Archive for the ‘cycling’ Category
Crossing into Michigan held little fanfare since we came in on a country road, so no “Welcome to Michigan” photo opportunity for us. We rode through flat farmlands that stretched out as far as the eye could see, with roads varying from dirt in places to fully paved in others. Traffic was light and the miles peeled away.
The suburbs of Ann Arbor and its well-maintained parks reminded me of my hometown of Columbia, Maryland. Many people were out enjoying the weather, with a huge group gathered for a barbecue picnic. It made me miss our friends in DC, since we’d grill seemingly every week in the summer.
Ann Arbor has a vibrant downtown area, with Main Street especially bustling during our visit for the start of Ann Arbor’s restaurant week. We were happy to be exploring a city again, armed with directions from our host Emma and in search of the breweries recommended by our friend Evan. We settled on Arbor Brewing Company, which had a tasty blackberry blonde ale and a great deal for restaurant week. The University of Michigan campus strip was also abuzz, though mostly with undergrad students.
We had been looking forward to our time visiting friends in Lansing for awhile and we had a brief but wonderful stay with them. They took us to the Bell’s brewery in Kalamazoo where we sampled many beers, the favorites of the evening being Larry’s Latest Pale Trial and the Wild One (a sour brown ale). Bell’s has a unique outdoor patio that’s worth kicking back in – one area looks more typical while the other looks as if you’re in an eccentric rich friend’s backyard, with a whirligig wind sculpture.
We spent time sampling Brian’s homebrew, visiting the Broad Art Museum (designed by Zaha Hadid), baking bagels and curing duck, and relaxing with board games and movies. Micaela also took us to Michigan State’s farm where we visited the piglets and chickens.
Leaving Pittsburgh was much less straightforward than entering Pittsburgh via the GAP Trail, as we had to navigate a succession of bridges through the fairly well-trafficked surrounding area. We weren’t following the Adventure Cycling maps yet, so for the most part I pieced together routes that other cyclists had shared online. This worked better than looking up directions on Google Maps or drawing lines across state maps because you get an idea of which roads are navigable by bicycle. Google Maps had led us astray several times by trying to put us on dangerous roads (even using their “bicycling directions,” which are very much in beta).
We rode through the quiet industrial area of Neville Island and crossed the Ohio River again into Sewickley. This stretch along the river from Sewickley to Ambridge passed through pleasant suburban towns. Unfortunately, a bridge being closed near Ambridge meant we couldn’t cross over again there and had to find another meandering route to avoid riding on the busy Ohio River Boulevard. Sometimes there were side streets we could take that paralleled the route, but eventually we reached an area where we couldn’t continue north that way and had to detour. It was a hot day combined with stressful navigation – I called for us to stop early that day and make up the miles tomorrow.
Navigation the next two days was better because we decided to follow the BicyclePA route the rest of the way into Erie. Bike Route A is mostly a gently-rolling, two-lane road that runs across north to south (and vice versa) in the western part of the state. It was a fairly monotonous series of rolling hills, but navigation was straightforward – we only had to follow the street signs marking the route. From the little we saw of Erie, it seemed to be your typical beach town. It was nice to camp right on Lake Erie, and though it cooled down fast after sunset, you could sink your feet into the still-warm sand.
From Erie, we picked up the Adventure Cycling Association (ACA) Northern Tier route to continue west along the coast of Lake Erie. There were many beautiful picnic areas that overlooked the lake, so we stopped often to take in the sight. Following the ACA map sections was great – worth the cost to not have to deal with mapping the route out ourselves. It also lists amenities along the route, including campsites and places to stock up on groceries.
Ashtabula was one of our favorite stops because it had a superb cafe called Harbor Perk where lots of locals gathered. We took a break to catch up on emails and arrange hosting for the night, and in that time we got to talk to several friendly people who took interest in our trip. Hello and thank you to Karen, who kindly offered us a place to stay if our lodging fell through that night. She’s hosted cyclists who have come through the town on the Northern Tier route before. (An aside: Another random act of kindness came the next day, from Bob in Grand River who gave us soda – or pop – as a midday pick-me-up!)
We stayed with our first Warm Showers host in Geneva, a great guy named Richard who lived next door to his cousin. When we arrived, we got to watch a tree fall – they’re clearing space for a pasture to start keeping cows. Richard was very welcoming and we all chatted well into the night, exchanging stories about our bike tours. It’s easy to stay up past daylight with electric lights! He’s done a bike tour from San Diego to where he lives now, and I hope we inspired him to do the stretch to Washington, DC since it’s a great route.
Before we ever reached Cleveland, we had been warned by people as far east as the Pennsylvania-Ohio border that the filming of the new Captain America movie was causing traffic havoc in downtown Cleveland. We had braced ourselves for the worst by the time we approached Cleveland – to find that there was a bike trail that led us around the congestion. We never had to deal with movie filming traffic, just bypass a high water area near the shore. On our way into downtown Cleveland, we also passed through Bratenahl, an incredibly wealthy area with some of the largest houses we’ve ever seen in person.
In Cleveland, we met up with Rich, a guy we met camping on the C&O, and his great family. His work schedule was flexible enough that we could take a day to see Cleveland, visiting the extensive Cleveland Museum of Art, the famous Sokolowski’s polish cafeteria, and Great Lakes Brewery.
The ride from Cleveland to Toledo took us two days. We camped for a night about midway along the route, then picked up the North Coast Inland Trail from Clyde to Elmore. Elmore had a cute downtown where we took yet another ice cream and coffee break. Stayed with Taylor, an electrical engineering student at the University of Toledo, in Toledo. We cooked dinner and had some fun conversations. It’s funny how such a late sundown causes you to lose track of time. We were exhausted by day’s end, having ridden 66 miles that day.
Always break for ice cream.
Our ride progress so far:
And, for context:
Grabbed using Jonathan O’Keeffe’s Strava Multiple Ride Mapper tool.
We’re hanging out in Toledo tonight, then onto Ann Arbor tomorrow. After that, we get a rest day in Lansing visiting former DC friends. I’ll update again with a more substantial post soon!
Today we crossed from Pennsylvania into Ohio! That’s three states so far – or four if you’re counting DC.
Our first few hours in Ohio have been good to us: root beer floats at a cute roadside stand, gorgeous lakeside riding, roasted in-house coffee at Harbor Perk cafe, and a host lined up for tonight.
We stopped for lunch at a small park overlooking Lake Erie and spent some time talking with Bob and Christine, a couple from Pennsylvania enjoying the view there. They have a cottage up here in Conneaut, OH but live in Ellwood City, PA. They’re enjoying the casual pace of life after having raised their two children (and now have five grandkids as well), with time now to stop and smell the proverbial roses. Bob was telling us about his love for New Orleans – “We like the party scene!” – a place we haven’t yet been.
Glad we aren’t cycling through the south in high summer, though! The weather’s been holding in the 60s or so around here, which is perfect weather for a light jacket and not too much dehydration.
Yesterday, a man pulled up beside us, slowing to chat with us while we chugged up one of Pennsylvania’s endless rollers on the way to Erie. He was excited to hear about our trip, and was planning to lead a cycling trip from Erie to Point Park in Pittsburgh later in the summer. We really like the route because it basically follows Bicycle PA Route A. Easy navigation: just follow the road signs.
Today, fellow touring cyclist Reverend Babcock stopped to help us with routing around Conneaut and beyond. He told us a bit about bike trips he’s taken in the past, including a ride from Ireland to Turkey and around the Greek Isles. Also, apparently you can roll-on bicycles on Aer Lingus flights – no bike box required! This is definitely something to look into in the more distant future.
We’re happy to find that our pace of about 50-60 miles a day usually leaves us plenty of time to write, research our route, and have plenty of conversations with people. Cleveland will be another rest day so we can hang out with our new friend Rich and plan the next leg of our trip into Lansing, Michigan!
We’re in Pittsburgh now! What a wonderful, underrated city.
Cycling long distances day after day is a real challenge. We keep pedaling on with thoughts that it’ll get easier over time, but new challenges will take its place: heat, more complex navigation, big climbs…
Here are some of the less glamorous parts of cycle touring:
- spider bites
- saddle sores
- missing friends and family
- rain getting all your gear muddy
- needing to eat all the time (both good and bad)
- those long stretches of road where everything kind of looks the same
But this is all balanced out by the wonderful parts of cycle touring:
- meeting new people every day – everyone opens up to you much more readily
- setting your own schedule
- encouraging emails or notes from friends (send more!)
- food tasting much more delicious
- eating all your meals outside
- beautiful vistas and regional flora and small towns
We are mildly sunburnt and our legs could use a break. So, we’re taking our first rest day tomorrow and just hanging out to explore Pittsburgh a bit more. Shooting for zero miles on the bikes!
After three nights camping on the C&O Canal on this trip, I thought I’d write up our experience. Hopefully it’ll serve also as a guide for anyone who is considering spending a night camping on the trail.
The C&O trail is an ideal place to camp because it provides free hiker/biker campsites at about every 5 miles along the 185 miles of the trail, each with a water pump, port-a-john (basic toilet), picnic table, and fire ring. Strap a tent to your bike and bring a couple of friends. Alcohol isn’t allowed since it’s National Park Service ground, but we occasionally saw people bring in beer. More importantly, pack out whatever you bring in – this means don’t leave any trash at your campsite.
We spent the first three nights of our cross-country bike ride camping on the C&O and got to meet some great folks this way. Our neighbors the first night were a father and son pair bicycling to Washington, DC from Brunswick, Maryland. The son looked pretty young, maybe 10 or 11 years old, but even he was carrying some gear on his bike.
Setting up near Williamsport the second night, our campsite neighbors were two pairs of guys, all arriving by bike. The first pair who arrived were headed back to DC from Harpers Ferry. The other two were also headed back to DC, but had been riding from Pittsburgh through the rainy days. We were glad they finally got to have some dry, sunny weather to ride through for the end of their trip. One of the guys, Rich, had done a cross-country bike ride of his own and said we could stay with him when we got to Cleveland (his hometown). He wished his place was a bit closer to the Adventure Cycling Northern Tier route so that he could host cyclists, but offered to pick us up if we needed it.
Evening of day three was a sleepy little campsite past the creepy and wonderful Paw Paw Tunnel. The site was buggy, the water pump wasn’t working, and the toilet was spider-infested, but after we got a big fire started and cooked a big meal, it felt like home.
I loved falling asleep with the sun to the sound of owls, woodpeckers, and other local birds. We even saw a quail (we think) running along the trail. But sometimes you’ll have trains passing in the night, waking you at odd hours. It’s a great mix of being close enough to amenities, yet far enough to feel like you’re really getting away.
Hello also to the staff at the Cumberland Trail Connection bike shop, hope you’re following along! And to our fellow GAP Trail riders Arnold and Pam, hello and hope to cross paths again.
We’re at the tail end of our fourth day of our cross-country bike tour now! With very limited Internet access from the C&O, we haven’t been able to blog (or even tweet much). Here are a few snapshots from our departure from the lovely Washington, DC. And of course, our cheery send-off from Friday Coffee Club.
Obligatory photo in front of the White House with Friday Coffee Club folks. Can you tell who’s camping?
A moment to see Great Falls.
At our favorite aqueduct, with a new banner displaying WABA pride (courtesy of Brian).
Tomorrow we start our cross-country bike trip!
Here are a few snapshots from our finishing preparations: packing up our Uhaul box, making our goodbyes, soaking up the DC sun and humidity.
In the past few weeks I’ve had several friends tell me that it’s amazing that we’re going to ride our bikes to California, but making a longer-term trip happen is possible if you have the motivation to plan in advance, save up, and take some time off from work or school. Here’s the breakdown of the planning we did to get ourselves to this point of imminent departure.
3 months out
- Start dreaming and searching our calendars for when we can make this trip happen. The easy part here was that we’d plan to arrive by September when I start my graduate program, so we have a natural time frame.
- Read lots of bike touring blogs and see how others have done it. My favorites are The Path Less Pedaled, Going Slowly, and While Out Riding - though there are as many ways to bike tour as there are bike tourists!
- Save money by cutting back on extras: ride a bike instead of Metro (kills two birds with one stone), cook more at home, stick to your budget by reminding yourself what you’re working towards.
2 months out
- Make lots of additions to our bikes - get both front and back racks, enough pairs of panniers (two pairs each), new tires – and buy a great new campstove.
- Sketch out a route we want to follow and start asking friends for recommendations. We didn’t want to go south because of the summer heat, and going across the north seemed more interesting than through the middle of the country – more mountainous, though.
- Do a shakedown bike tour, fully loaded, to test out if we’re bringing too much. A few items did get cut after five days of riding with all our gear.
1 month out
- Do more research into the route. Order Adventure Cycling maps – a mix of several of the routes in the ACA network - and other maps we’ll need for navigation.
- Research travel insurance options.
- Finish ordering last things we think we’ll need: sunblock, spare brake and shifter cables, extra water storage, and so on.
3 weeks out
- Throw a going-away party and try to see all our friends in the area before we leave.
- Attempt to write down everyone’s great suggestions for the trip – which roads to take, who to stay with, etc.
- Finish wrapping everything up at work to get our departures in order.
2 weeks out
- Get the first week of the route planned out in detail in our spreadsheet: options for lodging, friends nearby, available amenities, and expected daily mileage. We’ll probably take it easy in the beginning since we haven’t been able to do much riding lately.
- File forms for student loan deferment (for those of us still paying off our education).
- Visit our families!
This is where we are right now. Fifteen days and counting. And this is what’s coming:
1 week out
- Pack our U-Haul pod and have it shipped out to California! Odd to think that our furniture will beat us there.
- Make last-minute bike checks.
- Hang out with friends and toast the beginning of something new.
- Pack our panniers.
- Preemptively drink lots of water and eat lots of food. Okay, let’s be honest – this step should last the entire week (month?) before departure.
Morning of Friday, May 24th
- Grab coffee with wonderful friends at Swing’s in DC and pedal on.
I’m excited to finally share the plans we’ve been working on for the past few months! In short, we’re spending this summer riding our bicycles across the United States and interviewing people along the way about where they live.
We’re calling this trip “Migration Trail” for two main reasons. The motivation for the trip is our bi-coastal move – we’re moving from DC to California for me to start my graduate program in Geography, and decided to make it an adventure by doing it as a bike tour.
Since we are moving to a completely new-to-us place, we’ve built upon the idea of interviewing people along the way about the places where they live and how they came to live there – whether it be a recent move or their family has been settled in the area for generations. We will be posting what we learn to my website to help people explore the variety of circumstances that bring people to all kinds of places in our vast country.
Our cycling route takes us up to Michigan, west across the northern part of the United States, then south through California. Plenty of miles. One hundred days on the road – give or take.
We start Friday, May 24th. That’s only three weeks away! We still need to wrap things up at work, finish packing and ship our pod to California, iron out everything we need to take care of beforehand (medical stuff, bills, insurance), and make our final goodbyes. Our first week will be mostly on the C&O Canal Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage to Pittsburgh, and we’re inviting friends to join us for the first day or two of our trip.