So I’m crossing the Benjamin Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia and just like before; as soon as I was there I knew I shouldn’t have been. I looked to my right and saw a separate walkway for pedestrians….oh crap. There was no turning back for nearly 2 miles. I did wonder why cars were doing 60/70mph and beeping their horns like mad. I think I was in shock at what happened in Camden, I knew there would be a bike friendly path but I didn’t see the entrance for one. The bridge was dual lane and had what must have been a 6 inch gap at best for me to ride on.
Every time a car would over take me I would feel the force of the vehicle almost blow me into the wall. At one point I saw a van come within what must have been an inch and a half from my handle bars…All I kept thinking was how long is this freaking bridge?
By the time I started the decent on what felt like the longest 2 miles of my life I felt like I had forearms like Popeye. The concentration along with the acute steering meant that my arms were locked out in the same position since the incline.
As I approached the end of the bridge the road opened out and luckily for me so did the hard shoulder. I was so relieved to be off the bridge that I missed my turning and carried straight over the overpass onto the interstate, this just gets better.
So I pull up on the hard shoulder to take out my iPhone and look at my map, I look over my shoulder to see the turning I had missed just a couple yards away. I go to turn my bike around, I look over my shoulder and see an 18-wheeler fast approaching on the outside lane so I stop and wait for it to pass. I try again a few seconds later, this time I look over my shoulder to see two pairs of red and blue flashing lights pulling up behind me…
I go to get off my bike:
“Stay right there sir… Stay as you are.” The policeman says sternly.
“Sure…” I say nervously before taking off my sunglasses and resting them on my head.
“Are you aware that you were riding on a road that’s prohibited by bike?”
“I know that now, I saw the pedestrian walkway but the stairs to it were not accessible once I was on the bridge.”
By this time the other policeman came out of his car, a tall red headed guy who dwarfed me. The first policeman took my ID and went back to his car.
“What are you doing out here?” The fire headed policeman said in a much friendlier manner than the other.
“I’m doing an awareness bike ride for my cause.” I proceeded to show him my band and talk about the website, he seemed genuinely interested.
“Well you know you nearly got your ass handed to you on that bridge.”
“I know… As soon as I was there I knew I shouldn’t have been.”
“Well you have some balls I’ll give you that.”
We joked and shot the shit while the other policeman sat in his car looking me up on the database, he looked intent on finding something on me.
About 10 minutes later he came back out…
At this point I was too drained to correct him.
That’s when he laid the questions on me…. What I do, how long I’ve been in the US, where I’m going, when I’m going back to London. I played along, told him the only thing I knew, the truth.
“Are you aware it is illegal to cycle on our roads?” He said with a slightly patronizing tone.
I don’t know where my courage or stupidity came from but I replied…
“Well actually sir it’s illegal to cycle on the interstate, not on dual lane highways with bike lanes, I did my research.”
“…..Don’t be getting smart with me son.”
“I look him dead in the eye, then to the other cop who gives me a ‘don’t worry about him’ roll of the eyes.”
After a long pause he resumes.
“What’s in your bags?” He asks intrusively.
“My life for a few weeks sir, I wouldn’t open them if I were you I missed laundry day yesterday.” I joked trying to get some humility out of him… it didn’t work.
He circled me and Ursula trying to intimidate, I did my best not to laugh. He reminded me of Lieutenant Harris from Police Academy.
“Where did you say you were going?”
I gave him the address and he said “Go on, be safe.”
“Thank you sir.” I said before lowering my sunglasses back down over my eyes.
Deputy ‘Head-o-fire’ gave me a wink and a smile before heading back to his car, ‘Lieutenant Harris’ watched from the overpass as I cycled around and then underneath him. He stood there watching me like a raven, talk about good cop bad cop. After what I’d heard and seen developing just a few miles back I would have thought he’s have his hands full with more important state of affairs.
Anyhow I got to my stay for the night 20 minutes later after cycling through the beautiful business district of Philadelphia. It’s funny I had Bruce Springsteen – Streets of Philadelphia playing in my head all the way there. The streets were so bike friendly they almost gave more room to bikes than cars after what I’d experienced that day I was not complaining!
I was staying with Louis Thomas, a lecturer at the local college – a great guy. I ended up staying there for 2 days to recover from my days cycling without rest. He showed me around town, took me to his favourite food joints, showed me around the Ivy league college he worked at, I had a blast. Philadelphia’s business district was a beautiful place.
I left for Wilmington Delaware first thing in the morning, again I was going to witness the wrong side of the tracks but I was anticipating it this time, I was in Philly after all. I remember a friend of mine from work telling me about the grid system in Philadelphia and how ethnicities are segmented by grids. It was surprising seeing just how ‘black and white’ it was it terms how the system worked.
I would cross one block and see the black community, black shops etc then just one crossing of the road it would be the Arab community with their shops and so on. I finally made it to US13 but not before I travelled through the Puerto Rican and Italian-American blocks. US13 took me south towards the Delaware state line – once I was on it was smooth riding throughout. I got to my hotel a little after 2pm so I had plenty of time to leave Ursula in the room and take a walk around Wilmington while the sun was shining.
I walked around the mall for a while, came back to the hotel and napped until the evening. Luckily my hotel was right next to a bunch of restaurants, refreshingly none of which were Dunkin Donuts or Burger King. I went out to eat at Famous Dave’s BBQ pit that night where the food was awesome but I was really starting to feel the affects of riding solo.
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