Sunday, October 25, 2015

Post-trip comments

I've been back home from my solo bike trip for about seven weeks. One of the first things I did upon returning was complete the final three blog entries. I also fixed typos, resized some photos, and added photos to the first few blog posts. Eight days after I returned, Laura and I went on an enjoyable ten-day trip to Iceland.

I wasn't tired of biking at the trip's end. One of the big surprises for me was that my exhaustion did not accumulate. A day or two of rest, except for the longer break in the Twin Cities, was enough to get me feeling fresh for another day's ride.

The total bike trip distance from Spokane to Mercer was 2,535 miles across 12 states.

I cycled for 31 days, and took another 12 days for rest and visiting, including 5 days in the Twin Cities. I averaged about 78 miles a day. The longest day was 126 miles, from Hettinger, ND to Mobridge, SD. The biggest climbing day was in Wisconsin's Driftless Area. My cycling buddy Tom MacDonald and I rode uphill for 4,170 feet, which is 52.8 feet per mile. Day 2 in Idaho and Montana would have had 4,526 feet of climbing or 58 feet per mile, but highway construction forced me to take a five-mile van shuttle ride provided by the Idaho Transportation Department and miss 1,500 feet of climbing--I was OK with that. Neither of those two days had as much vertical gain as a local training ride I did on July 3. On that day I did a 73.7 mile round trip to Chicora, PA and climbed 5,228 feet, which is 70.9 feet per mile. The hilly terrain here in western PA served me well in preparing for the trip. My two flattest days were in Ohio and Montana. The Angola, IN-Fremont, OH ride was 1,119 feet uphill across 119 miles (10.1 feet/mile) and the Harlowton, MT-Roundup ride rose 955 feet across 71 miles (13.5 feet/mile).

The trip was remarkably problem-free. I had no mechanical problems, not even a flat tire. On the two days with rain showers in southwestern North Dakota and Chicago I found shelter; and on other days I avoided afternoon rains by getting up early. Twice I woke before 5:00 AM, something highly unusual for me, but I was then rewarded with views of the sunrise from the road. My bicycle seat was uncomfortable at times, but the majority of the time I was fine. I did have some tough days; one example being the 105-mile slog from Mobridge to Aberdeen, SD with relentless headwinds and crosswinds. I questioned my desire to do long distance cycling on that day, although when I pulled into Aberdeen it was satisfying to have survived the ride. I had several white knuckle riding experiences in suburban and urban traffic. A few times vehicles passed me at high speeds, anywhere from 30-65 mph, and came close to me, say within four feet, but almost all of the time vehicles gave me wide berth, or there were no vehicles at all, sometimes for miles on end. 

Trip highlights included riding out of Minneapolis into Wisconsin with Tom for three days; a 15-mile downhill in Montana with views of the St Regis River rushing through Ponderosa-clad steep mountains; numerous occasions flying along with a tailwind; and seeing "largest in the world" objects such as a hairball in Webster, SD; a ball of twine in Darwin, MN; and drumsticks in Warren, OH. A pleasant surprise was parts of the trip that I thought would be boring were not boring. I knew I would be thrilled to see conventionally attractive landscapes like the Rockies in Idaho and Montana or Chicago's Lakefront Trail but I did not look forward to biking in flatland farming areas in say, South Dakota or northern Indiana. These two states in fact satisfied a craving I have for new landscapes; they both had a lot more variety than I assumed. I had driven through northern Indiana many times on I 80 but touring the back roads at bicycle speeds provided a whole new perspective. A more general highlight of the trip is simply the time I got to spend doing something I like, bicycling, while learning about new places. Hemingway has a well known quotation in bicycling circles that pertains here: "It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them. Thus you remember them as they actually are, while in a motor car only a high hill impresses you, and you have no such accurate remembrance of country you have driven through as you gain by riding a bicycle."

An unexpected benefit of the trip was how much I would visit and enjoy libraries and history museums. Both enriched my experience in countless ways. I originally conceived of this blog as a bare bones effort to let people know on a day-to-day basis that I had survived the risks inherent in doing a long bike trip by myself. Thanks to the libraries I could research the places I was in and incorporate pictures and maps into this blog.  

Many things came together to make this trip happen. I have to start with Tom, who introduced me to multi-day bicycle trips in 1996 with a trip from Minneapolis to Fargo, ND. Including our three days on this tour, we have done 18 trips together. I could not have survived the trip on my old bike, which I bought second hand from someone considerably taller than me. I thought I could adjust that bike to my size, and it was certainly workable for shorter trips. I now greatly prefer the new bike, and for this I thank Brian Jenks of Artispin in Cleveland. He fitted, designed, and assembled my blue bike. As for planning the trip, my most useful tool was Google Map's bicycle layer. Google Maps was also invaluable in helping me find motels. The highway maps I obtained for most of the states were useful for planning the overall route. Several of the states I passed through have online bicycle maps; the Minnesota and Wisconsin websites are excellent. My second most important planning tool was It hosts bicycle touring journals, forums, and resources. Eventually I will post this trip on that site. The Roadside America phone app showed offbeat places to visit. The Find My Friends phone app helped Laura and others get my location on a phone map in real time, even in areas outside of cell phone coverage. Cyclemeter provided data and recorded my route for each day.

To end, my bike trip was in a very important sense not solo. Throughout the endeavor from start to finish I received support and encouragement from family and friends. I appreciated very much the emails, phone calls, and blog comments as well as wonderful conversations with Karen Hammel in Harlowton, MT. My sister Rita was particularly supportive. Thanks also to my brother Tom and sister-in-law Cynthia who put Laura and me up in Spokane and to Charlie Pile and Laurie Bogart who let me stay with them in Arlee, MT. I am grateful to my grade school friends Michael Lins and Frank Hennessy for some great r&r at Michael's Wisconsin cabin and to Tom and Pam MacDonald for hosting me in Minneapolis. I stayed with my parents too, and my debt and gratitude to them is infinite. Then there is Laura. As I noted in some retirement remarks about a year ago, she treats me like a dog. I mean that in a good way, of course. One of her friends said "after I die I want to come back as Laura's dog." Seriously, I am very lucky to have her in my life. 

Happy Trails,

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Day 43, September 6: Center of the World (pix added 9/9)

Hooray! I'm home!
Newton Falls, OH to home in Mercer, PA
Trip distance: 52.2 miles
Total trip distance: 2535.1 miles
Average speed: 12.0 mph
Maximum speed: 33.7 mph
Riding Time: 4:21
Weather: at my 9:30 am start the temperature was 69° and the dew point was 67°. The temperature warmed up to the high 80s and the dew point rose to 74°. Wind was minor, blowing softly from the south.
Terrain: uphill 2112, downhill 1737. Quite a lot of climbing for a relatively short ride. The Shenango River valley that includes Sharon, PA centers on the 30-mile mark. The highest elevation is at the very end--our house.

The route skirts the northern edge of the Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA Metropolitan Area, and goes through the cities of Warren, OH and Sharon/Farrell/Hermitage PA. The Youngstown Metropolitan Area has more than a half million people so even in the more rural sections of the route there are more residential, industrial, and commercial land uses and fewer "natural" and agricultural areas compared to most of my routes.

My route passed through the center of the world, in a manner of speaking. Center of the World is an unincorporated community in far eastern Braceville Township, Trumbull County, Ohio. It was founded in 1845 by Randall Wilmot, a merchant and innkeeper. Later Wilmot moved to Cortland, OH and called his grocery store "End of the World." (Joseph Green Butler, History of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley, 1921). Today, Center of the World consists of a few houses and businesses.

It's in Ohio.
Abandoned motel in Center of the World.
You can store stuff in Center of the World.
Center of the World's Lucky Inn. Their slogan is "make the Lucky your favorite place to party with friends."

Trumbull County Courthouse in Warren, OH.
David Grohl Alley is a block south of Warren's courthouse square. The Alley features the world's largest drumsticks. Born in Warren, Grohl is the founder of the Foo Fighters and the former drummer of Nirvana. 
Graffiti art in David Grohl Alley.
Drum sculpture made of steel in David Grohl Alley.
One of the Youngstown area's nicknames is Steel Valley. The decline of the steel industry here led to depopulation and the closing of allied industries and other businesses, although many businesses remain.   

Wasko's Inn in an industrial neighborhood of Wheatland, PA is closed.

Sharon Tube is doing well, thanks in part to supplying pipe for the hydraulic fracturing (or "fracking") method of extracting natural gas from shale in the region.
By coincidence, my route took me underneath the I 80 bridge in West Middlesex, PA where I had a bad accident in March, 2006. I was driving home at night from a tennis match in Youngstown. My rear view mirror filled up with a truck and its bright lights, and then I got rear ended. I spun around on the freeway, crunched the center guard rail with my car's rear end, and found myself skidding down the left lane going backward with a tractor trailer headed straight for me. The truck driver swerved into the right lane and hit the front right side of my car with his left front tire. I spun 180° and came to a stop facing forward, with my car straddling the two lanes and vehicles passing me on both sides, at slow speeds. Luckily, I did not get hurt. The truck driver was also unharmed, and like me, shaken up.

The I-80 bridge where I had a bad accident in March, 2006.
After being rear ended, my car spun around and the rear of the car crunched into the center guard rail.

Skidding down the freeway backwards, a tractor trailer's left front tire collided with the front of my car. I feel fortunate that I was unharmed.

On our 2011 tour, Tom and I went by this former one-room school outside of West Middlesex and took pictures of it. At that time it was abandoned and in poor shape. Nice to see that a timber products company has restored it.
Corn field east of West Middlesex. Local corn acreage has increased in recent years, thanks in part to demand stimulated by ethanol. Unlike some of the corn growing areas I biked through, there are lots of trees nearby. Some of the land is forested because it is too steep for planting and other land has returned to forest because it isn't very fertile, especially compared to lands with better soils in states to the west.
I mentioned in the last post that I had entered the Glaciated Allegheny Plateau (see map below). It is a dissected plateau, that is, erosion by water has created steep relief. People sometimes call the higher elevations in this region "mountains," but when you are on top of a "mountain" or hill, you can see that the surrounding mountains or hills are about the same elevation, confirming that the region was once a plain. The Raisz landform map below communicates how streams and rivers have dissected or split open the plateau. The photo below shows steep relief created by Little Neshannock Creek.
The Allegheny Plateau. The gray line separates the northern glaciated section from the unglaciated southern section (source: Wikipedia article on Allegheny Plateau).
Portion of Raisz landform map showing the way that streams and rivers have dissected an uplifted plain that is now the Allegheny Plateau. The red line is my approximate route for the day and the green line is the previous day's route.
The photo flattens this hill, but it was one of the steepest of my entire trip. I felt sorry for the horse pulling a heavy Amish buggy up the hill on this very warm afternoon, although the horse climbed the hill faster than I did, so maybe it's not a very hard job for a strong horse. Beneath the bluff in the distance is Little Neshannock Creek, which created this valley.
About 2,535 miles after I started in Spokane, I arrived home. Laura and Angola were waiting for me in the street. Laura was waving a pink flamingo in celebration. The Find My Friends iPhone app we use allows her to see where I my phone is at any time, so she knew when I was coming. It is great to be back.

White legged old guy off the new blue bike in my front yard with Angola, a cairn, a globe, and a pink flamingo. Why the white legs? I wore leg coolers to keep the sun off my legs.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Day 42, September 5: shady character (pix added 9/8)

Elyria, OH to Newton Falls, OH
Trip distance: 81.7 miles
Total trip distance: 2477.3 miles
Average speed: 12.7 mph
Maximum speed: 32.6 mph
Riding time: 6:26
Weather: I started at 8:10 AM with a temperature of 67° and a dew point of 61°. It was sunny all day and the temperature reached the upper 80s while the dew point was in the mid 60s to low 70s. The wind was inconsequential although I had a nice 5 to 10 mph tailwind for the final 8 miles.
Terrain: uphill 3402 feet, downhill 3195 feet. The profile below shows that as I moved away from the Lake Erie I gained elevation, climbed a big hill, and then went in and out of the Cuyahoga River Valley (the valley is centered on the 40-mile mark). After that I followed several rail trails, did a series of small to medium hills, and finished with a gradual descent.

The Greater Cleveland area can be defined in several ways. The metropolitan statistical area, which is shown below by the tan-colored counties, is the most common way to compare US cities, and Cleveland ranks 21st with about 2 million people in 2012. The broadest definition is the combined statistical area, which includes all of the colored counties below, and in this category Cleveland ranks 15th with about 3.5 million people in 2013. My route began in Elyria, which is shown in Lorain County. I then went through Cuyahoga and Summit Counties, and finished in Newton Falls, a little east of the City of Ravenna in Portage County.

Source: Greater Cleveland.

One of Cleveland's nicknames is Forest City. The name fits well from my perspective because I rode through a lot of shade. It was the shadiest day of my trip, with well over half of the ride along shady streets and bikeways, something I was grateful for on this very muggy and sunny day. The only other day that came close for shade was Day 37 across northern Indiana, where I estimated the shade to be between a quarter and a third of the ride. The routes on these two days both went through fairly densely populated areas as well as metropolitan fringe areas--both types of areas have the resources and desire for extensive bike trail networks.

I was a little apprehensive about biking on a Saturday through a major urban area, but most of the streets on my route were quiet and I spent a lot of time on Metro Parks bike trails away from traffic.

Looking down on the Cascade Falls of the West Branch of the Black River, in Elyria.
Bicycle recycled as a planter on Sprague Road in Olmsted Falls, a Cleveland suburb.

I rode on a 7-mile section of parkway and bike trail along the East Branch of the Rocky River. This photo was taken in the Mill Stream Run Reservation.

Cairns at Chippewa Creek, which runs onto the Cuyahoga River near Brecksville. At Brecksville, I began a 20-mile stretch on parkway bike lanes and bike trails. 

View from the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath Trail in Cuyahoga Valley National Park.
I then began a big climb out of Cuyahoga Valley National Park, as seen below on a segment of my Cyclemeter map, to get to the Summit Metro Parks Bike & Hike Trail.

This map gives a sense of the depth (~350 feet) of the Cuyahoga River valley. I 80 and I 271 have dramatic bridges over the gorge.

Google Maps routed me onto a closed road. This photo was taken near the 44-mile mark in the previous map. 

This is part of the closed road referred to in the previous photo. The combination of steepness and crumbling asphalt forced me to get off my bike and walk up the hill.
This self serve stand, based on an honor system of pay, was a welcome sight after climbing out of the Cuyahoga River valley on a muggy day. The stand accommodates dogs too, as seen on the lower left of this photo and in the photo below.

The Summit Metro Parks Bike & Hike Trail, like most rail trails is long and straight, but this one is mostly in the shade.

Sandstone outcrops, or more technically, Sharon Conglomerate rock walls of the Boston Ledges, on the Summit Metro trail. They are evidence that we have left the lake plain and entered a new landform region, the Glaciated Allegheny Plateaus.

My route went from the Huron-Erie Lake Plains to the Glaciated Allegheny Plateaus. The former is part of the Central Lowland which extends west to the Rockies while the Glaciated Allegheny Plateaus are part of the Appalachian Plateaus which extend from New York to Alabama. (Map is from Wikipedia article on Ohio)
View of swamp from Summit Metro Parks Bike &Hike Trail, near Stow, OH.

Ravenna's 150' flagpole in the Portage County courthouse square is modeled after the Eiffel Tower. It was one of the highest flagpoles in the country in the late 19th century.

Ravenna car show entrants.
I ended the day with some hills, bringing the day's climbing total to 3402 feet, the 5th highest total of the 30 days so far. I stayed in Newton Falls, OH that night but regretted it. The Econolodge was neat and had friendly and competent employees, but my room smelled strongly of a cleaning agent and I woke up with a headache. If I would have pushed on nine miles to Warren, OH I could have stayed in a hotel right on the historic courthouse square :(

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Day 41, September 4: North Coast Inland Trail (pix added 9/7)

Fremont, OH to Elyria, OH (for the second time, I forgot to start my Cyclemeter iPhone app in the morning, so this link points to a Google map of the route)
Trip distance: 68.2 miles
Total trip distance: 2395.6 miles
Average speed: 12.6 mph
Maximum speed: 28.9 mph
Riding time: 5:24
Weather: at 9:35 when I began the temperature was 71° and the dew point was 70°. Temperatures varied from the high 70s to 80s, depending on the presence of sun or clouds. The dew points were in the low 70s. Moving on a bike helps beat the heat, but it was definitely uncomfortable when I stopped. The wind blew anywhere from 0-10 mph and shifted from a direct headwind in the first hour or two to a crosswind.
Terrain: The uphill and downhill feet are listed in the Google route profile below, although Google numbers tend to be much lower than the ones measured with the Cyclemeter app. The route was not quite as flat as the day before, because it crossed several river valleys.

The route ran across northern Ohio, roughly parallel and to the south of I 80/I 90, as seen below, although you can get a more detailed look by clicking this link. I started and finished my ride on the North Coast Inland Trail (NCIT)--an 11-mile segment east of Fremont and a 14-mile segment from Kipton through Oberlin to Elyria. The NCIT is a typical rail trail, flat and straight. This part of Ohio is relatively densely populated, so the land uses along the trail are not just agricultural.

Nasty weather the night before knocked some trees into the North Coast Inland Trail. Glad this weather didn't strike while I was riding. 
Another downed tree on the North Coast Inland Trail causes cyclists to portage their bikes.
The huge Whirlpool plant in Clyde, Ohio is visible from the rail trail. It is the largest washing machine factory in the world and employs about 3,400 people.
Aerial view showing the bike trail and the Whirlpool plant. The small white circle near the center of the photo is the water tower shown in the previous picture.
This part of Ohio is in the heart of North America's manufacturing belt, but corn and soybeans are grown here too.

Channel provides seedsmanship.

It is near the end of the growing season, so this soybean field is going yellow. The photo also shows the flatness of the lake plain.

My kind of street. This street sign is in Oberlin, a college town.

Oberlin College is known for music. Two students sitting on the staircase practice on their horns.
A cumulonimbus cloud towers over Oberlin. These clouds are associated with atmospheric instability and rain storms. This was the time of day when weather forecasters said there was a 50% of rain. Some rain did come to the area, but by that time I was in my motel in Elyria.