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

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Day 4: Monaca, PA (64.8 miles, 295.43 total miles)

I woke up this morning and didn't feel awful. 800mg of ibuprofen at bedtime will do that, I guess. I got on the road around 8:50 a.m. and headed toward Irwin, PA. It was cool but more humid than it had been the last couple of days, and a little overcast. I took a road called Arona Road which tended to follow I-76 and that highway's general downward slope, except when it dropped suddenly into the town of Arona itself and required a steep uphill out of town.

I made it the 9 miles to Irwin in about 45 minutes where I met Faith, the mother of my friend, alum—and now colleague—the Rev. Lindsey Kerr. We shared breakfast and caught up for a bit. There was a Target next door so I decided to go over and see if I could find some bike gloves there. As we were leaving, it began to rain, and rained pretty good. Now, people have asked me, "What do you do when it rains?" I can tell you: I get wet.

By the time I got out of the Target, it was raining steadily. Faith offered to have her husband Bob come pick me up if I wanted to just spend the day in Irwin, but knowing how many miles lay before me, I opted to head out. I began by continuing down the Lincoln Highway which led to a mile long steady incline. The rain was coming down really good now and I was soaked. At the top of the hill I stood under the awning of a local business and waited until the rain let up a bit. When it reduced to a drizzle I headed out. As I turned off Lincoln Highway, I realized that I had turned one turn too early and was on the road that would take me right past the Kerrs'. As I went along, I began to think I should just keep going, but as soon as I negotiated a steep S-curve hill, the skies started to open up again. At one point I could hear the rain making its way through the trees toward me and stopping at the Kerrs' seemed like a good idea.

I waited out the storm there for over an hour, using the opportunity to dry my road clothing and my sneakers. The panniers I bought have a "secret" compartment on the bottom where a bright neon yellow rain cover is stored. I hadn't deployed them quickly enough and some things inside the bags were a little wet, but they do a really nice job in general. Once the storm let up, I said goodbye and thanks to Bob and Faith and headed on my way. The weather was drizzling a little bit but ultimately cleared. Better still, the road was all down hill.

It took me all the way down to the river and then my path became a bike trail that crossed the Monongahela River on an old rail bridge. The view was fantastic and the route continued along the south side of the river, past the famous Kennywood amusement park. As it was a river route, it was also wondrously flat. There were the occasional rises—to a ramp to cross over the railway, for example—but they were manageable, and after yesterday, nothing at all. This ride continued for the next 10-15 miles and was incredibly enjoyable. I was making good time and within an hour or so, I was approaching downtown. The route took me past an REI and so I used the opportunity to stop and buy a pair of bike gloves--I bought the exact same pair that are sitting on the back of my couch at this very moment.

Within another 15 minutes I was on the river walk across from downtown Pittsburgh. There was a restaurant with outdoor seating right on the waterfront and so I stopped there at a table where I could keep an eye on my bike and got some lunch, all the while afforded a scenic view of the city. I left about about 45 minutes; I was already far behind schedule because of the rain and, to be honest, the easy pedaling today did not require long stretches of recuperation. My legs still felt fresh and I was raring to get back on the road. I stopped to take one last picture of the city before putting it behind me.

The trail continued along the river where I was afforded a nice view of the city and to my left the famous incline built in years past to get people to the city from the neighborhoods atop this steep hill. I will say, I was very glad to have been biking along the ridge rather than over it. The Ohio River is not unlike the Hudson in that it has steep cliffs along some of its reaches. After yesterday, I was glad to be running parallel rather than perpendicular to those cliffs.

That's not to say the day was totally free of hills. While the overwhelming majority of today's ride was on nice, flat paths and roadways, there were a couple of notable exceptions. At one point the highway I was taking north, Highway 51, veered off to the left and went up one of the ridges in fairly steep fashion. Fortunately, MapMyRide had selected an alternate route across a bridge and along an island (either Grand Island or Neville Island, I'm not sure) that was nice and flat. The island was filled with industrial sites, some still in use, others long abandoned. It was empty and not clear whether anyone lived on this island. Toward the north end, there were some residential areas right where the road turned back toward the mainland.

I continued on through the town of Coraopolis, again, mercifully flat. But as I rode on the skies began to look more foreboding. It began to rain right as the road suddenly veered inland and up a massive hill. I biked up the hill in really low gear, my legs still tired from yesterday, and I was starting to get wet. At the top of the hill, I briefly considered waiting under the awning of a church as I had done that morning at a bank, but decided that the rain was not that heavy after all. I rode back down the other side of the hill and continued on 51, once more on level ground.

But then the rain got heavier. At first, it was manageable. But as I saw lightning strikes off in the distance and the rains got heavier, I began to look for shelter. I stopped briefly under a bridge, but there wasn't much room at the side of the road and cars were flying down the roadway. I didn't feel comfortable standing there, so I got back on the bike and rode forward. On a wide open stretch of highway, the rain got even heavier. Up ahead, I could see a light; some kind of building was up there and so I pressed forward. The rain was starting to sting it was coming down so hard; it made me think it was hail.

Right as I pulled up to this building, which had a towing service sign on the side but appeared to have once been an apartment building, the skies opened up. I ducked onto the sidewalk and passed under a waterfall coming off the eaves of this building. I parked my bike under the awning and stood in a space on the porch and watched the deluge in front of me. Sheets of water were coming down and I had gotten out of it just in time. Oh, I was soaked already, but navigating the roads in those torrents—there were rivers flowing over the pavement—would have been impossible. The best way I can think to describe this storm is that it was pretty much right out of the 4th movement of Beethoven's Pastorale Symphony. In fact, I've spared you the trouble of going to your record collection and you can listen to it right here (especially the strings at 1:45).

Eventually, the storm cleared up and I made my way, but not before some [expletive deleted] drove by at 50 mph and splashed me with a sheet of water as I was getting out from the awning. I rode along with only about five miles left to go. Soon, I came to Monaca, where I knew there would be hotels. However, in a classic case of misreading the scale of a map, I thought they were right around the bend of the road. They were: up a mile and a half long 5% grade. At this point, I was too tired to care; and too grateful for the mostly downhill and scenically flat day. And so I pedaled up this massive hill in low gear, sopping wet, and deciding that if the option were available in this hotel, I would get the room with the jacuzzi for my sore legs.  I got a room and grabbed dinner from a neighboring bar and grill, where I got a burger Pisttsburgh style: with coleslaw and fries on the burger itself..

But to be honest, even with the rain and the long uphills at the very end, it still beats yesterday.

The map of today's trip, with elevation chart.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Day 3, New Stanton, PA (78.81 miles, 230.63 total miles)

What was I thinking?

Either (1) bike 75+ miles, or (2) bike up a bunch of mountains. Only an idiot would attempt to do both, at least without the benefits of performance enhancing drugs, the way the pros do.

I woke up around 6:30 this morning, earlier than I'd intended, but probably due to nerves about the coming day. I got up and went over the route I'd be taking, writing out all the turns I'd need to take on a piece of paper, in case my iPhone with the GPS map should quit on me. Then I headed down to breakfast and had the biggest meal I could manage.

Upon returning to the room, I noticed that the back tire was a little soft. Now, tires lose air as a matter of course, and this bike had been carrying not just my weight but the weight of the packs for the last couple of days. And so, upon leaving the hotel, I made my way to a Gulf station right around the corner and filled the tire up and it felt fine.

I headed out on Alt 40 north along the river. The morning was a cool one the way yesterday had been and that made for easy going. I turned onto MD 34 and continued along. The road began to go up in elevation, which I had expected. I knew the first few miles would be a gently upslope and it was easy. I turned right onto Barrelville Road and headed north. Before I knew it, I was in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And almost as soon, the elevation started to rise. That's when it occurred to me that "Allegheny" is probably an old Indian word meaning "use a low gear."

At first, the grades were not too bad, though they were steeper than they had been. Off to my left I could see a line of windmills on the ridge opposite. It was impressive looking, but I knew that that ridge and I were soon to meet. One of the other changes I made to my trip planning this year was not only to map out the route online, but to find a way to have an electronic version of the map with me at all times. In previous trips, I had planned the route out on and then would create a similar map on AAA that I could print out as a TripTik. However, due to the length of this trip, there was no way I could print out such a long trip and easily carry it with me. So, I exported the MapMyRide map and imported it into Google Maps Engine. This allowed me to add to the route things like the location of hotels and any other information. Then, using the My Maps app on the iPhone I was able to load the entire thing onto the phone. The advantage of this over Google Maps or just using the MapMyRide app is that the map is not online, it's on the phone. And so, even in the middle of nowhere, where there is no cell service, I still have the route loaded into my phone with the GPS blue dot to tell me where I am.

All this is to say that I had also edited the map to include the four places on today's trip that would be the peaks I would need to climb. And so, as I made my way up and increasingly steep hill (at times a 9% grade), I could keep an eye on the GPS blue dot and see how much farther I had to go. As you can see in the picture to the left, the roads were becoming increasingly steep. It may be hard to tell in a 2D picture, but I am holding the camera perfectly upright to try to show the elevations I was dealing with. As I mentioned, the morning was cool, but I was sweating buckets. At times water was just dripping from my helmet. When I was looking for ideas for a Twitter hashtag for this trip, Jill suggested #mrkisswty, which really seemed appropriate.

Once, when we were kids, my best friends from home, George, Gene, and I, went on a long ride out to see our 8th Grade teacher Mr. Peck. On our way back into Troy, we were confronted with Oil Mill Hill Road, a steep incline into town. That day, we would bike a few hundred feet, then hop off and rest, or walk for a bit. That's what today reminded me of. I felt like I was stopping every quarter mile on this incline, standing in the shade by the side of the road, panting and trying to catch my breath before moving on. Finally, I got to the crest of the hill.

There was a downhill ahead but I stopped before going down and sat underneath a tree at the side of the road for a few minutes. I would have sat for longer but the dogs belonging to the house nearby kept barking at me and not wanting to cause trouble or anything, I headed off. There was a nice downhill, but it was followed by another steep uphill and I clearly hadn't rested enough. When I got to the top of the next rise, there was a Lutheran church with a large oak tree in the front yard. This made the perfect spot to take a longer rest. Before doing so, I had a chance to view the way I'd come and the ridge of windmills over which I had passed. In another couple of miles I was treated to another spectacular view:

I continued along the Cumberland Highway and even went up another, much more gentle rise before enjoying a long downhill. My plan was to get lunch at the next town ahead: Berlin, PA. The road I was on would take me into Berlin, but for whatever reason, MapMyRide had me take a side road into town. When I first turned onto it, the reason was obvious: it was a country lane, with no traffic and a gentler slope. It even began to go downhill, but then suddenly went through a quarry area and the road became more covered with gravel and oil to keep the dust down and there were large trucks going in and out. And then, there was a really steep hill going into the town. I'm not sure why this was an improvement. Or why the founders of Berlin felt the need to build their town on a hill like Edoras in The Lord of the Rings. The ride up this last hill was really difficult but I got into town.

I was hoping to find a Wawa as the combination of food and groceries would have been perfect. There was a convenience mart at the Valero station and so I stopped there. That's when I noticed that my back tire was soft again. Really soft. In fact, while I was moving the bike over toward the convenience mart, the tire completely deflated. That's when I began to wonder whether I'd been biking up these mountains with an underinflated tire the entire time. I went into the store, bought large bottles of water, a Gatorade, chocolate milk, and lunch at their sandwich/sub counter. I went back outside and sat on a bench and ate. Then I took the back wheel off to effect repairs. I found the hole relatively easily; after pumping a little air into the tire, it was audibly leaking. And I found the culprit, a tiny piece of metal wire, about the size of a staple, poking through the tire wall. I removed the metal, patched the tire, put it back on the wheel, and filled it with the air hose at the station. The whole lunch/tire repair episode took about an hour and twenty minutes, but I didn't care. I needed the rest from the inclines. When I got back on the bike, the ride was noticeably improved. The firmer tire made for much better riding and held solid for the rest of the day.

From Berlin I headed west along Berlin Plank Road. There was a huge uphill on the road. It wasn't nearly as steep as previous uphills, but was a long incline. At one point, I checked my phone map to see my progress and discovered I was a couple miles off coursye. I had missed the turn I was looking for. I was frustrated. It was a long and hard enough day as it was without having to add in a five mile unplanned detour, with a large uphill at that. I was able to find a connecting road and though it had its share of inclines, I was able to get to East Mud Pike, the road I was supposed to be on. The intersection was right where I had marked another peak on my map and sure enough, as soon as I turned, I had a long downhill ride on a two lane country road that was practically empty.

Eventually the downhill ended and I hit a stretch of rolling hills in the countryside. But keeping an eye on my map, I knew that another peak was coming up, and there was going to be a long ascent to it as well. Knowing this was coming, as I turned onto another country lane, I pulled off to the side of the road and sat under a maple at the edge of a cornfield. I rested there for about half an hour, using the time to charge my phone with a portable charger, drinking water and Gatorade, and having a Cliff Bar and a Hammer Gel. Eventually I set off down the lane and passed a farm that reminded me a lot of my relatives' dairy farm in Upstate New York. Eventually I came to the main road and turned left. I knew it was only a matter of time before I would need to ascend to the final high peak, and so I knew the downhill I was enjoying was temporary.

The ascent began right as expected, but it wasn't too bad. It wasn't much steeper than my daily Massachusetts Avenue commute, just longer. But then suddenly, the grade increased dramatically and I began to tire. I stopped a couple of times on the ascent, just standing by the side of the road catching my breath. I finally got to the top: this was the highest peak of the day, 2646 feet. It was also the highest point in the entire trip. It would literally all be downhill from here. I considered resting there at the crest of the hill but felt I needed to keep moving. And so I rode downhill for the next four miles, just coasting. It was wonderful. I knew there was another smaller incline ahead, but compared to the last one, how bad could it be?

Bad. The hills started to come with increasing frequency and they were steep. The nice downhills on the other side weren't making the uphills any easier. As I was ascending one incline, I just ran out of energy. To might right was a large grassy area in the shade of the trees opposite. And so I pulled my bike into the grassy area and sat down. I even lay down and considered napping, but with only a bike helmet for a pillow, that didn't work well. I was starting to realize the folly of trying to do a 75 mile ride and an elevation ride. And even though I knew it would throw off my plan for the rest of the ride, I realized that I couldn't wait to get to New Stanton to get a hotel. So, using my phone, I looked for the closest hotel. It was a couple of miles behind me. And there was nothing else until New Stanton. I wasn't about to go back. All that would mean was that I would have to deal with this ascent the next day. New Stanton was 15 miles away; I'd just have to press on. But not right away. I sat there for close to an hour, just hydrating, snacking, and resting.

Eventually, I set up the hill again and while I didn't crest right away, before too long the ascent became more manageable. The road went through the town of Acme (which should have been a giveaway about the incline since "acme" means "highest") and eventually began to head downhill. And not just any downhill, a two-mile steep downhill. So steep that it had runaway truck ramps. At the bottom, I turned onto Highway 982. This part of the trip was going to be complicated and in order to save my phone's battery life in case of emergency, I'd turned it off, so I would have to rely on the paper directions I'd written out. As I made my way along the road, I was passed by a cyclist. He was only the second cyclist I'd seen since I left the C&O trail in Harpers Ferry. As he biked by, I called out and asked him how far it was to New Stanton. (My phone was really low on battery life and the frequent checking of the GPS map, especially with all the turns on this route, was draining it fast.  Add to that the exhaustion and low morale and I was in need of help.) He said the way I was going was probably not the best and offered to take me to the way that would get me there. He introduced himself as Aaron.

And so I followed him, but warned him that I wouldn't be able to keep up very well as I'd been riding all day. He seemed impressed with how far I'd come and led me along a number of back roads. It turned out when I checked it online later later that many  of them were the roads my route had, but riding with Aaron was a huge benefit. First, it meant I didn't have to keep checking that piece of paper, especially since there were a lot of turns I would have to make. And second, having someone to talk to and who could pace me was a huge morale boost. The hills we had to go up were much more manageable because of his company. He'd already been riding for 17 miles, but was on a road bike and was naturally faster. But he was not out for a race, but a moderate ride so it worked just fine. Finally, he took me to Old Stanton Road having ridden with me for several miles. Before turning and heading out, and after I thanked him profusely, he pointed down the road and said that with the exception of one last rise, the remaining five miles to New Stanton was all downhill. “I shit you not,” he said.

And he wasn't. The ride was downhill and easy and before too long I was in New Stanton and got a room. I thought about indulging myself and asked for a room with a jacuzzi in it but they were all booked. That's okay, the long, cool shower where I washed off 75 miles of road before heading off to a big dinner, was plenty.

Perhaps I did overreach on this leg. Aaron had said how he'd made the trip from Pittsburgh to D.C. and taken the canal path the whole way. But it was precisely the bumpy, at times muddy, and meandering path that I was trying to avoid. On a 760 mile trip, adding another 40 miles onto the distance because the trip wound back and forth seemed like a bad idea. But there were certainly times today when I thought that it would have been a good trade-off. But now that I sit here having crossed the Alleghenies in a day and made it another 78 miles on my trip, I realize that there are all kinds of possibilities out there. I'm glad today is over, but it is nice to know that I could actually do this. Oh don't get me wrong: I'm really looking forward to the routes lying along the Ohio tomorrow and the days in the flat parts of Ohio and Indiana, but I'll appreciate those all the more having crossed the Alleghenies to get there.

The map of today's trip, with elevation chart:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Day 2: Cumberland, MD (83.12 miles, 151.82 total miles)

Today's ride began with a surprise: when I left my hotel this morning it was chilly. Like, actually, chilly. I wasn't about to complain; I could have been biking in last week's 90-100 degree weather.

I headed through Charles Town and made my way along Summit Point Road. The road ran along rolling hills whose ups weren't that bad and made up for by the downs. After about 11 miles I had reached the Virginia border. The road changed to a smaller country lane without any lines (and shoulders). The terrain was still rolling hills but I began to notice that the wind was picking up again. In fact, the headwinds were pretty strong requiring me to pedal when going downhill. Whenever I experience those kinds of winds, I'm tempted to think that it's just the air rushing by as I move. But I could see flags and leaves blowing in the wind and it confirmed that it was a strong wind.

In the realm of tradeoffs, I'll take wind over excess heat but the wind can certainly be demoralizing. I was beginning to wonder whether I should have taken the much longer route along the Potomac and the C&O trail. It would have been muddy and bumpy, but it would have been flat.

Eventually my route took me to US 522, the Frederick Turnpike, which headed north towards Berkeley Springs. There were several sustained uphills but the grades were not terrible and I found that I could make pretty decent time with moderate effort. Eventually I turned off onto Bloomery Turnpike (although the idea of continuing on to Berkeley Springs and soaking in the springs was appealing).

The C&P Towpath has mileposts on the trail and so it's easy to keep track of how far you've gone. Today, I wound up doing a lot of guess work. I had been keeping my eyes peeled for a place to stop and get something to eat, but I was on some pretty back roads and there weren't any as it was pretty remote, and even lost cell service for a while. The other problem with some of these back roads is that while a major road like the Frederick Turnpike is that while it has hills, their generally large and low grade. Back roads have smaller hills but they come up suddenly. Strangely, these are often much harder to go up because you often have no lead in. There's just suddenly a hill and while I had been able to go up larger hills in higher gear, these little sudden ones often required me to go up them in increasingly ridiculously low gear.

So after I figured I'd gone about 33 miles (it turned out to have been farther than that) I decided to take a break. I hadn't found anywhere to eat but as I rounded a corner and saw another steep incline, I decided to stop at the side of the road before attempting it. I pulled over and leaned up against the guardrail, eating a Cliff Bar and taking some Hammer Gel and stayed there for about twenty minutes.

I headed up the incline. It was pretty steep but once I crested the hill there was a nice long downhill. At the bottom was Omps Grocery in Bloomery that advertised sandwiches and subs on its sign. That was good enough for me. I went in and bought a large bottle of water to refill mine, a chocolate milk (good for regenerating muscle), a turkey sub, chips, and a snickers bar. Then I sat on the lawn under a big tree and had my lunch, resting up from the ride thus far. The last sign I'd seen said Cumberland was 45 miles away and while my ability to judge distance is not very good on these trips, I figured that meant I had about 43 miles from Bloomery.

Feeling refreshed from the nearly 45 minute long break, I headed back out onto the road and was pleased to discover a long downhill. I knew that the trip would culminate in a downhill toward Cumberland, what I didn't know (or remember) was when that downhill would begin. For some reason (probably wishful thinking), I allowed myself to believe that this downhill was part of the end. That was a mistake. That wonderful downhill was followed by five mile incline of about 700 feet. Add to that the still blowing headwind, the incline was demoralizing. It was followed by a downhill that went for a couple of miles. The countryside was beautiful, but the mountains definitely looked better over my shoulder than in front of me.

But that downhill then was followed itself by an even steeper three mile incline. I kept waiting to see the crest of the hill, but every time I rounded a corner (it was a fairly windy road), there was another incline. I finally just stopped along the side of the road at a clearing where a house was. It was fairly wooded, so I stood there at the roadside in the shade and just tried to catch my breath. While I stood there a number of cars went by, including a delivery truck that was racing up the mountain, undeterred by the winding road. After 15 minutes, I got back on the bike and pedaled up the hill. It turned out I was not far from the summit of the ridge and was treated to a couple of miles of downhill at a 6% grade. I was flying down that mountain and it felt great. At the bottom of the mountain was a general store and so I stopped to get some more water and Gatorade.

At this store was the delivery truck driver. He told me he'd seen me along the road and he thought I'd made good time down that hill. He was surprised to discover both where I was going and where I'd come from. "You're making good time!" he said. I asked him about the road ahead and he said that aside from a modest size ridge a couple miles ahead, it was fairly flat headed into Cumberland ("a couple of small hills"). After I left the general store, rehydrated and restocked with water, I headed out. True enough, there was the incline down the road. It was not as steep as the previous ridge, but my legs didn't care; they were tired. The downhill on the other side was nice but unfortunately, it was not the end of the hills. There was another three mile incline ahead. I was a little irritated since the driver had said it would be smooth sailing from there, but then I remembered, you don't remember hills in cars. Not these kind anyway. It eventually turned back into a downhill, but not after I'd had to stop by the roadside yet again and just collect myself for a few minutes. At this point, even moderate hills felt like mountains and the last five miles were relatively flat, though at this point my tired legs were engaged in full protest.

Eventually, I crossed the Potomac back into Maryland. I thought my journey was over but then realized that Cumberland isn't directly across the river. But mustering a final burst of adrenaline, I made it to downtown and as the hotel hove into view, I knew I'd made it.

All in all today's leg was 83.12 miles, which is the second longest trip I've ever made in one day (Day 1 of the Albany trip was 87 miles), and hopefully the longest day of this trip. Tomorrow I face some daunting uphills as I cross the Alleghenies. Hopefully, the fact that the uphills will be early in the day and the practice I had today with these hills will be a help. All I can say at this point is that the broad flat plains of the Midwest are looking really, really inviting right now.

The map of today's trip, with elevation chart:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Day 1: Charles Town, WV (68.7 miles)

Today began my first long distance ride in a couple years and I will admit I was anxious about it. The distance was twice as long as anything I'd attempted before and it'd been a while since I'd done a ride like this. The last ride I did in 2011 was a six-day, 350 mile tour around the Virginias (that included a two-night stay in Berkeley Springs, WV in the middle of it). This trip would require ten days of biking about 75 miles a day. And while intellectually I knew it was doable, I will admit that it was daunting to consider.

And there was the usual pre-trip anxiety about making sure I got everything done that I'd need to get done before I left. And that nagging feeling that I'd forget something. Add to that the knowledge that I was using this trip to raise money for three charities, including my own campus ministry at AU made me feel like there was a lot riding on this and I didn't want to let anyone down.

But I had a new bike from the good folks at The Bike Shop and had planned everything out, so everything should be ready to go. I knew that I'd feel better about the trip as soon as I got on the road.

And so I left this morning around 9:25 am. It was a little later than I'd hoped but I possess a gene, it appears, that prevents me from leaving on time for things like this. And so I headed out toward Georgetown and onto the Capital Crescent Trail. The CapCrescent is a good trail but I was only on it because it runs parallel to the C&O Canal Towpath Trail, which as a dirt trail is far bumpier. So I rode the CapCrescent as long as I could until I switched over to the C&O and went from there.

Mercifully, the weather was greatly improved from the recent heat wave. The skies were mostly overcast and although there was a headwind, I didn't care. Anything was better than that unrelenting sun of the past weekend. The ride was going well when it suddenly occurred to me what it was I had forgotten: my new bike gloves, probably still sitting on the back of my couch. By the time I realized it, it was too late to go back. I was going to be traveling far enough as it was.

I had made some changes to my equipment that were already proving to be beneficial. I replaced my panniers and my trunk pack with larger panniers that clipped on easily and a smaller trunk pack that could slide right into place. Unlike the older set that required me to tie everything down with velcro straps that were complicated because the panniers and the rack pack needed to be attached to the same place, these are easily put on and taken off. In about 7 seconds, actually.

In addition, the panniers have a larger storage capacity which allowed me to ditch using the backpack that I'd used on the previous two trips. Not having that weight on your back as you travel makes all the difference. It's a much cooler, more comfortable ride. The other equipment change is ditching the old iPod in favor of an iPod shuffle, that does not require a bulky strap around the arm, but just clips right on your sleeve. Perfect.

I was making decent time. I had passed the District line, gone under the Beltway, and was soon at Great Falls, Maryland. Having done this route a number of times before, this was the first major landmark that I was looking for. I paused briefly to take a picture and to take in the scene, but the reality was that I was making good time and there was no oppressive sun; I didn't want to waste my momentum. So I pressed on.

The path turns from packed gravel to what is much more a dirt road, at times, just two tire tracks along the ground. As I got to about 30 miles into the trip, I began to encounter a lot of hikers. I believe they were all members of the same extended group. In any event, they were almost all of them walking two abreast, one in each tire track/rut of the trail. And almost to a person, none of them was looking forward. They were either talking to each other or looking down. I am used to having to call out or ring a bell when passing someone who is walking away from you. It was strange to have to do that for people who were walking right at you. But I kept having to do it.

Eventually, I reached White's Ferry which lies around the 36 mile marker of the trail. I stopped there and grabbed lunch, remembering that on a long trip like this, the pacing of the ride is important. The first such trip I took like this, to Albany in 2010, I didn't rest long enough on my first break and I was paying for it the rest of the day. So, I had my lunch, sat for a bit and rested up for just under an hour.

Now, this leg of the journey promised to be one of the easier legs. The C&O Towpath trail is nice and flat though it does have a gentle increase in elevation (see below). But it occurred to me on the ride that there are some definite tradeoffs on this route. It's mostly shaded which makes a huge difference in terms of temperature. However, that means that there were a fair number of puddles and muddy patches that had not dried up. Biking a dirt path is already more difficult than pavement, the loose surface makes for less efficient pedaling, and mud is worse. In addition, it gets all over everything. Fortunately, my bike has fenders so the mud was confined to the lower portions of the bike. The path is nice and level which makes for easier pedaling, but it also makes for constant pedaling. Hills at least allow you to coast every once in a while.

In another 25 miles, I reached Harpers Ferry. The only way across the river is a rail bridge with a walkway. Unfortunately, you have to carry the bike up a couple of flights of stairs to get to the walkway. My new bike is lighter than my old one. But encumbered with 30 pounds of packs, that was a challenge.

When I got to the other side of the river, I sat on a shaded bench with a view of the confluence of the Shenandoah and the Potomac. There I sat for about half an hour and enjoyed a rest and the handful of dates I'd brought with me. I wish I could have brought more, since they're perfect for energy and snacking. However, my bike does not have adequate refrigeration to bring multiple days' worth of dates with me. After hydrating and getting some nutrients, I headed out.

Now, up until this point, the trip had been entirely flat. I knew that was about to change. And quickly. So even though the 62 miles thus far had been relatively easy and was a good confidence booster and anxiety salve, I wondered whether those feelings had been the result of favorable circumstances in weather and elevation. As I came out of Harpers Ferry, I was immediately faced with sustained incline. And you know what? It wasn't terrible. It was hard, and I definitely had to downshift to lower gears than I'd used all day, but in spite of having biked 60+ miles already and the extra weight on the bike, I got to the top of the hill and then.... coasted. That was nice. There were a few more hills but the nice thing about rolling hills is that you can get enough momentum coming down them that you can use on the way up the next one. And I found that I was going up the subsequent hills in a higher gear than I had the first one. That, in the last miles of a long day, was a reassuring and comforting sign.

In a few miles and after seven hours of being on the road, I got to Charles Town, WV where I found a place to stay for the night. I spent a fair amount of time getting the dust, dirt, and mud off my bike. I eventually got it to look like the new bike that it is. Then it was time to get the dust, dirt, and mud off of me.

My plan was to do 75 miles a day, but had to stop just shy of 69 miles, because, well, here's where the hotels are. Funny how that works. So, I'll have a few extra miles to bike tomorrow but am feeling good about it. My legs feel pretty good and I got here with enough time to have a restful and relaxing evening. And the temperatures for tomorrow look like they'll be in the 70's with partly sunny skies. So, one day down and nine to go. But aside from the mountains on day three, those days no longer seem as daunting.

The map of today's trip, with elevation chart:

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