20 – 22 April 2013
Staying with Rachel in Baltimore ended up being a great experience and my high expectations were greatly exceeded. I overstayed several days and felt like staying even longer, but after 10 days it was time to move on. An additional benefit of having stayed for a long time was regaining part of the weight I had lost coming up from Florida. Unfortunately I did my shopping before realising it's only 350k (220 miles) from Baltimore to New York, so I had far too much food (and weight) on the bicycle.
The night before leaving people were partying at the house until 5am so I didn't get much sleep despite going to bed at midnight. During the evening and night it rained a lot but when I took off around 10am the sun was shining, though it was quite cold. It took 1½ hour to go the 13k (8 miles) out of Baltimore – a lot of traffic on terrible roads and not much to see. And it didn't get better when I finally reached highway 40 heading northeast; 45k (27 miles) through mostly boring industrial/commercial neighborhoods that also created some dangerous situations when cars cut in front of me taking a right into parking lots. Everywhere I saw trees blooming and a few times I passed through stretches of forest. I was privileged to have fairly flat terrain and for once a bit of tailwind so I progressed rapidly. At Susquehanna River in northeast Maryland, Googgle-maps told me to take a detour of 20 miles up/down river, but I had no idea if it was because I couldn't cross the toll brigde or it was a scenic route. Being a bit tired of riding the highway and questioning Google's ability to lead me through countless small roads/trails, I was tempted to try the toll bridge to cut the day short. However, it was still early so if I didn't do the detour I would have to pass time some other way. And of course the detour ended of being the highlight of the day; a beautiful ride through cosy residential neighbourhoods, farming areas, parks and forests as well as along/across creeks and rivers – aided by the wonderful weather. The detour was hilly so at the end of the day I struggled with a tired/sore left knee. I camped at Elk Neck State Park and for the first time on this bicycle trip I was bothered by bugs before going to bed having a great long night's sleep.
A beautiful clear and cold morning. The evening before I had asked many people for directions and gotten unanimous answers – consequently, I took their advice despite the wrong road name and it differing my intuition. When I started riding the next morning I realised I had been right - people had led me south of the park instead of north which meant an additional 11k (7 miles) on hilly roads; not the best start for my sore knee on an already long 130k (80 miles) day on terrible roads and again facing headwind. I went 10 miles on the highway before navigating smaller roads through smaller towns and suburbs – most of them dreary, bleak and desolite partly because it was Sunday. Worst were the bigger town Wilmington and Philadelphia's suburbs that also comprised a lot of heavy industry. 15k (10 miles) from Philadelphia Google led me into a Wildlife Refuge and by mistake I ended up at a walk path cursing at having to cross several big tree trunks with my heavy bike load. But after getting onto a bigger trail it was nice drivning through the park. Philadelphia itself was a very, positive experience – cosy and lots of ambience. I didn't stay long but enjoyed bicycling a bit around the centre admiring the old buildings, parks, small roads with lots of blooming trees, etc. That said I didn't go to the bad neighbourhoods primarily west and north of the centre. I crossed the bridge to Camden, New Jersey, which was another sad and run down place to go by. As I continued northeast the neighbourhoods got nicer/richer and one town had so many old churches that it must be a record. I spent a quiet night at Rancocas State Forest after having a bit of a challenge finding it.
Day 3 started with another beautiful morning in the forest. I got up early and left at 9.15am to make sure I was in Belford in good time for the 4pm ferry to Manhattan. It was only a 100k ride (65 miles) but fierce headwind and occational hilly terrain entailed brief doubt that I would get there on time. Without road markers I had no way of telling kilometres driven so I pushed forward which also helped me keep warm when it got overcast and cold. The first 65k (40 miles) I rode on a county road enjoying the smooth asphalt but at the same time cursing the headwind especially because there was no protection going through farming areas. It was very slow progress so I was surprised when I finished this part in only 3 hours. I now felt confident I had lots of time since the rest of the ride was along the Henry Hudson Trail. After some difficulties finding the trailhead I enjoyed the first 8k (5 miles) going through some wealthy neighboourhoods. But then the challenges began as the trail constantly split into other trails without signposting..... I asked locals for directions but nobody knew anything but a few kilometres around their close neighbourhood. As a result I decided to take a bigger road - partly because of time and partly because the overcast weather didn't provide views. Many times along the big road I saw signs for the trail (right and left) and while tempted to get back on it, I decided to stay on the road - a wise decision as fierce headwind let me arrive only 20 minutes before departure. Despite the wind the ferry ride was pleasant especially because the weather had improved - a very nice way to enter Manhattan. From the Finincial District it was an easy ride up to my couchsurfing host Howard's place on West 39 street (exactly 2 years since I last stayed with him).