Rides We Like: Dogwood Lane
(2017) It was a pleasure to suffer. An ambitious ride planned between our hero Mike and yours truly had been in the works for a couple of weeks. Each time we tried to head to Durham and Springfield Townships, the weather did not cooperate and an alternate route was applied. The stubborn Dogwood Lane climb would reign supreme for another weekend. The rescheduling was getting frustrating. One. Two. Three. Four. Weekends passed by without a successful route. Today it was going to happen.
The ride, though, was pushed back a bit. Strangely around this area of Bucks County are frequent dense fog advisories. Today’s fog was thick and absorptive. It surrounded everything with a blanket of mist while cushioning far off sounds. Cars would pop out of the mist, headlights first, then the fore portion, seemingly out of nowhere. Mike and I wound up missing each other at our meeting spot because of the fog’s density.
In our refusal to be bested by Dogwood’s efforts we took the most direct route. Winding up onto the ridge, we agreed to hammer up 412 to link up with Gallows Hill Road. Oh what a feeling it was to roll over the recently resurfaced Gallows Hill Road. It was the positive light of an otherwise foreboding approach. The name Gallows Hill Road is never one that produces smiles. Nor is the fact that the road circumnavigates a rudimentary graveyard with old Revolutionary War stones. The fog and the peaceful aspect made both of us feel as if ghosts of the past were lurking just off the road. The road rolled in a mostly downhill fashion to Durham. One. Two. Three. Four. Rolling climbs ticked away.
We saw our first cyclist of the day passing through Durham before we turned onto the initially welcoming Dogwood Lane. It is a peaceful approach if I’m honest. It’s a wide-open road through a farming property with two farm fields and little traffic. That welcome feeling slowly drops away after a right-hand turn up a ramp into a left hand turn. The woods thicken and a brook can be heard then seen as the road crosses it. A steep sharp right turn puts the rider on course to challenge Dogwood Lane. There is no way out but turning around for the next 1.7 miles of steady climbing.
Despite its relentless nature, it is quite a beautiful setting. The road is barely one car wide for its majority. The hardwoods stand at attention, waiting for spring. Pines were sprinkled in, too. Ferns spritely in the summer were now flaccid on the knolls bordering the road. There were houses respectfully spaced. There were protests signs to the government and one outdoor fireplace at the end of a driveway. It’s peculiar and private at the same time. Mike found his rhythm and shot ahead. In the summer, my favorite part is before the summit. A homeowner has an impressive garden at the top. I’ve always admired it. I wanted to get there quickly. In the meantime I checked my Strava between Instagram Stories for Mike. My speed was pathetic. Four. Five. Four. Five. Miles per hour. He and I joked about going so slow up something the Garmin goes to sleep. Perhaps today would be the day.
After a laborious climb, the top came into view. Here the road changes names to County Line Road. We had slipped out of the northern part of Bucks County and into Northhampton County to top out on the climb. I’ve said before I wonder if anyone ever thought to make this a ski hill. We pulled up at the summit, sent some text messages, reviewed some photos, Mike took in some food (this will be important to remember), and for some reason I removed my gloves for the descent. I would put them back on at the next stop sign.
The descent had roads named Drifting Drive and Wassergas Road. We would connect with Steely Hill Road and Stouts Valley Road. The fields in this area continued with the intense fog to produce contrasting dormant yellow fields. Old houses stood out from the gray landscaping. Branches were dripping from the days-long precipitation and fog. We zipped passed an old school house on Stouts Valley Road. This was topography we were looking for. Mike observed the land looked like English countryside. For the time being all was well. The miles were ticking away. Ten. Twenty. Thirty. Riegelsville. The salamander parked outside of Riegelsville Fire Department’s Station. Delaware River. New Jersey. Forty. Something was happening to me.
We went easy through Holland Township, New Jersey. The road would meander vertically but not majorly. It was starting to become harder to take down the rollers. Mike was in the lead for much of the ride now. I thought of posting a photo of the road grit on my countenance and vest, but then I thought how it would suggest I rode as a wheelsucker for a ride. Road grits crunched between my teeth. We proceeded south on Riegelsville Milford Road until it turned into River Road. The shale cliffs with sprinkling waterfalls lining the left side of the road created a picturesque barrier. To the right was a guardrail, train tracks, Delaware River. One. Guardrail. Two. Traintracks. Three. Delaware River. The legs were starting to voice their opinion of the ride.
We proceeded south onto Frenchtown Road. Mike was gapping frequently. I didn’t want to shout up for him to slow down for being embarrassed of my declining power. He asked at one point if I’d like something to eat. I declined. I thought I’d do sixty miles on two water bottles. One. Bottle. Two. Bottle. Nothing else. Mike continued to pull. Food smells wafted over the borough of Frenchtown. Burgers smell more intensely in the winter I argue. We had been riding for more than three hours. Still no food for me.
Heading down route 29 again, we saw one more rider. Then we saw two riders together. Then we saw two riders together ahead of us. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. That would be all we would see for the day as far as other riders. Despite pledging a base mile ride, we were inspired by the two riders in front of us. Once we caught them, Mike observed one of them opting for Power Cranks. Where was everybody on route 29? The gap opened more frequently. I let it open to rest then dug deep to close it. It was getting costly. Ten feet. Twenty feet. Dig deep. Twenty feet. Ten feet. On. Peanut butter jelly. Coffee.
Our return trip into Pennsylvania crossed the Lumberville pedestrian bridge and headed up the ol’ standby of Fleecydale. We made quick work of Carversville, passing through it nearly immediately. Max Hansen’s has macaroni and cheese. Max Hansen’s has coffee. Eight dollars for a pound of bacon mac-n-cheese. Two dollars for coffee. Eight. Two. Ten. The house has no jelly for peanut butter jelly.
Mike remained patient. I profusely apologized. Carversville Road slowly cooked me. What would I do about the final three miles and final three climbs? One. Two. Three. Old Easton Road. Old Easton Road. Old Easton Road. Four. Three. Two. One. Miles. Mile.
Soon Mike and I split ways. I was left to inspiration myself for the final three climbs that felt like mountains. Why didn’t I bring food? Why didn’t I bring cash? Why did I underestimate Dogwood Lane? Am I bad at cycling? Two miles. Am I the best in the world at freewheeling? Two miles. One mile. Uphill drag. Lights have been out for miles. The final climb felt like a flogging. Bucks County looks like the hood of a dented car after New Jersey collided with it. I was going over one more ridge. There's always one more ridge. One more ridge. One more ridge. Until there were no ridges remaining.
I limped down the debris- strewn shoulder of route 611. I was ashamed. Last year I would’ve ridden this better. The year before would’ve been better. The year before that would’ve been even better. The year before than would've been the best. 2016. 2015. 2014. 2013. Last mile to roll.
Yet I kept thinking this whole time about an angle to write, and I kept coming back to the fact that we managed to complete a Dogwood Lane climb in the offseason. Mike and I discussed how this seventy- (for me sixty-) mile ride could have been a trainer ride. My rubbery legs carried me through the door and into the kitchen where I inhaled cupcakes, switchel, peanut butter honey sandwiches, yogurt, and chocolate. After uploading the route and seeing just how slow I went, I reflected how enjoyable it was to actually look around. Why live at one hundred miles per hour when billboards needed to be stretched to accommodate the speed when slow rolling provides appreciation? Without cash, I did successfully roll past at least four locations that serve Homestead Coffee (Homestead General Store included). Perhaps slowing down even more to enjoy the coffee will provide enough rocket fuel to take pulls at the front and feel less guilty. If that isn’t the case, then at least we were on a bike before stopping for Homestead Coffee.