A couple of weeks ago I rode the Schuykill to Delaware with Rick Carpenter. We have not had the opportunity to ride together even though he has invited me on more than one occasion to do so. Mostly, I’ve been really hesitant to ride with someone who is so much faster and stronger than I am, but since he came on his “fixie,” and was totally prepared to spend the day lounging along the road, we did pretty well. It is humbling to watch someone on a fixed gear bike power up hills while I’m shifting and struggling to try to catch up. You just have to admire the person for what they can do–and keep pedaling…..
That aside, it was a great day for a ride and we started with breakfast at the Limerick Diner–by far my favorite diner in PA. Friendly staff, good food, the place is usually hopping, dynamite rice pudding and good waffles, too. What’s not to like. So, we had breakfast, got our cards signed and started. The first 15 miles rolls pretty good (well, except for Eichele which doesn’t roll–it erupts straight up toward the sky for about 1/4 mile). You have to keep moving to make it to the first controle in Pennsburg in time. The misfortune of a mechanical would make it hard to stay within the time. So we move along pretty well on our way to Eichele. I’m ahead of Rick for a bit because he stopped to take pictures (or take a nap–or both) but he catches me half way up Eichele. He makes a valiant effort to climb it on his fixed gear but it really isn’t possible. I keep trudging in my lowest gear for some more seconds. It looks for a tiny moment like I might make it and then the road tips up yet again. I try some more but my lungs feel like they are going to burst and/or my front wheel is going to tip up and go backwards. So, Eichele wins again. I catch my breath walking the last few yards to the top of the hill, Rick takes some more pictures (he does this a lot) and we make our way to the Weis Market.
A quick stop and we’re on our way to Quakertown and donuts. This segment goes pretty quickly. Keep moving, watch out for traffic as we get closer to Quakertown, and then hang out on bar stools with the locals for a few minutes at the donut shop. A toasted coconut donut tastes pretty good although I have to consume some Tums afterwards. The section down to Reiglesville, while it definitely “trends” downhill, includes some pretty good rollers. But this is pretty country. Tiny towns along the way, older but well-kept houses, large swaths of forest and farm; it’s beautiful riding. And then you reach the Delaware and get to ride along the river. The kind of scenery that makes riding worth it.
We take care of business in Reiglesville and start the long leg to New Hope and lunch. Even though it’s flat, the long stretch along 29 from Frenchtown to Lambertsville always seem really long. I’m getting hungry by this point and the morning’s energy has worn off. I typically struggle for the last few miles into New Hope. Today is no different so I try eating a Be Kind bar to keep myself going. New Hope is jammed with tourists on this weekend day, so we navigate our way carefully up toward the pizza place where we have lunch. Sandwiches, cokes, at a table out on the covered patio. And because I’ve been working hard to not make Rick have to slow down to the point of going backwards, we have a long lunch (for me anyway).
The next section to Doylestown is not my favorite. The roads are really busy, too busy to enjoy the riding. I like Doylestown, but we don’t really have time to stop and have coffee at the local Starbucks. We keep going. There is a lot of navigation work in the next section. You have to pay attention, not miss turns, watch out for traffic, keep tabs on where you are on the cue sheet. Evansburg Park is the highlight of this section–it’s a spot of wilderness in the middle of Philadelphia suburbia. We saw a whole bunch of deer in front of the ranger station when we went through the park.
Then you start to approach Valley Forge and traffic picks up. On this day, the wind also picked up and the rain that wasn’t supposed to arrive for several hours started to fall. But the temps were warm so we were fine. We made it to the Dunkin’ Donuts in Phoenixville a little wet but fine.
After this, it’s only 10 miles to the finish, and even though the terrain is again rolling, it’s not so bad. I always “smell the barn” at this point and move along at a pretty good clip. And we spent some time figuring out what we were going to eat when we got back to the diner. I don’t remember what Rick had (although I know his sandwich was pretty similar to mine), but I had a reuben. So big that I had to take half home even though I was really hungry. We relaxed and chatted through dinner, packed up our bikes and headed home.
I’m sorry that it took me so long to agree to ride with Rick. We had a great day. I keep learning with randonneuring that speed isn’t everything (although it certainly helps). Sometimes you ride to spend time with someone and enjoy the route together. Sometimes you ride with others to stay awake or stay safe in the middle of the night. Sometimes you do ride alone, and that is fine, too. The most important thing is to make the most out of a ride, to remember that I’m really lucky to be able to do these rides. Different rides make me understand that fact in a whole bunch of ways.