Tuesday, October 9, 2012

October Bicycling Adventures

Plein air painters on the Delaware Canal towpath
The Delaware River forms the border between Pennsylvania on the west and New Jersey on the east.  In both states, a canal parallels the river.  On the Pennsylvania side, it's the Delaware Canal, which saw heavy use during the middle and late 19th century bringing coal and wood from the Appalachian Mountains to the cities of the coast.  In many places, the Delaware Canal hugs the Delaware River bank, and so is prone to damage from river flooding.  On the New Jersey side, the canal is the Delaware and Raritan Canal (D&R), which parallels the Delaware River to the city of Trenton, then turns northeast and parallels the Raritan River to its mouth at Raritan Bay just outside New York City.  The D&R Canal generally is further from and higher above the river and so less prone to flood damage than its cross-river counterpart.   The D&R Canal is used as a source of drinking water for the cities around New York.  The towpaths of both canals have been turned into linear recreational state parks, used heavily by walkers and bicyclists.

One of Kali's and my favorite bicycle rides followed the (Pennsylvania) Delaware Canal towpath northward for 12 miles, crossed a bridge over the Delaware River into New Jersey, and then followed the D&R Canal towpath southward to a point where we could cross back over to the Pennsylvania side and complete our ride.  Unfortunately, the Delaware Canal towpath has been repeatedly damaged by river floods and, despite the investment of  millions and millions of tax dollars to repair the damage, the towpath remains ravaged where it's closest to the river.  In addition, the canal itself has been dewatered by breaches.  So, we haven't ridden "our" route in several years.

Last Saturday (October 6), I convinced Kali that we should attempt the ride.  It was a cool, overcast day.  When we arrived at trailhead parking, I stopped a sweaty fellow on a mountain bike coming down the towpath and asked him about the condition of the trail.  He assured me that, with the exception of a short washed-out section that could be walked, the trail was "ride-able" with few problems.  So, off we went.

Kali walking her hybrid bike through some of the worst of the washed-out trail
In reality, the troublesome part of the trail was about three miles long.  We had to walk our bikes for several hundred yards in two locations, but even when we were able to ride, the surface was rough and jarring.  Kali said, "I have to keep my mouth open or my teeth chatter."

Looks like smooth sailing, but the surface under the grass is rough.  If the trail were in tip-top shape, there would be a worn pathway in the grass because the trail would receive heavy use
Eventually, we reached a portion of the trail where the surface was good for riding (finely crushed and compacted rock grit) and we could enjoy ourselves.

Kali crossing the bridge over the Delaware into Frenchtown, New Jersey
The D&R Canal towpath in New Jersey was in great condition and I encouraged Kali to increase the pace a bit to make up for some of the time we had lost walking and riding slowly in Pennsylvania. This was what bicycle riding should be.

Along the D&R Canal towpath trail in New Jersey
A rapid in the Delaware River, looking from New Jersey across to Pennsylvania
Lighter skies downriver from the rapids
Our ride was going great.  We were cruising along, enjoying ourselves, and making great time.  Then, a dried leaf got caught in Kali's rear brake caliper.  The sound of the tire rubbing against the leaf started grating on me but, rather than asking Kali to stop and remove the leaf, I - stupidly - tried to reach over and extract the leaf myself while we were riding.  Instantly, our bikes got tangled and we were on the ground.  I escaped the fall with only a scraped forearm and bloody elbow, but Kali scraped both knees, cut her elbow, and bruised her upper arm - and her pride.  You can imagine her (righteous) indignation at my stupidity.

After a few minutes of collecting ourselves and assessing our injuries, though, we got back in the saddle and completed the ride.  What choice did we have?  We shortened the ride a bit by crossing back from New Jersey to Pennsylvania on a footbridge over the river that we had never used before, but this meant that we returned to the Pennsylvania side right in the middle of the worst of the washed-out trail - more walking and bitching.

The footbridge over the river and Kali walking the towpath - again
Once we got back to the car, we drove to our favorite orchard market and bought a few pounds of Kali's favorite apples, freshly picked honeycrisps.  They helped to salve her wounds - a bit - but I'm still (justifiably) in the doghouse.  I doubt that we'll be riding this route again any time soon, if ever.


Carolyn H said...

I hope you get out of the doghouse soon.

packrat said...

Scott, Scott, Scott. I hate it when a brilliant, decisive move turns into a disaster.

I have to admit that until I saw your mention of a hybrid bike I had no clue what one was. Had to Google.

Scott said...

Packrat: The fellow I questioned about the state of the trail had a mountain bike, and he did say, "You have a mountain bike, don't you...?", so maybe it's my fault that our hybrid bikes weren't up to the trail challenge. Nevertheless, I don't think that even a mountain bike would have been able to navigate the worst sections of the "trail."

Scott said...

Carolyn: Kali didn't complain about her injuries last evening, so I think she's left the door of the doghouse open...

robin andrea said...

My first time commenting here, Scott. I had to google "hybrid bike" to get a sense of what you and Kali were riding out there. Sorry to read about the bad bumpy road and the crash. Hope the next journey is much kinder.

Wanted to thank you for your comments on the Dharma Bums blog. Yes, our "river" is much more like a shallow flowing creek at the moment. California never gets any rain in the summer. We wait for our winter deluges. We could get 50 inches between November and April. If we don't get rain then, we don't get rain.

Scott said...

Robin Andrea: You're the second reader who wondered about a "hybrid" bicycle; gee...I thought that the term was pretty commonly understood. Just shows that I shouldn't make assumptions.

And, I'm really aware of California's rainfall patterns. My brother, Kali's brother, Kali's mother, and my stepmother all live in San Diego County, and Kali and I have good friends who live in Redwood City south of San Francisco. When it doesn't rain in the winter, it's bad news. From the look of the "bathtub ring" on your river, it looks like the channel (at least occasionally) gets considerably more flow.

Thanks for commenting!