I woke up to the rustling of Dan in the morning at about 6:30am. I cracked an eye and moved my body a bit to gauge how I was feeling. To be honest, I felt much much better than I was expecting. I’m thinking the bit of icing and stretching I did right before I went to bed helped. Next was to check the weather. I looked outside and saw it was raining. I hopped out of bed and woke Jamie and Ben to see how they were feeling. Jamie was still pretty tired and Ben, well Ben just rolled back over. By this time Dan was almost ready to roll so I knew I had to make a move now if this was going to happen. Because of the day before I thought there was a very slim chance that Jamie would be continuing especially with the weather predicted for the rest of the day.
After talking to Jamie and Ben I decided I would trek on with Dan since they were going to see how they were feeling in a bit and maybe meet up later down the road. I am very fortunate that we met up with Dan the night before because I am not sure if I would have continued on my own without the others at that point. I hurried and got geared up. My body was still sticky from my poor decision of not showering the night before, but that’s just one of the many things I learned during the trip. As we walked our bikes out of the hotel room I told Jamie and Ben to let me know when they figured out what they were doing. In the back of my head I didn’t think the possibilities of them meeting back up were good though…
The sky’s were cloudy and it was already raining and Dan and I clipped in and rolled down to the Sheetz where we ran into Ryan, who was also from Pittsburgh. I will say hes much more of a badass than me. After talking to him for a bit we found out he rode to Philly the week before with a friend and was riding back by himself. He was also camping out the whole way, which in my eyes is much more legit.
Anyways we got food and were eating outside when the clouds let loose. We figured it would be a good idea to hang out for a bit and let that pass for a little. Luckily we did because we encountered the fastest rider in the world maybe??? It was a man hanging out at the gas station who told us about some of his adventures and how he had slept under a tree right here the night before. Wildly enough he also explained to use that he rode to work ever day and could ride 20 miles in half an hour. Fast..? Yeah I know. We wished he could join us for the continuation of the ride so we could draft him but he seemed like his day was booked solid.
After that quick chat we suited up in rain gear and got on our way.
Jamie did give me his trashbag-esk poncho before I left earlier that morning which worked out nicely.
It was nice to be able to wait it out a bit because the rain passed and we only hit sprinkles for the next bit.
It was very scenic right outside of Breezewood with small farms throughout the route.
At some point after this I received a text to confirm that Jamie and Ben were calling it quits. Ben asked if I needed a ride back home with them but I was feeling good and confident that I was going to finish. I was bummed but knew that it was for the best.
After a bit Ryan ended up stopping for a bit to recoup his legs. Dan and I continued on course.
For a bit the skys cleared and we got some rays of sun.
On our way to Bedford with daunting skys ahead.
Somewhere along the way to Somerset we hit the winds.. good lord! I knew we were going to have severe head winds most of the day but I wasn’t expecting this. When I looked back on the weather report on Weather Underground it gave a max steady wind of 38 mph and gusts up to 49 mph… all head wind. Of course this section was very hilly over the mountains with what I thought were the steepest climbs throughout the entire trip. This was the only time I have ever been in my easiest gear, on the flats, pushing as hard as I could, and only going 11 mph. At times I was doing 4 mph climbing out of the saddle, while trying not to get blown over or blown backwards. The entire time all that was running through my head was, “you will not walk your bike up any of these climbs,” over an over again. This kept me pushing the whole time. I am glad to say this goal was met and I made it up every climb.
I should have taken a video but believe me the wind was terrible. I think everyone agreed that was some of the worst wind if not the worst they have ever ridden in.
Most of the time after you reach the peak you are able to relax on the descents, but this was not the case today… actually the opposite. While your speed was easily cut in half or more, you also had to make sure you were ready to combat the random gusts that would try to throw you off the shoulder or into the path of a car. I will say a few times this got a bit closer than I wanted it to. There were definitely a few point along this that I really thought I can’t do this anymore. The only thing that kept me going was knowing that after Somerset the climbs would be over and more importantly we would be on the Great Allegheny Passage, a crushed limestone path that we believed would shield us from the hellish winds.
After some more beastly climbs I saw a rider in the distance, this also gave me new hope as seeing people along the way always did. As we got into Somerset we stopped at the Sheetz to find Jim grabbing some food. At this point I was getting cold from the wind. I had a good base layer but no shell (yah yah I know, I didn’t pack that great but you live and learn) and I knew it was only going to get colder with the possibility of rain/hail/sleet and even heard the possibility of snow north… As much as I hate Walmart it was more or less my only option… We ate and luckily Jim knew his way around this area being that he helps set up and rides in many long distance events from Pittsuburgh. Big thanks to Jim and Dan for going off course 3 or 4 miles to get me geared up and ready for later. I bought some wind jacket/pants, some cheap gardening gloves to double up with later if need be, and some batteries since my one headlight went out the night before. Sidetracking for a bit, but how is a starter jacket $9? This doesn’t even make sense…really $9???! Anyways we pushed on with hopes of hitting the Great Allegheny Passage sooner than later.
We eventually got to the entrance of the path and were excited to get off of the roadways for a while and maybe relax a bit while riding.
Like most of the trails the Great Allegheny Passage is a rails to trails that was converted when the rail line was abandoned. I was a bit nervous at first about my skinny tires but the path was better than I was expecting in that light. But due to the storms throughout the day the path was a bit wet and in-turn, fairly slow.
We were going very fast but the constant pedaling that was needed to keep you from not slowing became repetitive. Also the strong wind brought down many branches which we swerved, crunched, and hopped over.
The trail is very scenic and runs along side the river most of the time with plenty of bridges along the way.
My ugly mug
Our last stop before Pittsburgh was to be Connellsville were we stopped and another Sheetz and ate up. By the time we got back on the trail it was dark. Lights were turned on and a formation was formed in order to light up the trail. The majority of the night was time of silence with shouts of, “stick right,” “hole left,” “low branch.” We did our best at dodging what we could which was hard when its pitch black out, your getting tired, and your on a very repetitive path but need to be alert in order to not to fall victim to the paths imperfections.
The vibrations/rocks/branches took its tool on Dan’s already mended fender (from early on the trail) that needed to be fixed again. We huddled and lit up his bike as well as we could and he got to work. In not much time we were back on the trail spinning our legs. Jim was telling us stories of Paris–Brest–Paris and other rides to keep our minds form wondering. During this time I learned a great deal about Randonneuring and all I could think about was, “I need me a touring bike!” Somewhere around this time my heartburn/throatburn became intense. So intense that I totally forgot about the pain from sitting and/or the hotspots that my shoes were giving me. I couldn’t believe how bad it was… I tried drinking water, drinking my water laced with Vega, then I tried the hard pretzels I bought and they somehow worked.. Maybe the baking soda in them made them a bit basic? I don’t know but I kept diving my gardening gloves repeatably in my pocket to grab more and more. They were my saving grace. Throughout the trail it had been raining on an off but the trees were doing a pretty good job of keeping us more or less dry.
We finally got off the path and I felt relieved. We were getting close, only 15 or so miles left. Along the way it was raining harder and harder and I eventually was drenched. I felt alright with this since it was almost over. I would periodically wipe my glasses in hopes to see the road more clearly since my eyes were a bit strained. I was following the lead of Jim and Dan most of the time since they knew this area far better than me. After crossing a few bridges and traveling for a while we cam to the realization we were riding the wrong way along the river… this was because the most direct route was closed due to a bridge being out. We probably rode the wrong way for 5 miles or so and this came close to crushing everything I had left mentally. I went from excited to finish, to just get this trip over with, in a blink of an eye. I think its because I kept thinking, were almost there, were almost there, for a good while and now we were back tracking and had to do it all again. We ended up stopping and I was mentally crashing hard. The legs were doing fine but the mind was not in it anymore. I was cold, dripping wet, and had my hopes were down. I grabbed two packs of sour patch kids for some hopes of jolting my system and we continued on. Even though we were so close to the finish it was the hardest part for me. Luckily the roads were not too busy and we grinded it out along the river in the stormy night. After a bit I heard Dan and Jim say, “there’s Pittsburgh,” and I looked up to see lights in the near distance.
We crossed over the river and got onto the jail trail and picked up speed. It didn’t even feel like we had just ridden ~400miles the last two days. As we made our way to the point it because very anti-climatic as the entrance to the point was closed for construction. We called Eric the organizer and left a message what time we finished and just as soon as we got there it was over. Jim, Dan, and myself all congratulated each other on the accomplishment and left the point.
I figured I should take a video, I didn’t remember much of it when I watched it again but eh, what can you do.
Now that the ride was over I had other issues to figure out… From the time I got word from Ben and Jamie that they weren’t making it my mind kept going through how I was going to get home. We had planned on getting there and all pitching in to rent a car to drive home. Now that I was on my own I needed to figure things out fast. I had also given my friend a call and was planning on staying at his place that night, I also thought we would be getting in about 3 hours earlier but due to the wind that didn’t happen. Unfortunately some unforeseen events happened and it didn’t look like that was going to happen either. Both Jim and Dan were nice enough to offer me a place to stay earlier and I took Dan up on the offer somewhere before Pittsburgh. So after the ride was done Jim’s wife picked him up and we said goodbye and Dan and I rode 5 or so miles back to his place. We were both feeling good and cruising until Dan got a flat withing a mile or so from his house. Just the way to cap off the night. He pulled his wheel and got to changing it and I did my best to keep light on it and try to stay warm. After a few other issues with the brake and chain we were back on our way.
We finally got to his house and it was almost time to rest. We both were to exhausted to even eat at this point. All I wanted to do was get my cold wet clothes off and grab a shower. I almost dozed off a few times sitting up-right pulling my gear off. Dan showed me to the room I was staying in where there was a pull-out bed waiting for me. I was in heaven. I took a shower, a very very long, hot shower (sorry Dan!) and finally crept into bed. I told Dan to get me up the next morning so I could try to figure out how I was going to get myself and my bike home. With the help of Dan and his wife I was bale to box my bike up, get a greyhound ticket, and get some food in my system. They were even nice enough to pack me a goody bag of food to take on the 7 hour greyhound bus ride. How nice is that? As luck would have it they were vegetarian and I got myself a “ham” sandwich before departing.
Dan and one of their four cats! (figured I’d put in a cat photo for Lauren)
Dan took me to the bus station and made sure everything was alright since we ghetto-rigged two wheel boxes together. As he departed I thanked him for all the help he had given me along the way and assumed my position sitting on the floor at the greyhound station. As usual you see, hear some interesting people and conversations. The bus ride was uneventful and I eventually go into Philly around 9:15pm.
I got off the bus, ripped my bike out of the box and started putting the bars, wheels, pedals, and seat back on. I proceed to ride home and got in around 9:45pm. It was good to be home, see Lauren, the cats, and be in my apartment again! I told Lauren a bit about it and she headed to bed for work the next morning since she wasn’t feeling well. I then called my mom and wished her a happy mothers day and explained to her why we were playing phone tag all day. She seemed a bit surprised I rode to Pittsburgh but I guess its not one of those things you expect someone to say when you ask about their weekend. I packed my lunch and got ready for work in the morning. It was a long trip but it ended up working out just fine.
I’d like to first thank Eric and anyone else who helped organize the ride, I had a blast. I’d also like to thank anyone else who I rode with or helped us out along the way. Lastly a big, big thanks to Dan and his wife. I don’t know what I would have done without a great place to stay, a bed, food, help packing my bike, a ride to the greyhound station and everything else you two did for me. I owe you big time!
A few things I learned:
Pack more layers than you think you will need. Its always easier to have to many clothes than too little.
If your making food, make lots of different things. You will get sick/bored of the food very quickly.
If your not used to process foods, try to stay away from them. Its tempting to eat junk, but not always worth it.
Make pit stops as quick as possible, no matter how fast you ride if you stop frequently or for long enough none of that matters.
Have a back-up plan for a place to stay and a way to get home, you never know what can happen.
Having a legit headlight is needed and a back up is also an excellent idea.
Its sometimes a lot harder to force-feed yourself food during the ride than expected but you must make it happen. Liquid calories seemed to be a lot easier to take in.
Taking a shower when you can is a good idea.
Having someone else to ride with at night is great to keep your mind from wondering. Talking and sharing stories helps everyone stay alert.
At the end I met a lot of friendly people, heard a lot of great stories, saw some very scenic landscapes, learned a lot about touring, but most importantly I can say I crushed the commonwealth!