The D&L Blog

Delaware & Lehigh - Trials & Tribulations on the D&L Trail 

There’s a common misconception that folks who work on trails are out riding trail(s) every hour of the day. But most of us spend the daylight hours behind a computer writing grants, figuring out how to build or repair trails, and planning awesome trips for others. 

After 2.5 years of coordinating some amazing D&L Trail thru-rides (an end-to-end ride) for others, I decided enough was enough and planned to take one myself! I got my amazing bicycling mom on board, and we planned a four-day ride from the Black Diamond Trailhead (MM 140) to Bristol Marsh (MM 0). We fit our bikes with racks and bags to carry our belongings, booked three overnight accommodations, printed out a list of closures and planned detours, roped our family into drop off and pick up duties, and just like that we were ready to hit the trail. Or so we thought… 

After three days, our trip was over due to heavy rain, some new washouts, and a knee injury. We had an amazing trip with beautiful views, multiple wildlife encounters, mouthwatering meals, and 110-miles under our belts, but we hit some bumps along the way. Below are some tips and lessons that helped us plan and might help you plan your next great adventure! 

Research the route, any trail closures, and detour options before you head out.

Always check the D&L Trail Interactive Map for trail status updates and reach out to the Trails & Conservation Associate ([email protected]) for potential detour options based on your skill level. Don’t forget to double check the status a day or two before your trip as trail closures can occur suddenly. It’s also a good idea to make sure your friends and family have a copy of your itinerary so they can check in with you and are able to find you in case of an emergency. 

Check the weather and events in the area.

Knowing what weather situations you could encounter can help you pack for a comfortable trip, and researching events in the area can help you avoid crowds or join in the fun.

Rain can be a morale killer if you don’t have the proper gear- it can also be extremely dangerous. Major storms struck the region on night two of our trip. We took it easy the morning of day three but decided to continue on as the storms seemed to pass. What we didn’t anticipate was the resulting flash floods that washed out the trail and turned typically dry canal overflows into fast moving water channels that swept anything in their path into the river.

On our second attempt to cross an overflow in bare feet (in an effort to keep our shoes dry) my mom lost her footing as she tried to lift her bike over a downed tree. I watched in horror as the water pulled her towards a sharp drop into the river. She managed to grab the tree and pull her shoes on for footing and we both hobbled to solid ground shaking.

Always assess the situation and err on the side of caution, even if it “messes up” your plans- something I will never forget after this trip. 

Know your gear before you go.

New gear can be exciting and bring a sense of preparedness to a trip, but you can only be prepared if you know how to use it!

At the very beginning of our trip (8 am), we realized we didn’t know how to attach my mom’s bags to her bike. Half an hour later and a questionable knot and clip system in place we set off on the trail. In this case, all was well. However, it did take me another 30 minutes to figure out how to use my air pump. Only after fully deflating my tire and taking some deep breaths did I figure it out, with the assistance of a YouTube video.

If you have questions about gear, check out your local bike shop or coalition, – they have plenty of tips and tricks to help you. You should also always tune up your bike before a big trip to make sure everything is in tip-top shape for a long ride and bring back-up gear/tools with you in case you run into any issues. 

Train, train and train some more!

At the peak of the 2022 season, I was biking up to 20 miles on a weekend trip over 2-4 hours. To reach our destination each night on this trip we’d need to bike around 40-miles each day. My mom is a seasoned cycler and I’m more of a leisurely cycler, so the plan was that I’d train for two months leading up to the trip to reach the consistent 40-mile goal.

In reality, life got in the way, and I did absolutely zero training with the mindset of, “I’m nervous, but I’m young and fairly fit so I should be fine… right?” The answer was a resounding NO.

I breezed through day one, but on mile 10 of day two the fatigue set in, and an old ankle injury started to throb. On day three I was absolutely exhausted, legs aching, and I now had a stabbing pain in my knee from favoring my ankle. We coasted into our final inn in the dark and after consuming large amounts of french-fries, I collapsed into bed unsure if I could continue to the final day.

The moral of the story: always put in the effort to make sure your body can meet the demands of a multi-day trip. While you may be fine putting in one longer day, asking your body to reach that high standard over and over again without a rest day can strain your muscles and cause injury. Give yourself plenty of time to work up to a goal before hitting the road. If you didn’t meet your goal, be honest with yourself and your partners so you can adjust your plans! 

Have a backup plan.

We had to change plans twice during our trip. We woke up on day two to a cancelled B&B for that night as well as multiple rain reports. Through coordination with my dad, who was our shuttle for the trip, we made informed decisions about the rain and got an early pick up to spend night two at home. At the end of day three, we learned just how devastating the flash flooding in Bucks County had been and, considering my knee injury, we decided to end the trip early. We got a ride on day four and went home to wash our bikes and reflect on the trip.

Make sure you keep open communication with your friends and family to get updates and for smooth transitions when things don’t go as planned.

Buffer your time to enjoy the unique sights and businesses each town has to offer.

Remember that your trip doesn’t need to be a race. Plan your daily routes to give you plenty of time to stop and enjoy the natural wonders, restaurants and businesses along the trail. Make room to take an extra hour to sit along the river with a morning coffee or evening drink. Block enough time to walk that spur trail along a stream or into another town. For many, this type of trip is meant to give you space to slow down and enjoy the world around you- give yourself enough breathing room to do just that!

Lessons Learned

In the end, from cancelled hotels to major storm events and trail closures, we learned to recognize our limits and pivot quickly. I got to see a calmer side of my mom – one that could slow down and take in the beauty of the trail, while giving me the grace I needed to go at my own pace. I discovered that I can eat a full meal every 10 miles and still be hungry. I learned that completing a goal doesn’t need to happen in a straight line or a set period of time. You can bet I’ll be out again before the end of the year to finish the final 30 miles of my trip and I hope to see you on the D&L Trail!  

Written by Liz Rosencrans, DLNHC Director of Trails & Conservation

Liz leads the Trails & Conservation Department and is responsible for the progression of trail projects from concept to completion, handling everything from grant writing to technical plan reviews and construction oversight. She also oversees several D&L Trail volunteer programs.