Sunday, August 7, 2011

Days 13-16: Pennsylvania Riding: Study of a Shoulderless, Church-ridden State Plagued by Monsoons

8/4 Day 13: Norriton Presbyterian Church, Trooper, PA to Old Mennonite Hall, Churchtown, PA   46 miles (575 miles total)

       We were up and out of the church grounds today as quickly as we could be, since we didn't want to have to stop to talk to anyone lest they be annoyed at our stay. The steady, light rain that kept us company for dinner the night before hadn't gone anywhere by the time we were breaking camp in the morning, so we decided to skip what promised to be a rather depressing and wet oatmeal breakfast for a trip to Burger King for 2 for $3 breakfast sandwiches and some blogging/device charging. We each took full advantage and scarfed our pair of sandwiches, then everyone caught up with the world for a bit while we waited out the rain for a good little chunk of the morning. Post-breakfast I realized that something was wrong with Hobo-Bike, what my bike has been affectionately dubbed by the group for its preponderance of hobosity: mismatched panniers, hideous birch bark patterned stuff sacks, and all the laundry and junk that hangs off it on a daily basis.
            The rear free wheel wasn't spinning as well as it should, so we stopped in at the shop down the street, got charged $5 for a squirt of degreaser, and rode on with the problem largely unaddressed.  Someday soon I'll have to get it looked at in another shop, but all it did today was cost us about 45 minutes. The bulk of the day's riding was, again, pretty miserable. The roads are still mostly shoulderless and the rain was a drag, and continued off and on for the better part of the day. It wasn't until we hit Lancaster County and Amish country that things actually started looking up for us. The rain abated for the most part and we found ourselves confronted on all sides by the extremely surreal juxtaposition of modern life with the way of life these folks practice. We saw cars whizzing past buggies, women in full old-fashioned dresses using weed-whackers, and bearded men in suspenders and homespun flannels driving huge, motorized pieces of farm equipment down the road. And all of this was framed against the beautiful patch-work quilt of rolling, varicolored farmland punctuated by silo after silo that stretches as far as the eye can see in this part of the country.
Something's A-Mish here.
                The Amish way of life both fascinates and confuses me, mostly because my understanding of it is so very limited. They must be able to use modern farm equipment, if only because without it they wouldn't be able to farm enough land to sell enough crops to make enough money to pay taxes. That is, at least, what I surmise. I also felt a lttle bit saddened by their submersion in modernity... that it must erode their way of life and challenge their ability to adhere to their beliefs when their neighbors on both sides are driving SUVs and playing X-Box ten feet away from the butter churn and the stable. Those few Amish folk that we talked to, regardless, were extremely gracious and deferential (even though they have the thickest, strangest accents I've heard in a while.) We had our most prolonged interaction with them after we'd already stopped for the day. For our campsite, we had pulled the bikes behind an old Mennonite church whose inscription dated it all the way back to the 1890s. The building itself was plain white and ringed by covered stalls for buggys or wagonteams and multiple posts for tying up horses.
                We had already washed ourselves with water out of the church's hand pump and were just about to set in on the laundry when a Chevy pick-up pulled into the parking lot and a woman in an ankle length floral dress hopped out, accompanied by her overalls clad husband. They were followed shortly after by another family with a few children; the two families had come because it was their turn to clean the church. They seemed just as startled to see us as we were to see them and when we asked whether it was ok if we camped out for the night, they said "Sure, but we do have church on Sunday." They assumed we meant to stay for the weekend, I guess, and were more than willing to oblige us. It was certainly a scene of mutual awkwardness, but we had a little light conversation as they left- mostly we talked about the rain, the bridge being out, and the corn crop- and we set about the remaining chores of our own.  We ate a bunch of the huge watermelon Ben had strapped to his bike for the last part of the day, a cucumber salad, and some whole wheat shell pasta with red peppers. All the produce cost us a tidy $5. There was a very picturesque scarlet sunset and not long after it went down, we bedded down.

8/5 Day 14: Old Mennonite Hall, Churchtown, PA to Lutheran Evangelical Church, 
Thomasville, PA 56 miles (631 miles total)


           Our morning today was a relatively unhurried one; we packed up, ate some bagels with peanut butter for breakfast and set out on the road to Lancaster. Along the way we passed even more farm stands and buggies and silos. By the time we stopped to regroup 15 miles or so away from camp, both parties of us (we usually travel in two pairs when not in a group of four) had stopped to get goodies from the yard-front store-fronts that lined the roadways. Erin and I had picked up a loaf of raisin bread, some oatmeal choco. chip cookies, and some homemade greeting cards, while Ben had made a stop just for a jar of pickles. We snacked in a fast food parking lot before crossing the street to stock up at the Weis Supermarket for the next few days of camping. To give you an idea of the things that we've been buying and eating, we bought a box of granola bars, two cans of ravioli, a round of jalapeno cornbread, boxed mac&cheese, a couple donuts, some candy bars, some oatmeal, some other assorted boxes of candy, and bread, cheese, and meat for lunch later. It's really amazing how much junk we've been eating, but the calories are what our bodies crave so we have been responding.  We've stopped for beers, pizza, fast food, you name it and we've eaten it. Our in-camp meals are generally healthy affairs of low-fat carbs with fruit or veggies, but we always follow it up with a Butterfinger or Snickers.
            In front of the Weis, Erin and I met a very sweet older woman named Judy, who said she'd keep us in her prayers and pass the blog along to her son. Thanks Judy, hopefully your trip to NY goes well. Judy was very excited to hear about our trip, saying she "felt like she could just cry" she was so impressed with us. We aren't all the way to Oregon yet... but we have made it two weeks and over six hundred miles on our bikes. After the grocery, the group stopped in at Verizon to get smart-phones for Erin and I. These things are totally amazing, and watching Ben and Mandi use theirs has made us extremely jealous. Their utility on a trip like this can't be overestimated- the only problem is keeping them charged. Ten miles later we lunched on turkey, pepper-jack, avocado, and chipotle hummus sandwiches on baguette and stopped at Rita's Italian Ice for dessert.
Doing donuts in the Lutheran Church parking lot.
          The roads got a touch better today, but only because a shoulder actually exists on some of the roads we traveled and not because the drivers have gotten any better, slower, or more patient. We rode through two larger towns, Lancaster and York. Of the two, Lancaster seemed preferable by a huge margin. York, well, let's just say I now understand why they built a New one. York's roads were crappy, the neighborhoods were not very nice, and by the time we had come out the other side I'd already decided I didn't ever need to go back. All in all, though, it was a relatively uneventful day during which we took a lot of long breaks, did some errands, and still managed to get in 56 miles in good time. The evening found us behind yet another church to give us three different denominations of campsite in three days. One of the main reasons we were unable to secure a site at any of the local campgrounds was that a big Tractor Pull and Farm Olympics had everything booked up, as you would expect. This church was well situated on a hill overlooking a large graveyard, and, unsurprisingly, a very large corn field. We had a lovely soft, cool breeze as we cooked our mac-n-cheese dinner and played with our new phones while a few visitors to the expansive graveyard stopped in to pay their respects and gave us a friendly wave. After dinner, we pitched our tents in a small alcove enclosed by three walls, nestled against the side of the church and out of view of most of the area. We tucked our bikes away, and except for Ben's cycling shoes that he forgot next to the rear entrance, we left no trace of ever having been there.

8/6 Day 15: Lutheran Evangelical Church, Thomasville, PA to Caledonia State Park Campground, Fayetteville, PA 36 miles (667 miles total)


        We kicked off the day in the usual fashion: wake, strike camp, eat oatmeal, and ride bikes. Once we were on the road, we didn't stop until we were at 20 miles, passing through the bustling metropolises of Biglersville and Arendtsville. We weren't in a rush, per se, but with only 35 miles to our planned "zero day" location in Caledonia State Park and yet another big thunderstorm in the forecast for the afternoon, none of us were too keen on riding in the deluge and ending the day wet and soggy as we have so many other nights. We made our second breakfast/lunch stop at the Apple Bin Grill & Bakery just down the street from the Apple Museum in the heart of what is apparently a bustling (busheling?) section of apple growing country for the state. Our breakfast was cheap and tasty, just the way we like it, but as we were finishing up, the sky opened up. So, we parked there til the bulk of the rain passed before getting ready to remount.
      The rain stayed off and on for the next seven miles and several hundred feet of vertical climbing- we topped out for the day at around 1200 feet. Erin and I had fallen behind on the climb to handle a delicate situation involving Erin's sore posterior and when we got to the top of the hill, we found Ben and Mandi leaning back in some chairs in front of Reid's Orchard and Winery looking extremely contented. Ben explained that they'd just gotten done doing some sampling of the winery's wares and that we ought to do the same. We rewarded our bicycling efforts with some of their fruit wines and as a group we left with bottles of blackberry, cherry, and strawberry wines for our night off. Again, as we were preparing to set out, the drizzle became a heavy rain and we once more waited out the bulk of it. The amount of rain we've been getting on this trip is staggering! Mandi told me that last summer her friends Greg and Bianca rode roughly the same route we've been taking and had a total of 6 days of rain. We have them beat pretty badly at this point; I think about half our days have been rainy. The funny thing is that everywhere we go, people tell us they haven't had rain in weeks.
Someone's excited to go water-sliding!
      Wine acquired, we continued on to the Park, set up shop in our campsite, and, wisely,  pre-emptively set up  rain flys and a tarp to cover our picnic table. Once camp was square, we went down to the pool for a much needed dip and a few runs down their water-slide before it started to rain - again. We retreated to camp and took turns taking long, hot showers in the camp-site's shower facilities. The rain was on and off until we finished showering, but that couldn't last.  We cooked ourselves some gourmet canned Chef Boyardee raviolis and heated up some strawberry wine while the hardest rain we've seen yet thundered down around us as we sat, amazed at our weather luck, under our tarped table. Despite knowing we would have our first day off the bikes in two weeks the next day, none of us could manage to stay up past 9:30PM and we snoozed to the pitter-pat of raindrops on tent-tops.

8/7 Day 16: Day Off in Caledonia State Park and Chambersburg Outskirts

     We woke up today to a light rain and had some pancakes to start our zero day after about 12 hours of sleep. The plan is to relax as much as we can, eat some burgers, drink some wine, and prepare for the beginning of Phase 2 of our biking. Most of our days of riding have been a little less than 50 miles, with a few notable exceptions. Our plan after a short day and a full day of rest today is to do at least 50 a day and do 60 if we can from here on out, so that we can take a zero day every week if we want and still stay ahead on our mileage. The miles have been coming more and more easily to us as our bodies react to the daily grind of constant biking, so here's hoping they respond well to our new schedule.
    As of right now, Erin, Mandi, and I are sitting in the laundromat a few miles from camp watching the latest rain storm pass by outside before we ride back. Watch the tumblr for pictures as the day goes on and thanks for reading.

6 comments:

  1. Would've posted more pictures, but the wireless connection I'm using is verrryyyy slow.

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  2. Making granola and cookies as I type. They will be in the mail tomorrow, along with some spray on sunscreen. I'll get expedited shipping so it will be there in time.

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  3. You guys have 179 miles to the post office (per latitude) so get moving! Be safe

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  4. i was designing you guys a nice book of all the blog entries and photos but i got overwhelmed by the number of photos and not really knowing what goes where i think im giving up! (its the thought that counts right?)

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  5. Dudes: I have been reading your posts nightly. Terrific to follow and slightly reminiscent of 1) my recent AT hiking trip with Jeanna, 2) On The Road, by Jack Kerouac and 3) Travels with Charlie by John Steinbeck. Needless to say, my interest is derived entirely from my jealousy that you are encountering so much and truly living, which is in my mind a direct result of self-inflicted or legitimate struggle for survival. You really find the innermost you, and in doing so, you gain widely undervalued perspective. Continued good travels my Rumspringas of the material world!

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  6. I finally just realized I can comment on here without having to set up a blogspot account -- no moar lurking for meh!

    It's so wild that you're only on day 16 and yet you have seen so much/covered so much ground. I really am enjoying living this grand adventure vicariously through you guys. Wish you all more excellent travels.

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