Events: Festive 500 Day Five
(2015) Ride Distance: 50 Miles/ 120 Miles Remaining
The Festive is beginning to take its toll on me. The miles are piling up, the routes are demanding, and the body isn’t bouncing back. Worst of all, there are only four days remaining to finish the distance. Heavy rain is forecasted for tomorrow. I'm running out of time.
Focusing on today I awoke with a wonderful gift: sunshine. That’s right, it finally stopped raining just long enough to get me excited about the day’s prospects. Descending the stairs gave me a new perspective on that enthusiasm in the feeling of rubbery legs. Today was going to be hard. Furthering my resolve was the fact that I would do today’s ride by myself.
The route I laid out sent me north to the town of Durham. In the 1700s this was frontier land, which stood in stark contrast to the inhabited land just a few miles south. The Walking Purchase came through the parts I was about to ride. I was headed to this town because of it fits uniquely in Revolutionary War history. It was where the Durham boats were created. These were the boats supposedly used by Washington when he crossed the Delaware 239 years ago. What was so advanced about these boats you might ask? They were adept at handling heavy loads with minimal draft, perfect for the shallow Delaware River. I figured passing by these parts was just as good as passing through Washington Crossing Park.
What exists beyond Durham’s tiny hamlet are two climbs that may make a European cyclist raise an eyebrow. Today I would take the Dogwood Lane climb. This climb has often taken me down before I reached it in the form of mechanicals or group route changes. I was determined to tackle it today.
With the sunshine came breathable weather. Finally the air was fresh and cold. I felt I had overdressed in my cycling pants and jacket. Indeed I was sweating as I climbed the ridges one by one on my way to Nockamixon Township. It was exhilarating to be on dry roads and amidst sunshine. It was even nice to feel a cold wind that had been absent all season until now.
Getting north of Nockamixon is exciting. Once within Game Lands a rider can relax and enjoy the surroundings after utilizing heavier trafficked roads. There’s the glacial detritus I’ve remarked of from time to time. There are tucked- away houses and old churches. There are empty lots of pine trees and grass that would be developed if it were ten miles south. It’s a serene sort of place to ride a bike.
I decided to access Gallows Hill Road in its entirety. This road is well known for the fact that cyclist groan when discussing it. Heading out a rider may find it a rather enjoyable experience, unsure what all the fuss is about. Coming back is when cyclists find out its punch line: that the climbs are harder heading south.
The road demands much attention from the rider. From the start it’s a steep downhill with scraped roadway and numerous patches. It also strongly snakes left, then acutely right, next a drastic left and an uphill to circumnavigate an unidentified old graveyard where it turns right once more sending the rider into hinterland. One will certainly wonder about the status of the front brake and wheel during this descent. One will further wonder if any traffic is coming from the other direction because at least one turn will be overcooked for certain. Plus the name itself creates a foreboding aura over the group, but it's a small price to pay for the amount of town line signs on it.
If given the chance, the small graveyard may catch the eye on the uphill. There amongst the graves is a square crude rock wall. Within its confines is the grave of a man named Thomas Long who died in 1810. He fought in the Revolutionary War, which is why he gets his headstone adorned with a tiny flag. My attempt to find much information on Mr. Long yielded very little as to why his grave is aesthetically different from the other non-descript headstones in the old graveyard.
Continuing north on Gallows Hill yields goats and impressive backyard farms in fallow. Buckwampum Road was passed and would be used on the return trip. It also yields numerous potholes and must be taken with care. It has multiple blind spots that must be considered as well. This road commands complete focus. It crosses a state road and curiously becomes a one- lane barely paved path called Old Philadelphia Road. I am interested in this road’s name as well considering Philadelphia is quite a ways from this location.
Briefly on Durham Road and history comes alive. The immense gristmill holds attention while next to it is a replica of a Durham boat under a roof. I had already started my focus on Dogwood Lane’s climb, so I did not stop to read the signs.
Dogwood Lane is a remarkable climb. I’ve often wondered why it never became a private ski resort in the ‘50s or ‘60s, which was stylish at the time. The road itself would make a perfect one- run private resort. Approaching the start of the climb looks innocent enough. The ridge doesn’t look too imposing. The cockiness is eliminated on the first ramp that is naturally steep to disrupt any rhythm. Afterwards the climb mellows out with a few steeper portions. It’s long, it's winding, and one never gets a sense as to how much is remaining because of the wooded surroundings.
There is a peaceful nameless stream down the right-hand side of the road. There’s a log cabin halfway up that has at times a Belgian Malinois patrolling its borders making a rider work a little bit harder through those parts. The road is constantly thin. Old houses come and go as a rider struggles up. At one point County Line Road intersects with it along with a thought of, “How much farther?” A large arrow pointing right indicates the top is almost in grasp. A hard left shows the final shallow ramp and suddenly the whole valley exposes itself from the top.
I sent a quick text from here and could have asked the man working on his front lawn as to where the road takes me. Instead I decided to find out on my own and worked farther up Northampton County. The houses are different here. The land is different. I descended using Steely Hill Road keeping in mind where I came from. I intersected halfway down Durham Road and excitedly pushed descended back into Durham.
I had also noticed at this point that the sun had gone away and dark clouds were on the horizon. I also no longer felt overdressed. Where I had once thought of removing a layer I was now zipping up vents and pulling up the neck gaiter. There was sleet forecasted for the night and this must be the front.
I struggled back Gallows Hill and up Buckwampum, which is no trifling road either. I was hanging in there. I reacquainted myself with the roads north of Nockamixon and came home just as I had come out. Each hill took a little bit more power out of my legs. I rehearsed the final ten miles in my head to mentally prepare for the final climbs.
When I got home I logged my route and found I had averaged an abysmal pace, one of the downsides of riding alone. Yet I did use one piece of motivation to keep me pedaling through these parts: I was alone because many of my cycling compatriots were at work today. I continued riding because they couldn’t. While the hills battered me along with the headwind for nearly the entire ride one thing kept returning to my thoughts: I was outside on my bike and some of my friends weren’t. I wish I could have told them they were motivating me through some of the toughest miles without knowing it.