Ever since I moved to the Philadelphia area and heard about the Bike MS: City to Shore Ride, I knew it was something I wanted to do. Hopping on your bike from home with a small backpack to carry snacks and then riding 90 miles to reach the beach is very much like backpacking and heading off into the wilderness for a few days, or it’s like taking a small carry on bag, stepping off the train platform in order to ride to the airport for a trip abroad. In other words, I loved it.
There’s freedom in leaving your car behind and traveling as far as your legs can take you. I packed lots of snacks as if I were doing a full IRONMAN, had some spare cash, my phone for emergencies, two tubes with three CO2 cartridges, and some extra masks. I checked my lights and secured my bike radar just before heading over to Lou’s house in Narberth where our trek from the city to shore began.
Lou raised money for MS research and planned the route that took us across City Avenue, down MLK drive, past the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and down the Parkway to Race Street where we would ride over the Ben Franklin Bridge, one of Philadelphia’s many bridges and my favorite. I was lucky enough to make a donation to his fundraising page and to come along for this ride. As we rode down the Parkway, I was reminded of the similarities between Philadelphia’s street layout and the Champs-Elysees in Paris as we rounded the circle onto Race Street. Next, we rode over the Franklin Bridge, a suspension bridge that links Philadelphia to Camden, NJ and is painted light blue, a nod to the Delaware River below. Once in Camden, we wound our way through the wide city streets to the Cooper River Trail to get off the roads for a bit.
After we left the Camden and the surrounding area, we entered the Pine Barrens region and followed the Pine Barrens Scenic Byway for awhile before stopping for lunch at the Funky Cow in Hammonton, NJ. We were barely half way to our destination in Sea Isle City on the Shore, and for most of the time in the Pine Barrens prior to lunch, I had no idea where we were. The road curved through the pines and white sand soil. I could smell the sun warming up dropped needles scattered next to the smooth tarmac. For a time, I questioned if I was still on my bike or back home with a cup of coffee in hand, but the wind through my helmet and the endless pedaling told me that I was indeed still perched on my bike. We made a stop around mile 25 at a fork in the road that was basically a sandy triangle with a wooden fence far enough away from the road. Other people have stopped here before, which was apparent by the blown-out flip-flop and empty mini bottle of Fireball. Why is it always Fireball? Each mini bottle along our route was indeed a bottle of Fireball. I wondered if the guy we saw raking the forest was doing that to pick up pine needles or empty bottles of Fireball.
The two bridges out along our route also brought me back to reality. At one point, we could see the concrete barriers across the road. Lou suggested we ride up to the barrier to see if it was indeed out since the only way to Hammonton was on a busy road rather than the small country road we were on. It was clear that the bridge was definitely not passable, and in the distance on the other side was what looked like a stray dog picking its way through the underbrush. Maybe it was a deer, maybe it was indeed a stray dog, or maybe it was the Jersey Devil? We didn’t hang out long enough to find out. That way was not the way forward, so we backtracked to another road.
The road switch-backed over railroad tracks and opened up to a five lane highway. This is where the GPS decided to “recalculate”, leaving us undecided if we should turn left from the middle of this highway or cut back across and go right. There was no safe place to stop on either side of this road, so we stayed in the middle turn lane for a minute. The slipstream from passing cars buffeted our bikes. We ended up going to the right and back on the winding roads through the Pine Barrens to eat lunch at the Funky Cow a mere four miles away.
Arriving in Hammonton around mile 40 for lunch was certainly a treat. The Funky Cow specializes in waffle sandwiches–perfect for a meal in the middle of a 90 mile ride. Upon ordering, the cashier asked if I was splitting my sandwich with Lou. I laughed under my mask and told her we just rode 40 miles or more and were only half-way to our destination. I would not be sharing my sandwich because I’m terrible at sharing anything at restaurants: I ate all my whole BBQ chicken waffle sandwich just like I would eat the entire brownie sundae I was supposed to “share” with someone else at the table.
For the rest of the ride, we rode through the pines in search of a Wawa for one last stop. There were none. Every intersection brought hope of a Wawa that wasn’t there. In fact, we didn’t see a gas station or store until we arrived in Tuckahoe, our last stop to refill our bottles and get some more snacks to eat because the ones we brought weren’t good enough at mile 75. We road through Mays Landing, and the roads opened up a bit. As we got closer to the Shore, the scent in the air switched from pine to stagnant salt water of the wide brackish marsh. I couldn’t see the marsh for the pines.
Eventually, we made a left and there was the causeway rolled out like a red carpet to Sea Isle City–the sight I was looking forward to all day. We picked up the pace and rode over the drawbridge to the beach, giddy and euphoric that our ride was almost over. When we dismounted at the beach house, Lou handed me a cold beer because that’s what you drink after one epic ride. I would certainly do this ride again, but not the next day. Phil and Sophia picked me up from the Shore, and Lou rode the 90 miles back home the following day because he’s awesome like that.