Lakes #3 and 4

I’m writing this on a beach on Lake Michigan, the last of the Great Lakes I’ll see on this trip. I’ll be alongside it for the next four days as I make my way through Wisconsin to Chicago where friends and a very eagerly anticipated break from the bike await. I’d planned to camp on Lake Michigan, but I passed a motel, weighed the relative merits of laying $35 more than I would to camp against the thought of not being mauled by mosquitos and blackflies all evening and morning, and decided on the motel. It’s only 71 miles tomorrow, so no need to cram miles in today – and I would have fallen just short of setting a new distance record for this trip anyway. I’ll probably do that on Friday, from Milwaukee to Chicago. 

Lake #3 was Superior, where I camped on the shore near Paradise and then again on the mouth of the Hurricane River, in Picture Rocks National Lakeshore. I managed to get as much out of the park as you can on a bike, I think – the way campsites are distributed, it’s tough to access some of the hiking trails given the distances you’ll also have to ride. However, more or less by luck and vague instinct, I hiked the loop that covered the most scenic vistas along the cliffs without backpacking the entire length of the park. Then I took a boat tour yesterday, seeing most of the park from the water. Pictures will follow in a post to be written from Chicago, where access to a computer will presumably be given me, and I can type a longer, photo-filled post without enduring the misery that is typing on this app. 

Yesterday’s campsite was yet another beautiful one by yet another gorgeous lake, surrounded by yet another multitude of mosquitos roughly equal in number to all the members of the human race who have gone before us, live now, or are yet to come. Rather than pointing to grains of sand, God might have directed Abraham to the mosquitoes within one 10’x10′ square of northern Michigan, the better to convey the magnitude of his offspring’s eventual fecundity. 

At camp, the couple in the next site over invited me to sit by their fire, where the smoke made w slight but noticeable difference in the number of bites. We ended up chatting all evening until 8:30 when I went to bed, full of steak, potatoes, and Pina coladas. I’ve eaten more steak on this trip by the benefit of strangers’ hospitality than I have paid for in quite a long time. 

Some kids from a nearby campsite seemed to be family friends, and they joined our table. One also came and chatted me up with the full range of nine-year-old interests while I broke down my camp in the morning, and provided a good place to offload a juice box someone had given me a week ago which was never going to be drunk. The kids were living quite the life – plenty of Xbox and Minecraft and organized sports like a typical mini-American, but also hunting, trapping, and fishing with their dad. They can catch and clean and cook a fish on their own, something I certainly couldn’t handle at their age, or now. Also , when asked what time they usually woke up, they thought about it and came up with “about three am, if I’m going salmon fishing.” Another capability far beyond my reach at pretty much any age. 

I guess thiese remote woods would be a pretty wholesome place to raise your kids; plenty of opportunity to build character. Plenty of opportunity to wander with the moose and wolves. I was surprised to learn from Dennis and Tina, over steak and tropical-flavored drinks, they wolves are not only present here (thanks to reintroduction) but numerous enough to be a problem! They keep the deer population down. Sounds great to a pennsylvanian, but apparently enough Yoopers feed their families with venison that in recent years, the Wolves’ rapacity has been a cause of real concern. Hunting them isn’t legal yet, but I guessed that as the population grows keeps growing and complaints get louder, the state will eventually respond with new hunting regulations. Tina said, “the wolves already take people’s little dogs. Someone’s kid’ll have to get taken before they’ll change the law.”

Today’s ride was pleasant enough – sunny and warm with the wind alternately opposing and assisting me. Not photogenic at all, though – I didn’t pull out the camera once until I reached the spot where I’m sitting now, at J. B. Wells State Park. I thought I’d take a photo of the sign saying I’d entered the Central time zone, as evidence of the most interesting thing to happen today, but there was none – just one for Menominee County. 

I’d like to come back to the UP someday, as crazy as that sounds – after all, nothing is worth blackflies. But I’d come in October. The Porcupine Mountains and Isle Royale still seem worth a visit. But seriously, don’t come in summer. 

Advertisements

Mosquito Bites

Here’s a short post, mainly to get a few more photos online, since I’m unexpectedly at a motel with wifi again. The reason for being at a motel in Newberry and not camping at Tahquamenon Falls as planned is mosquitoes. I got to the state park, eager to do some hiking, and found the entire area to be infested with hell swarms of mosquitoes, which my big repellent did little to deter. I swiftly made the decision to move on. I did get to see the view to the upper falls (photos below), the area of which was mysteriously mosquito-free, and took in enough to know that it’s unfortunate I  was run out by bugs – the river and the hiking trails throughout the park seem to be really beautiful. But I have yet to encounter scenery beautiful enough to be worth having to be careful not to inhale mosquitoes because they’re so thick. 

I planned to camp near Newberry at another state forest campground. The reason I turned back was not so much the short but intense downpour (which hit right as I turned onto a sandy dirt road and got an astonishing amount of sand up into my gears and brakes in just a couple minutes) as the forest ranger I ran into. “I was going to get to the campsite and see how bad the mosquitoes were. How do you think it’ll be?” I asked. Looking doubtful, “Pretty bad would be my guess.” It took about a second for me to turn around and head back to town for a motel. 

If I had anything to prove about how tough I am, I figure trekking all around the Middle East would take care of that. I feel no desire to power through any nights of trying to cook while swarms of mosquitoes drink more of my weight in blood then I’m taking in from food. What’s more unfortunate is missing the hike I had planned on. 

I’m planning on taking another risk tomorrow night and camping on Lake Superior, at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The shores of Great Lakes so far usually seem to have a nice breeze. Here’s hoping that will hold true tomorrow and keep the bugs down. 

I’ve encountered a few swarms of blackflies, too. Instead of itchy welts they leave open, bleeding wounds. What a wonderful place I’ve chosen to ride through!

Foggy day for the ferry ride from Mackinac Island to St. Ignace on the UP. 

I wonder if the proprietors are aware that their store is called, in German, “The Poison House.” Perhaps it’s some sort of assassins’ supplier. 

This view became the norm up here. The forests are now mostly spruce, fir, pine and hemlock, and the feel is quite remote and northern. 

Occasionally the monotony is broken by a beautiful lake or wetland right by the road. 

First stop on the shore of Superior. Off in the distance, Canadian shores seem to be covered with windmills. This is the mouth of the Tahquamenon River, which I planned to hike along. 

Sample wigwam. Reminds me a bit of a Bedouin tent, though less portable and hopefully more waterproof. 

Camp at Andrus Lake, near Paradise. Another night, another campsite by a lake more beautiful than almost anything in Pennsylvania. I slept in until 9:30, something I haven’t done this trip, or even come close to doing. I fantasize all day about going to sleep. 

Another roadside lake. Nature up here is amazing; I just wish it would stop spewing millions of bloodsucking insects all over me every time I stop pedaling. 

Upper Tahquemenon Falls. The lower falls looked even more beautiful in the phitos, but I wasn’t about to risk an 8-mile hike through mosquito hell in order to see them. 

The foam, I learned, is not due to some hideous form of industrial pollution. Rather, it comes from water with low mineral content being whirled around really fast. The brown color is from tannins,  exuded by tree roots, as seen in the Pine Barrens near Philly. 

A nice view from the stairs that led down to the river. The hemlocks here look very healthy, but apparently the woolly adelgid is poised to kill them all if it isn’t stopped. I wonder how many more iconic species will go the way of the chestnut thanks to bugs and spores from other continents. 

After barns, buildings crumbling in picturesque ways are my next photographic go-to when the scenery is bland.

Mackinac Island

I anticipated that my last post would be the last before a stretch in the remote Upper Peninsula, but here’s a surprise one with some more photos. I decided to see Mackinac Island on my way across the straits from lower to upper Michigan, and a few miles into my jaunt around the little island’s interior, a mountain biker pulled over and introduced himself. He was a sometime bike tourist too, and instantly invited me to stay for the night. I’ve gotten a fair number of these invites over my years of hiking and biking, and going with them has never been a bad decision. This time was no exception. I just got done eating steak. The guy used to be a professional chef. Now he owns a souvenir shop, and as a local business owner he was able to get me into the Grand Hotel to look around for free, among other perks. 

I spent most of the afternoon exploring the historic fort, which changed hands several times between the American Revolution and the War of 1812 before becoming a fairly sleepy outpost. Then I checked out the very upscale Grand Hotel before their 6pm coat-and-tie dress code went into effect, and finally rode the beautiful 8-mile loop around the island. 

Tim, my impromptu host, is a pretty chatty guy, as most hosts tend to be – people who enjoy being hospitable mainly for the pleasure of meeting new friends. I’ve heard quite a bit about the history of the island and how idyllic a place it is to raise kids – one of its attractions is the total lack of cars!

Last night’s host, arranged more formally through Warmshowers, was quite a guy as well – thiugh a teacher and school principal by day, he’s a self-described passionate musician and seems to get much of the enjoyment of life from jam sessions with other creative musicians. The host before him was another retired guy who rides bikes everywhere, grooms his area’s bike and ski trails, and plans to ride around the four Great Lakes he hasn’t circled yet. All these folks make the idea of being in your 60s seem a lot less daunting. 

Ok, trying to keep this short. I’m apparently about to be taken on a tour of more historic hotels here. Some photos first. 


The water of Lake Huron seems very clean. 


Scenic vistas. Lots of old lighthouses to match the shipwrecks. 


The five mile bridge that connects the two sections of Michigan, as seen from the ferry to Mackinac Island. 


The natural and unnatural attractions of the island. It’s been a tourist spot since the 1840s. Did I mention there are no cars?


The fort and its views down to the town. 80% of the island is state park and the permanent population is around 500. 


The very fancy Grand Hotel. Ties required after 6pm. It felt like a good setting for a murder mystery. 


Plenty of natural beauty up here. I can really see the appeal, though being connected to the world only by boat and snowmobile is a big commitment. 


Shadowy forests of northern white cedar. I’ve never seen so many of them. 

Ok, so tomorrow I should reach Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and be camping for the next four nights or so. Ive been told blackfly season has just begun. These are bugs that make you wish you were only being tormented by hordes of mosquitoes, apparently. 

Ahead of schedule

IMG_4250
Feet in Lake Huron, at camp last night

When I set out from Philadelphia, I was concerned about making haste for Chicago to catch a flight, but also wanted to take a lengthy route around Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I wasn’t at all sure that nearly a month would be enough time to make it. Now I’ve realized I can afford to take my time a bit – I’m not far from the UP now, and still have almost two weeks to go.

So I’m beginning to ponder plans for what to see up there. I finally found a road map of it; surprisingly difficult, as it turns out gas stations don’t all have maps on sale in the age of smartphones. But I may need to conserve my phone’s battery life like water in the desert.

The obvious cyclists’ route, and the one mapped out by the Adventure Cycling Association, follows US-2 across the southern part of the peninsula, nearer Lake Michigan. But I want to see a number of things to the north, on Lake Superior – including Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and, as a stretch goal if I can manage to ride the distance in time, the Porcupine Mountains far to the west. If I have extra time, another option might be to take the ferry up to Isle Royale National Park, close to Canada. I’d have to explore the logistics of taking a bike there, though.

Tonight I’m taking a rest day in Alpena, MI after a short ride from my campsite on Lake Huron. I just saw a museum about the “Century of Shipwrecks” from when boat transport was much more prominent (and apparently much more risky) around the Great Lakes, and learned that the lake here near Thunder Bay is especially crowded with wrecks. If I had a bit more time, I could take a glass-bottomed boat tour or snorkel among some wrecks.

Another host from Warmshowers.com has kindly taken me in for the night; I’m downtown in a coffee shop to write this post and then loaf in a hammock for the afternoon while his kids are visiting. I really savor the loafing on this trip. It’s impossible to get enough.

I’ve spent the last four nights finally getting some camping in, as hoped. Michigan has a handy website showing the locations of all state parks and state forest campgrounds, which I’ve used to plan a somewhat winding route until now and which will continue to be handy in the UP. Backcountry camping is all well and good when you’re backpacking or on a mountain bike, but I have no desire to stealth camp on this trip. Hauling a road bike into the woods is a pain, and having the conveniences of a “rustic” campground (outhouses, picnic tables, and pumps that – when they work – bring up potable, if weird tasting water) is quite appealing.

Of course, there can be drawbacks. I’ve had two groups park themselves right beside me (out of dozens of empty campsites) for parties, one of which involved riding quad bikes around at the crack of dawn after screaming all night. I pondered what Walter White might have done – surely there was some way to cause their cars to explode in balls of fire when they weren’t looking. But I didn’t know what it was, and even failed to call in the forest rangers on them due to forgetting to save the phone number for when I got back to cell signal.

Hordes of ravenous mosquitoes drove me early from another campsite. I hope I manage to escape the worst of the hatching season and get to more arid country soon. Otherwise, though, sleeping in the woods is great. I believe an especially noisy cicada cohort is coming out of the ground this year, and there is a distinctive melody, or something like one, that I keep hearing variants of as I travel through the region. The frogs are in full force as well, so it’s quite the aural landscape. Around half the trees are leafing out; the maples and aspens are green, while the oaks lag behind. As I head north, the days get longer even faster than they would in one place, and as I go west to the edge of Eastern Standard Time, sunset gets later and later. By about 9:45 it gets too dark to read by natural light. I’m generally in the hammock well before that, so I haven’t used my headlamp very much at all. A nice break from Middle Eastern hiking, which must be done mainly in seasons with shorter days.

Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources website boasts that all of its forest campsites are beside a creek or lake. They’ve all been pretty scenic (see below). This means camp is generally the highlight of the day’s ride; the scenery in general continues to change at an extremely gradual rate. At least the riding conditions are favorable – the hills are almost all gradual and non-painful to ride up, and there have been few opposing winds.

I’m heading northwest tomorrow, either up a rail-trail (whose surface conditions are the subject of dubious remarks by locals) or on the apparently quiet, wide-shouldered US 23. One more Warmshowers host before I go into a run of camping again, hopefully this one through more scenic riding country. Hopefully I’ll also be able to stash the bike for a bit of hiking in state parks and other natural attractions, too!

I never bring up what I’m doing to people unless they ask. Mainly because unless they’re also a bike tourist (rare), the ensuing conversation is almost identical in every case, and I get plenty of it as it is. Today at breakfast, though, I rolled into the town’s one cafe to find a number of unloaded designer touring bikes outside. There was some sort of cycling club occupying about half the place that morning, and they put me at a table with empty spots and took turns inquiring about my trip, telling me about their past tours, and describing how devoid the Upper Peninsula is of supermarkets or food stops (actually, it doesn’t seem that bad – compared to wilderness backpacking, having the option to buy food once every 1.5-2 days is luxury).

One other biker I met on the trail told me that among the goals I should set for myself this trip is to have a cowboy buy me a beer. I imagine this will become pretty doable around Wyoming, where presumably cowboys populate every roadside saloon. I have gotten a few freebies out of the trip so far already, Warmshowers hosts aside, including the haircut that the barber refused to take my money for. Apparently I was the most interesting thing to happen all week.

Photo selections follow. I’ve just been offered a computer on which to type the rest of this post so the commentary will perhaps be more wordy than usual.

Above: Barns of Ohio and Michigan. Because often, there’s just not anything else to take a picture of.

IMG_4108
A surprising number of sheep are found in Ohio. They look different than the sheep I’m used to seeing in the Middle East. Probably a different subspecies
IMG_4112
Less common are llamas. The resemblance between them and camels is especially striking in their facial structure.
IMG_4114
I was pleasantly surprised by the number of bike trails I came across – all simply because Google knew they were there and routed me onto them. This one was especially welcome because it led directly to the night’s Warmshowers host and the trees around it helped cut what was otherwise a brutal headwind.
IMG_4115
Conrad, fellow bike tourist #7

Above is a guy I ran into in…some town, Ohio. I’ve got a lot more of these details in my daily handwritten notes and recorded in my GPS tracks. He was heading east, having started in Portland, OR in the beginning of April. Conventional bike touring wisdom says this is far too early, not only because you’re likely to have plenty of bad weather throughout the country (he did) but because passes in the Cascades and Rockies are likely still closed by snow (he had to reroute away from Yellowstone, which was closed).

That didn’t slow him down, though. Dude was hardcore. Note the lack of water bottle cages (he remarked “wow, so you don’t have to stop riding to drink water”), thin and tattered cloth that is all the padding he has on the handlebars, and the 1×6 drivetrain. I’ve struggled up some of the steeper hills with my relatively friendly 34-36 low gear. His lowest gear is one of the higher ones on my bike. And he’s carrying a much more cumbersome load. A good reminder: No matter how tough you might think you are, you’re not really.

IMG_4120
Historic cabin in Elmore, OH
IMG_4122
Non-historic lambs in Elmore, OH, in the back yard of my host, Gordon. He takes good care of them (“They listen to National Public Radio all day) and come October, they become delicious dinners. 
IMG_4123
State #3 down! After the rough riding through Toledo, it was just good to be out of urbanized areas.
IMG_4124
Unfortunately, Michigan’s roads almost immediately turned into a mess. I was worried this was going to be typical. Michigan has had the worst roads of the four states so far (in fact, they’ve gotten progressively worse with each state), but the majority are alright.
IMG_4127
Typical barnless south Michigan scenery
IMG_4129
I can’t remember what town this was. I had lunch in a Mexican restaurant and then rode on to Ann Arbor. Once again, there’ll be a lot more detail if I get around to writing a more thorough trip log. I’ve got much more written down in my notes than I can put in blog posts.
IMG_4134
Another slightly interesting small town downtown, whose name I forget.
IMG_4141
I like the Prius parked in the ancient barn.
IMG_4144
More typical Michigan scenery
IMG_4148
These horses freaked out and ran away as soon as I stopped to take a picture.
IMG_4154
I think this was the Flint River? Looks more idyllic than the city it flows into. Actually, I think if I would have gone through Flint, my odds of running into somebody related to someone I know would be decent. In Beit Sahour, the Palestinian town I lived in when I first started my job at Abraham Path Initiative, everyone you talk to hears you’re from the US, and then tells you they have a cousin in Flint. I have no idea why they all moved there, of all places.
IMG_4159
Yet another bike trail, this one with wonderful facilities for public use. I briefly wondered why Philadelphia never built anything like these, and then I remembered that the latency to be stolen would be somewhere around 4 minutes and 23 seconds.
IMG_4165
Lots of old farm gear in a historical museum, along that same bike trail and near the night’s campground.
IMG_4167
A 19th-century cabin relocated to the exhibit.
IMG_4178
At Black Creek State Forest Campground, the first of my four-night camping stint. This turned out to be the nicest one, all things considered – quiet and mosquito-free. I asked another fisherman, at the camp, what he was catching. “Crappies.” “Excuse me?” Turns out that’s a fish.
IMG_4180
I seem to have ridden north out of the terrible weather that’s supposed to be hovering over PA for the next few weeks. All four nights of camping I had a 0% chance of rain forecast, and I never put up my rain fly.
IMG_4184
A canoe would be nice to have, but it wouldn’t fit on the bike. A pack raft would, but even six or eight pounds would be too much to be worth it. And I don’t have $1000 I’m itching to spend.
IMG_4188
There were a lot of dirt roads in Michigan, often indistinguishable on Google Maps from paved roads except by zooming way in on the satellite image. Its bike directions certainly made no distinction. I had to do some creative, and sometimes lengthy, rerouting to avoid dirt road sections of as much as 20 miles. Some dirt can be fine to ride on, but you never know when it’s going to turn into a hellhole of loose gravel, potholes, and washboarding. My bike handles dirt just fine when it’s not loaded down, but with all this weight, it seems to quadruple every shock and deliver it straight into each part of my body.
IMG_4194
Ambrose Lake was certainly the most beautiful of the state forest campgrounds. The night was perfect until after dark, when it was ruined by a bunch of extremely loud trailer trash with quad bikes.
IMG_4206
The amount of gnats was amazing. See all those little golden dots?
IMG_4209
A somewhat surreal sports mural in Rose City. Each panel of the tableau is worth zooming in on, but my favorites have to be the Monopod Football Faceoff and the Great Tackle Massacre. 
IMG_4216
As you get to the north, Michigan does have hills. There’s a central plateau that I cut across the corner of which offered plenty of climbing. None of it came close to the tougher climbs of Pennsylvania, though, and I’m presumably in better shape.
IMG_4217
Halfway there! I actually passed another one of these signs just today; I’d dipped slightly south to last night’s camp.
IMG_4231
Jackson Lake, third campsite. I had the whole place to myself, in part because the water pump didn’t work. Several cars drove in, and then out again not too much later. Unfortunately, the mosquito activity was at murderous levels, and I had to flee out of camp while stuffing a Clif Bar into my mouth instead of breakfast.
IMG_4236
I wound up having Saturday morning breakfast in Hillman, where some kind of biker convention was going on. Not my kind of biker, of course.
IMG_4238
The most motorcycles I believe I’ve ever seen in one place.
IMG_4241
Old houses are another thing that breaks up the monotony of midwestern scenery. 
IMG_4244
And here’s a Mennonite type plowing the fields the old-fashioned way.
IMG_4245
Aren’t they clever.
IMG_4246
Last night’s campsite. I got there really early and went 20 feet over to Lake Huron to dip my feet in and read.
IMG_4255
My camp stove was out of fuel, so I went over to nearby Sanborn for dinner. The local cafe (where I had breakfast the next day) had this garden out back.
IMG_4258
You know, the grammar might not pass muster in the New Yorker, but I’ve seen four-millennia-old ruins that really could stand to have signage this detailed.
IMG_4260
Great Lake #2 of 4. I’ll have to make up Ontario some other time.
IMG_4262
Another old house in the woods, near camp. From there it was a short day’s right to Alpena, where I’ve just showered and done laundry and am about to be fed. A guy in the restaurant at breakfast this morning commented how easy we kids have it these days on a bike tour, just looking up random people to stay with, most of whom feed you lavish dinners. He’s right; I’m a wuss. I’m alright with that.

Off into Michigan

Short post here without pictures, mainly because it’s already past 10 and I need to sleep. I rode 92 miles today, my longest day yet, and got in late, then ate and spent the rest of the time researching route options. 
I crossed into Michigan yesterday (state #3 down) and today am in a motel on the edge of Saginaw. The area is pretty desolate; I wonder if Saginaw is sort of a mini-Detroit. Flint is also nearby; I wonder if the tap water here is ok. This is the first real motel of the trip. The other place that called itself one was really a collection of cabins surrounded by woods and visited by bears in the night. This one is surrounded by dystopian-looking abandoned suburban sprawl and an interstate, and visited by shady hillbilly types at night. 
At least it is a change in scenery. Today’s riding, despite the distance, failed to vary at all from mile to mile in the views it offered. At least the weather was very nice (I’ll risk jinxing myself by mentioning that I seem to have ridden north out of the swathe of terrible weather that will beset Pennsylvania for the next few weeks) and I started taking pictures of barns, for lack of much else to photograph. 

Tomorrow I may sleep in a bit and do a shorter day, or potentially another 80-miler. I’ve got to shop for some supplies, though, including food for an upcoming stint camping in state and national forests. The southern half of the state seems to be entirely farmland, veined and interspersed with small woodlots, but the north looks much more wild. I’m looking forward to seeing a few state parks and doing some camping. 

Since I know this might be the last post until Ive completed a much more photogenic part of the trip, I guess I ought to include photos here. But a few nice barn shots aside, I really have not taken many for the last few days. The views have changed only subtlely and while many as enjoyable enough to ride through, barely any make for good photos. So I’ll have to catch up at some future time when I’ve again got outlets and wifi. Not sure exactly how long that will be. Hopefully I’ll at least have cell signal in the meantime so feel free to check in that I’m not dead! Of course, lack of response would not necessarily mean I am dead, so I guess that wouldn’t be very reassuring. 

Lake Erie

Just now. My Warmshowers hosts are off to a jazz concert, so I took the dogs to Lake Erie for some rounds of fetch. 

If you’ve been reading since the last post, spoiler alert – I didn’t get eaten by bears. 

So my night in the expensive cabin was quite restful, though as usual I had a tough time dragging myself out of bed at the appointed time. I think my body could stand to have 10 hours of sleep nightly, but it is not to be. How people like the guy I met outside Philly do 200 miles of loaded touring day after day, I will never know. 

Anyway, the knee pain had receded. This was good, because I was just on the east side of a locally-legendary climb – Denton Hill. It’s actually a pass – here in the dissected Allegheny plateau, roads wind through valleys as much as possible, but must sometimes climb up to the ends of them to get to the next watershed. This was the most extreme one pass I rode over, but it was still cake compared to the mountain I’d climbed south of Jersey Shore a few days before. My knee hurt some, but I wasn’t limping (pedaling with my right leg only) as much as I had been, and I made it to the top with only one quick breather, if I remember right. The descent was thrilling and put tears in my eyes (from the wind, not from how sublime it was). 

While exploring options for where to stay, I knew Allegheny National Forest would be good for camping – dispersed camping is legal in National Forests – but again the weather was supposed to be rainy, and my appetite for rainy camping, on this trip at least, seemed to have vanished entirely. And there was a cheap Airbnb in Warren. The only problem being, Warren was 70 miles away. I’d already ridden 12, and was not at all sure my knee would hold up for that long. But if worse came to worst, I could camp in the forest. On the other hand, I really wanted to sleep somewhere with wifi so I could stream the latest episode of Game of Thrones and not have to scrupulously avoid any Facebook message threads which might have spoilers. Priorities. 

So knowing that I had options, I thought I might as well aim to do the 70 more miles in an afternoon, and camp in the woods if I needed to. I hoped the terrain would not be too hilly, and that my descent down the Allegheny River would mean 15 miles of coasting. It was not to be, of course, and I climbed plenty. But I made it to Warren in time to head to the nearest bar, lay waste to a beer, a bowl of wings, and a large platter of a burger and fries, easily twice what I could eat on a normal night. Clearly my biology was undergoing some changes. Then I watched Game of Thrones, and it was blissful. They had the Tower of Joy scene, finally, and they didn’t pull a “your sister” on any of the iconic lines. How exciting!

As usual, I didn’t have (or make) time to explore Warren or learn much about it – just a quick diner breakfast and I was on my way. I was close to done with Pennsylvania, and by the end of the day I would be very ready to see the last of it. I had avoided much of the painful rolling hills my state feature so, but this day consisted of almost nothing else. So climbing an average hill – maybe 75-100 feet of elevation gain – took a few minutes. Descending the other side, which happened immediately, took 30 seconds. Then the next climb began. Sometimes there were merciful interludes during which I could cruise along a hilltop before giving up all my hard-won elevation. And sometimes the hills were gradual enough that climbing them was not too painful. Then there was the dirt road I wound up on, up Gleason Hollow, which needed walking up its very steep final hill. Later in the day I realized Google was attempting to route me down even more dirt roads, which could turn at any moment into rutted, rocky messes for which my bike was not intended – at least not with panniers on. So I detoured up yet another big hill and followed the very hilly, but at least paved and navigationally simple Route 77 most of the rest of the day. 

I wound up in Conneaut Lake, on the eponymous largest natural lake in Pennsylvania. It formed when a chunk of glacier accumulated sediment around it (like your foot sinking into the sand when the tide rolls over it, I think) creating a basin for water to collect in. There are lots of these in the Poconos as well. 

There were some likely-looking woods next to town, and somehow the signs demarcating it as state game land and off limits from January to July did not deter me from finding a nice hammock spot off a dirt road a little ways in. I was going to walk back into town and get some dinner, until I realized how late it was. I resorted to my emergency ration, a dehydrated backpacking meal I’d stashed for a situation where I had to camp and had no other food. In this case it just saved me the trouble of cooking, and soon I was asleep to the sounds of night birds and noisy bugs from the wetlands. 

Luckily that was my last day of Pennsylvania hills, and Ohio so far has been blissfully flat. Maybe I’ll get bored of this by South Dakota, but it hasn’t happened yet. Of course, the scenery is another story. On long flat quiet roads, it’s podcast country. Occasionally an attraction appears – an ice cream stand, or a deli run by conservative Mennonites. Or an interesting abandoned house. Or a guy watching trout fishermen who offers good coke if I’m interested…actually, that guy was in Pennsylvania. Forest County, to be exact. “We’re the least populated county in the state. Only county not to have a stop light. Don’t have any black people, until they come to prison.” I didn’t probe any further into whether or not he was pleased with that paucity. I can say I saw around 8 Confederate flags throughout Pennsylvania, which seems to defy logic. If I were black I think this might spur me to pedal faster and keep one eye open for any beat-up pickup trucks driving erratically. As it was I would just hum “Marching through Georgia” and gloat about how mad these knuckleheads are going to be in November when Trump loses in a landslide. 
I’ve noticed my paragraphs have started to get long and rambly. It’s because on my phone, I can see only two lines of text while I type, and typing is so slow in this app that I lose my train of thought before I can write a whole sentence. Also I’m so dead tired that my usual verbal processes are somewhat impaired. 

So I called the post Lake Erie because I’m currently listening to its waves on the shore, down the hill from the Warmshowers house where I’m staying. I rode along the lake all day, through Cleveland and beyond, and mostly into fierce headwinds. After such days there is real appeal in falling asleep, showered and clean, in a bed rather than setting up a hammock and doing constant tick checks. Plus the hosts keep feeding me dinner. I guess I’m getting soft, but I could get used to this. 


It would have been fun to visit the triple divide. This was on top of Denton Hill, which all the locals told me was going to be an Olympian challenge. It wasn’t so bad. Usual bike touring wisdom is to assume locals have no idea how hard a route is – what they describe, from memories of sitting in their cars, as two miles long and flat, is likely to be six miles with 600 feet of elevation gain in the form of steep hills. Maybe when it comes to remarkable features like Denton, the opposite holds true. 

The Views through most of the Alleghenies were repetitive and I took few photos. Things like that beaver dam spiced it up. Then I came to that human dam and found the reservoir quite scenic. 
Kinzua Dam and the Allegheny River behind and through it. 


Western Pennsylvania often had a desolate feel to it.

Possibly the last place I expected to find Messianic Jews. On top of one of the endless series of sharp steep climbs in Nowhere, Warren County, PA. 

If you want to imagine western Pennsylvania, imagine a cyclist, hauling his exhausted butt up hills like this, forever. 

Conneaut Lake and my nearby illicit bivy. 

State number two down!

Cool houses. The first somewhere remote, the second two in Shaker Heights, a slightly pricy suburb of Cleveland. 

It would have been fun to visit this, which I had no idea was on the route until I passed it. I guess that’s what I get for not doing careful planning ahead of time. 

Cities on lakes get flattering skyline views. 

State #2 down

Just realized I haven’t posted in almost a week! I tried to write a post last night, but managed to delete it thanks to my incompetence with the WordPress app. Due to limited time, this post will be a bit behind where I am now (which is Ohio, as of yesterday morning) and hopefully I’ll get things up to date soon!
I’ve still had rain on the majority of days, and there is more forecast for the weekend – but I’ve also learned not to trust the forecasts too much, as I’ve seen plenty of promised storms dissipate over the course of a few hours, the forecast going from rainy to cloudy to sunny as the asserted time of rain onset approaches. Yesterday I even had enough sun to ride in a t-shirt for the first time. 

From Bloomsburg where I last posted, I headed west across more scenic farm country, still without too many hills, except for a single mountain that I inadvertently let Google send me over. That was a notoriously tough one, and by far the nastiest climb I’ve encountered in recent memory. Some local told me it was a 26% grade near the top. Whether that’s true or not, I certainly walked the last half mile of it. So I didn’t cross the Appalachians without climbing a single one. After that descent I was soon in Jersey Shore and out of the Ridge and Valley. 
That same day I had my first flat – which I think resulted from the tube being old and worn, rather than a puncture. The hole was on a seam of the tube and there was no corresponding sharp object or hole in the tire. Once I patched it and reinflated the tube, I rode about 20 feet before the tube exploded. Luckily I have a spare!

From Jersey Shore I went up the Pine Creek Rail Trail through a gorge the upper part of which is known, with some embellishment, as the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. The trail is great – 60-odd miles of very scenic riding up a 1% grade on fairly smooth gravel. I listened to podcasts and music up until I caught up with three more bike tourists, identifiable by their loaded Long Haul Truckers. We quickly realized we were heading to the same place – a Warmshowers host near Wellsboro. Warmshowers, I may not have mentioned, is a website and app for people who want to host touring cyclists for the night. Basically Couchsurfing for bike tourists. 

This was my first experience with it and it will be hard to beat,easily outranking even the backyard cabins in the Negev with baby goats being born that I experienced at a trail angel on the Israel Trail. The young couple hosting us lived on the husbands family farm in a converted barn, on hills in some of the most beautiful pastoral countryside you can imagine. As the sun set, the horses down the hill began to gallop merrily across the fields. Despite that they had family visiting, they brought us right in to the dinner table and fed us lavishly, then put us up in the many beds up in the former barn’s attic. I scored the best location, a bed in the highest loft with perfect sunrise views. 
Although a large part of me wanted never to leave, I parted ways in the mid-morning with James, Rob and Mike (the other bikers) and Riah and Aubrey (our hosts). I headed west into the increasingly hilly Allegheny plateau on US 6, which in Pennsykvania is designated as most of state bike route “Y.” My knee was starting to hurt badly, for which I blamed the huge climb over the mountain two days prior. I made it only 40 miles and stayed in a very overpriced cabin -albeit one surrounded by a peaceful pond, babbling brook and tall hemlocks. Unsure of how my knee would feel in the morning, I went to bed early to avoid the mother bear and cub that the owner warned me liked to frequent the grounds when things were quiet. 
Up next: will Jules continue to ride a bike or will his knee injury put the trip to an embarrassing end? Will he be eaten by bears? Stay tuned!!
Some photos follow. 

Crossing, if memory serves, the West Branch Susquehanna
Countryside around the Susquehanna
Coming down from the clomb over the only Appalachian of the trip
the last ridge of the Ridge and Valley. This one i cut through via a river gorge
I think this is the stream i got my drinking water from on Saturday night. It’s certainly in Pine Creek Gorge somewhere. The valley had dozens of waterfalls, each more stunning than the last. I wish I’d had time to hike up some of them.
This and the next few shots are of Pine Creek and its environs
Met up with a group of three more tourists. Rounding the last corner to our Warmshowers farm paradise. As thr guy pictures says, the higher the hill you have to climb to get to a trail angel, the more worth it the place is
Idyllic scenery at our home for the night
penthouse loft where I slept
All our touring bikes, packed for the road
Me, fellow bike riders, extremely hospitable hostess, and large dog
F
Because the WordPress app is atrociously bad, the photos below are stuck at the end of the post rather than at the beginning where they belong. That’s also the reason for the brevity of the posts d for all the typos and other sloppiness which I   Would normally never tolerate. I’m stuck with WordPress now, so all I can hope for is an update that improves the app’s speed, stability and interface.