Navigating the Allegheny Hills
The day was started on a hill, on a dirt track and with an uncertain route ahead.
Most of the roads between the Finger Lakes and Lake Erie run in a north-south direction, or NW to SE. The only really visible road on a map heading directly east-west is the main interstate highway – on which bicycles are not permitted (not sure I’d dare even if permitted!). And West is my direction.
I decided to keep going the route I’d started upon yesterday evening – up over the hills of Urbana State Forest – where then my option seemed vaguely clearer.
Those hill roads were a real backcountry mix of dirt, mud and gravel. Not a single section of paving until I reached the main road on the other side of the hill – which made for tough & slow cycling.
On the road, I was flying SSW down the #53 making good progress until a truck stop at Kanona where I went to grab breakfast snacks.
I lingered at this truck stop for far longer than I’d planned for. Folk were just really interested in coming up and chatting with me – though I’m not sure if it was with awe or pity/concern or both.
The first couple approached just as I was tucking into a bowl of beef chili, and were full of concerned questions – What if you get a puncture?; Where do you stay?; etc – and insisted I have a large sticky cinnamon bun that they’d just bought. “Because you clearly need the calories more than I do” she said. I wasn’t going to argue.
As I was filling up my water bottles, a trucker approached me asking if I was biking far. We chatted only about a minute but he said that the truck stop had showers and would I like the coupon on his fuel-receipt. After 2 nights of camping with cycling in all conditions, caked in a mix of sunscreen, oil, sweat, salt-deposits and dust, I wasn’t going to decline.
Back on the road after being stopped for almost 2 hours, I was both happy and refreshed, and dispirited for losing opportunity to get a further hour down the road. Furious even, when 3 miles down the road I realised I’d forgotten to restart Strava!
Next came the hills. Yet another relentless onslaught. Up. Up. Up. Up, down. All the way back up again.
I don’t think I stopped again for anything more particular than roadside grazing on snacks I was accumulating in my handlebar-bag.
At Wellsville, I again stopped for too long. This time at a supermarket where I yet again marvelled at just how expensive everything is. And how disproportionate the pricing is in favour of unhealthy food.
Almonds for example: Raw $8.99/lb; Roasted & Salted $8.99/lb; Honey-roasted $8.99/lb; Chocolate-coated $5.99/lb.
Regardless, I realised I hadn’t eaten any fruit for a few days, so grabbed some bananas, pears, yogurt-coated almonds ($6.99/lb), sesame seeds and a quart (946ml) of milk. Then sat outside and gorged.
I also realised at this time that I needed to find somewhere to camp as I estimated about an hours cycling light left in the day. So headed out and found yet more hills awaiting!
After passing a couple of spots which would have been possible sites except that they were sited where the road was still climbing and already in the shade of the hill. I wanted to crest the hill and sight west first.
There’s also something gained in sanctuary and motivational storage from even just the slightest of late evening sunshine enjoyed when the tent is already pitched.
At last I found what could be the perfect camping site, a motor speedway track with large, flat grassy areas, all away from houses and sheltered from strong winds by trees at the clearing edge. But I’d recorded only 98.8km… so I kept going for another km before turning back.
There was no answer at the house at the racetrack, so I checked in with the neighbours who turned out to be the track owner’s daughter and family. They gave me permission to camp and advised on best spot.
Just as I was getting tent out of it’s bag though, the owner’s daughter came rushing out, suggesting I could otherwise camp out in the part-built children’s house in the garden. Small, but large-enough, out of the wind and insulated from the harsh chill of pre-dawn. And there was a thin mattress! And electricity!
So I repacked my tent. Plugged phone in to charge. Unpacked my as-yet unopened book, and settled myself to enjoying the last half-hour of the evening light.