Trip Log – Day 22 –Johnstown, PA to Pittsburgh, PA

150527 Johnstown to PittsburghMiles Today: 72

Miles to Date: 1,281

May 27, 2015 – Rainy then sunny, 75 degrees

 

I woke in The Flood City to learn about extensive flooding in Texas and Oklahoma. I called my brother in OKC to make sure everyone was okay and then tucked into my favorite budget motel breakfast: flip waffles! Actually, I had two. Since I was facing 72 miles plus 4,500 feet of vertical rise plus a forecast of rain, I also downed a few other carb intensive treats. I rolled out of Johnstown by 6:30 a.m., which meant pedaling up, up, and up; five miles of steady rise. The higher I went, the nicer the towns. Westmont PA has an interesting mix of contemporary and traditional houses, and incredible trees lining the main road.

IMG_2011IMG_2012

The first twenty miles of my ride were long climbs and dives through deep forests. Rain was sporadic, then steady when I went through the attractive town of Ligonier. The rain slowed down as I merged with U.S. 30, which proved a poor road for cycling. The combination of narrow, sometimes grooved, shoulders, inpatient drivers, road construction and Pennsylvanians’ love for Dodge Ram pick-ups made the stretch to Greensburg nerve wracking. I stopped at the Americans for Prosperity Foundation to ask my question, but no one was in their office. Out making money, I guess.

IMG_2016IMG_2017IMG_2020

I made a wrong turn in Greensburg and wound up back on 30, when I wanted to be on 130. I wound up in maze of big box stores before navigating to 130 West; a better road, though drivers were no happier to share this road with me than the others. Nearer to Pittsburgh, the number of declining hillside towns and immense industrial shells is amazing. A gigantic former factory at Turtle Creek advertised an interesting concept: indoor storage for RV’s, boats and other big things.

My starchy breakfast gave me the stamina to persevere, but I craved something fresh and crunchy. I discovered a vintage green grocer, bought a banana, apple, and bag of grapes; and sat on a crate enjoying my juicy lunch and trying to engage the clerk about tomorrow.

IMG_2024I had one other direction snafu closer to Pittsburgh and wound up scaling more hills than I cared, yet still arrived at Rivers of Steel Heritage Site in Homestead just after two. Corinne Bechtel, Director of Tourism, gave me an overview of their mission: to preserve a few remaining steel related structures and celebrate the variety of Pittsburgh attributes that resulted from the steel industry; immigration, architecture, food, and culture. After our interview and reviewing exhibits at the Bost Building, Corinne toured me through the Homestead Steel Works Pump House and Carrie Furnaces. The scale of the enterprise was mammoth, the remnants incredible, and Corinne’s tour a delight.

It was after five by the time I climbed up, up, up yet again to get to my warmshowers host’s home for the evening, a bit frazzled and tired, but satisfied. Simon and Melanie fed me delicious Mexican food while their 4-year old son Elliot induced me to log roll down their lawn before he went to the bed and the adults discussed tomorrow.

Posted in How Will We Live Tomorrow? | Leave a comment

Trip Log – Day 21 –Altoona, PA to Johnstown, PA

Altoona JohnstownMiles Today: 46

Miles to Date: 1,209

May 26, 2015 – Overcast, 65 degrees

 

I rose early to tackle the Allegheny Ridge, the steep incline that differentiates the Allegheny Mountains to the east and the Allegheny Plateau to the west. My warmshowers host, Deb, was already up with the morning edition of the Altoona Mirror, which included the article about my cross-country trip!

Feeling famous, I rolled out of town, past Reighard’s, America’s oldest gas station, in operation since 1909. I began to climb and passed several reservoirs. Altoona has a huge water supply system, the legacy of being a locomotive manufacturing center and the primary place where steam engines were ‘refueled’. If they can find a way to send their excess water to California, it might help both regions.

images-1images-2

I started the long ascent up to Horseshoe Curve, where the railroad tracks form a tight ‘U’ against the mountain. Unlike most cities, Altoona is not built along a river. It was founded as a staging point to build the railroad across the Alleghany Ridge, and the most impressive achievement is Horseshoe Curve, which opened in 1854. I got there shortly after seven and was able to watch a long train navigate the graceful arc. Then I pedaled the much steeper road to the top of the ridge, an arduous combination of New England incline and Pennsylvania length.

images-3Once I reached the ridge, I had twenty easy miles, though I was never far from a train. The roads followed the crenulated terrain, while the sinuous lines of steel ran mostly out of sight. Whistles and brakes screeched out of the woods as frequent as birdsong. Every few miles the blacktop weaved under the tracks through a narrow tunnel.

The day was grey with occasional sprinkles, which made hillsides towns like Gallitzin and South Fork look as dreary as The Deer Hunter, which was set in this part of Pennsylvania. I had another long climb approaching Johnstown, and then the steepest descent of my trip yet – white knuckle braking on a 14% grade right into downtown. I landed in town just after 11 a.m., which was good because the sprinkles turned into a steady rain. Fortunately, my most challenging riding of the day was behind me.

The sky cleared and I had an afternoon meeting with Bob Layo, Executive Director of the Johnstown Chamber of Commerce, to talk about tomorrow in a town of declining population and opportunity. Afterwards I enjoyed a late lunch at the 24-hour luncheonette, Coney Island: a hot dog, slathered in mustard, chili and sauerkraut; a sundowner, hamburger with chili, cheese and a fried egg; and a signature cookie stuffed with raisins. Total bill: $6.10. Then I rode around downtown and stopped by George’s Song Shop, the oldest record store in America (1932) to ask George about tomorrow.

A Johnstown joke: What has six arms, six legs, and six teeth?

IMG_2005IMG_2007IMG_2009

Answer: The graveyard shift at the Coney Island.

Posted in How Will We Live Tomorrow? | Leave a comment

Trip Log – Day 20 – State College, PA to Altoona, PA

State College AltoonaMiles Today: 42

Miles to Date: 1,163

May 25, 2015 – Sunny, 80 degrees

 

I got on the road before eight for a sweet ride to Altoona. Even on short days, clocking miles in the morning is always best. For the first ten miles I had plenty of company; there were more cyclists and runners in health-conscious State College than vehicles on this postcard perfect holiday morning. The next ten miles took me through beautiful rolling countryside and into the village of Spruce Creek, where I enjoyed a breakfast break along a shady spot on the road overlooking the Juanita River while fly fishermen in waders stood silently flipping their lines into the stream.

IMG_1988IMG_1991IMG_1996

IMG_1997Kettle Road is a slow, steady climb past limestone caves and stately stone farms. The road gains in grade until it opens up to reveal the City of Altoona, and then it dives into town.

 

 

 

imgresI spent some time at the original Sheetz, a PA convenience store chain that started in Altoona and is universally described s ‘very good gas station food’. After a bit of blog time, I arrived at my warmshowers hosts’ home.

The best way to describe Deb Greene is simply to say the world would be a better place if there were more like her. When I knocked on the door of her typical Altoona row house she exclaimed, “My cyclist is here!” She directed me to the shower, and when I returned downstairs, clean, introduced me to the family members assembled for a Memorial Day picnic: mother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, boyfriend, boyfriend’s son, daughter and husband, nieces, nephew. Pretty much every kind of relation within modern families gathered around the deck eating, drinking and talking. They all welcomed me, asked about my adventure and reveled me with tales of Altoona.

I asked Deb where she liked to cycle. “Oh, I don’t cycle. I ski and kayak. I just signed up to host on warmshowers because I like people.”

About two hours in, on my second dessert, Kelly Chernetich, reporter for the Altoona Mirror showed up. Deb had called the paper, told them they should interview us, and Kelly came right over. After the media left, I switched to Yuengling and we kept talking until the sun set.

IMG_1998Places like Altoona, declining rust belt cities with houses so close you can touch your neighbors, are easy to dismiss as economic has-beens, populated by people who stay put to maintain family ties rather than chase economic brass rings. In my travels, I’ve spoken with many people who seek a stronger sense of community in their tomorrow. But at Deb Greene’s in Altoona, community thrives and passing cyclists are invited to join in.

Posted in How Will We Live Tomorrow? | Leave a comment

Trip Log – Day 19 – Williamsport, PA to State College, PA

Williamsport State CollegeMiles Today: 68

Miles to Date: 1,121

May 24, 2015 – Sunny, 70 degrees

 

IMG_1958Today was a perfect cycling day over three rigorous, densely forested mountains, separated by broad, fertile valleys. Flags flew everywhere. Rhododendrons were in full bloom. Moss thrived in the watery cracks of the limestone crevices. Cows and horses watched me pass. Mammoth stone barns stood sentry along the side of the road. The valley roads were long, straight, and hot. The farm spreads, most with German names on the mailboxes and many with Mennonite carriages, were immense. But when I climbed up the mountainsides, the trees shaded me and cool breezes wafted off the brooks. I learned that when the road rose above the creek, there was usually another mile or so of hard vertical rise before the descent.

IMG_1964IMG_1955IMG_1971IMG_1967IMG_1974IMG_1975IMG_1953

IMG_1976I stopped at the charming general store in Rebersburg, where everyone was friendly, and then pedaled the final twenty miles to Boalsburg, home to the Pennsylvania Military Museum and birthplace of Memorial Day, where a big fair was going on.

It was only a few more miles to State College, where I had a delicious dinner, outside with candlelight, with my warmshowers hosts and some of their friends. We got so involved discussing how will we live tomorrow; we didn’t turn in until after midnight.

Posted in How Will We Live Tomorrow? | Leave a comment

Trip Log – Day 18 – Elmira, NY to Williamsport, PA

Elmira WilliamsportMiles Today: 77

Miles to Date: 1,053

May 23, 2015 – Sunny, 60 degrees

 

I woke up this morning thinking about my father. It was inevitable that the old man would settle in for entire day I was headed to Williamsport, PA. Fifty summers ago he came home from work one afternoon, announced that he was talking all of his twelve-year-old Little Leaguers to Williamsport for the World Series, and decided there was enough room in the Rambler station wagon for nine-year me as well. There were eight, maybe nine, of us. I climbed in the way back and squatted on top of backpacks in silent awe of my two older brothers and the twelve year old all-stars from Toms River Little League. My father drove all night through torrential rain on pre-Interstate two-lane blacktop. We sang ‘’A Thousand Battles of Beer on the Wall’ all the way down to one. Never done that before or since.

IMG_1942Today was perfect, though cold; not one cloud all day. I slipped out of my warmshowers gig right at six and clocked sixty miles by noon. My fingers were numb, but the rest of the world was heating up for Memorial Day weekend. The VFW guys at the Stebben barn were grilling racks of chicken before seven, to be tender for their noon BBQ fest. The sun hung behind the mountains until after eight. Three deer ran with me for about a mile, stopping every few moments to look back and make me feel clumsy in their grace. The sawmills were humming by nine, holiday weekend be damned. But by ten the sun was high enough to thaw my digits and folks propped themselves in front of RV’s parked along Highway 14 to watch the world pass by. The forests were dense, the rivers crystal clear, and the hunting signs ubiquitous. I wondered why the Rodman Gun Club had a wood sculpture of a Neanderthal outside their clubhouse, but decided not to inquire.

IMG_1945IMG_1950IMG_1951

I stopped for a breakfast sandwich and sweet bun early on, but was hungry again when I came upon the Marsh Hill Market. Candy made me that Pennsylvania specialty: the hoagie. A hoagie is more than a sub. It is everything so bad that it’s really good. Start with a squishy loaf roll. Slice it down the middle and swab it with mayo. Layer on three varieties of low-cost luncheon meat, the kind that’s pinkish plump from too many nitrates. A few slices of indeterminate cheese as well. Scatter hot peppers, sliced onions, and pickles everywhere, add shaved iceberg, drizzle with oil, then drizzle some more, cut it into two huge halves and top each half with pale, cellophane tomatoes. It’s impossible to actually fold a good hoagie, and Candy makes a very good hoagie. After I downed it all, with a Diet Coke and an ice cream sandwich chaser, I handed my cards around the musty market and got blanker stares than the earlier deer.

IMG_1956I was near Williamsport when I passed signs for a Pow Wow Reenactment in Trout Run. I had to go astray. It was an odd event – Native American costumes, drums and dancing coupled with Revolutionary War wannabes and speeches about the heroism of American veterans. I couldn’t make any sense of it until Sandra Lee Hitchcock, a Cayuga Indian from New York, gave me a coherent explanation, as well as the most poetic answer to my question to date. She insisted I accept a leather neck pouch with fresh sage to protect me on my journey.

Sandra’s protection was welcome, this being my Jack Fallon day. Fifty years ago, when our station wagon full of boys pulled into Williamsport mid-morning, the sun decided to shine. My father inquired about a room in the City View motel, on a hill overlooking Little League home plate. Miraculously, they had a last minute cancellation and gave us a room with a direct view of the World Series Field. Throngs of people from all over the world crammed for a view of the little ballplayers, while we Johnny-come-lately’s landed the equivalent of a corporate box.

IMG_1961Given that precedent, I was compelled to roll into Williamsport without the security of reservation. I passed through downtown, crossed the Susquehanna, and climbed the hill toward the field. Little League has come far in fifty years. The City View is gone, replaced by a museum and administrative building. The main field is still there, plus a second stadium and a dormitory complex where sixteen teams from all over the globe live during the World Series. I enjoyed touring the complexIMG_1962, and discovered a vintage 50’s motel just down the road where I got the nicest room of my entire trip, with a private outdoor porch in the same orientation as the City View. The only way to channel Jack Fallon is to play fast and loose and come up with the best.

In keeping with the sprit of the day, I walked down to the Mountaineer Lounge fro dinner, an Italian gin mill with wood paneled walls and husky voiced waitresses. I snarfed down a meatball sub with fries and draft beer. When the fake blond hostess asked me if I was alone, I nodded. I figured she might not understand that Jack had been with me all day.

Posted in How Will We Live Tomorrow? | 1 Comment

Trip Log – Day 17 – Corning, NY to Elmira, NY

Corning ElmiraMiles Today: 22

Miles to Date: 976

May 22, 2015 – Sunny, 60 degrees

 

The history of the Chemung Valley can be described in four phases: before settlers, after Corning, before the flood, and after the flood. The flood occurred on June 23, 1972, but for many it is fresh as yesterday.

IMG_1929I spent a day as tourist in Corning. After a big breakfast I got a private tour of the Patterson Inn by Events Coordinator Pat Monahan. The Inn was built in 1796, one of three built in this region to accommodate settlers coming north from Philadelphia and New York to tame the land between the New York line and Lake Ontario. It is the centerpiece of Heritage Village of the Southern Finger Lakes, which also includes a restored schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, barn and log cabin. The Inn is beautifully restored with period furnishings and accessories, as well as one of the most intricate looms I’ve seen.

IMG_1931From there I passed Corning headquarters in the center of downtown. The company took the town’s name when it moved from Brooklyn to this rail hub closer to coal sources essential for glass furnaces, and then the company put the city of Corning on the map. The Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG), like so many places in Corning, marks the high water line of the 1972 flood that changed Corning and its sister city Elmira forever. Both cities downtowns were completely underwater, and each has addressed significant reconstruction.

IMG_1934I met with CMOG’s Director of Communication, Yvette Sterbenk, and Chief Scientist, Glen Cook, to talk about tomorrow. Afterward I toured the galleries, which are housed in four interconnected buildings dating from the 1970’s to this year. The span of the collection is tremendous, a balance between demonstrating glass’ technical attributes and artistic possibilities. The new addition by Thomas Phifer is stunning and worth a visit alone, but don’t miss the rest. I met an assortment of people, including a transitioning transgendered person who had incredible ideas about tomorrow.

IMG_1937

IMG_1940I didn’t leave Corning until after 4, and had my easiest cycling day in every respect. The weather was perfect, the wind at my back, and the road through the Chemung Valley a gentle slope. Of course, it was only 20 miles, so that made it easy as well!

I had a delicious dinner with my warmshowers hosts Paul Kingsbury and Wanda Tocci, along with Paul’s father, Paul. That made three Paul’s. Paul Jr. owns a local bike shop and gave the Surly Long Haul Trucker a once over – the Crown Victoria of bicycles is holding up like a charm. Wanda and Paul live above the shop, in a cool penthouse with a roof deck that would fetch millions in Manhattan. Paul opened his bike shop in 1981, when he was twenty years. This led him to quip that tomorrow would be just like every other day for the past thirty years, but that’s definitely not true. There was a lively energy to our foursome. Not only because we had good food and wine and companionship, but the other two Paul’s possess a zest many 50+ and 80+ year old guys lack. I figured it had to do with romance. Paul and Wanda have been married less than a year, while Paul’s dad, widowed a few years ago, is “communicating every day” with a woman he met on Match.com. With so much good vibe in the present, we didn’t spend much time talking about tomorrow at all.

Posted in How Will We Live Tomorrow? | 1 Comment

Trip Log – Day 16 – Ithaca NY to Corning NY

Screen Shot 2015-05-20 at 12.30.25 PMMiles Today: 49

Miles to Date: 954

May 21, 2015 – Overcast then clearing, 50 degrees

 

I considered biking back into Ithaca to breakfast at the 24-hour deli, but was more intrigued by moving ahead, even though the next sizable town was over twenty miles. I navigated Ithaca’s big box strip on NY 13 south, and then veered west up a major hill. Thank to the glaciers thousands of years ago, cycling in the East is very predictable: valleys run north/south, so you’ve got to climb and descend when travelling west. In this part of New York, the rise and falls are long, several miles up and then as many down into the next valley.

A light rain fell as I ascended a long hill. I saw a sign for Newbridge, a small town off the main road, and detoured in search of breakfast. I was rewarded with the Varietywich at the Newbridge Cafe: steak and egg with cheese, mushrooms, onions and bacon on a bagel. I met Freddie, who tosses papers three hours a day and loves his job; Nikki, a gas jockey at the local Mobil; and Bridie, the friendly cashier who retired from working for the county, and has been working the cafe counter for sixteen years. “You’ve got to get out. Working here, you meet people.”

By the time I left, full, and pedaled past the covered bridge for which Newbridge is named, the sun started to peak through. My massive breakfast sandwich fueled me all the way to Corning. Trivia of note:

IMG_1913Exquisite Gothic gingerbread architecture

IMG_1914Small waterfalls along the road only people at bicycle speed can appreciate

IMG_1919

 

 

 

 

Highway crews installing new guard rails. No work is done by hand anymore.

IMG_1918Empty ice cream stands due to the unseasonably cold weather

IMG_1921

 

 

Very effective Interstate highway barrier through the town of Horseheads; I couldn’t hear any traffic noise

IMG_1922The gorgeous Chemung River Valley in Corning

 

 

 

 

I arrived shortly after one, and settled into a McDonald’s for an Internet session. McDonald’s is a mid-day haven for cyclists. Fast and free Internet, pleasant interiors that are never crowded, the folks you meet are the full cross-section of humanity, and I am a sucker for the $1 soft drinks or $1 cone. Audie, my counter help, was about the friendliest person I ever met. I spent over two hours catching up with the world electronically, and enjoying her boisterous banter. I was reminded of Dean Freidman’s song:

I am in love with the McDonald’s Girl
She has the smile of innocence oh so tender and warm.
I am in love with the McDonald’s Girl
She is an angel in a polyester uniform

When I left, after four, I realized that my motel was a ways out of town. Luckily, I passed a great looking barbeque joint on the way and stopped for an awesome early dinner. By the time I got to Corning Inn, I was content to settle in for the night.

Posted in How Will We Live Tomorrow? | Leave a comment