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.


  1. Hi Babe! I am amazed you biked 110miles in one day. WOW!! Sounds like you have been fortunate to meet several really nice people. That's great. SOOOO enjoy reading the blog. It is wonderful reading. I feel close to you when I am reading it. Keep it coming. Also looking foward to some video. Rest up so you can continue this wonderful journey. Love ya. Stay safe.

  2. Wow Sean you are doing great!! Even with your ups and pun intended! Keep it up we are loving to hear who and what you come across and meet. Enjoy a little R&R. Recharge alittle before treking some more. I can't wait to read your next blog. This is truly great summer reading.

  3. Sean I sure am having fun traveling with you from my couch.. What a great story you have for us. I am, like your Mom, so glad you've met such ice people on your journey. I feel less stressed now. I guess it was the fear of the unknown. I think you will continue to find awesome people on your trek. Safe riding and yes rest up!!

  4. Sean, I too am impressed by the distance you are covering. I can feel the mud on my feet and the rain on my face as you describe your trip. Hopefully you will get some days that are a bit drier. Keep safe and know there are a bunch of us that are following your trek and get to live the ride from the comfort of our homes. Way to go!

  5. i'm glad you're meeting some neat folks on your journey :-)

    That's my team lol
    Truly amazing journey for you..your words leave me wanting to hear more. Stay safe and enjoy the ride!!

  7. Hilarious! Bob II, III, and IV!!!! Glad you made it through the tunnel! What an adventure!