Last year, I observed Bastille Day by riding to Philadelphia for a weekend with Sarah. We were met by two of my oldest and dearest friends, who travelled from Washington, DC, to meet us. I was never into doing “couple’s weekends,” but this one was easily one of the best weekends of my life. At the time, I regarded the weekend—consisting of a bike ride, perfect weather, a Bastille Day party, and some great exploring—as perfect.
Then it all fell apart. Sarah and I split shortly thereafter. To their credit, my DC friends still reach out occasionally to ask how I’m doing, but I am still reluctant to connect with them: it feels like I was expelled from the couples club, and I am too embarrassed to come around without a current membership.
For this year’s Bastille Day celebrations, I wanted to do something similarly epic to last year’s trip, but it seemed foolish to again ride to Philadelphia. My friend Brian, who I do a lot of long rides with, had a birthday this week, and we planned a three-day trip to New Paltz to ride around in the Shawangunk Range:
Riding 80 miles to New Paltz
Riding 70 miles around the Gunks
Riding 30 miles to Beacon
Because you might someday want to do something like this, here are some details about the ride.
After much anticipation and excitement, I finally rode my bike from New York to Philadelphia for Bastille Day weekend. After riding from Long Island City to Manhattan to catch a PATH train to Newark, the ride covered two states, and each state offered a very different experience.
The New Jersey part of the ride, from Newark to Pennington, was cycling nirvana after completing the first five miles, from Newark to Springfield. Those first five miles along Springfield Avenue went through some relatively blighted parts of the city with some pretty poor roads to match, but thankfully, traffic was light for a weekday morning, but I swear I must have watched every signal turn red as I approached it. The rest of the ride was on some very pleasant back roads. There was one significant climb in Springfield but once I crossed I-78, it was an exhilarating downhill.
I rode through the first quarter of the ride at a pretty good clip, averaging close to 16 MPH, and it was much faster than I had anticipated. For example, I had planned to reach my first breakfast stop in South Bound Brook around 9:30. I arrived there around 8:30.
After eating breakfast, I followed the Raritan and Millstone Rivers along Weston Canal Road but encountered a road closure. My planned route had me head north on the Manville Causeway, but the bridge that spans the Millstone River is closed for repairs. I had to detour by continuing south on Mettlers Road and then west on Amwell Road. The benefit of this detour is that I came upon a duck crossing, and to my surprise, the drivers of New Jersey patiently waited until every duck had crossed and without a single one of them blasting their horns.
I had arrived at the fifty-mile mark, in Hopewell, by 10:30 AM.
I figured that if I kept that pace, I could arrive in Philadelphia as early as 2:30 PM. While that might sound great, it presented a logistical challenge. My friends weren’t due to arrive until much later in the day, around 5:00 PM at the earliest, so I decided to take my time once I arrived at the New Jersey–Pennsylvania border, 62 miles from the start, at about 11:30 AM. I slowly walked my bike across the Delaware River, toured the Washington Crossing historic site, took some photos, and made a few phone calls.
A little after 12:15 PM, I headed out on the Pennsylvania section of the ride. My route basically followed the Delaware, keeping the river on my left. For the first four or five miles, through Yardley, the ride was absolutely pleasant. But once I crossed Trenton Avenue, into Morrisville, the ride became much uglier. First, there were long stretches of industrial sections and the roads were in terrible shape with potholes. Second, because I was riding between the Delaware River, I-95, and the Northeast Corridor rail lines, my route was dotted with various distribution centers. That explained the endless stream of eighteen-wheeler trucks passing me as I headed towards Philadelphia. At one point, I had to turn on to a short section of Tyburn Road in Morrisville and to get on what seemed like a highway on-ramp to ride over a railroad. Compounding the danger was that the bridge was undergoing construction so there was no shoulder for me to ride next to high-speed traffic. I had to wait for a sufficiently long break in traffic and sprint for about a half-minute until I reached the first off-ramp. That was the most death defying riding I had done in a long time.
As if merging onto a highway with no shoulder wasn’t bad enough, I had to salmon on a narrow road with high-speed commercial traffic barreling towards me. For whatever reason, the eastbound lane of Bristol Pike east of Tullytown just ends. My route sheet instructed me to continue riding, and I did so because there was no other way for me to continue riding, other than to ride on, US-13, an actual highway. There was however a three-foot-wide shoulder on the left side of the road. As soon as I saw that, I carefully rode my bike like a velocipede on that narrow shoulder.
Finally, much like the beginning of the ride in Newark, the ride went through some blighted neighborhoods, and despite the presence of bike lanes on Torresdale and Aramgino Avenues, the roads were in terrible shape. Much like the beginning of my ride through Newark, it seemed like every stop light I approached turned red.
I arrived in Philadelphia’s City Center just before 4:00 PM. I checked in to our weekend rental, and immediately grabbed a shower. I needed it!
One of the more challenging parts of the ride is getting to New Jersey. One option is to go all out and ride over the George Washington Bridge and head southwest towards Philadelphia. It’s something better suited for riders living in upper Manhattan but not for someone in Long Island City, Queens. A second option is to take the ferry from Manhattan, at either West 39th Street or Wall Street, and go to Paulus Hook in Jersey City. This is a very common option and an especially nice one because it keeps you above ground the entire day, and it’s a quick trip that would only cost $9 for me and my bike. A third option is to take a train, either NJ Transit or PATH, to Newark and start there. This is the option I have selected.
My plan is to start from home and ride to the World Trade Center to catch an early morning PATH train. From there, I will cross the Hudson River into New Jersey and continue to the end of the line in Newark. I will start pedaling just outside of Newark-Penn Station. Part of me feels like a cheat for taking the train and starting in Newark, instead of New York proper, but two factors changed my mind:
There’s only one feasible way to get from Jersey City to Newark, and it sucks. This requires you to cross two rivers, the Hackensack and the Passaic, along US-1/US-9. From all accounts, it’s a treacherous route. Traffic is heavy and moves fast. There is little room on the shoulder to ride. There’s also a steel bridge to cross, and I’m terrified of crossing steel bridges on a bicycle. This seems like a terrible way to start a long day on the bike.
Continental United Airlines refers to its northeast hub as New York/Newark, NJ. If they get to pretend that Newark is the same as New York, so do I!
My planned route will go through the hills of Summit and Middlesex before descending into South Bound Brook, briefly following the Raritan River as it splits into the Millstone River, which I will follow for about 20 miles. I will then head southwest through the towns of Hopewell and Pennington and then crossing the Delaware River where George Washington himself did in the town, appropriately called Washington Crossing. The rest of the route follows the west and north banks of the Delaware River to Philadelphia.
I have planned a few stops for food and fluids:
Mile 28. The town of South Bound Brook has some fast food chains and independent delis where I can have breakfast. It comes after riding through the most significant hills of the day, which appear to be rollers in the elevation profile.
Mile 64. After crossing the Delaware, the town of Yardley offers some sit-down and more casual options for lunch. I’m considering the Yardley Inn, which offers a three-course lunch for $15, or maybe opt for a simpler lunch at Cafe Antonio.
Mile 85. I’ll be going through a few towns as I follow US-13/Bristol Pike, and there appear to be a great deal of shops, service stations, and eateries for that last stretch into Philadelphia.
The one part of the trip I can’t control is the weather, and it looks like I’m getting a great day tomorrow. The forecast high will be in the low 80s, with little humidity, and it even looks like I’ll have a slight tailwind as get through central New Jersey. That’s so much better than my last really long ride with a steady headwind over a 150-mile route.
Yes, Bastille Day is less than a week away. And if you’re looking for a way to observe the weekend, the Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia is staging a “completely historically accurate” reenactment of the storming of the Bastille that sparked the French Revolution. The anniversary of this day serves as the French national day.
For Bastille Day this year, I wanted to ride my bike somewhere I had never been, and as luck would have it, there was a club ride from Poughkeepsie to New Paltz to Beacon that was listed for Sunday, it was a “B” ride with a 17-mph pace, and it wasn’t full. So I signed up for it.
The ride began and ended outside of New York City so it required two trips on the Metro North train. Since the ride from New York to our starting point in Poughkeepsie was about an hour and a half, our ride leader recommended we eat two breakfasts, and I happily stopped by my local 24-hour grocery and bought two breakfast items before making my way to Grand Central to catch the 7:44.
The ride was splendid. The roads were gorgeous with plenty of tree shade, rolling hills, and very few cars and traffic lights. There was some hard pack through the woods on the Hudson Valley Rail Trail, which was great because it was a pretty hot day, and riding through the shade made things a lot more comfortable. There were some interesting contrasts on this ride. On the one hand, you would see icons of the country: houses on large parcels of land, covered bridges, and lots of farms. On the other hand, I saw a few less savory elements, such as some folks that would looked like they were cooking meth. There were some abandoned and shuttered houses that could be used to cook meth. Or maybe the countryside and meth go together more than I had thought.
My third breakfast of the day was at our lunch stop in New Paltz at Mudd Pile Cafe, in the Water Street Market. It wasn’t quite noon so lunch wasn’t yet being served. The highlight of the stop was that we came during the second annual Hudson Valley Chalk Festival. Although we didn’t look around much here, I was captivated by a guy performing a series of Johnny Cash covers.
Once on the road, we proceeded through Ulster and Orange Counties, and then over the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge, named for Hamilton Fish. In Beacon, we were planning on going to the River Terrace as our ride leader rides for beer, but to our chagrin, we found that it was closed. It was as if they had closed down for good and were under construction. As that door closed, four of us found ourselves at The Hop on Main Street. This place was new, and was clearly a better option to the place that got three stars on Yelp.
A small of group of friends came to The Hop, mingled with my cycling mates, and the Bastille Day celebrations were afoot in Beacon.
When I was younger, I wasn’t crazy about Bastille Day being in the summer mostly because we never got to celebrate it at school. Instead, on our last day of school, Bastille Day was grouped together with all of the kids born in the summer gathered at the front of the classroom, and we toasted a batch of juice and cupcakes.
But over the years, I’ve enjoyed Bastille Day in July. For one thing, having lived a decade in a place with seasons, it’s much less depressing to have celebrate this day in the summer than, say, in the middle of winter. For one thing, we get to be outside, and over the years, I’ve taken advantage of the warmer climate.
This past weekend, Sarah took me on a weekend trip to Cold Spring. I had been through here twice on bike rides, but I never got to stay there. Sarah reserved us a room at the celebrated Pig Hill Inn, we brought our bikes on the Metro North, and we headed up for a weekend.
On our first day, we biked to Hyde Park, following Route 9D and Route 9, and two paved rail trails, and then for a visit to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum. The trip to the Presidential Library was a personal mission of mine to visit as many as I can. So far, I’ve covered the Nixon, Kennedy, and Franklin Roosevelt, so I have a lot of ground to cover still. We got lost a lot so the bike ride took a long time, but I’m anxious to try it again.
The second day was an amazing kayak trip to Bannerman Island to tour the ruins of Bannerman Castle. Having never really kayaked before, it was really amazing to be able to paddle nearly 3.5 miles each way to an abandoned castle on an island in the middle of Hudson River. While the tour was ho-hum, and we didn’t get to see as much as I had hoped, getting there by kayak on a 90 degree day was really invigorating.
Yesterday was Bastille Day, and since I get a little more sensitive about it as the years go by, I tried to keep as hush-hush as possible. But, of course, as it tends to do, Facebook let the cat out of the bag and ratted out to my friends about Bastille Day. My dear friends posted nearly 100 messages with nice Bastille Day messages. Awww…. shucks!
Fortunately, Pilar’s boyfriend Bill had an art show at the art auction house where he works, and it was a very big party. He had three very large drawings, which we all saw and posed with for pictures, but it was the selection of complimentary summer cocktails that made another passing year a little easier to digest.
This was exactly the kind of Bastille Day I wanted. I got to drink for (almost) free, I got to spend it with some friends, and I wasn’t the center of attention.
Congrats to Bill, and cheers to everyone who wished me a happy Bastille Day.