|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|
|Lunch of champions?|
|The Henry Ave Bridge over the Spaghetti Bowl|
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 ...|
|Last Refuel ...|
|GRT flowers ...|
|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!