Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Litchfield Hills Stole My Spiritual Milk Money... and other stories from the eastern brow ridge of America and the last leg of this endeavor

A lot has happened since our last posting, but the Allegheny Mountains were not our friends in terms of finding access. Sorry it's been a while, but to make up for it, here's a brain dump of our memories to catch you up!

So remember how we got a room paid for us by an Indian physician/motel clerk in Boardman, Ohio? Well he told us to come back at 8 when the owner would be there, and he would ask him if he would be willing to donate or pay for it himself if he said no. When we did return, he asked to see Alex and Arturo's IDs. "Where does it say you are medical students? Do you have proof?" We didn't. "But you can ask us questions". This began a high stakes impromptu gross anatomy quiz through the bullet proof glass of the motel counter, which we're happy to announce we passed (inferior epigastric, baby!). You can forge a medical student ID, but you can't fake anatomy. So he ended up paying for our room. He was an awesome guy, and as it turns out he has a different business and was just covering for the owner (who was three hours late and who he ended up cursing out in Hindi).

Before all this, though, we decided to get dinner at Golden Corral, honestly one of the most amazing buffets in all the land.

Where chefs carve amazing thick slices of brisket for you...

And fountains flow with chocolate.

Unfortunately we overwhelmed ourselves like dogs with bottomless bowls, and Loreen may or may not have refunded a little mac and cheese in the motel parking lot. The former/future physician ended up buying us a room that night, and the next morning we prepared for our ascent into the Appalachians. But Ohio didn't let us go without a fight, and a few incredibly steep hills helped to usher us out and into Pennsylvania. The welcome signs are sometimes subtle, but the lottery always lets you know when you've entered a new state...

Although the hills were steep and grouped one after another, they weren't as bad as we had expected. Still, the heat was once again rising after a bit of a break in Ohio, and the Alleghenies are no joke. Around New Wilmington, we once again entered Amish country, and talked to some people along the way.

We then found an Amish bake stand and got some elderberry pie and an amazing pumpkin roll. Loreen also bought some maple syrup at another stand.

After the quick dip through Amish country, we pressed on through Allegheny towns like Emlenton. This is oil country, and as it turns out there's actually a gas boom going on from New York to West Virginia, with thousands of drillers descending on the Appalachians. This definitely worked to our disadvantage when trying to get motel rooms.

In Shippenville we came across this interesting statue of a, uh, polar bear cupcake dog balancing a teacup on its head? Oh of course. The official symbol of Pennsylvania. It's on the quarter.

Finally, we made it to Marienville, PA right as the sun was setting. This was where last year's riders stayed, but since we wanted to keep our schedule, we actually had to knock a day off between Springfield, Ohio and Marienville. Four hundred-mile-plus days in a row got the job done, and we were pretty happy to have 'lapped' the route from last year. In Marienville, all the motels in town turned us down for donations, so after eating as quickly as possible (Hot Pockets, hot dogs, and pepperoni balls!) we headed into the darkness and found a dirt road just inside national forest land. A few hundred yards in, the road stopped at a gate next to a sign for a wild turkey preserve. Lacking other options, we pitched our tents behind the gate, because who comes to a wild turkey preserve at 2 in the morning in the rain?

We slowly woke up to what sounded like an alarm going off outside our tents, complete with snooze. In a half-dream, Loreen thought "stupid car alarm", until she remembered we were in the middle of the woods. We realized there were also blaring lights shining on the tents, and we stuck our heads out to see a giant truck in the darkness with huge floodlights on, honking to wake us up. BEEP, BEEP, BEEEEEEP, BEEEEP, BEEP -pause- BEEEP BEEEP BEEP BEEEEP BEEEEEP BEEP. After hustling my shoes on, I went up to the driver's side praying they didn't have guns, and it turned out to be a pair of pretty unhappy forest rangers. They said we weren't allowed to camp there since it was an access road for the forest service that needed to be clear in case of emergency, that we needed to "vacate immediately" and that maybe we could find something a mile down the road but maybe not. They stayed there with their lights on us as we shoved our soaking tents into their bags in the rain, and the truck trailed behind us down the dirt road before speeding off and leaving us to the darkness once we hit the main road. Since it was almost 4 am at this point, we decided it was pointless to find a new spot to camp, so we rode a half mile back to a gas station and had coffee and breakfast waiting for a little light as dawn approached. Around 5 am, the mist rolled in and it got really cold. We had been told by other riders to just dump our cold weather gear once we hit Kansas, but we were definitely happy we hadn't. We started off once it was light enough, destined for Galeton, PA about 98 miles away.

The mist was pretty awesome. During the day we happened upon a couple of Llama ranches. OK, really they were alpacas, and man they looked goofy, like giant poodles with bowl cuts. Sorry alpacas, we call em like we see em. You're really soft though.

In towns like Port Allegheny the signs of mining and the industry of these mountains poked up.

Just past this mill, we saw this car show in the town park. There were some really amazing ones, and while we were wandering around a woman had us come to the central gazebo to get our names and what we were doing. A little while later they announced that we were in the crowd and to shake our hands if you saw us.

Stacy's vote was for this '67 Camaro SS. The tiger in the back sealed it for him.

We needed to continue on through Coudersport and on to the small town of Galeton. After a major climb coming out of Coudersport, we reached the Potato City hotel/restaurant at the very top of the hill (Denton Hill, if it has a name you know it's not good), which we decided to ask for a room despite being 13 miles short of Galeton. Although he said he couldn't at first because there was a big festival going on and only had two rooms, our pathetic desperation and tiredness from our 3 am truck alarm wake up call eventually got to him, and he ended up giving us two rooms with a shared bathroom. Potato City rules!

Some other cars from the show passed us earlier in the day only to show up at Potato City.

The next morning we started off towards Towanda, and being 13 miles behind our plan we knew we had to make up a little mileage, fortunately it was just a giant downhill to Galeton. Unfortunately it was all a giant downhill, and it was freezing! We survived.

Somewhere along the way we passed this dinosaur:

I guess this sign is telling us we need to take a southern bend now...

We reached Towanda in fairly good time, and this is where all the drillers made it impossible to find a motel room. It sits on the banks of the Susquehanna, which eventually runs into the Chesapeake. Since we were on the Allegheny River not long before, which is one of Pittsburgh's "three rivers", leading to the Ohio and eventually the Mississippi, somewhere after Coudersport we must have crossed the Eastern continental divide- that is, the ridge where drainage to the Atlantic and to the Mississippi/Gulf of Mexico split. I suspect it was Denton Hill.

In Towanda and (again) with no place to stay, we turned to our next hope for a roof (we were sick of getting rained on) and called churches. After a few calls, Father Martin Boylan at St. Paul and Peter's was kind enough to offer us the rectory's covered porch, complete with fan! He also let us shower, watch TV if we wanted, and brought us cherries, chips, water, and a bounty for breakfast the next morning.

We chatted a little while into the night, and the next morning we were off, but not before we could get a picture (a lot of times I don't get pictures of the best people and occurrences because you get lost in the moment, you know?). Thank you Father Martin! He gave us the number of the church in Honesdale, where he used to be, if we needed another place when we got there.

Somewhere along the way, we found a bizarre outcropping of a green/black/reddish glass-like mineral. Loreen and myself being amature xeno-geologists, the identification was simple: Kryptonite. We took a little bit and kept it in our bags, so even Superman couldn't stop us now...

Out of Towanda, we entered what are called the Endless Mountains. Quite right. We did catch this view at the top of one, and right down on the left bank of the river is where Marie Antoinette had a retreat built in order to escape the French Revolution. She missed the flight, but some servants, workers etc. were there, eventually blending in to the surrounding cultures.

Through all this, have you noticed no mention of any great disasters? Now bikes sawed in half by a rogue mining machine, no tragic events fording a river, no stitches? Oh wait. Stitches. Despite us having surprisingly good luck through most of Pennsylvania and not mentioning it to keep it that way, as we neared Carbondale, Alex fell with his bike getting started up a hill (you have no idea how easy that is, which really sucks if you can't clip out of your pedal in time). He slammed his knee a bit but just wanted to push on, but as he zoomed up the hill I noticed a fairly big gash along his calf. "Uh, Alex you've got a pretty bad cut, maybe we should get a bandaid on it". Stopping, we saw it was pretty deep, and as we were sitting on the side of the road with Alex contemplating if he should just keep riding with such an open cut a car pulled over. Keep this is mind: when we're changing tires or resting on the side of the road on top of hills or anything else that doesn't need help, people always stop and ask if we need it. Every time we crash, sprawled out on the side of the road applying zip ties to our latest piece of broken equipment and licking our wounds, people just keep zooming by. An interesting phenomenon, so you can understand our luck when the woman who pulled over within 2 minutes of us stopping was an off-duty EMT who, after looking at the gash, said it would probably need something and offered to drive Alex with his bike in her car to the hospital in Carbondale, about 15 miles away. They went and the remaining three set off to find him there. Why they built the hospital at the top of an insane hill in town we don't know, but we did find Alex enjoying a turkey sandwich and Wheel of Fortune while he waited to get it stitched up.

The staff was awesome and really supportive of our ride, and the charge nurse even offered her empty cabin a while north of Carbondale. Unfortunately it was out of our way, otherwise we would have been all over it since all the motels we called weren't having it and dusk was lurking. Six stitches and a teen Jeopardy tournament later (they just throw them softballs man), we endeavored to make it to Honesdale before the darkness took hold and the road became terrifying. We failed. Someone put a ridiculous series of hills on the east side of Carbondale, and we eventually had to stop in a field since the batteries in all our lights were all nearly dead and the roads in PA are more accurately mini canyons of potholes, gashes, and just straight up abysses. The field happened to be right by a prison and may or may not have been prison grounds, but we made camp and hoped not to awaken to police lights and a tactical team surrounding us. Thankfully it was someone's property and as we were getting ready for bed the owners came by and said we could camp wherever we wanted and thought what we were doing was great. A break.

The next morning, we continued through Honesdale towards the New York border. We crossed the Delaware River into Narrowsburg, NY, and were now officially back in the hood! By noon we stopped at a gas station in White Lake outside of Bethel and got some good cheese steaks and subs. If it rings a bell, this is where Woodstock took place, and a guy we met at the Marie Antoinette overlook told me there are still a bunch of old hippies who never left Woodstock, and that it can be a pretty weird place. We were just passing through though, and there were just a few signs of what happened almost exactly 41 years before.

Arturo got a psychedelic lizard dude at the gas station since his bike had gone too long without some new bling.

Again, where the DOT fails in informing you of entering a new state, the lottery always picks up the slack.

We passed through a major Hasidic community in Woodridge and Fallsburg, NY, in the Borscht Belt of the Catskills. I really wish I'd gotten a Knish...

It was beautiful as sunset approached, but we knew we wouldn't make it to New Paltz before dark.

We did come across this beauty, which I am comfortable saying is the last pay phone in America, hidden somewhere in the sanctuary of the Catskills.

We unsuccessfully tried some motels along the road in Kerhonksan, and Loreen's sister Nan, brother in law Ronnie, nephews Alex and Zachary, and boyfriend Steve met us. Since there was no camping anywhere nearby, Ronnie and Nan were incredibly generous and paid for our room part way up the mountain towards New Paltz. They also drove us to New Paltz and got us a great dinner. Thank you so much guys! You were amazingly supportive!

The next morning began right off with a long moutain to get over before New Paltz. Stacy's chain began acting up, skipping, snapping and catching, each time painfully jolting his knees. We tried the few fixes we knew to help, almost made it disastrously worse, and finally made it somewhat rideable as long as he kept in one gear on the rear cassette and just shifted with the front derailleur. Stacy made it over the mountain in two gears.

The bike shop in New Paltz wasn't open for another hour and since we were trying to make it to Alex's house in Woodbury, CT for a BBQ at 4, Stacy said he could deal with it and just keep going since there probably wouldn't be anything like that mountain. He was right, it was way worse. Heading into Poughkeepsie we crossed the Hudson on an awesome pedestrian and bike walkway that must have cost millions to build. It's awesome to see resources put into amazing things like that! Straight down that river to the center of the universe...

We met this 69 year old on the walkway who said he'd done some shorter bike touring before, then told us about his father who used to swim across the Hudson every day and also down river 15 miles. Would put us all to shame. We continued through Poughkeepsie, and taking a shortcut (is that ever a good idea?) we hit an absurd mountain that just wouldn't quit. We were soaked with sweat, and Stacy said he hadn't been that wet since he biked up Monarch Pass, Colorado wearing his windbreaker and wind pants because he was too lazy to take them off. We thought we were all set once we left PA. The Taconic Mountains had other ideas. So would the Litchfield Hills, and with every climb as we literally raced to make the BBQ, now by 4:30, then by 5, the hills got worse and just kept coming. We entered Connecticut with little fanfare, but it was so good to be back!

In all honesty though, we all agree that the day from Kerhonksen to Woodbury was in the top two or three of worst hill days of the entire ride. New York and western CT may have worse climbs than the Rockies. Not as high or as long, but steeper, sustained, and humid as all hell. This on top of the fact that Stacy was still working with basically two gears (remember "the hills can't be any worse"?). It just wouldn't let us have it easy till the very last mile. At least on one of the hills, I did manage to pull an apple off a tree while riding, and the part that wasn't rittled with worm holes was amazing. One of the best apples I've eaten, but maybe circumstance played a role too.

In New Milford, Loreen's sister Nan and brother-in-law waited on the side of the road, cheered and hooted, and gave us Powerade and water. Again, so awesome! We made it to the BBQ at exactly 5 pm, and a crowd cheered us as we made it up Alex's illegally steep driveway (they needed to get special permission from the town). We had a great time that night, and drank some home-made wine and good beer, ate great Filipino food, and had a lot of great conversation. A lot of Alex's family was there, and Stacy's mom and girlfriend Carla also came up, as did Nan, Ronnie and Steve, our superfans! Even though we still had 30 miles to go, it was definitely good to be home.

The next day we started by 7:30 to make it to the Health Center by noon sharp since we were going to have people greeting us there. The hills were not terrible, and we were making great time. Before we knew it, we were basically home.

At this point, let me explain something about this ride. As we've slowly pushed east, we've kept our eyes out for signs we're getting closer to home. In Missouri CVS reappeared. Later, Dunkin Donuts. Indiana brought us Popeyes, Ohio White Castle, New York Stop and Shop. The trees became familiar, old stone walls appeared in the woods, eastern accents rang in our ears. Like slowly coming out of a dream, our waking world returned piece by piece until all things around us were in their usual place, like we'd never left. Had we even gone? Had someone just painted these tan lines on in our sleep? Planted these memories in our minds? This is hard to say, but we are not so much philosophers, so to us the point is moot. In any case, when the churches started looking like this, we knew we were in CT.

So far, the lizard was enjoying the ride.

When we saw this sign, holy crap. Smooth sailing...

To be back where there are really good delis...

We stopped at Loreen's SCP site on route 6 in Bristol. Stacy tried the blood pressure machine. A bit high. Too many gas station burritos?

Crazy Bruce's! Almost there!


Back for real.

Since we were over an hour early, we stopped at Truffle bakery on route 4 in Farmington. After we told them what we had just done, they gave us this amazing brown sugar chocolate chip coffee cake to enjoy. Seriously go here, they have amazing stuff and donated to help us!

We chilled in the hope that, barring a meteorite smashing us in the last mile (entirely likely given our luck), we had really made it.

Yup, we did...


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