Newtown Square to Raleigh (NC)

The big trip of the year! 

The last week of September, I biked down West Chester Pike, over the Ben Franklin Bridge, across South Jersey, to Cape May and caught the ferry to Delaware. From there I biked to the southern end of the Delmarva Peninsula. Got a lift across the Bay Bridge-Tunnel to Virginia Beach. Then headed WSW to Raleigh where I caught the train back to Philadelphia.

Approx Route – Part One

Good weather most of the way. Some sun, some clouds, but it never rained on me while I was biking. And the forecast said it would be mild-to-warm, so I didn’t pack any extra layers. That wasn’t a problem until I got back to Philadelphia for the final 11 miles home.

Approx Route – Part Two

I forgot the Chapstick the first day and the sun and the wind did a number on my lips. They are only now finally healing.

I’ve ranted before about bicyclists having to show ID to buy a ticket to ride the Cape May-Lewes Ferry. Well now they’ve taken Security Theater to a whole new level.

Over the Ben Franklin Bridge to New Jersey

I had my backpack and all the bags on my bike searched. Because the CMLF is a top target for terrorists. And when they strike, they are sure to use a bike bomb. Meanwhile 40-foot long Winnebagos and Tractor Trailers drive right on the ferry and no one is searching them. 

Blakey Homestead in Wenonah New Jersey

I met a retired couple who were cycle-touring and waiting to board the ferry. They asked where I was headed. I puffed out my chest, told them Raleigh, and waited to get a “Wow!” out of them. Bzzt! 

Sister’s Wedding Reception is now a State Park

Turns out they were from Canada and had started at their son’s place in Calgary, headed East to visit their daughter in Ottawa. Then on to Nova Scotia, took the ferry to Maine and were now on their way to Key West.
Yeah, they win.

WW2 Observation Tower at Cape Henlopen State Park

Getting off the ferry, I cut through Cape Henlopen State Park to Rehobeth Beach and then south to Delaware Seashore State Park. It being off-season the campground was pretty deserted, but the noise from the traffic coming off the Indian River Inlet Bridge made it impossible to get a good night’s sleep. Should have packed my ear plugs. Grr!

On to Chincoteague Island. The causeway from the mainland to the island has a shoulder that goes from very wide to non-existent at random intervals. All while traffic is speeding by at 55 mph. After biking to the island two years ago, I told myself that’s the last time I bike that causeway. This time I mean it.

I camped at the KOA and the clerk promised me a quite camp site away from all the RVs. But I had barely slipped into my tent and closed my eyes when a front-loader started grading the road around the tent only sites.  Grrr!

Forced to walk the length of the Ocean City MD Bridge

Heading further down the DelMarVa Peninsula I stuck  primarily to the back roads I was within 10 miles of my destination for the night, Kiptopeke State Park when I started having trouble keeping my eyes open. I had slathered a lot of sun block and it had sweated it into my eyes. I cut over to Route 13, the big highway, hoping to find some place with a restroom where I could pop out my contacts and rinse my eyes.

Me and the Assateague Island Lighthouse

That was quite an experience biking with my eyes half closed as the 18-wheelers rumbled by. I found a Royal Farms about a mile from the campground and switched to my glasses. But my eyes still stung. It wasn’t until I took a shower at the campground that I could finally keep my eyes open. I tried putting my contacts in the next morning, but the stinging immediately returned. I wore glasses for the rest of the trip.

The charge for a load of laundry at the park was only $1.25!  Thanks Virginia taxpayers.

After doing my laundry I headed down to the bayshore to watch the sunset. But clouds still covered the sky. 

Heading down DelMarVa

When hikers on the Appalachian Trail stop at shelter for the night, they are advised to open all the compartments and zippers on their backpacks. Otherwise  mice and other rodents will gnaw their way in looking for a snack.

This same advice should be given to cyclists spending the night at Kiptopeke State Park. I got back from the shore to discover squirrels had chewed into my bikebag and stolen my peanut butter crackers.

Chesapeake Bay from Kiptopeake State Park

And these squirrels have no fear. One sat less then ten feet away from me while he chowed down on my snacks.

I think the far edge of the hurricane was over the park that night. The wind was howling and every time it woke me up, it sounded like a downpour was about to hit. But it never came.

The park is 4 miles north of the Chesapeake Bay-Bridge Tunnel, which connects the peninsula to Virginia Beach. Bikes aren’t permitted on the bridge and you wouldn’t want to try crossing if they were allowed.
But the Tunnel Authority will transport bikers across for the cost of a passenger car toll ($15). That’s a pretty good deal. The private service that carried my bikeover the Bay Bridge by Annapolis charged me $35 for a much shorter trip.

Squirrels chewed into my bag!

You are required to make an appointment for transport across the bridge-tunnel. I called 4 days in advance and scheduled my ride for 6:30am.

I was very nervous about missing the ride, either oversleeping on getting a flat and being delayed. I was up at 4:30 to break down my tent, then off to Royal Farms for breakfast, since the squirrels had left me nothing.

Bay Bridge-Tunnel Toll Plaza at Virginia Beach

As I biked down Route 13 in the pre-dawn darkness, I considered that maybe I should have picked a later time (like when the sun was up) for my ride.

I made to the Tunnel admin office at 5:45. I told the officer behind the window I had an appointment to be carried over to Virginia Beach. She said she had no record. I said I was a bit early, my time was 6:30. Her fellow officer said there was an appointment for 2 bikes at 8am, (I would guess that would be the Canadians) but nothing for me.

They told me to have a seat and they’d try and work something out. I sat there wondering if I should just turn around. I had traveled South for 4 days. I could head back North and be home by Saturday which was when I planned to get back.

Or maybe I could fashion a sign offering offering $20 for a ride, stand out by the toll gates and hope some guy in a pick-up would take up my deal. None of that was necessary. At 6:40 they told me to load my bike in their transport van and I was driven to Virginia Beach. And they forgot to charge me the $15 for the crossing!

The tensest part of the trip was getting through Virginia Beach and Norfolk. It was the start of rush hour, so lots of traffic to deal with. And the combination of rivers, limited access highways and military installations, made it tricky to get out of the city. My plan was to head to the Norfolk waterfront and take the commuter ferry across the West Branch of the Elizabeth River to Portsmouth. From there I would have plenty of residential and back roads to take me inland.

I had the help of a friendly school crossing guard to get across one of the busier streets in Norfolk. Took me about an hour to make it to the ferry stop. It’s not far from where the USS Wisconsin is docked.

USS Wisconsin (BB-64) at Norfolk Waterfront

The ferry was pretty deserted. I was one of only three passengers. Somehow this day my sense of direction got screwed up. When we docked in Portsmouth, I was convinced we were still on the Norfolk side of the river and I wasn’t going to get off. One of the ferry workers had to point out the Portsmouth sign on the dock to convince me. Later when I was in a more rural area I got completely turned around: convinced I was heading North when I was really going South and didn’t realize my mistake until the East/West Highway signs for US 58 didn’t match what I expected. (More clouds that day, so I couldn’t see the sun.)

I encountered a touring cyclist headed in the opposite direction. I told him I was going from Philadelphia to Raleigh. But once again, I was one-upped. He had started in Oregon back in July and was headed for Virginia Beach. He wins!

Elizabeth River Ferry

The roads of rural Virginia have narrow to non-existent shoulders, lots of logging trucks and paper mills.

The road of rural North Carolina have plenty of peanut farms, peanut butter processing plants and bicyclist-hating dogs. I finally found a peaceful campground at Medoc Mountain State Park. Only the campground hosts and I were spending the night in the park. Medoc Mountain is a bit of a misnomer. It’s only 350 feet above sea level, but it is the highest point between Halifax County and the Atlantic Ocean. That’s one of the reasons I chose this particular route and destination. Nice and flat.

Colonel Crawford, Founder of Portsmouth Virginia

That night was a bit stuffy so I left the cover off the top of the tent to allow the breeze in, and about 1am it started to rain on me (only rain of the trip). I scrambled to put the cover back on, and the rain only last about 15 minutes,

The last full day of biking took me from Medoc Mt State Park to Raleigh. I don’t know if the dogs were getting faster, or I was getting slower, but they came pretty close to catching me.

The Big Election Issue in Southampton County

Since I was limited in the number of bags I could take back on the train, my plan was to head to a FedEx pack and ship location and send back my tent, sleeping, tarp and panniers.

I was just three miles from Fedex. But the problem was the road was a six-lane super-highway with no shoulder. I ended up biking an extra 90 minutes in a big half loop around Raleigh, cutting through housing developments and neighborhoods, but my sense of direction had returned and I found the shipping office.

The Tarheel State

With my stuff packed up I headed to the hotel. My lips had finally healed enough that I ordered a pizza to eat while I watched an NCIS marathon on USA Network. (“DiNozzo, Ziva, McGee! Grab your gear, we have a dead Marine in Quantico!”)

Bikecamping at Medoc Mountain State Park

I was up early the next morning. I wanted to bike around and see some historic sites in the city before the train arrived. In the back of my mind I had this fear that I’d get a flat and there wouldn’t be time to either change it or walk to the station before the train left. So I biked like a madman around downtown.

1st US Casualty in the Spanish-American War

When I arrived at the station, I learned the train was delayed. So all that extra energy I expended was wasted. The train ended up being over 2.5 hours late. I had a conversation with one lady about my journey and she must have passed my story along, because a couple of guys came up to me and shook my hand and congratulate my on my trip.

NC Presidents Monument – Polk Jackson and A Johnson

After an 8+ hour train ride, I arrived at 30th Street Station just after 8pm, three hours late. When I exited the station it was cold, dark and windy. Didn’t even think about taking the subway. I jumped on my bike and started pedaling down Market Street.

NC State University Bell Tower

I think this was the least pleasant portion of the trip. But I gritted my teeth, rolled through a bunch of red lights in West Philly and arrived at 69th Street Station. I like to play a game called “Race the Bus”. Instead of waiting in Upper Darby for the next bus to take me to Newtown Sqaure, I speed down West Chester Pike as fast as possible, trying to make it home, before I am passed by any bus that was going my way. Even though I was dead tired, I did beat the bus. (Probably more luck than anything else). I was home by 9:15 and fixed myself a big pot of mac and cheese.

Virginia Counties Biked

I am thinking the next long bike trip will be to Montpelier, Vermont next Fall. I attempted that last September, but hurt my back on the 2nd day and had to turn around.

The next adventure over all will be climbing either the California high point (Mt. Whitney) or the Utah high point (Kings Mountain)

By The Numbers:
Bike: 502 milesVan: 21 miles
Ferry: 17 miles8 Days and 7 Nights (Longest trip by time)Sixth State or Provincial Capital (in ranked order: Annapolis, Dover, Raleigh, Toronto, Harrisburg, Trenton)

Convenience Store Count:Royal Farms: 4
Wawa: 2
Sheetz: 1
The Corner Store: 1
Shell Mini-Market: 1
Marco’s Mini Mart: 1
428 Ounces of Lemon-Lime Gatorade Consumed

Southernmost point biked: 35.772 Degrees North (2 blocks south of Raleigh Amtrak Station)

6 States: PA, NJ, DE, MD, VA, NC (A new record!)

24 Counties or County Equivalents (A new record!)
Pennsylvania: Delaware, Philadelphia
New Jersey: Camden, Gloucester, Cumberland, Cape May
Delaware: Sussex
Maryland: Worcester

$.50 for a mini box of Tide and $1.25 to run the dryer at Kiptopeke State Park.