Day 19 Somerset, NJ to Bensalem, PA AKA, Playing in the Dirt 57 miles 579 feet
Most of today’s ride was planned to be on unpaved towpaths along 2 different canal systems. The D&R, Delaware and Raritan, in New Jersey, and the D&L, Delaware and Lehigh, in Pennsylvania.
The D&R ran 44 miles from Bordentown on the Delaware River to New Brunswick on the Raritan River. It was completed in 1834 and in use until 1932. It had 14 locks operated by steam powered winches to overcome the elevation changes of 115 feet over its entire length. It was a large canal with an 8 foot depth and locks that were 220 feet long by 24 feet wide. The towpath on the banks allowed teams of mules to pull non-powered barges. All of its bridges were swing-bridges that rotated horizontally to allow ships of any height to pass through. The predominant cargo carried on the D&R was coal, but troops and war supplies moved through the canal during 3 wars.
The D&L was completed in the same era as the D&R and ran 59 miles from Easton, PA to Bristol, PA. Most of the the dams, locks, canal boats, and villages between White Haven and Jim Thorpe were destroyed by massive floods in 1862. The D&L transported hundreds of tons of goods to New York and Philadelphia, fueling industry and creating jobs especially at Bethlehem Steel which grew to become one of the most lucrative US businesses.
We had heard that the heavy rains a few weeks ago had caused massive flooding so one of our guides rode out in the predawn hours to investigate. She noticed extensive trail washout in the first few miles along the towpath and spoke to some locals who explained that the trail at some points was under 8 feet of water. It appeared that the bulk of the damage occurred at the northern end of the canal so a few of us decided to give the trail a shot starting at about mile 5. The trail was wet, muddy with deep ruts, strewn with loose rock and debris, but still rideable, for the most part. It was bone jarring on a road bike and definitely not for the faint of heart. There were downed trees across the trail, moss and grass covered loose cobbles, and a section so washed out that you simply needed to hike your bike. The views of wildlife and the waterways made it worth the effort. It was a beautiful fall Sunday so the trail was busy with hikers, joggers, dog walkers, and a few other cyclists, mostly on mountain bikes with wide knobby tires. The canals themselves were equally active with kayaks, canoes, and a few guys out sculling.
I decided to make a detour off the route to visit Princeton University and the town. As I was about to pull off the trail I noticed a bump in the distance that I initially thought was a large turtle. I dismissed that thought as why would a turtle be lying in the middle of such an active trail. When I approached the “bump” it turns out that my initial assessment was accurate. It was a large snapping turtle simply sunning himself on the trail, totally oblivious to all the action around him.
Princeton University was probably the one of the prettiest campuses I have ever visited. It’s gothic architecture spread out over a massive landscaped campus complete with statues, fountains, and formal gardens was breathe taking. I visited their football stadium, many of their ivy covered buildings, hence the term “Ivy League”, Prospect Garden, and even caught the tail end of a campus tour for the prospective Class of 2026 and their parents.
I ventured off campus in search of lunch and noted a popular Pancake House with a line around the corner. I opted for a gourmet grilled cheese at Olsson’s Fine Foods, 53 Palmer Square W, Princeton. They had close to a dozen to choose from and you could mix and match. I opted for The Notable Pig, with the addition of some caramelized onions. The sandwiches were made fresh to order and definitely worth the 10 minute wait.
With my belly full I headed back down to the D&R trail and shorty encountered the toughest section of riding. About a mile or so of sand, mostly firm, but occasionally in loose mounds up to 20 feet long and the width of the trail. On a mountain bike with wide knobby tires this would not have been a challenge. On a road bike you needed to keep your weight off the front wheel and maintain constant steady progress to prevent your front wheel from digging in and tossing you over the handlebars. If you pedaled too fast you risked losing control in turns or having your rear wheel spin out and skid. It was a constant battle between sand, gravity, and your balance to keep the bike in motion and the rubber side down. I believe we all came through the sand relatively unscathed. We exited the D&R, crossed the Delaware River, not too far from where George Washington crossed during the Revolutionary War, and entered Pennsylvania. After a quick water stop I entered the D&L Trail. It was much more urban than he D&R and even had some short paved stretches. I had a chance to stop and investigate the remnants of an old lock. One cue sheet notation advised a detour on the road but I noticed a guy on a mountain bike ahead of me so when the trail ended abruptly I followed him into a parking lot and over a bridge where he made a left turn back onto the trail. When I reached the top of the bridge he was riding down a 15 foot flight of cement stairs, I decided to retrace my route and take the recommended detour. When I caught back up to him I told him that I liked his shortcut, but not on a road bike.
Seven states down, 8 more to go.
Miles 1,022 Feet Climbed 40,900
States Visited Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island,
Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania
For more details on my route, see my