Essay: On River Road
(2015) According to psychologytoday.com, Multiple Personality Disorder can be defined as one who has two (or more) distinct identities present in an individual. Even so, it’s a negative connotation that insinuates an entity’s ability to shift amongst multiple modalities. It mostly means that one can switch amongst multiple styles of personality. If one had a multiple personality in road sense, River Road in Pennsylvania would exemplify that definition. Paralleling the Delaware River, River Road takes on many different personalities much like the riders who ply their trade down western portion of the River. My nine-to-five sees me driving down River Road south of New Hope. What’s interesting about the Pennsylvania side of mirroring ribbon of asphalt is that it’s without a shoulder. While New Jersey acknowledges riders in some of its miles, Pennsylvania does not care about the two-wheeled crowd. This creates two interesting groups of commuters on River Road in the morning and afternoon commutes. Maybe it’s a little bit of envy and wonderment that leads me to contemplating those who brave the shoulder-less pathway of River Road.
I’ve explored much of River Road’s vast personalities: in the northeast portion of Pennsylvania, by the Delaware Water Gap, it’s a peaceful openness of road that allows a rider to soak in the surroundings. The park proper’s speed limit relegates a motorist to 35 miles-per-hour at best (44 miles-per-hour to be honest) leaving the two-wheeled crowd to move along with minimal care.
Moving a bit south and one can find River Road taking on a rolling personality. It’s so rolling that a sign warns about the road’s availability: it’s only open three seasons out of the year. Between the road and the river is acreage that possesses path and planter. Farm fields and hiking trails abound amongst the campsites and cabins. It is beautifully unpredictable.
Farther south finds one on the combination River Road/ State Route 611, which originates in Philadelphia. It’s the old coach road that connects Philly to Easton. It is also a rolling road that offers non-Pennsylvania views including a nuclear power plant and numerous farmhouses. It feels like another country when considering the populated southern portion of the road.
Continuing south of Easton one finds a claustrophobic road with no shoulder, masonic walls, and motorists without patience. Cyclists must wake up quite early to ply these miles to improve the possibility of safe passage. For many days of the year this portion of the road is in the shade of the palisades: rock formations that cut the direct sunlight off at midday in the most beneficial scenarios.
And even more southern is a road that is pockmarked and hazardous. Despite the right side of the road being recently repaved River Road is still a navigational nightmare. Throw in following motorists and one-lane bridges, and one can risk overstimulation. South still, and the population increase is felt. Anxiety sets in as the cyclist pushes the pedals to clear off the road as quickly as possible.
Which brings me to the population I witness on a regular basis. There, south of New Hope, is a breed of River Road cyclists whom I admire. These are the brigades of riders that shirk at school buses, trash trucks, landscaping truck with their trailers, impatient motorists, and New Jersey drivers in general. Yet each day they can be observed coming back for another serving to commute to work. I am envious of their stubbornness.
There’s the male rider who every morning I see riding northbound with dayglo orange laces in his Giro shoes. The past few days have been below fifty degrees, but he has gone without knee warmers still. There’s the southbound rider with her flashing rear light. She can be witnessed charging toward Yardley in the morning with a fearlessness and conviction to own a small portion of the road.
During the commute home, I’ve seen multiple southbound riders, sometimes more than three soloists, hammering down River Road in an effort, not to beat the rush hour, but to be a part of it. These are the rush hour heroes.
Since River Road possesses multiple personalities, the riders themselves adapt to their surroundings. While many riders have cautioned riding in what has been deemed stressful scenarios, they pale in comparison to those who reside within a meter of the white line whilst riding Pennsylvania’s River Road.
Which leads me to the second person that commutes on River Road. Yes I’ve seen a few close calls with riders, but for the most part, Pennsylvanians give these cyclists fair passage. They may display frustration by heavy acceleration, but they do so with respectable space for comfort. These commuters have been at it so long, that many of the motorists recognize their presence.
While the length of Pennsylvania’s River Road changes from one mile to the next, giving it too many personalities to recognize, the riders between New Hope and Yardley should be recognized for their stubborn ways. They aren’t intimidated in the slightest by heavy traffic or approximation of motorists. They aren’t hesitant about considering River Road as a cycling artery. Where many riders may shirk at the risk, these few riders attack the miles with respectable effort to substitute motorcars for pedal power.
This is why River Road has many personalities. There are many different acceptances on this stretch of road, but the riders themselves on this stretch dictate the space for those brave enough to merge into the traffic. For those who ride between New Hope and Yardley, they win the bravery award for hammering through the car crowd.