Sunday, June 19, 2011

America the beautiful

I was walking along the Mall today in Washington D.C. At one point I saw the shameful sight of two garbage cans piled high with plastic water bottles directly next to a public water fountain. An adjacent vendor was doing a brisk business selling more bottled water. I guess it is fitting, in the place reserved for our nation to showcase monuments to fallen soldiers and past leaders, that we would similarly host a monument to our nation's over-consumption for all the world to see.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Stopped! Sad but true.

It is probably hard to believe, but already this early on my trip I decided to stop and turn around.  Once I arrived in Greensburg, I was able to do a little bit of thinking about something that was bothering me.  There were no real physical difficulties with what I was doing.  Sure riding up onto the Allegheny Plateau in 90+ degree heat was uncomfortable, but it wasn't anything I couldn't manage day after day.  My bicycle and other gear weren't giving me any problems either and certainly would hold up for 5 or even 10 thousand miles.  What was bothering me was that I was not having fun.  The riding was enjoyable and everything was going alright, but I didn't find myself laughing and smiling and having fun.  Since having fun is more the measure of success than anything else for me, I realized this trip wouldn't work in this format.

I realized that I have my memorable fun moments in the company of others.  My personality when I am alone doesn't allow me to relax much.  Therefore I have my most fun, no matter what the activity or intensity, when I am with someone else.  Whenever I spotted lawn globes on my ride, it wasn't special because Jeef wasn't there to simultaneously take a photo and try not to ride off the side of the road.  I still "baaed" at goats I passed, but without Eric there to join in a chorus it lost something.  Lugging 60 lbs of stuff on the bike worked okay, but it would have been much more enjoyable had Ieva been there to make fun of me for it.  If Jon had been with me yesterday when I ate 4 hotdogs with everything, a package of Tasty Kakes and a pint of chocolate ice cream for lunch and he had done the same, I would have gotten to call him "fat".  (This is a long running joke among Jon's friends.)  Without Jason nearby, any "Dumb & Dumber" quotes I used on unsuspecting waitresses would fall flat.  And while my salmon and brown rice tasted just fine at dinner, it would have been so enjoyable to watch Jeff try to ruin it with cuttlefish or avocados.

While I am a little disappointed that I ended the trip before it went on for very long, I know that I made the correct decision.  Some people will fully understand what I am talking about.  Some people won't see beyond the fact that I gave up.  Either way, I don't care.  Instead of worrying about anyone else might think, I am already planning future biking/climbing trips of the East coast and of the West coast.  With what I have learned in the failure of this trip, I will plan much more thoroughly and get people involved other than just myself.  If you the reader care to keep reading, great!  If you have already written me off, well so be it.

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!

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Man endures blisters to view beauty of wilderness

I was happy to have been asked to contribute to this article on my friend, Dave Gantz. I tried to provide an additional perspective on why we have the intensity for the outdoors that we do. Either way, it is a good read on someone else's journeys.

Man endures blisters to view beauty of wilderness - Good Life: Cover Story | Centre Daily Times - State College, PA

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Baby steps? Nah.

So, Jeef, Eric and I took the first annual (yeah, I said annual) Brewery Biking Tour of Southeastern PA or BBTSEPA as we in the know call it.  A huge thanks goes out to Brett, Morgan, Pat, Mike, Mary, Sam and Julie for opening their homes and showers to us!  Frankly, it went off with nary a hitch except for Eric getting 12 flats and Yuengling being closed to tours when we arrived.  All 500+ miles were fun from start to finish and made me realize that I kinda wanted more.  You have all heard me say by now that I am going off on a long tour throughout the Midwest and West and it is nearly time for me to bite the bullet!

I wanted to share with you the general route that I plan to take.  In order to keep from totally discouraging myself, I broke it up into four different biking maps representing "stages".  Also, if you put too much stuff into Google maps, it gets really difficult to manipulate after a while.  (Note:  Google maps will try at all costs to route you through Kansas.  I just have this mental aversion to Kansas, although I'm sure southern Nebraska and eastern Colorado will prove to be just as flat.  But I tried at all costs not to go through Kansas.)

These plans are subject to change slightly.  Certainly there will be times where one busy road is paralleled by a tiny country lane.  I will have maps along with me to make changes on the fly.  For the most part however, I believe that this will be the direction I'm heading.  For those of you who plan to ambush me in Vernal, UT or Ottumwa, IA, believe that I already know what you're planning so don't waste your time.  As always, if you see some glaringly stupid route decision, I always appreciate feedback.

**Make sure you click the "View larger map" link because the maps are cropped**

This is the first leg from State College, PA to my brother's place in Columbus, OH.

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This is the second (significantly longer) leg from Columbus, OH to the Denver, CO/Rocky Mountain NP area.

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This is the third leg from the Denver, CO area to Salt Lake City, UT.

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At this point, my friend Jason and I will drive to Grand Teton NP in WY to climb after which I will undertake the fourth (ridiculously long and desolate) leg.

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From the western edge of Illinois, my route retraces the route I took on the way out.  It was for expediency's sake but I will probably take a slightly different route on the return.