Thursday, March 18, 2010

Wilmington Ride

March 6th, 2010

I'd ridden NYC to Philly a couple of times. The short route (107mi) through Jersey City and Newark, which sucked, and the long route (130mi) via the GWB. The short route is not fun because you end up on US-1/US-9/Lincoln Highway (not the Pulaski Skyway, which oddly also carries US-1/US-9). A more bike-unfriendly road I've never ridden.

Going via the GWB is much better. You add twenty-some miles, but the trip is much more pleasant. The highlight is a three-mile trip through Branch Brook Park in Newark. Very little car traffic, and it's a park. Also fun are River Road along the Hackensack River (light industrial, but relatively little traffic on weekends). The rest of the detour is pretty in spots. Much better than US-1/US-9. One downside is that the Bergen Turnpike bridge just west of Ridgefield is closed until April, which requires a detour over a short stretch of US-46. That's a highway, but you're only on it over a bridge, after which you can jump off into an office park.

I had prepared for a trip to Philly, which was kinda fun, but kinda ho-hum. Somewhere in the first 10-15 miles, I made up my mind to extend it -- to go to Wilmington. That had been my next distance goal, but I'd assumed that I'd want to do the Philly ride a couple more times before going to Wilmington. I guess not. :-)

Deciding to go to Wilmington made the beginning of the ride fly by. Getting through Newark is fun (no, really), but it can get to be boring on the nth time through. Anticipation of the unknown changed that, and I was past Newark before I realized it.

One "fun" part on the way to Newark. The previous day had been warm -- above freezing -- but the previous night had been below freezing, so there was some black ice on the roads. Specifically, on 8th St in Palisades Park, NJ. A big sheet of it -- maybe 12' wide. As I approached it, I slowed down, figuring that a high-speed crash would be bad, and that I could control my bike better at low speeds. I realized, as my rear wheel slid out from under me, that 8th St is on an incline. Not in the direction of travel, but side to side. So over went the bike, and I bounced on the ground.

I picked myself up and said, out loud, "well, I'm glad I learned that lesson." A few blocks later on, there's another wide patch of black ice. This time the road is flat. So, says I, I should be able to make it over this one. Just to be sure, I'll unclip so I can steady myself. No sooner does the back tire get completely on the ice than out it goes, and down I go. Apparently I didn't learn that lesson. From now on, I'll be walking over black ice. To make it even worse, I had gone the entire winter without falling on ice. As far as I know, I've never fallen once on this bike, over the course of two years. And yet here I did, twice in less than a mile. Go me.

The rest of the ride to Philly was uneventful. I had an easier time of Cherry Valley (my traditional bonking spot) than I have in the past. The thought of going all the way to Wilmington may have helped. Nutrition was pretty standard. Alternating Clif Bar and GU every 10 miles, lunch at the deli Warren, NJ (52mi), second lunch at the State Road Deli in Croydon, PA (107mi).

I followed PA State Bike Route E around Philly. I've never gone that way before -- generally I follow Aramingo to Girard to 2nd, and into the center city. Bike Route E took me around downtown along the water (or close to it) on Columbus Boulevard. After circling the city, it's pretty much a straight shot to Wilmington via PA-291 and US-13.

I've never gone south of Philadelphia before, so I had no idea what to expect. Now I know the business of South Philly: petroleum refining. Refinery after refinery. I thought it was pretty cool -- I'm a big fan of industrial porn. There wasn't too much traffic, so it was a relatively leisurely trip, aside from the exit from Philly proper (see Route Changes, at the bottom of the post). Three things made it less fun than it would've otherwise been.

First, I left one of my bottles at the State Road Deli, leaving me with two. I finished the second one just south of Philly, leaving me dry, and didn't get around to refilling until I was well into Delaware. Second, it was getting dark. I didn't know the precise distance (I thought it was only 150mi, when it was actually 160mi), so I spent Philly-to-Wilmington pushing the pace, trying to cover as much ground as I could before the sun set. It didn't help that one doesn't find the nicest neighborhoods in the immediate vicinity of refineries. Third, I didn't get extra food at 150mi. I may not have needed food then (my second lunch was at 110mi, so it hadn't been that long), but lack of food combined with lack of fluids wore me out pretty quickly. The last ten miles were somewhat fuzzy.

Oh, and I flatted two miles from the finish. And one of my replacement tubes had a hole. I'm so happy the second replacement tube (out of two) was fine, as I had no desire to have to start walking just two miles short of my new record.

But the new tube worked, and I made it to Wilmington. 160mi. 12 hours. 4 states. Whee!

Nutrition: 7 GUs, 6 Clif Bars, 192oz of Gatorade (1.5gal), two turkey sandwiches. If we assume 400 calories for the sandwiches, that's 7x100 + 6x220 + 192*6.5 + 2*400 = 4,068. According to the PowerTap, I burned about 5,500.

Aches and pains: I took two extra-strength Tylenol before the start, and two more in Warren (52mi). That was enough to keep the lower-back pain under control for pretty much the entire ride. Some intermittent soreness in my right knee during the last 20mi and the next day.

Recovery: I was moving pretty slowly on Sunday. Knowing that Tiffany would yell at me if I didn't, I went to the gym in the evening, and did 20 minutes on the elliptical. Those 20 minutes made a world of difference.

Route changes: PA Bike Route E has you turn right on Oregon from Columbus Blvd. You then take Oregon to Passyunk, and take Passyunk over the Schuylkill. Oregon is worse than Springfield through New Jersey. Block after block of busy busy commercial traffic. Almost three miles, to be precise. Passyunk is very busy (highway, as opposed to commercial), though most of it has a bike lane. You have to use the sidewalk on the bridge over the Schuylkill, due to traffic volume and bridge type (it's a metal grid, rather than a concrete surface). There's an alternate route which looks like it might be much better.

Rather than turning on Oregon, I'd continue on Columbus Blvd, which bends right and becomes Pattison Ave. A left turn on Penrose takes me over a different Schuylkill bridge, and rejoins with the route. Pattison is green-dotted in Google Maps, which means that it's a "recommended" route. Satellite suggests that there's a wide shoulder. Regardless, it's a much less heavily-trafficked road, and runs next to a park, rather than a busy shopping/residential district. Penrose, which becomes Industrial Highway / PA-291, looks quieter than Passyunk to the bridge, at which point I have to jump to the sidewalk, just as with Passyunk. I'm going to try it next time.

Next Time: If I go 20-25mi past Wilmington, I hit Newark, DE, and then the Maryland border. That makes five states in one day. I might (very strong emphasis on might) be able to return the same day, from Wilmington, if I start at 6am or earlier. It'd be really tight, as the last Saturday night train back to Philly from Wilmington leaves at 8:30pm. There are trains as late as 11pm from Markus Hook, PA, 10mi back towards Philadelphia from Wilmington.

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