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.