Farm to Market

Day 152 • July 31, 2012 •  Ephrata to Norristown, PA •  44 miles

To anyone who thinks a bike trip like ours foolhardy or an elaborate form of suicide, consider folks like John, the Mennonite gentleman whose family boarded us last night.  They ride bikes or drive carriages every single day on some of the worst roads for traffic we’ve seen.  They don’t view it as unnecessary risk, but an important part of life that is worth some manageable risk. Just like driving a car is worth substantial risk for most of us, whether or not we admit the risk.  I asked John if car/bike and car/carriage accidents were a problem for them.  He quickly said no.  But then he thought about it and admitted that, yes, occasionally accidents happen, not very often, and gave me a look and a shrug that said to me “duh!—of course accidents happen, but why would that keep us from living the life we want?”

As we were preparing to leave this morning, John casually mentioned that they could drive to market if Zoe would like a ride in the carriage.  Was this another trick question?  I jumped at yet another wonderful opportunity courtesy of John and his family.  Before I could get the trike packed, John and Ellen were waiting with horse and buggy.  The market was on our route so Zoe rode with them while I followed in the trike.  Going up the hills I learned that I’m noticeably less than one horsepower.

Market was a bustling, chaotic place where horse-drawn buggies mixed it up with big panel trucks awaiting the local produce.  I steered the trike around a boy who must have been about Zoe’s age driving a carriage full of people and produce.  Carriages were lined up for one of two auctions that were running simultaneously.  I don’t know how business was transacted through the din of the dueling auctioneers, but no one seemed to mind. Zoe and I stayed for quite a while, chatting and just watching the activity.  Janet was there hoping to score some more prime purchases for her fruit stand, like the peaches we bought yesterday.  Zoe and I got the last of that batch.

Eventually we said goodbye to John and Ellen and Janet and headed on down the road.  Before leaving the area, we stopped at an Amish/Mennonite welcome center where we ate the lunch that Ellen had packed for us.  The Amish gentleman running the place was in his eighties I’d say and told us all about the area.  He seemed a little down, I think because his lifelong church had recently closed.  The restrictions of a conventional Amish church, particularly disallowing the use of automobiles, had driven local youth to less restrictive churches.  As older folks had died with no young people to back fill, the church’s population had dwindled to the point where they decided to close it.  He was now part of a church that was much less restrictive about technology.  This outcome surprised me a bit.  I didn’t detect any particular longing for technology in John’s family—even the young people seemed to be leading fulfilling lives without the aid of automobiles or other trappings of “modern” life.  Maybe that’s just what I wish for them.

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The Simple Life

Day 151 • July 30, 2012 •  York to Ephrata, PA •  47 miles

Leaving York this morning we rode a little more rail trail before picking up Route 462 across the Susquehanna River and through Columbia and Lancaster.  Yesterday on the trail I noticed that the closer we got to York, the more intact the abandoned rail we were paralleling.  Today we were startled to find ourselves facing a real live diesel locomotive bearing down on us.  At some point the line had ceased to be abandoned and I hadn’t noticed that the warning signs where the trail crosses the track had become more emphatic.  Words like “real, live, moving locomotive!” might have helped.

Our destination today was a campground that claimed an opportunity to experience the Amish and Mennonite culture prevalent here, but by the end of the day we’d experienced so much Mennonite hospitality that we had no need for the campground.  With only about three miles to go we stopped by a roadside fruit stand hoping to get some peaches.  We did and they were some of the best I’ve ever eaten.  With peach juice dripping from our faces, we chatted with the proprietors as a barn-raising was in full swing off in the distance.  Four or five strapping lads crawling all about attaching rafters and such.  Some more people wandered up, all Mennonite and very interested in our trikes and adventures.  Pretty soon the barn-raising had stopped and the men were now in the growing crowd around Zoe and I. Eventually it started getting dark and we still had to find our campground so I began the process of leaving.  Suspecting this might not be well received, I sheepishly asked the group if they would mind if I took a picture?  For our blog?  What was once a vibrant conversation turned to dead silence.  You could hear a pin drop.  Well, I probably offended everyone within earshot, but on the flip side we’d be on our way quickly.

At this point a man stepped up and asked if we’d like a bed for the night.  Was this a trick question?  Riding in the dark to find an overpriced piece of grass to pitch our tent vs. staying in a bed right here for free.  I asked him to repeat himself to make sure I’d heard it right.  I had and we quickly accepted.  He looked at me and ran his hand along his face, suggesting maybe I could use some cleaning up as well.  Fair enough, I was looking a little scruffy.  John was on his bike so he led us the short distance to his house.  Along the way he turned to me with a smile and said, “you know, it’s not that they didn’t want their picture taken, they probably just don’t know what a blog is.”  I don’t know—John seemed to know what a blog was and Janet, the woman who served us the peaches, seemed pretty aware of such things when met her again the next day.  But I was relieved that the reaction was probably more out of politeness than any real offense. 

John is an instigator.  In the short time he was in the crowd at the fruit stand, he asked us a barrage of questions, some fairly personal, making our little interview back in Kentucky look amateur by comparison.  He’s from a different Mennonite church than the family that ran the fruit stand.  As we were leaving with John, a member of that family smiled as she reassured us, “Don’t worry, we love John.  Except when we want to kill him.”   I’m paraphrasing here, the comment might not have been that dark, but that was the gist.

At the house John broke the news to his wife Ellen that they had guests for the night.  I’d think twice about pulling this on my wife but Ellen seemed used to it.  I’m guessing there’s never a dull moment with John.  This set off a flurry of activity including getting us set up for showers, preparing us dinner as well as a lunch for tomorrow, and booting one of their daughters out of her room so we could stay in it.  Meanwhile John hailed John Jr., who lives next door, to come over and check out the trike.  John Jr. took me up on my offer to give it a test ride, politely riding it around the driveway, but I could tell he wanted to do more.  Later in the evening I suggested he take it out for a real spin.  Still later I learned from one of his sisters that he’d been riding it up and down the hills on Hahnstown road at night, passing cars and generally running amok.  John Jr. is clearly not a timid guy and is quite adept mechanically—I was impressed and pleased that he survived unscathed on his second test ride of my wacky recumbent trike.

The family had already eaten so they sat and talked with Zoe and I as we ate some turkey sandwiches, vegetable stew, and watermelon.  I got a lot of grief about the amount of food I was eating, with Zoe and John leading the charge.  I offer no apology as Ellen’s food, particularly the homemade stew, was excellent and I was suddenly quite hungry.  After dinner, John hailed some neighbors who were natives of Ghana, West Africa.  Wow, I didn’t expect that.  I could tell these guys had John pegged—they were dishing out the barbs as fast as he was.  As the evening progressed I realized that John had a real passion for adventure travel and foreign cultures.  At one point he called his friend Rinker Buck on the landline and then handed the handset over to me.  Rinker is an adventurer who is working on a book that chronicles his recent traversal of the Oregon Trail by covered wagon.  John’s family helped him with some of the logistics, including horses.  We talked for some time about our various adventures, including Rinker’s transcontinental crossing by Piper Cub back when he was 15.  This is chronicled in his book “Flight of Passage: A Memoir.”

The more I watched John, the more I realized that communication—particularly the telephone—was part of what made him tick.  The family telephone seemed to be his communication hub.  This was interesting in that depending on what Mennonite church you belong to, technology like a conventional telephone may or may not be accepted.  I think the family running the fruit stand had neither telephones nor electricity.  John’s church allowed electricity and telephones, but not cell phones.  It’s not so much that Mennonites shun technology– John also has a tractor even though he prefers horse and plow. Rather it seems to me they use appropriate technology when necessary to achieve their goals rather than letting it dictate the goals.  As a “technology guy” I might find it difficult to live this way, but I think they have some things figured out.

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On Rails

Day 150 • July 29, 2012 •  Reisterstown, MD to York, PA •  52 miles

Charlie had suggested we pick up the Northern Central Railroad Trail near Monkton, MD and take it to York, PA.  Zoe and I were hesitant to take another crushed-limestone trail after our time on the Katy but it was a more direct route than Adventure Cycling and, of course, there would be no motorized traffic to deal with.  I decided to leave it to fate—if we could find a Warm Showers host in York we’d take the rail trail.  Our fate was sealed when Jane and Paul offered to host us.  They live in York right next to the trail.  Perfect.

Once again I can thank Zoe for our good fortune with our hosts.  Paul was out of town and Jane was reluctant to take in a stranger on her own.  But after checking out our blog I think a guy and his nine-year-old daughter must have seemed harmless enough.  Jane met us at the trail and led us back to the house where a wonderful meal was cooking.  She and Paul have done some extensive touring on a tandem so it was fun to hear about their adventures.  Keeping up the blog has been a struggle for me, a month and a half behind!, but it was all worthwhile when Jane offered me a (good) beer because she’d read on the blog that I’d been seeking it out.

As usual the rail trail was a mixed bag.  The railroad museum in Monkton was a nice break, Zoe even got to do some crafts.  The trail in Maryland was poor however, essentially single-track most of the way, which is rough on the trike.  Combined with a significant uphill grade, the first half was pretty slow.  Once we crossed into Pennsylvania at New Freedom, however, things improved dramatically.  The trail was much better, pretty much equivalent to the Katy, and mostly downhill all the way to York.  Even though they’re contiguous trails on the same rail line, the Maryland and Pennsylvania sections are managed separately with little apparent coordination—it was strangely difficult to figure out the extent of the trail when I was planning the ride.

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Olympic Delays

Day 149 • July 28, 2012 •  Rockville to Reisterstown, MD •  45 miles

We found one more way to avoid riding:  watching the Olympics.  We happened upon the opening ceremonies in our motel room last night and got sucked in.  Zoe was pretty impressed by the Queen.  Everywhere we stopped today had the Olympics going, turning an otherwise short stop into a marathon as we waited to see the outcome of whatever contest we stumbled upon.  But it was hot outside and cool inside so it worked out to our advantage. 

Since DC we’re on a strict schedule to make NYC the same day Lisa and my mom arrive.  No more rest days.  We could slip a couple days and still make the train home, but we’d blow some prime sightseeing in NYC and waste everyone’s time.  Lisa would not be happy.  We were highly motivated to meet our schedule.   One advantage of this uncharacteristically strict schedule is that we actually knew where we would be six nights in a row which allowed us to take advantage of Warm Showers.  Even though we’ve been generally successful at meeting our mileage goals, on any given day we rarely had high confidence of making our destination.  This was partially by choice—why constrain ourselves to an arbitrary stopping point?  But this philosophy made it difficult to coordinate with potential Warm Showers hosts, so for the most part I didn’t.  Now, with the end game mapped out, I was able to line up hosts for all but one of the remaining days. 

Our host tonight was not a Warm Showers host but someone who had reached out to us early in the ride.  Charlie was following some of the ‘bent blogs, thinking about giving a recumbent trike a try, and came across our blog.  He noticed that our route included his town of Reisterstown and offered us a place to stay when we got here.  Against all odds, I kept track of his contact info and our actual route matched the plan.  To everyone who offered us a place to stay that I either misplaced or was off our final route:  Thank you, and sorry it didn’t work out.  Our stay with Charlie worked out great—we got our own bedroom in his beautiful home, he cooked us dinner, and we geeked out on trike stuff.   He also had some good advice on routing through Maryland and Pennsylvania.  I recently got an email from Charlie—he’s the proud owner of a new (to him) HP Velotechnik Scorpion trike.  Charlie, bring that sucker out to Idaho and let’s ride!

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Subway

Day 148 • July 27, 2012 • Vienna, VA to Rockville, MD •  49 miles

Seth escorted us on our way today, taking his usual morning commute to DC.  It’s a pretty sweet ride but we were thankful we had Seth leading the way or we might still be trying to negotiate all the twists and turns.  Between the Metro, the cycling, and the walking we found DC to be a pretty friendly place;  the cleanest and mellowest big city we’d encountered.  We said goodbye to Seth at the Capitol Mall and decided to do a little more sightseeing on our way out of town.  We hadn’t yet visited the capitol building.   Of course we were fully loaded at this point and when we tried to park at the visitor center so we could get Zoe’s passport stamped we were turned away by security.  The trikes were no problem but we couldn’t leave any bags on them for fear that they might be hiding bombs or something.  The security guards were very nice though and agreed to watch the trikes and Zoe while I quickly ran in for the stamp. 

Sightseeing complete, we stopped for lunch #1 at Subway.  As much as I hate spending money on national chain restaurants, this one has really saved our diets throughout the trip.  They’re as common as McDonalds these days and much more likely to be in the really small towns.  The food is reasonably healthy, fresh, consistent, fast, and cheap.   I may never eat there again after this trip but when the alternatives are greasy fast food, greasy diners, greasy convenience stores, and our own greasy slop that we’d been carrying around for weeks because we can’t stand the sight of it, Subway looks pretty good.

After the National Mall we were on the Rock Creek multi-use path much of the day.  It meandered along Rock Creek, past the back side of the National Zoo and through the vast Rock Creek Park.  As usual for a trail like this the signage was inconsistent and frustrating (I had choicer words at the time) and we spent a lot of time trying to stay on the trail.  The GPS provided limited help because the trails we were on either weren’t shown or weren’t labeled so it was difficult to make the right choice at intersections with other trails.  The Windows Phone uses the same Navteq/Nokia map data so wasn’t much better, but did have the advantage of showing satellite imagery which would sometimes reveal where trails were heading.  It usually worked to pick the trail closest to Rock Creek. 

At one point near Rockville we got to a particularly perplexing five-way intersection.  Making the wrong choice meant a lot of wasted time and perhaps some night riding so I was slowly figuring it out with the tools at hand.  A local biker rode up and offered help.  Even he wasn’t exactly sure which trail we were on or which way we should go, so he popped out his iPhone and brought up the Google map, zooming in to all of the trails in question, nicely labeled.  Instantly we had our answer.  In the era of iPhone/Android, this is only the second time I’ve felt the iPhone had a superior experience to my Windows phone.  The first was when my niece Courtney whipped out hers and immediately began streaming the content on which my phone was stuttering, probably reflecting my underpowered Samsung Focus hardware.  For years, Navteq’s lack of map detail for trails has been a problem for me and one over which I’ve considered dumping both Windows and Garmin.

We couldn’t figure out any camping so wound up staying at the Best Western in Rockville.

Seth's morning commute

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Junior Ranger

Day 143-147 • July 22-26, 2012 • Fredericksburg to Vienna, VA •  51 miles

For our stay in DC we took advantage of our well-placed friends Seth and Anne.  Unfortunately Catherine, a couple years older than Zoe, was away at summer camp this week.  And let’s not forget their dog Charlie, but please don’t tell him he’s a dog. They live in Vienna which is maybe 15 miles from the Capitol Mall, a short ride on the Metro or the bike.  Zoe and I got pretty good at negotiating the Metro.

Sunday proved to be a good day for the ride to Vienna as traffic was considerably lighter than yesterday.  We stuck to the direct route, taking highways 1 and 123 and then some progressively smaller county and residential roads.  We were pleasantly surprised by a decent bike path along most of Highway 123.  A few miles out we had our third and final flat of the trip.  I’d let the rear tire, the third of the trip and new in Denver, get a little too worn and it self-destructed on us.  Not to worry, we slapped on the spare tire and kept going.  We’d now used every piece of equipment we’d been lugging across the country.  I took a mild gamble and rode the rest of the trip without a spare tire.

Zoe and I donned our tackiest outfits (pretty much what we’d been riding in) and attached cameras to wrists for four days of power tourism.  At the National Mall, Zoe hit the mother lode for her national park passport, getting as many stamps in one day as the entire trip up to that point.  They made it a little too easy—just visit the gift shop at the Washington Monument and you’ll find stamps for all of the memorials and sites in DC, regardless whether you actually visited them.  In the spirit of the Junior Ranger Code, we only stamped what we visited.  Still, a lot of stamps.  The Junior Ranger program came in particularly handy for the National Mall.  Completing the workbook took us through the major monuments in an orderly, efficient manner and taught both of us a lot.  Washington Monument, WWII Memorial, Constitution Gardens, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, FDR Memorial, Jefferson Memorial.  That was one full day, whew!  At the end of it of course Zoe was awarded another Junior Ranger jurisdiction.  I don’t think many kids avail themselves of the program in DC, as the ranger was a little taken aback when Zoe walked up with her workbook ready for grading.  He quickly recovered, fabricating a swearing-in ceremony on the fly complete with right hand raised and eloquent, patriotic words.  The workbook was pretty tough and required a lot of collaboration;  I felt I was just as entitled to a Junior Ranger appointment as Zoe.  That idea yielded a stern and suspicious look from the ranger so I stepped back and let Zoe’s swearing-in commence.

We spent another day at the National Zoo.  Highlights include seeing the giant pandas Mei Xiang and Tai Shan (we were too polite to figure out which was which), the Think Tank, an offshoot of the Orangutan exhibit which asks the question “do animals think?”, and the O-Line.  The O-Line is an overhead cable connecting two separate orangutan exhibits together.  At certain times of day, the orangutans are allowed to travel between the exhibits, swinging over the heads of the zoo patrons.  Unfortunately no orangutans were swinging the day we visited, or maybe we just missed them.  Or maybe the concept was a colossal failure and they don’t do it anymore, I don’t know.  But it’s a cool idea.

Up until now the price of admission for all of our sightseeing was free, which I still find amazing.  The quality and quantity of museums, memorials, parks, etc. is impressive.  At the risk of belaboring the point, the national park Junior Ranger and passport programs are extremely well done and for me represent a great return on my tax investment.  On Anne’s advice we actually paid to see the International Spy Museum and really got a kick out of it.  They do a great job mixing historical and cultural, whimsical and serious aspects of the “spy trade” into a diverse, hands-on set of exhibits.  I think Zoe’s favorite was the Aston Martin spy car from the Bond movies, complete with protracting machine guns.  Or maybe crawling through the ductwork and spying on the museum patrons.

Flags were at half mast because of the recent shooting in Aurora, CO.

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Seth - Aspiring Junior Ranger

Atlantic Coast Route

Day 141-142 • July 20-21, 2012 • Mineral to Fredericksburg, VA •  48 miles

We left the Adventure Cycling TransAmerica trail and began heading north Atlantic Coaston Highway 522, Route 208, and Highway 1, eventually picking up a small piece of the Atlantic Coast route south of Fredericksburg.  We continued our practice of paralleling the AC routes because we preferred straighter, more direct roads.  These proved to be good roads with light traffic until we reached the outskirts of Fredericksburg.   Once on Highway 1 traffic got steadily heavier the further north we traveled.

We had a gray ride with rain threatening most of the first day, but much cooler.  We spent the night at a KOA south of Fredericksburg as conditions deteriorated into heavy rain overnight and periodically throughout the next day.  Between the rain, increasing traffic on Highway 1, and increasing soreness in my left foot we only made it another 10 miles or so the next day before opting for the Quality Inn in Fredericksburg.  We were doing OK on our schedule for New York and made a bet on better weather and lighter traffic tomorrow, a Sunday.  I was beginning to worry that my foot problem might become a show-stopper—what a drag it would be to get stopped this close to the end.  The pain had been getting steadily worse since climbing up onto the Blue Ridge Parkway, we’d just have to see whether some rest days in DC will be enough to reverse the trend.

This entry represents two days of riding because with a little less rain and traffic and a little more motivation we would have done this mileage in a single day.  And for the first time I can barely distinguish between two consecutive days on the road.