Day 3, New Stanton, PA (78.81 miles, 230.63 total miles)
What was I thinking?
Either (1) bike 75+ miles, or (2) bike up a bunch of mountains. Only an idiot would attempt to do both, at least without the benefits of performance enhancing drugs, the way the pros do.
I woke up around 6:30 this morning, earlier than I’d intended, but probably due to nerves about the coming day. I got up and went over the route I’d be taking, writing out all the turns I’d need to take on a piece of paper, in case my iPhone with the GPS map should quit on me. Then I headed down to breakfast and had the biggest meal I could manage.
Upon returning to the room, I noticed that the back tire was a little soft. Now, tires lose air as a matter of course, and this bike had been carrying not just my weight but the weight of the packs for the last couple of days. And so, upon leaving the hotel, I made my way to a Gulf station right around the corner and filled the tire up and it felt fine.
I headed out on Alt 40 north along the river. The morning was a cool one the way yesterday had been and that made for easy going. I turned onto MD 34 and continued along. The road began to go up in elevation, which I had expected. I knew the first few miles would be a gently upslope and it was easy. I turned right onto Barrelville Road and headed north. Before I knew it, I was in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And almost as soon, the elevation started to rise. That’s when it occurred to me that “Allegheny” is probably an old Indian word meaning “use a low gear.”
At first, the grades were not too bad, though they were steeper than they had been. Off to my left I could see a line of windmills on the ridge opposite. It was impressive looking, but I knew that that ridge and I were soon to meet. One of the other changes I made to my trip planning this year was not only to map out the route online, but to find a way to have an electronic version of the map with me at all times. In previous trips, I had planned the route out on mapmyride.com and then would create a similar map on AAA that I could print out as a TripTik. However, due to the length of this trip, there was no way I could print out such a long trip and easily carry it with me. So, I exported the MapMyRide map and imported it into Google Maps Engine. This allowed me to add to the route things like the location of hotels and any other information. Then, using the My Maps app on the iPhone I was able to load the entire thing onto the phone. The advantage of this over Google Maps or just using the MapMyRide app is that the map is not online, it’s on the phone. And so, even in the middle of nowhere, where there is no cell service, I still have the route loaded into my phone with the GPS blue dot to tell me where I am.
All this is to say that I had also edited the map to include the four places on today’s trip that would be the peaks I would need to climb. And so, as I made my way up and increasingly steep hill (at times a 9% grade), I could keep an eye on the GPS blue dot and see how much farther I had to go. As you can see in the picture to the left, the roads were becoming increasingly steep. It may be hard to tell in a 2D picture, but I am holding the camera perfectly upright to try to show the elevations I was dealing with. As I mentioned, the morning was cool, but I was sweating buckets. At times water was just dripping from my helmet. When I was looking for ideas for a Twitter hashtag for this trip, Jill suggested #mrkisswty, which really seemed appropriate.
Once, when we were kids, my best friends from home, George, Gene, and I, went on a long ride out to see our 8th Grade teacher Mr. Peck. On our way back into Troy, we were confronted with Oil Mill Hill Road, a steep incline into town. That day, we would bike a few hundred feet, then hop off and rest, or walk for a bit. That’s what today reminded me of. I felt like I was stopping every quarter mile on this incline, standing in the shade by the side of the road, panting and trying to catch my breath before moving on. Finally, I got to the crest of the hill.
There was a downhill ahead but I stopped before going down and sat underneath a tree at the side of the road for a few minutes. I would have sat for longer but the dogs belonging to the house nearby kept barking at me and not wanting to cause trouble or anything, I headed off. There was a nice downhill, but it was followed by another steep uphill and I clearly hadn’t rested enough. When I got to the top of the next rise, there was a Lutheran church with a large oak tree in the front yard. This made the perfect spot to take a longer rest. Before doing so, I had a chance to view the way I’d come and the ridge of windmills over which I had passed. In another couple of miles I was treated to another spectacular view:
I continued along the Cumberland Highway and even went up another, much more gentle rise before enjoying a long downhill. My plan was to get lunch at the next town ahead: Berlin, PA. The road I was on would take me into Berlin, but for whatever reason, MapMyRide had me take a side road into town. When I first turned onto it, the reason was obvious: it was a country lane, with no traffic and a gentler slope. It even began to go downhill, but then suddenly went through a quarry area and the road became more covered with gravel and oil to keep the dust down and there were large trucks going in and out. And then, there was a really steep hill going into the town. I’m not sure why this was an improvement. Or why the founders of Berlin felt the need to build their town on a hill like Edoras in The Lord of the Rings. The ride up this last hill was really difficult but I got into town.
I was hoping to find a Wawa as the combination of food and groceries would have been perfect. There was a convenience mart at the Valero station and so I stopped there. That’s when I noticed that my back tire was soft again. Really soft. In fact, while I was moving the bike over toward the convenience mart, the tire completely deflated. That’s when I began to wonder whether I’d been biking up these mountains with an underinflated tire the entire time. I went into the store, bought large bottles of water, a Gatorade, chocolate milk, and lunch at their sandwich/sub counter. I went back outside and sat on a bench and ate. Then I took the back wheel off to effect repairs. I found the hole relatively easily; after pumping a little air into the tire, it was audibly leaking. And I found the culprit, a tiny piece of metal wire, about the size of a staple, poking through the tire wall. I removed the metal, patched the tire, put it back on the wheel, and filled it with the air hose at the station. The whole lunch/tire repair episode took about an hour and twenty minutes, but I didn’t care. I needed the rest from the inclines. When I got back on the bike, the ride was noticeably improved. The firmer tire made for much better riding and held solid for the rest of the day.
Eventually the downhill ended and I hit a stretch of rolling hills in the countryside. But keeping an eye on my map, I knew that another peak was coming up, and there was going to be a long ascent to it as well. Knowing this was coming, as I turned onto another country lane, I pulled off to the side of the road and sat under a maple at the edge of a cornfield. I rested there for about half an hour, using the time to charge my phone with a portable charger, drinking water and Gatorade, and having a Cliff Bar and a Hammer Gel. Eventually I set off down the lane and passed a farm that reminded me a lot of my relatives’ dairy farm in Upstate New York. Eventually I came to the main road and turned left. I knew it was only a matter of time before I would need to ascend to the final high peak, and so I knew the downhill I was enjoying was temporary.
From Berlin I headed west along Berlin Plank Road. There was a huge uphill on the road. It wasn’t nearly as steep as previous uphills, but was a long incline. At one point, I checked my phone map to see my progress and discovered I was a couple miles off coursye. I had missed the turn I was looking for. I was frustrated. It was a long and hard enough day as it was without having to add in a five mile unplanned detour, with a large uphill at that. I was able to find a connecting road and though it had its share of inclines, I was able to get to East Mud Pike, the road I was supposed to be on. The intersection was right where I had marked another peak on my map and sure enough, as soon as I turned, I had a long downhill ride on a two lane country road that was practically empty.
The ascent began right as expected, but it wasn’t too bad. It wasn’t much steeper than my daily Massachusetts Avenue commute, just longer. But then suddenly, the grade increased dramatically and I began to tire. I stopped a couple of times on the ascent, just standing by the side of the road catching my breath. I finally got to the top: this was the highest peak of the day, 2646 feet. It was also the highest point in the entire trip. It would literally all be downhill from here. I considered resting there at the crest of the hill but felt I needed to keep moving. And so I rode downhill for the next four miles, just coasting. It was wonderful. I knew there was another smaller incline ahead, but compared to the last one, how bad could it be?
Bad. The hills started to come with increasing frequency and they were steep. The nice downhills on the other side weren’t making the uphills any easier. As I was ascending one incline, I just ran out of energy. To might right was a large grassy area in the shade of the trees opposite. And so I pulled my bike into the grassy area and sat down. I even lay down and considered napping, but with only a bike helmet for a pillow, that didn’t work well. I was starting to realize the folly of trying to do a 75 mile ride and an elevation ride. And even though I knew it would throw off my plan for the rest of the ride, I realized that I couldn’t wait to get to New Stanton to get a hotel. So, using my phone, I looked for the closest hotel. It was a couple of miles behind me. And there was nothing else until New Stanton. I wasn’t about to go back. All that would mean was that I would have to deal with this ascent the next day. New Stanton was 15 miles away; I’d just have to press on. But not right away. I sat there for close to an hour, just hydrating, snacking, and resting.
Eventually, I set up the hill again and while I didn’t crest right away, before too long the ascent became more manageable. The road went through the town of Acme (which should have been a giveaway about the incline since “acme” means “highest”) and eventually began to head downhill. And not just any downhill, a two-mile steep downhill. So steep that it had runaway truck ramps. At the bottom, I turned onto Highway 982. This part of the trip was going to be complicated and in order to save my phone’s battery life in case of emergency, I’d turned it off, so I would have to rely on the paper directions I’d written out. As I made my way along the road, I was passed by a cyclist. He was only the second cyclist I’d seen since I left the C&O trail in Harpers Ferry. As he biked by, I called out and asked him how far it was to New Stanton. (My phone was really low on battery life and the frequent checking of the GPS map, especially with all the turns on this route, was draining it fast. Add to that the exhaustion and low morale and I was in need of help.) He said the way I was going was probably not the best and offered to take me to the way that would get me there. He introduced himself as Aaron.
And so I followed him, but warned him that I wouldn’t be able to keep up very well as I’d been riding all day. He seemed impressed with how far I’d come and led me along a number of back roads. It turned out when I checked it online later later that many of them were the roads my route had, but riding with Aaron was a huge benefit. First, it meant I didn’t have to keep checking that piece of paper, especially since there were a lot of turns I would have to make. And second, having someone to talk to and who could pace me was a huge morale boost. The hills we had to go up were much more manageable because of his company. He’d already been riding for 17 miles, but was on a road bike and was naturally faster. But he was not out for a race, but a moderate ride so it worked just fine. Finally, he took me to Old Stanton Road having ridden with me for several miles. Before turning and heading out, and after I thanked him profusely, he pointed down the road and said that with the exception of one last rise, the remaining five miles to New Stanton was all downhill. “I shit you not,” he said.
And he wasn’t. The ride was downhill and easy and before too long I was in New Stanton and got a room. I thought about indulging myself and asked for a room with a jacuzzi in it but they were all booked. That’s okay, the long, cool shower where I washed off 75 miles of road before heading off to a big dinner, was plenty.
Perhaps I did overreach on this leg. Aaron had said how he’d made the trip from Pittsburgh to D.C. and taken the canal path the whole way. But it was precisely the bumpy, at times muddy, and meandering path that I was trying to avoid. On a 760 mile trip, adding another 40 miles onto the distance because the trip wound back and forth seemed like a bad idea. But there were certainly times today when I thought that it would have been a good trade-off. But now that I sit here having crossed the Alleghenies in a day and made it another 78 miles on my trip, I realize that there are all kinds of possibilities out there. I’m glad today is over, but it is nice to know that I could actually do this. Oh don’t get me wrong: I’m really looking forward to the routes lying along the Ohio tomorrow and the days in the flat parts of Ohio and Indiana, but I’ll appreciate those all the more having crossed the Alleghenies to get there.
The map of today’s trip, with elevation chart: