Final Route Map, SF, CA - Montauk, NY

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Something cool and important

I just signed up to take part in a World Bicycle Relief Tour with my friend Lisa. The ride is being lead by Todd Ricketts, owner of the Cubs, and will go from Wrigley Field in Chicago to Miller Park in Milwaukee about 100 miles away.

World Bicycle Relief is an organization that gives bikes to rural villagers in Africa. More than that, they also supply maintenance training and tools for mechanics.

I know someone who has spent the last several months in Zambia, helping to distribute the 23000 bikes that are being donated around the countryside. She has only the best of things to say about the charity and the effect that the bicycles have on the villages.

I ask all of you to make a donation in my name. I have created a paypal account for donations, found here:

You can read more about the event here:

Small donations from many people add up quickly. If you can give $10 or $20 that is great. Of course if you want to give more, I will not stop you.

Thank you and I hope that you can give generously.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Mile 4605.2 - The End

The plan was to wait until Saturday to ride to Montauk so I could finish my tour with a small pack of friends. We would then catch the late train back to Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, a fifteen minute ride from my place. But then there was an injury and an 'out of town' related excuse, and suddenly Emily was the only person available on Saturday to ride with me. On top of that, I was asked to marshal the Brooklyn Greenway Epic Ride on Sunday. Getting back from Montauk at 2:30 in the morning was fine unless I had to be somewhere 6 hours later. So, in the face of all that, I changed the plan and just went by myself on Thursday.

I have ridden out to Montauk once before, so I know where the greatest challenge lies. The problem isn't the 140 miles plus from Brooklyn to Montauk Point then back to the train station in town. The problem is getting through eastern Queens and the suburban parts of Long Island. The roads aren't great and at times have no shoulders. The traffic seems to always be heavy during daylight hours.

Starting out, I rode south on the route I take to Far Rockaway. Instead of crossing the Gil Hodges Bridge into the Rockaways, I continued east on the greenway. One of my favorite parts of the greenway along this part is that it goes right next to the Belt Parkway as it gets closer to JFK and I am almost always going faster than the auto traffic. They look so miserable honking at each other while inching forward at a dozen miles an hour. Meanwhile I'm enjoying a breeze off the water, few other greenway users to dodge around, and a steady speed around 20.

Then, as happens to all good things, the greenway ended. I coursed through some neighborhood streets then popped myself onto South Conduit Boulevard. The traffic met me there. People were speeding in and out of the airport's entrances, either rushing to catch a flight or rushing to get out of the airport's dead expanse of parking lots.

With JFK behind me, South Conduit starts to look more like the limited access highway it runs along, just with stop lights. The traffic was heavy both in terms of volume and vehicle weight. The smaller cars often preferred by city dwellers ceded to the SUV, minivans and medium duty trucks of a land where ample parking is written into the town charters. I see the irony in that these places that go out of their way to accommodate motorists often have the worst auto traffic. Unfortunately, as there isn't a convenient cycling option, I had to suck it up and deal with the cars and the lousy road surface. 'It's only bad through Babylon', I kept telling myself. 'It's only bad through Babylon'.

In Massapequa, I got to mile 4500 for the trip. It occurred to me that the majority of adults in this country will never and would never cycle for 4500 miles. Since 2005, I've been averaging about 4500-5000 miles a year, which certainly puts me in the experienced cyclist camp. Now I've done it in ten and a half weeks. While I don't believe this makes me a better person than anyone else, it should at least earn me an endurance merit badge. I rolled on to the next town, Amnityville, and took a break in a little, disused park off the side of the road.

A little further east down Long Island, I reached Babylon. Babylon, in some regards, is where the suburban parts of the island yield to the more rural parts. It is also almost exactly 100 miles from Babylon to Montauk Point, and for these reasons many cyclists who want to ride a century to Montauk will take the Long Island Railroad to the Babylon station to begin pedaling. The other nice thing was that I knew the road was almost entirely flat until I got to Montauk, so I would be able to keep up a good pace.

Soon, the traffic got considerably lighter and the shoulder widened out. This was very pleasing and I rode the next 37 miles without a break. I did consider taking a side trip in Blue Point to the Blue Point Brewery, but I realized that if I actually did that, I might not actually end up in Montauk by nightfall. Further east, I passed through the town of Mastic, and wondered if that Julia Roberts movie set in Mystic, CT would have been as popular had it been called Mastic Pizza.

The next town east, Moriches, is considered the gateway to the Hamptons. While the Hamptons are known for their exclusive and outrageously expensive real estate, Moriches, Center Moriches, Speonk, and a pair of towns with Quogue in the name seem to be more populated by real people. Not to suggest that billionaires aren't real people, but... actually, no, I am suggesting that they aren't real.

I reached Westhampton around 4:30 and stopped at a deli for a sandwich. I had about 50 miles still to go to get Montauk Point and a little over three hours before sunset. A couple miles later, there was a bench on the side of the road, so I sat there and watched the traffic go by as I ate half of my sandwich. The other people on bikes I saw as I sat there seemed to be on bikes because they couldn't afford cars.

I passed through the series of Hamptons and the long, quiet miles after. Near Amagansett I got to the restaurant called Lobster Roll, but known as Lunch, because of the large brightly lit Lunch sign on the roof. I stopped there on my last trip to Montauk, but by now the sun was sinking. I had the choice of breaking for a meal (which I could have used) or getting to the Point while there was still daylight left. I had some Clif Blox for my energy needs and pushed on.

Several miles later at Hither Hills State Park, there was a scenic viewpoint off the side of the road. The sun was hanging low over the horizon and there were several people stopped for the sunset. There was a middle-aged gay couple there, and one of them had climbed to the top of the wooden sign for a better view. I got a couple shots of him clambering up the wooden pole with the multi-colored sky behind him.

By the time I got to the town of Montauk, the sun had set. Again, I was presented with a choice of stopping here, grabbing dinner and some beers and waiting for the 10:30 train that would take me back to Brooklyn or continuing forth to Montauk Point. Montauk is known as The End, because it is the easternmost town on Long Island, but the actual end is the Point, six miles further east. From the previous time I came out here, I knew that there were a pair of pretty long hills between the town and the Point, the only real hills since Brooklyn. I reminded myself that the point wasn't to ride to Montauk, but to end my tour with my wheels in the Atlantic. And while yes, I had been riding alongside the ocean for a good part of the way, I wanted to get to the lighthouse at the Point. I turned on my lights and continued forward.

Because I wanted to take a picture of my wheels in the water, I knew I had to get there quickly. I kicked up my speed and actually made really good time. There were still bands of light on the horizon by the time I made it to Montauk Point State Park. I got a couple pictures of the lighthouse, then walked down the little trail to the beach. There was a large family still hanging out on the beach and a couple of guys in hip boots fishing a hundred feet out in the water. i pulled penny over the rocks to get down to the water and, as the last of the light drained from the sky, got my picture. I had made it to the end. Now I just had to go back to town.

Since I had well over an hour to get back to the train station, I sat on a bench facing the lighthouse and finished the other half of the sandwich I'd been carrying since Westhampton. From the parking lot a couple hundred yards to my right, came the sounds of Latin music and the shouting and laughing of a couple dozen people partying from the backs of their cars. If there was a sporting event taking place, they would have been tailgating, but I'm not sure what the correct verb for partying in the parking lot of a state park is.

By the time I started back to town, it was completely dark out. While my headlight illuminated enough for me to ride, I was frequently blinded by the oncoming cars' high beams. It's hard to keep an eye on the road ahead of me if I have to keep averting my gaze so as not to be blinded.

I rolled back into town and decided to find some more food. While the sandwich was helpful, I had ridden over 140 miles today and was hungry. Since I didn't have a bike lock, I needed someplace where I would be able to see my bike from inside. That ruled out the pub that I ate at last time I was in town. I passed a bar with outdoor seating and a live band, but higher prices than I was willing to pay. I then found a sandwich/fried chicken joint. Good enough. Then I went in and found that they had beer too. Ok, that was enough to make me stay.

I rode over to the train station, where the last train out was waiting on the tracks. Going down to the center of the train, I entered a car with only one other passenger on it. I put my bike in the appropriate vestibule grabbed the seat closest to it, and then pulled out the book I had brough along for the ride back. By the time the train pulled out of the station, there were a couple other passengers on my car. By the time we got through the Hamptons, there were a dozen people, including another guy with a bike. Soon I was holding court with the people in the seats around me, regaling them with stories of triumph from my trip. It was strange telling them about my tour which was now pretty much over. This was the first time I told the story entirely in the past tense.

The train pulled into Jamaica Station in eastern Queens a few minutes ahead of the connection I needed to make to the train to Atlantic Terminal. The 2:08 am train I was supposed to take, however, didn't arrive. There was an announcement that a train would arrive shortly to get to Atlantic Terminal on a different track. So, with a couple dozen other passengers, we went on long staircase and down another to get to the other track. A train pulled in and there was an announcement that this train would not be going to Brooklyn, but instead was being rerouted to Penn Station. They then announced that the train to Atlantic would arrive at 2:45 back on the original track. Now sure, I wasn't fully loaded, I took only my back panniers and even those were mostly just food, water and a book. But still I had to lug the bike back up the stairs and back down to the spot I had been standing at nearly half an hour previously. I was not the only person annoyed that the train coming to get us would arrive after the time we should have made it to Atlantic. Eventually the train did arrive and the ride back was completely uneventful.

I got out of the station and rode the last mile and a half back home. That was it, the tour was now officially over. It was nice to be able to be home and relax for a while, but already I wanted to get back out and do it again. I guess I just have to wait and see what the future holds.

Day 74: Brooklyn, NY - Montauk, NY
145.7 miles today
4605.2 miles total
Wheels spinning today 9:18:47
Total tour time 350:14:52
Top speed 33.8mph

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mile 4459.5 - Coming home

I got about 5 hours of sleep. I was so excited going to bed that I had trouble falling asleep, then when I woke shortly after sunrise I was up. This didn't equate to an early start, I lay in bed for a while trying to sleep a bit more. Finally I got up, showered, and loaded up Penny for the last time on the trip.

Down the road a piece, I came into Goshen. I found a Burger King and stopped in for breakfast. The manager took my order and we soon were talking about cycling in the area. I had mentioned that I wanted to pick up the Heritage Trail in Monroe, about 10 miles forward. He informed me that the trail actually went about a mile away. He told me how to find it.

The Heritage Trail was great. In contrast to the poorly kept Lackawanna Trail from yesterday morning, the Heritage Trail was well paved, even and used. The Sunday morning joggers, walkers and cyclists provided ample obstacles to swerve around. It was shaded and had very few traffic crossings. I got into Monroe to the point where my map had shown the trail to start. In an inexplicable twist, however, the trail went from smoothly paved to rocks and grass, best left for joggers. There was no way for me to follow this 'trail' with any speed, so I figured out a route around.

I started to take the hill down out of town when suddenly I felt my back tire go wobbly. I slowed myself to a half and saw that the tire was completely flat. I had crossed 9 states without a flat and now I had two in just over 48 hours. Thankfully at the bottom of the was a car service center. I pulled Penny in and asked if I could use their air. The tube was shot, so while I busied myself with replacing the tube, I found myself surrounded by the idle workers. They were all impressed that someone would cross the country on a bike, especially with all the weight I had on. One of them said 'You must be on a very strict diet'. This made me laugh.

I got the tire back on and inflated then repacked everything on the bike. I wound back around to US 6 and then started climbing the biggest hill left between my current location and home. The highway, as it climbs into the Harriman State Park, had lots of vehicle traffic, but at least no trucks. Regardless, I had a great wide shoulder to enjoy. After the long climb, I had to traverse a pair of highway traffic circles. I took a right turn at the second one and was entered Bear Mountain State Park. A few minutes after entering the park, I got to mile 4400 on the trip.

The road climbed and sunk a couple times, then took a long right curve. From the top of the curve I could see, not far in front of me, the Hudson River. The road then dropped and I took it to the southern entrance of the park. I stopped here for a very short break. This entrance of the park was the turnaround point for my longer training runs from Brooklyn. I was roughly 60 miles from home and could get there without having to consult a map.

Just south of the park, the marked bike route splits. One can either continue on 9W or follow an unpaved trail above the river. I've done both and this time opted for the unpaved trail. The forested path was lined with wild raspberries. I picked a number, never more than one or two from a single plant, and, for the most part, they were perfect, an ideal balance of tart and sweet. I said wow aloud to no one several times. In fact, I did not see another person all along this patch.

I exited back out onto the paved route and followed it along the river. I went through Stony Point and Haverstraw before winding around into Upper Nyack. Dropping down into Nyack, about 20 miles south of Bear Mountain, I stopped at The Runcible Spoon. The cafe is a common resting point for cyclists and the turn around point for the shorter of my training runs. Even though none of the other patron realized it, this was a momentous occasion for me. I got a muffin and sat outside eating it at a table in the shade of the building. I called Emily to tell her that I was there and she let me know that she was crossing the GWB and would meet up with me somewhere in between.

Leaving Nyack, a woman on a bike caught up behind me and asked why I was carrying all the weight. I told her and she let me know that her son was considering a cross country bike journey of his own. That's fantastic and I'd be happy to answer any questions he may have. There's a point where the marked bike route climbs up a sharp hill, but there is a flatter backway around to avoid it. I took the hill and she took the backway, but it was really nice talking to her.

This hill was now the tallest left for me to climb. The first time I had ever ridden to Nyack, I could not get all the way up. Sure that was on my mountain bike, but it was also unloaded. This time, the hill offered me little trouble. It was almost welcoming me back. On this route on any weekend day, there are dozens if not hundreds of cyclists. I talked briefly to a couple of them as they passed me, though didn't really talk to the people whom I passed.

I crossed into New Jersey again. There is about 12 miles between the NY/NJ border here and the GWB. A couple miles along, I saw a familiar face coming towards me. It was Emily. 4430 miles since I left her in San Francisco (not including the weekend wedding in Boston), there she was again, on her bike. We rode together from there on, which was nice. I told her all about the bear I had seen yesterday (still can't believe I saw a bear).

We rode down to Strictly Bicycles in Fort Lee. This is another good break point for cyclists and is less than a mile from the GWB. As we came in a couple guys on featherlight track bikes came over to admire Penny. One of them tried to pick her up and found that he couldn't. He asked how I got her up hills, several of the ones I had crossed already that day were giving them problems. As they left, a young couple on bikes had pulled in and Emily started telling them about my trip.

Finally, after enough of a break was taken, it was time to move on. At mile 4440.7, I crossed the invisible line in the center of the Hudson River on the George Washington Bridge. Sure, I had been in New York since last night, but now I coming into Manhattan. One bridge was left between me and home.

We took the Hudson River Path downtown. We had another small food break at a riverside cafe around 80th St. Continuing down, we jutted into the city at 10th St, taking it to 2nd Ave where it turns into Christie St and onto the Manhattan Bridge. In the 20 minutes between the Hudson Parkway and the Manhattan Bridge, I used my bell more and found myself yelling a more drivers than I had in the 72 days leading up until now. Thanks for welcoming me back home, New York.

Back on the Manhattan Bridge, I crossed the East River. We snaked around through Brooklyn Heights into Park Slope. I wanted to take the new Prospect Park West bike lane that had been proposed to the community board nearly a year and a half ago and had just been painted a few weeks ago. Already there was a furor from car drivers. They complained about everything from this lane makes it more dangerous for everyone (it does not) to complaining about losing a dozen parking spots along the mile length of the lane. Perhaps it is not the cyclists that make it difficult for you to find parking, but the other people who, for whatever reason, choose to drive a car in this city. Perhaps some of your ichor should be saved for your fellow motorists.

Anyway, the PPW lanes are great. I can finally legally and safely travel northbound. This is huge.

Then, 6 blocks from the circle where the bike lane ends at Bartol Pritchard Cicrle, I turned right onto my block. Then, in the moment I had been pedaling toward for over two months, I was home. There was no ticker tape parade, no cheering crowd applauding my accomplishment or camera crews recording the moment. And there was still the ride out to Montauk to finish my planned coast to coast, so I wasn't quite done with the trip yet. But I was home and the sense of relief was enormous.

And, while I never did get eaten by that mountain lion that so many people along the way had warned me about, I did have one very angry cat waiting for me inside. I can't entirely blame him, I did abandon him for the last ten and a half weeks, but he could been a little happier at my return.

Day 73, New Hampton, NY - Brooklyn, NY
87.7 miles in 7:11:58 for a total of 4459.5 in 340:56:05 and a high speed of 43.7 mph

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Mile 4371.6 - Guess what I saw today

Day 72 began less bright than it could have. I woke to a steady rain outside. My response, the correct one, I believe, was to roll over and sleep for another hour and a half. By the time I got out of bed, the rain had stopped. My head, though, was feeling the aftereffects of all the free booze from the night before. I still appreciate their generosity, but right now I was wishing I had gone up to my room a few drinks earlier.

The roads still showed evidence of the earlier shower. I passed under the turnpike and started looking for the entrance of the Lackawanna River Trail. It seemed like it should have been easy, but it ended up taking the maps on both my gps and phone and several minutes of poking around an industrial backlot before I found it. The only sign indicating this was the trail was a piece of paper that had been leeched of most of it's ink by the sun and the rain. There was a gate to prevent motor traffic and passing that, I found why. Almost immediately, there was an old wooden railroad truss bridge that spanned fewer than 30 feet over a sharp chasm. The bridge had clearly been out of functioning use for decades, large swaths were missing. I carefully pulled my heavy bike over the good sections and started down the crushed stone trail. I was disappointed, though, to find that the 'trail' at this point was really more of a suggestion. Part of it would have as easily been considered a stream. The earlier rain created huge puddles and left the trail soft. If I had my mountain bike and was looking for somewhere to ride to get good and muddy, I was in the right place. I grumbled as several times I had to dismount to get Penny through the mud. Then there was a portion where the path widened out to what looked like a muddy gravel parking lot. The gravel there, though, was so fine and soft that my wheels sank 3" into it. I couldn't ride through, so again, I had to dismount. Between the condition of the trail and the lingering hangover, I was now in a pretty bad mood.

I crossed a road and discovered that the spur of the trail I was on was still being constructed. The section I now began on was better groomed. Eventually, they plan to extend the Lackawanna trail 40 miles along the old railbed that follows the Lackawanna River. For now though, it is only a mile and a half of some of the worst trail I've found anywhere in the country. Again, with a different bike and for a different purpose, I may have enjoyed it, but on my fully loaded touring bike, looking mostly for relief from the traffic, I was disappointed.

I left the trail after it's second intersection and crossed the Lackawanna River. Cruising up and down hills, I passed through downtown Scranton and several residential neighborhoods. I stopped at a crowded Dunkin Donuts for coffee and a doughnut. This was the first doughnut I've had since a trip to the Doughnut Factory on Manhattan's Lower East Side the week before I left. The coffee was lousy and the doughnut wasn't a substantial enough to quell my hunger or bad mood.

Leaving Scranton, I went through the tiny suburb of Throop. I crossed US 6, a limited access interstate for this stretch, and started climbing. On one hand, there was little vehicle traffic to contend with on the road I was on. On the other hand, there were a couple consecutive long, slow climbs. At one point, I was passed by another cyclist who couldn't believe I had crossed the country, mostly because I was climbing the hill at 6 mph. It's the hangover and bad breakfast choice, really I'm faster than that.

Finally I hit the backside of that hill and sped down in the low 40's. This actually did as much to improve my mood as anything else. It's hard to stay grumpy while flying.

I hit roads where there was more traffic, but the shoulder was nice and wide. I stopped to take a lunch break at a little ice cream joint in Mt. Cobb. After I ate my real food, I meant to go back for ice cream but by then the line had gotten too long. Up the road I passed a saturday swap meet and a hardware store celebrating customer days with a huge picnic complete with an inflatable bouncy house for the kids. Right around there, I hit mile 4300 for the trip. I'm getting very close now.

I had crossed a couple minor rivers and gone along the shores of a couple lakes. Then I came to the resorty Lake Wallenpaupack. Passing it's northern end, there was a large embankment between the lake and the roadway. Several benches were set along the top of the embankment, and several families and elderly couples walked along the path. I didn't stop there, but did take a break at a point a few miles later, where a bank of grass lead up so steeply from the side of the road that I was able to lean Penny standing up against it.

The hills started to mellow out a bit, which was fine with me. Also by now the Pennsylvania Bike Route Y had connected with my route. Pennsylvania has marked bike routes crisscrossing the state. While these are not separate trails, which would be nice, it at least meant the shoulder wasn't going to suddenly narrow on me and I saw a couple more cyclists. I entered the Delaware National Forest and took took a break at the Shohola Falls Waterfowl Management Area. I didn't go into the park far enough to find the falls, but I did take a long food break and called my friend Courtney. From here I was about 12 miles away from crossing the Delaware River. While talking to Courtney, a huge thick fuzzy brown caterpillar inched along in front of me. Courtney advised me not to pick it up.

I started up again and soon found myself in Milford. It was about 6:30 and I should have stopped here for dinner. I had a choice here too, I could get onto US 6, at this point a regular four lane highway and cross into Port Jervis, NY or go a bit south and cross at state highway 209 into a rural western New Jersey. It was a couple more miles that way, but seemed the much easier route to take. I headed south.

At mile 4346.6, I stopped in the middle of the bridge to take some shots of the picturesque Delaware Water Gap. I got off the bridge and set foot in New Jersey. Never before in my life have I been so happy to be in New Jersey. For all the hundreds of different bodies of water I have crossed making my way through the country, I now had only the Hudson and East Rivers left between me and home. It was also now certain that whatever happened, I would be spending tomorrow night in my open bed for the first time since mid-April. I was giddy. My mood was the total opposite from the one I had started the day with.

Scooting up along the eastern side of the river, I stopped at a little roadside farmstand. While I was deciding between the strawberries or blueberries, a car pulled up behind me and a pair of middle aged Jersey ladies stepped out. They spoke with accents that indicated whole lives spent in New Jersey. We started talking about the quality of the food there (it all looked great) and then asked about my bike. I stood there for awhile eating the most wonderful blueberries and recounting my tale. I could barely contain my joy at having crossed the Delaware and the fact that I would be home in roughly 24 hours. I mentioned that I needed to find a place to eat, and they said that there wasn't much ahead. Well, I'll find something.

I continued northward towards Port Jervis and the New York state line. Less than a mile past the farmstand, something happened that I had been hoping for the whole way across the country, but by now had resigned myself to the fact that it probably wasn't going to. I came to a patch of road where houses were space a couple hundred yards from each other. In the yard of one of these houses, I saw a bear! A big brown bear! There was no mistaking it for a large dog, especially once it raised its head. I rolled past so the house was between me and the bear, but I had to stop and get a picture. Slowly and very quietly, I turned around and poked out from the corner of the house. The bear was a little more than 100 feet away from me, munching away at something in the garden. I do wish I had a better camera for this, but I did get a few pictures of it. At one point it looked up at me, decided I was neither food nor a threat and went back to whatever it was munching on. I saw a bear!

A few miles further up the road and I crossed into New York. This makes the only day on the trip that I've been in three different states. I was in Jersey for about 8 miles and know that coming back from Nyack to Brooklyn the next day, I'd cross another 10 miles or so of New Jersey.

Though I was now outside Port Jervis, I decided rather than spend the time to go into town to find food, I would make do with whatever I found on the road. I was now following US 6 and felt certain that I would find something. I pretty quickly came across a family restaurant, but decided to pass it up in favor of something possibly more exciting down the road. The road rewarded my choice with 10 unbroken miles of countryside. I crossed under Interstate 84 and shortly thereafter found myself in the diffuse village of Greenville. I say diffuse because the sparse buildings I saw were spread out along a couple miles of the highway. Among them, though, I found a bar and grill. Perfect.

By now I was completely ravenous and ordered accordingly. I did want to take something with me, knowing I'd be hungry again in a couple hours. I got the appetizer sampler, a large caeser salad and an eggplant parmesan sandwich. When I was done there was a little more than half of the sandwich left. The sun was now setting and I needed to get further down the road to find a place to sleep.

I knew I was coming up to Interstate 84 again and assumed I would find some motels around there. By now, not only was it dark, but a mist had risen from the ground. I didn't get the picture of the Minisink High School that I otherwise would have in daylight. Apparently I was now in the Minisink Valley, a name that amuses me greatly. I don't even know what I would call the Minisink High School team. The Faucets?

I came into New Hampton and found a motel. I went into the office to see what they charged for a night, and was given a quote about $30 higher than I expected. There was a another, nationally branded motel a bit up the road. They wanted $100 for the night. I looked on my phone and found every other motel within 12 miles of me. The cheapest quote I got was $80. I turned back and went to the first place I had stopped in. It was quite a bit more than I wanted to spend, but it was too late to try to find someplace to camp.

I had trouble falling asleep because I was so excited. I knew that every hour I stayed up was putting me that much further from home, but I still couldn't fall asleep until well after 2:00.

Day 72, Old Forge, PA - New Hampton, NY
86.9 miles in 7:30:29 for 4371.6 in 333:45:07 and a top speed of 43.7mph

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mile 4284.7 - Getting closer

Today starts week 11 since I left San Francisco and I knew I was going to have a couple delays. Now looking at the rear tire that had gone flat yesterday, I had to replace it. I was really hoping that the pair would last until I got back to New York, but I just couldn't risk crossing the Appalachians on tires that were cracked and ripping apart.

I loaded Penny outside under the silent yet watchful gaze of a young woman seated outside her room smoking a cigarette. There is no way she didn't have some kind of question for me, but she never asked it. I went through Montgomery and crossed the Susquehanna yet another time. Just across the river is Muncy, where I knew there was a bike shop. The question is whether it would have what I needed or if I would have to try to make it 60 miles to Wilkes-Barre and find something there. I pulled up to Monty's bikes and was relieved to see the logos for Trek and Bontrager in the front windows. I wheeled her into the shop and walked her past a double row of her cousins. They didn't have a 520 in stock, but all sorts of other Treks, including a ridiculously light madone for only $6800. It turns out that they did have the tires I was looking for in the size I wanted because someone had bought a new bike with them on and had switched them out for something knobbier. The tires were new but not in factory packaging, so they gave me $10 off the pair. That works for me. I also had my rear breaks replaced. These had lasted all the way from San Rafael, CA and I probably could have pushed them all the way to New York, but why risk it?

Talking with the guys at the bike shop, I asked about routes heading east (the one I had planned was as good as any) and a place to get lunch. They recommended the Original Italian Pizza (or OIP) joint a couple blocks away. I ordered enough to leave with leftovers. The garlic bread I had as an appetizer was some of the best garlic bread I have ever had. The buffalo chicken pizza, though, was almost inedible. I ate most of one slice then had the rest wrapped up. I never did end up eating the rest of that, several hours spent in a hot vinyl pannier made it just smell worse. Oh well.

Finally, well after noon, I was ready to get going. I had traveled about 10 miles so far, so had about 80 miles to go to get to Scranton. Between here and there lie several of the Appalachian Mountains. Though the range continues several hundred miles north and almost a thousand miles further south, this was a relatively narrow place to cross them. This part of the range doesn't contain the really tall mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee, nor the rugged well-mined cliffs of West Virginia. It does, however, provide ample slopes to climb.

The hills were really the story today. While none of them were as dramatic as White Deer Ridge that I crossed yesterday, there was plenty of up and down. I crossed rivers and passed lakes. The heat of the day rose, but again, thankfully, I was shaded for most of the day. I took a quick break at Ricketts Glen State Park, though I never strayed beyond sight of the road. There are several mountain biking/atv trails in the area, perhaps one day I'll return to explore these more.

As I got into the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metro area, the traffic started to build. I stopped for my afternoon ice cream break in Trucksville. There are few better justifications for eating ice cream every day than riding 80+ miles through the mountains. I came into Wyoming, PA, the fourth state or town I've been through with that name (MN, OH, PA and WY. I did not hit Wyoming, WI or IL). They were building a new bridge over the Susquehanna so I took a few pictures of the new construction while crossing over the old one. This was the fifth and final crossing of the Susquehanna. While this by itself is quite exciting, more exciting was that the next major river to cross is the Delaware. Across the Delaware is New Jersey. The next rivers after that are the Hudson and the East River. Crossing the East River gets me into Brooklyn and only a couple miles from home. But I am getting ahead of myself and still have about 48 hours until I get to that point.

It was getting later in the day and I had now gone far enough that I felt ok stopping somewhere for the night. On my phone, I found a number of motels clustered by the turnpike a few miles ahead. I was also looking for a place to grab dinner, preferably one in which I could have a couple beers as well. What I found was all three. In Old Forge, I saw Julia's Old Forge Inn. This was a real inn in the classic sense that you get a room, but the thing to do was hang out at the bar. There was no one in the room marked office, so I went around to the bar to inquire about the room. The owner saw the helmet in my hand and asked if I biked here. I told him the situation and that I needed a room for the night. He gave me a good deal, just $30 for the night. The rooms were all up on the second floor, so I had to unload Penny and take multiple trips up the stairs. As I did this, there were a number of patrons sitting outside smoking. They asked about my trip and as I explained that I was going across the country and was now just two days from home, one offered to buy me a beer.

I got everything up, took a quick shower, then went down to the bar. I sat at the bar for about three hours. As I was telling one person about my trip, others would overhear and become interested. In this way, I had 6 beers and three shots and paid for just one beer. I love generous people. It was nice to talk to a bunch of different people about a range of topics. I finally stumbled back upstairs and crashed into bed. One more night left on the road and then the next night would be spent in my bed.

Day 71, White Deer Motel, 3 mi east of Montgomery, PA - Old Forge, PA
82.3 miles in 7:45:17 for totals of 4284.7 miles in 326:14:38 and a top speed of 41.0mph

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mile 4207.4 - Free water in central PA

The morning started with a faster than usual breaking of camp. Because I didn't have anyone's authorization to camp where I was, I wanted to get out before anyone noticed I was there. That happened well enough and I continued along the road as it followed the Sinnemahoning River. At first there was a comparatively long stretch of nothing, which was just fine with me. The shoulder wasn't always the most robust as it wound around with the river.

The towns shown on the map were suggestions of towns, clumps of houses along the river with maybe a hardware store. Then I hit a mile long patch of road construction. The flagger waved me through at the head of a long line of cars. While the fresh road surface was nice, it was long enough that I couldn't keep up with the traffic. Before I hit the end, the oncoming traffic was coming my way. Most of it was fine, since I was as far over on the pavement as I could be, but there was one gravel truck that forced me onto the grit off the shoulder. Bastard.

This was coming into Renovo, the biggest town I'd been through since St Marys. I asked the flagger at the end of the construction where in town to get breakfast and she told me the only place to go was Yesterday's, a hotel and restaurant a few blocks ahead. The dining room had a 50's diner feel and Elvis and Roy Orbison crooned out of the speakers. I sat in the corner where I could plug in the phone and ate my eggs and potatoes while listening to a discussion of the weekend's high school track meet. At one point their discussion changed to the weather. A larger man a bit older than me said he was doing yard work in his mother's yard and by 3:00 it was so hot 'I went and dove in the crick'. I wanted to pipe up and say that all I did was ride 110 miles yesterday and didn't think it was too hot at all. Then again, I'm sure a dive in the crick would have felt good.

After breakfast I stopped for water at a service station in town that didn't have a nationally branded sign over it. The old man behind the counter asked how far I was riding today. I told him today I wanted to get close to Williamsport, but I was headed to New York. His eyes widened with the thought of riding a bicycle to New York, then I told him I had started in San Francisco, so I was almost home. He got really excited and started asking questions. He told me that he was really impressed with someone following a dream like that. He waved away the couple dollars in my hand that I had held for the last several minutes trying to pay for the water. 'I can't charge you for water' he told me, then he grabbed one of the local papers off the stack and opened the first page. He found the paper's phone number and called them up. 'Yeah, this is Gene at the gas station...' he started. After relaying the story to the editor, he gave me directions to their office, just a click down the road. He shook my hand and again told me how impressed he was with me. On my out the door, another customer was coming in. 'There goes a real man', he told him. That made me proud.

I followed the directions I was given (basically go straight until I get there), and stopped in at the office of the Clinton County Record. Barbara, the editor, interviewed me for about 10 minutes and offered to fill my 1/3rd full gallon from the water cooler. Sure! That was nice. We stepped outside for a few photos with Penny and I gave them my address to send me a copy. As of writing this a couple weeks later, I still have not received my copy and the paper has only the weakest of websites.

It was now about 11:00 and I had gone about 25 miles despite the early start. I cranked it up a notch and covered some miles pretty quickly. I stopped for a quick break at rest area between the road and the river. By now the Sinnemahoning had met up with the Young Woman River to form the Susquehanna. There was a truck in the lot, a boy in his mid teens was walking a tiny puppy while the parents were fussing with something in the back of the truck. The father saw me and asked if I wanted any water. The gallon I had refilled was down more than a quart already and had completely lost the coolness it enjoyed while still in the water cooler in the office. I told him I was ok, though, that I had refilled in town. He said that they had a gallon that was unopened in a cooler, so it was still cold. Cold was the magic word. I took it from them and chatted a little about the road ahead. I refilled my bottles from the cold gallon, then strapped both of them to the rack. I had never had the double barrel extra gallons before, but it was now hot, so I didn't mind the extra weight.

It was around 2:30 by the time I got into Lock Haven and I needed a break with food. I made the tour's only stop at a Subway and got a sandwich, eating in the AC while reviewing the route ahead of me. There was a bank clock across the street that said the air temp was 102. I dive in the crick sounded pretty good. Leaving Lock Haven, I crossed the Susquehanna and rode within hearing of the interstate. I stopped at a gas station in Avis for gatorade. By now the free cold gallon was gone and the original gallon I had refilled in Renovo was the temperature of hot tea left to cool for a while. It was not refreshing. Outside, a man walked up to me and asked where I was going with all the pack. I explained and he got really excited about what I was doing. I mentioned that I wanted to see small towns do more for pedestrians and cyclists. He agreed and said he lived about a mile away, but thought it was ridiculous to drive that short a distance. Clearly, we think alike.

In Jersey Shore, I found the end of a nice looking bike trail. I was on it for all of a couple hundred yards before it ended in a parking lot. Riding through downtown, it was clear they were setting up a parade. I imagined that the parade was for me and wondered what the people who actually were in it did to be in a parade instead of me. I crossed the Susquehanna for a third time. After a couple initial hills, the land on this vast central island between the Susquehanna and White Deer Rivers became flat. I passed through Oval and into the town of Collumsville. In Collumsville, I could see a problem ahead. I knew the road continued east, yet to my east I saw a looming hill. as I got closer , I could see where the road curved to take the low space between a couple butts of hills, but then climbed into the trees and out of sight.

The climb started at 850' with a curve into the trees. I cranked my way up in a pretty high gear. At 1335', the road started dipping again, and I was feeling pretty good. I had kept up a 8mph pace on a pretty long steep hill. The road now dropped to 1225' and started climbing a bit again. Stopped at a gravel sideroad was a man in a white truck. He asked me if I wanted a ride to the top of the hill. No, I thanked him, I'll make it up. But that was a bad portent. Top of the hill? I just climbed almost 500' over about a mile and a half, how much more up was there. This was the question that the hill was quite willing to answer at length. I crossed 1334' again and kept going up. 1461'. 1581'. Still more up I passed 1740' and there was a curve that looked like it would be the top. It was just a turn around to a slightly steeper climb. 1891' and I saw a turnout at the curve up ahead of me. I got up to the top and pulled off into the wide clearing. The view was fantastic, row after row of blue-grey hills rolling off to the horizon. I had unwisely unclipped both feet to take a better picture. This made it harder to start up again for the last 50' push to the top. I made the top and was drifting forward slowly to take a picture. I had made it to the top of the North White Deer Ridge, at 1924'.

Suddenly, the wheels beneath me started turning of their own accord. I shoved the camera back into a jersey pocket and shifted down into my lowest gear. Without pedaling yet at all I was going 38mph, so I started to crank into it a bit. Once I got up to 45mph, I stopped and let gravity take me down for a while. Gravity did, increasing my speed up to 46.4 mph. Then I just hung on and steered down and around the curves. There was a car that hung out behind me for over a mile because I was going too fast for it to pass me. I got down to the bottom exhilarated. Sure the climb had been long and pretty hard, but I got up it with only the rest at the top. The ride down was almost as exciting as the Wind River Mountains back in Wyoming. Within three miles of the summit, I was back down to 685'. There's no way to do that but fast.

The sun was setting behind the mountain I had just crossed. I wanted to cross the Susquehanna one last time and stay at a motel in Muncy. I shortly got to where US 15 crossed the highway I was on and stopped at the gas station at the intersection for gatorade and water for the morning. About 7 miles up the road north of me in Willimsport was the Little League Headquarters and the fields where they play the Little League World Series. I asked where the motels around were, and the attendant suggested I go south to the motel just down 15 instead of trying to make Muncy. This sounded reasonable as the light was quickly fading and the motels down the road were a mile away, as opposed to 5 or 6 to get to Muncy. She stepped out with me for a cigarette while I filled my bottles. We talked about the hill I had just come down and she told me about all the crashes on that hill in the winter. 'People take it like it's a day like this, but there's a solid inch of ice on the road' she explained. No winter goes by without at least one fatal crash on the road, though often it is a car going off the road into the trees. After a few minutes, I thanked her, then rolled my bike off the 6" raised sidewalk. The back tire hit the pavement with a pop. It was flat. Flat flat flat. The first flat, in fact, that I had gotten since Stagecoach, NV. I had ridden across 9 states since then and since Stagecoach is in western NV, almost 10.

The tire was a mess. I think the major problem started with the soft, sticky pitch on the road in President. In addition to several cracks in the tire, there was now a dime sized flap that was hanging on for dear life. I would need to address that soon. I inflated the tube to check it, and immediately I heard the hiss of a leak. That's ok, I had been carrying 6 tubes since Carson City, so it wasn't worth my time to try to patch it. I had gotten the new tube on and started inflating it when a man walked over to me talking about flat tires. He was fueling up a motorcycle, and said that when he was closer to my age he rode a bike all the time. I got the tire back on and repacked the bike while telling him about my trip. By now it was dark. I started up the hill towards the motels. There were two of them a couple hundred yards apart. I rang the bell at the first one and got no answer. I rode up to the second one and roused the owner with my ring. I got the last room he had to let.

I took a shower and set up my camp stove outside for a hot meal. I hadn't had anything hot since breakfast, so I used up my remaining freeze-dried hiker's dinner. I boiled a couple cups of the still warm water for it and while I was waiting for it to rehydrate, called Emily. It had been a day of ups and downs and I was still on schedule to get home Sunday night.

Day 70, Sinnemahoning Camp - White Deer Motel, East of Montgomery, PA
88.7 miles today in 7:13:41. Now a total of 4207.4 miles in 319:29:21 and a east of the Mississippi high speed of 46.4mph

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Mile 4118.7 - Getting close

Today is day 69 and I woke up knowing that there were not many days left ahead of me. What I expected in front of me was terrain and heat, but not for very much longer. The straight lines of eastern Ohio were a distant memory in this land of curves and angles. At least I was going through forests and there were plenty of trees.

Looking at the map for places to camp, I found one that looked most inviting, in the town of Sinnemahoning. It was a little over 100 miles away, but if I could do that, I would leave 350 miles left or about 85 miles split over four days. I needed to start early if I wanted that to happen.

A fog hung over the valley, keeping visibility under 1/4 mile. The day's ride started with a 2 mile 7% climb. I know that's what it was because the sign said so. Then I got a nice fast downhill, made all the more adventurous by the curves in the fog. Woo hoo. The mist made it clammy and damp though, and there were a couple of times when I considered pulling out the windbreaker. I laughed about the thought of putting on a jacket later in the afternoon, but I was a bit cold now.

I wound around several hills and came into the town of Leeper. About half a mile before town, I was overtaken on a climb by four motorcycles carrying 6 people. At the major intersection, I stopped at a breakfast joint called the Sawmill Restaurant. In the lot the six people were dismounting their four motorbikes and I smiled and said good morning as I pulled in. No response. Ok, whatever. In the Sawmill you go to the counter to order and then they bring the food. I wanted to grab the tiny booth for two next to the window, but the line of motorcyclists was blocking it. I set my helmet with my shades, gloves and gps down on the booth for four next to the door where I could see anyone approaching Penny, but not the bike herself. I worked my way through the groggy and grumpy group to the counter to grab a menu then resumed my spot at the end of the line. It took a while to cycle through them all, but finally there was no one in front of me. This was technically my second breakfast of the day, I had nibbled while breaking camp, but I was hungry from the climbing already. I gave my order to the cheerful woman at the counter and turn around to find that someone had moved my helmet. The motorbikers occupied three booths for two in an L, with the table in the middle the one I had left my stuff on. I looked over at them and none of them would make eye contact with me. Seriously? Not Cool. How hard is it to say 'hey dude can we have this table?' or even just inform me that you want to move my stuff. The table they had set it on was five feet behind me, I was right there! But at that point the little booth by the window was open, so I was probably going to move there anyway. I ate my enormous breakfast and got back on the road.

From Leeper the trail turned northeast and headlong into the Allegheny National Forest. The last of the fog was still lingering under trees, the last hiding place from the sun. At least the damp chill was gone from the air. It wasn't warm yet, but I didn't want my windbreaker. The road climbed up and down a couple long, dramatic curves, but rarely did the trees open up to afford a view of the surrounding landscape. The glimpses I got were pretty, and I can only imagine what this place looks like come fall. I had passed a number of small towns and took another break in the quaintly named Pigeon. I like pigeons well enough, I just don't think I would name my town after one. I had gone 20 miles since Leeper but for all the up and down I was doing, hadn't even gained 20 feet of altitude, from Leeper's height of 1814' to Pigeon's 1832'. There were several hundred feet of climb and drop, believe me. At least it was shaded.

The road climbs more sharply north after De Young, but I slanted back to the southeast. I took another longish break on a bench in front of the courthouse in Ridgeway. As I sat there a boy of maybe 7 or 8 walked by with his mother, his eyes fixed on Penny. As he passed me, all he could manage was 'wow'. I laughed.

By now I was coming out of the Allegheny Forest and the trees backed off from the road a bit. This was somewhat unfortunate, as it was now getting into the afternoon and the sun wanted it hot. What the sun wants, it generally gets, big gasball that it is. Several sharp hills and 11 miles past Ridgeway I was in St. Marys. I had descended more than climbed, I was now down at 1667', but by the time I got to St. Mary's I needed a break again. I found a gas station/cafe at the top of the hill in downtown and ate a sandwich on one of the tables outside. Penny was propped up against the short fence separating the parking lot from the tables. A couple high school boys pulled up in their car and took the table next to me. They asked about how much weight I was pulling and I invited them to try to pick Penny up. As usual, they declined.

The route turned more east with just a hint of north and took me into the town of Emporium. Just like Cornucopia, WI, I would call the high school sports team the Emporium Everythings. Somewhere in there I feel like I moved from western Pennsylvania into the central part of the state. Not that that made the hills easier, but home was just that bit closer. I turned right and started on PA 120, which follows the Sinnemahoning River until it flows into the Susquehanna. The Sinnemahoning Valley is beautiful. The river is pretty shallow but so old that it has carved itself quite a valley. It is one of the longer east-west valleys in the state, most rivers follow the northeast-southwest slant with the mountains.

Along here I saw something that I had noticed a couple times before, in Indiana and Ohio. I was passed by a truck sporting the Confederate Flag. I just don't understand this. My southern friends may have a different view, but I see the stars and bars as a symbol of hate and bigotry. Even if it symbolized something different 130 years ago, that is what it is today. Why someone in Pennsylvania would have one, other than as a sign of small-mindedness, is beyond me. I mean, the Confederacy lost in large part because of the people and resources of the state of Pennsylvania.

From Emporium it's a little over 20 miles to the village of Sinnemahoning. It was comparatively easy as most of the climbs were around the shoulders of hills as they came down to the river and not over the hill itself. Generally though, the road stayed just above the water with a bulk of blasted rock on its north shoulder. When the road did rise, it generally allowed for a great view of the valley and surrounding hills. There was a cop checking speed at one pull off. I rode by him then 5 miles down the road he passed me. I found him again a couple miles further along, checking speeds from a pull off on the other side of the road. I waved at him again.

By now the sun was behind the hills. I rounded a few last curves and finally a descent into Sinnemahoning. I didn't see any signs for a campground, just a trail, so I stopped to ask a local where I could pitch a tent. I gestured at the yard we were standing in front. 'They're gone for a couple days, you could right here.' I said I thought there was a campground around here and he told me there was a place across the stone bridge (not the steel bridge). I thanked him and rode out there.

The sun had now firmly set and I pulled into the driveway of a cluster of cabins. There was a house identified as the office, and I was immediately greeted by the very loud yappy small dog in the yard. I rang the bell a couple times, but got now answer. I tried. I walked around behind the cabins, out of sight of both the house and the road, and pitched my tent there. I had made it well over 100 miles in the heat and I just wanted to rest.

Day 69 Tionesta, PA - Sinnemahoning, PA
110.45 miles in 8:49:55 for 4118.7 in 312:15:40 and a high speed of 38.4

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Mile 4008.2 - Of hills and heat

A few things were different about today. First, the forecast was calling for 100 degree heat across much of the northeast; second, I was getting back into the mountains. Between the two, I was taking frequent short breaks throughout the day.

I grabbed breakfast at the place recommended to me by the motel owner last night, a little kitchen owned by two women that only do breakfast and lunch. The food was good and so cheap, my standard minimum tip seemed a little ridiculous. I went back to the room to gather up all of my gear. The first goal for the day was to get into Franklin, about 25 miles away. There were a number of steep climbs, but thankfully they were largely shaded. I finally made it to the long, curving drop into downtown Franklin. I grabbed a sandwich at a little cafe and afterward went to the city park a block away. There was a nice fountain in the park and I decided to grab a bench and continue me break a little longer. As I pulled the gatorade out of my pannier to refill the bottle on the frame, a woman approached me. She said she had seen the gear on my bike and wanted to know how far I was going. As it turns out she and her husband are both cyclists and, in fact, her husband has crossed both the US and Canada on a bike.

She called her husband to come meet us, and I ended up talking to them for quite some time. So I met Paul and Terri Wittreich. Paul showed me copies of the books he had written about his journeys. This was certainly encouragement for me to work up this blog into a book form when I am done. I conferred with them about the route I was planning to take across Pennsylvania. As I had suspected, there was no way, north, south or center, to cross Pennsylvania without lots of up and down. They told me about a bike trail that I didn't know about that follows the Allegheny River into Oil City. After talking to them for a while and answering their many questions, I did need to press on. It was nice to take a respite from the day's heat, but an hour spent resting was an hour spent not getting home.

I went down to the river and found the Justus Trail. There was a bike shop right where I entered the trail, so I stopped in to replace the front light that seemed to no longer have interest in recharging. The man in the shop called me 'guy' twice. I don't know why, but being called 'guy' is annoying to me right below being called 'chief'. Please don't call me chief.

I followed the trail as it ran along the Allegheny. At one point, this area was one of the country's largest producers of oil and natural gas. While still a major employer in the region, the production isn't nearly at the level it was 80-100 years ago. Oil City still boasts of several Victorian mansions from the oil boom era. In fact, many of the houses in Oil City seemed oversized compared to most of the other houses I had seen so far in the state. From Oil City, I started climbing again, but thankfully, as the road was following the river, the highs weren't too high.

At one point a road wedged itself between the highway and the river, leading into the village of President. I rode down the smaller road to see if there was any place I could jump into the river. The heat of the day was now in full bloom and the cool river water seemed inviting. Unfortunately, most of the river bank seemed to be split up into private lots, so I couldn't find a way in without crossing someone's yard. Ok, I'll not jump in the river, I guess. The bigger problem I had in President was with the road itself. The road had been repitched recently, but because it was a lower quality road and very very hot, the tar was soft and sticky. I think, in fact, that the less than a mile that I was on this road did more damage to my back tire than the 1800 miles I had covered since the last time I replaced them. Looking at the tire the next morning, I found a couple cracks.

Unrefreshed by the cool river, I got back up to the highway. A couple curves down the road later I reached mile 4000 for the tour. It's hard to think that I had covered so many miles and had just over 500 left between me and home. If I had gone east from Lisbon, Portugal, I could be in central Afghanistan by now. Add in the miles left to New York, I could get to Kathmandu or Lhasa. That seems like a very long way to me.

The next town down the road was Tionesta, where the Tionesta River flows into the Allegheny. I crossed the bridge and found the office for the Allegheny National Forest. Sadly, the office closed at 5 and it was about 5:30. There was a map posted outside (and dated 1978) of the forest and its campgrounds. There was a place to camp right off of Tionesta Lake, just outside town, but the next place to legally camp was 30 miles down the road. Given the heat of the day and the strain of the hills, I decided not to push it, to just camp here.

Leaving town, I rode along the Tionesta River for a mile before coming to the campground. It was split into to sections on either side of the river, the south side was more appropriate for campers and cars, the north side better for touring cyclists with tents. I crossed a narrow bridge and established my tent site in the Outflow Recreation Area. I think Outflow is one of the more romantic park names I had camped in. I'm sure that it was busier a few days previously over the holiday weekend, but now there were only 4 of the 40 sites filled, so I got a site out of earshot of the families with kids at the river end of the grounds.

I was grateful that the campsite had a shower. I spent a good portion of the evening cleaning the bike. It's amazing how much gunk collects on the freewheel and gears. After dinner, I sat and read until the the light started to fade and the fireflies came out.

Day 68, Mercer, PA - Tionesta, PA
57.15 miles in 4:55:36. Now 4008.25 miles in 303:25:45 hours and a high speed of 45 mph.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Mile 3951.1 - Entering the last stage

I was excited to get up today, certain that I would be home within the week. There were a few minor things I needed to do before I could get on the road. Chief among them was laundry. I hadn't done laundry since Fort Wayne, and a weekend spent in a pannier in a torching hot metal storage unit didn't help. When the clothes were in the machine, I rode down to one of the gas stations for gatorade and a map of Pennsylvania. For the first time on the trip, I would enter a state with the appropriate highway map. As the laundry was in the dryer, I walked down the block and had breakfast at the Cracker Barrel. The food was tasty but the dining room crowded and I was glad to soon be back on my own.

Before Pennsylvania though, I first needed to get out of Ohio. The state line was about 60 miles away and the hills were starting to get harder. Taking the weekend off didn't help. It was also hot, getting well up into the 90's.

I got out of the suburban traffic around Canton and onto a couple longer stretches of state highway. In Deerfield, I stopped at a farmers' market to buy some cherries. Mmm, cherries. Crossing the narrow part of Lake Berlin, I was tempted to join the people in the water, but, of course, the road compelled me onward. Coming into Boardman, the highway was suddenly lined with department stores and strip malls. I took a break for lunch, then ten minutes further down the road, a stop for ice cream. At a red light at one intersection, I spent two light cycles talking with a guy in a yellow dog suit about the trip. I never took notice of what he was advertising, standing out in a sweltering heat of an animal suit. But he told me he was a cyclist and thought it was great that I was going cross country.

A short way down the road later, I had one of my worst interactions with infrastructure. Along this part of the road, there was a turn lane width shoulder for me to ride in, I just had to dodge car going into and out of the store parking lots. The shoulder suddenly shrank down to a white line and the curb for a couple hundred feet. Right as I was about to get back to the wider part, there was a storm drain that was set 3-4 inches below the rest of the curb. There was a wall of traffic next to me that I couldn't swerve into, so I hit the deep concrete border around 16 miles an hour. The bike jumped and all four of my panniers went flying. Somehow, thankfully, none of them flew under a car when they scattered. I gathered up my luggage and saw that there was a nice quarter-sized hole now in my food pannier. Joy. I would like whoever designed that drain to ride a bike over it and see how it feels.

10 miles further down the road, I came to the Pennsylvania Line. I took a quick shot of the Welcome to PA sign, but didn't check it or take a second shot, and as it turned out the picture was out of focus. Bleh. Oh well, I was in PA.

Not far down he road I saw a pair of Amish girls walking down the side of the road. Within a few more miles, I had seen a number of carriages for two riders and the more family friendly four.

Coming into New Wilmington, It was getting to be around 7:00 and I was ready to be done. The hills and the heat were plenty. I found a rustic looking motel/restaurant, but was informed that the owners were out and probably wouldn't be back for a couple hours. So, the man sitting on the bench on the porch told me, I couldn't stay there. He was older than my parents, though not yet my grandmother's age and wore khaki colored slacks and a light blue button down shirt, long sleeved, even in the heat. He asked which direction I was going and I told him I was headed up toward Mercer. He told me about the three places to spend a night in mercer, the two by the interstate were more pricey, but the one further along my path would be less expensive.

Going up and down these hills, I saw several more horse drawn carriages, an older couple sitting on well-crafted rocking chairs in front of a modest house, and a bridge that was out and being rebuilt. I climbed a long hill and came into the range of the noise from the interstate. I stopped on the overpass and took a picture of the final time that I would cross paths with US 80. I crossed over or under 80 in California, Utah, and Illinois, as well as having to ride on it for 11 miles in Wyoming. Now, the road I had encountered more than any other on this trip was passing under me in Pennsylvania. In college I drove from San Francisco to Chicago on I-80, what a different view I have of it now.

Then I climbed the longest hill I've found since leaving the Black Hills way back in western South Dakota. I slowly cranked my way up without benefit of shade and running low on water. I took a moment at the top to rest and watch the sun start to sink below the wooded hills to my west. There was still plenty of daylight, but I would be out of the direct sun for the rest of the day. Then I started downhill and just missed hitting 40 mph for the first time since South Dakota too. Maybe if I hadn't come to a full stop on top of the hill.

I came into Mercer and found the motel I had been told about. The woman inside seemed intrigued and gave me a good deal on the room. I showered and tried to get a pizza, but apparently at 9:00 they don't deliver anymore. I walked around and found some Chinese food instead. I was in Pennsylvania, but I still had a lot ahead of me.

Day 67, Canton, OH - Mercer, Pa
81.8 miles in 6:12:31 for 3951.1 in 298:30:09 and a high speed of 39.8 mph

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mile 3869.3 - A wedding in beautiful, tropical Boston

Friday morning, I woke early and showered. I called the number of the car service that I got from the motel desk again. Yesterday they had disappointed me with a 45 minute wait time, perhaps this time would be better. I needed to be at the airport at 6:30, but I was the next exit down the interstate from the airport, so it shouldn't take long to get there. I called and was told that a car could come get me around 8:00. Fail. Fail fail fail and his cousin fail. I went back to the desk and said that the car company was useless and explained that I needed to be at the airport in 30 minutes. The guy at the desk told me not to worry and called a different company that he knew. The car was there in 4 minutes. Sure, the driver didn't really talk much and just played right wing hate talk radio, but I wasn't in his car for very long.

I got to the airport, got on my plane and flew to Boston. As I was walking through the baggage claim towards the exit, I saw, for the first time in 2 months, Emily. Yay! I like to pretend I have a girlfriend, I talk about her quite a bit, but this was hard evidence that she existed as more than just a voice over the phone. She was also picking up another wedding guest that was coming in on a flight about 10 minutes behind mine.

Of the couple getting married, her family is mostly in Massachusetts, he is Bahamian. There were a couple times when I wondered why I was flying to Boston and not Nassau for this wedding, but I wasn't asked to plan it. When I am asked to help plan weddings, I always suggest the location in the Caribbean over the one in New England, but that's just a personal bias.

It was a lovely ceremony, held outside in a garden, and the food was even reasonably good for wedding reception food. I got to spend much of the weekend talking about cycling, so that was good. But there was the voice in the back of my head that said that if I hadn't stopped for three days for the wedding, I could be back in Brooklyn by Wednesday.

On Sunday, Emily had to get back to New York and I had to get back to Canton. Sadly, the order of this happening wasn't how I would have preferred it, so I ended up at the airport a good 4 hours before the flight. I sat at a bar where I could plug in my laptop and watched the red sox game as I worked on the journal some more. There may have been a hot dog covered in mac and cheese involved.

When I got back into Canton, it was just about sunset on July 4th. I could see fireworks from at least four different displays. I went to the cars queued up outside and tried to get one to take me to the storage space around the backside of the airport so I could retrieve Penny and ride back to the motel. I was informed that it was a $20 minimum to leave the airport. I argued that they would drop me off and be back before the luggage from the rest of my flight got off the plane. They didn't move on the $20, and I'm not willing to pay a car $20 to take me about two and a half miles, so I walked it.

On the walk, I could see over a dozen different sets of fireworks going off on various horizons. One thing I also noticed, fireworks freak out the fireflies. They were flying higher and blinking more rapidly than any other group of fireflies I had seen in the last few weeks. I made it back to Penny and was glad to see her. I popped on the pannier I was using as my carry on, and switched on my lights. Reunited at last. I know it had only been three days, but getting back to my bike, I knew that the only real obstacle now between me and getting home was the state of Pennsylvania. Sure, it's the most difficult state to traverse east of the Mississippi between the length and the mountains, but I was going to be home soon.

On the short ride back to the motel, a passenger in an SUV rolled down the window and yelled out at me 'Get a car!'. I called back 'Why?', but they took off without giving me an answer. Really, I'd like to have a discussion about this, because I have a pretty strong view. But they weren't looking for a discussion, they were just some jerks in an SUV.

Days 64-66, Canton, OH - (Boston, MA) - Canton OH
3.7 miles in 17:23 for a total of 3869.3 in 292:17:38 and a high speed of 27.1

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Mile 3865.6 - A day spent going nowhere

In the morning, Brett and I both started a little later than expected. On the way to find both a bathroom and a dumpster Brett ran into a couple of kids on bikes riding around the campground. After breakfast, I went to use both the bathroom and dumpster myself and the same pack of kids found me. They didn't believe that we were not the same person. 'But he has a beard and glasses', I told them. Clearly that was a disguise. So I rode back to our site with them in tow to prove that Brett and I were not the same person. 'Are you brothers?' the lone boy in the pack asked. 'No,' Brett told them, 'just a couple guys who are both riding our bikes. 'Are you scientists?' the boy asked. 'Yes, we are scientists' 'Wow!'

I was then convinced to chase them around the park on their bikes. I gave them a head start and sure enough caught up to them. The boy shot out into paths between different campsites in the woods. They had been there for several days and he knew all the shortcuts. I eventually got the two older kids names, Mason and Angelina, after several bouts of chasing them around. At one point, I caught up to them with only my right foot clipped in and my left foot resting on Penny's top tube. So yes, I'm faster with one foot than a couple of pre-teens. I should be. I also liked to turn around and speed around the outer loop of the camp drive to suddenly appear in front of them.

Angelina didn't believe me that I was going from California to New York. 'You don't know how to get there', she explained. I showed her a picture of me in front of the golden gate bridge. 'Ok, you've been there', she told me. 'That doesn't mean you rode all the way here. Another Sacramento conspirator (there's a joke that I haven't really been going around the country, that I've spent this whole time in Sacramento photoshopping my bike into other people's pictures). I then chased them around some more. They showed me a tree with poisonous berries and they were shocked when I responded by popping one into my mouth and not dying. I showed them that mulberries were not only non-lethal, but tasty. You have to get the dark purple ones, the green and red ones are sour.

At some point in there, Brett had to get on the road. We invited each other to our respective cities of residence and he was off. Since he started the day later than he had expected, he had a lot of ground to cover before dark. Safe travels, my friend.

Eventually, I did need to get moving too, so went back to my site and started to pack up. Chasing the kids this morning was as much fun as anything else I've done on the trip. When I had Penny packed I rode back to their family's site, but didn't find anyone there. I left a note and my card. Thanks for the experience, guys! Keep biking!

I covered the couple hills between the park and the backside of the Canton-Akron airport. Since two of the city's storage spaces right behind the airport and I needed to store Penny somewhere for the weekend, I stopped in to the first one. The guy in the office seemed completely taken aback by the idea of riding a bike across the country, to the point where he didn't seem to comprehend what I only needed the space for the weekend, so didn't want to pay a full month rate. Since he didn't give me a better offer, I went to the other storage company a couple hundred yards down the road. I rode down the steep gravel drive to the office and found a sign saying back at 1:30. It was 12:45.

Fine, I'll go get a motel room for the night first. On the way around the airport into town, the battery in the gps died. This happens occasionally, though usually I replace them when it warns me they are down to 5%. I carry six pairs of rechargeable AAs and a pair usually lasts a day to a day and a half. But I had camped the last three nights, and while I've found places to recharge the phone, I haven't been so lucky with the batteries. All of my AAs were dead. I braved the increasingly heavy suburban traffic as I got closer to the interstate, stopping at the first gas station I found. Gatorade and batteries. I estimated the miles and time I covered and then pushed on down the hill to where the motels were. I eschewed the $110 room for the one less than half that across the street.

I unloaded and showered and decided what I needed to take with me for the weekend and to leave on the bike. I gave myself one of my front panniers as my carry on for the plane (the reason I did bring one shoulder strap). It was mostly my electronics, the book and food.

I rode back to the storage places and tried at the one that was closed. He told me that he wasn't going to be there Monday morning so I would need to have the code to open the gate. He didn't seem to understand that I was willing to pay him something to get the code. He suggested trying to leave it with the construction guys that took up the lot between the two storage spaces. 'They have dogs' he told me, reassuringly. Yeah, but 'hi construction crew that I don't know. Here's my bike and all my stuff, please don't go through it at your leisure in the three days I'll be gone'. Yeah, no.

I went back to the other place to see if perhaps someone else was in the office now. In fact, there was. There was a young lady named Dana behind the desk and her boyfriend wearing a Kent sweatshirt occupying a chair in the corner. I explained the whole bike tour + wedding in Boston situation to her and she was really excited to see what she could do for me. She called the owner and summarized the situation to them. Sure, she could charge me half price. With tax it came to $20 including a lock I could keep. That sounded great, and Dana was one of those random people I met whom I never would have otherwise and it was really cool to talk to her, especially since it saved me $20. It was strange suddenly not having the bike with me. Wherever I'd gone in the past two months, Penny was always there.

After that, I had some time to kill. At the battery gas station, I picked up a schedule for the Akron Areos, the local minor league baseball team. There was a home game tonight, so I could spend the night getting caught up on the journal, or I could go to a ball game. From the driveway of the storage space, I called the number of the car service that I got from the motel. A car could come and get me in about 45 minutes. Here was one of the times that I knew I was not in Brooklyn. I can call my car service from home and when they say they'll be there in 5 minutes, that's usually an overestimate. When I questioned the guy on the phone about his offer of 45 minutes, he told me 'Well, it's the first'. Oh yes, that explains it all. Learn this from my experience, people of the world. Don't try to call a cab in Canton on the first of the month.

I was, however, on the backside of an airport. Where there are airports, there are drivers waiting for fares, spending their idle time on fantasy baseball and telling their brothers in very scientific detail about the approaching weather patterns. It took about 35 minutes to walk the few miles around to the front of the airport. I approached a cab driver who was eating a sandwich. I asked how much it would be to take me to Akron, about 12 miles away. $40, she said. I countered with $30, to which she said I'd have to ask her guy. She pulled herself out of the door a little and called to the guy who was hanging out in the shade by the door. She explained that I wanted to get to the ballpark in Akron and pay $30. He thought about it a moment then assented.

We made it quickly down 77 to Akron and and exit and a left turn later were facing the ballpark. It didn't look like there was going to be a game in an hour. There was a parking lot attendant, so we pulled over to ask. No, not tonight. They're out of town till Tuesday. But the schedule! I didn't have it with me, so I couldn't wave it in anyone's face. I told the driver to take me then to my hotel in Canton. On the way I asked if he knew of any places around my hotel to get dinner. Not really, but he searched on his gps. I wanted a bar with good food so I could have a couple beers with my dinner. We pulled up to the place it had suggested and it was pretty obviously a topless bar. Not exactly what I had in mind. There was a pizza joint across the street, so I'd just grab a pizza and some beer on the walk back to the room.

The driver told me it would be $40 for the round trip. I gave him a $20 tip since he gave me a good price and I would have spent more than that getting back to Canton if there had been a game. He seemed shocked that someone would tip that much. It's true that I've never spent that much on not going to a baseball game. I went to bed pretty early because I needed to be at the airport by 6:30.

Day 63, Nimisila State Park - Castle Storage, Canton, OH
11.2 miles in 1:06:33 for a total of 3865.6 in 292:00:25 and a top speed of 31.7mph