The Excellent Adventure started at the Pacific Ocean at Seaside, Oregon on May 1, and ended at the Atlantic Ocean at Sandbridge Beach, Virginia on August 11, 2019. I’m posting recaps of the Adventure, now that I have time to write about the experience.
Adventure Ride Day 46– Brookville, OH to Columbus, OH
July 14 – Bob and I spent yesterday on a road trip up to the Leisure Travel Vans dealer in Galion, OH to get the air conditioner issue checked out. They couldn’t fix it without ordering the part from the manufacturer, which would take several days, but they were able to cover the damaged unit so we could travel safely without rain getting into the inside of the camper. And we got to see lots of Ohio!
Today the goal is to get to Columbus. About 15 miles along the Wolf Creek trail to Dayton, then up bike trails along the Miami River and Mad River to the Creekside Trail to Xenia. An Egg McMuffin and iced tea at McDonald’s in Xenia and then over 50 more miles of straight rail-trails to Columbus. This is the best bicycle infrastructure I’ve seen. Once in Columbus, the route meandered through the Ohio State University campus. Oh, excuse me: THE Ohio State University. (they tried to copyright THE)
Avg. speed: 13.5 mph
Ascending feet: 1,644 ft.
Peak elevation: 837 ft.
Ending Elevation: 587 ft.
Net elevation gain: -140 ft.
Adventure Ride Day 47– Columbus, OH to Zanesville, OH
July 15 – The ride out of Columbus took me through the north suburb of Worthington and then east on bike paths and country roads. The temperature rose into the upper 90’s, so I was glad to stop for lunch and iced tea in Newark at a little coffee shop on the courthouse square. Just before Newark there were some cool art installations.
Then on to Zanesville along the Panhandle Trail and Newark Road. Our hotel for the night was across from a Cracker Barrel restaurant. I’d never been to a Cracker Barrel before, so Bob introduced me to this experience. Biscuits and gravy, cute things to buy that reflect mom, apple pie, and childhood good times. Another taste of middle America.
Avg. speed: 13.4 mph
Ascending feet: 2,103 ft.
Peak elevation: 930 ft.
Ending Elevation: 569 ft.
Net elevation gain: 7 ft.
Adventure Ride Day 48– Zanesville, OH to St. Clairsville, OH
July 16 – Zanesville was the end of the mid-continent flatland. Today’s ride started the ascent into the Appalachian Mountains, with more climbing than any single day of the Adventure so far. All of the route so far had followed fairly gradual grades along rivers and through passes. Today followed country roads over rolling hills that included some steep but thankfully short ascents.
This part of Ohio has lovely farmland and small towns with rich histories. I stopped for lunch in Quaker City at an Amish restaurant. Had a filling meal of meatloaf and sweet potatoes prepared by the bonneted women in the kitchen. Great fuel for the rest of the hilly ride to St. Clairsville, just about 15 miles west of the West Virginia line.
Avg. speed: 11.7 mph
Ascending feet: 5,357 ft.
Peak elevation: 1,314 ft.
Ending Elevation: 1,250 ft.
Net elevation gain: 454 ft.
Adventure Ride Day 49– Pittsburgh!
July 17 – The forecast was for scattered showers later in the day around Wheeling, so I hoped to start early enough to miss them before I headed north to Pittsburgh. I wouldn’t be quite so lucky.
The weather was clear as I entered Wheeling Island, just before the Ohio River crossing into the city of Wheeling. This town has been flooded many times in its history—events which are memorialized in this monument.
The town of Wheeling harkens back to the days when coal and iron ore shipments plied their way up the Ohio River through locks to the steel mills in Pittsburgh. It would have been nice to have had more time to explore. I’m sure there’s a rich history here. I needed to make time, though, so I turned up the Wheeling Heritage Trail which follows the Ohio upstream. About 20 miles into the ride, the skies opened up and I was riding in heavy rain, much earlier than the weather forecast had shown. I paused under some trees for a while to see if it would pass, but it was steady. So off I went, peering through the raindrops on my glasses. In about 5 miles the trail emptied onto a heavily travelled road. Even though I had lights on my bike and a bright yellow jacket for visibility, these are not great conditions for cycling in traffic. I found a gas station in about a mile that I pulled into to wait for the rain cell to pass over.
The route to Pittsburgh is well-mapped by the Adventure Cycling Association as part of their route from Chicago to New York. So the bike route takes another rail-trail from just west of the Pennsylvania state line in West Virginia all the way to the Pittsburgh suburb of Noblestown. Then the ride is through the steep hilly terrain around Pittsburgh, across the Ohio River to the hotel for our time in the city, near Heinz Field (home of the Pirates).
Pittsburgh starts a new phase of the Excellent Adventure. Pittsburgh represents the beginning of the end of the cross-country adventure. From here, it’s 2 days of riding on the Great Allegheny Passage to Cumberland, Maryland, then the C&O canal towpath to DC, two more days to Richmond, and two days to the Atlantic from there. I’ve ridden 3700 miles to get here, and only a few hundred more to go.
Daughter Annie, son-in-law Jeff, and grandson Jules have driven up from the DC area to meet us. Bob will head back to Richmond from here, taking Rosie and the RV with him. Jeff is going to ride with me and guide me through most of the Great Allegheny Passage, which he has ridden before.
My dad grew up in Pittsburgh, so this is a time for Bob and me to revisit our family heritage. We maneuvered the camper through the narrow streets and hills of Pittsburgh to the borough of Dormont to find our grandparents’ old house, which still stands, though the neighborhood around it has significantly changed. Gone are the trolleys that were such a fixture of Pittsburgh for many years. Gone is the hand-packed ice cream store that we visited as children, and the candy store on the corner, having been replaced by nail salons, a tattoo parlor, and storefronts for real estate agents, insurance brokers, and attorneys.
Our grandfather’s livelihood came from his position of business manager for Mount Lebanon Presbyterian Church, two blocks from their house. The church appears to be thriving still. The alley behind the old house still looks about the same as it did 50 years ago, though perhaps a little more dilapidated. A fearsome guard dog barked at us from an auto repair shop now facing the alley.
We had two days in Pittsburgh, so we decided to drive up north to the tiny town of Connoquenessing, where we remembered going to the “Downs family reunion” as children. Our great-grandfather William Guthrie Downs and our great-grandmother Amanda lived the final years of their lives in Connoquenessing, with their daughter Sara Ann’s extended families – the Chandlers, Lobaughs and Rearicks. We hoped to find the old houses we remembered, visit the local cemetery, and maybe even find a lost relative.
Connoquenessing is really just a few little streets, about 3 or 4 churches, and a volunteer fire station. We parked the RV in the gravel parking lot next to the Methodist church. We walked down and back on the main street to see if any houses were recognizable to us. A couple looked somewhat like the places we remembered, but almost 60 years had passed, so we weren’t sure. As we got back to the parking lot, a woman stopped her car in the street to ask us what we were looking for. Clearly in this small town where everyone knew everyone we were suspicious characters. I told her we were retracing our family history. We suspect that our presence was the talk of the town for the following days. Later, another woman popped her head out of her door when we passed her house, asking who we were looking for. We told her we were looking for the houses of the Chandlers and the Rearicks. Turns out she remembered them both, and that Wendell Rearick’s house was just across the street, though the house had now changed hands. So at least we were able to make one solid connection.
Bob and I joined Annie, Jeff and Jules for a visit to one of the big attractions in Pittsburgh, the Incline Railroad, which is a 19th century cable car transport from river level up the steep cliff of Mt. Washington. Jules loved the ride!
The next day, Bob and Rosie headed on to Richmond in the RV, where Stephanie was recuperating from her hand surgery. Jeff would join me on the ride from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, MD on the Great Allegheny Passage, with Annie and Jules meeting us in Connellsville, PA and Cumberland. From there, I would ride on my own for 2 or 3 days to their house in Silver Spring, MD, on the outskirts of DC, before the final rides through Virginia. I could see the end of the Adventure on the horizon.
Avg. speed: 12.6 mph
Ascending feet: 2,567 ft.
Peak elevation: 1,277 ft.
Ending Elevation: 731 ft.
Net elevation gain: -519 ft.