Wednesday, June 29, 2011

America, On Hold

I try to learn from experiences, not dwell on them. That said, I'm also curious to know how to understand when to say "enough is enough" and make a decision. More importantly, I'm interested in why. This probably isn't making much sense. My aspirations have led me to achieve things that I, ten years ago, would not have imagined possible. Personal goals, ambition, and hope are factors in everything I do. When I set out to do something, it is for a reason. America On Two Wheels is something I have put a lot of thought and time into and for that it is important I explain what I am about to say. I have decided to put this trip on hold for a while. I have stopped riding and traveled back east to my hometown.

When I first mentioned I wanted to ride across the country, the idea was met with mixed responses. Some people thought it was neat, some were pretty interested, a few wanted to join, and others thought I was crazy. Originally, this trip was going to have three riders:  Tyler, Matt, and me. Tyler ended up moving northwest for a job, so he was out. (Tyler and I rode from Boston to Philadelphia in 2007) Matt nearly bought a new bike to do this trip, but at the time was neck deep in an intense job-search for a teaching position. In case the news hasn't covered it, teachers have been getting laid off and schools shut down over the past few years due to lack of funding therefore leaving Matt with a very slim chance of even obtaining an interview for a job that probably wouldn't exist in a couple months. However, he persisted and was hired, obtaining a position as a high school math teacher. He worked his butt off and I'm very proud of him. But getting that job meant no bike trip. Being the optimistic person I try to be, I decided to go ahead with the trip anyway and ride by myself across America, ignoring any and all remarks of loneliness in my thoughts and from family and friends.

I can be alone for a decent amount of time, but camping by yourself gets old pretty quickly. At least for me. What keeps me going is the relationships and bonds I have with people when I'm striving for something. The whole reason I chose to ride my bicycle to California is because I love bicycle touring. What I'm realizing now is that I don't like doing it by myself. I wanted to do something fun the last summer before I plunge into an over-saturated market of actors all trying to do the same thing. I thought that I'd like the time by myself, or at least that's what I told myself from day one. But I don't. 

It's probably difficult to see the sense in this decision since my posts were positive and mentioned the great people I was meeting and spending time with, the fun times going from town to town eating beans for lunch and dinner, and occasionally a vegetarian option at a restaurant. I was having fun, and I did meet some great people, but I quickly realized I did not want to spend this summer by myself. Seeing the country means nothing to me if I can't share every experience daily with someone close as well as the blog for my family and friends. 

The last thing I want is for this to "end" or for anyone to read this and think I don't like bicycle touring anymore. I just didn't want to keep going for any reason other than to have fun, all the while not having fun, and in the end hate bicycle touring. If I'm doing this for me, for fun level, and the fun level is at zero, why am I doing it at all? I do plan on finishing this trip. The one thing I plan to do is make sure I have someone to ride with because I obviously don't like doing it alone. I've always been around people, and more than that people that I love and who love me. This is my trip. I'm going to do it to love it, not just to say I did it. 

Hopefully this explains to a certain extent why I have chosen not to continue by myself. This blog will stay open and I will be posting pictures and videos of everything I've recorded so far under their respective dates and posts. 

Just remember to always do what you love to do because you love to do it, and for no other reason. 

Friday, June 24, 2011

Farewell, Pittsburgh

We've been over how leaving friends is difficult, and each time I make more it becomes harder to continue. The kids in Pittsburgh really know how to have a good time, and were more than willing to share it with me. After Billy and I parted ways, I met up with Adam who was my other CouchSurfing host in the city. We went back to his house and his roommates Eric and JJ were there. JJ was getting ready for a bus trip to NYC where he'll be playing viola for I believe an orchestra to teach composers? I may be mistaken, and the name slips my mind. Eric and I rode into REI where he works as a technician. He brought my bicycle back up to functional status. Eric the bicycle wizard! That term is actually coined by a friend of his, but it's true. Adam and I went to bar trivia that night and lost. We got third place out of five teams though, but it's still not first place. I want to thank everyone from Pittsburgh for your kindness, hospitality, and advice for the road ahead.

Wednesday morning I rode from Pittsburgh to Salem, OH where I had a campground reservation with my friend Bryan who drove out from Philadelphia to go camping with me! I was looking forward to an excellent night. When I got there we set up camp and quickly got some junk food at the local grocery store. During the drive, we were discussing my past week and a half and Hershey Park came up because I went on some coasters with Hannah. Bryan knew of an amusement park up in Sandusky, OH and we decided to head there the next day! Neither of us knew we'd be making that trek, but there we were planning in full force. That night, we gathered wood and chopped a fallen tree to build a fire. After a relaxing night of stories and silence, we went to sleep. We decided that the 50% chance of thunderstorm was not going to prove itself, so we left our rain covers off. Crashing thunder and a downpour woke us up in the middle of the night, and we scrambled to set them up. In the morning it was clear and sunny. We packed up and left around 11am for Akron, OH to eat lunch at VegiTerranean! A vegan restaurant owned by Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders, it was loaded with choices that excited us to the point of ordering more than we could handle. We got a stuffed tomato, grilled chicken sandwich, sausage sandwich, and a gyro pizza. Keep in mind everything is vegan, so all the "meat" in our entrees was made with a combination of soy and wheat gluten flavored to perfection. A fantastic meal. Our server was super helpful and really cute! Her name was Emily, and she was more than helpful with our decisions. She also pointed out that Chrissie had walked in and was sitting at a table adjacent to us! It was truly an unexpected circumstance. We left the restaurant and continued to Sandusky for roller coasters. A day at that park will wipe you out, so we were tired after riding almost every one. That night we were looking for a cafe or diner or any place to just sit down and have a hot beverage and relax. Unfortunately, most of northern Ohio is riddled with chain restaurants and hotels for the tourists, so we never actually found a place to go. We weren't paying attention and we drove all the way to Bowling Green, OH, where we parked and slept in a Walmart parking lot. The next morning I geared up and said my goodbyes to Bryan, again, and began the trek to Montpelier.

Right now I'm at a public library in Delta, OH, and looking for the trail to continue onward. I don't have a place to stay tonight, so I may stealth or hopefully meet a friendly host to put me up for the night! I'm going to get riding, since I've been battling the rain all day. Everything is soaked, and I am cold. Hopefully the next post will not be so far from the last.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Deep in Appalachia

Friday morning after the storm in Chambersburg, I woke up around 5am to get packed up and  back on the road to avoid discovery by early-rising farmers tending their fields. The sky was gray, thick fog surrounded me to the point where I could barely see the road, and everything was soaking wet. After the tent was rolled up and everything strapped onto the bike, I quickly ate a Clif bar and trudged back through the tall grass towards the road. Soaked and exhausted from an otherwise restless sleep, what kept my spirits up was my successful stealth camp. The road ahead was leading me right into the mountains, so it was going to be a long day of climbing. When I got to the top of the first major set of inclines, I realized I had gone the wrong way. I turned around and went back down. Then, after checking in with Dad and my map, I discovered it was the correct way after all. The township signs and the town signs near each other confused me, so back up the hills I went. After a couple hours of climbing, I went about 10 miles. I found Cowans Gap State Park which was empty with large areas of concrete parking lots and a bathroom. I took advantage of the open area to lay everything out in the sun to dry and charge my phone. A few hours later, I packed everything back up and headed back on the road. I was following the PA Bicycle Route S which in most of southwestern PA goes over the mountains. I'm not too bad a climber, but with a loaded bicycle totaling around 90 pounds the whole thing becomes a situation in itself.
As I kept on, the sky began to cloud over and the rain and I were reacquainted. It didn't last too long though, and I kept climbing until I reached Hustontown. I was terribly hungry. There was one small place in the whole town called The Twisted Shake where I went in hopes of some replenishment. A sub roll with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and peppers was my lunch. They didn't have much, but the nice girl put ice in my water bottles and filled them up. From there I was searching for the abandoned PA turnpike which Jamie had told me to check out. The entrance was a small paved path that went into the woods and eventually opened up into a wide area of pavement surrounded by old concrete barriers. That's where I saw a few other bikers about to make the trek down the old turnpike-turned bike path. Among them were Bob Jr., Bob III, little Bob IV in Bob III's child bicycle trailer, and Bob III's buddy Zack. We all rode the turnpike together, which was great to have some company after a seemingly endless day of climbing. I'm so happy I rode the turnpike. It looked like a stretch of road you'd see in a zombie flick, with two dark tunnels which REQUIRED lights. The first one is about a mile long, and you cannot see the other side. It's pitch black. The second was only about 3/4 mile long and was not as dark as the first. The entire stretch of road is about 7-8 miles long including those tunnels. Now, for anyone wondering about my gear, none of my lights are really meant for riding at night. I took out my flashlight and headlamp I use for camping and hoped it would be enough. I think if it weren't for the rest of the gang's combined light power, I may not have had as much success through the tunnels. All in all, it was a great ending to a day that started out on a downer. The section ended in a truckstop town called Breezewood, PA, where I'd be spending the night. Thank you Jamie for telling me about the turnpike, and thank you Bob II, III, IV, and Zack for letting me ride with you.

Saturday morning I woke up to start the journey to Garrett, PA. The distance was about 60+ miles, possibly closer to 70, and I wanted to get there because it contained a trailhead to the Great Allegheny Passage which I would be taking all the way to Pittsburgh. I passed through Everett and then Bedford, which was a "historic-looking" town that promoted itself with billboards along the turnpike of George Washington's face with the text "He stayed here!" next to it. He did actually stay there, so at least they aren't lying. After Bedford, I believe it was near New Baltimore, I saw two hikers with backpacks coming down the street towards me. Their names were Ben and Devin, a couple walking from a town near Pittsburgh to Chambersburg in order to get onto the Appalachian Trail where they would continue down to Florida. We talked for a minute, took some pictures, and went on our way. I'm noticing it's the little things that put the biggest smile on my face. May the weather shine in your favor, may your boots keep your feet dry and comfortable, and may strangers become friends. So long, fellow travelers. Eventually after some major hills Ben told me I'd hit on the way (14% grade for more than a mile), I took a road which was mostly downhill to the town of Berlin. This town, to me, didn't seem like a Pennsylvania town but more like a town out of West Virginia. The dialect sounded southern, but I believe it was just the span of Appalachia reaching above the Mason Dixon line. Stopping at a mini-mart to get some drinks, since my water was nearly out, I had an iced tea, two sports drinks, and two bananas.
"Where're you goin'?" a voice behind me asked. When I told Carol I was headed for California, she jumped into conversation. She told me she loved riding horseback and also enjoyed motorcycles. She also said she has a pretty granddaughter I would like. She also gave me the gem of information that Garrett was mostly downhill from Berlin, which of course made my ears perk up. I went inside to refill my water bottles, and at the counter were Daphne and Cristie (there are a lot of ways to spell that name, sorry if I slaughtered it!). Daphne was so sweet and even let me get some ice from the soda machine. I thanked her and went back outside to head down to Garrett. A man came right up to me and said, "Headed where?"
"California," with a smile on my face.
"California!" he said. His name was Stan. He gave me five dollars to "get some pop" along the way and told me he had to get back home to his grandson who was cutting the lawn. I tried to refuse but he wouldn't have it. Thank you Stan!
The road to Garrett was mostly downhill (thank you Carol!). I turned onto a road which was loose gravel and looked like someone's driveway deep in the woods. As I kept on, it opened up onto a small, poorly paved street which led to another poorly paved street which was the main street in Garrett. Very small town that maybe had a post office, though I didn't see it. I found the trailhead and jumped right on! There was a phone number for a hostel in Rockwood about 7 miles down the trail where I decided would be my place for the night. I called and asked if it was available, and the girl (who sounded cute on the phone) said it was and she'd see me soon. When I pulled into Rockwood, I went into the store which was owned by the same people who owned the Hostel. The girl was cute! Strangely, I didn't catch her name, probably because I was just thinking about getting into bed. She showed me around the hostel, which unfortunately was empty (I was looking forward to meeting some fellow travelers again!). After a shower and small dinner, I went to sleep.

Sunday morning! Raining. Darn. But, I decided I would ride all the way to Pittsburgh where I'd be spending a few days to rest and see the city. I knew it would be tough because the estimated distance was over 100 miles. Since the trail tends to be flat following the river, I figured it was possible. Along the trail not too much happened. Very beautiful the Allegheny Passage is, but it's all in the woods that pretty much look the same everywhere on the east coast. Within the first 5 miles my entire bike was caked with mud and debris from the trail which had been rained on the night before. Jump forward about 20 miles. A huge tree had collapsed the night before and was blocking the trail. There were two guys with chainsaws who were about to cut it up and clear the path, but said it would be a while and let me pass over before they began. One of the guys helped me carry my bike over the tree trunks, since my bike is much more difficult to lift with all my stuff strapped down. Onward, onward. When I hit 70 miles I stopped to eat a can of beans. The next twenty miles I spent trying different positions on the saddle since it felt like I no longer had a butt. Upon the end of the trail just outside of the city, I called up my Couchsurfing host Billy. He gave me directions toward his place and he met me along the way. After I dropped all my stuff off we immediately went to dinner at Brillobox, a small bar/restaurant near his place. Lucky for us, it happened to be the 3rd Sunday of the month which at this place meant live Appalachian Bluegrass music and a $6 veg dinner! Billy and I hung out for a while, had some drinks, walked to a diner down the road, then back to his place to sleep. The long day clocked in at 111 miles, and hanging out with Billy after that was just what I needed.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Shelter from the storm

This one will be short because I'm on an iPod touch and I don't know how long I'll be able to type without wanting to throw it across the room. Don't worry Hannah I won't actually that was just a joke for the kids at home.

First off I want to apologize for not mentioning Hannah's sister, Emma, who we hung out with at Hershey Park. For those of you wondering, we went on two coasters! What an excellent way to cap the night. Emma you were a lot of fun and I think your family is wonderful and rare, unfortunately. Fortunate for you of course. They welcomed me as family, and I felt at home in a way. Thank you for that, all of you.

Ok enough about the past-past, let's talk about the present-past. From Hershey I rode to Harrisburg, which was uneventful and rainy. I didn't stick around for more than a couple photos. The only way out of Harrisburg is over some hills, so I began to climb in the rain. I hit a pretty deep puddle which quickly soaked my left shoe. Oh well. Continuing on I went through Mechanicsburg which had a festival going on called Jubilee Day. They didn't allow bikes on the occupied streets and I didn't feel like looking at tables of food I don't eat, so I kept riding. I went through Carlisle which I don't remember because I believe I took a street along the border. Onward! To Newville. The sky opened up. I stopped in a small sandwich shop to check in with Dad and the map. I had a soda, too. "Dollar six," the owner said, careful not to let his eyes fall to the close friendship between my spandex shorts and the boys. As the rain slowed a bit, I got back on the bike towards the trail from Newville to Shippensburg. A beautiful and flat trail running through the open fields of crops.
Chipmunks counted: 9
The rain started to fall again when I rolled off the trail in Shippensburg. Logging about 65 miles for the day, I decided to keep riding to Chambersburg. According to the signs it was 11 miles away. 30 minutes later, I was in town. One of my friends tried to get some people to put me up for the night to no avail. Two hours had passed since I rolled in, and darkness was falling. Quickly. I didn't have a place to stay so I began riding west on route 30. Matt told me of a campground nearby so I rode in that direction in hopes of finding a secluded spot to
sleep. I saw some trees at the top of a field off the road and I raced over the second there wee no cars on the road. Thunder was crashing above me and lightning flashed all around. Drops were falling as I put up the tent from memory since I couldn't see. Not even seconds after I covered the bike and tent did the showers pound from overhead. I got in, wet from rain and sweat, and called it a night.

Today's "ups and downs" I will write about once I have some time to let it all sink in. And maybe a full-size keyboard.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

"To Begin at the Beginning"

If there's anything I've learned from having a loving family and friends who would do anything for you, it's that they're very difficult to leave. Of course I've learned other things from them like treating others with kindness and how to tie my shoes. Watching my family and best friend as I rode from my driveway was pretty painful, but there was no way around it. The first day was ahead of me. They know as well as I that we love each other, and that I'll visit as often as I can. As for now, there's just the road beneath my wheels.

The first day I rode one of the steepest hills I've ever experienced. It was about a mile long, and before I even turned the corner I knew it wasn't going to be friendly. Eventually, huffing and puffing, I made it to the top. Not exactly how I imagined spending my first day, but I guess I should have figured. A few miles down the road I was supposed to turn onto a road which ended up being blocked due to construction, so I found a way around. Unfortunately, that was the first of many detours I'd be seeing on day one. Back on the road I made it to a path into Peace Valley, which had some bike trails running around a small body of water. That's where I met Penny! A very nice lady who was watching frogs and snakes from the bridge. I didn't catch the name of the other lady who actually started the conversation. I adjusted her saddle and we rode a bit together along the trail. Penny you can definitely bike 20 miles! I believe in you! After that I rode until I found another "road closed" sign. The bridge was out. Seeing as my haphazard directions only have certain roads (and I'm finding that many of them don't exist) I didn't have an alternate route. I turned around and rode for a few miles until I found something that resembled what I thought I should be riding, so I took it. Luckily, it was the right move. A few more roads had different signs, if any at all. A bit after lunchtime I found myself 15 miles out of the way in a town I wasn't expecting to pass through. I found a park ranger station near the entrance to a trailhead, and spoke to Ranger Jess. She was really nice and pointed me in the direction of the trail so I could ride south. On the trail I met a couple who stopped me and asked about my trip. They were very excited when I told them I was going to California. I saw many more roads without signs but eventually I made it to the top of this hill where I could see the nuclear power plant in Pottstown, PA, which was my destination. So after riding several miles out of the way, I was at least now heading in the right direction. The last 15 miles were brutal, as I saw several uphill climbs which seemed to hold hands with several more. My friend Emily's house was pretty much on top of a mountain, or so it seemed after riding almost 70 miles. The driveway was unbelievably steep and hardly rideable. It was basically like scaling a wall. Dismounting, I discovered that the bike is much harder to push than I thought. Maybe that, too, was because it was the end of a long day. Her mom was so sweet and offered me plenty of fruit to recharge. Emily's place felt nostalgic in a way like the house of an old friend you haven't visited in a long time. It's true, I haven't seen her in a long time but I've never been to her house. We cooked dinner, chatted, relaxed with Gracie and Spookems, and failed putting a playlist she made me on my mp3 player.

Leaving the next morning was tough, once again, due to the love I have for my friends. She's an adventurer. I'll see her again soon. I rode to the middle of the town of Pottstown to meet up with Jamie, my almost CouchSurfing host. He offered to cook me vegan breakfast! So awesome. I told him I had breakfast covered, but he said he'd ride with me part of the way towards Hershey. Jamie has been vegan for 11 years, and is originally from Scotland. We had some great conversation during the ride, which was all on the Schuylkill River Trail. He rode with me from Pottstown to Reading, where we promptly took a photo op and parted ways. Hope our paths cross again soon, my friend. I found my own way through Reading, eventually making it to 422 West. This road, although somewhat busy, is actually a decent cycling road. There is a shoulder on most of it and a Sheetz! Of course I stopped for a "bucket of fryz" and ate outside in the shade. 422 is also fairly flat, so no big hills to worry about. Then I turned onto a road which was only a hill. I think it was actually called Hill Rd. On top of Hill Rd I saw the vast farmland Pennsylvania hides between its mountains. It's pretty amazing out here, especially on a bicycle. The hills weren't too hefty today, but the headwind was all over me. I raced a tractor for a little while, but he thought it best he tend to his crops. I made it to my friend Hannah's place to find that her family cooked a vegan dinner! Her mom, Melody, and dad, Dan, are some of the sweetest and conversational people I've met. They're excited about travel and life the way I am, so it was easy to get along with them. It's obvious they have a loving family, which of course makes me think of mine. We ate, had great conversation, and vegan chocolate cake for dessert! Seriously, great people. Hannah and I are about to go to Hershey Park for the last half hour during free entry! Hope we get on a roller coaster!

Friday, June 10, 2011

test ride: Ringoes

That "three mile loop" turned into a ten mile loop due to a bridge under construction.

First ride fully loaded