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River Road – Driver’s Review

October 27, 2009

Many older roads are simply paved versions of the cart paths that existed centuries earlier (slightly improved of course).  They follow the same routes of Village to Village and lay within the landscape rather than assaulting it with artificial leveling, grading, and cut throughs.

So how can this be one of our favorite roads?  Does it still qualify as one of our favorite roads after a careful inspection?

Read on to find out

River Road faces some major challenges from a construction and maintenance standpoint.  Sandwiched between steep hills and the Delaware River, at many spots the road doesn’t just reside in the flood plain but it IS the flood plain.  This is an advantage and a disadvantage simultaneously.

It is an advantage because it allows the road to exploit the natural landscape in a unique and unrivaled way.  If the road is not following the contours of the river it is following the contours of the barely contained hills and cliffs.  It is a disadvantage because in all but the driest months you will face standing water and residual water damage to the road surface.

The result is an incredibly interesting driving dynamic.  In a period of a little over a mile you can face standing water, bone dry tarmac, tight curves, brisk straightaways, rapid elevation changes, and speeds varying by 20 miles per hour.  This is not an exaggeration of any sort.  As you will see from the coming videos, not only can you face these challenges but chances are you will.

As a driver, everything described above is pure bliss.  It’s a visceral experience, dredging the elemental emotions of what it is to be human from the shores of the Delaware.  Adrenaline starts to flow, senses are heightened, and the sought after connection with the road forms.  I don’t want to over state it, but at 45 or 25, it really is an excellent and enjoyable roadway.

And let me be clear, unless you are making the run at night (and breaking some laws) you WILL have some sections maxing out at 25 mph.  There are a few narrow areas with heavy foot traffic.  Slow it down, stick it in first, and idle on by.  Check out a Porsche, watch for a Ferrari, and enjoy the beautiful architecture that abuts the roadway.  The sites are spectacular.  From the 18th and 19th century homes that line the banks of the river and canal to the natural beauty of the river and canal system itself, don’t be afraid to literally and figuratively slow down for a bit.

Don’t linger too long though, the road will start to beckon.  Beckon it did on this sunny fall day.  As we approached River Road via Point Pleasant Pike it was obvious that it would be an excellent drive.  Partially washed out due to flooding, Point Pleasant Pike has taken an interesting state.  Formally a two lane road, the washed out sections give the road the appearance of being at the edge of the world as the guard rail doubles and pushes inward, keeping you from having an unfortunate meeting with destiny.

The intersection of River Road and Point Pleasant Pike was the approximate midpoint of our planned North-South Travels on River Road.  Which led to some inevitable backtracking.  In many situations this would be an annoyance, but it turned out to be beneficial.  The road surface and conditions vary so drastically that even from one lane to the next you can face different conditions (specifically road surface moisture and roadway pitch).  The result is back tracking that doesn’t feel like a simple retread.  It feels like all new territory. 

Goose the accelerator, get out in front of the curves and get ready to have an absolutely blast.  The road surface is a bit iffy in spots, and it can be tempting at times to over work the brakes (mainly due to traffic) so slow it down (and maybe catch a bite to eat) if they start to heat up.

There are some advantages to running a well behaved and well powered vehicle, but this is one of the few drives I have seen that I can honestly say would be fun in just about any vehicle.  Sure, I would prefer to run it in a Porsche GT but I still WOULD enjoy it in a 1995 Dodge Neon.  Make sure to get out there no matter what your equipment is.

As you can certainly tell, I have an enormous soft spot for this road.  It is an immensely invigorating drive.  In the Greater Philadelphia Region I have yet to find another road that offers the immense beauty, the technical nature, and the pure fun that is offered by River Road.

Thanks to Google Streetview for these photos – real photos coming later.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott permalink
    January 11, 2010 3:11 am

    Sounds like it was made for my 1996 Civic with a CTR swap


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