Rides We Like: Up on Chestnut Ridge Road
(2015) I can say that I’ve raised an eyebrow at some of the quackery thrown my way. I will readily admit I watched Finding Bigfoot with an air of irony. A small population has tried to convince me of the pseudoscience of dowsing rods and their potential to find anything from ground water to ghosts. Proudly I made it only five minutes through Discovery Channel’s mockumentary about the Megalodon. But then there’s the wooly caterpillar. Ride bikes long enough on tertiary roads amidst farm country and a wooly caterpillar will be seen vibrating across the road. When I lend a helping hand and clear it out of the road to avoid being flattened by any sort of traffic, the caterpillar rolls up for thirty seconds and waits until the coast is clear. The quackery mentioned is the belief that these striped suckers have the ability to predict winter’s fury based on the thickness of their racing stripe.
Strangely this year’s population has been remarkably hidden. Up to this point I had been able to see no more than five of these little colorful caterpillars traveling across the roads of northern Bucks County. Of the five seen, three were solid color. I’m not sure what that means according to the surveys, but perhaps it means either winter is going to be non-existent or the mother of all winters. Imagine my excitement when early on my ride with Dillon, he shouted out that a caterpillar was jaywalking the tar-and-chipped road.
I had merely thought they had already headed to their winter vacation spots. I was excited to see one. (We would see two more on the return trip.) I snapped its picture and helped it on its way out of the road. This one, and the two others, was striped. This whole business of using caterpillars to factually predict the fierceness is hard to decipher. It’s best to leave it to the professionals.
It was already decided that we would ride north to the trustworthy Homestead General Store via Tinicum Church Road/ Chestnut Ridge Road. This was something I thought about the night before. With the leaves having been blown off during Wednesday’s remnants of a tropical storm it was an eager ride – with a tailwind – to the start of the climb just after the Erwinna Covered Bridge. This is pavement used in the first few miles of the Covered Bridges Ride, and mileage I hadn’t considered for a while.
This is a beautiful road in either direction. The scenery of Bucks County unfurls itself as one continues up the road. Driveways go to nowhere despite having a rustic bridge to access the road. A beautiful brick church with quaint cemetery guides the eye over the acreage to tiny glimpses of a distant horizon. That horizon is the rolling hills of New Jersey. Farms provide sudden clearing for a proper view of the countryside over the Delaware River. Horses and sheep forage without worry.
The road changes name after Lodi Hill – a gravel climb cursed by many in the Fool’s Classic – to Chestnut Ridge. With a trained eye, one can spot the American chestnut saplings that will sadly only live a few years. This once-dominant tree was reduced to nothingness by a blight brought over at the turn of the twentieth century. While the tree isn’t extinct, it may as well be considered non-existent as nearly every tree dies because of this infection. It is also here that, strangely enough, the leaves remained on the trees. Not only were they present, they were exploding with yellows and hues mustard. We were on top of the ridge and somehow these trees managed to hold onto their leaves for us to enjoy.
Topping out this climb, we made a right on Bridgeton Hill Road, which is a notorious experience in either direction. Recently reopened, Bridgeton Hill Road is a descent that must be respected. Before the drop-off though, an amazing view of the smudged colors across the River are available to regard for a short moment. The first of three turns snap the focus back to the descent. Picking up speed quickly anyone with confidence in bike handling and tire selection can let the bike run a bit through the sweeping right-hander.
It is the long straightaway that gets riders in trouble. The upcoming sharp left turn doesn’t look as bad as it really is. Three known riders have wound up on the porch of the guy’s house at the bottom of the hill. There is no bailout area except the porch. Smoking the brakes is the only option, but this is one of two steep parts where speed comes quick. Like I said, be prepared.
Relaxation can kick in immediately as Homestead General Store comes into view. The Delaware Canal trail is what the bridge goes over before making the immediate right into the parking lot. This is an exciting time. Pulling in opens a world of possibilities in the form of coffee, a quick drink, or a full meal. There are many options.
Sitting on the back porch allows one to see the amount of cyclists moving up and down the canal. Without the concern for traffic or climbs it makes for a relaxing day on the bike. People were getting off their bikes with smiles and walking directly into Homestead General Store. We exchanged cordials with a local couple seated outside too before deciding to return the same way we came. This meant having to trade the fast descent down Bridgeton Hill Road for the tough climb right after a layover. It’s followed by the lovely gentle downhill of Chestnut Ridge Road and farther on.
We encountered many nuances not noticed on the way out: the wind was now at our face. The outward bound downhills became zapping uphills. We also noticed a couple more caterpillars inching their way across the road. Too bad they morph into pale white moths that flutter in the light near the entryway. While it’s ever changing to know what kind of winter we will have, one thing is for sure on our ride today: running out of water is not a good thing if no one in the group has two sticks to locate ground water. Even if we did, we probably wouldn't approach it because of the likelihood of Megalodon waiting for us.