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 Philadelphia to Valley Forge Park
Date: 3 Oct 1995 08:14:12 -0400
From: marcm@panix.com (Your pal Marc)

.Philadelphia to Valley Forge Park and Norristown

 
                                             Halfway on Trail At Consohocken Near Blue Route
 
Monday, 10/2/95
 
Distance: 29 miles

Bike used: Bike Friday

General Route: From Market St East SEPTA station, miscellaneous Center
City streets, Ben Franklin Parkway, bike path in Fairmount Park, Ridge
Ave, Main St, Schuykill River tow path, Valley Forge bike trail to Valley
Forge Nat. Park and back to Norristown, Rt 202 to SEPTA Elm St station.

Hi-lites:

Overall, definitely one of the better rides. The best part is that
there's a change of scenery every couple of miles or so, so you don't get
bored. It's also as flat as any ride gets.

I never saw Logan Circle before -- nothing special, but being
Philadelphia, you take what you can get. So, looked at from that
perspective, it had a DC sort of impressiveness about it, with lots of
60's kinda buildings, big lawns and no people. The approach to the Art
Museum has a certain  Ceausescu-esque charm to it.

While on the Fairmount Park bike path, there is absolutely no indication
of the abysmal neighborhoods immediately outside the park. The park is
hidden behind landscaping, a cliff, and a roadway. The biggest hazard is
the presence in-line skaters, with their typically inconsiderate weaving,
wearing headphones, etc. And this was on a Monday, when the park is
presumably empty. On the whole, the ride through Fairmount Park is
pleasant enough, though it would be nicer if it wasn't adjacent to the
park drive and across the river from all those trucks on the Schuykill
Expressway.

In order to stay near the river, I rode through a genuinely dangerous
interchange, the mitigating feature being the low traffic volume. I might
have done better if I stayed on the sidewalk.

If anyone is familiar with the recent history of Manayunk, I'd like to
hear about it. It seemed like a very unlikely place for all those
expensive clothing shops, stores selling things like "gourmet" pretzels,
and purposeless stores with make-me-vomit names like "The Baby Giraffe"
and "Main-ly Desserts". (Get it? The store is on *Main* St.) Manayunk,
like everything else on this route, feels more like a small Appalachian
town than something in a metropolitan area, to say nothing of being
*inside* Philadelphia. What happened here? Did a bunch of rich people
decide to move in one day? Or are all the patrons from other places? What
gives?
 

The Schuylkill River tow path is a real change of pace -- you would
*never* guess that you're in Philadelphia. It's empty, quiet, and has a
dirt surface broken up with an occasional wood bridge over a marsh. At
some places the surface is hard, but very jagged -- you really don't want
to fall here unless you're ready to give up a thick slice of flesh. Then
again, it certainly deters those roller-blading idiots. Of course, you
can't go too fast on it, but it's only about 1 1/2 miles anyway. The only
downside are some of the industries nearby; at one point, it smelled like
a big swimming pool -- maybe I was passing the Apex Chlorine factory or
something like that. Actually, there are lots of offending odors along
the route; a paper factory, a couple of sewage treatment plants, and
other assorted chemical sort-o stuff. But it's no worse than auto/truck
exhaust, and it's present for only about 5% of the ride.

The tow path ends in Shawmont, where there's a short but steep
cobblestone street leading to the Shawmont SEPTA station. The area around
this station defies description; suffice it to say that it's resemblance
is far closer to rural West Virginia than to Philadelphia. (It's actually
in the City.

Trail at Consohocken

 

This is where the Valley Forge Trail begins. From here on in, it's flat,
paved, smooth, and fast. Apparently, it's new too; the opening
festivities will be on October 14. The stretch to Consohocken has a real
fast piece in a wooded area, and a segment that feels like you're in the
middle of a railroad yard. Probably because you *are* in the middle of a
railroad yard; it's the old Pennsylvania RR right-of-way.

The Norristown approach is fun; it's on an embankment and leads right
into the Norristown SEPTA station, right below those funny-looking
hi-speed cars on the el. It pretty much stays this way to Valley Forge;
railroad bridges and crossings, yards, views of the river, etc.

There's a particularly unpleasant McDonald's in downtown Norristown (not
really McDonald's fault - invite the patrons to your home and we'll see
what *your* dining room looks like after five minutes), but it gave me
the opportunity to try the chicken fajita salad. It's like their old
chicken salad, but the meat has a less processed look to it. Definitely
more attractive.

The best part of any national park is the visitors center -- water,
bathrooms and air-conditioning; what more could you want? Despite the
fact that there are marked bike trails all over the place, bikes are
prohibited from the visitors center, as if they'll start biting the
families on their annual vacations. There was no place to tie up a bike
either. In any event, the park looked too manicured, it was too hot, and
it was getting late, so I left. I did see a deer standing in front of the
visitors center that they forgot to chase away. May they lose all their
funding and have Apex Chlorine expand to across the road.

The Elm St station looks like it was constructed in 1983 (clue: the date
on the station map) and then left for nature to take its course. Though
heavily vandalized, it did have a quaint "natural" feel to it. Still,
it's nothing compared to the stations in Philadelphia itself, which have
been exposed to the elements for a few decades now. My train somehow
managed to leave the terminal twelve minutes late.

Train notes: Despite the LIRR's peak-period bike prohibition, I find that
it's easiest to transport a bike on peak-period trains (folded in a bag
like contraband) because they don't stop at Jamaica. Of the three
railroads, I'm most comfortable with NJT -- there are loads of wheelchair
spaces, and the crews usually don't give you that "no-bikes-on-MY-train"
look, which is still too common on the LIRR. SEPTA crews seem genuinely
indifferent about everything (you could probably drive a forklift onto a
SEPTA train and they wouldn't care), but the equipment has lousy bike
accommodations; the wheelchair spaces are small and have no windows.
Worse, aside from the wheelchair spaces, there is *nowhere* to put a bike
on a SEPTA train, other than folded and hogging up two seats.

The only problem with NJT is that if other passengers use all the
handicapped seats (Don't ask me why they would want to sit in the least
comfortable seats on the train, but they do. They're stupid, what can I
say?), the crews sometimes get annoyed if you put a bike near a
non-opening door (as if it affects their pay or union dues or something).

Despite the occasional bicycle-uneasiness, train problems are few these
days, and it's a huge improvement over that horrible drive -- we're
flying past North Elizabeth as I write this. Not bad for $26 round trip
from NY to Philadelphia. Time to get some sleep now...

End.

Marc Mednick

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