Thursday, August 4, 2011

Days 10, 11, and 12: Epic Post after a couple epic days.

8/1 Day 10: Turtle Beach, Del. Water Gap Rec. Area, NJ to Easton, PA 46 miles
There is a traffic light in this park. However, there is no traffic.
         
            We woke up today a bit before dawn, fearing that since the park opened at sunrise we would be rousted out by militant rangers. We ended up being wrong on that score, thankfully, and had a quiet oatmeal breakfast next to the fog shrouded Delaware River with the odd deer here and there for company.  We managed to reap an unexpected benefit from our early rise in that we could hit the road early and ride before the day really started to heat up. The day flew by as we crossed the Delaware back and forth from NJ to PA a few times, passed the actual Water Gap, and generally cruised along the relatively flat banks of the river. We stopped in Belvidere, NJ at Uncle Buck's Diner and had our inaugural second breakfast snack. We all ordered the #1: 3 eggs any style, homefries, and toast for $2.55, can't beat it. Then, after we had stuffed ourselves we had two super steep hills to climb immediately- not fun on a full stomach.
           However, we kept up a very strong pace and had 40 miles behind us by about 2 in the afternoon. We decided, then, to take a break at a coffee shop and use their free wireless for a couple hours while we blogged and uploaded photos and generally caught up with the world. We ended up doing some serious loitering and were there for about 2 hours. At the end of that stretch, as we were readying our things to leave, a man wearing sunglasses, sipping an iced coffee and sporting a long white beard that had a touch of caramel color in it struck up a conversation with me. He asked where we were going, and told me I had a strap dangling from one of my panniers and to be careful it didn't get wrapped in my spokes. And then he said, "Well, are you looking for a place to camp tonight?" I said we were and asked him if he knew of any on our way. He responded that it was a little north, but that he had a very nice house on the river with a sandy beach we could hang out on if we wanted to stay there for the night. I was still thinking that we would want to get our last 10 miles in for the day and politely turned him down. He was insistent, and mentioned that there were thunderstorms in the forecast.
Relaxing on the Starks' awesome patio. See our pics for rope swing photos.
         The weather was the deal-breaker and we decided to take him up on his offer, figuring we would rather be 2 miles out of our way knowing where we would stay than 10 miles further along the route huddled behind a school in a thunderstorm. He introduced himself simply as John and we set off to his house. We naturally decided to go up a huge hill, the bonus hill for the day, than skirt around it on the river, and when we got to John's house he gave us the code to his garage where we stashed our bikes. We were immediately impressed with his lovely home, and were very happy we had decided to stay. John Stark, and his wife Marianne, were great hosts and let us hang out on their patio, provided us a big box of food to cook in their outdoor gas-fired wok, let us swing on their rope swing, use their restrooms, and cappuchino machine! We were certainly spoiled by them and want to thank them sincerely for their hospitality. That night I took a trip down to the case store (why can't PA just sell beer normally?) and had to give half of it away to the friendly staff of Genesis Cycling n Easton, because I couldn't carry the whole case on my bike. Cheers to Diane and the nice bearded fella. Full of stir-fry and Yuengling we passed out in our tents by the banks of the Delaware.

8/2  Day 11: Easton, PA to Bristol, PA 67 miles
Smoke wafts over the corn fields from the burning factory.
     
        Today we woke up, had some cappuchino and muffins,  and chatted with the Starks in their kitchen. The Starks own a mill in Easton, but hadn't left the house because the gigantic plastics manufacturer near their facility was burning down and spewing delectable looking black fumes into the sky over the Lehigh Valley. Before we hit the road, the Starks had left to go survey their site to see if all was well while we did our last minute preparations and got on our bikes. The day was quite nice riding- mostly rolling hills and scenic views of the Delaware. We haven't even gotten to the Midwest, though, and I have already seen way more corn than I need to. There are literally thousands of acres of corn grown along the Delaware River, in NJ and PA, it's amazing. Today, though, the long, rolling expanses of gold and green corn were overlaid with that ominous miles-long plume of smoke from the plastics factory burning down as we wound our way toward second breakfast at Mama's Dog House in Milford, NJ.
Erin and Mandi share a huge and awesome sandwich. This is one of three!
        It wasn't until just this morning that I'd realized Bristol, PA, where my grandmother had lived and where many, many of my father's Italian family still live, was relatively close to us. It wasn't until Milford that I managed to get a hold of my 85 year old Great Uncle Tom and nail down an address for my family. Even on short notice, he said he would love to have us.  Now the only catch was that it was still 46 miles away from Milford! The rest of the group was nice enough to agree to stretch the day out to a record high in order to accomodate my desire to see my family and for accomodations. As it turns out, we even went about 20 miles southeast off our route to visit. When we realized how far we had to go, we all buckled down and began to grind out the miles along the bikepaths of varying quality that line the old canals and towpaths on the flanks of the Delaware. At 7PM, after negotiating the harrowing, shoulderless roads, and winding, labyrinthian bikepaths that often dead-ended into huge, 30 foot high berms topped by rail lines, we arrived at 310 Jefferson Ave. and the biggest Italian hoagies I have ever seen. My cousin Jaime and uncle Tom were a joy to see, and that house is the site of many of my earliest memories- from first beer (age 6-ish) to ride-alongs with my great uncle when he would go out on service calls to fix ice-machines around Bristol.
       They fed us, beered us, and gave us beds to sleep in. We hadn't slept under a roof in about a week. It was a really pleasant visit for me, and wonderful to spend a night in a house I'd slept in many nights before, even if most of them I couldn't remember having been so young.

8/3 Day 12 Bristol, Pa to Washington's Crossing to Norriton Presbyterian Church, Trooper, PA
 46 miles


             We slept til almost 9AM today, soaking up the comfort of mattresses and sheets. When we got downstairs, we made some coffee as Uncle Tom ducked out to pick up some bacon and other goodies at the store for breakfast. We took our sweet time getting things together and decided to take my cousin Jaime up on his offer to drive us and our bikes the 20 miles back to our route in his truck. He dropped us off at Washington's Crossing, that we'd ridden past around 2PM the day before and with bags full of leftover hoagie, we hit the S Trail.
            The S Trail is one of PA's many well-signed bike routes that criss-cross the state. After doing a five mile circle because of a wrong turn, we started to make progress knowing it would be a bit of a late day. A note for anyone who wants to ride along the S Trail: so far it has not been bike paths at all, just more well-trafficked roads without shoulders, it's actually been pretty stressful so far and I can only hope when we get further from Philly it will improve. We ran some errands at Sports Authority, printed out some maps at Staples, and bought some gear at EMS. The folks at EMS were very nice, and took our picture for their Facebook page- Warrenton EMS, I think. We scarfed the hoagie's delicious remains before riding on from there under threatening skies. It seems that the only nice days of riding we've had, we end up staying at someone's house, and the days we need to camp out, it rains without fail. True to the formula, rain began to fall as we neared the 45 mile mark for the day and began to look around for a place to inconspicuously throw up a tent. We had intended to make it to French Creek State Park Campground, but it turned out that that was about 40 more miles away and had soundly ruled itself out.
Everyone is very happy to be sitting on wet
ground and cooking in the rain. See those smiles?
         As dusk deepened we pulled into the Norriton Presbyterian Church, or as I have decided to call it, the Church of Immaculate Hose-water. Their hose-water was not immaculate, and tasted like tires, but it was all we had to drink and cook with for the night. We found a mowed spot on their large property that would keep us out of sight from the building and the roads, pitched tents and cooked in the drizzle. We went to bed after we dined on orzo with squash, red pepper, and zucchini from a farm stand we passed earlier where everyone seemed to want to talk to us. Everyone loves chatting with loaded touring bicyclists, not I think, because they're really that interested in the crazy thing we're doing but more because they really want to tell someone about the crazy thing they once did that was somewhat similar to it. Wayne, a very friendly ex-marine and avid motorcyclist, for example, told us all about his trip across the southwest deserts on his motorcycle back when he got out of the Marines, his enounters with outlaws, his recipes for tomato sauce, and philosophy of canning: "I can cook and sew better than any woman alive!" People in general though are all very kind to us and often do us small favors. A man in a gas station handed Mandi a free bottle of water yesterday after telling her they didn't have a tap to refill our water bottles in.
          Now, the 4th of August I'm blogging in a Burger King and I can safely say it's the longest amount of time I've ever spent in one of these restaurants. Gonna sign  off for now, more to come.

3 comments:

  1. matt, i really enjoy reading your posts. keep up the good work guys. this is awesome to follow.

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  2. Thanks for all the positive feedback everyone. It makes the writing totally worth it. Glad you're all enjoying it.

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