I’ve been struggling a bit to get back into the writing groove since being on vacation. I’ve especially been struggling with trying to type up a good recap of our cross state bike journey. I want to be thorough, but not ramble on too much. I think i’m gonna try to mash this fucker out. Here goes:
Leading up to our trip I realized that neither of the 2 options that I usually rely on for riding in the rain were up to the task of keeping me dry on this trip. With the weather calling for solid rain during our first day, we made a last minute trip to REI to purchase an appropriate rain jacket. Spent a reasonable amount of cash on a good REI rainjacket with hood, pit zips, extra pockets, etc. In hindsight, probably the best prep I did for this trip. Kept me dry. Fashionable two-tone red. Fuck the haters.
Meant to leave around 7-7:30am, but decided to hold off to see if the rain would stop. It seem to slow down after 7:30, so we zipped up and hit the road around 7:50. The rain immediately picked up again and stayed steady for about 2 hours. We rode about 85 miles that day and camped at the Confluence Overflow campground that night. Some notable parts of the day.
– Slipped through the barriers and rode on the not yet open to the public section of the GAP trail between SouthSide and Homestead. In spite of the rain and the early hour, there were some workers on the trail putting up chainlink fence. They forgave our trespass.
– In Connellsville, an old lady in a PT Cruiser told us she was proud of us and the manager of the supermarket gave us free bottled water. Despite a bad case of hiccups and feeling nauseous, I didn’t throw up and was able to eat lunch.
– Stopped in Ohiopyle and got hot beverages and dried off at Ohiopyle Baking Company.
– Got to the campsite to learn that the showers wouldn’t be turned on until the next week. We were bummed. Got ready to make dinner. Finally vomited due to hiccup-induced nausea. Felt much better and ate our indian food packet dinner we brought with us.
We both slept well, despite some overnight rain and blustery winds. The early portion of the day was supposed to be easy – about 20 miles on the trail and then about 8 miles of relatively flat road to Somerset. Because of the rain, the trail was slow and our tires sank into the surface. It took a dishearteningly long time to get to Rockwood. Once off the trail, the winds picked up and our legs (at least my legs) felt like lead. The relatively easy roads were feeling incredibly hard. I was feeling ready to throw in the towel. I had to stop often. I wasn’t ready/willing to say it out loud, but I seriously doubted my ability to complete the task at hand.
We stopped in Somerset and had a long lunch at Eat N Park. Gardenburgers and fries were consumed. We called ahead and made motel reservations for Bedford. Ted had said there were good descents on this stretch. Of course, we first had to tackle some tough ascents. When we went outside, strange stuff was falling from the sky…is that pollen? No, snow. Shit. Not much, but just enough to add to the absurdity. The winds were seriously 25+ MPH and were swirling. We tackled the hills. My poor lungs had a hard time with the wind and the colder air and I had to stop frequently. Somehow we made it to Bedford and made our way to Judy’s Motel. Some highlights of our night there:
– Proprietor “Wild Bill”, his funny laugh and an excess amount of PA Dutch hex signs decorating the place
– hot showers
– having Pizza Hut pizza delivered (Pro-tip: when ordering no-cheese pizza from Pizza Hut, do not order thin crust. It’ll just become a slightly saucy cracker with dried out veggies on top) (Note: it was delicious anyway)
– watching some Weather Channel show about what would happen if the volcano under Yellowstone Park erupted (or more accurately as they portrayed it, WHEN IT ERUPTS)
Got up early and got a light breakfast at the Green Harvest Co cafe right in Bedford. We hit the road and I was feeling much stronger. Hills were still tough and I still had to stop a lot, but I felt better doing it. The winds weren’t quite as crazy. We did the 20 miles between Bedford and Breezewood in pretty good time.
We stopped at the Sheetz in Breezewood to look for lunch. Strangely we ran into the woman who lives around the corner from us who was on her way to OBX. We scored some decent packaged asian noodle meals out of the cooler and ate them there, along with some pretzels and Gatorade. We rested a bit and then hit the road again.
Up a quick incline out of Breezewood you run into the abandoned section of the PA turnpike. Approximately 8 miles of relatively flat travel on surprisingly decent surface (considering it was last paved almost 50 years ago) and two tunnels. Totally weird post-apocalyptic feel. Loved it. Crude, childish graffiti on the tunnel entrances (Colonel Cumstache Clark). No traffic. Wonderful.
From there some relatively quick jaunts to Hustontown to Fort Littleton to Burnt Cabins. We stopped outside a bar in Burnt Cabins right as a kinda drunk guy stumbled out. He asked us what we were doing and told us to check out the grist mill. Right then a car drove by and the driver had a small child sitting on his lap. The drunk guy just looked at the driver and said “Now that ain’t legal.”
From there we headed south towards Cowan’s Gap. A friend had described the Auchwick Road leading up to Cowan’s Gap as “a climb and a half”, so we were a bit apprehensive about this section. Ultimately the climb wasn’t that bad. Lots of climbing but also lots of pretty flat areas. And when we finally got to Cowan’s Gap, the route turned off to the left down perhaps the best descent of the entire trip. Several miles of continual downhill leading to Fort Loudon.
Our intent on this day was to ride about 75 miles to camp at Caledonia State Park. By the time we made it to Fort Loudon, I knew I wouldn’t make it that far. I knew we just needed to make it to Chambersburg and we could get a hotel there. At this point we were back on Route 30/Lincoln Highway and the hills began to flatten out but there were still plenty of them. We continued to make good time but were running out of steam.
Finally we rolled into Chambersburg and began to look for a place to find something resembling a vegan meal. After rolling through most of the way through town and not seeing much, we spotted a Burger King and I noted that they had veggie burgers. So Burger King veggie burgers it was. Note: nobody working at Burger King has any idea what comes on a veggie burger. We triple checked with 3 folks at the counter to make sure there was no mayo or cheese on it. Guess what the cooks put on it? Mayo. We were so hungry we just scraped it off and ate ’em. Large fries and plenty of soda too. And in that moment, that shit was pretty delicious.
We then proceeded down the road to get a room at the Day’s Inn. Dude working at the counter’s eyes bugged out when he learned we biked from Bedford that day. He asked us the standard the standard AAA/AARP/student/etc discount questions and finally was like “Did you stop at the I-81 Visitors Center? Just say yes.” so we could get a hefty discount on the room. Then he let us take our bikes in the room so they would be secure. More hot showers were enjoyed and then we watched some Futurama, some King of the Hill and an episode of Duck Dynasty.
We ate some “continental breakfast” at the hotel and then got back on Route 30. What we could see of Michaux State Forest/Caledonia State Park looked beautiful but we were quickly past that. We saw the sign for Mr. Ed’s Elephant Museum, but it didn’t open until 10am and it was only 9:30. It didn’t seem worth waiting around for, so we kept on east.
Shortly thereafter you get off 30 and get onto PA 234 which was a wonderful combination of rolling hills with some great descents through lots of orchards. We stopped in East Berlin to look for a lunch, but there wasn’t much there. Best we could do was bananas, Clif bars, potato chips and Gaterade at the Rutter’s. We were tired but it was sunny and we only had to make it to York.
My sister and her family live in York and this was one of our main goals of this trip, to hang out with the nephews. We got to her house with plenty of time to get washed up and rest before they got home from school. Oldest nephew Jamal had a baseball game, so we hung out with my sis and the other 2 nephews and made tacos for dinner. We caught the end of the game and then went back and hung out more with the family, watching some videos of the boys’ wrestling matches and other general bullshit.
In the morning we met up with our friends Jesse and Hayley. They took the morning off of work to hangout and Hayley made us monster pancakes and soysage. It was nice to hang out with them, eat some good home cooked food and just catch up. Around lunchtime we headed back to my sister’s house and prepared to hit the road again just as some more rain began to come.
Since we were only going about 20 or so miles to Lancaster, we took our time, riding through some light rain and seeking shelter when the rain began to get heavier. We crossed the Susquehanna River which is incredibly wide and made our way into downtown Lancaster. There we stopped and got some chai at Square One Coffee and then checked out a couple used bookstores.
Then we made our way to the home of an old friend Casey/Sloth who I know from the Lancaster punk scene from when I went to college in York. He lives right in Lancaster. His partner Eli and his kid Quehanna were at the house when we got there and we helped them prep some dinner. Casey came home and we ate a hearty meal and spent a couple hours catching up. That night we slept on a single bed together. A bit cramped, but we were cozy.
The weather forecast the night before had indicated that the rain should’ve been done by morning, but there was a steady rain when we woke up and the forecast at that point was calling for steady rain through noon. We delayed our departure a bit but then realized it made no sense. Just go out and get wet. It was supposed to clear up and get warm in the afternoon anyway, so we would likely dry off quickly. So off we went and it dumped on us pretty good for 30-40 minutes until we were well out of town and then it began to let up. By the time we made it to New Holland, the sun was beginning to peak out.
We stopped at a natural foods store in New Holland seemingly run by young Mennonite women. Got some hippy fig newtons, some pretzels, some bananas and had a quick snack break. The bike route gets on PA 23 for a bit but then gets off of it for awhile before reconnecting. We opted to stay on 23, which didn’t prove to be a mistake, but I think probably made us interact with more traffic and some larger hills.
Over the last couple days I had been experiencing some minor pains in my left knee. Just some weird little stabby pains on either side of my kneecap. Nothing much, just enough to notice. On this day it began to hurt more. At this point I knew I had the strength and endurance to make it to Philly but began to worry that I was causing damage to my knee. Instead I just took some ibuprofen and pushed on.
We stopped in Morgantown at the Sheetz for another break. On the other side of Morgantown, you realize that you are starting to get closer to Philly. There was more traffic and just more roads in generally and it began to be harder to feel confident that you didn’t miss your turn. At one point we did miss a turn and had a to do some slight backtracking. By the time we hit the Phoenixville area, the sun was pretty hot and we were getting rather hot, tired and irritable. At one point we saw a sign that said “Bike Route S WEST Detour” and we got a bit confused. We got a little testy with each other, but a quick look at the map on the Iphone determined we were on track and only about a mile away from getting on the Schuykill River Trail.
Then BAM, we crossed the Schuykill, rolled into Valley Forge and got on the trail towards Philly. The trail gets a little confusing at times, especially around Manyunk where it follows along a pretty busy main street for awhile, but eventually we found ourselves back to following right along the river. This was fine again until we hit the Boathouse Row area and the Aberdeen Dad Vail Regatta was happening at that time, which consisted of approximately 5000 (according to later news reports we would see) high school and college students competing in rowing events. So as we followed along this section of trail we had to dodge lots of dazed young folks carrying around boats, oars, etc and other hoards of spectators, etc.
Once making it through that, we stopped to double check our final directions and made our way to the Rocky statue outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art. At this point we considered the commonwealth to have been cruised. We made phone calls to our folks and took a little rest before heading on to our friend Jim’s house.
From there we:
– experienced some Philly cyclists and were thankful to live in Pittsburgh
– experienced some Philly drivers and were thankful to live in Pittsburgh
– got to Jim’s where we hung out and showered up
– went with Jim and Sara to get pizza at Blackbird Pizza. They fucked up our order so we got an extra slice while we waited along with an order of fries. Emma ate two cupcakes while we waited for dinner.
– slept like the dead in a room with no windows
– got our rental car which was a Chevy Sonic. We had been unable to find a bike rack to borrow, so we did some crazy Tetris shit with our bikes to get them to fit in the trunk/backseat
– ate lunch at a place called Hip City Veg that despite the shitty name had great food including vegan shakes that were definitely worth the $5 we paid for them
– stopped by the Wooden Shoe where I picked up the “The Story of Crass” book.
– drove to my folks house in Quakertown
– next day we drove to Lancaster with my folks as they needed to pick up some sweet potato plants from their Amish farmer that they get them from. The farm was located right on the S Route. We literally biked past it two days before.
– had lunch at the ridiculousness that is the Shady Maple. Seriously, WTF is that place?
– sunday morning we got up and hit up Vegan Treats on the way out of town. I ate a huge cinnamon roll in record time. I got a chocolate cheesecake on a stick to take with me.
– upon arriving in Pittsburgh, we went to dinner at Thai Cuisine where we consumed our meals in what also may have been record time as well.
All around it was a great trip. I had my doubts at various points in the journey, but I pushed through and made it happen. Emma kicked my ass all along the way. She’s a tough cookie. The left knee still feels a little funny, but the sharp pains have disappeared. Would definitely do again, tho’ maybe not too soon. Would also recommend the trip, but perhaps would suggest that you forgo any camping (we actually only ended up camping the first night but we dragged our camping gear across the rest of the state) so you have a lighter load. Wouldn’t want to do it east to west; seems like it would be much tougher in reverse.
But, yeah, commonwealth, cruised. Pretty awesome. Do it.
Wanna see some photos from the trip, go here.