7.29.11 - Cambridge, OH to Washington, PA - 88mi
Our last 16 days of riding have all been over 100 mi so when we looked at the map and saw that our next stop would be less than 90mi from our start, there was rejoicing. We hoped the short day would provide our legs with modest break and allow them to catch up to our steady pace. Our steady progression across the midwest and into northern territories was beginning to take its toll.
The afternoon weather report for Washington called for afternoon showers so much to our dismay, James' decree came down that we were to rise early and try to beat the showers. There was grumbling in the morning but the sluggish movements gave way, eventually, to the hustle of morning preparations. We hit the road in the early morning light, greeted eagerly by our ever-present companion, humidity.
Chasing the sun, we headed east and soon picked up a quiet bike trail. Even in these early hours, we found it to be far from empty but we were glad to see active people taking advantage of this resource. The tree lined trail gave us shade and the early morning songbirds provided a pleasant chorus to the cadence of our pedals.
We left the trail and headed into the hills along country backroads. The narrow, curvy, wooded two lane roads were a welcomed change to the open straight roads through the corn fields we'd become accustomed to and we were able to let our minds wander as were rolled along from town to town.
A quick side note: Ohio is known as the birthplace of aviation but they should be focusing more on terra firma because the state of thier roads is horrendous. They've laid the roads out over beautiful scenic lands but failed to maintain them in any recognizable manner. My lasting impression from there will be the monotonous Ca-thunk, ca-thunk, ca-thunk as my wheels bounce over potholes and clumps of hastily dropped asphalt.
On that note, we left a town called Quaker City and headed up once more into the hills. As we cruised along the top of the hills, we were gifted incredible views of the surrounding valleys; waves of varying shades of green that rippled out to the horizon. Almost lost in their beauty, we all of a sudden found our paved route ending, replaced with a gravel and dust road covered with big, pointy, spiteful rocks just waiting to take a chunk out of our tires or sending us sprawling to the ground. We cautiously proceeded along and down the road all the while hearing the ping and crunch of stones under our tires and waiting for the hiss of air from our tires. We reached a crossroad, saw gravel in all directions and decided to consult our map for the easiest route out. We chose the road that brought us back to the asphalt the quickest despite the fact that it was not the most direct path to our destination. We just wanted to get out quickly before any damage could be done.
What followed was a case of out of the frying pan, into the oven as we escaped the clutches of the gravel road but found ourselves climbing a monsterously steep and long hill. Not only that, but the sun was now high in the sky and we were bathed with the hot, near mid-day rays. Sweat dripping, chests heaving, legs aching, we made it to the top and while the road continued to pitch up and down, none we as severe as that and we managed to work our way into Elm Grove, WV for lunch.
We made our usual Subway stop and began the daily routine of asking the manager if they could help us out with lunch. While the manager went to check with the owner, a guy named Eric quietly came up to us and said that he'd overheard our converstation and that he'd be willing to cover the meal. We were taken aback by his generosity and asked if he'd had anyone in his life with cancer and he replied that he hadn't, he was simply impressed with what we were doing and wanted to help. We took him up on his offer and spent a while talking to him. It turned out, Eric was on his way to Cincinnati to visit a lady friend and the two of them were going to take in a production at the opera that evening. He was an incredibly nice guy who we thoroughly enjoyed talking to and we wished him well on the endeavor.
The rest of our day was fairly uneventful. The hills continued to come at us and as we crossed the tiny sliver of West Virginia that seemed to wedge itself between Ohio and Pennsylvania we pushed through the humidity and the heat. As we move north, the heat is not nearly as high as in the midwest, but of course, as has been the case with the rest of our trip, this area was seeing near record temps. Luckily for us, we'd been forged in the fires of Missouria and Illinois and the north just wasn't bringing the kind of heat that it takes to slow us down.
We pulled in to Washington, PA and found a room at the America's Best Value Inn just as the skies darkened and the rains came. Safe and dry in our room, we were able to relax, enjoy a bit of dinner and rest our weary legs.
7.30.11 - Washington, PA to Ebensburg, PA - 99mi
Our morning started well with a great breakfast and while we ate, we stuck up a converstation with a guy named Carl, a former Navy SEAL turned runner turned mountain biker. Living out now in California, we traded stories with him about our travels and what it's like to put in such long miles, day after day. It was a real pleasure talking to such a friendly guy and it helped start the day off well.
But, then a heavy fog welcomed us as we pulled out of the hotel. The local weather said the humidity was 98%. We were soaked to the bone within half an hour of riding. Wonderful way to start the ride.
The fog shrouded the hills and visibility was less than 100 yards, giving us the feel of riding through some unexplored land. Cars would appear and dissappear like ghosts as we rode into the unknown. It was an otherwordly experience and we quietly rode through the silent morning.
The fog helped keep the sun's heat at bay for the better part of the morning, but we soon found ourselves under the open sky as we continued along the never ending progression of hills. Our route had flavors of highway T, the diabolically steep and hilly section of road leading into St. Louis (which is the yardstick to which every section of road will from now on be compared) and we find ourselves longing for the gentle, laid back, rolling hills of Ohio (except of course, the crappy road conditions). The hills here in PA have a much different personality. They are angry and impatient, eager to climb to the top of each hill and get down the other side.
As we ride today, we notice that there is a remarkable lack of energy in our legs. They've got all the snap and pop of an overstretched rubber band. What we could have easily ascended two weeks ago now takes ages as we inch our way up the sloping road, legs spinning as we crank in our granny gear. We still marvel at the beauty surrounding us as we wind through the country side but our elation is muted as we face each new climb.
Our wonderful back roads eventually dumped us out onto Rt 22, a major thorofare running east out of Pittsburg and we were a bit relieved because with major roads like this, you don't typically get the steep, frequent undulations of the road like you see in country lanes. We began to pick up the pace a bit until we turned a bend and came face to face with the longest climb any of us can remember. Honestly, the cars at the top were tiny dots, indistinguishable from each other. It was a mental gutshot to be staring up at such a daunting climb but with no other option, we simply had to slog our way up. It took us 25min to ascend the three and a half mile long hill and we sat at the top, gased and exhausted tried to recover. The view from the top was amazing and we looked out at the surrounding hills but with fatigue weighing heavy, we had little time to enjoy it.
With such a monsterous climb behind us, we thought that the hardest would most definitely be behind us. Again, we were wrong. One more torturous climb awaited us, eaqually long and equally steep. Again, all we could do was soldier on and as we crested the top, we were able to look down ahead of us and realize our destination was only a few miles on. With the sun already into its downward swing, we had little time to waste. We had tried earlier to call ahead for a room but with several events happening on the same weekend, we were left to scramble for lodging.
Our hope was to find a patch of grass and simply tent it for the night so when we saw a field behind a local hotel, the Red Carpet Inn, we swung by to inquire if they'd allow us to camp. We gave them our story and to our surprise, with only two rooms left for the night, they gave us one. Our outlooks on the day immediately changed and we were overjoyed at the prospect of now being able to shower and sleep in a bed.
The hotel adjoined a separately owned restaurant, the Cottage Restaurant, and after speaking with the owner, Steve, he kindly offered to cover our meal, plus a round of beers. Needless to say, we were elated. The beer was glorious and the meals excellent. Afterwards, we hung around the bar, talking to some of the locals who were interested in our ride. They turned out to be fantastically kind and friendly and welcoming. We'd been warned by the riders of past years that as you head east, people tend to get more cynical and finding help gets much harder, but so far we've been incredibly lucky to have met such generous and caring people. With only a few days left on our trip, we hope our luck holds out.
7.31.11 - Ebensburg, PA to State College, PA - 68mi
One of the best days of riding yet.
We left our hotel with a slight chill hanging in the air. The oppressive humidity was gone and temperatures hovered in the upper 60s so we took advantage and headed out early. With the achingly long hills of yesterday still fresh in our minds, we prepared ourselves for a long day of climbing. But even before the sun's warmth could embrace the mountains, we found ourselves racing down a 7mi, freshly and beautifully paved (ahem, Ohio, please note) descent to finish the first 20 mi section giving us hope that today might infact be easier than aticipated. Once at the bottom of the mountains, we followed the valley north and with little but an occasional small, easy hill to climb, we rolled at a nice clip and made great time. We came to Tyrone, PA and at this point we had to cross through a mountain pass and into the next valley over. Although this one wasn't as flat, it's scenic, winding roads more than made up for it.
The cool temps and low humidity urged us forward and we passed through the valley from pasteur lands to woodlands, farms to towns along some of the most scenic country side yet. Once again, the PennDOT showed us what was possible when you take the time to maintain the roads and all we heard as we rode was the calm whirring of tire on asphalt and we were left to take in all the sounds of nature in these quaint mountain valleys.
By late morning, we had reached State College, home of Penn State University, where James had attended and his father and grandfather before him. Greg and I fell back behind James as he led us through town and pointed out various landmarks.
Lunch was donated by Jimmy Johns, a fantastic sub shop and we followed James to the Berkery Creamery on campus for a desert. For the last week, Greg and I have heard endless stories about the quality of diary products churned out by this establishment so we were eager to put them to the test. We each had chocolate milk and ice cream and they more than lived up to the hype. Absolutely delicious.
While we were there, James had arranged for a journalist from the local newspaper, the Centre Daily Times, to meet with us. Jessica showed up just as we finished off our ice creams and we spent time talking with her. She was friendly and seemed genuinely interested in what we were doing so we were grateful to her for the coverage.
After lunch/desert, we headed out to the Penn State Conference Center/Hotel where James' parents had arranged for us to stay. After a brief stop by the football field to visit the statue of Joe Paterno (a moment of silence was observed by James out of respect for the great coach), we walked in to the lobby of the elegant hotel and were eagerly greeted by the employees. They'd been expecting us and had even put up a welcome sign for us. Their warm welcome was the perfect way to end the days ride.
Old Main, Penn State
While there, Josh, a photographer from the Centre Daily Times showed up to take pictures of us to accompany Jessica's story. We posed and cycled around for him and once he'd gotten all the shots, we were able to hit the showers and spend the better part of the day relaxing.
With only three days of riding left on our plate until we're back in Connecticut, and 4 until we reach the UCONN Health Center, we're looking forward to the final push in.