It’s a muggy afternoon here in Philadelphia, with temperatures climbing to near 90 degrees and rush hour looming.
What to do?
Why, head out for a grueling two-and-a-half hour ride that will take you up and down the steep narrow climbs of Manayunk at the very moment that drivers are clamoring to get home, of course!
At 3:45, Brent and I set out on our mountain bikes with camelbacks filled and sunblock slathered. We headed west through the rolling suburban hills toward the Schuylkill River Trail, with plans to bike back to Manayunk on the tow path to tackle The Wall
I knew I wanted to save my legs for the grueling climbs, so I’d intended to hold back on the first half of the ride. But then we reached the tow path. And I saw my destiny.
There was one other biker there, probably a quarter mile in front of us. She was wearing a matching jersey and shorts, and riding a fancy cannondale road bike. And I wanted to catch her.
I had drafted off Brent for the first several miles, and it was my turn to take the lead. So off I went, pulling through each pedal stroke, breathing hard, concentrating on that lone rider.
I’ve recently begun focusing on digging deep. During races and now during training, I’m very aware of my self-defined limits, and I’m intent on pushing past them.
And so it was with that rider. Sure, she was on a road bike. Sure, she looked intimidating in her slick technical gear. But I was going to catch her. I needed to catch her.
It took nearly three miles, with headwinds bearing down and Brent sitting firmly on my back tire. My legs and lungs were crying ‘uncle,’ but I didn’t let up. I was determined. And finally, just a quarter mile before the end of the path, I did it.
“How’s it going?” I breathed as I pedaled by. She didn’t respond.
For a brief moment, I was on top of the world.
And then I remembered the hills. Oh, those hills.
Between the Schuylkill River and Fairmount Park’s Wissahickon Creek Gorge lies a series of half-mile long climbs. Though the experience varies from hill to hill – some are windy, some plateau, and some just pummel your quads with 12 or 15 or 17 percent grades – they all have the capacity to beat you down.
As I started up the first one, my bike creaked (my own fault, for not having cleaned it since the 12-hour race in South Carolina) and my lungs screamed (also my fault, for forgetting to take my inhaler before we set out). “Okay, Abby,” I said to myself, “it’s time for that digging deep. You have to make it up five hills. Then you can go home.”
Five half-mile climbs. Piece of cake, right?
By the beginning of the second one, I had settled into a sort of selective amnesia. With the start of each hill, I was sure that it would be my last one. But by the time I reached the top and turned to fly back down, my quads had forgotten the pain, and I was ready for more.
In total, we ended up tackling seven climbs this afternoon. By the last one, we were spent. The heat and the hills had taken their toll, and we were running on empty.
That’s when we saw it. Pedaling up Ridge Avenue, you pass a Rita’s Water Ice on your left, followed closely by a mom ‘n pop shop on your right.
Now, Philadelphia is probably best known for three things:
- The liberty bell (and Independence Hall, and all sorts of historical wonderment that dates back to the founding of the nation)
- The stellar political record (remember that time our mayor decided to bomb his own city?).
- The food (Be careful how you order your cheesesteak – you may be denied service… especially if you don’t speak English)
And water ice is one of Philly’s most heralded delicacies – sort of like italian ice, but, well, different – and Rita’s is a city staple. A few years ago, while road tripping through New England, Brent and I were surprised to come across a Rita’s in Salem, Massachusetts, advertising its standard ice, custard, and happiness. A cursory glance at their website today, however, revealed that the company has actually expanded to such hotspots as Bedford, Texas and Hermitage, Tennessee. Who knew?
My “how did this Rita’s get to Salem, Massachusetts?” face
“Do you have any cash?” Brent asked as we pedaled toward the icy goodness.
Neither of us, it turned out, had thought to bring our wallets on the ride. But the prospect of something cold was oh-so-tempting…
“Maybe they’ll let us go with an IOU,” I said.
Brent thought I was crazy.
I decided to give it a shot. It was ice, custard, and happiness, after all…
I figured we’d probably have better luck at the mom ‘n pop shop, but since we came upon Rita’s first, it made sense to start there. I biked over to the drivethru window, flashed my best smile at the teenage girl manning the register, and explained the situation.
And without batting an eye, she invited me inside.
With Brent watching the bikes, I placed our order, assured her of my return, and one cone of softserve and a chocolate misto (a milkshake made with water ice and frozen custard) later, we were on our way. As soon as we got home, I promptly jumped in the car and headed back out to pay our bill.