Update From the Road #1:  Cross Country Bike Trip 2005 Archive

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Hello All,

As most of you know, I am no longer doing the working thing, but rather the travel thing. With that, my current junket is a solo, unsupported, bicycle trip across the US. I left New York last week and hope to end up in San Francisco sometime in the beginning of October. It depends how much goofing off I do along the way and we all know my penchant for that while traveling.

Today I am taking a rest day in Brunswick, Ohio, about 20 miles southwest of Cleveland. The best thing about being in Ohio is that I am out of Pennsylvania and the Allegheny Mountains. The Alleghenies will draw nary a comparison to their Rocky brethren a few thousand miles to the west, but that mountain range is no slouch either. Not on a bike anyway. Either way, the ripping descents are worth the climbs.

The ride has been loads of fun so far, despite 90 plus degree heat, rain, wind, mountains and my first flat tire exactly 31.5 miles in to the trip. I kind of expected all of those things. While checking in to my hotel yesterday and giving my address I got my first "You rode your bicycle all the way here from NY"? Good stuff. The most difficult part of the trip so far has been getting out of Manhattan. I opted to leave from Battery Park up the west side greenway and over the GW Bridge in to New Jersey. Strange to see my last three places of employment as I was pedaling out of Manhattan: World Trade Center, Jersey City and Times Square.

Some of the more interesting places I have stayed/visited so far (and it isn't saying much) are Stroudsburg, PA – the heart of the Pocono's (no, I didn't stay at the beautiful Mount Airy Lodge). I rode through the Delaware Water Gap. Stayed in Lewisburg, PA, a quaint little town on the Susquehanna River, with, incidentally, zero homicides in 2003 (they wouldn't tell me about 2004 or 2005). Went to Penn's Cave. It was like most other caves, cool and dark. I stayed in State College, PA, home to Penn State. Although, on a Sunday night in August you can imagine that there was not much going on. I cruised through Mennonite country (think Amish but not quite so Luddite). I was talking to a kid as he was riding home from church. I would have pegged him as Amish were it not for the fact that he had a cyclo-computer on his bike. Pretty interesting conversation really. I also stayed in Punxsutawney, PA, or "Punxie" as the locals call it. I hate to end the magic, but the resident weather predicting groundhog, Phil, is pretty much a different groundhog every year. It's not even like they wait for him to come out of the ground looking for his shadow. They take some random groundhog and throw him under a few rocks in some sort of makeshift dwelling. Oh, and there is no tooth fairy either. The only time I really feared for my life, not that getting out of NY wasn't scary, but the first time I actually feared for my life was passing through Youngstown, Ohio. I try to keep an open mind about things, but even the better areas I rode through were sketchy at best. In Ohio I also hit my first National Park of the trip, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, home to the river that burned...several times.

In doing a ride like this there are a few things that you learn rather quickly. The first is this: avoid any and all roads with the words Hill, Mount or Wind in the name. They were put there for a reason. They weren't just picking names out of a hat. In speaking of roads, I have ridden on or past approximately 327 "Main Streets" to date and encountered one of my favorite road names after a crazy climb in western PA, "Shades of Death Road". At the time I thought it was aptly named.

What do you think about while pedaling your bike all day you ask? Actually, you have to concentrate far more than you might think. You have to be mindful of debris, potholes and the traffic that is at times buzzing quite literally, 12 inches from your left elbow. I spent a good portion of the first few days contemplating the physics of the rolling resistance of tires on surfaces and the factors that can affect it. I knew there was a use for High School physics. The road surface can make the difference of a few miles an hour which may not sound like much, but that adds up over 4,000 miles (6,400 KM for you Europeans). I won't bore you with the minutiae though.

You get to see a lot more of the country than you would if you were going by car, which includes the road kill (which I now have the ability to sniff out at about 200 yards). It would take forever to list all the things I had seen run down splayed on the shoulder of the road, but it includes Birds, Amphibians, Reptiles and Mammals (both large and small). One also notices far more litter on the side of the road. A little disappointing, but that doesn't mean that every beer can I pass on the road doesn't want to make me pull in to the very next hole in the wall with a neon beer sign in the window for a tall and frosty.

On the ride I only had two dog races so far and fortunately, both ended really before they began. In both cases, when the dogs bolted from their yards after me, I was on a slight down slope and just kept pedaling. I am contemplating pepper spray, but every additional ounce means more pedaling.

I generally try to stay on the right side of the law, but this trip required fracturing a few laws. It was mostly limited to running red lights, speeding and ignoring "Motorized Vehicles Only" signs. It's not like I knocked off the local bank or anything.

You can tell you are making progress on the ride as you pass people's mailboxes that have the little newspaper tube for the small town newspaper and the name of the newspaper changes. You can also gauge progress but what sports teams the general population likes, but that just takes longer. Some of my favorite small town newspaper names are The Punxsutawney Spirit, The Liberator and The Plain Dealer.

I guess that is enough for now. I am going to meet up with a friend of mine in Cleveland tonight and hope to cover the 300 something miles to Chicago in the next 4 or 5 days. From there I am planning to take a little break in the Windy City (Sarah is flying in for the weekend). I am also planning on stopping by a family friend in Wisconsin for a day or two, but I will take mass transit. Until next time here are a few general stats of ride to date:

Days Ridden: 9
Total Miles: 530
Average Daily Miles: Do the math yourself
Most Miles in a Day: 80 – Largely due to inaccuracies in my mapping software, two roads were non-existent and two roads were dirt roads. Doesn’t help me.
Max Speed: 49.7 MPH - In Ohio actually
Steepest Hill Climbed: 17% grade, also in Ohio. Who said Ohio is flat?
Longest Descent: 2.5 miles – The back end of the Allegheny Mts.

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