Another blast from the past. I rode on several tours with Neil Fein, ranging from overnights such as this one to the week long trip from Pittsburgh to DC in 2008. This account was first published on my old blog. I’ve made a couple of corrections and added photos but aside from that its as I wrote it in 2007. The bike I rode, a Trek Navigator, I sold in 2012.
“It’s 9:30 Saturday morning, and I’m here with Neil B. on the Shoyelkill Trail – “
“That’s pronounced ‘School-kill’, Neil.”
” Schuylkill River Trail, under the radioactive power lines near Norristown, and I am starting my five day tour.” Neil Fein turned off the hand-held tape recorder he was talking into and looked at me. “What do you think of it?”
“It’s so high-tech I’m surprised you didn’t start the entry with “Star-date.”
And so began the latest adventures of Neils on Wheels, opening, as usual, with sniping. When casting about for an excuse for us to go on another bike tour, I discovered Neil F. hadn’t been to Philadelphia in years. At the same time, Neil was deciding he wanted to attempt a longer multi-day tour, and so we hammered out a plan; ride from Norristown to Philadelphia, cross over the river, and stay with friends of Neil in Cherry Hill. The next day he would go on to his next stop, and I would ride back home. Several hours of train rides for Neil F. and two hours of pedaling for me from our respective homes brought us to Norristown on a cold Saturday morning.
We hurried down the trail, Neil on his mountain bike, I on my Navigator. I would have used my hybrid, but I wanted to test the Navigator on a longer tour. It definitely showed its limitations as a touring bike. I will not be writing verse about the thrill of riding the Navigator, unlike Neil F., who wrote a rock song about his mountain bike.
We reached the Art Museum about 12, and began to search for a place to have lunch. We rode towards
City Hall and posed for photos in front of the LOVE statue. After looping around Broad, Market, and Chestnut, we stumbled on a Mexican eatery that featured weak salsa and bad 80s pop music. “I used to listen to this all the time” Neil said about one tune. “I’m not sure which is worse, knowing you listened to it, or that you admitted it” I replied.
After lunch we rode into Old City. Riding on cobblestones wasn’t the wisest thing I’ve done, and Neil didn’t enjoy our riding behind the horse-drawn carriages filled with tourists. But still I enjoyed showing Neil the city, and I got to know it better as well. We rode onto South Street, made ’emergency’ stops for a guitar shop and a bookstore, and warmed up with cider and coffee at the Philadelphia Java Company. The area was filled with bicycles, and as much as I enjoy living in the country, that afternoon I envied the lifestyle of the urban cyclist. Oh to be young, thin, and riding a fixie to a coffeeshop!
Recaffienated, we headed out for more sightseeing – the Society Hill Synagogue, the Athenaeum, and a historical marker for Johann Nepomuk Maezel on 5th Street that I, in my role as Historian for the
Pennsylvania State Chess Federarion, helped dedicate in 2004. Seeing it was getting late in the day, we began to search for the PATCO station. Rather than riding through Camden and risking appearing in a Daily News headline on Monday, we took the good advice BCP members gave us and crossed the river on a train.
PATCO soon had us wishing we had ridden through Camden. The machine ate our tickets, and after we purchased new ones, the handicapped door got stuck and we had to haul my heavy Navigator over the turnstile. But soon enough we were on board for Cherry Hill.
There had been some minor routing problems on the tour so far – I’d missed some turns downtown, and we circled the 8th and Market block because I missed the PATCO entrance the first time – but I made a bigger error in choosing the station to detrain. I chose Woodcrest, not realizing that Haddonfield was a lot closer to our destination. It also transpired that Neil F. wasn’t expecting us to take the train, and I was expecting him to map the route from the station. So we found ourselves at Woodcrest without a map or cue sheet. Neil couldn’t reach our hosts for directions – they were Orthodox Jews and observing their sabbath, and thus wouldn’t answer the phone. Neil’s wife was home, however, and she plotted out a route for us, which I took down over the phone. During this frustrating time, my friend refrained from getting revenge for the hard time I gave him for leading me into a salt marsh in Cheesequake State Park during our last tour.
By 6:45 we arrived at our destination, and spent a pleasant dinner and evening with our hosts.
The next morning, after breakfast, Neil and I went out and inspected the bikes, and attempted to inflate my tires with a 30 year old floor pump of our hosts. My tire pressure was lower than I’d like, but still ridable. We left together at 8:00 AM, and rode together for the first mile. Then Neil F. wished me luck and turned off, while I continued onward towards Haddonfield PATCO station, where I would take a light rail train over the Delaware River into Philadelphia.
Before I reach King’s Highway, Rt 41, which would take me to the station, I passed historic Colestown Cemetery. A friend of mine from California had emailed me the day before I left that the happiest time of his life was spent in Cherry Hill nearly two decades ago with his father. Mike’s dad passed two years ago. My friend, perhaps not entirely jokingly, asked if I would say Hi to his father for him. Although he isn’t buried there, the gates to the cemetery were open, and there were no mourners present to be disturbed, so I rode in and spent a few minutes circling the grounds. None of the residents seemed to be bothered. And yes, Mike, I did convey your good wishes.
Reflection over, I rode on to Haddonfield. The town of Haddonfield is very pretty, and wished I had time to linger in town. In particular there was a bike shop I wanted to visit, but it wasn’t open and I had miles to ride. By 9:10 I reached the station. PATCO is said to be bike friendly, but yet again I needed to push my heavy Navigator over the turnstile because there was no working handicapped entrance. I eventually got over and got on a train, and arrived at 8th and Market about 10:00 AM.
Once on the street and on two wheels, I made a straight line towards City Hall. I noticed a sign hanging from the building advertising the Philadelphia Marathon, but I didn’t pay attention to it. I should have. But I was more concerned about navigating downtown. I found the layout of streets to be confusing, and I wound up circling the Convention Center while trying to find a way to get to the Parkway. I eventually took Vine Street to the Free Library.
Once there, I discovered the Parkway had been blocked off for the Philadelphia Marathon. I walked and rode on sidewalks looking for a way to cross over to the trail on the other side of the road. I didn’t find it until just before Main Street in Manayunk.
Meanwhile, I was searching to cross the road for more than just the desire to get to the other side. The weather was getting colder and rain was beginning to fall. And whatever I had for breakfast wasn’t digesting well. So when there was a break in the line of runners, I sprinted across the road and got on the sidewalk, then rode the sidewalk up into Manayunk. I crossed again at a spot where some young people were heckling the runners – for some reason they spared a 240 pound cyclist. I parked at Human Zoom, made a purchase, and asked to use their bathroom.
Feeling weak, I rode the Towpath out of Manayunk rather than try the “BCP route” over the local hills. I reached the SRT with a number of problems. I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast several hours before, and I was afraid to do so with my guts in a knot. Yet if I didn’t eat, I would bonk sooner or later. And while I had a water bottle, I didn’t know if my stomach woes were caused by breakfast or something nasty in the water bottle. So I rode on in the cold, eating breath mints for whatever sugar they had in them, and hoping something close to the trail was open.
Nothing was. The Outbound Station was closed. The Liberty gas station near the Cross Country Trail entrance was closed. Vending machines along the route weren’t working. And the rain was picking up. I zipped up my jacket and rode on.
Eventually I reached Norristown and headed for Dunkin Donuts, where I drank hot chocolate to warm up, and had a donut and muffin to fuel. And became sick again. I pushed off and headed back to the trail. Eventually I reached Gold’s Gym in Oaks, just off the SRT, just after 3:30 PM. I’m a member there, and after becoming ill yet again I knew I was never going to make the remaining 12 miles back to home. I might manage the flat parts of Oaks, Mont Clare, and Phoenixville, but not the hills of Kimberton during the drizzling cold rain and without daylight. ( I did have lights on the bike, but it wasn’t the bike I was concerned would fail. ) I called a friend of mine who picked me up.
So while the weekend ended with a whimper instead of a bang, I had a good time, and I hope next trip downtown to spend more time enjoying the city.