Monday, September 26, 2005

113.5 miles to Philadelphia - Liberty to Liberty! - over two days

My cousin got married in Phila- delphia this weekend, so Mike and I biked there! Yes, we're doing our part to reduce this country's dependence on oil ;-).

There is a triathlon each year called Liberty to Liberty: a race from the Statue of Liberty to the Liberty Bell. We printed the bicycle course maps and off we went - in less of a hurry than those triathletes!

On Saturday, after riding to Pier 11, near the South Street Seaport, the first step was actually a high-speed ferry ride to the Atlantic Highlands in New Jersey. This let us avoid the turnpikes. The boat was very fun and comfy. We ate personal pizzas that we had brought along, and I drank a rum and coke from the on-boat bar -- foolish? maybe. Fun? Definitely.
We arrived shortly before 2pm. This particular ferry skipped the Atlantic Highlands stop and landed in nearby Highlands, so we rode a few hilly miles to reach the start of the bike route. A chained-off road might have thwarted some people, but not us! We slid underneath the chain and biked to the Atlantic Highlands.

The route took place over 14 maps, and went through rural New Jersey. At first it was a false kind of rural, with show ponies and occasional mansions. But these eventually gave way to real rural, with silos, fields, and tiny towns.

After the first 50 miles of biking, we were ready for a little break. And there - at the side of the road - was a very comfortable sofa! We relaxed for a bit before moving on. Here's Mike on the couch.

Then I relaxed on the couch.

We continued through a couple very small towns, and it started getting dark ... then very dark. We had to stop for the night. We reached a Howard Johnson's in Westhampton, NJ, right off the New Jersey Turnpike. They only had two nonsmoking rooms left, each with jacuzzis. We took them.

Here is the jacuzzi. I looked at the odometer - bicycling distance so far? 75 miles.

And here is the room. I parked my bike inside, and we left for a late dinner.

This town was chock full of dining options. A mile down the road there was a Wendy's, a Dunkin' Donuts and a Charlie Brown's Steakhouse. Or, right near the hotel, there was an Applebys, a Cracker Barrel, and a place called Karmas which offered spicy Indian fare.

There's nothing worse than bad Indian food, and since this restaurant was in the middle of nowhere and only patronized by folks stopping off the turnpike, I wasn't ready to chance it.

So we chose Applebys, and apparently it was the social hotspot in West- hampton NJ! It was a decadent meal: we started with oreo cookie milkshakes, then shared a combo appetizer of mozzarella sticks, quesadilla slices, spinach-cheese dip, and chicken nuggets. I skipped the chicken, of course.

Then I had a broccoli fettucini alfredo with a few other veggies mixed in. The apple pie a la mode looked tasty for dessert, but we were both ready to burst.

Afterward, in search of something to read, we stopped by the Cracker Barrel. For those of you who are not familiar with the Cracker Barrel (a group that included me until yesterday), it is half-store, half-restaurant. The restaurant serves all sorts of greasy fried meats. The store is the tackiest place you've ever seen. It makes the Yankee Candle Company seem refined by comparison. They sell all manner of tacky chintz - a woman followed us around trying to foist on us large dancing snowmen and witches for Halloween, and a miniature house decorated with Christmas lights with intricately detailed furniture.

We went back to the hotel and arranged to meet at the continental breakfast the next morning. I woke up shortly after 6am - after just five hours sleep - but couldn't fall back asleep. So I went in the jacuzzi and read Reader's Digest, which I had chosen over Martha Stewart's journal when perusing Cracker Barrel's very limited reading selection. Later, we met up for breakfast, checked out, and continued on our way. We were already on Map 11 out of 14, and it didn't take too long to get through to the Ben Franklin Bridge.

This is Mike on the Ben Franklin Bridge that connects Camden NJ with Phila- delphia. The bridge is only open to pedestrians and bicyclists from 11am to 7pm, though there's probably a train that goes across at other times. The bridge starts at the Rutgers campus in New Jersey and ends in Philadelphia pretty close to Independence Hall.

This is me on the Ben Franklin bridge. There was a looney pedestrian in front of us, but bikes go faster than pedestrians so we just whizzed by him. We made it! We were in Philadelphia!

We parked our bikes outside of Indepen- dence Hall with a single Krypto-nite lock, and went to see the Liberty Bell. It's impressive to look at - but much smaller than you'd imagine. Then we headed out in search of lunch.

The place we'd planned on was closed on Sundays, so we asked two people for recommendations. The first, a skater kid who worked at the Marriott, suggested a nearby "brew-pub" called Champions. We passed it, but it was very loud and didn't look particularly good. The second fellow, a security guard who was standing outside the Hard Rock Cafe, said, "I know what you're looking for - good value, and good food." He recommended a 24-hour diner called Midtown II which had both. We took his recommendation.

It was a good choice. Midtown II had a large menu of food that was freshly prepared each day. Everyone there was black except for us and one employee. It was a low key and inviting atmosphere, and two older women at nearby tables started chatting with us about the food, hotels that have stoves or stovetops in the rooms, their kids, the weather, and bicycling. I love Philadelphia because it's such a friendly and social place. Here, you can see the chocolate milkshake that Mike had. I was "good" and skipped that indulgence, though I had eggplant parmesan with spaghetti as my side vegetable. (That also tells you something about Philly!)

We left and rode up to 30th Street Station, where Mike hopped aboard a train heading back to NYC. I continued on the bike up Lancaster Avenue and turned onto City Avenue to reach the wedding. Everyone in Philadelphia warns you about the rough areas, which include some parts of Lancaster Avenue, but from my limited experience, if you're bicycling there's not much to worry about.

I reached the Hilton on City Avenue and encountered my extended family in formal attire. I was perspiring, in a blue t-shirt that was damp with sweat, with a bathing suit instead of shorts. It was embarrassing! After a little chit-chat I went up to my parents' room (they had brought my suit), showered, and we all headed out to the wedding at the nearby botanical garden.

They had a van bring people to the wedding, but there wasn't enough room so we waited outside the hotel. Here's my father and sister. He brought a camera bag to take photos.

We gave up on the van and took their car to the botanical garden, chatting a bit before the ceremony started.

Here's a photo of J, my aunt, M (the groom), and my uncle.

It was a super wedding and a really fun party - a beautiful setting, nicely thought out, great conversations, great music. This photo was of the ceremony; I didn't get a photo of the larger garden where we ate, but that enclosed room was dimly lit with colorful lights that gave the garden a magical appearance.

I stayed til shortly after 11pm, went back to the hotel, removed the wheels from my bicycle and put it in my parents' car trunk, then headed out to 30th Street Station to catch an Amtrak train home. I didn't arrive home til 2am.


Blogger M said...

Awesome!! Now, onto bigger, better things..around the world by bike in 80 days?;)

3:08 PM  

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