Editor’s Note: Back in the dog days of summer, Bicycle Coalition Regional Planner Leonard Bonarek posted what was essentially a dare to cyclists in our region: See if you can bike around the Delaware Bay. It was one of our most popular blog posts, and several folks took advantage of the resources we highlighted to complete at least part of the adventure. One couple, however, got pretty serious about summer fun and completed the entire journey in 48 hours, beginning and ending in Chester County. What follows is their account of the journey. May their sunny adventure brighten our dark days of late autumn. Click here for their photo album from the trip.
Bike The Bay 2018
By William Welch
When a challenge has been set, what happens in between the conception and execution? I have learned throughout the years traveling via bike that the goals you set cannot be secured by expectations. My girlfriend Kera and I have been bikepacking together for about 4 years. Our philosophy is simple; use what you have and every adventure starts at the front door. When the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia posted the Bike The Bay Challenge, we
were both immediately consumed with the challenge. We knew we could leave our front door in West Chester, Pa and complete the challenge in 48 hours. That was the goal. It is hard not to laugh when you start thinking about the logistics of that goal. Luckily this trip we were going multimodal: bikes, trains, and boats!Our trip started out on August 3rd at about 3pm. Kera had to work at Center For Families in Malvern from 4pm-7pm. We rolled down the alley and started our journey heading North on business rt 100. Our ride down rt 100 is fairly safe, it has a wide shoulder and some cool neighborhood shortcuts that bring us to the head of the Chester Valley Trail. The Chester Valley Trail takes us right to Center For Families. While Kera went to work, I took then next 4 hours to make some last minute adjustments to the bikes and gear. Also, I meditated and took a nap in the sun. Kera took her clients rock climbing for adventure therapy and when she got back around 7, we packed up and headed for 30th street train station to catch a 10:50 pm train to Atlantic City.
We have both done this section of the trip many times at night, so we knew we had 34 miles and just about 3 hours to make it there! The timing would be close but, if we missed the 10:50 pm train, there was another at 12:15 a.m or so. We really needed to make the 10:50 train if we wanted any chance to make it to southern NJ by sunrise. The C.V.T. trail takes us up through Valley Forge Park, over Sullivan’s Crossing bridge and onto the Schuylkill River Trail. Riding the S.R.T. at night is magical! Kera and I both bike a lot at night, we always have three NiteRider headlights. We usually just run one at a time on the flasher mode because they last upwards of 30 hours each. The flashers make you very visible, some people but most cars think you’re a cop so they give you lots of room! We both also ride with two tail lights each as well as 2 safety triangles per person. Safety is so important, especially riding at night! As we traveled down the S.R.T. under the flash of the strobe we were both super happy to find out they repaved what was the worst section of the trail (after the Norristown train station all the way to Conshohocken). What a feeling after having endured the choppy pavement for so many years! We were really crushing the miles at this point, we knew we had a chance to make the train. We chose to take the crushed gravel section of the S.R.T. that leads down to the Manayunk Canal Trail. What’s an Adventure without some crushed gravel, mud, and puddles at night?!
“Downed Tree!” Wow! Looks like the storm had brought down a giant tree that fell right across the trail! There’s no way we were back-tracking, definitely no time for that. We had to carry the bikes over, under, and through the tree. That moment was our first rest. Manayunk was alive with people as we passed through onto East Falls and finally down to the Art Museum and at last we passed under Market Street. As we started making our way up to Market Street from the S.R.T., we both heard something unusual that sounded like a gang of motorcycles on the trail. Well, it was. Actually, it was a bunch of dirt bikes and A.T.V.’s on the trail. It’s such a shame that a few individuals can be so careless and ultimately put peoples’ lives at risk. We were fortunate to be off the trail and onto the ramp before they came through.
We made it to 30th Street Station with 30 minutes to spare! Neither of us knew where the train terminal was and where to buy tickets. So we roll into the station with all eyes on us! We scrambled frantically. We found the kiosk and bought the tickets and had time to use the bathroom and load up on as much food as we could carry and eat on the train. As we loaded onto the train, we had little trouble finding the space for our bikes. The only problem is that the bike parking on the train is also the handicap seating. As our adrenaline subdued and we both stopped shoving popcorn, chips, and some energy drinks in our faces.
We both realized what lied ahead. The train ride would take about 2 hours. We would arrive in A.C around 1am and then we had to either make it to Stone Harbor where our friend lives or make it all the way to Cape May to sleep for the night. Either way, we both knew we were in for something special. As we arrived in A.C. we headed straight for the boardwalk. We didn’t ride all the way to N.J. not to ride next to the beach! The breeze was amazing and as soon as we passed all the casinos, we had the whole boardwalk to ourselves. We both took this moment to get into the aero bars and crush some more miles. Eventually our boardwalk ride ended a few block from Margate and we took to the road. By this time it was about 1:30 am and there were signs of some drunk people all around. We knew we had to keep pushing. Lots of miles to go.
We took our second rest at the Wawa right before the Ocean Drive Bridge into Ocean City. We ordered Milkshakes for some reason and took a nice little 10 minute nap along the side of the building. The new bridge into O.C. is amazing! The protected bike lane is just the best. We did scare a bunch of seagulls, actually they scared us as we were bombing down the backside of the bridge. Finally, we made it into Ocean City. The quiet and dry town seemed like a milestone but really it was just the beginning of the suffering.
Google said we had 27 miles to Stone Harbor. Google didn’t say we would be riding into headwinds the whole way while we hit every mental wall you could ever think of! We stopped again in Sea Isle across the street from another Wawa. There were people, lights, and a fine beach to take another nap on! We continued on, the bars had just let out, it was about 3:00 a.m, and we needed to find sleep before day break. Two hours later we finally made it to Stone Harbor. Our friends house was all locked up. Luckily they had some nice lounge chairs we could sleep on. Autopilot took over and we ripped the bivys out of the dry sacks and cuddled up to the sounds of the bay. Within 5 mins of getting settled and almost asleep, the skies opened up with a nice shower of rain. Out of the bivys we crawled. We drug the lounge chairs up next to the house where we had a little bit of cover. Good enough for sleep.
A few more hours passed with some wonderful sleep and we heard someone open a screen door. He looked very confused as to why there were two people in camo bivys sleeping on the deck. It is hard to imagine what he thought about as he looked at as. Our conversation was super awkward, until finally he broke the silence. When he listened to where we had come from that night and that we were actually expected at the house, he loosened up. Our friend finally came outside and welcomed us inside to say hello to everyone. Here we told them of our adventure the previous evening and that we had to get to the Cape May Ferry by 3 pm. Everyone looked at us with that crazy “you’re going where by when?” stare! That’s when they offered us a ride to Cape May. Usually, we do not take rides on our journeys, however, the ride was in a boat that would dock at The Lobster House for lunch.
Immediately, we jumped on that wonderful adventure. We just needed some sleep. Upon awakening from our morning nap, we promptly loaded our bike on the boat. The sky, a beautiful blue, with tall fluffy clouds enabled our minds to get lost in all the activities on the water from Stone Harbor to Cape May Harbor. En route we did travel through the inlet in search of dolphins in the ocean. We didn’t spot any dolphins but we did have a hell of a time riding the 7 foot swells being produced by the winds that day! As we docked the boat and off loaded the bikes at The Lobster House, we realized we had to take our bikes through the restaurant so we could lock them up on the street. Nothing to see here, just 2 straggly bike riders! The food, service, and ambience are top notch at the Lobster House. Kera and I order as much food as we thought we could eat in the hour we had until the ferry departed from Cape May. We scarfed down our food in just about 20 minutes, leaving us about 30 minutes to ride 5 miles to the ferry. Kicking it into high gear on a full belly we rode hard. The leftovers strapped to the bikes stayed secure during the jaunt.
We arrived at the ferry, loaded on before all the cars and took our leftovers and sleeping pads to a shaded spot on the bow. After scarfing down the last of the leftovers, we laid down the sleeping pads and passed out for the next 60 mins with fellow ferry riders standing all around. As we both woke up from our summer slumber. we were just passing the breakers to Cape Henlopen State Park. We enjoyed the last 20 minutes of the Delaware Bay from the top deck of the ferry. From this vantage point we were eye level with the resident Ospreys who nest atop the vessel docking slips. This year marks the third consecutive year the couple have returned to greet travelers with their new family of raptors. Still groggy from our nap and lack of sleep, we decided it was time for a dip in the Delaware Bay in Lewes.
The sleepy old fishing town of Lewes provided us with the cold salt water, soft sanded bath we both were in need of! Floating around in the water felt great, except for the few crabs our toes got entangled with! At this point it was about 5pm on Saturday and we had somewhere in the range of 24 hours to travel 100 or so miles back to West Chester. From this point on it became a matter of how much food and drinks could we strap down to our bikes. We were hungry! We biked down to the Weis Market on Rt. 9 and Rt 1. We both kinda just let our bodies tell us what we want as we walked around the store. Apparently, we were very thirsty. We walked out with two Monster Energy drinks, a GT’s Kombucha, and a 52 oz Boathouse Farms Berry Smoothie. Outside the market, we relaxed on a patio swing that was for sale as we downed an energy drink and the kombucha. As we relaxed, while others shopped, we looked for real food. We found it in the form of the Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop. Kera and I both have an affinity for Capriotti’s because of their vegetarian options. We ordered the 20” Veggie Cole and a 20” Veggie Cheeseburger. I don’t remember eating the sandwich as much as I do the flood of emotions that are usually released at some point during long rides of this nature. It’s like at a certain point the body dumps everything it does not need to hold on to because the body is just wasting that energy when it knows it needs to ride on.
After a good emotional cleansing we plan the next 7 hours. We had to keep heading north into the night. We set our sights on Milford. It was 20 miles away. We had no idea what to do when we got there, but it was our destination. By the time we set out, the sun was going down. I imagine it was about 7 or 8 pm by the time we got moving again. Dusk – it is the most wonderful time to ride. The magic of the sunset and the cool breeze full of summer smells keeps all the pains in the back of our minds. As the sun sets, we both settle into the aero bars again and get into a rhythm of the strobing headlights. At this point we were riding in and out of farms and forests and up and over the Delaware hills. I started noticing some trail markers on the road, yellow painted frogs, I guess they led to Killian’s Pond. We really enjoyed spotting them along the way!
In a few hours time, we rolled into Milford, De. Looking for a place to camp, our options were limited. We are no strangers to rogue camping, but as we sat outside a closed bike shop and consumed the last of our bounty, we started calling hotels. We found a Motel 8 only a few miles on the North side of town and made the trek northbound. As we arrived the man at the front desk was on the phone and told the person at the other end that he just rented the last room. How relieving it was to hear that we had the last hotel room available that night. Our room required us to carry our bikes up a long flight of steps to the second floor, which at this point didn’t matter, there was a comfy bed, a shower, and A/C that I was cranking down as low as possible. After showering and getting cuddled up in bed, we ate some bedtime snacks and planned our return route home.
The next 90 miles to home would be interesting. There was the direct route up Rt.1 to the St. Georges Bridge or we could snake our way through the country roads to cross the Delaware Canal at the St. Georges Bridge. Sunday morning we woke and slowly moved from our cold room of comfort. First things first, we needed our food. Luckily there was a Capriotti’s in town. The ride to Capriotti’s brought us to the west side of Milford. Everyone was busy about their Sunday routine, but we had a deadline of getting home before I had to work on Monday and Kera started class a West Chester University. Suddenly we crossed over a lot of glass in the road. Hopefully the Continental Gatorhard Shells hold out. Kera went inside to order our morning sandwiches and everyone that passed had to know what we were up to. Some people wished us luck, others offered up directions and one guy really loved the 32mm tires on Kera’s Fuji Jari. Eventually the sandwiches had been loaded down and a Monster Energy consumed. We were ready to roll, we would head up Rt.1’s wide shoulder until Dover and then cut back into the farmland for a more scenic route. As I rolled away, I realized Kera was not behind me, she had a flat. Riding along Rt.1 seems crazy and maybe it is. It is a marked bike route and the shoulders are huge! All the beach traffic kept the speeds of the cars down and we made it up to Dover in no time.
Turning right at Dover Air Force base, we stopped at the entrance to the museum for lunch in the sun. I was not a big fan of eating in the blistering heat, but Kera loves the sun and enjoyed every second. Soon we were back on the bikes and had a nice ride winding back and forth through the farmlands. Around 2 pm we stopped right before Duck Creek. There we saw an elevated wildlife viewing platform. We hung out in the shade of the platform and took a nice mid day nap after watching the Ospreys chase each other around. Neither of us really wanted to get up from the nap but we had to keep pushing forward. Just a few miles up the road, Kera was riding lead as we crossed Smyrna Creek. She screamed back at me “Watermelon!” Needless to say, I became very confused. She stopped ahead of me and told me there was a watermelon on the concrete rail of the bridge. Curious and hungry, I turned around. Honestly, I fell down because I was clipped in and did not make a wide turn. She was right! There was a watermelon. After a quick inspection, I balanced my new friend between the handlebars and aerobars and found the closest tree to sit under. It smelled fresh and had no bruising. Kera gave me the knife and I ripped into the watermelon like a hungry zombie. Some of the melon was definitely a bit sour. I did not care. We ate about 3⁄4 of that melon and drank lots of the sweet juice. What a mess we made. The gods had rewarded our hard work!
The road to home was getting shorter and shorter as the hours passed by. One of the highlights of the Bike the Bay route that we were really looking forward to was the heritage greenway trail and the new Jack A. Markell Trail that runs from Wilmington to New Castle, DE. Kera and I both knew that once we hit New Castle and eventually Wilmington the road home to West Chester, Pa would be smooth and easy. As we all know when you set an expectation that is smooth and easy you are setting up for failure. This was no exception. The trail started out great and it felt so nice to be off the road and onto a trail. We rode the trail for a little less than 10 miles and we felt the bridge over the Christina River getting closer and closer. We passed the prison as the sun was setting. In the distance we saw two cars parked up ahead on the trail. The State Troopers had the bridge blocked off and we could not cross. They had no alternative route for us to take either. Time for Google Maps.
Google had no idea how to get us home. It ended up taking us on Rt. 141, a major highway, for about one terrifying mile. Maybe we made a wrong turn somewhere or it was late and we were tired, either way. We really welcome the opening of the Jack A. Markell Bridge. After recovering from our highway stint at a local gas station with a gatorade, we stored the second on board and rode off into the night. As we approached Greenville, Delaware, Kera and I realized this was that last 30 miles of the trip. Honestly, we knew it was going to be full of hills which we rode without for the past 48 hours. The first set of hills were tough. They progressively got easier as our breathing adjusted. As Kera led the assault home, I watched her light lead the way in front of me. Suddenly, I saw a silhouette of Kera’s body leave the bike and then in the same moment slam back down. She had hit a huge hole in the bike lane. She stopped no more than 100 feet later, gasping for breath. The moans of the lungs searching for air soon subsided and as she regained composure, we searched for what to do next. It was 12 am on Monday. The bike was alright, just a flat tire and displaced aero bars. Kera, on the other hand, wouldn’t be able to go on. We were fortunate to have a few very nice people stop and make sure we were alright. Relatively, everything
was fine, we just needed a way home. Kera placed a call to her sister who lives in Kennett Square. Thankfully, she was on her way home from the beach and was able to pick us up and take us the final 10 miles back to West Chester. Next year we will have another go at the Bike the Bay Challenge. We both wanted to thank everyone who made the ride possible.
Ride completed by: William Welch and Kera Passante
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