Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Gently Down the Stream

The picture to the left sums up Labor Day weekend (September 6, 2009) as Team Varsity took on their greatest challenge to date: Kelly Drive and Wissahickon Park.  Thus filling the bike void in our lives caused by the blistering sauna that was the month of August. Get ready for 14+ miles of fun.
The first leg of our adventure begins with a hearty breakfast of french toast, coffee and a heaping helping of Hook (I know, we're bangerang).  After much dilly dallying we get down to business, pack some pink lemonade and head out to our bikes only to find that my bike is a hot mess a needs a tune up.  Thanks to the guys at Bicycle Therapy, I got a new spring for my quick release and my derailleur adjusted.  Our initial plan for the day's bike ride was to ride the Kelly Drive bike loop which had already been conquered by Team Varsity back in April of this year.

The Kelly Drive Bike loop is about 8.56 miles or 13.78 kilometers, if you are fluent in metric, and has a fair amount of sights to see along the way.  (I'll spare you the shot of the dead fish I took.)  The twists and turns of the loop yield sculptures, memorials and a whole mess of bikers, runners and hot mens sculling their way down the river. It's a gorgeous sight to behold.  Keep an eye out for the gigantic cement candle perched atop a cliff in the Laural Hill Cemetery, over looking the Schuylkill.  I'm always amazed at how people memorialize themselves in death through their gravestones and epitaphs. (More about this in the Clark Park expedition.)  Note to bikers: when the loop splits, split right to avoid the stairs on the left.  Team Varsity was almost a Jackass video.

We finish half the leg of our intended journey and stop for a break at the Falls Bridge, situated on the corner of Calumet and Kelly Drive.  The bridge, erected in 1895,  connects East River Drive (Kelly) and West River Drive, the other half of the loop.  The Falls Bridge is known as a Pratt- truss bridge because it includes vertical and diagonal support systems that all angle towards the center of the bridge creating y and k- shaped patterns spanning the length of the frame.  Interestingly enough, the structure of the bridge incorporates support for a double-deck but because of lack of funding, it was never built.  If I was Civil Engineer, I'd have a boner right about... now.

Things get interesting here because instead of continuing along the loop we decide to proceed past the Falls Bridge into the unknown.  The path continues down the drive but gets smaller and smaller.  I felt like I was Alice about to enter into Wonderland.  Soon we were ass to ass with other joggers and bikers, on a tiny sidewalk, trying to avoid being pummeled by on coming traffic.  Team Varsity turns the corner and suddenly we are at the intersection of awesome and gorgeous.  Unbeknownst to the both of us, there is  a whole other park to be discovered. Team Varsity takes a unanimous vote to continue and explore the park.

Unfortunately you cannot Google the intersection of Awesome and Gorgeous.  The entrance to Wissahickon Park is situated near a hub of cars, trains and nature.  According to the Google map it's where Ridge Ave, Kelly Drive and Lincoln Drive all merge together into one giant road snake. (That's what the map looks like anyways.) Septa's R6 Norristown can take you there too.  Just get off at the Wissahickon Station a couple hundred feet shy of the entrance.  There you will find your self on the edge of escape over looking the falls of the Wissahickon Creek.

Wissahickon Valley Park is part of the Fairmount Park Commission and consists of over 50 miles of trails open to joggers, bikers and equestrians.  At one point I was convinced we were maneuvering around bear shit only to find stables at the mid point of the trail later on.  Not once did I see a horse but you sure could smell em'.  Many of the trails you need a permit to access which are free to Philadelphia residents and valid for a year. And by free I mean a $20 suggested donation. I plan on getting my permit in the near future to explore this thing called the Devil's Pool marked along one of the trails.  It sounds like a place I need to visit. 
Continuing down the paved path and traversing the hills, we ventured over a wood plank bridge crossing the creek.  Keeping two abreast, Team Varsity encounters another entrance to the park right off of Lincoln Drive.  Here there is a Guardhouse built by the Works Progress Administration in the early 1940's, one of many scattered though out the park.  Team Varsity had to make a decision whether or not to take Forbidden Drive (terrifying) or continue on the paved path to Rittenhouse Town.  Obviously we took the paved path and moments later the team was riding though a gravel which were more like miniature boulders. We a not named Team Huffy so we immediately turn around and continue the other way down Forbidden Drive.

Forbidden Drive is also a gravel path (less extreme for road bikes), about 7.5 miles in length, that runs parallel to the Wissahickon Creek and rides along the giant rock formations throughout the valley.  This is one of the trails that you do not need a permit for.  Forbidden Drive sounds like horror film with zombies that inhabit an abandoned saw mill but the name is derived from the ban of automobiles on the trail in the early 1920's.  We stopped at some point to take a swim in the Wissahickon.  Absolutely refreshing, possibly illegal, most definitely frowned upon.  (I did a little research and found out that the creek is highly polluted, I'll keep you posted on my new developing appendages!)  After the swim (so many odd looks by passer-byers, jealousy I assume) we continued on the path reaching the half way point of the trail at the Valley Green Inn.  And this is where we decided to call it quits.  We had already biked about 7 miles and definitely did not anticipate all the hills.  After a 10 minute break we mount the Varsities and make our way back to the city.  The ride back was grueling.  The temperature had dropped and the sun was suddenly replaced with some menacing clouds and wind.  

Team Varsity only managed to ride a small portion of the trails but despite the long way back and the subsequent aching body, the entire trip was worth it.  It's absolutely perfect for getting out of the city and putting a little nature in your life.  I recommend it to any runner, biker, or horse whisperer.  

<3 Liz



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