Sunday, July 20, 2008

"Ah hell, the worst they could get is a warning!" - Day 28

When I write tomorrow we'll be finished! Not a lot to report from today, other than that Pennsylvania is stupid hilly. We met two friendly motorcyclists at the top of a hill that had a nice view of the beautiful wooded farmland below and exchanged e-mail addresses with them.
As we pedaled past Heart Lake, the director of the camp that owns it saw us looking longingly at its cool waters. He invited us to disregard the no trespassing sign and hop on in. It felt great to cool off and have wet clothing during the afternoon.
We stopped for lunch at a diner in Jermyn. When we asked for directions to get back on Route 6, a nice old lady told us to just get on the expressway on the outskirts of town. Another gentleman retorted that the "staties" wouldn't allow it. The old woman replied "ah hell, the worst they could get is a warning!" Needless to say, we rode illegally on Route 6.

My achilles was acting up with all of the hills, so our pace wasn't great as the day went on. I was able to pick some rasberries along the side of the rode while waiting for Travis, which was nice. Before we realized it, we had ridden past the bigger towns and were committed to make it to Milford. This was unfortunate, as the sun was setting and eventually set. We had 8 miles to go when it got to be dark. It was downhill into Milford but we had to take it a little slower than we would've liked because Travis had the only light. I still set a maximum speed of 41 mph in in the dark though!

In Milford, we grabbed dinner before looking for a place to pitch our tent. We were having no luck until we rode by the United Methodist Church, where the lights we were on. Pastor David kindly opened the church for us to use the restroom and allowed us to camp in the yard. I can't wait for tomorrow; we've only got 91 miles left!


"Endless mountains." - Day 27

Two days to go! The tent keeps smelling worse and worse, after getting wet during the rainstorm in Iowa and with me sleeping in it not having showered since west of the Mississippi River in Davenport. Fortunately, after tonight we'll only have one night left in it!

When natured called this morning, we immediately turned to the old outhouses on the baseball field where we were staying. The men's was locked, but Travis was able to get into the women's. It was undoubtedly the filthiest restroom I have ever used, but we were both overjoyed at its convenient location just 100 feet from our tent.
We made it out of Smethport along the supposedly closed road that the guys at the bar recommended. We made good time most of the day considering the hills and it went by rather quickly. We've started to find the most ridiculous stuff funny and it's easy to tell that we're both getting very anxious to be finished on Monday.

We finally broke 3,000 miles today, which is about 600 more than the great circle distance between Seattle and Stamford. But it leaves us with under 300 miles to go.
Our destination for the night was Towanda, where we got Chinese food and went to a crappy bar where a guy with a ridiculously animated handshake pointed us in the direction of a park across the river. It's super hot out and our sweat adds to the stench in the tent. The thought of only one more night is an extremely welcome one.


Saturday, July 19, 2008

"There are bears all over the place." - Day 26

Today was a pretty lackluster day. Last night the tornado or fire alarm went off repeatedly, making it difficult to sleep. We woke up around 6:30, got breakfast at a convenience store and hit the road around 8:45. Highway 77 was ridiculously hilly, taxing me and slowing Travis down a lot. We finally made it to Corry a little after noon, where we hit Highway 6, which we'll be able to take Highway 6 across the entire state. The convenience stores are a lot more stingy about letting us use the restrooms out east, which has been frustrating.

We were making slow time when Travis got our first flat since South Dakota, a pinch flat from a rock. His repairing skills were a little rusty, but we made it nonetheless. It's interesting that we stopped about every other day at a bike shop out west, but the last one we visited was in Sioux Falls. We also continue to see a lot of roadkill. Travis remarked that he thinks we see one piece about every mile or so. I doubted him and decided to test it. No sooner had I commented we should test his theory when I spotted a dead bird. Perhaps one per mile is an underestimate.
We continued slowly through Warren where we got Subway, and through Kane where we got groceries. I was finally able to find some prunes, which was a welcome relief. We set a goal of making it to Smethport, since it looks to be about the only town big enough to have a bar. Travis and I both think that we seem more isolated here than in Wyoming where the population density was considerably less. Perhaps it's because the people are less friendly, or at least more backwater.
We grabbed a bite to eat at Hull's in Smethport, which was a little pricier than we would've liked and didn't accept credit cards. A gentleman there recommended that we head to East Smethport to an old baseball field to avoid the cops in the "borough." There, some local kids with a 2 x 6 board took interest in us as we were setting up the tent. They were ready to rumble with whomever was trespassing on their turf, but after realizing we weren't a threat, they settled down. They did warn us that there are bears everywhere, but we're taking our chances without a bear bag. Tally ho!


Friday, July 18, 2008

"Roadkill smells so much worse when wet!" - Day 25

Great news! The ride just got 500 miles longer! But we'll get to that later. Woke up this morning without being accosted by raccoons or park rangers. We left but I had to drop #2 like nobody's business. The first two towns didn't have convenience stores with restrooms. I was getting desperate and was a little bit ahead of Travis going up the hills in the national park. I spotted a porta-potty in the woods, threw my bike down in a spot where I thought Travis would see it and took care of business. When I finished, Travis was not waiting at my bike like I expected and had already ridden up the hill a half mile or so to a convenience store where he expected to see me. Since I wasn't there, he went on.

I went to the gas station to plug in my cell phone so that I could call him, left a voice mail and continued east. I stopped again at a McDonald's, thinking again that he was ahead of me and needing to plug in again because my battery was dead. Travis called and said he was ahead, so I set off after him. I was so concentrated on looking for him, that I didn't see the signs for Route 303 and ended up taking Highway 14 southeast to Ravenna. He realized I should've caught up to him already, called me and we made a plan to meet in Freedom. After asking for directions at a day care center, we finally met up in Freedom; hence the two paths in today's route map.

It was another slowish day after the delay I caused while we were separated. Around the Pennsylvania border we realized we probably wouldn't make it to Stamford until Monday evening, which is fine. The hills are beginning again, which is fun, but also harder. It has also been warmer and I went through another 3 slushee drinks today.
On the way into Meadville, we saw another biker come out of a church. He decided to "go out of his way to help us" by riding next to us in the traffic lane as we went up an arduous 1.5 miles climb to Blooming Valley on Highway 77. Turns out he was a born again Christian who had recently had a bad bike accident, didn't wear a helmet, got arrested while intoxicated and went nuts in the backseat of the cop car, had recently made love to a woman without compunction, claimed to be super humble, thought we were real american bikers, was in constant communication with Yahweh (the one true living god), and seemed mentally unstable. After directing us to a diner, but also giving us directions to a pub, he turned back around and headed back down the hill we had just spent 20 minutes climbing. After his prosyletizing, we were in desperate need of a beer and made a beeline for the pub.
One crazy dude

We're only 3 miles away from the biker we met in South Dakota, Jason's, house. We dropped his name at the bar, and one of the bartenders who also happens to be the fire chief's daughter, knew him. She treated us well by asking if we could camp on her father's property. ANother man in the bar, "Gus," paid $20 for our next meal, which ended up being this one as we were low on cash and they did not accept credit. Everyone was very friendly and interested in what we are doing.

As I got into my sleeping bag, my friend Laura sent me a text inviting me to North Carolina on her family vacation there. Google says it's only 460 miles from Stamford to Kitty Hawk and then her family could give me a ride to St. Louis where it should be cheap to get a flight back to Denver. So that's the new plan and the reason for the bike ride getting so much longer. Yay!

*Broke Travis' previous speed record and set the new high!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Something has happened in China which is out of our control." - Day 24

Possibly 4 days to go! Holy cow! From where we are now, Google says it's 495 miles to Stamford, CT. That's crazy to think about! We woke up bright and early at 6 this morning, got breakfast at the convenience store in Lyons. Unfortunately, I was still feeling full from last night's meal at Lyon's Den, and didn't eat much.
We headed towards Highway 20, enjoying Ohio's nearly perfectly flat landscape and a very slight tailwind. We didn't set a goal for today, rather we just decided to bike until dark or we got tired, trying to make at least 120 miles.

I have been planning since March to spend my next year teaching English in China, and have been trying to coordinate visas, contracts, and medical forms during the trip. As a result, I have e-mails from the company I am working with forwarded as text messages to my phone. Today in the middle of the day I got a text that said "Something has happened in China which is out of our control. After your ap" Since the text message cut off the rest of the message, I didn't know what had happened. I was able to call my friend who is also going to China, and he informed me that the Chinese were no longer granting visas for foreign teachers in the province where we were supposed to be teaching. So for now, the upcoming year is in limbo.

Besides some construction, it was a pretty regular day, if a little slower than what we've been used to with a tailwind. We've recently discovered that ICEEs and Slushees are wonderful ways to cool off; I drank three yesterday alone! I had another craving today, so we skipped Subway today and had lunch at Burger King, where the lemon ICEEs are cheap and delicious.
I needed a break after we hit 120 miles around 5:30 pm in Lagrange, where we set a goal of Hinckley, which was another 20 miles. We got Subway to go for dinner and were directed by the townspeople of Hinckley to the Hinckley Reservation to camp. They told us that it was illegal, but also pointed us in the direction of a secluded area of the park where we shouldn't have any problems. Hopefully we'll make it through the night without any major problems. Otherwise, our spirits are high with the end seeming so close. We've been picking up the average for the past few days though, and it has been taking a toll on our bodies.


Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Let's leave before they kill us." - Day 23

We were off to another late start this morning after the luxury of sleeping inside. We plotted a way out of South Bend and set off, intending to take highway 20 most of the day. But disaster struck as we rode down the on ramp, which had a sign declaring that bicycles were prohibited. When we stopped to check the map for alternative routes, a seemingly friendly man suggested that we take a county road to Dunlap. However, the county road went to Goshen, so we were forced to backtrack north to Highway 20 where bicycles were once again allowed. The silver lining was that we met a friendly woman named Emily during our second breakfast at Martin's supermarket in Goshen. She offered to let us stay with her and gave us directions back to the highway.
It was smooth sailing with a bit less than normal roadkill amounts until we got to Ohio. Just across the border there was a big billboard advertising a tourist information center, and since we had just vowed not to buy an Ohio map, we opted to stop.
The "tourist center" was set into a dirt hill with an enormous TV antenna and gravel parking lot. THere was a rusty mailbox by the door that said "Ohio maps," but was empty. We opened the unlocked door and inside found somebody's cluttered home with the TV on. It reeked inside and our calls of "hello" went unanswered. I turned to Travis and said "let's leave before they kill us." Which we promptly did.
We continued east on Highway 20, stopping only to try a few grains of wheat. We had been warned about bringing pepper spray for dogs, but hadn't had any problems until today. Travis was ahead of me when I heard him yelling expletives. I looked to my right and saw a vicious dog at full sprint charging out of an unfenced yard. Needless to say, I poured on the steam, shouting expletives myself and veering into the center of the road to add more distance between his teeth and me. We made it out unscathed and probably gave a fun show to the minivan behind us.

After asking for the town with a bar at a junction in the road, we ended up at the Lyon's Den bar in Lyons, Ohio. There we gorged ourselves, got a free beer from Raymond, and a map of Ohio from the bartender. We were fortunate to get it, as there isn't just one highway heading east towards Pennsylvania. The bartender gave us some "bakers" (baked potatoes) for the road, and we were directed to an old school yard to pitch our tent. We're still on a good pace to be finished sooner than we expected, even though our average speed today was a little slow.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

"University of Dame Notre...LEE!" - Day 22

Woke up late this morning a little before 8 am. Right at 8, a park ranger came by and collected $6 for camping one night. I found it humorous that on the receipt under "Vehicle License" he wrote "bikes." We quickly packed up, deciding to get breakfast at a convenience store. There we picked up an Indiana map. I was looking at the University of Notre Dame and noticed they had inverted the word order on the map. I pointed this out to Travis, causing him to exclaim loudly "LEE!" It turns out that we have a mutual friend who is studying there, so we set a lofty goal of making it to South Bend, 129 miles away according to Google's phone text service.

We set off zig zagging across Illinois along various county roads towards Highway 2 in Indiana. It took us 50 miles and into the afternoon to reach it, but it was almost entirely flat. Once in Indiana we lost our tailwind and Google indicated that it was still 104 miles to South Bend, although it doesn't reply with the shortest route. We were worried about making it, but the flat and the motivation to sleep inside kept us going.

On the highway a few miles outside of South Bend, something hit my front wheel and then flopped into the guardrail. I didn't get a good look at it, but judging from the noise I would guess it was a bird. We've seen and smelled all kinds of road kill but this was the first that we've made.

We rolled into downtown South Bend just after sunset, where Lee met us and guided us to Subway and his apartment. We stayed up late chatting but got to check internet and sleep indoors. We have finalized with Jocelyn our plans and Google says it's only 734 miles from here. We should be there in 7 days if we continue at this pace.