The day broke clear and cool, reminiscent of the days of a week before, early in my trip. I breakfasted at the motel, then hit the road. The first couple of miles were all uphill, steep in spots. You know how some mornings you just don't have much energy to start? This was one of those days. Usually, 15 or 20 minutes on the road works out those kinks for me, but not when I immediately have a tough uphill to do. Still, I made it to the top of the ascent and was treated to a nice view of the valley below.
The surface of the D&L trail in East Penn township varied, but this was fairly typical of the better parts.
Nearing Lehigh Gap
A nice sight: The airport control tower peeking up over the ridge as I neared the end of my trip.
That was of course followed by a descent. This ended just east of the town of Bowmanstown. Standing between me and my destination was a high mountain ridge. (The Appalachian Trail runs along the top of this ridge.) The approach taken by Route L was to head east back up into the hills, then drop into a valley just north of the ridge and pass through the ridge at "Little Gap." This entails a fair amount of climbing, and back when I was planning the trip I looked for a better alternative. The Lehigh River flows through the ridge at Lehigh Gap, but the only road through there is a limited-access road not accessible to bicycles. Diligent research on the Internet (OK, I stumbled across it) led me to a website about the D&L Trail, which follows alongside the Lehigh River on old canal towpaths and railbeds. According to the website, the trail was passable through Lehigh Gap.
So, I parted from Route L at this point, turning west to drop down through Bowmanstown, cross the river, and pick up the D&L Trail in East Penn township. After about a mile of road along the river, the road ended and I moved over to the trail. The first couple of miles of the trail were difficult. Yes, the tail was "passible," but in parts it had been filled in using large (1- to 3-inch rocks) that made riding difficult unless the bicycle had really wide tires -- which mine does not. So, for stretches, I had to dismount and walk the bike. Still, it was flat, and that was the point.
Once I crossed the line from Carbon County into Lehigh County, the tail became a nice packed cinder surface I could ride at 10-12 mph with little effort. Score one for Lehigh County! I follwed the trail for several miles into the town of Slatington, where I left the trail and crossed the river to Walnutport. I climbed a bit up through the residential streets of Walnutport to reach PA 145, heading south paralleling the river. That road took me back across the river to the west side and into the town of Cementon, where I turned east onto PA 329, crossing the river one final time.
I followed PA 329 east for a bit, then turned off to head toward the airport where my car was parked. The day was still reasonably cool and had gotten quite breezy. Soon, I reached the road bordering the airport, followed it to Airport Road, turned onto that and was shortly at the entrance that brought me to the back of the economy parking lot, where I found my car intact and waiting for me. The wind had really picked up, and as I unloaded the bike and stowed my belongings in the car, I had to be careful not to let anything get caught on the wind and blown away! Once I had my bike and panniers stowed, I hopped into the car and quickly changed into street clothes. My trip was finished, and all that remained was to drive back to Connecticut.
It had been three years since my last long bike trip, my Western PA loop of 2007. As I'm getting older (and fatter), I wasn't completely confident about my ability to complete this trip in the allotted time, but I was pleasantly surprised. Once I got going, old habits and abilities kicked in, and 50-mile days proved quite doable. I had allotted 13 days for the trip; I finished it in 11 days.
Tale of the tape Total distance traveled: 513.5 miles.
Reading my journal, it seems like I was obsessed with the hills. And when I was actually riding, the state of the hills was a pretty dominant theme. But in the longer term, it isn't the climbing I'll remember most, it is all of the other stuff. The people I met, the scenery I saw, the different parts of life in Pennsylvania. That's ultimately why I do these trips. It doesn't hurt that I dropped a few pounds on the trip, either!
For those who are interested, I've put together a few notes about the equipment and procedures used for planning and executing my trip.