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.

UP Bike Trip: What Hit Me?

It has been a few days since I finished my bike trip. The short version is I rode 833 miles in 11 days on my 25-year old Specialized Sequoia touring bike. I camped out five nights and moteled five nights. Here are a few random thoughts now that I have had time to reflect:

  • I often talk about what my friend Flogini calls my meditation, that is, when I zone out on my bike commutes. The middle part of this bike trip, roughly from Days 2 through 7, was a rolling meditation retreat. I felt none of the stress of daily life. I didn’t think about work, friends, not-so-friends, family, or any obligations. I only thought about my legs spinning, my lungs breathing, and where The Mule and I were on the Adventure Cycling map segment of the moment. I sang songs, sometimes out loud. I gazed at the lake or the trees or the ferns or the lichens or the critters. I felt at peace. I wish I could bottle the feeling.


  • Speaking of breathing, I have mild persistent asthma that, when left unattended, can bloom into some serious breathing problems. The air in the north woods of Wisconsin and on the UP of Michigan was incredibly clean. I had no asthma symptoms at all for most of the trip.
  • I entered this ride with worries about whether my 60-year old body could take the stress of so many miles (and three ferry rides) in so few days on a conventional (non-recumbent) bike. I even padded my schedule with a 12th day to be sure. Unlike tours in my younger years, I didn’t become noticeably stronger during this tour. This may be because the last three days were the hilliest and had the most consistent headwinds. I am now confident that I can ride 60-mile days on end, which is to say, as far as my bike will take me.
  • Last year I told Mike, a.k.a Rattlingfender on Twitter, that I needed a new touring bike because mine was 24-years old. He scoffed and said that the fact that I am still riding The Mule means that it is a reliable machine. Mike was right. Even after 25 years and over 41,000 miles, The Mule abides.
  •  I had relatively few physical problems.
    • My left tricep started hurting after about a week. This is because I am right handed. I would take pictures or eat with my right hand leaving my left hand to steer The Mule. The stress took a toll on my upper arm.
    • My bottom was not happy at all. Despite my trusty Brooks Champion saddle with its cushioning springs, the flesh where my inner right leg met my pelvic area was super sore most of the last week. It’s a guy thing. It has to do with how my personal parts interact with the nose of the saddle. I had to consciously twist my seating position to the right on the last three days. I don’t quite know how to fix this in the future but I will need to figure it out. It’s a bit like a swimmer needing to learn to breath from both sides.
    • I can’t sleep worth a damn in a tent. Sleep is incredibly important when you are riding so many miles.
  • It took me a full day to stop thinking about my speed once I turned south into the headwinds on the lower peninsula. When touring on Big Nellie, I used to cover the speedometer with my map. Unless you are adhering to a strict schedule (which I do not recommend), forget about speed and miles. Just ride with the flow of the day. A good example was Day 9 when I ate dinner in Traverse City. After dinner I had renewed energy and the weather was absolutely perfect for riding, so I reeled off another 18 miles.
  • As much as I hate sleeping in a tent, I love the flexibility that having camping gear along for the ride affords me. Without camping gear, I probably would not have added the 18 after-dinner miles, but I knew there was a campground a mile beyond Suttons Bay so I went for it.
  • Trail angels are the best.
    • The folks in the bar in Wrightsville, Wisconsin who served me three ice cold beers in frosted mugs. For $1 each.
    • The  man at the gas station in Freedom who pointed me to Rico’s diner where I had mass quantities of food for breakfast on the Fourth of July.
    • The retired truck driver and his friend who helped me out at the campground in Tilleda Falls, Wisconsin. And the other camper who gave me a huge bag of shrink wrapped trail mix.
    • The Little Pine Motel owner in Hiles, Wisconsin who handed me a bottle of ice cold water, then a can of ice cold beer when I checked in.
    • The westbound tourist who told me about the campground at Lake Pentoga, Michigan.
    • The three bike shop people who fixed my rear hub at Mr. Bike  in Escanaba, Michigan while I waited.
    • The two gas station clerks who practically pulled me out of the pouring rain in Manistique, Michigan.
    • The pizza shop workers and customers who gave me so much encouragement in Naubinway, Michigan.
    • Toby, the man who explained the Bliss Festival to me, over lunch at a gas station picnic table near Bliss, Michigan.
    • The folks at the Bahnhof Sport Shop in Petosky who stayed open on a Sunday evening and replaced my broken pedal.
    • The campground manager at the Wild Cherry Resort near Suttons Bay, Michigan who also stayed open to get me situated in a campsite.
    • Holly and Kristen who gave me much info about the biking and moteling in and around Arcadia, Michigan.
  • I am still flabbergasted by the size of food portions in Northern Wisconsin. Cheeseheads can pack it away!
  • Accents were a pleasant surprise. I went from “Da Beahs” to “Fargo” to “Hosers” in the course of the first week. Eh.
  • I had read an account of a bike tourists who rode across the UP on US 2. He really felt uncomfortable with the logging trucks blowing by him. Now that I have ridden to work twice since returning and I’ll take logging trucks over the drivers of DC any day.