Day 20 Bensalem, PA to Wilmington, DE 62 miles 2,067 feet
It was already warm morning as I started to pedal this morning and I was actually surprised to note that our hotel was only 2 miles from the Philadelphia city line. I would ride the first 6 of those on Torresdale Avenue through a fairly seedy part of down. The street was lined with run down clapboard row houses, auto repair shops, used tire dealers, bodegas, and bars. The only thing of architectural significance was a massive stone walled structure that ran for several blocks, I assumed that it was an old armory. Turning left off of Torresdale I encountered an obstacle that I would see many times over on todays route, raised curved trolly tracks, some defunct, and some still in use. In either case they needed to be crossed carefully on a bike so as not to grab your wheel if you crossed to acutely and not too fast to avoid a pinch flat when crossing at right angles. The closer I got to center city the more the neighborhoods and housing stock improved. In one cute neighborhood I noted well maintained and restored brick row houses whose numbers were displayed on plaques with a fish, even the public garbage containers had a fish head. Only after I finished riding did I learn that I was riding through Fishtown, but of course. The route then ran along the waterfront before heading into center city proper. The bodegas, auto shops, used tire dealers, and burned out tenements were replaced with fine brick houses, some centuries old, and upscale cafes adorned with colorful umbrellas.
I met my van for water in Schuylkill River Park, right across from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I decided to take a detour and spend a few hours exploring Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania where I spent many weekends during college visiting my friend Lew. I also had a hankering for a hot pastrami sandwich from Koch’s Deli, my go to in Philadelphia. It was just like yesterday, except it was a cold Saturday morning in January or February of 1975 when I was first introduced to Koch’s. We slept in after a late night on the town and were listening to Bruce Springsteen and sipping coffee when I broached the subject of food, Lew said we should go to a deli called Koch’s. It was freezing cold, we would have to walk, and wait outside the deli for perhaps half an hour, but Lew said it was worth it. We put on our heaviest winter clothes and trudged over through the cold. We did in fact wait outside for half and hour with dozens of other hungry students but the staff would walk up and down our line giving everyone small cut up samples of the sandwiches we were waiting for. When I finally received my hot pastrami it was at least 4 inches thick and the best I had ever had. I stop in to Koch’s religiously whenever I am in Philadelphia. Apple Maps said that Koch’s was less than 2 miles from where I was standing and that they would open at 11. Off I pedaled with Siri giving me directions. I was major league bummed when I arrived to find Koch’s sign still hanging from the building but the deli was boarded up and abandoned. I guess sometimes you just can’t go home, but I will never forget Koch’s or my first sandwich there.
I spent time walking/riding through the University of Pennsylvania and once again, just like at Princeton, was amazed at the rich history of the school. Students in California colleges have great weather, can if they are so inclined, surf or ski, sometimes both on the same day, but they don’t have the history of the old East Coast Colleges.
I asked a UP security guard, who appeared to be about my vintage, where I could get a good Philadelphia cheesesteak. He pointed me a few blocks down to Terry’s food truck, Spruce Street between 37’th and 36’th Streets. When I arrived there was a long queue of students so I took that as a positive sign. The cheesesteak was good, but not as good as the Koch’s I was hankering for. I spent some time in Rittenhouse Square, one of the five original parks planned by William Penn during the late 17’th century. Wealthy merchants began to erect spacious mansions on the square in the mid 1800’s. One of the original homes was converted into the Rittenhouse Club, made famous by Eddie Murphy in the movie Trading Places.
I plotted my course back to our planned route and when I arrived at the intersection I suddenly realized a problem, my map software was not 3 dimensional. The two lines did in fact cross but the route was 40 feet below me with no obvious means to get there, except for 4 flights of stairs. Thankfully, I was climbing down rather than up with my bike.
As soon as I left center city I was back in burned out decrepit neighborhoods, strewn with garbage, broken glass, burnt out houses, abandoned burnt out vehicles, human waste, and unfortunately a ghost bike.
I was thrilled when I reached the lush greenery of the Cobbs Creek Trail but that repast was short lived and I was back on streets before too long. As I got farther from the city the homes became more working class and resembled the street Archie Bunker lived on.
I entered the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge and rode about 4 miles through wetlands on loose gravel, the last 200 yards was fresh road base that had just been laid and was awaiting compaction. I really wished I had a full suspension mountain bike with 3” knobby tires.
We headed back towards the waterfront and I thought I was being led onto the imposing Commodore Barry Bridge. At the last minute my cues had me cross under it instead, right alongside the Subaru Soccer Stadium and Chester Station, a massive former coal-fired power station that had been converted to offices.
Just before entering Delaware I spotted a tall oil refinery and wondered if I had made a wrong turn and was back in New Jersey, once around the corner I saw that the refinery as well as oil and natural gas storage tanks stretched on for miles. I believe I was riding through what military strategists call a TARGET. The next 10 miles or so where brutal into a 20mph headwind. I was thrilled to re-enter a greenway, even if it meant riding some single track and climbing a few steep hills.
We dined at Stitch House Brewery, 929 N Market Street, which had a special Octoberfest menu as well as the usual brew house fare. I did not have any beer but the food was excellent.
Eight states down, 7 more to go.
Miles 1,084 Feet Climbed 42,966
States Visited Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware
For more details on my route, see my Strava link