Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Reaching Clarion (Day 9)

After camping on top of Rockton Mountain, I got up the next morning, assembled my bike and gear and enjoyed some downhill coasting into Luthersburg, PA. From there, it was a few more hills and turns, taking me to the small town of Reynoldsville. Since it was noon, I decided I might as well get some lunch, so I went to George's Hotdog Diner on Main Street. I'd been having a hankering for a hot dog for the last few days and figured George's was the way to go, but once inside, I got convinced by the worn-out, dowdy waitress to order the all-you-can-eat pizza special for $4.99 instead. While scarfing down the doughy pizza at the lunch counter, I chatted with Mike, a young optometrist from Dubois, who was also indulging in the all-you-can-eat special a few stools down from me. He ended up eating eight (8) impressive pieces of pizza, while I barely was able to polish off five (5). As he paid his bill, he wished me luck on my bike trip, warning me that I had three major hills between Reynoldsville and the next town of Brooksville. "Are they big?" I timidly asked.

Mike paused to think as he laid out the tip for the waitress. Then, as if he knew his answer was going to ruin my day, his whole body exhailed and he solemnly admitted, "Yeah. They're pretty tough." Then he reiterated, "Three of 'em." He tossed the last crust of bread down his gullet and got off his stool, shaking his head in sympathy. "And I can't imagine biking up those hills after eating all that pizza."

Mike's warning was spot on; I had to bike three major hills, just as he described, over the course of the next 14 miles, and, just as he predicted, my pizza-ingestion caused major problems as well. By the 4th or 5th mile, my stomach started feeling like a slab of cement, and nausea started to creep up my throat. Every time I reached another gut-wrenching hill, I thought vomit was surely on its way. Along this stretch of road, I kept passing billboards for Edgar Snyder & Associates (a local accident law firm), in which, Snyder, the bald, grey-faced lawyer would be pointing straight ahead, next to big bold letters that read, "ACCIDENT?" For some reason, each time I passed these ubiquitous advertisements, the nausea would increase and the only thing that would help make it abate is if I answered the billboard by saying "No thanks. You?"

By the time I reached the depressing town of Brooksville, I decided to continue on for another 18 miles to the Super 8 Motel in Clarion. Of course, I had to pedal up another steep hill out of Brooksville, where I was going so slow, some college student carrying a keg up the hill almost passed me. Having some 20-year-old drunk on my tail made me more determined and I leaned into my pedals and picked up speed. 18 miles later, I reached Clarion, tired, sweaty and still a little nauseous. Unfortunately, I had to bike another 2-3 miles south of town to get to the motel... and naturally, there were a couple dandy hills along the way.

As soon as I reached the Super 8, I checked in, dropped off my stuff and jumped into the pool, cooling down with the dead bugs in the chlorine and urine infested water. Ten minutes later, thunderstorms came raging in and I retreated into my room.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Up and Down and Up Some More (Day 8)

I have been spending the last four days going up and down several hills... a painful and quadriceps-numbing experience... taking me into central Pennsyvannia. Yes, I can finally say central! I reached State College, PA on Wednesday (Day 8), which is the geographical center of Keystone state. While in town, I stopped at a bike shop near the university to have my gears, chain, tires, etc. checked out.

As I gingerly wheeled my bike and trailer through the shop (trying not to knock any displays over), some cycling douchebag in shinny, skin-tight pants and a 200 dollar helmet laughed heartily as I passed by. "Whoa! I'm impressed! You're braver than me to go cycling wearing those sneakers," he bellowed while pointing to my Nikes. I just smirked and shrugged, not knowing what exactly was wrong with my footwear.

After a quick check-up at the shop, I was on my way to McDonald's to fill up on burgers and fries in anticipation of hitting the toughest hill yet -- 2100 ft. into the sky.

Once my belly was full of fatty meat, processed bread and greasy potatoes, I headed out and started up the steep incline. Fortunately, they've done some renovations on the highway since when I walked through in 2001, so the grade wasn't entirely unmanageable. However, that didn't stop me from having to stop a couple times to catch my breath and toss my sweaty hemlet onto the ground to let my head dry off. The sun was in full-force, and sweat was streaming from all directions. One good thing -- I had a nice detailed topo map of the mountainside, so I always knew exactly how far along the slope I was.

By the time I was up and over the peak, I was feeling mighty weak with limp-noodle legs. I stopped off at a rest stop which was more or less a picnic table next to a small parking lot in the middle of the Moshannon Forest. I collapsed in the shade of a rickety shelter and tried to regain my composure. While panting on the ground, a man in a rusted Toyoda pulled into the lot, climbed out of the driver's seat and immediately lit an unraveling cigar that looked like it was purchased back before our Cuban embargo. He sauntered over to my soaked, tangled body that was sprawled in the grass and asked the basic series of questions about my bike, my trip, and what the hell I was doing. As I mumbled my standard answers, the man's face crinkled with annoyance, realizing my tepid responses were rather half-hearted. He then tapped his jacket that was emblazoned with a patch that simply read "Captain" as if to encourage me to find some fire in my speech and give him his undue attention/respect... but it just made me less-excited to talk to him. Finally, the man got the hint that I was more interested in quietly recharging my body with some oxygen than waste it talking to him, and he shuffled back to his car, grumbling something to the effect of "Don't tread on me!"

After the man drove off and I rejuvenated my lungs and muscles, I got back on the bike and cyled down the hill to the next town of Philpsburg. From there, it was off to Clearfield, PA, some 18 miles away, which I reached right before dusk. The main road was being worked on, so I had a nice bumpy ride through town. A quick stop at the library and at the local Sheetz convenient store, and I was back on my bike and on the road heading west. This is when I hit an unexpected millstone -- another long, tough mountain going from 1500 to 2200 feet. I thought all my mountainous obsticles were behind me, so I was understandably pissy as I went up what seemed like an endless uphill climb. It was one of those moments when every time you thought you were at the top, you go around a bend and the road would keep climbing up. By the time I reached the top, it was pitch dark. I pitched a tent and fell asleep a few seconds after driving the last stake.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

More Hills (Day 7)

Woke up around 10:30am and left my patch of weeds in the town of Chillisquaque, PA and crossed the river into Lewisburg, PA (much easier town to pronounce). From there, it was what looked like a straight shot west to State College... some 55 miles away. But my map was deceiving. Inside that "straight shot" were many tiny turns and hills, keeping my legs in full burn mode. And even though the cycling was long and arduous, I still took the time to take a detour north on a dirt road just so I could pass through a covered bridge. At one point, the Keystone state had something around 1,500 covered bridges, and today over 200 have survived through the years, so I wanted to pass through at least one at some point during my travels. Apparently, Pennsylvania has more covered bridges than any other state, giving it the grand title of "Covered Bridge Capital of the World."

After cycling through Mifflinburg, it was a good 20 miles of nothing but farmlands and forests, and I got especially caught off-guard when I reached Bald Eagle State Forest and faced a sudden long and winding hill. To add to the misery, there was zero shoulder, so while I struggled up the 10 degree incline, my wobbly bike and trailer weaving around potholes and roadkill, I also had to keep a watchful eye out for speeding pickup trucks zooming from behind. It was a taxing and tense time. I ended up having to take a break about halfway up the hill, collapsing in a bed of grass next to some narrow fishing access road.

After reaching the peak, I cruised down the other side of the hill at a nice speed, reaching the town of Millheim, where I bought two 20 oz. bottles of Mountain Dew Berry Blast for $2.22. From there, it was more hills and valleys for the next 12 miles into the township of Old Fort. There, I stopped at Brody's Diner for dinner. I got the "Baked Pasta Special" for $6.95, which looked like it was just all the old stuff they had lying around the kitchen thrown onto a plate. The Penne pasta looked and tasted like it was boiled at least three times prior to that evening. But, at least I got some much needed carbs... as tomorrow, I have one more major ridge on the Allegheny Mountain Range to tackle, and I need all the energy I can get! Carbs, do your work!!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The End of Rain? (Day 5-6)

A few hours after checking into the HoJo's, the rain seemed to stop and I started to get upset that I threw in the towel so early in the day... but then the rain came down again and I rejoiced, knowing that I made a wise move.

The next day, I was back on the road by 10am, accompanied with a few short rain showers, but nothing anger-inducing. I passed through Allentown without stopping and continued north-west towards Blue Mountain (1,200 ft.). Before tackling my biggest hill yet, I stopped at a Burger King to get some quick energy food, e.g., Whopper jrs. and Cheesey Tots ... both off the "value menu." But do you know wasn't a value? ...their tap water. "I gotta charge you fifty cents for the cup" the unsympathetic, tight-shirt-wearing manager mumbled. I just shook my head and mentioned our lord's name in vein as I exited the restaurant.

Blue Mountain was tough, but not impossible. Since it was a well-maintained highway, I had a decent shoulder and the grade never got crazy-steep. I had to stop twice along the way... just to catch my breath... but I never had to walk my bike. When I reached the top, my legs were wobbily and my panting was unrelenting, so I hopped off my bike for a short break. Then, when my back was turned, a gust of wind came roaring through, and my bike tipped over and ploughed into the ground with a loud clang! I then screamed many curses, afraid that the impact damaged my rear derailleur again. My loud outburst caught the attention of Ken, the owner/operator of a small restaurant/inn on the top of the mountain. He asked me if I was OK and offered food and drink to calm my nerves. I thanked him, but declined.

I then declined the mountain into the town of Tamaqua. From there, it was in and out of these small pockets of rundown coal-mining towns, which are now nothing more than crumbling housing structures and heaping piles of garbage. By sunset, I made it to the town of Mahanoy City and spent the next hour trying to find out out how to pronouce the town name. As far as I can tell, it's pronounced mah-hah-noy, with the accent on the "ma." My friend Blakeslee found something online that indictaed that locals just say "Mah-noy"... cutting out that middle syllable... but from the ten or so folks I talked to that day, no one said it that way.

The next day it was more hills, up and down, up and down. I went through Shenandoah (which had a coal miners memorial), Ashland, Centrilia, Mt. Carmel and then into the great-sounding town name of Shamokin, PA. (Pronouced Shah-moh-kin!) This old coal-mining town used to be a bustling hotspot in the area with a population of over 47 thousand, but now only has around 20 thousand and not much in the way of an industry or even a personality. From Shamokin, I went up and around the Seven Points mountains and arrived at the town of Sunbury. Funny thing, when I walked through Sunbury back in 2001, I got many rude and obnoxious comments screamed at me from folks in passing cars, which usually sounded like "Blah-dee-arg-ha-ha-haaaa!" And this time around, even on a bike, I got 3 or 4 obnoxious outbursts from passing cars. Most were unintelligible, except for one guy who took the time to stick his head out the passenger window and shout, "Hey, nice bike... faggot." I didn't know how to respond, so I just yelled back, "I have a suspicion that your sentiment towards my bike is not entirely sincere." The guy just stared at me blankly as his partner drove him away and over the horizon.

On main street of Sunbury, I met a guy named Edward who was out walking his dogs, one of which was quite disturbed by my large pack and bike trailer and basicaly howled at me several times. A local alchy by the dollar store joined in with the howling. Edward was a muscular, big-necked, talkative fellow and -- not unlike my friend Ray in Emmaus -- it was a little difficult to extricate myself from the conversation. But he seemed like an affable enough man (despite the fact that he was a security guard at the local mall) who liked to use his dogs as a conversation-piece. He wished me well and I pedaled by the howling bum by the dollar store.

From Sunbury, I cycled another 6-7 miles to the small town of Chillisquaque where I set up my tent for the night in a patch of weeds by the river... just out of view of passing cars. Chillisquaque. Now you try and figure out how to pronouce that!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Cycling through Pennsylvania (Day 3-4)

After spending hours cowering in the New Hope Library, hiding myself from teh downpour, I was able to find a local motel online that was considered to be relatively "cheap." And by "cheap," we're talking $125 a night. But since the rain didn't look like it was going to abate any time soon, I pedaled the 2-3 miles to the Nevermore Hotel and checked myself into the most economical lodgings in a 20-mile radius.

The next day, I got up and cycled from New Hope to Emmaus, having to tackle many hills and valleys along the way -- including two small mountains. It was a little difficult at times since the roads were not well-maintained and there wasn't any effort to lessen the grade. In fact, when I was climbing the first mountain, one sharp turn lead me to what looked like a gigantic wall... but it was just the road continuing up the hillside. The sudden steep slope caught me completely off-guard, and with my lack of momentum, I slowed down to a standstill within a few turns of my pedals. I then had to push the bike up the hill on foot for a few hundred yards until it leveled off enough for me to start pedaling again.

While taking a break in the small valley between the two mini-mountains, I stood on the shoulder of the road studying my maps, when I was startled by a local resident who quietly sidled up beside me and blurted out, "Hey! That's quite a trailer ya got there!" His name was Ray, he was grey, old and recently had a stoke, but he still scared the beejesus out of me when he magically appeared by my side. I then spent the next 15 minutes pinned by Ray's inarticulate conversation about my bike, his old bike, the boy scouts, and his daughter that lived in some town I have never heard before (he pointed towards some distant woodsy mountainside, thinking that by gesturing in a certain direction, it would somehow make me suddenly know the town intimately).

After escaping the friendship of Ray, I went up and over the second mountain, racing against nightfall. I hit the peak just as dusk was settling in and zoomed down the far side along the narrow, crooked road at a breakneck speed. I rode the brakes most of the way down, especially around the hairpin turns, as my bike and trailer rattled wildly. The way my heavily-packed trailer bounced around with a clatter, I thought it was actually going to overtake me a few times. As night fell, I reached the bottom of the hill and found a small bridge to camp under just outside of Emmaus, PA.

The next day, the rain came pouring down again just as I got my tent packed into my bag. I cycled around 9-10 miles through the sheets of rain, finally reaching a Perkins restaurant just south of Allentown. I went inside for a breakfast and got about 5 different people come up to me and joke, "Heh! Not a great day to be biking, is it?"

So instead to continuing to bike in the rain and continuing to get jokey remarks about biking in the rain, I went to the next door Howard Johnson's to get a room for the night. The rate was $109 plus tax, but I was able to talk the manager down to $85.

I'm hoping this precipitation ends sometime soon. Meanwhile, it's CNN, TBS and HBO for the day.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New Cycling Trip (Day 1-2)

Well, I stupidly have decided to go on another long-distance cycling trip. Ever since completing my walk across the country, I seem to be unable to adjust to normal life and I continue to find another reason/excuse not to look for a job. My newest venture is retracing my 2001 walk from New Jersey to South Dakota. The purpose of this trip is to try and film some additional footage for my "Walking Fool" documentary. Why did I decide to bike it instead of simply renting a car? I don't know. I guess, like I said, I need to make everything an "adventure." And so far, my adventure has consisted of lots of rain.

I left Sandy Hook, NJ around noon on Wednesday. At that point, the precipitation was not happening, thank god. From there, I managed to make it all the way to Princeton in a little over 6 hours. I stopped off at Jay's Cycling Shop to have my pedals looked at, which were squeeaking and annoying the hell out of me. The laid-back, bearded Mitch graciously took a look at the pedals, tightened them up and oiled my chain -- all for free. When I told him of my biking embarkment, he seemed rather impressed, revealing a tight grin. Also impressed was Mitch's coworker, Cody, who told me that I was a "free soul," as he sucked on his Camel unfiltered cigarette.

From there, I headed north. That's when the clouds began rumbling and shedding water droplets onto my head. The rain was fairly light, but since the winding Cherry Valley Road had its fair share of steep hills I had to climb, my mood was quickly souring. The rain finally died down just as I reached the small town of Hopeville, where I went to a Hungarian restarant for dinner. I had the Chicken Paprika and an iced tea. Eva, my bleach-blonde waitress, was outright amazed that I cycled all the way from Sandy Hook... and in just one day. As I departed, she told me to "be safe" three times.

As I left Hopeville around 8pm on county highway 518, I knew I only had about 30 minutes of daylight left. And with the rain beginning to fall again, I knew I had to find a bridge to camp under... and find it before it got dark. My map indicated that there were a few creeks along highway 518, but as I reached each one, I discovered that the underpass was extremely narrow with water flowing from edge to edge. I needed to find a bridge that had some sort of landing undernether where i could stow my bike and trailer,a nd hopefully set up my tent.

Finally, after much searching, I found a bridge on highway 31 that had a small landing underneath. But when I woke up this morning, I discovered the water rose onto the land and was streaming right under my tent. Whee! I tried to stay positive as I packed my sopping tent and gear, and as I hopped over the raging stream from rock to rock, carrying over my heafty bike and trailer.

Once out from under the bridge, I loaded my trailer, attached it to my bike and then cycled about 12 miles to New Hope, PA. I'm now at the local library, trying to see if I can find a hotel that's close and not outrageously expensive.

I don't know if this biking trip was such a wise move. It looks like it's supposed to rain for at least the next 10 days. If that's the case, not only will biking be incredibly unfun, but I won't be able to do what I was intending to do, i.e., film.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Done! And done! (Day 22-25)

It's official... I'm in El Paso, TEXAS... and thus concludes this foolish biking trip. I completed 1,002 miles in just over three weeks, which is not bad considering my three day layover in the Phoenix area.

Many thanks to all the folks I met along the way who took the time to stop and talk to a goofy, bearded man who occasionally smelled like a Habitrail full of gerbils. Also, thanks to all of you who have been following this cycling adventure and leaving comments on this blog. Leaving quick, cheery messages actually made a huge difference on this sometimes grueling trip and often helped boost my morale.

So, here's my final video. It's a little long because it's summarizing the last few days and I was also feeling a little self-indulgent. Hope you enjoy.

From Las Cruces to El Paso it was just a sliver under 60 miles, totaling (like I said) 1,002 miles for the entire trip. CLICK HERE to see the end of this journey in interactive form.

One last note, even though this is the end of this bike trip, I will still be updating this blog... mainly on the task of completing THE WALKING FOOL documentary and pursuing my long, heartfelt desire to act. Plus, I'll continue to share the occasional interview of the wacky folks I meet in my ongoing travels.