We’re planning a five-day ride in Vermont and Canada. The route is picked out, the hotels booked — yes, this is credit-card touring. But there’s no support crew … no one to haul our bags from place to place. And I want to bring my carbon-fiber road bike, which can’t handle a rack and panniers. What to do?
A bikepacking class at REI led to buying a bikepacking bag that attaches to the seat and seatpost. My favorite local bike shop suggested some slightly wider tires that can handle trails, rather than my slick road tires. But I still needed to make sure it would all work. And Clive’s new toy is a carbon “gravel-grinder” bike that can handle a rack and panniers, but not unlimited weight.
Time to test out or new setups. A section of the D&L Trail — from Morrisville, opposite Trenton, to Bristol Borough — seemed perfect. It’s a new ride for us, and I’ve been wanting to check out Bristol ever since I binge-watched Hulu’s Small Business Revolution show.
We parked near the Calhoun Street Bridge, next to the elevated banks of the Delaware River. Here’s the landmark for those who want to do the same:
And off we went.
This section of the 165-mile Delaware & Lehigh Trail has some workarounds, some official, others definitely not. (Hint: follow the dirt paths.) And it’s clear there have been some improvements, notably the pair of underpasses that are so new there isn’t yet graffiti (I say ask high schoolers to paint a mural to keep it nice). Construction on another — a tunnel through an embankment! — is happening.
Given the day’s heat, it was nice to spend so much time in the shade. The trail surface is mostly a brown crushed stone, no problem at all for the new tires (and probably just fine for my road tires too). It was wide in some spots, narrow in others. We were just about always next to the Delaware Canal, which starts in Easton and heads south to Bristol. It opened in 1832 and was big for a few decades carrying coal, pretty much like the Delaware and Raritan Canal in New Jersey that opened a few years later. Business declined, the canal operator eventually went bust … and today we have a park, officially known here as the Delaware Canal State Park. I just wish the water wasn’t so stagnant and sections weren’t dominated with algae.
The Delaware & Lehigh Trail isn’t yet the amazing and wildly popular Great Allegheny Passage, but it has the potential to get there. The D&L will be longer; the GAP is 150 miles (though many keep going with the C&O to Washington). There’s easy access from Philadelphia via rail up to Trenton (the GAP has slow-moving Amtrak). I’ve ridden some other sections — you can read about those adventures here and here.
The section we just rode is part of the incredible developing Circuit Trails, intended to be a 750-mile network of trails in the Greater Philadelphia area, which can create opportunities for longer rides in lots of directions. Or keep riding further up the D&L to as far near Uhlerstown, cross to the Jersey side at Frenchtown and head back down on the D&R Canal, then the developing Delaware River Heritage Trail toward Philly. Or just keep going north past Jim Thorpe to White Haven and beyond.
This part of the D&L also will become part of the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway connecting cities from the Canadian border in eastern Maine to Key West (got to mention this blog tracking the adventures of two women who just biked it all) — and it’s already so much nicer than Pennsylvania Bicycle Route E that we followed last year on a ride from Trenton to Philadelphia. Once the gaps on this section are closed (unclear how long that will take), I’ll be excited to see some wayfinding signage added.
And what’s Bristol like? It’s picking itself up, and we’re told it’s quite different from the Bristol of 10 or 15 years ago. I don’t want to say it’s rapidly gentrifying, but it’s tidy and downtown is full of businesses, including the requisite quirky coffee shop and a hipster wood-burning pizza joint.
I loved how unused tennis courts became an unused skateboard park became a bustling community garden, with just about every raised bed claimed. Flowers, tomatoes, peppers, salad greens, cabbage … you name it.
There’s now docking space on the river, which is bringing in foot traffic, and the theater on the river is another draw. I just hope borough officials realize what the D&L Trail and the East Coast Greenway could do for business too.
Our day? 22 miles. And we are now set for the longer ride.