Monday, August 26 – 2939 miles down, 335 to go
This day has been circled with red ink for months.
It was our 3rd biggest climbing day, so we’ve been wondering what the hills of Pennsylvania had in store for us. The profile looked like an electrocardiogram, so lots of ups and downs awaited us.
But first we had breakfast with Joe Williams and said our goodbyes. He looked good after his effort yesterday. In fact, he looked great. He obviously recovers well. He was going to go rent a car and then drive over to where he had business. It was good to see him one more time and put a bow on our experiences with him. We met him in Durango when he rode out to lead us into town, then we stayed with him, then he met us and rode up Poncha Pass with us when we were headed to Salida, and finally he rode with us yesterday. Feels like we’re lifelong friends with him now. Looking forward to seeing him in the future as well.
We first had to navigate the streets of Pittsburgh on a Monday morning. The weather gave us a cloudless pure blue sky, but a hint of heat was already in the air. Oh, and the humidity. You know Coloradan’s and humidity. Love it. I had chosen a route that was marked as bike-friendly to get us out of town. The town fathers of Pittsburgh obviously have a different definition of “bike friendly” than what we’re used to. The roads were a pitted and pockmarked mess all along the way, and we had to work hard not to fall into a trench and taco a front wheel. And the climbs started about 4 blocks from the hotel. By 30 minutes in we were all giggling because the sweat was pouring off of us as we climbed and climbed and climbed. Rick nicknamed Pittsburgh “Pitts-Francisco” there were so many hills.
We were on Highway 22 for a long long time. Once we got out of the urban area it had a wonderful shoulder with a rumble strip guarding us from traffic. But there was a fair amount of junk that littered some areas of the shoulder, so we had to be real careful not to hit old pieces of tires and sharp objects. At one point it appeared that somebody had a better Rumble Strip Idea. I wonder who thinks up Rumble Strip Theory. Instead of a long strip running parallel to the road, we hit a 5 or 10 mile stretch that had rumble strips running perpendicular to the roadway, and they reached all the way across the shoulder. That forced us over to the edge of the road, and things got iffy a few times. We now hate dump trucks because they speed by and don’t give an inch. One came real close to us, and I decided that rumble strips were better than being Dump Truck Fodder, so we returned to the shoulder. Luckily the strips went back to “normal” and it was clear sailing, but loud and very busy.
At least Pennsylvania rewards your climbing efforts with some wonderful long downhills. You work your butt off to get up these hills, and then you can cool down with a nice free-wheel. At one point we came around a corner and there looming ahead of us was a arrow-straight stretch of road that climbed up and off into the distance. It seemed neverending. It turned out to be “only” 3.9 miles, but it took us awhile to grind up that baby. When we got to the top you could see waves of the Appalachian Mountains rolling off into the distance all around us. Really pretty.
And then Tom started having issues. His rear wheel flatted, and we had to fix it on the shoulder of the highway. It took awhile to get that handled due to non-threaded CO2 cartridges and a malfunctioning hand pump, but we got going again when Amy doubled back with the sag and brought us the floor pump. We had lunch at 48 miles at the top of that majestic climb, and Amy whomped up some great egg salad that we feasted on.
We were looking forward to turning off that infernal highway and getting on some country backroads, and we were about a mile from the turn, when Tom ran over a piece of sharp metal that probably fell off a dump truck and ripped open his back tire. So, another rear-wheel flat. Luckily Amy was nearby and we were able to get a new tire quickly and proceed.
We turned off onto Pike Road and were immediately swallowed up into a tree-lined tunnel of a country lane. It was awesome. Quiet, very little traffic, and cool and beautiful. What a difference. Our attitudes took a turn for the better and we spun along enjoying the countryside and small towns. And then the climbs started again. At the top of one climb there was a sign that said “15% down grade – trucks use low gear“. And we’re thinking, if we’re going down a 15% grade, then sure as heck we’ll be going up a 15% grade soon.
And we were right. Wow, not a lot of 15% grades in Colorado, at least where we typically ride. They’re tons of fun, let me tell you. Especially when sweat is pouring off your body as you grind to the top. We went up and down and up and down a bunch of those climbs, and we actually got into a good rhythm and towards the end were going up at a good clip.
We went through some narrow one-lane tunnels as we neared Cassandra and were still enjoying a landscape that we rarely get to see. All the trees and rolling hills are really wonderful, and around every corner is another picture-perfect yard and house. Very nice. And then Tom’s rear wheel went flat again. Wow, three rear-wheel flats in one day. I thought that only happened to me. Tom changed his wheel at this point because something was obliviously wrong with the other, and needed closer scrutiny tonight. No problems the rest of the way.
We were hungry when we were about 3 miles from Cassandra, and Rick spied a McDonald’s, so we made a pit stop for some cheeseburgers and a chat with the locals. Lots of head shaking and “You’ve got to be kidding me!” comments when they found out we started 38 days ago in California.
We rolled into Cassandra and up to the Cassandra Railroad Overlook and Motel. Seems this is a big train viewing venue, and the town has a little park set up where you can sit and watch trains go by. Attracts an interesting clientele. Talked to a guy from Columbus Ohio who sat and watched trains for an hour and a half, and is going back for more. He came here just to watch trains! We asked him how many he saw. “Oh, 6 or 8“. I was tempted to ask him if they counted the cars? Cataloged the types of cars on each train? Counted how many engines? What’s the attraction there? That’s what you have to love about the world: It’s takes all types, and they sure make things interesting.
Out hotel is really…old. It has 6 guest rooms. Our room is small, mostly because there’s a 65 inch back-projection TV in here. I was in awe when we walked in. What the heck is this TV doing in this dinky room? It’s like going to a drive-in movie and sitting in the front row. You actually have to turn your head to see the entire screen you’re so close to it when sitting on the bed. I now have some radiation burns from being so close to it, and my eyes are flitting around and I have a headache. I’d turn it off but Rick needs the TV on all the time.
No, I don’t know why, and I’m not asking.
Tom and Amy picked up pizza and we dined at a picnic table outside of our room. While we were eating, a sonorous noise began to grow and grow AND GROW. It became ear-splittingly loud and we realized that a multi-fluted siren on the building next door was holding forth for all it was worth. Not sure what was going on there, maybe a fire warning? The locals didn’t seem concerned, and the train watchers couldn’t hear it because they’re already deaf from being so close to trains all day, and a freight train was also rumbling by filled with God knows what. Anyway, I sure hope the siren doesn’t go off again tonight. I’ll jump out of bed and break my toes on the TV or something worse.
No Parkinson’s event today as Cassandra isn’t exactly a thriving metropolis. No contacts at all in this part of the world. We’re 4 days from being done, and tomorrow we’re off to Lewistown.