial dwellings is not always successful

Bike Lane on Pine Street

Society Hill towers were incongruous in the 1960s and still incompatible with the surrounding historical  neighborhood

The Ben Franklin bridge offers one of the very few ways by bike over the Delaware river to New Jersey via a shared walkway that is open from 7am-7pm.  The entrance to the walkway is a little hard to find but eventually, I found it around 7th and Race streets.  There were more runners and pedestrians than I expected since the presence of the (free) walkway is not well known even to longtime local residents.  The walkway rises above both the car lanes and the railway tracks to New Jersey and at its highest point is several hundred feet over the river.  The guard railing is about 4.5 feet high and on a windy day like today, one would not want to suffer from a fear of heights.  The views of the center city were great and I could watch planes on their final approach to the airport.   The only drawback was the abrupt ending on the Camden side in 3 flights of steps down to the street, though apparently there is a plan to build a ramp.  The bridge was built in the 1920s and it's somewhat surprising that the steps have not been replaced in almost a century.

All right - that's the bridge; now how do I get up there?  Search for the end like looking for a leprechaun at the end of a rainbow in order to access it

I never saw a "Welcome to New jersey" sign (maybe there is none) so this sign will do for my 16th and last state

The south walkway over the Ben Franklin bridge

Looking down at cars on the roadway below and the center span

Center city Philadelphia on the horizon and the PATCO train tracks below

Looking back over the Delaware at Philadelphia - Society Hill towers at the left side

One could watch a Camden Riversharks game from the bridge

Your ride over the bridge would come to an unhappy end in Camden if you were not paying attention- 39 metal steps down to the street

The center of Camden looked better than its reputation would suggest though I noticed security guards at every public building and plenty of police in cars and on the streets.  With a strong tailwind, I soon made my way to the suburbs and travelled very fast to my hotel.  The riding was effortless with a flat terrain and a tailwind  - and the shoulders were better than on the Pennsylvania side.  Still, I heard my first admonition in 3350 miles from a NJ driver: "Hey, why don't you ride on the sidewalk". I laughed.

Un-Boulder prices for houses in Camden, NJ

Tomorrow is not really a day of riding but will be an enjoyable short ride to the beach. My feelings are bittersweet as I have become used to a daily routine of packing, mostly enjoyable riding that is physically easy and mentally stimulating as the landscape constantly changes, laundry, restaurant searching, and deep restful sleep.   And repeat. 

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