Bethlehem Bike Adventure: Where the Towpath Ends

On a Wednesday evening in mid-May, S. and I met on our bikes at the edge of Sand Island in Bethlehem, intending to ride the towpath. We had done this ride any number of times, but even though the ride was familiar, I looked forward to a pleasant ride. We headed east, toward Easton, and got about a quarter mile down the path when we came to appreciate exactly how buggy and muggy it was there, on a dirt path between the canal and the river. We made a quick change of plan — we would carry our bikes up the steps on the Minsi Trail bridge, ride over to the Southside, and carry on with our ride on the Greenway, a macadam trail away from water.

On the Southside, we rode for a bit and then stopped at the skate park, to watch what seemed a hive of activity. There were big kids and small, on BMX bikes, skateboards (long and short), razor scooters, and rollerblades, going all at once and in all directions, including straight up in the air. Though overall the movement seemed utter chaos, they did not crash into each other, so clearly some rules applied. We got hooked on watching three young guys on rollerblades doing tricks that had them jumping, flipping, twisting, skating backward, forward, and often falling, but oh, when they made it, they soared! It was great fun.

As we left the skate park, S. wondered how far the path went, because we’d both heard of the plan to extend the Greenway to hook up with the Saucon Rail Trail in Hellertown, but all we knew were the rumors. Rather than going back toward center city on the Greenway, we continued east, beyond the skate park. Pretty quickly we came to a definitive end to the Greenway a little distance further but…. looking over the edge of the paved trail, we saw a dirt trail that continued to as far as we could see into the post-industrial distance.

It didn’t look pretty, but we were game. On we ventured.

As we hit the dirt trail, our tires sank a bit into the greasy dirt, but the trail was passable; clearly, others rode here. After a few minutes a rider came toward us from the other direction, and we stopped him to ask what was ahead. He told us the trail split in two and went through a business parking lot, but it was possible to go through a few streets and make your way to the Saucon Creek.

Anyone who rides a bike can tell you that a place that you’ve been traveling all your life by car, can look utterly transformed from the seat of a bicycle. We knew that over there to our left was the very familiar Route 412, and yet here, a short distance away, the world looked completely different. It was greener, grittier, wilder.

A couple of times our route suddenly turned into a very steep rise that we couldn’t see over – but plunging ahead we found these to be simply somebody’s idea of a good time (and they were in a roller coaster kind of way.) Then we came to the place where the path split in two.

On we continued, until we found ourselves in a parking lot. Unsure where to go, S. and I had just turned to each other to try to figure our next move, when coming from behind us, we saw a biker, moving fast. As he came closer, I could see it was F, an old biking friend.

“Perfect timing!” we said. He invited us to follow him away from the path and over to the Saucon Creek, where we knew the roads. F. chuckled that his solitary bike ride home had unexpectedly turned into a group ride. We chatted as we raced through the back streets in that section of Bethlehem that one can hardly believe is part of the city — it has the sweet quiet and isolation of being in the middle of nowhere. We continued on until we noticed it was starting to get dark. S. and I thanked F. for his perfectly timed appearance and guidance, and headed back toward the path, now at least sure that we knew how to get back home.

On the return ride, I looked up and noticed a tower adjacent to the path. There was something up there. The platform of the tower was strewn with a huge amount of brush. Could it be an eagles’ nest? We figured it had to be.

(A few months later, when visiting with friends who live nearby, we confirmed it was an eagles’ nest when we looked through the telescope they had trained on that very nest, and had a chance to see the eaglet born a few months earlier.)

As we rode home into the darkening sky, S. and I talked about how rare a night it had been, that we had discovered a path brand new to us within a few miles of our urban homes, got to watch the fearless antics of the riders at the skate park, caught up with an old friend, and stumbled on an eagles’   nest, all for the for the slight price of being willing to venture outside our normal ride.

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