By Ian Ong, Managing Editor
It was the biggest event in our journalistic careers thus far. The Eagles had won the Super Bowl, and we needed reporters to get downtown to grab photos and interviews.
Deprived of a ride down to Philadelphia to cover the Super Bowl parade, I was weighing my transportation options the night before. Traveling by train was out of the question; tickets had been sold out days prior. Riding an Uber would be slow and way too costly to take into Philly, especially during the hours before the parade. The solution that I eventually settled on started as a joke, but the more I thought and thought about it, the more plausible it seemed to me:
I would bike from Berwyn to Philadelphia.
I bounced the idea off of some of my friends, who then assumed that I had finally gone mad. But by that point, I had already become fixated on whether or not the trip was actually possible to make. The journey would be dangerous, exhausting, possibly deadly. But then again, when would I ever have another excuse to casually bike into Center City from the suburbs? After weighing out the costs and benefits, I came to one conclusion: I would go through with the trip. For the sake of personal fitness, our front page story and the triumphant Eagles. If biking from suburb to city across multiple townships into the city was indeed possible, then I would be the first to find out. After dinner, I called my mom to tell her that I would be out tomorrow, and I got straight to packing.
Let me preface my journey with the fact that I am not a huge football fan. If you had asked me two weeks ago what Foles’ jersey number was, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. But I knew that if I were to get a chance to witness the unbridled enthusiasm and energy that a Super Bowl win brings to a city, by God I wouldn’t pass up that opportunity. I would do anything just to be there with everyone else, feeling the atmosphere and experiencing a momentous occasion in Philadelphian history. Even if things went wrong and I had to bike back home, at least I would get some good exercise first. But if all went well, my bike was my golden ticket into the city.
The Long Journey
I brought along a 65-gallon hiking backpack packed with all of the essential amenities: snack bars, a powerbank, a bike lock, a daypack, a roll of toilet paper, a trowel, a three-liter Platypus water reservoir and two more one-liter canteens to boot. This amounted to a neat 15-pound payload. Sure, it was heavy, but I had also fared trips with much more massive packs. When I hiked with fellow Boy Scouts at the Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico, our packs weighed 40 pounds a piece.
Just as Sacagawea led Lewis and Clark to the Pacific, Google Maps was my navigator to the Athens of America. The Maps app calculated that the journey would take one hour, 50 minutes in total — an estimate that proved extremely optimistic taking into account my inexperience in cross-country cycling. In reality, my trip took five hours and spanned 20 miles from my house to City Hall.
I woke up promptly at 4 a.m., made last-minute preparations as well as scrambled eggs, and set out on my trusty NEXT Avalon bike at 5 a.m. sharp. At 7, I reached Radnor. 50 minutes later, I passed through the Haverford College campus, and breached Lower Merion at 8. Half an hour later, I had made it to the outskirts of Philly. At 9:40 a.m., I took a quick pit stop at Dunkin’ Donuts before crossing the Schuylkill River at 10:13 a.m., concluding the long, five hour stretch of my journey. I rendezvoused with fellow reporters at the intersection of JFK Blvd. and 16th St., dismounted and got my camera ready to take photos.
The parade was a fantastic show of Philadelphian enthusiasm, and well worth the journey. Seeing the sparkling Lombardi trophy with my own two eyes and feeling the crowd’s energy surrounding me was an experience that could never be replicated through television. It was as if the entire city had dropped everything — grudges, business, education — and united in unfettered brotherly love. After the parade and post-parade celebrations, I made my way back up to 23th and Market, sorted through the day’s photos and called my dad to come pick me up. Although I had enjoyed my long bike ride to the city, by then the rallies and interviews and photo opportunities had sapped the last of my physical strength to the point where biking back was not an option.
Looking back on the trip, there are a host of things that I would change. I would choose to take more bike routes rather than sidewalks. I would carry less water, especially if the weather is nice and cool like it was on parade day. However, there are some things that I would not want to do away with: the sweat, the tears (no blood, thankfully) and the pure ecstasy of accomplishing something meaningful. After my trip, I felt more connected with my neighborhoods and city than ever before.
As I peered out the window of my dad’s car, it was like seeing my journey played in reverse. I saw the streets, stores and neighborhoods for which I now had names to give to, humanity to attach to them. When I finally reached home, I took a quick shower, put my equipment away and promptly dozed off.
And that night, I slept well. The pilgrimage had been a success.
Wednesday, Feb. 7
7:00 p.m.: I scoured our house for materials and began packing for the journey.
9:00 p.m.: I went to bed early.
Thursday, Feb. 8
4:00 a.m.: I woke up, one hour ahead of schedule. I guess the adrenaline hit me early.
5:00 a.m.: I set out on Conestoga Road.
5:15 a.m.: Realizing I made a wrong turn, I headed back up Cassatt Road and onto Cassatt Ave.
5:52 a.m.: I entered Radnor Trail via the entrance on Sugartown Road.
6:29 a.m.: I finally exited Radnor Trail onto Conestoga Road, after having to correct another wrong turn.
7:03 a.m.: I reached Radnor Township.
7:18 a.m.: I took a quick water break at the intersection of Conestoga and South Roberts Road.
7:42 a.m.: I took my bike onto a pedestrian overpass and entered the Haverford College campus.
8:09 a.m.: I reached Lower Merion Township.
8:24 a.m.: I took a snack break at an intersection in Penn Wynne.
8:40 a.m.: I reached Haddington Library, a branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia. From this point onward, I began to see increasing numbers of Eagles fans headed for the parade.
9:43 a.m.: I stopped to eat a second breakfast at the Dunkin’ Donuts at the intersection of Market and 43rd St.
10:13 a.m.: I crossed the Schuylkill River and entered Center City, where the Eagles spirit was at its strongest.
10:46 a.m.: I reached the intersection at JFK Blvd. and 16th St., chained up my bike near Suburban Station and met up with other Spoke reporters.
4:39 p.m.: Exhausted from a morning of celebration and reporting, I met up with my dad at Market and 23rd St. and got a ride back home.
Ian Ong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.