Rides We Like: Covered Bridges Ride Sweep & Tinicum Church Road
(2016) For the past couple of years this area has had quick falls. Just last week I wrote about how suddenly colors were exploding in the tree line. The yellows, oranges, and reds starkly contrasted the green hills and ridges. Color abounded everywhere! That is until a hard blow came into the area and blasted those very colors to the ground. Oh well. Fall was fun while it lasted.
There are some areas that are pocketed and protected. I have often talked about the curt ridge that rises or descends (whichever way you take it) up from/ down to the Delaware River. That ridge is what protects the leeward side from seasonal winds. Perhaps the groves would still be in color. It had been years since I targeted Chestnut Ridge/ Tinicum Church Road with a goal to sprint to the bottom. The very remarkable tailwind through the tunnel of trees was a bonus too.
But first I had to get there.
Sunday morning was the Central Bucks Bicycle Club’s yearly Covered Bridges Tour that starts and finishes at Tinicum Park. My rollout from home was around two in the afternoon. Imagine my surprise when I caught numerous riders who, to my calculations and observations of their warmer selection, were of the metric century club. They were still a couple bridges out from the tasty post-ride meal.
Riders passed were adorned in balaclavas and leggings, no doubt a good idea in the morning departure. Now it was their burden with the bright sunshine and temperatures hovering around sixty. The remarkable gusts of winds present all weekend clearly took their toll on these riders. Their faces betrayed abandonment to making quick work of the route. They were the lucky ones; they were soaking in the beautiful scenery the area had to offer. With noticeably fewer cars out in the afternoon, I’d like to think their rides were peaceful and rewarding.
Anyone coming to this area can follow the Covered Bridges Route. The metric century grinds up Tinicum Church Road to have elevation in the bank. After the fall from the ridge its rollercoaster experience through farmland. Those miles were probably the toughest, I suspect. The roads are exposed and face the forecasted headwind. The fight may have gone out early for a couple cyclists.
I wound my way among the tertiary roads of upper Bucks County. My biggest concern – strangely – was of a Covered Bridges participant thinking I was a wayward fellow rider who had missed a turn. A rider grabbing my wheel in the Hollowhorn valley aided this along. Thinking I would lead the rider astray I pushed the pace. He was still there once I hit a punchy climb to scale another quick ridge. It turned out to be a former coworker at a bike shop in town. Frank has many Strava segments for climbing. And here I was gassed at having pushed the downhill and faced a steep uphill. My wheezing may have attracted a local black bear or two.
Frank was of the same mindset, though he had volunteered at the Covered Bridges registration. It was his turn to get out. He stated he would ride with me north after I outlined my rough route. After a couple more ramps I came clean and told him to ride away if I was slowing him down. I have not been maintaining my riding legs much lately, and it was showing.
Frank eventually headed off toward his own direction; I was also free of the Covered Bridges route. From here on out I had the belief I would be the only rider out. I would prove to be correct.
Here’s where I contemplated the theme of my article. It is this: hunters and cyclists are worthy of a symbiotic relationship in much of the States. Particularly around this area, acres upon acres of land is designated State Game Lands. I was finding myself riding through some of them Sunday. These lands are the reason I rolled peacefully toward my return route meeting point. It’s why the thin roads were hardly traveled. It was so wonderful to turn at a moment’s notice down more and more roads that were just as peaceful as its previous counterpart.
Hunters, like cyclists, have carracks. Their trophies possessions are on display when the racks are being used for their purpose. Their hobby is also a waiting game. Strike at the right time yields rewards; one misstep can result in a missed opportunity. I was glad to have access to these roads on a fall day like today. One truck went by for a one-hour segment.
Despite having been properly done in by Frank, I still managed to have some firepower remaining for my fall from the ridge. I turned onto Chestnut Ridge Road, and slowly picked up the pace. From a certain point it becomes a three-mile wild downhill ride averaging nearly three percent. There are three specific technical zones to prevent this from being labeled a drag strip. Getting any one of those turns wrong would certainly equate to a bad day.
It was here I hammered back down to the valley. Chestnut Ridge still hosts the nearly extinct American chestnut tree, a once mighty presence in all of Appalachia. Down the road is a right angle left turn with its right twin immediately thereafter. This leads into a highly technical left turn past two intersections and into a right-hander past two more. It’s one of those scenarios where having confidence in handling can make or break the nullification of the uphill ramp. Through this area a strong gust of tailwind came through and I rifled up and over the quick ramp.
It’s a downhill into another uphill ramp. Then the downhill is marked by a quick right/ left with guardrails jutting out on both sides. Without approaching cars it is merely a left hand turn. Without approaching cars, the speed stays up for the remaining downhill sprint. Oh the joy of this portion.
The road has changed names by this point to Tinicum Church Road. The church has already blasted by. The bottom portion of road has been resurfaced meaning the speed can be maintained. Oh the joy of ripping through these kilometers. Through two bridges and between two walls of rippled earth a sign alerts the rider to the end of the ride. A stop sign warning gives every rider indication of what’s just around the corner.
Pulling away from this road is always a slow affair. So many people hammer that road leaving them gassed for the next few miles. I was no different. I was now going back uphill and exposed to the wind. Cars with racked bikes were passing by. Tinicum Park was fewer than two miles away. I had briefly returned to the route.
I continued through fall’s express season. I even passed the unofficial mascot of Genny the donkey that made sure to show me her continued apathy by walking away. A cyclist passed by to comfort my recent alienation.
This weekend saw the Covered Bridges Ride as well as the cyclocross race Crossasaurus Awesome in neighboring Montgomery County. Considering these two events plus this weekend’s Oktoberfest Ride, I’d say fall is the most enjoyable cycling time of the year around here.