Monday, September 17, 2018

day fifty-six: trap pond state park to assateague state park to newark (60+26 km)

Was up late blogging and otherwise meditating on my imminent end of trip so didn't get up till nearly seven. Toileted, then discovered that my lighter was out of butane. One of the other tenters had a blow torch, which he dialed down enough to light the stove; but then the flame went out as I was attempting to adjust it, and that person had already struck camp and left. Finally found someone in the main part of the campground who had a book of matches that he gave me.

When I finished preparing breakfast, I saw why the flame had gone out so easily: the fuel was virtually empty. The final drops I poured out gently on the picnic table top to evaporate away.

Fixed the front derailleur problem that had so been bugging me; the cable had slipped or stretched so that it no longer would go into top gear. The rear rack was loose; turned out that one of the critical screws was missing, so I stole a screw from somewhere else. Once everything was fixed and packed, I sat outside the toilet block for a half hour while my phone charged.

All the way over to US113 I was on quiet roads, up along the lake then through small towns, and a state forest where the sides of the road were strewn throughout with an amazing amount of litter. Once I emerged from the forest, the roadside litter went back to normal levels. Heading east I had a fairly stiff breeze in my face.

Joined 113 in Selbyville, just north of the Delaware-Maryland line, which I'd pretty much been following since the previous evening when I turned off the highway to head to the state park. Stopped for a Monster Java and an Arby's turkey sandwich on the Delaware side.

Sixteen kilometers south on 113 I came to Berlin and the turnoff for Assateague: getting close. When I turned off 376 onto south 611, I stopped to buy a bottle of wine for later celebration, plus a bar of scented soap. The cashier asked me where I was riding from and to and said to please post something on their Facebook page. I promised I would. She asked if I was going to spend the night on the island; I said I'd be riding on to Newark, MD. Really?! Your going to ride that much further? We're talking about less than fifteen miles.

Crossing the bike bridge to the island, I stopped to talk to three cyclists who were reading one of the historical plaques on the bridge. They asked where my final destination was, and I said "here". Why here, they asked -- as if Assateague were the strangest place in the world to end a cross-continent trek; so I explained about my friend Caroline/Turtle living nearby. (I also think the barrier islands are pretty cool.)

Headed to the state park beach directly over the bridge. There were maybe a couple dozen people in beach chairs or strolling along the beach. Tried to take my bike out into the very shallow areas where the waves just barely came in. But while I was struggling to compose a good photo, a much larger wave came in and knocked over the bike, getting me very wet at the same time. So I retreated with the bike and just took the front wheel out into the water.

Showered off the worst of the sand from my feet in the beachside shower block. Took a few last photos, then headed off more slowly back the way I came.

(My overall distance was 6032km or 3748mi.)

Saturday, September 15, 2018

day fifty-five: lums pond state park to trap pond state park (138km)

Today's ride was sponsored by the numbers 71, 13 and 24.

Rose at quarter till six. Had to make several trips back and forth to the toilet block. Not only was this the most expensive public campground so far this trip; it had the longest walk from the tent-only sites to the toilets.

Had second breakfast over the Summit Bridge and on to Middletown. Couple at the next table asked where I was riding from and to. "Oh, I could never do that! ...Though my husband did a lot of riding when he was younger."

Low-grade fever continued from yesterday. Bought a ridiculously overpriced pair of Advil tablets at one gas station, which took a while to kick in but did help.

Made the mistake coming in to Dover of staying on US13 rather than taking Alt13. So instead of seeing the capitol and downtown, I saw one long business strip. After that I realized that "Alt13" meant Old 13, so when Alt13 would veer off, so would I. On one of those diversions I stopped at a thrift-shop-and-grocery, where I bought what had to be the cheapest vegetables of the trip. The cashier just looked at my pile of vegetables and said they'd be a dollar.

Had to cycle the last 10km to the campground on two-lane roads in the dark. More often than not, the drivers would switch to high beams when they saw me. Must be some instinctive reaction. The shoulders were extra wide -- thank you Delaware! -- but oh, my eyes.

Tonight is -- barring mechanical breakdown -- my last night on the road. I am tired (from the low-grade fever, I'd suppose), sad, excited and pleased, all at the same time. When I started this journey 17 July, I was expecting to finish around 21 August. By 10 August I had only reached the geographical center of North America. I lost three days from broken spokes and consequent freewheel problems (two full days and two half days), one day for illness, and two-and-a-half days due to heavy rain (having not been rained on once on my bike the whole way till I reached Pennsylvania). I dealt with stomach problems and long long long climbs (and equally mad descents!) in British Columbia, swarms of vicious black flies in Montana, crazy winds in Minnesota that had me wanting to quit, obnoxious drivers in Ohio, flattering admirers in Pennsylvania. I have met incredibly generous strangers and visited with friends and relatives, most of whom I had not seen in years. I have seen (and smelled!) some of the sobering effects of climate change, and I have seen (and heard) the sobering reality of just how badly this country is divided, its inhabitants living in (at least) two nearly noon-intersecting realities. In one, Clinton is a Commie traitor, and Trump has made America great again, while the spirit of the Confederacy burns on, brightly. In the other, Clinton is a flawed but intellectually deeply competent leader, Trump is a pathological liar, and the Civil War (which was really our second civil war, as my history professors at university pointed out) is a closed matter. One side is seething with hate, the other all but trapped in despair. Both sides are so very afraid and angry, in their own ways, and intolerance is all around: every time I see (as I did again today) a sign in a store saying "we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone"; every time the fear and anger get in the way of dialogue. So many of the problems I saw seemed like unhelpful distractions from the very real problems this country, and world, are facing -- problems that are rarely acknowledged never mind addressed.

I started this trip needing to find myself again and remind myself why it is exactly that I'm alive (a question that too many people, I think, never bother to ask). I'm not sure yet -- after all, the trip isn't *quite* over! -- but I think I've found the answers I needed. If nothing else, I have had some truly wonderful moments and life, of course, finds its truest value in a scattering of such moments.

Friday, September 14, 2018

day fifty-four: lancaster to lums pond state park (85km)

Beastly tired last night when I crashed to bed so sluggish getting up and sluggish through breakfast, shower and packing. By the time I did my blog entry and dropped off my trash, it was 11:30: my latest start yet. Thinking it could be the two days of riding in the rain to Middletown, could be having no functional Thermarest because the glue patches dissolved in all the wetness.

Stopped almost immediately for second breakfast at Red Robin. The salmon sandwich was fine but rather expensive: $25 with the Guinness and tip.

Spent pretty much the rest of the day on PA896, which became DE896. The skies were solidly overcast the whole time but the rural scenery was amazing: fields of corn, tobacco barns stuffed with drying tobacco, rolling countryside. I waved to all the horse-and-buggy drivers and they all waved back. A barefoot man mowing the lawn with his riding mower stared at me with admiration, continued with his mowing, then looked back over his shoulder at me.

The section of Delaware I crossed into was, I learned, claimed by Pennsylvania for over a century even as it was governed by Delaware. A joint commission awarded the "wedge" of land to Delaware, a decision ratified by Pennsylvania in 1897 but by Delaware not until 1921!

In Newark I saw several businesses named Claymont _______. I wondered how close by Claymont was, as my sister lived there for ten years. I visited her, as I recall, just once. Passed the SEPTA/Amtrak station. Passed the University of Delaware football stadium.

Darkness started falling around 6:30: an hour earlier than normal. I felt light rain. I seemed to be running a low-grade fever. The road got insanely busy but, thankfully, the shoulders were two-and-a-half meters wide. The road turned into a motorway for a couple miles, so I got off onto Business 896 through some small town. Missed the turn off for the campground as it was only posted from the south! Knew I'd gone too far a kilometer later when I came to a large bridge I was sure I wasn't meant to cross.

The "primitive" campsite is $27 for the night, *plus* a mandatory $4 "reservation" fee: by far the most expensive state park yet. I had only $17 on me and -- naturally -- payment is cash only when the office is closed, which it was/is till 11:00 tomorrow. A gentleman who was trying to figure out the self-registration system himself -- he'd accidentally reserved for *next* weekend -- gave me the remaining $14.

As I was settling in, a big, strong-looking gentleman came over from the next site and said he'd paid for this site, too. He came across initially rather aggressively but quickly relaxed and said it was fine that I stay -- which was good because by then it was pitch dark.

day fifty-three: middletown to lancaster (60km)

Went to Hardees to toilet and have first breakfast. Pastor Kim arrived and took me to the Brownstone Cafe for second breakfast, her treat. Put a new inner tube on the front tire, figuring I'll patch the old one later. Nothing dried out overnight but that's the humidity for you.

Rode back to the Middletown Home to visit Betty Burger and tell her what an important formative influence she'd been on me, and Mary Brandt who, despite being over 90, looks and acts younger than many or  most people in their 60s. Had lunch at Hardee's with Joel Medvidovich, an old childhood friend who lived just down Kelso Street from me, in Paxtang. He's running a billiards room and brewery in Harrisburg. He's very proud of his Russian imperial stout (my favorite kind).

Left town around three after picking up groceries at Giant's. Felt a whole mud of emotions, largely wistful. The old 230 Diner just outside town is all boarded up and half falling down. Long, drawn-out hill up from the Swatara Creek past the roller skating rink that still is, apparently, a roller skating rink; then a fairly level ride.

Stopped at the bike shop near the square in Elizabethtown to get new bike shorts. Cousin Carolyn saw from Facebook that I was in town and said to drop by, even though they were about to leave for Micaiah's wedding rehearsal; so I did, for five minutes or so. Last time I was by was 2009. Still remembered the house number.

Got a milkshake at the drive-in restaurant in Mount Joy -- no malts unfortunately. At the Turkey Hill, the attendant Brett asked what I was doing and, when I explained, gushed "that's awesome!!" and insisted on shaking my hand. Its moments like this that really make the trip.

Forgot that 230 merges onto the 283 expressway below Mount Joy, and there are no warning signs; you're just suddenly there on the highway. Got off the next exit and made my way back to old 230, through Salunga and Landisville.

Lancaster seems to be the land of the endless traffic lights. They aren't the modern LED kind, either; so they must be costing the city a fortune. I seemed to hit most of them red.

Arrived at the campground shortly before nine and found a tent-only spot. (The sign at the office, which was closed, listed just two sites as open, both with full hookup; but when I looked around, all the tent sites were open.) Night watchman came by. (This campground has got staff than I've ever seen at a campground anywhere.) I explained that I'd set up where I did because all the tent sites seemed to be free. "None of them are free!" I started to offer to move until I realized what he meant, so I assured him I would register and pay when the office opened in the morning.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

day fifty-two: mexico to middletown (97km)

Weather forecast was gloriously wrong again today. The chance of precipitation this morning was supposedly 0%. It rained the entire morning, occasionally moderately hard. I had to wait for a break in the rain to make breakfast, and then I had to pack up in light rain.

The campground owner asked me some friendly but pointed questions about my intended route. I got the distinct impression that the state police had been following up on me which, if true, seems awfully silly.

Stopped for second breakfast just down the road in Thompson rön at a pizza place (the only option). Had a black olive and mushroom pizza -- decent overall, but the mushrooms were out of a can.

I took the shortest possible alternative route for going around the 8km of missing old highway before Millerstown. This would have been fine save for the rain and the often very steep gradient. (The roads were woods roads mostly but in good shape.) I had to walk much of the way up and brake for dear life on the mad Tumblr back down. Turned out bikes definitely aren't allowed on this section anymore as the "motor vehicles only" sign was quite prominent this time. (I didn't bother to check at the western end, but I came out directly at the eastern end.)

Stopped for coffee at the Christian coffee shop on the square in Millerstown -- chance to dry out and warm up a little. Took the next section of old highway to Newport, where I turned off to head over the "mountain" ridge to the one-room schoolhouse where my friend Bill lives and where I, long ago, used to camp in the yard, on my own or with Billy and Abe. So I learned that Dottie passed away some years ago already from a recurrence of her cancer. It couldn't have been so long after John. I was tempted to stay and tent in the yard again for old times' sake (and the possibility of meeting Abe) but also eager to reach Middletown. So after an hour I bid my farewell and headed down to Duncannon to see if the underpass under the Norfolk and Southern line was flooded out. It was. Didn't look deep so I started through only to discover, a third of the way through, the water getting surprisingly deep very quickly and the current not so surprisingly strong. When my bike threatened to float away I knew I had to turn back.

Taking  old 11/15 south through town posed another problem. The old highway came out onto the new a quarter mile before the motorway ended -- with again a prominent "motorized vehicles only" sign on the ramp. So I headed down the dead-end stump of the old highway from which I had to climb a ridiculously steep embankment to continue. I should just have broken the law for a quarter mile. Ended up tearing my shorts on one of the guard rail posts at the top of the embankment.

The road was not nearly so dangerous as I'd remembered it, though the one place where there was virtually no shoulder had to be in a work zone with only two very narrow lanes for the traffic. Stopped at a portapotty in another work area to take a leak, only to find out occupied by another cyclist! Passed through Marysville where, when I was younger, we would turn on PA850 to go to church camp. Crossed the Harvey Taylor Bridge into Harrisburg about twenty past seven. Here I was, back in the city where I was born.

On arriving Middletown I suffered my first flat tire of the trip -- not surprising it happened given all the rain and all the broken glass of been doing my best to avoid. Walked the last couple hundred meters to the church, where all my wet things are drying out in the pavilion and I am camped just to one side. The last time I tented in this yard -- in the very first tent I ever owned (a $30 orange pup tent) --  I was either still in high school or not more than a year out. My how the neighborhood has changed! (...As I knew it had but only got to see for the first time this evening.)

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

day fifty-one: woodbury to mexico (144km)

Good and dry riding, despite the apparent threat of rain, with some unwanted excitement in the evening. It having been permitted in the past for cyclists to ride on the shoulder of US22/322 through the Narrows beyond Lewistown, and with no"motorized vehicles only" sign to indicate that that had changed, I felt reasonably confident in taking that route again. I had gotten as far as where the old highway used to be accessible via lifting the bike over a low barrier -- it no longer is (the highway has been relocated to pass above the old highway on a very steep slope), when I got pulled over by the state police. This was a limited access highway with no bicycles allowed the whole way to Harrisburg, they had received a call about me, etc. I said that bicycles had been allowed on very specific segments of the highway in the past (those for which no alternative route is readily available and where the are no interchanges to deal with) and pointed out that there was no usual "motorized vehicles only" sign where I entered the highway off old US22. He seemed to allow that, but he also said that "motorized vehicles only" is posted on all the on ramps and, well (though I had the good sense not to say this) I entered the highway via an on ramp, and there was most certainly no sign posted. The cop insisted that my bike go in his car, and even though it was immediately obvious that it would never fit, he insisted on spending the better part of half an hour trying to force it in. He finally gave up and allowed me to do what I'd wanted to do in the first place, which was to ride the mile to the next exit (with him following behind). Thanks to the delay, I had to ride the remaining half hour to the campground in the dark, which I was not terribly happy about. I haven't been able to find information about whether bikes are allowed any more on two of the remaining segments, but so far as I can tell the cop was wrong about one thing: bikes still *are* allowed on the Clark's Ferry bridge and down to where the old highway starts again just below Dauphin. (The alternative road, on the other side of the Susquehanna, is truly dangerous to cycle.) Meh. One can't really argue with a cop, and I didn't try. He was reasonably friendly in the end, making sure I knew how to reach the campground, but I admit I still resent all that time trying to cram the frame into a space it could not possibly fit -- not to mention the damage he could have done to my bike in the process.

I had second breakfast at Mamie's in Martinsburg, where I discovered that I'd lost the light off the front of my bike (very possibly back at Mom and Judy's) and listened to the voice mail I'd gotten at four this morning local time. It contained only quietly babbling voices in the background. The (Swedish) number rang back while I was eating. I told the woman I could not hear her properly -- there were babbling voices in the line, in the background, once again; and asked the woman to please send me an SMS or an email, which she seemed to agree to do -- though I've yet to receive anything. Who knows. Perhaps it was just a telemarketer.

From Martinsburg I climbed over Pulpit Ridge and dropped precipitously for four kilometers to Route 26, which I followed up along Raystown Lake and into Huntingdon. There I ran into my only two road closures of the day, necessitating minor detours; a third section of road that had been closed by the flooding was now open again, with a brief detour required through a parking lot where the water was too deep. Should have taken pictures and forgot. Stopped at the local bike shop for a new light.

US22 to Lewistown is still a decently quiet road, climbing away from the Juniata River along a tributary till Mcveystown, where it drops back to the river. Old US22 through Lewistown has changed a lot since the last time I passed this way ("new" US 22 goes around town on a limited access highway), as has the highway through the Narrows, which is now four lanes (it had been three, much of it tight against a sheer rock face that now has disappeared). Quite possibly bikes *are* no longer allowed on that section (though it has very wide shoulders, so that I was more than two meters from the traffic), but it should in that case be posted in the customary way. My guess of course is that the rules haven't changed and that the cop simply didn't know about the provision.

Reached the campground tired and grumpy. Ate a Cliff bar and chatted with my friend Caroline, at whose place in Maryland I will shortly enough, I hope, finish my trip.

day fifty: curwensville recreational area to woodbury (109km)

Heavy rain morning, despite weather forecast for no rain. Many small villages with no shops and few places to shelter. Took the two-generations old US220 south from Bellwood through Altoona.