Day Two: Allentown, Pennsylvania (77 miles)

This morning I got a somewhat later start as I was pretty tired from they day before. By the grace of God, and the operation of plate tectonics and the last ice age, the land north of Nottingham was relatively flat, and I was able to make good progress. I passed by a farm where a number of bearded, straw hat wearing men were driving tractors along the road. I’m assuming they weren’t Amish since they were driving. Perhaps Mennonites? Not all Mennonites dress like 17th century farmers.

The flat farmland countryside eventually yielded to gentle rolling hills with gentle uphills and pleasant downhills. Then suddenly, heading into Coatesville, was a very long, enjoyable downhill. But I knew that such a huge downhill could only mean one thing: a huge uphill coming out of town. A 3% grade for a mile or so. And that pattern followed for the next several miles.

Coatesville was interesting to come across. The land leading into Coatesville was rolling farmland and rich forest. And then suddenly: Coatesville, a rust-belt town with a scrap metal processing plant and a number of factories. The street leading into town was full of boarded up buildings, though the downtown area still had many signs of life. But it was clear that the downtown area was economically depressed. Until I got to the top of the 3% grade out of town, when I saw all the large homes and the upper class neighborhoods. The view was spectacular, but the symbolism of the division between the haves and have-nots in terms of geography could not have been more striking.

Hopewell United Methodist Church
Hopewell UMC

The route I was taking was something I’d planned out a month or more ago. Having studied this route and gone over it a number of times, marking down hotels and other resources on it, I have become familiar with the place names along the route. It was fascinating to see what these places actually looked like. So rarely did a place wind up looking anything remotely like what I had been imagining. Along Hopewell Road east of Coatesville, was Hopewell United Methodist Church. I am not sure what made me imagine this church as located on a flat plain surrounded by a handful of trees, but instead, the church sat atop a forested hill (a steep hill as it turned out) with an amazing view of the surrounding countryside, including the old cemetery across the street.

I did learn a couple of lessons from yesterday, The first break I took, about 35 miles in, was a good deal longer than the 15 minute break I took after 38 miles in Baltimore. It was nice to sit in the shade of a large tree and just rest my tired legs for about 45 minutes.

That rest came in handy, as the large hills would continue to appear, including another 3% grade outside of Old Zionsville toward the end. (By the way, I know that 3% doesn’t sound like a lot, but trust me, it is.) For those, I did not shy away from outright stopping on the side of the road on a long hill, catching my breath and resting my legs. I mean, I don’t have anything to prove by biking up a hill to exhaustion. Besides, the morale boost of actually being able to get moving of the incline was worth it.

I did have one major glitch when the road I’d been traveling on–Route 100/Pottstown Pike–suddenly turned into a 4-lane highway without warning. At first, I thought it would be manageable, but it became clear that this was not a temporary thing and I turned off the road and took a convoluted set of backroads before I was able to get back on. The most distressing thing was that after a morning of turns and backroads (I did make a couple of wrong turns), I was looking forward to one road that I could stay on for a while, so having to get off and take more back roads was a little frustrating, but the frustration was offset by the obvious increase in safety.

downhill view into Emmaus, Pennsylvania
Emmaus, suburb of Allentown, and a nice downhill

I had an ambitious day, given that if I were to follow my 70 miles a day schedule, I would be able to stop 17 miles early, due to having traveled 87 miles the day before. But looking ahead to the following day, I know that Wednesday will bring crossing the Poconos, and I really don’t want to do that at the very end of the day, when I am exhausted. And so I decided to press on and go and extra 20 miles to Allentown. It would mean a 77 mile day by the end, but the knowledge that I’ll cross the Poconos only 30 miles into my Wednesday instead of 50. And, that may allow me to be early enough to bike the Delaware Water Gap park before the end of the day, making it as far as Port Jervis, NY. That being said, I was incredibly happy when Allentown (or maybe its charming suburb Emmaus) hove into view—especially since it was at the top of a hill that would basically be a downhill all the way into Allentown.

I stopped at an EconoLodge that’s located right next to the train tracks and trains go by every so often. I don’t actually find that annoying, I like trains and it adds a certain rust-belt ambiance that seems just right. Anyway, splurged on a big room that has a jacuzzi in it. (A number of folks asked if I was going to camp out on this trip. Um, no.) I soaked for about an hour, and my tired muscles thanked me. Though they haven’t really chipped in for the room. But between that and the Walgreen’s icy-hot, and the bananas and ibuprofen that Laura recommended, I hope I can do well by them for tomorrow’s climb.

(For the map of today’s route, click