Rides We Like: Up Uhlerstown Hill
(2015) Hang out in the Bucks cycling circles long enough and one will hear a constant name thrown around when discussing the hardest hill: Uhlerstown. It’s been argued that it’s the worst one offered in this County. And while I’ve never found a competitor here, that doesn’t mean a more awful experience lurks in the shadows.
Well. It was a cold morning. These weird mornings have altered afternoons. Our faux winter has nearly forty-degree temperature swings if one were to ride long enough. That’s difficult to dress for. Add in the experiences of pointing it toward the Delaware River, and the swing becomes more noticeable. Dillon and I had sun, so that was a guarantee. Or was it?
Our goal for the day was to roll down Perry Auger Road, a quaint northern Bucks County road that is rife with glacial detritus, back country roads, enjoyable speed turn sections, and minimal traffic. How we got there was a continuous questionnaire of, “Which way now?” as we approached each intersection. It’s a nice break from set routes. It provides a relaxation that we can stay out as long or as short as needed.
What’s a Bucks County ride without a couple covered bridges? We passed through the newly repaired Frankenfield Covered Bridge. I’m sure someone broke it moments after we passed through it. Something I hadn’t noticed all the times I’ve crossed this bridge was the presence of knots sticking up from the planks. No wonder the crossing can be rough sometimes.
With the route up in the air at all times, so too was the desire to stop for coffee. At first we thought stopping in the beginning was a good idea. We scrapped it. This is when we decided for Uhlerstown. Since that took a lot of mental preparation we worried about the coffee stop later in the ride. We would ultimately scrap the coffee stop out of fear it would heat up too much and make the ride home uncomfortable.
We sunk down into the river town of Erwinna feeling each degree drop. According to the sign at the canal access Erwinna was set to become a boomtown during the height of mule barge cargo transport. Since the canal lost out to the railroad Erwinna quietly slunk down to hamlet status. It’s beautiful for sure, and it’s peaceful.
Because River Road motorists seem to express extreme displeasure toward cyclists, we opted for the canal path to access Uhlerstown. This is not my favorite way to go, but it’s the safest. We exchanged salutations with disc golfers at Tinicum Park. We had what felt like the entire length of the canal path to ourselves. We also had a new experience moving in: fog.
This portion of the Delaware River seems to get caught up in fog often. I remember driving through the fog when crossing the Frenchtown bridge. It felt at the time as though I were floating across the clouds. The fog was only in this portion again today making the approach to Uhlerstown ominous to say the least.
Coming off the canal trail and onto the road proper became foreboding. It was extremely quiet at the maw of our second covered bridge. Once passing through the bridge one makes a right turn and passes between some old houses. It’s eerie today. The archways on the left feel asleep. I’ve never seen anyone out in any of the houses. Being past December 1st, this road is technically closed for the year, but the gate is not present.
It’s after the gate’s hitching post that the climb commences. The road is barely wide enough for one car. To make the climb harder the road is not in the best of shape. There are patches, but with patches comes pavement stones to allow a back tire to slip out. There are potholes that would not normally be a concern but when climbing can arrest the forward momentum of a cyclist. There’s the small slanting of the road to allow for drainage that actually increases the gradient if one were to try to weave and stay clipped in. This hill hates to be defeated. Today, in the fog, it felt as though it could go on for ten more miles like this. The top gait was obscured by mist.
Dillon put in a hard effort to trudge to the summit. I maintained my rhythm in hopes of hanging in there. A weird twinge of some calf muscle happened every left pedal stroke. I didn’t have the time to think of that now. I reeled in and passed Dillon up the hill when I heard a car coming up behind us. This was only the second time I had experienced a car on this road in the scores of approaches. Not only was it a car, but also it was a pickup truck. Space was a premium. I moved to the nonexistent shoulder of the road and hoped we each had enough space. Uhlerstown was going down with a fight.
The truck cleared away, I saw the summit materialize in the moisture. It hung there like a laughing piñata. I let out an audible sigh and dug a bit deeper knowing the top was there. The final kick was hard, but Uhlerstown gave way. My breathing was heavy. I circled back to see how Dillon was doing and didn’t take into consideration how difficult a U-turn would be on a steep downhill one-laned road. It was hard.
We freewheeled downhill a spell and decided to start on Perry Auger, our goal for the day. If Uhlerstown was hard, Perry Auger doesn’t immediately extend a welcome. With more climbing I dropped back a bit. This was where Dillon said he saw a black bear once on a ride. I would be easy pickings if it were to pass through at the same time today. After a little effort Perry Auger becomes rewarding in the form of winding wagon roads passing through State Game Lands.
We pointed toward a last-ditch coffee stop but first said hello to Genny the donkey, our mascot for rides. She shares a pasture with a horse and a miniature horse. She’s quite aloof and doesn’t care for small talk. As a matter of fact it’s hard not to take it personally when she trots off to the exact opposite side of her pasture. Perhaps one day I’ll win her over. The horse was all for the face massage, though.
In the end we axed the coffee shop and decided home was where the coffee would flow. With the temperature rising it would be uncomfortable soon to still be out. It was another great ride, but we were exhausted. The fluctuating temperatures, the climb up Uhlerstown, and frankly the emotional distress caused by a tiny donkey having none of our salutations left an overwhelming desire to kick back for the rest of the warm afternoon. Two covered bridges, one steep hill, great company, and miles of upper Bucks roads is a hard day to beat.