Day Three: Matamoras, Pennsylvania (76 miles)
That nickname for a Wednesday had special significance for me today as it would be the day when I would cross the great hump in the road, crossing the highpoint of the entire trip (coincidentally, at 191 miles into entire the trip, on Route 191).
I woke up this morning from a nightmare: my bike had had two flat tires and as I was applying the patches someone came along and bent my front wheel rim into what looked like a taco. I was afraid this was an ill omen, but then I looked out of my hotel window to a merciful sight: an overcast sky. The sun had been pretty powerful the last few days and the prospect of riding without having the sun beat down on me was an enjoyable one. The humidity was higher than it had been, but it was a tradeoff I was glad to make.
I had stayed on the southern end of Allentown last night and so wound up biking through the downtown area on my way north. I biked along Hamilton and saw a charming downtown before eventually turning north. I turned too early as it turns out, assuming that I’d missed my turn, and biked up a road that was in somewhat different economic straits. Billy Joel picked Allentown as the location of his steel-town anthem probably more because of the rhyme (it is more about Bethlehem, PA) but the decline of manufacturing America can certainly be seen on the side streets of Allentown. As I headed up Front Street north toward Tilghman and my route out of town, I passed by a couple of once active factories, now vacant. (I will confess, it was hard not to hear Billy Joel playing in the background the whole time).
Crossing over the river heading east, I was passed by a bicyclist wearing a black t-shirt and shorts. As he was laden only with a backpack and I had my backpack plus saddlebags, etc. I was not troubled by this. (Normally, I get kind of competitive about that). But as I continued along my route, I noticed this guy ahead of me a couple of times. Including twice where he intersected my path coming from various side streets. Now, it may be that he was simply taking a zig-zag route around the city, but it was odd. Whatever he was up to, I borrowed a page from Steve’s brother Dave’s suggestion of using the thought of imminent danger to prompt motivation. And so I imagined that he was trying to tail me (albeit not terribly clandestinely) and that spurred my legs on. The next thing I knew, I was out in the Pennsylvania countryside again.
There were a couple of hills heading through the towns to the north, but there was a fair amount of downhill, too. Now, of course, the downhills always make me nervous, because they suggest heading to go back uphill again soon, particularly with a mountain range in one’s future. In fact, at one point outside of Wind Gap, PA, I took a picture of the mountains in the distance contrasting the beauty of the scene with the leg pain it was sure to mean.
Fortunately, the road approaching the mountain crossing was relatively flat, connecting the towns that skirt the edge of the mountain range. Finally, cutting north of Bangor, I found myself on the above-mentioned PA-191, which from my planning consisted of a three-mile steep incline over the mountain. I stopped right before the steepest incline and rested for about 20 minutes before heading up. These mini-rests had been really helpful in charging up my legs before moving on. (That and the bananas and ibuprofen that Laura had recommended, to great effect.)
I headed up the mountain and found that it was not as rough going as I had feared. The top of the ridge was also home to the Appalachian Trail, but I didn’t see any hikers. I was disappointed that the top did not have a place to get a view of the valley below, but only mildly disappointed. I was really happy to see the sign warning of the steep downhill coming up. It was a three mile downhill that was as fun as any roller coaster, and a well deserved downhill. It was clear that this incline was steeper than the one I’d come up and so I was grateful that I was heading north, and not the other way around.
As I bottomed out in the valley to the north headed toward Stroudsburg I was suddenly greeted with a cruel joke: a 12% grade for about a mile before the town. It was brutal. But it followed with a downhill going into Stroudsburg where I stopped for lunch. The road out of Stroudsburg was relatively flat and enjoyable, in spite of the fact that the sun had made its return and this was during the heat of the day.
While the road was relatively flat and lacking in major uphills, the shoulders were not in good shape. I try as much as possible to ride in the shoulders, but sometimes they were only about 6 inches wide. At other points, when they were wider, they were not well maintained, with large potholes or cracks. If they weren’t cracked, there was often gravel in the way. This was the same way that many of the roads in Maryland were as well. But suddenly, the quality of the roads improved a great deal, as the road became a Federal highway through the Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area. Thank you, Federal taxpayers for your well-maintained roads, wide and clear shoulders, and visible highway markers.
The ride was going along really well, I was making good time and was definitely going to be able to make it through the park with plenty of daylight. This would be a day in which I’d conquer both the mountain and the park. I was enjoying the relatively flat terrain when suddenly, I heard a noise: ptung! I looked down and noticed a small, but discernible wobble to the rear wheel: a broken spoke.
I pulled over at the next opportunity, taped the spoke in place with duct tape (this would do nothing structurally, but would keep the spoke from causing more trouble) and loosened the rear brakes so that they did not unduly create friction on the wobbly wheel. I used my phone to search for bike shops: the closest one was 20 miles ahead in Milford/Matamoras. As I said, the impact on the rideability of the bike was negligible, but the impact on my morale was bigger. I had just had a number of improvements on this bike before heading out, including a $90 heavy duty rear wheel, precisely to avoid blown spokes. Suddenly, the 20 miles to Matamoras, a distance that I could cover in a couple hours, seemed like it would take forever. I was reminded of the Harper’s Ferry trip with Michelle and Rachel, where the miles seemed to go on forever, and each mile marker seemed like it was coming far too infrequently. It was hard to enjoy the obvious beauty of the surrounding area because I was concerned about getting to the bike shop with no more broken spokes or further difficulty. I didn’t want last night’s dream to become the omen I’d feared.
When I finally arrived at the Action Bikes and Outfitters shop, I was informed that the mechanic was off on Wednesdays. They suggested I bike on to Port Jervis to the bike shop there, but when they called over, the shop was already closed. Without any choice but to wait until the shop opened at 10 tomorrow morning, I decided that I would just go on to the hotel a half-mile away and come back the following morning.
I got a room, took a swim in the pool, grabbed dinner at Perkins (I was a great deal hungrier than I’d realized), and even did some laundry. The 10am opening of the bike shop tomorrow is going to delay my departure somewhat, but I am going to look at it as an opportunity to sleep in and get my rest. If the bike is fixed quickly (and spoke repairs are not that time consuming) then I can be on my way quickly. If all goes well, I can be in Kingston by dinner.
(See the map of this route at http://www.mapmyride.com/ride/united-states/pa/allentown/204128036025510264)