Day 18: out of Pennsylvania and into Ohio reunions

The day started with my energy high after  two days of rest and an energy boosting breakfast as I made my way across many of Pittsburgh’s infinite bridges north to Youngstown, OH, starting with what I guess is the Andy Warhol Bridge.

I thought about going to the nearby Andy Warhol Museum during my stay in Pittsburgh, but I’ve been there twice. While it’s a fantastic must-see, I didn’t need to spend the money to see it again.

 It wasn’t long before I started rolling through more of Pittsburgh’s David Lynchian industrial wastelands, which bookended well with how I came in to the city several days before.

Before long Google directed me towards the Ohio River Trail. It seems Google is navigating me from the future though, because the Ohio River Trail doesn’t really exist yet:


Although Route 51 took me along the river, there were still bursts of climbs that had to be conquered. The thing is they felt like far more effort than they should have. I pulled off to check out my bike and sure enough, my brakes on both wheels were rubbing against the rims ever so slightly. I took off all the panniers and made the fixes.


I built my bike well, but with all I’m putting it through, things are going to fall out of adjustment. I’ve been so focused on pushing forward that I haven’t been taking enough time to make sure all the components are working the way they should… actually as I type that I realize I’m too focused to even notice a problem when it happens. That’s a mistake I’m not going to let happen again after today. It wasn’t the last time I felt like I needed to change things up on the day, either…

Google took me off 51 and on to a road closer to the river. Something didn’t feel right about this right turn, but I kept pedaling anyway.

The road turned into the worst I’ve been on since starting in New York. Years of neglected, massive potholes kept me weaving all over the width of the abandoned road, and where there weren’t potholes, there were large golf ball-sized gravel rocks scattered throughout. I was sure I would get at least one flat tire, but I made it through with none. The Schwalbe Marathons I ride on keep proving themselves day after day. I love these tires.

The industrial waste proceeded to get more dire on River Road.


Eventually the road deadended in some sort of industrial field with very emphatic “no trespassing” signage. The thing is, Google said to keep going for two miles before rejoining route 51. 

This was something of a last straw for me with Google Maps. On one hand their bicycle routing is fantastic and I’m lucky it exists. But after two weeks I’ve become a slave to it as it drains my phone’s battery and constantly takes me down roads that are inconvenient when the smarter move is often within eyeshot. Perhaps most importantly, Google Maps makes my touring more passive and less deliberate. After losing time and gaining miles day after day, I’ve decided that it’s time to change the way I navigate my routes. I’ll use Google as a cross reference, but my days relying on it are done.

Before rejoining 51 (which proved to be a perfect cycling route) I caught glimpse of the queen bee of dilapidated buildings. As I was in the outskirts of what was effectively a Rust Belt ghost town and the door was open, I couldn’t resist a peak inside:


Kind of magically depressing and beautiful at the same time.

Eventually I made it to Rochester, PA, which wanted me to know it was a river town.


To get there I crossed the Ohio River for the last time, and I couldn’t help but think of the life I’ve essentially left behind downriver. It was a fleeting thought though. I have a compulsion to keep moving west.

I spent a good portion of today’s ride on 51, and after all the hills I’ve dealt with, it was refreshing to have a nice long stretch of flat road with just enough gradual elevation changes to keep things interesting. I happened across a park with a curious sign:


Apparently they see no conflict with promoting healthy activities and operating deadly weapons for fun.

The road was mostly void of businesses (except for auto repair operations… I passed one every few miles all day, yet no other businesses, not even gas stations. Weird.). I eventually made it to a shopping center and opted to check out Aldi for some cheap fruit.

I crushed a carton of strawberries I paid next to nothing for out front and got less than the usual stares and “Look at that! Where ya headed?” conversations. One shopper did stop to chat with me though, and when he came out he gave me a big tin of raisins and wished me safe travels. It warmed the cockles.


I was then graced with my first long downhill in a few days, and oh was it a joy. Flying downhill pushing 40mph makes the climbs worth it for the thrill alone but the wind was sublime with the sticky humidity soaking me in my own sweat all day.

With every pedal stroke I got closer and closer to Ohio, and eventually I saw proof of it:


But before I could hit the state line I got some joy out of a corny rural billboard. I loved these as a car traveler, but on a bike when the small things get amplified, it produced an audible chuckle:


And soon enough I hit Ohio. State lines have given me the resolve to push forward since I started this thing and this one was one of the sweetest. After a 19 hour train ride and roughly 600 miles on the bike I was back in my home state, dripping with that humidity-induced sweat only the Midwest can deliver. THAT’S how I knew I was back in Ohio.


Up the road I made a pit stop at a beat up gas station with a curious name:

And just north of Springfield Township things got folksy:


And then I got sad I wasn’t going to have a fire that night with this offer in front of me:


And soon enough I was in Boardman, just south of Youngstown, where I would be meeting my old grad school friend Peter who was going to be putting me up for the night.


I found a spot to get some pasta before he was back in town, and it was just the way to spend the last hours of daylight after 60 miles. The guys at Tangier Express Pizza got a kick out of me and I could tell shooting the breeze with me was a nice distraction from peddling pies on a holiday weekend.

I met Peter at his place around 9, and it was fantastic to see him! It had been a few years since we joked around in the grad school office, I was thrilled he offered me a place to stay when he heard I was riding his way. He was an excellent host from the get go, helping me bring all the gear into his apartment and getting me set up for the night. We went out on a mini bar hop catching up and talking Geography. It was great to hear about his tenure track job at Youngstown State. There are far too few PhDs whom are able to get that kind of security in academia and I’m happy a good man got it.

He then took me down the freeway to take a quick tour of the campus where I saw his swanky digs. I was surprised by how nice the campus was, and envious of the undergrad lounge the Geography majors have there for my time in college.

The bigger surprise of the night was how strange it was being in a car on the freeway. I’ve been feeling my sense of time and place alter over the last couple weeks on the road but I didn’t realize how much until last night. The freeway almost scared me with its speed and rapidity. I’ve become accustomed to taking things in much more slowly.

This morning we said our goodbyes…


… And then I was off to Western Reserve Road, headed for North Royalton, OH.


-J

3 thoughts on “Day 18: out of Pennsylvania and into Ohio reunions

  1. I tried to warn you about Google maps. But, oh well. Sometimes I stop at County offices and get county maps. Or of course, bike shops give good info usually. People who do not ride bikes do not give good info, usually. But some do. Good luck with the route.

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  2. Hey, Jeff. I’ve been following your ride since we met over lunch in Rockwood PA on the GAP. Just wanted to wish you well and say how much I am enjoying your posts and photos. Very inspiring! Warmly, Susan (the freelance writer/cyclist from Baltimore)

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