The Invisible Route

There’s a road that prohibits cars on a quarter of its distance. It’s a work in progress, an attempt to span the distance from the Canadian border in Maine to Key West, Florida entirely off-road. Most people I tell about The East Coast Greenway have never heard of it. Perhaps the Greenway signs, much smaller than stop signs and street names, pass unnoticed in the everyday hustle and bustle.

A few weeks ago, a friend and I decided to ride a section of the Greenway that runs through our state of New Jersey. We met in the Newark Penn Station, then rode the PATH to the waterfront in Jersey City. We rode through an entire park we never knew existed, with views of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island against the backdrop of Manhattan.

We rode our loaded bicycles on this meandering route for the next three days. It took us past downtown areas, parks, and cities. We dodged trucks and cars trying to get over the Hackensack River. We cursed the Newark traffic while enjoying the live music in Ironbound. We camped in a church yard in Cranford and rode alongside the twisty Rahway River in Winfield. All the way, we followed an official guidebook and the Greenway signs. The two usually agreed on which twisty route we should follow, but when they didn’t we followed the signs. We found a few surprises, including three miles of new bike path in Edison.

Following the Greenway signs, we found ourselves on the Delaware and Raritan Canal Towpath, starting in New Brunswick. This muddy, dusty route is unknown to most. Joggers and walkers and cyclists know about the D&R, but it’s still a secret place where you exist with wildlife and trees. The wonder is that it’s only a few dozen yards from unseen motor traffic, the sound of which is mixed with the splashing of the Raritan River. We live in a culture of automobiles, suburbs, and malls. This trip highlighted that this world of bike paths and pedestrian bridges is all but invisible to most people who live in the Garden State.

The Greenway’s route is circuitous, out of necessity. So many roads are simply too dangerous on a bike, and bike paths follow rivers and coastlines. We theorized that geography isn’t the only reason. The route planners are doing their best to connect downtown areas and parks with each other on the route.

There’s a state of mind I reach when I ride a bike, a feeling of gliding above the world on a turning, twisting route. It’s even stronger when I’m on a bike tour for a few days. Even though the majority of this Greenway trip was spent on road shoulders, it still felt like we had disassociated from the real world for those three days.

When we crossed the Delaware River and got to Morrisville, Pennsylvania, it seemed like we had followed a hidden route to get there, a hush-hush back way. It was like stepping briefly into another world. Then the spell was broken as we turned back towards the train station, and towards home.

Thanks to Kathleen Ronan for excellent editing advice on this article.

Neil Fein is a freelance editor who specializes in novels. If you’ve written a manuscript or are getting close to finishing, you can get in touch with him here. He rides his bicycle as much as he can, and he paints when he damn well feels like it. He’s also a musician who plays in a Celtic fusion band, as well as a folk band.


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