Thursday, June 9, 2011

Day 1 & 2: Tom bears all!

As I sit here in Greensburg, PA having been transported only by my two legs and a bicycle, I reflect on all of the things I have undergone already in two days.  Certainly getting my butt off of the couch finally is enough of an accomplishment, but the past 130 miles held some fun for me!

Powered by my signature healthy breakfast of tea, bacon, eggs, strawberry yogurt, and more bacon, I began my voyage yesterday morning.  Jeff acted a little forlorn as I turned in my house key, but I knew it was a facade and that he would probably change the locks nevertheless.  The first few miles were spent reacquainting myself with a really heavy bike.  Not only had I not been riding a loaded bike for about a week, but I also conjured up about 20 more lbs of junk to carry since the last trip.  Once I made it on to 45W though, things were clicking as I had ridden this way several times visiting my friends', George and Kristi's, farm.  In fact, both of them (politely) beeped at me as they drove to work!

I continued past their farm and paralleled Spruce Creek through a few small towns and countryside.  Turning on to 22W, I was surprised to find the road was quite pleasant.  22 in the western half of the state kinda sucks (we'll talk more about that later).  I continued on through Hollidaysburg and Duncansville until I approached the first challenge of my trip: the Cresson Ridge.  I remembered reading a book by Martha Retallick, a woman who bike toured through all fifty states.  The only ascents that she mentions in the entire book are 1)  Rocky Mountains  2)  Cresson Ridge.  Shit...

The climb starts so gradually, that you really don't even notice that you're on it.  Actually, I felt myself saying "Really Martha?  This is easy."  The problem is that this "easy" section goes on for about 7 miles.  She said something to the effect that she almost puked at the top.  I had to stop a couple of times on the way up because the 90 odd degree heat was debilitating.  At one point I stopped and refilled all of my water bottles from a stream because my piss was orange.  When I finally made it over the top and down to Cresson, I had to sit down for ten minutes before I could summon myself to buy a cold Gatorade.  Heat exhaustion was definitely getting to me.

The last 5 or so miles to Ebensburg were a bit belabored at this point.  I got some more water and then found the trailhead for the Ghost Town Trail (GTT).  I then rode down the GTT for a mile and found a secluded spot to set up.  Now mind you, even though this wasn't posted against trespassers, it may not be entirely legal for me to sleep there.  So at about 10 o'clock when I heard footsteps, I thought it may be a sheriff or someone else to tell me to bugger off.  I really didn't want to have to move camp or get beaten up, so I was actually relieved when I saw the outline of a black bear in the dim light.  He was making his way straight towards my tent and when he was about 10 feet away, he saw me move and bolted.  That bear was on the smaller side, but the one I ran into on the trail the next morning (pictured above) was a bit larger.  He too lumbered off of the trail.

The 34 miles of ultra smooth rail trails that make up the GTT were a perfect way to start the day and were directly contrasted by the second half of the day.  Once in Blairsville, I got on to 22W and was back to the land of big trucks and high speed limits.  An 8 foot wide shoulder makes it pretty manageable, until that shoulder disappears.  I had completely forgot about the section of 22 that goes down to just two lanes in a 3 mile construction zone.  There was no shoulder whatsoever and the traffic just barreled right along as if I didn't exist.  Three trucks passed me close enough that I thought my elbow would be clipped.  If anyone ever makes me choose shipping agents, I will emphatically choose UPS.  A Fed Ex truck nearly brushed my bike panniers whereas a UPS truck pulling double trailers managed to give me two feet of clearance.

The construction zone combined with the heat were putting me into a bad mood and a state of heat exhaustion.  I finally got back onto normal shoulders and stopped at a Sheetz's for some respite.  A seat in the shade with a chicken sandwich and a slushy made me feel a little bit human again.  And once I got onto 119S toward Greensburg, I even started to enjoy biking again.  As I entered town, my rear tire blew out in a dramatic fashion and that swung the fun pendulum in the opposite direction.  Fortunately the thunderstorm didn't begin until I had patched both my tire and my tube who had been the victim of some mysteriously pointy thing.

All is well now that I am dry and rehydrating with a lukewarm Pabst.  I think that I am going to take a complete rest day tomorrow so that I don't drive myself bonkers.  At 71 miles and 59 miles, my first two days were pretty fulfilling!

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