Events: Planning the Rapha Festive 500
(2016) It came today. The email finally arrived announcing the internal and external struggle of a cyclist trying to ride 500 kilometers from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve. It is Rapha's Festive 500. This got the thoughts moving about whether it would be feasible this year. Last year’s was a success. Why not leave it there?
In 2015 I sought out areas based on the Revolutionary War Tory spies of the Doan Brothers who lived close by. It worked out well, despite having missed one of their major accomplishments because of a puncture. At the time I had to reevaluate my ability to ride on to Newtown, PA, where the Doans robbed the Continental treasury and made off with a sizable sum in 1781.
What’s interesting is the name, Newtown. According to the borough, William Penn, after whom Pennsylvania is named, stated he would put a new town at that location. The simple name stuck. (He wasn’t too creative with names. He named present-day Buckingham, PA, after his hometown in England.) It served as the county seat for quite some time before being moved to the central part of the county. The story of the Festive 500 could start and end there at the Zebra Striped Whale. But why not add a little flair?
William Penn is celebrated in this commonwealth for some reason. He is lauded as a great treaty designer between colonists and native Delaware tribe. He is credited with judges wearing black robes in America because prior judges would flaunt their wealth with robes of gold. His Pennsbury Manor is a tourist location. A 37-foot bronze of Penn statue stands atop City Hall in Philadelphia. However, few in this state know anything about him. He spent much of his time in debtor’s prison back in England despite having colonial land. His mismanagement of funds would lead to the drama that would inspire our Festive 500 route. Instead of the rock star imagery American history books best conjure about Penn, the real life man was a bit short on his bankrolls.
And then there were his sons. John and Thomas Penn uncorked one of the greatest all-time swindles in colonial history. In its brevity, in 1737 the sons claimed to have found an unsigned treaty dated in 1686 in which the local native tribe, the Lenape, agreed to sell land a man could walk in a day and a half. Whether the letter was notarized will never be known. Given the reputation of these men, it is doubtful the letter was authentic. Time would reveal it was not.
To settle the dispute, it was agreed that a “walking purchase” would be made. That is, the colonists could obtain as much land as a man could walk in a day and a half. After producing a radically altered map to the Lenape tribe that made it look like a small amount of land at play, the settlement commenced. Members of the tribe figured to lose about forty miles of decent hunting ground assuming it was a standard procedure. But this was no basic affair, and Thomas Penn had other ideas. According to legend, three of the fastest runners in the colony were brought in to partake an endurance event of remarkable strides. A substantial prize of 500 acres was offered to the winner. Furthermore, the agents arranged to have forerunners clear the path weeks in advance making distance more manageable. It was agreed a walker would amble from 6am to 6pm on day one and from 6am to noon on day two.
The final ‘walker,’ Edward Marshall, covered a whopping seventy miles from the starting point of Wrightstown, PA, and finished in what is now Jim Thorpe, PA. The swindle continued when the colonists announced present day Jim Thorpe was the right angle at which they declared all land eastward toward the Delaware River. The colonists claimed 1,200 square miles (1.2 million acres) of pristine hunting land and forced the Lenape westward in an ever-increasing gathering of displaced natives. It also marked the end of a strong bond of trust between the Delaware tribe and the leaders of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania as evidenced by their joining with the French in the upcoming French and Indian War.
Being a resident of the border of the tract of land acquired in the Walking Purchase, and having an historical marker right outside of the office demarcating the spot where one of the walkers dropped out, it seems right to explore this land swindle as the base for the 2016 Rapha Festive 500.
Sure the route proper is approximately seventy miles long. The festive is 310 Imperial miles, but for me to get to Wrightstown just to start would add more miles. Plus, revisiting the route daily would add further miles. Yet here’s the remarkable part: only one man went that distance. Should unforeseen circumstances make them apparent to prevent me from finishing the challenge over the eight-day event, I could simply roll up to one of the historical markers and bid the whole thing adieu.
None of this is meant to be a celebration. It would be a study in revisiting the past as we approach the 280th anniversary of the Walking Purchase. If I make it the whole distance, I will be remarkably pleased and surprised. It should be noted that my attempt to explore the Walking Purchase would go by bike and on paved motorways. Even then the feat is extraordinary. The conclusion about the Penn sons could be something like this: It’s a good thing they didn’t have 'cross bikes back then, they could’ve outdid themselves with an even more remarkable land swindle of that era.