Any Road Tour: Day 6 – Of Lungs and Loving Kindness

Last night I spent the evening reminiscing with my old friends Earl and Anne. We worked together while going to college so we’ve known each other over 40 years. Somehow Anne looks 35. They must have wayback machine in their basement.

After acquiring chamois cream and a belt for me, we ate dinner at a Mexican place called Mad Mex in Shadyside. I had my first beers in over 5 months. And the waitress looked like Brandi Carlile (even before the beers).

Earl took us on a magical mystery tour of his hometown. Pittsburgh was once thick with ultra rich industrialists and financiers. The remnants of their wealth are all over the place. After a few decades of rebooting to a health care and tech economy the joint is jumping once again.

After they dropped me off I stayed up for a while talking with people at the hostel. I slept well and woke up to more coffee chatter with Paul, one of the owners. The Southside Traveler’s Rest turned out to be a terrific find. Paul and his wife Mary Beth are anxious to build their bike tourist clientele. I think once word gets out they’ll be wondering where to put all the grungy bike people.

I lingered linger than usual and hit the road about 8. I started following the Adventure Cycling New York to Chicago route. A brief ride near the river turned into a serious climb away from the city. As I ascended I was passed by club riders out for their weekend spin. I figured if they’re riding it, it can’t be that bad. It wasn’t. I never was wanting for a breath. After some rolling miles on the roads I picked up the Panhandle Trail. The first 7 miles were unpaved and bumpy, but in Washington County PA it became paved which helped with the gradual uphill.

After a crest the trail began a gentle downhill slope. It felt pretty darn good. I stopped at a trailside cafe in Burgettstown. The owner said that if I wanted a proper breakfast I should go to Walden’s restaurant next store. It was hard to walk away from the awesome blueberry muffins on display but I needed calories big time.

At Walden’s I ordered a kind of hash that they included home fries, mushrooms, ham, bacon, sausage, and veggies with sausage gravy on top. Sooo perfect. All of it washed down with several cups of coffee. As I was eating a woman sat down and asked me where I was biking from and to. When I told her she said “Your meal is free.” Walden’s has a policy of feeding long distance bike tourists on the House. I had stumbled upon some amazing trail angels.

She handed me a guest book and asked me to write a note about the trip, which I did. I thanked her and the owners who were sitting across the room. In the rest room I saw this notice on the wall.

I’ll bet they get plenty of donations from bike tourists (and their blog readers).

The trail took me downhill for about 8 miles then, after getting briefly disoriented, I got the roads to climb over the mother of all hills. The climb was about 500 feet in a mile. It took everything I had to get over that beast, but I am happy to report that my lungs held up fine.

The downhill was great fun. So much fun that I missed a turn and had to back track a bit to finished the descent to the bank of the Ohio River.

After riding WV 2, a bit so busy highway, for a few miles I stopped for lunch at a scuzzy Dairy Queen. I switched over to the Yanked Trail (despite it being against my religion) and the Wheeling Heritage Trail, both of which were and improvement over the highway. Views of the Ohio kept my spirits up. This is s dam with a lift lock for boats.

Once in Wheeling I took the lay of the land. Wheeling is one beat down place. The only hotel downtown has a reputation as less than wonderful (one bike tourist disliked it so much he left and back tracked 8 miles over a mountain).

I was feeling fine after about 70 miles so I decided to go off route and climb US 40, the National Road, to a hotel in St Clairsville Ohio. I had done this climb on Big Nellie during my 2005 tour to Indiana. It was brutal then and it lived up to my memory of it.

Did I mention the temperature had risen to 86 degrees? Big fun.

I put my head down and did the deed. It wasn’t as hard as the climb to the river but you could have put a fork in me at the top because I was DONE.

The first hotel I came to was a Comfort Inn. Yeah babee.

I am a few miles off route and about 10 further west than I planned. The worst of the climbing is behind me.

Total miles for the day: 77.5

Total mikes got the tour: 410

Oh, and about a mile into the ride the odometer on The Mule hit 46,000 miles. Dang.

Any Road Tour: Day 5 – GAP-ing to the Burg

I slept poorly in the Adirondack shelter in Connelsville. (Still haven’t used my tent!) I neglected to fully inflate my sleeping pad, a mistake I won’t repeat. I awoke with the sun and resisted the urge to start riding. I lingered over a fine breakfast of two slices of left over pizza then I hit the trail.

The trail is still pretty dreamy north of Connelsville. I set a goal for the town of West Newton for proper second breakfast. I was running on fumes when I began a search for food. I found an eatery, the only one open for breakfast, across the river in town. I ate an appalling amount of food and drank at least six cups of coffee.

Stuffed and buzzed is how you do a bike tour, my friends.

Pedal, pedal.

There have been purple wildflowers along the trail. Anyone know what they are?

The trail passes through several small towns like this.

One of them had an ice cream place. Two scoops please!

Pedal, pedal.

I stopped to address a comfort issue with some chamois cream. It helped. It also afforded me the opportunity to take a picture of one of the scores of little waterfalls along the trail.

About 20 miles from Pittsburgh the trail loses its rural vibe altogether and acquires pavement. My speed increased noticeably. In McKeesport I missed a turn but a dead end at a bus depot set me right.

There are actual hills in this section of the trail. How dare they?

And there are bridges over the river and train tracks.

The trail was busy with weekenders some of whom failed to appreciate the fact that a loaded touring bike doesn’t maneuver or stop particularly well. Despite being pretty tired, I made it to the hostel without uttering a single f bomb.

Today was an easy day of sorts: 60 miles. All told I’ve ridden 332 miles. Tomorrow I plan to ride to beautiful Wheeling West Virginia. Probably in the rain.

Onward.

No Wrong Plan: Day 1 – Pittsburgh to Connellsville via the GAP Trail

You could ride from Pittsburgh to DC on roads. Since none of us is named Contador or Chiapucci or Lemond, we decided to do our tour on the car free trails of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal National Park.

Before we started we headed out for breakfast with Earl and Anne, my old Boston friends who relocated to the ‘Burg, Earl’s hometown. It being Mother’s Day the line at Pamela’s, our restaurant, was long so we didn’t get rolling until noon. We began at Point State Park directly across the street from our hotel. It’s the Point because the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers forms a point where the form the Ohio River. It has nothing to do with Harry Nillson or a dog named Arrow.

After some picture taking we headed out and immediately came to a disagreement about where the trail was. Ryan insisted it ran directly along the Monongahela River. Kevin and I recalled that Dave, our shuttle driver, said that it ran up the Boulevard of the Allies and then turned over the Hot Metal Bridge. Ryan insisted he was right but followed us up the Boulevard. We followed signs and soon cross the river, on the wrong bridge. What a way to start a tour!

Fortunately, we found a trail on the southside of the river, cleverly named Southside, and rode toward DC. After many bumps and a few odd detours we found the Hot Metal Bridge and signs for the GAP. Yay!

And we were on our way. Earl had given us a blow by blow of the ride out of town. Condos, a waterpark, big box stores paying minimum wage with no benefits now stood where steel mills with good paying steel worker jobs once lined the river. Soon we were clear of Pittsburgh and on our way to McKeesport about which I know next to nothing other than a goofy comedy routine by a comedienne named Donna Jean Young. (If you get that cultural reference you are hopelessly old.)

McKeesport featured abandoned mills and factories with weed filled parking lots lined by chain linked fences. So sad. In odd contrast, at one point on the trail we came upon a traffic light for bikes.

Once out of McKeesport, the paved trail gave way to an unpaved surface covered with a thing layer of finely crushed limestone. The ride began to take on the character it would have for the next several days. Trees and shade. Rivers. Train whistles. Mountains, often with rock faces and waterfalls. The crunch of our tires in the limestone grit on the trail. The chatter among us abated, replaced by reflection.

Pedal, pedal.

Breathe.

Feel the breeze on your face.

Hear it in your ears.

A bright orange songbird flits across the trail in front of me.

So relaxing. Later I write in my notebook: “Pure meditative bliss.”

We pull into West Newton hungry and eat at the Trailside Restaurant. It’s a good name because it’s right on the side of the trail. Clever.  It has a bike shop beneath it and a liquor store in back. We eat sandwiches and then head back out.

We roll with little effort up the gentle grade to Connellsville, about 200 feet above and 60 miles from Point State Park. We move with purpose to make sure we score a free camping spot near town.

Not only do we get the camping spot but it has Adirondack shelters, three sided wood structures. A pit toilet is also provided but no showers. I take the floor of a shelter with my sleeping bag and pad. Kevin hangs his hammock tent across the opening. Ryan sets up his new tent on the ground alongside.

A homeless looking man who coughs a lot occupies another shelter. A creepy guy riding with a backpack and a water bottle hanging off his side occupies yet another. He has a small thick cross on a chain hanging on his chest. Creepy guy comes over to chat. Asks us, “What’s the weather like tomorrow, brother.” We get an uncomfortable vibe. We decide he is a meth addict who will kill us in our sleep. He becomes “Meth Man”.

After he leaves Kevin and I head to the shopping center next door for pizza, ice, and several gallong jugs of water. We use the water and ice to fill our bottles with much needed cold water. Some of the water becomes bath water, much needed with so much limestone grit all over us. The pizza disappears without much effort.

We sleep an honest sleep despite noisy birds and trains clanging together into the night. Meth Man doesn’t kill us. All is well after our long day of riding.

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Lots more pictures in my Flickr album.

No Wrong Plan: Pittsburgh to DC – Day O

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I hadn’t done a bike tour in ten years so I was pretty stoked to do this ride. Ryan and Kevin were too. I rode the 12 1/2 miles from my house to Columbia Island Marina across the Potomac from the Jefferson Memorial. On the way I was passed a man riding a recumbent pulling a low, wide Burley Nomad trailer. He seemed to be on tour and headed to DC. I took this to be a good omen. A few miles later, Lane, a formerly local rando, passed by heading the opposite way. I took this as another good omen.

My bike, The Mule, was weighed down with four panniers – two small but heavy ones mounted on a Tubus lowrider rack on the front wheel and two large but lighter ones mounted on a Blackburn rack on the rear wheel – plus a two-person tent (I need my space) and a sleeping pad on top of the rear rack. The weight distribution was excellent with most of the weight between the two axles. Despite my careful packing, The Mule drove like a school bus. It was a good thing I recently put new brake pads on the back wheel because stopping this beast was going to be a challenge.

I arrived early. The shuttle van came next. The company is called Get Out and Play. Dave and Maria introduced themselves. As it turned out, Dave knew Ryan from Ryan’s previous job working for the state of Maryland. Small world. Kevin and Ryan showed up a few minutes late having been delayed by a breast cancer fundraising event on the National Mall.

Once we loaded up, Dave drove us west. He provided us with a guide book and map. These materials covered our entire route so they would come in handy. Dave advised us that a few of the towns have a meth problem and that we should be careful where we stayed overnight.

After several hours that seemed like no time at all, we arrived at our hotel, the Wyndham, located across the street from the start of our journey. We all agreed that the shuttle was well worth the money and that Dave and Maria had done a fine job getting us to the ‘Burg. If you do this trip, give them a call.

We checked in, rolled our bikes to our room, and headed out exploring downtown Pittsburgh. (The hotel had an automatic revolving door in front that was so big it fit our bikes.) I callled my friends Earl and Anne. Earl is a Pittsburgh native and gave us some ideas for food and drink in the downtown area. We explored the area near the hotel, had a light dinner, then headed across the Allegheny River on the Roberto Clemente Bridge (closed to cars on game days) to attend a Pirates game.

Our seats were located in the Bob Uecker section. We managed to get to them without supplemental oxygen because we are in great cardiovascular shape. (I kid. They weren’t bad at all.)  We soon were visited by fellow bike blogger Colleen. After we chatted, Colleen took our picture. Good to meet you Colleen.

The Pirates were kind enough to do three interesting things. First, they won the game, 7 – 5 over the Cardinals. Second, they had fireworks afterward. (The fireworks were set up on the Clemente bridge. I’d never seen so many.) One display during the performance looked like tall white grass swaying in the breeze. Bravo! Third, the Pirates turned a triple play. And the only triple play that went 4-5-4 (second baseman to third baseman to second baseman) in major league history. It was so unusual that third baseman’s teammates had to tell him to throw the ball to the second baseman for the final out. Weird.

PNC park is a beautiful ball park. They try hard to keep the fans happy. These efforts include captioning underneath the main scoreboard. This looks a bit like a work in progress (e.g., you don’t need to put the words to Take Me Out to the Ballgame on the captioning display when they are five times bigger on the scoreboard right above) but kudos to the Pirates for doing this.

So Day 0, the prologue to our bike trip, was a great success.

Beaucoup pix from the entire trip are on my Flickr page.

Bike to Work Day – Seven Day Version

On Saturday morning I head out on my first bike tour in a decade. I only have four tours to my credit. My first tour was ridden on The Mule about 16 years ago. It was not very successful. The plan was to ride to Cockeysville MD north of Baltimore, pick up the new North Central Rail Trail and ride it to York PA and then ride home. It was brutally hot and my saddle tore the bejesus out of my…er…flesh. To add to the disappointment, the NCRT was not yet complete resulting in me turning around at Hanover Junction PA. It was a learning exprience.

In 2003 with a new recumbent (Big Nellie) designed for touring I left my in-laws’ house in Indiana for a ride back to DC. This tour also crapped out but for different reasons. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to ride 113 miles on my second day. Also, carrying an spare tire is not the worst idea in the world.

In 2004 I rode from Niagara Falls to my Mom’s house in Albany. This four-day tour also on Big Nellie worked like a charm. No rain. Two hills. Beautiful scenery along the Erie Canal and Mohawk River.

In 2005 I rode from DC to my in-laws house, the 2003 tour in reverse. This time, despite a couple of equipment failures, I made it the entire way.

The 2005 tour included riding nearly the entire C&O Canal towpath. (A section far to the west was underconstruction.) From Cumberland MD to Meyersdale PA I rode the very hilly highways and byways of western Maryland and Pennsylvania. These hills were TOUGH!  I picked up the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail in Meyersdale and rode it to West Newton PA. It was bliss.

This year’s tour is planned to be six days entirely on the GAP trail and C&O Canal towpath. No hills to speak of, just some mild railroad grades. I am riding with @ryansigworth and @bicyclebug (a.k.a Kevin).  The plan is to take a shuttle to Pittsburgh from DC. This will entail riding from home to DC on Saturday morning. This is basically 85 percent of my bike commute. On Saturday night we are going to a baseball game. We head for home on the GAP – which now goes continuously from Pittsburgh to Cumberland) after breakfast on Sunday morning.

We are hoping to meet up with fellow blogger Red in Pittsburgh on Saturday night at the game. There is some talk about Red giving us a rolling escort out of town. Also, I have two friends from my Boston days who live in Pittsburgh. We may do breakfast with them if Mother’s Day doesn’t fill all the eateries up.

I am a little concerned about The Mule’s ability to make the entire trip. I’ve crashed The Mule a couple of times in recent years and the steering tube is probably not in the best of shape. The handlebars are also slightly bent. At least the saddle is in good shape. As for me, I am riding a bit slower these days but I actually feel very good on my bike. During my 2005 tour I got stronger with each passing day. It would be great if that happened again.

I don’t much know if we will do much off bike stuff along the way. What I really need and want are six days of nothing but shady trees and gurgling water and critters and the sound of bike tires rolling over the trail.

My only regret about this ride is the fact that so many of my #bikeDC friends have said, “I wish I was going with you.” So do I. Some of these folks are thinking about riding out the C&O on Friday to intercept us on our last day. It would be fun to roll into town with an escort and, perhaps, top off the tour with some cold liquid refreshment and a pile o’ grub.

Then I’ll get to ride the rest of my bike commute home. This seems fitting as this will be Bike to Work Day.