Elation, exhaustion and eating. Those three words pretty much summarize our first official “bicycle tour” for me. We set out for the Little Red Barn Campground in Quakertown, PA last Friday morning, spent the night and rode back to Philly on Saturday. So all things considered not much of a tour, but a great practice run for longer trips and overall a good experience.
We loaded our bikes on Thursday night and ate a carb-full dinner in anticipation of the 50+ miles we’d ride each day. On Friday morning I woke up to cramps and general malaise but I was determined to go. So after egg sandwiches, coffee and stretching we hit the road. It was so nice to feel the warm sun and take in the lush green Schuylkill banks, especially after a week of rain. The Manayunk tow path was looking like a jungle with crazy vines and tunnels of green leaves. We stopped for a snack at the “wayside bike stop” at the beginning of the Schuylkill path and saw a doe about 20 feet up the path– I was surprised to see one so close to the path and houses! No picture since digging for it would have scared her 😦
Our journey continued until we pulled over just after Valley Forge (about 25 miles) to mow down hoagies and cookies for lunch. Once back in the saddle we both commented on how awesome you feel after eating… a full tank of gas! After a few more miles we turned onto the Perkiomen Trail, a first for us. It’s a very pretty, hard-pack gravel path that winds west through towns and forests. We spotted cardinals, a bluejay and some super-cute chipmunks.
“Navigation” for this trip was printed google directions– I now admit this was not my best plan ever. At some point in the directions you are instructed to leave the path and start heading north to Quakertown on country roads. Somehow we got waaaaay off track. Luckily Pat’s phone has a decent maps application and we were able to redirect ourselves. Unluckily we took a wrong turn and ended up many more miles out of the way.
Throughout all of this navigational bumbling we were also tackling some of the biggest hills I’ve encountered. Philly is pretty flat and the 3 hills I climb each day commuting are just a few blocks long so this was uncharted territory. These hills felt endless to my screaming legs and I had to get off and walk a few times. Pat gently reminded me that Europe has WAY more, and bigger, hills so this is good practice. We had to pull over for a banana break after he said that since I was irrationally yelling “screw Europe! I HATE bicycle touring!” in response. I felt so defeated by the hills, being off-track and my tired body that I even suggested heading home. But 15 more miles of hills sounded more manageable than 40 miles back. No quitting!
Twelve miles and many turns later I ecstatically blew kisses at a road sign that said 3 miles to our campground. As we churned up one last hill I found a hidden pocket of energy after spying campers and tents in the woods to our right– we had made it! I checked us in, picked up some hotdogs from the camp store and we got settled into our “home” for the night. Our tent is a breeze to pitch and we were set up and devouring left-over pizza in about 15 minutes. We relaxed in the tent, soaking in the beautiful woods around us and breathing in the fresh air.
Later we walked the campground’s loops to stretch our legs and check out all the ridiculously large RVs clustered together. I gave Pat a run for his money at the air hockey table in the campground’s game room (they also had a pool but we didn’t have suits, boo) Dinner was hotdogs roasted on the campfire then stuffed in pita pockets with cheese and mustard. Trust me, anything is delicious after 6 hours of bike riding so this was gourmet.
The next morning I woke feeling a little sore but ready to take on the day’s riding. Knowing that the hills were at the beginning of the ride and that we wouldn’t get lost this time made getting back on my bike a lot easier. A quick breakfast of PBJ in a pita, trail mix and cookies and we were back on the road. Our route back to the Perkiomen Trail was more direct (understatement of the year) and carried us through the many small communities and back roads of Upper Bucks county. Just outside of Collegeville we stopped to gawk as several skydivers landed in a grassy airfield. Feeling venturesome, we agreed that if we can bicycle tour we can certainly skydive! SO now that’s on our bucket list…
Although I had pre-made some falafel patties to have with hummus, pita and veggies for lunch we decided to treat ourselves to a diner sitting just a few yards off the trail. The best part of the meal for me was letting my booty rest on the squishy booth, sweet, sweet relief! We rode side-by-side for the next 20 miles or so, cracking up at our lame jokes and encouraging each other on. One more snack break in Norristown and all of a sudden we were in the city again. The ride home from the trail is a complete blur to me, my mind was focused only on a cold shower and our couch. The one and only safety incident we had on the trip happened 4 blocks from home when a police officer nearly doored Pat while getting out to talk to a bike cop. But we made it home in one piece and the rest of the night was spent chillin’ and reducing a large pizza to crumbs.
Here are some things we learned:
1. GPS is an absolute MUST. We were rewarded for this mistake though because REI had a brief mega-sale on them the day we got home and I picked up a Garmin GPSMAP 62s for 30% off- score!
2. Eat a lot. I think we learned this last year when we went on our first long haul, but it’s good to keep in mind. I can get really cranky when my blood sugar dips! I’m planning on taking a small, soft-side cooler next time we do an overnight. Also bring more water. We stopped at CVS on the way there and back for big Gatorades.
3. Our plan for Europe is totally do-able. Not that I really doubted that… but thinking/writing about it is one thing, actually doing it is another. So this showed me that we will face some challenges in our trip but that they will be more than worth it.
Lastly, sorry for the lack of pictures– we were pretty focused on biking. I want our next trip to be a 3-day weekend so we won’t feel so rushed for time. At the end of the trip we had logged 121 miles and over 10 hours in the saddle! Not too shabby for two Long Haul Truckers’ first really long haul 🙂