[Happy [late] Fourth!] days 14-26: "West. We're going West. And tomorrow we're going We
Apologies for the enormous gap in posts. For the past ten days Ben and I have had intermittent wifi- and probably too much on the legs to work our brains properly. The landscape has really changed. Sitting in my Godfather's kitchen in Pittsburgh with slightly overcast Fourth-of-July weather wishing that I had written more on paper so that I could just transcribe the thoughts for you. As long as this post could be-- I'll try to keep it short. Mostly photos. [that didn't work out... sorry]
On June 24th I biked down the Hudson River from the beautiful town of Beacon, NY to meet Ben in Nyack, NY. That day ben biked nearly 80 miles from New Haven and took a ferry across the river to get to our host's house by 5:30. I had a much easier time on my 45 mile ride and spent the afternoon lounging at a local library before I caught up with him. He was more familiar with our hosts.
Vera- if you're reading this- that salad you made us still one of the best meals we've had all trip!
Ben and I had ambitions of leaving early the next morning and biking down the Palisades with an old professor of mine from NYU... but we got caught up in the planning process of our trip and didn't leave Nyack until noon. We were incredibly grateful for the internet.
Long bike that day to Alamuchy State Forest in New Jersey where we pitched our tents JUST before it got dark. I got poison ivy all over my legs and sleeping bag. Discovered that I'm not really that allergic. Luckily.
Woke up with the sun rising over a hilltop across a valley from us. Marshland. After oatmeal we cleaned up and walked down to pack up our bikes. Ben lost his bike key in the woods and I lost my knife. Spent a good while searching for them in the woods. Didn't end up leaving our campsite until 10.
Biked through Pequest Trout Hatchery. 700,000 fish raised there and then released into NJ streams. We left skeptical of the environmental "good" that the hatchery did.
Crossing from NJ to Pennsylvania over the Delaware River felt incredible. Nice sun. People in the water below a blue steel bridge. Won't ever forget the last few towns that we passed through on our way our of New Jersey though: Liberty, Independence, Buttzville, and Hacketsville. Just felt redneck- in a good way if that's possible. Land on the PA side quickly turned agricultural and had a completely different feeling to it. Immediately country.
Slept outside of Leighton, PA in Ruth and Brian's backyard. Wonderful warm showers hosts. Brian gave me some hydration tips. Making a lemon, honey and water mix for my water bottle now that I drink every two hours or so to give me a little kick instead of drinking gatorade.
Left Leighton for Centralia, PA after making some morning adjustments and warmshowers calls. Stopped in Leighton for groceries (where I bought way too many lemons).
HARD rain fell while we were biking through some corn fields. Felt like climbing hills I was fighting against a river. And more weight. Everything in my packs stayed dry though. Glad to have spent extra on my panniers for waterproof quality! Loving all of my friends who gifted me with the set I have.
Rain lifted and Ben and I got our first taste of Coal Country biking through Carbon County, PA. Many of the mines we saw were pretty run down-- but still operational.
Camped in the backyard of a Zion Reformed United Church of Christ in Ashland, PA that night.
I woke up early and went looking for coffee in downtown Ashland. Left Ben to sleep another hour. Found May's drive in cafe about a two minute walk from the church. Quickly fell in love with the breakfast menu. Sent Ben there when I got back to "camp." I watched his stuff while he ate. He ended up coming back with breakfast... and a pizza for lunch. Somehow we managed to ziplock the whole thing into our bags.
2 mile ride from Ashland into the abandoned mining town of Centralia, PA. Originally put this town on the visit list because it's had a coal fire burning underneath it for the past 50 years. Found an abandoned highway... but no signs of smoke. Somewhat disappointing. Strange to say that I was hoping for more of a catastrophic view or some kind. No dramatic episode did unfold.
Ben and I explored the forgotten woods and dirt roads until we heard the sound of an engine with wheels-- then booked it for the main road. Sheepish men we are. A little ways down the main highway we discovered an operational mine on what we joked "was what used to be Mt. Carmel" (the town about four miles West of Centralia). Pretty remarkable how much of the hillside had been removed. As I watched the dump truck empty a load of tailings into a pile, I couldn't help but feel like Ben and I were the only ones aware-- or at least grappling with the idea-- of the burning mess of coal just a mile or two in the other direction that had forced the evacuation of the nearest town.
For most of the morning Ben and I continued to bike through struggling coal towns. Have particularly interesting memories of Shamokin, PA. Where the town sits in a valley and the coal mine on top of a nearby hill covers the houses in coal dust.
Followed a railway out of coal country and found ourselves once again in agricultural land. Stopped for lunch in Sunbury and crossed the Susquehanna river in the early afternoon. Hot.
In Lewisburg we loaded up with groceries underneath an angry sky. While I waited outside the front door of the store for Ben to get his camp food, I entertained myself by listening to rumbling thunder in the distance-- and by talking to folks who thought we were crazy for biking in what was sure to be nasty weather.
About 45 minutes outside of Lewisburg, Ben and I were caught in a torrential downpour on a rail trail. Hard-pack trail pretty quickly became mud, but the severity of the storm passed over quickly and Ben and I got back on our bikes. 20 minutes later the sun was out and we had a smooth bike ride the rest of the way into Bald Eagle State Forest. Must have overthought the storm.
Tried to make a phone call with Return Recycling intentions in the afternoon... sadly service did not allow it.
End of the day there's always a big hill. We camped on ours off of "Tunnel Road." Photo explains.
In the morning Ben and I filled up at the local fly shop-- that must have been in Ingleby or Weikert, PA-- and then set to biking to Altoona. I found my knife before we left. Which had really just been in my pack. Sadly, Ben did not find his bike key.
Spent a long time following a wandering stream past picturesque farms that I wish I'd taken photos of. Wooden barns with Holsteins feeding next to the water.
Climbed out of the creek that we'd been following and biked through central PA valley towns for most of the rest of the day. Appalachian mountain ridges that look like long fingers-- as if Earth itself had hands and were resting them on her stomach. The land arched that way in the valleys we biked through. The place felt fertile.
Hill at the end of the day was probably one of the most intense 20 minute stretches of the entire trip. 13% grade for 1 mile. Two mile downhill on the other side was... much appreciated.
Legs burned. Legs really burned. I mean, legs were on fire when Ben and I stopped in Altoona. Ben had an interview for an Americorps job in Ashville at 4:30. We stopped at a Nardo's cafe in Altoona to chill for a while. Turned out that the place had an "all you can eat pizza" special on Wednesday nights that we happily took advantage of. I think we had 3 large pizzas, an order of fries, and two tall boys between us. Stayed until 7:30- using internet, watching X-men... and booked an airbnb.
Host for the evening was an incredibly kind young mother. She had a baby that she stayed up with most of the night. Ben and I didn't know this until the next morning though. We must have stolen the baby sleep.
Thursday, June 30th was just... full of hills.
The "finger mountains" [aka the Allegheny Mountains/ Appalachians] that we'd been riding between dove South... and so we had to summit out several times over the course of the day. Climbed through hill towns outside of Altoona and kept dipping in and out of forest and agricultural land as we made our way to Rector, PA-- just outside of Ligonier.
Our host that night, Tom, was incredible. Highest remarks for him. Shortly after we arrived and
showered, he took us to his family place on the top of one of the ridges in the Laurel Highlands. The land surrounding the house was preserved farmland. We cooked veggie burgers on a butane-pilot, coal-fired grill and watched the sunset while Tom told us about the "rich" history in Ligonier. Most of the land there is owned by wealthy Pittsburgh families like the Mellons, Carnegies, and Kaufmanns. Changed my perspective on the area.
Watched the Game of Thrones Season finale in Tom's living room. Slept soundly.
Biked to Fallingwater.
Difficult to sum up this experience. Big crowd. Felt a bit like a circus. Ben cruised the grounds while I took a guided tour of the home. The key is cantilevered architecture. Stunned by some of the details... and the fact that the whole house was built with concrete and local stone-by hand. Found it funny that the house has threatened to fall into the Run several times already. FLW insisted it wouldn't. He was wrong.
After the tour Ben and I were glad to be on the road again. We took a four-mile bike ride into Ohiopyle, mostly downhill, and hung out by a beautiful waterfall for a good hour. We both were kind of pooped. Ben napped while I ate an entire bag of chocolate trail mix and contemplated swimming in the water above the falls. Could have stayed there a while longer.
Ended up getting on our bikes later in the evening and biking from Ohiopyle to Connellsville, PA before
sunset. We were on The Great Allegheny Passage the whole way. Wandered, serendipitously, into another bike tourer at the grocery store just off the trail who told us about a campground... behind the grocery.
Stocked up on food and then slept in an Adirondack shelter in just our sleeping bags.
Woke up later than I expected myself to with the sun in my face and the sound of singing birds that sounded like lasers.
Biked in to Pittsburgh to my Godfather's house in Fox Chapel. Much longer route than I expected. Rail trail nearly the whole way though, so it was rather tame. Followed the Youghiogeny River the whole way.
Arrived at my Godfather's house and he wasn't home. The incredibly gracious soul he is-- he left Ben and I a car in order to get to Pittsburgh center.
Our first order of business... grocery shopping. And then bed.
Ben and I woke up slowly on the 3rd. No internet at Jay's the first day so we drove to a coffee shop in Lawrenceville where we planned out the rest of our trip. [!!!!!!]
We now know, within a day or two, when we're going to be biking through towns west of Minneapolis. Those who we were hoping to catch up with-- we'll be reaching out soon!
Wrote many letters and postcards. Neglected this blog and story editing unfortunately. Brain felt fried after staring at a computer planning for four and a half hours drinking coffee.
Ben and I explored Pittsburgh that night. Went for a walk along the river. Felt the fountain water at the point fall over us in a mist.
THE FOURTH arrived without concrete plans.
Ben and I hung around my Godfather's house in the morning, then went grocery shopping in the Fourth of July muggy Pittsburgh weather.
Sent letters, called family, and made an enormous bowl of pasta.
Godfather and Co arrived home around 5pm in the late afternoon rain when I first started writing this post. We ordered pizza. Pizza place was clearly overwhelmed. Took forever to get our order-- so they gave us free cookies. Godfather's children were very pleased.
Ben and I borrowed a car to watch the Pittsburgh fireworks down on the point. Will never forget the experience as long as I live. Fireworks were choreographed to very American classics and erupted behind the fountain on the point. An incredible vantage from where we stood. Drunk crowd chanting "U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A" behind us. Smoke clouded over the river and was so thick at times you couldn't see all of the fireworks. Finale that sent chills down my spine. Am I "Proud to be an American?"
Writing now in the basement of our host's home in Lisbon, OH. About a 66 mile ride today, that, for some reason, kicked my butt. Looking forward to our short (45 mile) ride tomorrow.
We'll be in Kent-- and visiting the May 4 memorial. Singing Neil Young to myself now. Think it's an important time to remember the shooting. Considering...