Friday, August 12, 2011

Days 17-19: When It Rains, It Pours... Otherwise It's 100 Degrees


8/8 Day 17: Caledonia State Park, Fayetteville, PA to Fairview Lutheran Church, Hustontown, PA 50 miles (717 miles total)

            Our day off was a little soggier perhaps than we would have liked, with one big thunderstorm rolling through in the early afternoon, but we made the most of it; we ate some delicious bacon cheeseburgers Ben cooked over the campfire, had some blackberry wine, played some rummy, did some bike maintenance, and generally just hung out. The next day it was back to business. We broke down our longest-standing campsite yet with a little reluctance, filled our water bottles up, and got on our way once more. We were all pretty gung-ho to get 60 miles in and, feeling mostly pain free after our day off, proceeded to crush the first 10 miles of the day. We decided to take a pit stop at McDonald's to pirate their wireless and electricity so that we could upload some of the massive amounts of photos we have. This wound up taking us about 2 hours. We ended up regretting this morning break by the afternoon, when the sun was beating down on us and the temps were around 100. Lesson here: take long breaks in the heat of the day, not in the nicest part.
        After we left the fast food place, we restarted the ride in earnest. Everything was going fine, until Erin got her first flat of the trip. We pulled over and I patched her tube and had the bike rolling again in 30 minutes. About an hour later, I got my second flat of the trip (the first one happened the day before, on our day off!) and Erin patched my tube for me, after getting a primer from her own flat. We figured all our issues behind us, but it was not to be. Another hour later, my chain snapped going up a small hill. Luckily, I had a spare chain and didn't have to splice the broken one back together, but it was certainly frustrating, not to mention incredibly uncomfortable to do all this roadside maintenance in the baking sun. When we finally caught up to Ben and Mandi, they were finishing up their lunch of tortellini at Cowan's Gap State Park where awaited us a gorgeous, sandy beach by a lake. They had already taken a dip, and Erin and I didn't waste any time. I quickly changed my shorts for boxers and raced headlong into the cool water. If we had a lake waiting for us every 30 miles, I could probably do 90 miles a day.
View of our Lutheran Church campground- tucked behind
their function building.
       Reinvigorated, we ate our own ramen and cookies midday meal, and then all set out again. After the mechanical delays, and our long morning break, the day had already worn on to 4PM. We decided we would ride til 7 and call it a day. The ride thus far had been a lot of up and down, but mostly up. By the time we reached Cowan's Gap, we had already broken our former altitude record of 1350 ft. and reached 1396 ft. What followed the park was more of the same: downhills that were just short enough that we had to grind out the last of the steep uphills in our easiest gear, only to be greeted by another climb-wasting downhill and subsequent uphill ad nauseam. With the sun dipping in the sky, and a record shattering 2,000 ft mountain looming only a few miles away, we decided to pull into a church that happened to be exactly at the 50 mile mark. A man who lived nearby was kind enough to fill up my water bladders so we could have water in camp and after a quick sponge and baby wipe shower we started dinner. The menu was rice, beans, and a fresh farm stand zucchini that we consumed with gusto. We slept soundly, even if we were still a little sticky from sweat, with the gentle, muted roar of trucks storming down Highway 76 as our lullaby.

8/9 Day 18: Fairview Lutheran Church, Hustontown, PA to New Baltimore Volunteer Fire Department, New Baltimore, PA 54 miles (771 miles)


          Everything seemed pretty routine today when we woke up, until we checked the weather. One look at the radar told us we had about 10 minutes to spare before a huge stormfront enveloped our campsite, and that it would be sticking around for a couple hours. We raced to get everything broken down, packed, and stowed before jumping on our bikes clad in our raingear and with sleep still in our eyes. We were heading toward a highway truckstop off of Interstate 76 that we could ride to by way of a rear access road. We only had a mile to go to get there and we sprinted most of the way. We pulled up, locked our bikes together, and plopped down in the high-ceilinged service plaza food court where we waited out the torrential downpour for about two hours. Did I mention that we're getting alot of rain?
        Everyone in the truck stop was pretty perplexed by our presence, and many stopped by the table where we were sitting and idly checking maps or snacking to ask us what we were doing and how we got there. When we would answer that we were riding to Oregon, many would double take and say, "You're not riding on the highway, are you?!" After dispelling their misconceptions, most would stay and chat with us for a minute or two about biking, motorcycles, the local history, and whatever else popped up. People love chatting with us; I can't tell if it's because we're just so genial or if it's because they realize we're on bikes and they know we can't get away very quickly.
          The morning wore on, and by 9AM we were tired of waiting. We made the decision that despite a threatening looking secondary band of rain that we would have to ride through, it was time to set out. What ensued was some of the most miserable riding we've done yet. The rain was mostly light at first, but as we climbed it would intensify in bursts. By the time we hit 2, 227 feet- our new altitude record by a fair sight- we were soaked, but were treated to some very pretty views of the surrounding mountains and valleys through the fog. Wet and hungry, since we'd only had a light breakfast, we descended into the valley to find that we were on another planet. After the serene, mostly quiet (except for the traffic whizzing by) climb through the mountains with nothing in sight except for road and hills, we were confronted by a sprawling bonanza of fast food restaurants and truck stops. There were huge tractor trailers as far as the eye could see, and not much room on the road for us. We had come to the junction of highways 70 and 76. We ducked into a Wendy's for a quick meal and then ran back out to try and make up some of the time we lost from the rainstorm.
         The rest of the day was alot of unmerciful up and down hill climbing, some very... inexpensive and highly nutritious pepperoni and Kraft singles sandwiches that Ben bought the ingredients for when he was put in charge of going into the grocery store to buy lunch("I would be a terrible consumer if I didn't buy the two pound bag of pepperoni for only fifty cents more than the 8oz bag!" -Ben), a nice stop for ice cream in a town called Mann's Choice ("My first choice as a Mann is ice cream" -Ben, again), and then, right before camp, the Dew Drop Inn. The Dew Drop Inn is a townie bar in the heart of Juniata, PA and we had the nicest bartenderess there that I've probably ever had. She was at first skeptical of our Massachusetts IDs, saying "A little far from home aren't y'unz?" After we explained our trip, she gave us a free round and four bottles of water for the road. We didn't catch her name, but if you're ever on Rt. 30, or maybe it was Rt. 31, stop by and take in the local flavor.
Bikes hang out in front of the Dew Drop. Dew Drop Inn
but don't stumble out, they say.
         We then moved on to New Baltimore, another middle of nowhere town that even the people in the neighboring towns don't know about. We went to St. John's, a big Catholic church and retreat, cooked dinner and then moved on to the Volunteer Fire Department after deciding to leave the church behind because the VFD offered a hose and permission to stay. We were definitely a strange bunch to the dead-pan, but kindly, fireman. We were practically ecstatic to take showers with the hose and do some laundry in plastic bags, which I'm sure only deepened his befuddlement. When he left at 10PM, he gave us a case of water bottles and told us to just please turn out the light when we were done- people have been quite trusting and warm toward us, even if they have no idea why anyone would do what we're doing. After getting clean, we hit the hay a bit later than usual, with yet another big climb waiting for us.      


8/10 Day 19 New Baltimore, PA to Ohiopyle State Park, Ohiopyle, PA 64 miles (835 miles)

       We rose, struck camp, and ate oatmeal with craisins to start the day. We had to pick all our laundered clothes up off the ground because another storm had blown through in the night, drenching and blowing to the ground most of our wash. After ordering our things, we got on the trail again and it wasn't long at all before we were ascending. The climb was tedious, but as with most of the big climbs we've done, manageable. The real leg busters are the small, steep hills- most mountains have fairly responsibly graded roads leading up their height. We climbed mostly 9% or 10% grade roads for the first hour or two to reach 2,775 ft. At the mountain's height, Erin and I snacked on jerky and candy bars while reflecting on the fact that we were now almost 1,500 ft over the highest altitude we'd previously achieved as of two days prior. We were a bit tired, but feeling a touch triumphant... that is, until we began the descent. We had gotten whiffs of the brutal headwind we were about to encounter while riding the day before and earlier that morning while ascending. When we made it into the high valleys on the other side of our ridge, we were battered by a 20mph headwind that did not abate for the next 15 miles. In those 15 miles of tough rollers and gusty winds that had the cornstalks lining the roads bending backwards toward us, I first began to doubt my ability to even finish our wild undertaking.
        "If this keeps up," I thought, "I won't be able to make it 30 miles today." Erin, Ben, and Mandi were all having the same thoughts, but nothing crushes your confidence like having to pedal hard to keep going while you're on a downhill. The wind turbines that lined the ridges in the distance spun merrily and seemed to mock us as we struggled on to Somerset, a mere 20 miles from camp. By the time we all rendezvoused for lunch at the Summit Diner, it had taken us nealry four hours to slog our way there. We commiserated over the terrible cycling weather we'd been subjected to lately, and tucked in on the greasy spoon fare. We topped our meal off with pie and milkshakes and set out south toward the rail trail we had been looking forward to since entering the state. Our hopes were not very high for the rest of the day, and after the exhausting, steep hills of the day before combined with the day's misery, we all were feeling a bit overmatched by the prospect of continuing.
       What happened next was not at all what we expected. We had, in turning southwest, ducked behind the wind shadow of the large ridge west of Somerset. The gentle rollers and lack of headwind let our weary legs fly the next 8 miles to the rail trail, and when we got there we managed to chew up 35 more miles at a rapacious rate. The only delays we experienced were the roughly hour and a half we waited for Ben's broken spoke followed about 200 yards later by Ben's flat tire. When we realized, though, that we only had 20 or so flat, gradually graded miles to our campsite in the Ohiopyle State Park we were reinvigorated and rushed to make it before nightfall. We passed through the small town of Ohiopyle an hour or so before sundown and were thrilled at its proximity to camp.
A nice place to fix a tire.
      Everyone was in very high spirits at this point, given our reversal of fortunes. We were in high spirits, that is, until we set off on the trail that led from the main rail trail up to the campground. Minutes after our elated arrival, we were pushing, pulling, and dragging our extremely heavy bikes up a very steep hiking trail that was erroneously marked as only 1/4 mile, but was the only access that didn't involve us going 3 miles around and up the mountain road behind the town. When we got to the top of the hill, everyone was sweating through their jerseys, annoyed to the limit, and further disheartened by the prospect of having to ride up even more hills and across the entire campground to register for a site. Luckily, a park ranger happened by and registered for us by phone. We decided to take a camping cottage, so that we could sleep in beds and avoid the extra time of breaking down and setting up camp. We all showered off, changed, and decided that despite the rough climb down to town, we would treat ourselves to a night out.
       Unfortunately, when we got down to the only bar in town, the kitchen was just closing and all we starving cyclists could manage to order was a basket of zucchini planks and two orders of chips and dip. Needless to say, this did very little to abate our appetites. Erin and I ducked out of the bar where two drunks were arm in arm karaoke-ing songs from 20 years ago at blaring volumes to get some snacks from the corner market. All we could procure there was a bag of pretzels, two apples, some Reese's cups, and two brownie. If the locals didn't think we were strange before, they certainly did after we could be seen dining on our disappointing dinner in the corner of the bar. We were miffed and a little discouraged at the fact that we hadn't cooked in camp, but had somehow managed to get our worst dinner of the trip so far. We were even more upset when we found out that the tiny portions of dip we had eaten were $9 apiece. After reluctantly paying our bill, we slunk back to camp, up the hill, and crawled into our beds to finally rest our weary legs.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, so many ups and downs! Don't headwinds suck? Actually, your dinner of pretzels and Reeses cups sounds pretty yummy and nutritious...all of the food groups. Westward ho!

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