Philadelphia Trails – 1, Me – 0

This weekend the wife and I went up to my parents outside of Philadelphia. My dad has needed help installing an AC unit since June, and this was the first break I had in my schedule. Saturday was occupied with work around the house, but I bought the bike with me because the second thing on my ‘to do list’ for the weekend was a long bike ride, which I haven’t done in several months. Saturday afternoon I did a little exploring on the internet and plotted out a route on rail trails that took me from the Perkiomen Trail a few miles from my parents house to the Art Museum Steps in Philadelphia. From the quick research I did it looked to be about a 35 mile round trip. If I got up early enough, I could be out of the house, down the trail and back before anyone was really awake. I get my longish bike ride in, and the wife doesn’t have to wait around the house all day for me. The perfect crime. I was up at 5:15 a.m. with my clif bars and water ready to go. Finding the Rahn’s rd. trailhead off of the rte. 113 and 29 intersection was easy. The Perkiomen trail was very much like the NCR rail trail, and a very pleasant ride albeit frequent road crossings. There were also more small hills to climb up and down, which made for a slightly more interesting ride experience. My trouble for the day started just above Valley Forge. There is a bridge to get over a creek which connects with the Schuylkill river which just happened to be CLOSED for construction. NONE of the PA websites I went on thought it was worth mentioning.
Valley Forge Construction
After getting only this far, I decided to relax for a few minutes, turn around and explore the Perkiomen trail all the way in the other direction. I shot a few pictures of some geese hanging out around the dam near the creek…
Valley Forge Geese sm
And a shot of the trail in Oaks, which is wide, paved and fast…
Oaks Trail
As I was passing the parking lot on the way back there was another biker there, and I stopped to chat, told him about the detour and asked him if he knew a way around. I went up and explored the bridge with him to no avail. After trying a second time, I bid the other rider farewell and started riding back. About 1/4 mile up the road whence I came on the trail I noticed a bridge and decided since it was so early, I’d try crossing there and looking for the trail on the other side of the river/creek. When I got up to the main road, there was ONE (1) very small sign that said “Trail Detour Use Caution” pointing thataway towards the bridge. Well, thanks for massive advertising campaign guys. Following the detour took me on the ‘Audubon Loop’. There was some decent scenery, and a short 9% grade which gave me a little workout to get the blood flowing. At the top there was an old structure, maybe a shot tower? Smokestack? I don’t know, and sadly, I didn’t stop to read the plaque. I did take a photo however…
Valley Forge Tower
After the hill, there was a more gradual descent with some windy trail that was fun to coast down. Once through the detour, the Schuylkill River Trail was fast and flat. There were long stretches barren of all scenery aside from the grass and some trees on either side. My pace for the 1 hour up and 1 hour back between VF and the Philadelphia line was probably some of the fastest riding I’ve ever done. Sadly, one of the things I didn’t like about my experience on the trail was that it was too fast, and there were many other riders on the trail who were a little too concerned with their lap times for their own (and others) good. I saw many bikers cutting off others, passing runners fast with no notice, and not even slowing down for road crossings even if there were bollards at the intersection, auto cross traffic, and people coming the other way.

My second trouble for the day came about when I was in Philadelphia itself. I guess there are some sections of the trail which are on-road, and since I was in a hurry in the morning, I accidentally left my map print-out in the car. I continued to follow the river, and found myself down a short cobblestone street and on the Manayunk towpath trail. It was a nice ride, but I was starting to wonder where the Schuylkill river trail went, how to get to the art museum, and how to not get hopelessly lost. I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I can mentally map about 30 intersections past the last trail sign I recognized, and I’d used up about 18 of them before I decided to turn around because I didn’t have the slightest clue where I was. On the way back I saw a few people on bikes turning up a small path ahead of me, and even though I was nearly certain it wasn’t the right direction for the museum, I turned in too and started climbing up this mildly steep, windy, paved trail which turned out to be part of the Wissahickon Valley Park trail in Fairmont Park. I followed this around for a while until I came to an intersection which gave me about 3 choices as to where to proceed next at which point I decided enough is enough and turned for home.

When I looked down at my bike computer on the way back, I got my third shock for the day. My mileage estimates were WAAAY off. This was due partially to my detours, and partially because the legend on the map I downloaded the night before was incorrect. I had about 1/2 a bottle of water left, I was still in Philly, and I had gone about 37 miles. Time to find a mini-mart for some water and call home to let everyone know I’ll be late I guess…

I found some water, and called home to apologize for what would most likely be a long day out and got back on the bike to get home as quickly as possible. My time back was probably even faster than my time down because I had no idea how far I still had to go, and I didn’t want to keep the wife sitting around all day, and didn’t want to be driving back to Baltimore late. Originally I planned to go slow on the way back and take frequent breaks for photography and relaxation, but obviously bagged those plans. In the end it turned out to be a 61.68 mile day, and I was home before noon. I have mixed reviews about the experience. On one hand, there were some really rude people, the trail markings in Philly were substandard and web info about construction was out of date. On the other hand, it was a fun fitness ride, I got some good miles in, and if I had bought my map with me, and had plenty of time and supplies, there looked to be 100’s of miles of trail to explore. Asked right after I got home, I said I’m never going back. Time has mellowed my opinion, and if the opportunity presents itself in the future, I’d probably go back for a full day trip and finally see the Art Museum steps. If all the proposed trail between Oaks and Pottstown gets built it would be an especially nice trip because I wouldn’t even have to drive to the trail, I could just pick it up in Spring City. I’ve got lots of other areas I’d rather explore first tho.

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2 thoughts on “Philadelphia Trails – 1, Me – 0

  1. I started from Oaks at a sign that said “Philadelphia 16” and did make it all the way, with difficulties at comparable spots (other than the bridge) and spots closer to the Art Museum, and rode, paused, looked around, and at various times tried to figure out where the trail was, for nearly three hours one-way, on a beach bike with 5 gears and nobby tires….good exercise. An hour plus into the trip, I happened upon another sign which read “Philadelphia 15.5 m.” I suppose I jumped onto another trail unawares….

  2. There are many places where you can just jump on an errant trail in that system. Surprised that someone, professional or not from the area has not compiled even an ad-hoc map of all the trail systems in that area. Maybe I’m just not talented enough with my Google searches yet…

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