Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Day 1: Barneveld, New York (96.53 miles)

So, I set out today on my fourth long-distance bike trip. This one is the longest yet, though it isn't too much longer than last year's 791-miler to Chicago.

I left my mom's house at 9:30 am--a little later than I'd hoped, but I slept a little later than planned because I didn't fall asleep until late. Probably a little pre-trip anxiousness that was keeping me awake.

I got underway and the weather was agreeable. It had rained a lot overnight but was clear now. It was a little overcast but that actually was nice and helped to keep the temperature down. The terrain was nice and gentle rolling hills and there were a number of old rail trails along the way that made the going nice and easy.

Along the way, my path took me on a dirt road. I had had my share of dirt roads last year in Amish country in Indiana. This was at least limited, but it was a seasonal road that is only maintained a few months a year. Because it had been raining, the surface of the road was often muddy and this made the going difficult, but before too long I was back on pavement and moving along.

I made pretty good time and after only 2-1/2 hours had gone about 33 miles and so I stopped for lunch. One of the best things about traveling through Upstate New York is the prevalence of Stewart's Shops everywhere and so I stopped at one and grabbed a bite to eat.

At one point I wound up going through a Gloversville, NY. This was the first, but not the only, small Upstate New York city I went through today. It is clear that the town of Upstate are suffering. The buildings were run down, frequently empty. It has been said that although the Adirondacks are not part of the Appalachians geologically, they certainly are socio-economically; and that was evident today in many of the towns I biked through. It was sad to see these towns that had once been full of charm and life looking very clearly like they'd seen their better days.

Eventually, my route took me through a corner of the Adirondack State Park, the largest state park in the country. The roads were easy, but they were definitely starting to get hillier. The roads I was on were back roads and there is an direct proportion between how wide the road is and how steep it will be. Large highways and four-lane roads go up at gentle grades, even if it goes on for a while. On a back road, the inclines may not be long, but they are frequently steep and sudden. But the roads were lovely although at one point my directions would have taken me on a road that was blocked off and clearly did not exist.

As beautiful as the scenery was, the weather started to turn. It started to rain, at first lightly but then thunder could be heard increasingly and the rain started to fall more and more heavily. Eventually I found a roadside ice cream and hot dog stand with covered picnic tables where I could shelter from the rain and take the opportunity to recharge my phone, as the use of the GPS definitely drains the battery quickly. As I waited for the rain to let upI enjoyed a nice chocolate milkshake and checked to see how far I'd come already. According to the maps app, I'd already traveled over 50 miles, which seemed far, especially given that I still had a ways to go.

Now, for those of you wondering how it is I choose my daily stops, I usually start out by mapping out 75 mile segments and then making note of the hotels in that range. On this ride, however, there were no hotels within that range, so I had to keep going until one could be found, and unfortunately, that would not be for a while. It looked like I had at least 40 miles to go. I started to get a little nervous because it was getting late and there was still a lot to go. Finally at 4pm the rain let up and I headed out.

It continued to rain lightly and the skies were overcast. And a wind started to blow. Now, for those of you who have read this blog for previous trips, you may remember that strong headwinds were the bane of my trip to Chicago last year. And these were just as bad. They were really strong, cold, and coming directly at me. There was an extended uphill climb, challenging enough but downright exhausting when you're facing 20-25 mph headwinds. A heavily laden bike with panniers is not aerodynamic to begin with; in heavy winds it's a brick wall. When I climbed a hill and noticed row upon row of windmills, I knew that I was in a wind alley and that the going was going to be tough. And it was. At times I even had to pedal riding downhill, which is demoralizing.

The last twenty miles or so involved a fairly substantial uphill that came along just as I was running out of fuel. I stopped along the side of the road for some Hammer Gels and the last of the dates that I had. Those, in particular, are a nice boost to the system, and helped me get up the large hill and enjoy the long downhill after it (so thanks for the dates, Rania). What followed was a long gentle uphill climb through farmland. This entire segment I did not see a single car on the road with me. Twice cars crossed the road I was on, but I was the only one traveling down the road. That was nice, but the winds were still blowing strongly and my legs were aching. I finally did see another vehicle: an Amish buggy heading my way.

Eventually I got to my hotel and took a nice hot shower. I knew that my trip was longer than the usual distance but was astounded to discover that it was 97 miles--three short of a century. I suppose I could have ridden some laps in the parking lot, but I was exhausted and symbolic thresholds would have to wait. I got some dinner at the sub counter at the neighboring Stewart's. Then I had my bananas and ibuprofen to help with my aching legs (so thanks for the tip, Laura).

The extra long ride has two immediate advantages: it'll likely make my trip to Watertown tomorrow a little shorter, and, I don't imagine that I'll have any trouble falling asleep tonight.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Day 10: Evanston, Illinois (90.12 miles, 792.09 total miles)

Today had a little bit of everything: rain, hills (sort of), heat, headwinds, and utter exhaustion.

Last night I had had a long evening to relax and rest up a bit.

I had a great dinner at this place right across the street that had tables right on the water. And after dinner, I was able to go back to my room and have a restful evening. I was happy to think that with the time change, I'd get an extra hour in the morning.

Alas, I woke up at 6 a.m. and try as I might, I couldn't fall back asleep. I guess the only thing that has trumped my exhaustion is the anticipation of the coming day. And so I got up and opened the curtains to discover that the morning was starting off as a rainy one. I quickly checked online and on the weather channel to see what the prospects were and it looked as though everything should clear up by the time I was done with breakfast.

And so I got ready, packed everything up, and went and had breakfast. When I was done, I got my bike and headed out. The rain was still coming down but it wasn't terrible. I stopped at the filling station right next to the hotel and topped off the air in my tires and continued on my way. But when I had gotten only about a quarter mile away from the hotel, the skies opened up. I quickly turned off the road into a gas station and stayed for a while just standing under the overhang. I wound up standing there for about half an hour as the rain got heavier and heavier.

At one point a local sheriff's deputy walked by me on the way to his car.
"Rough day for a bike ride."
"Well, as my dad used to say, 'It's all east of us now.'"
"That's good; I'm headed west. Trying to get to Chicago today."
"Chicago? You know that's about 60 miles, right?"
"Yeah, I've come a lot longer than that already." I told him about my trip and how I'd traveled here from D.C. traveling about 75 miles a day. I talked about the hills and the flats.
He pointed to the road leading away from the service station: "There's a pretty good hill right there." I nodded politely. It was an incline, to be sure. But compared to what I'd seen on this trip, it was nothing to be concerned about.

The rain eventually let up and I headed off down the road. The hill was one of the bigger ones in the area, but it was easily ascended. There was a nice downhill on the other side that was only ruined by the realization that I had made a wrong turn and wasn't supposed to be going that way. And so I turned around and biked back up the hill and made the correct turn.

The roads from here on out had some good downhills through some fairly wooded areas, which I was not expecting at all in northwestern Indiana. As the road headed back out onto flat farmland terrain, the skies started to darken again and it began to rain. But I was in pretty good spirits (and was still kind of wet from the earlier downpour) so I didn't really care.

Eventually, the route took me on to the Prairie Duneland bike trail, which was a nicely maintained trail and made the going easy. Eventually the skies cleared altogether and the temperatures started to rise under a bright shining sun. Because the day had been delayed, I was looking to make up some time. And that's when I noticed that the back end of my bike was swaying a little more than usual. I stopped and felt the back tire—it was soft. It was then that I remembered that while filling up my tires in the morning, I had never taken the valve adaptor off and tightened down the valve. I was angry with myself for making such a stupid mistake. But as I began to inspect the tire, it was clear that the cause of the leak was not air escaping through the valve, it was the air that was escaping audibly from the tire. And so I found a spot to sit and make repairs.

I found the hole easily enough in the tire but decided to use a spare tire rather than patch the current one. I knew that the patch job would take a while and as I said before, I was anxious to make up some time. I can always patch the punctured tire later and use it as a spare. As I was not near a gas station, I would need to inflate the tire myself. I used a CO2 cartridge to inflate the tire. As this was the first time I'd ever used it it took me a bit to figure it out but but once I did—holy cow. The tire inflated right up. It would still need to be topped off at a service station, but it was definitely rideable. So, thanks, Dad for that particular Christmas present!

The trail went right past a bike shop where I was able to top off the tire (and remember to take off the adaptor valve afterward). I talked with the owner of the bike shop who had started doing bike repairs after a career of auto repair. He was interested to learn how to get into doing distance riding. I told him what had worked for me: start small, add more miles over time.

I continued along the path which became the Oak Savannah Trail and then as it angled back north the Erie Lackawanna trail. All three trails are built on old railways, and so tend to be pretty straight and level. But these are railways that go through the middle of towns, as many of the railways do. Which means that unlike the bike trails of the Washington area that I'm used to, these ones intersect streets and roads with a high degree of regularity. It means that there's a lot of stopping and slowing down on the way.

As I approached the Illinois line, the wind began to pick up. A strong headwind that was making the going a little difficult. In addition to which it was also moving storm clouds into the area. After crossing the border, I headed north along Wolf Lake into ever darkening skies. As I turned toward Calumet Park, the skies opened up again. I stood for a while under a railway bridge, waiting for the storm to pass. Eventually it let up and I began to make my way north again.

And then, after wending my way through the streets south of the city, I came to the end of the block and saw this magnificent sight:

There in the distance was Chicago, and beyond it my ultimate destination. Eventually, I picked up the Lakeshore Trail that runs along Lakeshore Drive the entire way. This was a magnificent bike path, but it was also the path for joggers, rollerbladers, and mosey-ers. As I got closer to downtown, there were more people to bike around. I was pleased that often I could still overtake other cyclists, even after so many miles. Now, let me be honest, I also got passed a lot. By those real biker guys. You know the ones, with aerodynamic helmets and skintight jerseys and shoes that clip in to the pedals. Those guys flew by me. But I was able to pass most of the other cyclists so I didn't feel completely wiped out.

As I continued along past The Loop and headed uptown, I could feel my energy starting to wane. First, Lakeshore Drive is 17 miles long—so much longer than you think the city will be. Manhattan is only 9 miles long; D.C. is only 10 miles long on its longest side. Chicago just seemed to go on forever. I've had that experience when driving it, but when you're on a bike and really tired, the experience is even more profound. As the miles wore on and I would get passed by an increasing number of cyclists, I felt like I should apologize or explain: I've just biked here from D.C.; I'm not normally this slow. That competitive streak I have in me was still there—I just no longer possessed the energy or ability to do anything about it.

Of course, at the time I was operating under the assumption that my ride would be about 75 miles today. After mapping it out, it turns out to have been 90 miles long. And the last 10 miles or so seemed to go on forever. But I arrived, in one piece, safe and sound.

It occurs to me that even on days when I was utterly tired, there was the anticipation of the next day giving me some energy. As I suggested before, it's probably the reason I wasn't able to sleep in late most days. But now with the knowledge that tomorrow I don't have to bike even 10 miles, I can feel the last remaining units of energy ebb from my body. 790 miles on a bike take their toll on you and I can feel the crash coming. It'll be well earned when it does.

This whole trip was an ambitious one from the start. The total distance was more than twice what I had traveled in one bike trip before. But while there were certainly days when I doubted whether this could be done, in the end, it could and I did it.

There is still a lot to process about this trip. But as I think back on the last 10 days, there is a lot I will remember: the bumpy ride along the Potomac and the the views overlooking the Shenandoah; the ups and downs over the ridges of Virginia and West Virginia; the charm of Cumberland and the brutal ascents across the Alleghenies; the helpfulness of Aaron as he guided me to my place of rest for the day; the hospitality of the Kerrs amidst a rainstorm; the easy and beautiful ride along the Monongahela and the Ohio River; the deluge I was caught in in Western, Pennsylvania; the Primanti's style hamburger with the fries on top; the long inclines into Ohio and the first 90 mile day; the devastating winds that drew out my next day into an ordeal; the great friendliness of the peoples of Ohio and Indiana; the dirt by ways and rustic farms of Amish Country in Indiana; the visit with two old friends in Goshen; the rolling hills of Indiana and the bumpy roads of the back country; the long bike paths of northwestern Indiana and Illinois; the long and beautiful ride along the lakeshore; the feeling of relief as I pulled up to Mary and Ed's house; the feeling of satisfaction at having accomplished something big that I set out to do.

As my energy is at an end, that all too short list will have to do for now. With 790 miles behind me, this road has come to an end. All that is left to do now is sleep.

The map of today's route, with elevation:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Evanston,United States

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Day 9: La Porte, Indiana (54.83 miles, 701.97 total miles)

It's not really about the conditions, it's about the morale.

Sun, rain, heat, cold, wind, mud, hills, flats: they don't so much affect the ride as how you feel about the ride. And how you feel about the ride affects the quality of the ride itself.

For example, when you're going over rolling hill terrain, as you find in suburban Maryland and Virginia, there are sizable hills to be sure, but often going down one is exhilarating and gives you enough momentum that you don't mind the next hill. In fact, you often find yourself racing up it at a higher gear than you would have otherwise expected. You feel good about the ride and you perform better. Conversely, when you're coming along and it's been nothing but flat, a sudden—and small!—hill will come up and you find yourself straining to climb it. It's not just the lack of momentum from the previous downhill, it's the mere existence of this hill that is morale sapping. And the hill becomes more tiring than it's worth. I felt like that principle was demonstrated often today.

This morning I set out from my hotel and biked through Goshen. My route took me onto a bike path that went its way through a park (Mullet park, amusingly). It was not a long trail and the park not huge, but it was surprising how wooded it felt on this trail. The trail emerged onto a street that put me on a county road for the next 15 miles or so.

That county road was, as with the previous ones, rail straight and after getting out of the residential areas of Goshen turned into nothing but farmland again. A few miles down the road, I came across one of those huge irrigation rigs, spraying water across the crops and, at times, across the road. I watched it go by a couple of times and noticed that the irrigation spray was creating a rainbow as it shot out. For some reason, however, I didn't really time my crossing of this thing well; and wound up getting sprayed by it. But I was in good spirits and getting wet didn't bother me. See, it's a question of morale.

Now, because I can't (and wouldn't want to) bike on the Interstates, the routes tend to be patchwork. That is, with rare exception, my route does not simply follow one road across the state. In fact, my route consists of a lot of right angles as I turn left and then right, right and then left, working my way across. On the days when I've been able to write out my directions as well has use the GPS map, that's okay, but a day like today had too many turns to do that, and so I was making extensive use of the GPS map (which drains battery life quickly).

As I was going along, I noticed that the wind was starting to pick up. The Weather Channel had predicted 11-20 mph winds from the northwest. As long as they weren't from due west, it shouldn't be too much of a problem. Or so I hoped. I tried to push forward, even when the gusts were strong, trying to exercise a little mind over matter and to keep my morale up. Sightings of newspaper boxes for the local Elkhart paper The Truth were amusing to me, because (1) that's a pretty gutsy claim for any paper to make, and (2) "the truth" is what the Russian newspaper Pravda means. And that reminded me of a saying the Russians used to have about their two major dailies, Pravda ("The Truth") and Izvestia ("The News"): "There's no news in The Truth and no truth in The News."

[Just now the program I'm using to write these blog posts crashed and I lost everything after this point. I had some really good stuff here and will try to remember what I said, but my experience is that inspiration is never as good the second time around. Sorry about that.]

After about 25 miles, I stopped to get some water and take a break at a Sunoco station. While standing in the shade of the overhang by some out of service pumps, a piece of my trash fell and started to blow away and so I went to pick it up. No good deed goes unpunished. In bending over to get the piece of trash, I caught my shirt on a piece of metal, tearing it and scratching me across the side. And so was the first use of my first aid supplies on the trip as I applied an alcohol prep pad and a bandaid from my kit. See, it's things like that that'll sap your morale. That and having to change your torn shirt in the middle of a Sunoco parking lot.

I headed on down the road which began to have more and more hills. It was not the size of the hills or their incline that was problematic, it was their existence. This was Indiana. It was supposed to be flat. Ohio was flat, why wasn't this? I just wasn't in the mood for more up and down, even though these ups and downs were nothing compared to what I had been through or what I'm used to from back home. I tried to keep my morale up, even noting that most of the places I was biking through resembled the opening credits of "The Middle":

All day I had been mulling over the question of where I would stop for the night. My original plan, that tried to pick stops every 75 miles, had me stopping in La Porte, Indiana tonight. However, since I had had to bike 95 miles yesterday, I could conceivably go farther than La Porte today and thus have an even shorter distance tomorrow. Kate had even suggested staying somewhere on the Indiana Dunes coast. Traveling there would be a little out of my way, but might be worth it. Part of me was... embarrassed?... at the thought of only biking 50 or so miles today. Now, back home on as Saturday, a 50 mile ride around the region would be a good, long ride. But after having biked 80, 83, 91, and 95 miles in a day, biking only 50 miles felt like slacking.

But then came Crumstown Trail. I'd been biking along Johnson Road and came across the intersection with Tamarack Road, which I found amusing, having gone to Tamarac High School. I snapped the picture at left and noticed up ahead some construction vehicles parked on the left side of the road. I biked past them sheepishly for having taken a picture of a street sign, but then noticed that all three drivers of all three vehicles were asleep. The vehicles themselves were unusual, with four tires across the front of each. They also bore signs that said, "No driving on new tar."

I passed them and turned onto Crumstown Trail—a road so appropriately named that not even Dickens could have done better. The first part was enjoyable, but as I crossed some railroad tracks, the surface changed abruptly to newly laid asphalt. See, I'm familiar with this stuff from some of the rural parts of Upstate New York that I'm from. They basically come down a dirt road, spread tar all over it (even blackening the edging grass), and then lay down gravel on top of the tar. The gravel sticks to the tar and eventually is compressed into a passable surface. It was clear that I was now biking over a newly laid down surface, the black tar visible between the pieces of gravel.

It was rough going and an uncomfortable ride. And it went on for miles and miles. Not even witnessing an epic battle between a crow and a hawk (the crow won) with all kinds of cawing and screeching made this experience better. Over the course of the day, the wind had been getting stronger and increasingly from a direction that was no helpful.  And I discovered that (1) I was longing for the dirt roads of Amish country; and (2) what was left of my morale was gone. I was going to stop in La Porte. That would be far enough for today.

Eventually, I approached another railroad crossing. I hoped it would turn into more passable roads. As I got near I heard a whistle and saw the crossing bars coming down. As I approached, a freight train came roaring by—not traveling at the leisurely speeds the one I'd seen in Clyde had. This one was flying:

After the train had gone I was able to cross the tracks and soon was back on smoother pavement. I kept encountering more hills. Again, they weren't steep ones or tall ones, they just existed and that was enough for me to be annoyed. At the foot of one hill, I decided to take a water break. As you can see from the picture, it was not a terribly big hill. But at the end of nearly 700 miles of biking I was just done with them. It did make for a pleasant looking scene, which is why I took the photo. I noticed while stopped that my phone's clock and set back an hour, meaning that I'd crossed a time zone line without realizing it. This actually made me happy, as it meant that I'd get one more hour of rest in my hotel when I got there.

I set back out toward La Porte. The remaining 10 miles or so were slow in going and it felt like I was not getting anywhere. Eventually, I reached La Porte. "La Porte" is an old French phrase that means, "We don't spend any money on road maintenance." The condition of the streets in the residential neighborhoods I passed through was appalling and at times more uncomfortable than Crumtown Trail.

I arrived at my hotel at 2:16 p.m. local time and got to my room and cleaned up. And then took the most glorious nap. I lay down on the bed with book in hand and was out. I clearly needed it.

My plan for the evening is to rest, relax, and restore as much as I can so that tomorrow when I set out for the final 75 mile leg of this journey, my morale will be up to the task.

The map of today's route, with elevation data:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad (though it crashed once and only partially uploaded this blog once, requiring yet another retype, so don't be too impressed.)

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Day 8: Goshen, Indiana (94.83 miles, 647.14 total miles)

It's always something.

There was Hill Day, Mountain Day, Rain Day, Long Day, and Wind Day. Today was Dirt Road Day.

I set off this morning a little later than usual, having slept in a bit as the past two days took their toll. The morning was overcast and a little cool as I set out. There was also a fair amount of wind, but it was blowing from the south and did not have as big an impact on me as I traveled west.

A few miles down the road, I came across the Wabash Cannonball Trail again. I checked it out to see whether it was a viable option; it was not. It was less a bike trail at this point as a gap in the middle of the cornfield. It wasn't even a dirt trail at this point; it was a grass trail. I reintersected the trail later on again and it was likewise of no help. I had been right to stay on the main road.

I headed south on County Route 16 and then turned west on County Route K. The roads in Western Ohio are sequentially numbered and spaced every mile. All the addresses are organized in thousand-blocks with the numbers identifying the distance until the county line. I took the picture at right as an instance of this and it struck me that I live not far from another intersection of 12th and K.

After about 35 miles, I approached the Indiana border. The road I was on suddenly changed to a dirt road for the final mile. I tried to figure this out. All I could think of was that Ohio had just given up a mile before the border, figuring they didn't care whether anyone from Indiana was able to come into Ohio easily.

As I headed down this road, I saw three people walking along the road toward me. It turned out to be an Amish man and two of his children. We smiled and waved at each other as I continued toward the border. When I got to the border, I was a little underwhelmed. It was just an intersection of two dirt roads and there wasn't even a sign saying "Welcome to Indiana". I continued along and started to wonder how long these dirt roads would continue. In Upstate New York where I grew up, we have our share of dirt roads, but they always seemed to be roads that were off the beaten path. There was nothing about the county roads I was on that suggested they were anything other than ordinary county roads.

After a couple of miles, I was back on paved roads and was making good time. The wind was not problematic and the weather was largely cooperating. I was worried that yesterday's success was going to be an anomaly and was glad to be having another productive day. And I was making good time.

But then, the roads turned back to dirt. And this time, it went on for miles. I was frustrated. I had recently read an article about two Americans who had biked 10,000 miles across Russia, often on dirt roads and how they had gotten 5 flat tires a day. My tires are good, but I didn't want to be on these roads for too long. But they went on and on.

As I went on, I began to notice what looked like bicycle tracks in the dirt. There were a lot of them and I wondered just how many bicyclists were riding these bumpy roads. I came up to an intersection and across the way, coming toward me was an Amish horse and buggy. That's when it dawned on me that these were not bike tire tracks, but buggy tracks.

Soon, there were buggies everywhere. I was in the heart of Amish country. Now, I had known that there were Amish in the region, but for the next 30 miles and more I was in a region in which very few cars could be seen, but buggies, horses, and even the occasional bicycle (the Amish use them quite often), were plentiful.

It was beautiful countryside, and the Amish farms were charming, but the road was wearing on me. It was bumpy, at times my tires slipped on loose dirt, and it was difficult to make good time. On this trip, I tried to plan my stops for every 75 miles but that doesn't always work out. In fact, as I continued along it was obvious that there was nothing out here but farmland. And because of that, I was going to have to ride over 90 miles today. With that in mind, I was anxious to get moving. I was glad to have gotten in at a decent hour the day before and didn't want to get in too late. Besides, I was meeting old friends from AU and Wesley for dinner and wanted to get into town at a reasonable time.

The dirt roads eventually turned into paved roads and I started to ride quickly again. But by this point, my legs and arms were consistently hurting and my energy was flagging. And then it began to rain. Fortunately the rain wasn't heavy, but it was cold. I wound up following—and passing—two Amish buggies along the road.

The last five miles into Goshen were really difficult. I was out of energy and was on the longest ride I'd ever made. Tired, wet, and hungry, I rolled into the parking lot of the hotel where I saw Kate Moore Koppy waiting for me. She hung out with me while I got cleaned up and then we met up with Scott Manning for dinner downtown. When Kate was a student at AU, she was on the committee that worked with Joe to select a pastoral intern. I was the pastoral intern they selected. During the interview Kate and I bonded over having studied Russian and having had a professor in common. Scott was a classmate of mine at Wesley and for two years after I was appointed to AU after graduation, he was my pastoral intern. So, it was great to share a meal with two old friends, especially with those who remember what things were like at the beginning. After dinner, we said our goodbyes (but not before Kate gave me a bag with bananas and dates in it).

I am eight days into this adventure. There have been times when I doubted I had what it took to finish this trip, and now I am a little more than 110 miles away from my goal. Considering that I traveled 95 miles today alone, that distance is not daunting at all. That I came within 5 miles of biking a "century" is astounding to me.  Up until May 2010, when Michelle, Rachel, and I biked to Harpers Ferry, I had not ridden more than 30 or 40 miles in a day. Being 650 miles and 8 days into a marathon ride in which every day has been more than 65 miles and the average day's ride has been around 80 miles is still something I have a hard time believing. I would never have thought I would ever do anything like a century and here I came five miles shy. In case you're wondering, I'm comfortable with that--there was no way I would have biked an extra five miles today that I didn't have to.

But I biked a lot of miles today, more than I ever had in one day.  And that should mean that the next two days have smaller distances to travel than the distances I've gone the last few days. The end is in sight.

The map of today's route, with elevation data.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Day 7: Wauseon, Ohio (83.22 miles, 552.31 total miles)

What a difference a day makes.

I woke up around 6:30 a.m. and tried to fall back asleep but failed. After about half an hour, I got up, packed up my things and headed out. The first thing I noticed upon leaving was that it was chilly, but sunny. The second thing I noticed was that the flags on the houses across the street were all hanging limp. There was not much of a breeze. I took this as a good sign. The hotel did not have any food service so I bike a mile or so until I came upon a Burger King where I got some fast food breakfast.

Disappointed by my experience on the North Coast Inland Trail yesterday (which I improperly referred to as the Great Coastal Inland Trail), I decided to avoid it and headed down Route 20. Now, Route 20 is a busy route, with lots of trucking and traffic. There was also a section under construction with a lane closure. Now, the traffic will often give me a wide berth when conditions are good, but when they're feelings squeezed into a lane and you're on the shoulder, it's not an enjoyable experience. I made it through the construction zone okay but once I got to the town of Clyde, Ohio (birthplace of the legendary Rodger Young), I decided that I would turn to check out the bike trail after all. It would certainly have less traffic on it and it might be paved. When I got to the bike trail, I was delighted to see that it was, in fact, an asphalt surface.

I had to duck off the trail for a bit to use a restroom and when I came back, there was a train passing by. I'm fond of trains and enjoyed just sitting there watching this one roll by.

I continued on the trail and found it to be really enjoyable. Without the headwinds and with this delightfully flat terrain, I could make some really good time. In fact, I was able to do something I hadn't been able to do in days: use my highest gear (20th) on something other than a downhill. I was able to use 20th speed for sustained periods of time and get to a cruising speed of about 17 mph. Were my bike not laden, I could definitely have gone faster, but even so I passed every other cyclist I came across.

The trail broke off after a few miles and I passed through the town of Freemont, which had signs marking the bike route. When I picked it up northwest of town, it was even more enjoyable.

Now, it was flanked by rows of trees and made its way through farmland. There were frequent crossings, but the roads themselves did not appear to be used much. I found I was making really good time. I passed through the towns of Lindsey and Elmore, the latter of which had a bike shop and a bike-up window at an ice cream shop. The ice cream shop would fill your water bottle for free. I took them up on that and also bought a chocolate milk for my muscles.

I got back on the trail but suddenly, the trail went from paved to almost non-existent: two barely discernible tire tracks in the grass. As this was my only way forward, I biked along for another half mile until I came out on a roadway that I was supposed to take. I went my way zigzagging on these large square blocks of roads, tracking the Interstate and crossing it a number of times. At one crossing, I stopped to take a picture of the farmland below and noted that it was just noon and I'd already gone about 40 miles. This was exactly the pace I was hoping for when I came to Ohio. I was glad that on my third day in the state, I actually got to cruise the way I was expecting.

I wound up on a nice straight road called Genoa road that would take me directly to Route 20. Suddenly, as I was crossing a major intersection, I could see that the road was closed ahead. There was a detour but who knew how many miles it would add on to my trip. So I biked ahead intent on discovering how long this construction was and whether I could go around it. When I got up to the site, there were a handful of construction guys around; I guess the rest of them were on lunch break. I asked how far this construction went but as they answered I could see that it went only about 100 feet—they appeared to be repairing a bridge. They said I could walk my bike through, which was a huge timesaver. As I was walking, one guy said, "Don't try to bike back this way once they're working again." I said, "Don't worry, I'm only going one way today."

I continued along Genoa and reintersected Route 20. As we approached Perrysburg there was more construction. There was a huge backup of cars as they were doing a one-lane alternating flow. I just cruised on up the shoulder and when I got to the front, the flagman motioned for me to go behind him, which I did. The pavement was bumpy, as it was being resurfaced, but the bike handled it just fine.

I eventually came to Perrysburg and traveled through the neighborhoods headed toward the river crossing. As I was going through the neighborhoods, I came across a lemonade stand. I love coming across lemonade stands when I'm out biking. I came across one in suburban Maryland a few weeks ago and had a nice conversation with the young people running it about the trip I'm on right now. So, I stopped and bought a lemonade. The three boys were also selling apples. As I was standing there, one of the boys said, "I'll go get some more apples," whereupon he crossed the street to a group of apple trees on what appeared to be public land, and picked a few.

Continuing on down the road, refreshed by the lemonade, I headed toward the bridge. As I was waiting to make the turn, a guy in a white van shouted at me, "Nice bike, man!" I turned and said, "Thanks" and he continued: "Raleighs roll!" I said, "Yeah, I've come 500 miles on this one." "Raleighs roll!" he repeated before saying, "Be safe!" and driving off. I crossed over the Maumee River (it travels north to Toledo and the lake), and then made my way through the streets of Maumee.

Eventually, I came upon the Wabash Cannonball Bike Trail. This is another trail built on old railway lines and like the railway lines that run nearby, it's rail straight. Now, I was a little wary of what this trail would be like; I'd done some research online and it appeared that this section of the trail would be paved. And boy, was it. It may be the most beautiful bike trail I've ever seen. Good pavement, dotted yellow line down the middle, and, to top it all off, white lines on each side. All this thing needed was rest stops (though it did have a couple of bathrooms along the way), and it would be the closest thing to a bike highway that we have.

I was really enjoying this trail and the last 20 or so miles of the trip would be more enjoyable than they might have otherwise. I did, however, begin to suspect that the whole time I was going uphill. It's very hard to tell on terrain like this. Even in the picture above it's hard to tell whether you're going up or whether the horizon just appears to be slightly elevated from you. However, when you look at the elevation charts below, you'll see that for the second half of the entire day, I was ascending. Now, it's about 400 feet over 40 miles, and I routinely go up an elevation of 300 feet over 3 miles on my commute to work. So this was barely noticeable, but it was noticeable none the less (and vindicated for me by the mapping!). You'll also note, when looking at the elevation chart that while there is an incline, it all registers as a -0% grade!

After nine miles of cruising along this absolutely beautiful trail, suddenly the trail just shifted to two dirt tracks, not unlike the trail I'd been on earlier. Well, I was not about to spend the last 11 miles on that kind of surface so I turned and headed back up to Highway 20. I got on the road and continued on. The bike trail must have been traveling at an angle, because when I was on it, my Google Maps said I was only 21 miles away from my destination. Having biked 9 on the trail and then biking another two up to the main road, I figured that I had, at most, 12 miles to go. (The math is not that difficult.)

But this leg really wore on and finally I saw a sign for Wauseon, the town I was planning on stopping in, that said "7 miles". That didn't seem possible. I should be closer than that. But I just put my head down and kept biking and in another 25 minutes or so I was at my hotel.

Getting here so much earlier than usual means that my evening will me more relaxing than the last few have been. I took the opportunity to go for a swim and soak in the whirlpool. I am doing this blog now so that after dinner I can read or just relax and watch a little TV. I'd been getting into something of a vicious cycle getting in late, not sleeping enough, getting up later in the morning, and then getting in all the later at the next destination.

But the winds were favorable today and I was able to keep the pace I'd hoped to do. I am 552 miles into a 760 mile trek. Here's hoping the remaining three days will be more of the same.

The map of today's route, with elevation data.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, July 29, 2013

Day 6: Bellevue, Ohio (82.68 miles, 469.09 total miles)

Today was supposed to be an easy day; it wasn't. And that made me wonder whether I'd bitten off more than I could chew.

Let's review some data:

First Trip: DC to Albany, NY (2010)
Age: 41
Starting Weight: 209
Distance: 363.2 miles
Number of Days Riding: 5
Average Distance per Day: 72.64 miles

Second Trip: DC to Culpepper, Charlottesville, Front Royal, Berkeley Springs, Harpers Ferry, and DC
Age: 42
Starting Weight: 212
Distance: 348.4 miles
Number of Days Riding: 6
Average Distance per Day: 58 miles

Third Trip: DC to Chicago (through 5 days)
Age: 44
Starting Weight: 216
Distance: 396.41 miles
Number of Days Riding: 5
Average Distance per Day: 79.28 miles

As you can see from the above, I have biked more in the last five days than I did in the previous trips and my average per day is nearly 7 miles higher than my first trip (when I was three years younger) and 21 miles more than my second trip. As Day 6 of this 10 day trek wore on, I really began to wonder whether I had reached my upper limit.

As I headed out this morning after breakfast, two things became apparent: the wind from yesterday was still blowing, and (2) my legs were really sore. It was sunnier than it had been and so I tried to muster some optimism that the day would turn out well and got on the road.

My path took me through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, a beautiful, woodland route that was enjoyable and had some nice downhills. Of course, as it was a valley, that also meant that there were uphills later. The park was sparsely trafficked and at one point I came across a doe and her fawn who stared at me intently, but as I slowed down, they made no effort to move, even allowing me to take their picture. At some point in the park, I made a wrong turn (the naming of the roads was somewhat confusing. I was on Everett Road and came to an intersection where I could turn left onto Everett Road, or bear right onto Everett Road (or so it seemed). I chose the wrong one and wound up going up a couple of steep hills before realizing I was about a mile off course. I was able to rejoin my intended route, but only after another long incline (you can probably spot it in the elevation chart below).

That incline was really difficult and my legs were protesting. As I waited to make the turn, I noticed some ducks crossing the road and hoped they would take their time and hold up traffic just a bit so I could rest a little more. But they were quick to cross the street and I moved on. Reconnecting with Everett Road, I turned and followed it due west, straight into that strong headwind that was present most of yesterday, too.

At one point, I just felt spent. I was facing a hill and just didn't think I had the energy to go up it. That's when I noticed that there was a little park by the side of the road with a pond and some park benches and a portapotty. In need of rest and a restroom, I stopped. It was a beautiful little spot, but I worried that I was in need of a break so soon into the trip. As I said previously, it's hard for me to tell how far I've gone without using a ride tracker. But as those things eat up battery life, I have to guess. Sometimes, I'll use the Google maps app on my phone to map a route back to the hotel, putting it on the pedestrian setting. It told me that the hotel was only 14 miles away. As I look at the Ledge Lake in the Hinckley Reservation (Park) on my route map, it's more like 20 miles in. But at the time, I felt like I was not up to the task, feeling fatigued after only 20 miles. So, I ate a Cliff Bar, had a Hammer Gel, drank some water, and got back on the road, heading up the hill.

My route had me go on something of a circuitous route, a strange U shape that I didn't understand. Now, often, the route planning engine at MapMyRide will pick the easiest way, and so while I was loath to pick a route that involved more hills, I opted to take a direct route on Fenn Road which would directly merge into the planned route. There was nothing overly problematic about the route—it had a narrow shoulder so that may be why the mapping software skipped it—but it was more direct and had only rolling hills. Though, today with the strong winds (11-16 mph), each hill was that much more daunting. I have noticed that a lot of these smaller roads in Ohio are not well maintained and have cracked pavement in the shoulder (if there is one) and often extending into the entire right side of the lane.

The tiredness I'd felt earlier was really beginning to take an emotional toll. This terrain was relatively flat. On similar terrain, I can get my bike (even laden) up to around 20 mph. At that rate, my day's journey should have taken no more than five hours, including stops. But today felt very slow going and that's when I began to have repeated thoughts about whether I could actually succeed at this enterprise. Around 12:15, I stopped at the E-Z Shop Food Mart in Medina, noticing that they made their own sub sandwiches. So, I went in and ordered a sub, grabbed some water, chips, and chocolate milk, and got ready to have lunch.

I asked the proprietors if this kind of wind was usual. They said no, and added that the temperatures (it was about 71 degrees, but chillier because of the wind) were really unusual and that it should be about 90 and "humid". (I put humid in quotes, because I have been assured by other Ohioans that what people in Ohio think is humid wouldn't even get noticed by most Washingtonians. The same goes for New Yorkers, too.) At that point, I began to long for 90 and humid. Because to tell you the truth, I know how to deal with that. You can develop strategies for hydration and taking breaks to cool down, and you get used to sweating. But with wind, there's nothing you can do. It just slows you down, physically. No amount of hydration will fix that. And because of that, it feels all the more demoralizing. I couldn't believe I was actually longing for a nice hot day, if it meant this wind would stop.

I finished my lunch, which was delicious, but not before noticing that they sold "pop" at this place rather than "soda". I've actually been in the "pop" zone of the country for some time (since before Pittsburgh), but as this is a frequent battle line in the United Methodist community at AU, I thought I would mention it.

After lunch, I headed back down the road: rail straight and due west right into the wind. I passed through a couple of interesting towns, one of which was Wellington, Ohio, the town of Archibald Willard, painter of the famous "Spirit of '76" painting that has become iconic in American political life. I continued down the road, but was really beginning to hurt at this point. Not only were my legs sore, but my wrists and forearms were beginning to cramp. I am not sure whether it's the result of the grip, the hills, the exertion, or some combination, but at points, my hands hurt worse than my legs. I could give them a rest by sitting up straighter and letting one or the other dangle at my side while I steered the bike with the remaining hand, but as you might have guessed, sitting up straighter makes for a larger profile and the wind becomes that much more devastating. I stopped alongside of the road at one point to rest for a couple of minutes and get some water and was able to take this picture of some conveniently placed reeds, demonstrating the power of the wind:

Continuing down the road, I came to the town of Brighton, which had a Methodist Church right on the main corner. I pulled over and decided it would be a good place to take a break. I knocked on the door of the parsonage next door and introduced myself to the pastor, Tina Siroki, and we chatted for a bit. She asked me if I needed anything and then brought me some bottled water and a couple of bananas. She then offered the facilities of the church if I needed them for anything. Buoyed by her kindness, I sat for a bit on the benches of the green nearby and rested up and recharged my phone.

Continuing along the road, my route eventually took me off the main road I'd been following and put me on to a side road that ran parallel to it. This road, Zenobia Road, was actually a nice road to ride on and while the wind was still strong, I was feeling slightly better. I was on this road for 12 miles. As one who grew up in Upstate New York and who's lived in the DC, Maryland, Virginia area for the last 22 years, it astounds me that you can drive a road for 12 miles completely straight. In fact, the previous road was about 28 miles of straight, even more astounding. The road was bounded on either side by farms and fields of corn. In one cornfield, a car had gone off the road into a ditch and the State Police were on scene taking measurements and investigating.

As I neared the end of Zenobia, a shih tzu came running out after me, barking furiously. The dog reminded me a lot of Rori's dog Shoshana and Lindsey's dog Stosch. I was hardly intimidated and even started to laugh and the absurdity of it all. But, dogs have been barking at me the entire trip. Some run along their property chasing me. Others just bark furiously as I ride by. Now, my normal experience with dogs is that they like me. They like to come up to me and visit. So, this reaction is perplexing. Is it the bike? Do they not realize that I'm a person? Do they think that I'm some kind of wheeled centaur? The reaction is pretty much universal, so I wonder.

Eventually, Zenobia led to other roads and my route took me to something called the Great Coastal Inland Trail, I bike path that should lead me right to downtown Bellevue where I was planning to stay for the night (it was the location of the only hotel within 35 miles). This trail may have been Coastal, and it was certainly inland, but it was not great. It was an unpaved, gravelly trail that combined with the headwinds, made for rough going. Eventually, even the gravel was gone and it was just two dirt tracks. I have decent tires on my bike that are able to handle the road and some rough surfaces as well. But when the surface slips, as loose ones tend to do, it is hard to get good momentum. Especially on a day when the winds are conspiring to sap your momentum. The quality of a surface is so important in a good riding experience. And so I looked at my map and realized that the main road—Route 20—ran parallel to this annoying path. I took the next side road that cut over and got on route 20, which I took all the way into town, headwind and all. I see that my route tomorrow is also along this trail and that Route 20 also runs parallel (more direct, actually) to the next destination. I think I'll probably skip the trail and take the paved roads.

I got a room at the hotel in town. I asked for one with a whirlpool bath to soak my sore muscles in. The hotel itself is not quite the standards of the ones I've been in on this trip, but it's a place to crash. Hopefully, with a good hot soak, a banana and some ibuprofen, a good night's rest, and most importantly, weaker winds, tomorrow can restore my belief in my ability to finish this trip.

The map of today's route, with elevation information.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Day 5: Stow, Ohio (90.98 miles, 386.41 total miles)

I got a late start today. Exhausted from the mountains on Friday and the slog through the rain yesterday, I slept in till about 8:45 a.m. By the time I got breakfasted and repacked my bags (I had taken everything out to launder and dry the contents), it was 10 o'clock.

I headed across the street to the gas station to check the air in my tires and proceeded to deflate my back tire because the pump wasn't actually on (though air initially came out of the hose, which is what confused me). With tires filled up and everything ready to go, I headed out down the road. The hotel was atop a large hill, but itself in a small depression on it, so my first ride was up a hill before getting to coast down the large hill I'd biked up the evening before.

I went through downtown Monaca and turned north to take the bridge that crosses the Ohio. The weather was nice and a little warmer than it'd been the previous day. I rode along route 51 north and the terrain eventually turned into a steady incline as I headed away from the river. It was nothing bad and the grade was nice and not too steep. The ascent leveled off in the town of Chippewa, where I took a short break.

Continuing on the terrain gradually leveled out, though it had occasional ups and downs, but neither was terribly dramatic. Around 12:20 p.m. I crossed into Ohio. I went through a town called East Palestine, which was curious because, as far as I could tell, there was no West Palestine, or just Palestine, other than the original one and that was far to the east of East Palestine. The town had a small hill in it, but it was becoming clear that the hills of northeastern Ohio were not going to cause me much trouble. I mean, once you've biked the Alleghenies, it's hard to get worked up by an elevation shift of a hundred feet or so.

After days of heat, mountains, and rain, today was a day of cool temperatures (it was cloudy most of the day), flat terrain, and dry. Perhaps, at long last, an easy day?

But no, it appears that God does not want me to have an easy day. The winds blowing out of the west were strong and I had to pedal extra hard even on flat terrain. About 30 miles into the trip, I stopped at a convenience mart and restocked my water supply and picked up some chocolate milk, a Cliff Bar and a snickers. I sat on the lawn in the shade of a very small tree for a few minutes, rehydrating and resting my legs. There were a few motorcyclists nearby at the air pump. One of them looked at my bike parked next to theirs and said, "This guy's got bigger saddlebags than I do!" I said, "I might be going farther than you are," and he agreed.

I headed back out but now the clouds were thicker and the wind stronger. It made for a chilly ride, which in and of itself was not a problem. I certainly don't mind temperatures in the 60s or 70s on a long ride. But when the sun went away, the wind picked up and the wind was really slowing my progress.

At one point, my My Maps app on the phone quit and wouldn't relaunch. When I finally got it up again, I'd missed a turn. I looked at the maps and plotted a way to get back to the road I was supposed to be on. I took a series of rail straight roads that ran perfectly north-south or east-west. I'd seen these kinds of midwestern roads on maps, but now here I was biking them. When I traveled north, the effect of the wind was diminished, but as soon as I turned west, the effect was powerful.

I kept making my way west and even took the Mill Creek Bikeway, a nicely paved bike path with stone mile markers and everything. But as this bike path was going more north-south, I was on it only for a couple of miles before having to turn west again. The sky was much cloudier now and the temps were chillier. But I pressed on.

Riding down a long stretch of road, it occurred to me that my later departure had changed my eating schedule and that I'd only taken a shorter break but not a lunch. Unfortunately, I was on a long road through farmland and some residences, but there was nothing else. I came across two people out for a walk and asked them where I could find a place to eat. The woman recommended a gas station convenience mart that she said was only three miles off my course. I figured I had about an 80 mile trip today and to tack on a 6 mile round trip off course wasn't worth it. It also occurred to me that three miles sounds a lot less problematic to someone with a car than someone on a bike. So, I continued on my route.

I eventually wound up taking a road that paralleled I-76 and traveled due west. The winds were still strong and I was getting pretty demoralized at this point. At one point, while shifting gears, my chain jammed up. I pulled off to the side of the road, removed the packs from the bike, and flipped it over. As I was struggling with the chain, I heard a voice over my shoulder, "Do you have all the tools you need to fix that?" There was another cyclist standing there. I had only seen one or two other cyclists that day and here, suddenly and serendipitously, was another one. His name was Stan and he helped me free the chain and make an adjustment to my derailleur so that it wouldn't happen again. So, add Stan to the list of helper bicycle angels of which Aaron was also a part.

Later, on a different road, I suddenly came across a "Road Closed" sign and had to take a detour. The detour was somewhat disorienting but it deposited me at an intersection at which there was a McDonald's. Now, I don't eat at McDonald's regularly. In fact, the only time I do is on these bike trips when I'm burning 5,000 calories a day. Hungry and in need of a rest for my legs, I stopped at the McDonald's and grabbed a bite to eat. I also used the opportunity to rest up and recharge my phone battery. Given how many turns there were in my route, I needed to have the phone working.

So, around 6 p.m. I set off for the remaining 15 miles or so. By this time the sun had finally come out and it was a little warmer. The wind was still there but was not quite as strong as it had been. My route eventually took me onto something called the Portage Hike and Bike Trail, an old rail bed converted into a biking and hiking trail. The initial stage of the trail was dirt, but that was fine. I had considered traveling the remaining distance on surface streets along the road, which may have been slightly more direct, but being able to travel on a trail without stoplights or cars and trucks was definitely worth it. At one point the trail ended and I took a wrong turn but was able to reconnect with the trail when it reemerged later. I was glad to have recharged my phone because I certainly needed it to find my way. When I picked up the second part of the trail, it was paved and made for fast and easy cycling. In fact, you can see a brief snippet of that ride, filmed by my stem-mounted phone (I apologize for the vertical filming, it's just how the phone is mounted):

Eventually, the bike path met up with a road that would take me directly to my hotel. It had a few inclines, but, again, nothing troublesome. It was more that by this point in the journey, my legs were utterly exhausted. Finally, I came to my hotel. Upon check-in, I asked the clerk if the hotel had a pool and if it had a whirlpool pool as well. The answer to both questions was yes. And so, after getting cleaned up in my room, I grabbed my copy of A Game of Thrones and headed downstairs. I sat for about half an hour in the warm, bubbling water, allowing the jets to work on my tired legs and then just lay on one of the chaise-longs reading and relaxing. After getting dinner, I stopped by the Sheetz across the street where I bought a banana and some more ibuprofen (the secret formula for refreshing exhausted muscles). Once I got back to the hotel, I mapped the route and discovered that I had gone 90.98 miles on this trip—10 miles more than I had thought, and three miles farther than my longest trip (Day 1 of the Albany trip).

That puts the total miles biked thus far at 386 miles, which is more than 20 miles more than the total of my longest trip (the Albany trip). So, I've reached the halfway point in terms of days and miles, and set a personal record (which I'll break tomorrow). I was nervous about setting out on a trip of this length, but it is proving to be doable. Now, let's just hope tomorrow is wind-free.

The map of today's trip, with elevation.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad