Monday, August 17, 2015

A Philly Area Big F'in Loop ...

Early Morning above Souderton

Out west, there are a bunch of rides throughout different regions called the "Big Friggin' Loop" - there's a BFL Sedona, BFL Santa Fe, BFA Mammoth, etc.  As far as I know, there are none of these in the east. As far as I know.

Last New Year's, a friend of mine set up a ride for a bunch of us at Green Lane. I'd been there once or twice before, but never really had a handle on the accessible trails. But as soon as we did the ride there - about 17 miles or so - I started thinking: Green Lane is at the start of the Perkiomen Trail, which links up to the Schuylkill River Trail in Valley Forge, and the SRT goes right into Philly from there. So I started thinking about a sort of Big F'in Loop for the Philadelphia area. I could link Green Lane to both Belmont and Wissahickon and then head home along the Green Ribbon Trail.

On the farm ...

Back in June, I attempted this ride for the first time. I started by heading up to Green Lane through Hatfield and Souderton and then went through the Perk Trail to SRT into Philly. However, when I did it in June, I had a problem that cut me short - some tire issues. The time it took to get it sorted out limited what I could do at Wissahickon, so I had to head home before completing all of Wiss. Ever since then, I wanted to get another bite at the apple. This weekend, with no races on the schedule and nothing else going on, I had my chance.

Two roads diverged ...

 The plan was to ride out of my place up to Green Lane on the road, then head south along the Perkiomen Trail to Valley Forge and pick up the SRT there and follow it into Manayunk, where I could cut over through East Falls to ride the Belmont Plateau area before coming back and hitting the Spaghetti Bowl side of Wissahickon before hitting the rest of Wissahickon and the Cresheim Trails. Then finally, I'd head back home along the Green Ribbon Trail. In all, it would be about 140 miles or so.

Green Lane Blue Trail, mid-morning

I started around 6 am and everything went fine right up until I climbed over the top of Dietz Mill Road in Telford. I somehow missed a turn and ended up about five miles from the entrance to Green Lane Park before I realized my mistake. That was dumb, but not unrecoverable - I took a short cut and ended up back at the park not too much later than I would have gotten there anyway.

Green Lane is a fun trail with a lot of variety. I started out on the Orange Trail, which is every bit as rocky as anything at French Creek. From there, I hopped on the Blue Trail for the longest section of the ride. It's a lot of ridge line single track with a few drops through creek beds and some pretty steep climbs thrown in. The drops can be treacherous, but it's all rideable if you stay focused. Once I reached the end of the Blue Trail, it dropped me out on the long paved bridge that brought me back toward the Red Trail.

On the Bridge Connector to the Red Trail

The Red Trail is mostly really tight single track that weaves in and out of a pine forest area. That part of the trail, since it's close to the Knight Road parking area, is very popular with the folks riding horses. It also feels like a whole different park than what's over on the Orange and Blue Trails - smooth, winding and very narrow.

After I finished the Red Trail, it was time to head south on the Perkiomen Trail. The Perk Trail is mostly a gravel path that runs from Green Lane down to Valley Forge. I've ridden it a bunch of times before and it's nice because you can really fly on it as long as here isn't too much traffic. Saturday, there was some traffic near Spring Mountain because of a folk music festival, but I was able to get through it pretty easily just the same.

Crossing the Perkiomen Creek at Spring Mountain

After about 20 miles, the Perk Trail meets up with the SRT in Valley Forge and the SRT then runs another 20 miles or so into Philly from there. The SRT was actually the hardest part of the ride for me, not because it was difficult in and of itself. It's very flat, but that was the problem. I was spinning a 34:19 at around 15+ mph on it and found that after a while I had to take a quick break from the saddle every few minutes. It's not a very SS friendly section. I'd have been happier with a bigger gear there, but then I'd have suffered a lot more in Belmont and Wiss later.

SRT near Manayunk

But eventually I spun my way to Manayunk. At this point, I was over 75 miles on the day and decided to make a quick stop to refuel and get some "Vitamin I" since I was feeling a nasty twinge in my right calf from spinning so much. I sat in the shade behind the CVS on Main Street and drank a bunch of water and some orange juice. Then it was time to head over to Belmont for the next part of the ride.

At the Belmont Plateau
I was surprised by how overgrown some sections of Belmont were - I know this is a popular area to ride for a lot of the Philly folks, but the section just where you enter north of the hostel looked like no one had ridden it in quite a while. It did open up once I reached the main area of the park, though - over where it runs along Route 76. That was good because I usually like riding Belmont more in the fall than in the summer. There are just so many logs to hop over than if some of them are obscured from overgrowth, you can have a pretty nasty crash out there. But it was all good Saturday once I got past the hostel. I rode the main area of the park and then crossed the street to ride the trail that circles the Ultimate Frisbee field. Then I headed back toward East Falls through the connector trail. Basically, I did the whole place in the reverse of what I typically had done in the past.

Lunch of champions?
At that point, I needed something in my stomach before I hit Wissahickon. I tend to not eat too much when it's really hot out, and it was up there on Saturday. So at this point I was about 90 miles into the ride and had only eaten a Clif Bar all day. I'd been drinking steadily, but I thought it was a good idea to put something in my stomach. The problem is, I didn't want anything too heavy, but I wanted to at least get some salt into me. I'd been drinking a lot of water, and figured it was time to switch up to Gatorade. So I bought a small bag of chips and a two bottles of Gatorade at the gas station near Falls Bridge. I know it's not "ideal" nutrition, but I figured that what I really needed was just something in my stomach. I wasn't very hungry, and chips go down very easily, so that's what I went with. I just wasn't into the idea of another protein bar at that moment. (To be honest, I would have loved an ice cream sandwich, but I was worried what that would do to my stomach, so I went with the chips instead.)

The Henry Ave Bridge over the Spaghetti Bowl
From there, it was on to the Spaghetti Bowl (the south side of Wissahickon.) I rode it from Ridge Ave to West Rittenhouse Street, although I actually had to drop down through the lower trail near the end since a few downed trees made the upper trail impassable.

From Lincoln Drive, I hit Wissahickon on the Rittenhouse Town side, doing my usual double loop through Blue Bell Park. (There were about six family reunion/picnics going on the park and it was tough to get through all the traffic!)

I was starting to feel the miles a bit at that point, and slid out on the loose gravel climb up to Park Line Road. That's a nasty little climb, but I never lose it on that section, so I knew I was off my game. Worse yet, I wasn't even motivated to remount and start again. I just got off and pushed and thought nothing about it. I decided that I needed to refocus, so I took the treacherous south-side trail along the creek to get to Cresheim. That trail is crazy technical, with about two or three sections where it's almost impossible to stay on the bike. I rode what I could, even when I thought I'd be better off just pushing, and then hopped off only for the big rock crossing near the end. That left me satisfied that I wasn't going to puss out all through Wissahickon and I continued into the Cresheim Trail.

Somewhere along Cresheim, I passed the 100 mile mark for the day. That was cool because one of the goals I set earlier this season was to do at least one 100 mile SS ride every month from April through October. Some of those months were guaranteed by races or rides I was doing -- in April, I had the LBD, in July I had the trip to NY, and in September I'll be going back to the SM100. So I just had to fill in the gaps for the other months. And passing the 100 mile mark on Saturday allowed me to tick off August on the list.

But after Cresheim, I had to refill my bottle, so I climbed over the hill opposite the Inn and dropped down to the snack bar to get some Gatorade. I think I probably spent too much time there between the line and just sitting and drinking my bottle of water because when I got back on the bike, I felt really tight. And with 105 miles down, I think I was starting to run low on the reserves I'd need to loosen up again.

Somewhere in Wiss ...
But I pushed through anyway. I still had about 2/3 of the park to ride and wasn't going to give up on completing all of it. With all the bigger climbs of the park still ahead of me, though, I worked out a route that would allow me a little respite while still hitting everything. I rode from the Inn back to Lincoln to cover that section of the park and then rolled back along Forbidden Drive to re-enter the trail at the same spot near the Inn and head the opposite way toward Bells Mill. I was actually surprised that even though I was still feeling tired, I was able to handle pretty much everything out to Bells Mill without any problems. And then I crossed over to ride the Indian side of the park. I had one dab there - I just couldn't convince my legs to muscle over the 180 degree turn half way up to the Indian statue, so I hopped off and pushed along the loose gravel for a bit to shake myself out. The last short climb is littered with trees and rocks and I've never been able to clean it, so I just rode as far as I could and pushed the last 20 yards or so. But once I was over that, I smiled because I knew all of the hard parts of the day were finally behind me. I dropped down the step section and popped out to Bells Mill Drive and decided that I would ride the rock gardens after all. I bounced through them without an issue and popped out across the street from Chestnut Hill College with only the Green Ribbon Trail sitting between me and completion of the loop.

Last Refuel ...
But before I headed up Northwestern Ave to the GRT, I stopped once more at Bruno's Restaurant to get a last bottle fill. I knew that there was no place to stop along the GRT unless I rode off course, and since this had happened to me last time I tried this ride, I didn't want to leave anything to chance. So I popped into Bruno's to get a Gatorade and saw that they had Stewart's orange cream soda as well. Now, I have largely given up soda entirely and only ever have it on long rides at rest stops (because there is nothing as good as a cold coke on a long ride!) But when I was really young, my parents used to stop at a Stewarts drive in near Atlantic Highlands in NJ on the way back from the beach. I always loved their orange cream soda and have probably only had it once or twice in the last 30 years. So between nostalgia and the fact that I was 118 miles into my day, I couldn't resist. I grabbed two of them and a bottle of Gatorade for my bike and then sat outside and drank both of the sodas down in about a minute and a half. I knew I was risking a rebellion from my stomach, but … Stewarts orange soda …

GRT flowers ...
After that I hit the GRT for the 19 mile ride home. I've ridden the trail a bunch of times now, and I know it well enough to push a pace without being surprised by what's around the next corner. Climbing the ladders while holding my bike that far into the day wasn't exactly pleasant, but I had no issues. I cruised along the trail in pretty good time and made it back to Upper Gwynned in about an hour and 15 minutes or so. From there, it was just a final 4 mile ride through Lansdale to my house.

Explaining my catcher's mitt of a left hand to Joanna
(photo credit: Joanna Griffin)

The final total was just over 137 miles in about 12:40 of ride time. I finished the first 100 miles in just under 9 hours, which was definitely a goal I'd had from the start. A few weeks ago, I crashed while riding with Sean K and Slimm and I think I may have broken a few bones in my left hand because ever since then it really hurts when I bump over rocks and roots. When I got home on Saturday, it was so bad that I had to bail on a ride at Middle Run Sunday morning with Dr. Craig and a few other folks. That sucked because one thing I learned a while ago is that, for me, not riding the day after a long effort  isn't a good idea. But it was really painful and swollen on Saturday night, so I figured I'd better give it some rest if I want to survive both Fair Hill and the SM100 in a couple of weeks.

So that's it. I don't know if the term "Big Friggin' Loop" is trademarked by someone out west or whatever, so I'm calling this ride the Philly Area Big F'in Loop, because here in Philly we don't use the term "Friggin" anyway. It's a pretty great ride with a huge variety of trail and gravel roads. I'm sure I'll do it again in the future and if anyone would like to join me for some or all of it, all are welcome! Green Lane in particular is a real find for me - I love the trails out there and knowing that I can access bike paths to connect all the places I've ridden most often is pretty cool. I love doing these big rides and I don't think there is much else I'd rather do with a free weekend. The idea of multi-park rides connected by rail trails or bike paths is really appealing, and it makes the whole thing accessible for someone who may not think they have the mileage in them. You really can rest up on areas like the SRT and be ready for more trail when you get to Philly. And knocking out a whole bunch go miles is definitely an ego boost when you look at the Garmin file later on. So I'd encourage anyone out there who wants to do a long ride but isn't sure if they can to just take the plunge and do it -- if you plan it carefully, there are always bail out areas and refueling places along the way.

So get out there and ride, and I'll see you on the trails!


  1. Crazy ass MoFo!
    You're awesome dude!

  2. Crazy ass MoFo!
    You're awesome dude!

  3. well done sir. too bad you were one day too early as the spaghetti bowl was cleared yesterday.

  4. Great ride and story Martin and congrats on the whiteface ss win and Leadville entry. Oh and you're crazy.