Friday, May 27, 2011

Weather, woes, and warm-hearts


The last few days have been very interesting to say the least -we've run into some bad luck, but more good luck and kind-hearted individuals by far...We'll do our best to explain everything that's happened, but in this case words just don't do justice.

Urban Growth Farm

We left the comfort of an enclosed, dry space and the company of a great friend in Cleveland and headed out toward Urban Growth -the first urban farm along our journey.  The urban farming movement reclaims previously abandoned city land through a variety of means and transforms it into small-scale, high-intensity farmland.  One cannot overstate the benefits of urban farming.  It beautifies forgotten urban landscapes, provides healthy, locally produced food for members of the community, offers a relatively inexpensive entrepreneurial opportunity for those willing to invest the time and money, and perhaps most importantly, drastically reduces carbon emissions through plants' literal consumption of carbon dioxide, and by decreasing our reliance on food grown in far away lands

Cleveland, Ohio

At Urban Growth, located just blocks away from Cleveland's famous West Side Market, we met two inspiring farmers in their mid-twenties named Peter McDermott and Virginia Houston.  Having grown up in Cleveland, Peter continually noticed the excessive amount of abandoned plots of land where homes once stood.  In 2008 he figuratively and literally planted the seeds of a life-long passion for farming through the cooperation of The Urban Community School, who lent Peter the use of a vacant lot across the street.  He was joined a year later by Virginia who moved to Cleveland from New York City to join him.

On their mere 1/2 acre of land they cultivate a variety of vegetables that they sell at a local farmers' market.  This year they are participating in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) which enables customers to receive weekly shares of the harvest for an initial upfront payment.  With such small acreage, a high-intensity rotation of crops is crucial to maximize production.  Harvesting 3 or even 4 crops per season takes its toll on the soil, so in order to maintain a healthy balance of minerals and nutrients Peter and Virginia have developed some innovative homemade soil enhancement techniques.

As we saw at Morris' Pick-Your-Own Organic Farm, efficient farming not only requires dedication but it also involves an in-depth knowledge of chemistry and biology.  Among the many methods of do-it-yourself fertilization, Urban Growth is particularly awesome in that Peter and Virginia use waste from the local fish market combined with brown sugar to produce one type of fertilizer, and the spent brewing grains from the Great Lakes Brewing Company (located just down the street) mixed with other organic material as compost.  It is amazing to see this type of recycling partnership between local businesses, and we can only imagine how many more possibilities exist for similar arrangements.

Beer grain compost

Fish and sugar fertilizer

With each farm we visit we get a small glimpse into the complexity of farming, and Urban Growth was no different.  We are incredibly thankful to Peter and Virginia for taking some time to talk to us about their farm, and to the delicious vegetables they gave us, which included French breakfast radishes and a variety of leafy greens (we made an amazing salad that boosted our spirits and replenished our bodies with some much needed nutrients).

French breakfast radishes (excellent taste even when raw)

Rear hub blow-out/Warm showers/Sam's kindness

We left Cleveland and rode along the southern shore of Lake Erie in hopes to make it to Vermilion, OH where we planned on staying with a member of the Warm Showers community (a Couchsurfing-esque website geared toward bicycle tourists).  The weather was beautiful, and the terrain had finally flattened out -things were looking up...That is, until all of a sudden as we were riding I felt my bike suddenly slow down followed by a loud popping sound.  I immediately stopped and knew that something had gone catastrophically wrong.  I found my quick release mechanism in the street -the steel rod had snapped under pressure due to a rear hub blow out (which I realized only after Caitlin hitched a ride to a bike shop ~5 miles away to buy a replacement quick release mechanism).  We called our host for the night, Sam, and explained the situation.  He was nice enough to come and pick me up while we unloaded all our gear and Caitlin rode the rest of the way to Vermilion without gear.  At Sam's house we examined the wheel and after a little tinkering determined that we had fixed it.  We were astounded at the generosity Sam and his wife Susan displayed towards us as we dined like royalty that night.  The next morning Sam (an avid biker) decided to ride with us for the beginning of the day.  About a mile out, it became clear that something was still horribly wrong with my wheel.  We went back to Sam's garage, and out of the goodness of his heart, Sam lent me one of his spare wheels that was the right size to fit my bike.  After replacing the wheel, we finally got on our way and could not have been more grateful to Sam, who ended up riding with us for the first 15 miles of the day. 

Sam, Caitlin, and Kevin

Maumee Bay State Park/30mph headwind/Larry

Our destination for the day was Maumee Bay State Park (~80 miles away, our longest day yet).  We arrived very close to sunset and promptly set up our tent, ate dinner, and fell asleep from pure exhaustion.  The next day we awoke to sunny skies and an awful wind.  We traveled to Toledo, OH where we took a short break to figure out our route and headed towards Harrison Lake State Park.  Along the way we met a very avid cross-country cyclist who has led, and continues to lead groups of Boy Scouts on extended bicycle tours across the country since 1976.  He had some good advice about routes to take through the West, and shared some pretty amazing stories about his travels.  He ended up riding with us for about 10 miles on back country roads before heading back.  Our initial plan to stay in Harrison Lake State Park was foiled due to the 30-40mph headwind we experienced for the last 10 miles of the trip combined with the fact that Caitlin hadn't been feeling to well for the past few days in addition to the looming thunderstorms we saw lighting up the skies as we rolled into Wauseon, OH.  We decided to spend the night in a hotel instead, and the next day awoke to clear skies and practically no wind -a very welcome change from the previous day.

Pokagon State Park/Raccoon rampage

We departed the hotel on our way to Pokagon State Park, leaving Ohio and entering Indiana.  The roads were flat and we were feeling great.  A few angry dogs, and small hills later we arrived to a well-organized and beautiful state park.  We were one of the only campers at the park, and after we set up camp we were in good spirits about the place...That is, until the raccoons discovered us.  I've been around plenty of raccoons in my day, but none were more aggravating and numerous than these.  As we cooked our soup they began congregating...We did our best to ward them off, sealed and packed our food into a pannier, and hung the food bag about 6ft high in a tree.  We climbed into our tent and while we tried to drift off to sleep, the frenzy began around us.  Sniffing, snorting, and snarling is all we could hear around us -I even had to kick one off of my foot as he sniffed underneath the rain cover of our tent for remnants of food.  Another managed to drag one of Caitlin's panniers out from underneath the rain cover as she jolted awake and chased it down.  Somehow we fell asleep (although the raccoons continued to haunt my dreams) and awoke in the morning to find that the raccoons had figured out a way to get into the food pannier we had hung in the tree.  The irony was that the only thing they managed to get into was the spice bag, which included chili powder and cayenne pepper -we hope their mouths are still burning.

Flat and beautiful!

Angola, IN/Severe weather/Cahoots Coffee Cafe/Ride to Chesterton, IN

The forecast for the day called for some severe weather including strong winds and hail...not something we were willing to bike in.  We decided to take refuge in the nearby town of Angola, Indiana (~8miles away).  When we got into town, the storm was fast approaching to the west and we took refuge and ate lunch in The Village Kitchen -known for their great service and good food (a local favorite).  As we entered the restaurant it almost immediately started to downpour.  We knew the rain would not be letting up anytime soon, so after lunch we decided to take refuge in a local coffee shop down the street.  

Exterior of Cahoots

Interior of Cahoots Coffee Cafe 

We could not have been more fortunate to have walked in to this particular coffee shop (there was another a couple blocks down the road). The Cahoots Coffee Cafe took us in with a warm and loving embrace.  This place was not only a coffee shop serving gourmet coffee and homemade food, but it also acts as a youth safe house for kids in the area.  They have couches, books, board games, computers, a pool table, and a staff that can't be beat.  Barb, the owner, was such a warm-hearted person that she offered us a place to stay for the night as we waited out the storms.  At this point, Caitlin had gotten pretty sick, and biking in this weather in her condition would probably be the worst thing to do. After spending the day trying to figure out how to dodge the rain and continue making progress towards Chicago, we were deterred and disappointed to find that we could not carry our bikes on board a single train entering Chicago from Indiana.  Not only did The Cahoots Coffee Cafe provide us with a safe, dry place to stay for the night, but Barb was also kind enough to lend her car to a barista at the cafe named JD to give us a ride to Chesterton, IN near Indiana Dunes State Park (nearly 120 miles away).  I cannot express the amount of gratitude we have towards the people at Cahoots, and can only say that if you are ever passing through Angola, IN, Cahoots Coffee Cafe is a must stop.

Kevin, Barb, and Caitlin

Today, the weather has cleared up and we are on to Chicago! Where we will be spending the weekend with a good friend in a fun city.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Our stay in Ohiopyle State Park ended with a bang -quite literally. One of the most severe thunderstorms we've ever experienced while camping rolled it's way in after dark and tested the limits of our tent's ability to keep us dry, which (amazingly) it did! The thunderstorm we experienced in Ohiopyle was the start of what seemed like ten consecutive days of rain, which has made this leg of our journey especially fun!

used with permission of Western PA Conservancy

The day of the thunderstorm, however, the weather was beautiful and we biked the short but hilly ride to Fallingwater. It was a breathtaking and beautiful experience to walk through a house that had tested the limits of technology and architecture when it was built in 1935. We also enjoyed biking there without our gear, and on our way back we hit our max speed for the trip thus far (38mph!).

Wooden shelter at Cedar Creek Park

We left the majestic Ohiopyle area and continued our journey northward along the Great Allegheny Passage rail-trail. The rain seemed to follow us for the next few days, but we were lucky enough to have the luxury of a wooden shelter not only at the Cedar Creek Park campsite, but also at the Dravo Cemetery Campground. We also ran into more really great people each night; at Cedar Creek Park we met a family from Baltimore, MD who were kind enough to offer us breakfast (never pass up free food); and at Dravo Cemetery Campground we met a young couple who had lived in Washington DC and were now on an indefinite bike tour around the country in search of a new place to live. We not only shared a shelter with the young couple from DC, but we also shared a 'gourmet' meal with food provided by a farm we visited earlier that day.

Swiss Chard we cooked up!

Mr. Randy Morris and his antique potato puller

The Morris Organic "pick-your-own" farm located about 5 miles east of the GAP between Sutersville and Buena Vista is run by Mr. Randy Morris. He was certified organic in 1994, and produces a variety of crops including potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, herbs, green beans, lettuce, beets, swiss chard, hay, wheat, cucumbers, and much more -he even makes his own maple syrup, and grinds his own flour using antique equipment. He describes himself as a engineer by trade and farmer by calling, and with the way he monitors and adjusts the mineral composition of his soil, he might as well be a chemist. He told us of the importance of rotating crops each year to maintain a healthy and productive balance of nutrients in the soil (different plants deplete certain minerals more than others). Proper soil maintenance not only produces crops more efficiently, but also ensures a healthy plant. A truly healthy plant needs no insecticide, pesticide, or any other -cide to prevent insects and pests from devouring it because of the natural immunity it has developed over eons of evolution. After ten years of crop rotation and soil amending, Mr. Morris' crops are naturally protected from harmful insects!

Natural amendments for the soil

Fresh parsley

Mr. Randy Morris was kind enough to take an hour or two out of his day to show us around and let us pick some fresh herbs (parsley, oregano, rosemary, sage) and swiss chard. He also gave us some whole wheat flour and a banging pancake recipe which we tried for the first time today -needless to say it was delicious. Unfortunately, we visited his farm in the very beginning of the growing season when things were just starting to pop up. If you're around the Western Pennsylvania area later in the season we highly recommend taking some time to check out this amazing farm to pick your own vegetables for a ridiculously cheap price, and to meet one of the more interesting individuals we've met thus far on our trip.

Alas, our journey continued and our time traveling the Great Allegheny Passage ended as we decided to bypass our initial plan to travel to Pittsburgh and head Northwest to Cleveland, OH. We picked up The Montour Trail after being turned around a few times through the towns of Mckeesport and Clariton, PA. The Montour Trail is another rails-to-trails conservancy trail that spans 50 miles between Coraopolis and Clariton, PA. Unlike the GAP or the C&O Canal Towpath trails, the Montour trail is still being constructed, so the trail abruptly ends in a series of places and you are forced to take detours on the road. Unfortunately, the detours are not clearly marked and we biked up some pretty massive hills we didn't need to...Maybe in a few years the Montour Trail will be as pleasant and accessible as the GAP or the C&O.

Crossing the Ohio River

The rain continued as we traveled about 30 miles on the Montour Trail to the Panhandle Trail which runs East-West. About 10 miles later we reluctantly said goodbye to our days spent on car-free bike trails and to the state that took us nearly 2 weeks to bike through as we made our way through about 5 miles of steeply graded hills in West Virginia and crossed the Ohio River to East Liverpool, OH. Our destination for the day was Gilford Lakes State Park outside of Lisbon, OH (~20 miles away), but we decided to stop for coffee in East Liverpool. The owner of this early 1900's style house-turned-coffee shop was excited about our trip and gave us some good advice about the least hilly route to Lisbon.

We arrived in Lisbon and went straight to the Steel Trolley Car Diner where we ate some old-fashioned diner food followed by chocolate peanut-butter milkshakes. This place was so good that we had to come back for breakfast in the morning, which turned out to be about the only pleasant part of the day because it was again overcast, cold, and rainy. Our ride started out fine until the first flat tire in the pouring rain, followed by another flat tire about 5 miles down the road. At this point we've patched our tubes so many times that we are out of patches. Eventually we made it to our destination -Portage Lakes State Park, just south of Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

A branded burger at Steel Trolley Diner

We spent the night in a full-scale (20ft tall) pre-constructed tee-pee which kept us dry from the rain, and safe from the coyotes...When we were both laying in our sleeping bags ready to go to bed, we heard a rapid sniffling directly outside the canvas walls of the tee-pee. At first I brushed it off with, "that's a raccoon -nothing to be worried about." A few anxious minutes later we heard growling as what we could only imagine were two coyotes smelling the food we had cooked earlier in the evening. Luckily we were able to fall asleep and awoke to a rare sight -THE SUN! We took advantage of our brief window of blue sky and headed to Cleveland.

With a quick stop in Akron, OH for lunch at the Diamond Delicatessen for a delicious and creatively put-together sandwich, we made our way through Cuyahoga Valley National Park along the Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath towards Cleveland. One more thunderstorm, and three flat tires later we could not have been more happy to finally have arrived to a familiar face/good friend, and a warm, dry place to stay. We decided to take a few days off to 1) make this post, 2) to do some bike maintenance (new tires and fenders for Kevin!), and 3) rest our bodies for the next phase of the journey-from Cleveland to Chicago (421mi). The guys at Cain Park Bike shop in Cleveland were awesome and we definitely recommend swinging by if you're in the area and are in need of bike maintenance.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Trails, trails, and trails

Days 4-11? (starting to lose track...)

With camping, sleeping, biking, and the lack of internet access, it has been very difficult to update the blog. We are sorry for the delay, but we have finally found some time to fill everyone in on our recent adventures!

After we left Codorus State Park, we headed to Gettysburg where we were planning to meet up with a friend of Rich and Linda's. On our way there, we stopped at a local produce stand to stock up on vegetables and about a mile outside of Gettysburg, Kevin saw a sign that read: 'free range eggs - $2 for a dozen.' We stopped, of course, and there we met Mr. Ed the farmer. He gave us a tour of his farm, which included free range chickens, rabbits, peacocks, and turkeys. After chatting with him for awhile, we asked to buy some rabbit meat, and he was so excited about our trip that he gave it to us as a gift! Then, later that day, his daughter ended up backing us on kickstarter...another affirmation that people are genuinely good. So, if you are ever in the Gettysburg area and are in need of eggs or free range rabbit, chicken, or turkey, stop by Mr. Ed's farm. He is on Hanover Rd on the east side of I-15.

Even though we had intended to stay the night in a national military park in Gettysburg, we got in touch with Rich and Linda's friend, Chris, who was coincidentally on a bike tour himself, and asked us to join him for the evening. Chris was spending a week on a bike tour for the Brethren Housing Association trying to raise the awareness of homeless women and children. He was staying the night at the Gettysburg Church of the Brethren, and they graciously hosted us as well. We were greeted with a smorgasbord of tacos and sweets.

Words of Wisdom 3: Never turn down free food or a free place to stay

Ms. Pat Arendt, the Associate Pastor, was a very sweet hostess and made our brief stay most enjoyable.

After Gettysburg, we headed to Williamsport, MD to begin our journey on the C&O Canal (Chesapeake and Ohio Canal). It is a national historical park that is preserving a time when communities along the Potomac River would use the canals to transport goods to market. There is a bike path that goes along the canal and has campsites with water pumps approximately every 10 miles on the trail. We stayed two nights on the C&O canal. That was the first time I really felt like we were roughing it. I was devoured by mosquitos!

While we were on the C&O we met two older gentleman from Kansas - Curtis and Jerry. Jerry has biked all over the country including the underground railroad trail and the Lewis and Clark trail both of which are Adventure Cycling trails. He then informed us of the Western Maryland rail trail that was 25 miles of paved bike path and runs parallel to the C&O canal. We were happy to get off the gravel path for a bit and really cruise! Thanks for the tip Jerry! It made us happy to see someone staying so active. Kevin and I both aspire to be that way when we are older.

We finally reached Cumberland, MD where the C&O canal trail ends and the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) begins! We stayed the night at the YMCA, which was suggested to us by the brewer/biker extrodinaire at Cumberland Trail Connection bike shop. What a cool shop! They had bikes, camping equipment, maps, and anything you might need for a tour. They even sell beer brewing supplies and brew their own beer, which we were unable to taste because the keg was cashed. We wish there was something like that in Philadelphia (especially the beer brewing supplies)!

The next day we left to begin our journey on the GAP! We decided to do a short day because Kevin and I are were pretty beat and felt we needed to take it easy. So, we did a 16 mile (2% grade) climb to Frostberg, MD. There, we met another tourist who was biking from Washington DC to Pittsburgh. Nothing much to say about Frostberg except that the grocery store is located way too far away, and I ended up mailing back 10 lbs. worth of stuff I didn't really need. If anyone knows me, this is no surprise. I tend to overpack no matter what the circumstance.

The next day we got back on the GAP and headed for the continental divide. It was only another 7 mile climb before we reached the top - 2,392 feet - the highest point we will reach until we get to the Rockies!!

Then, it was all downhill after that. We were averaging 12-13 mph and headed for Ohiopyle State Park. What a gorgeous ride! As soon as we arrived, we knew we would want to spend some time here. So we are taking a few days off! The first time since we left Philadelphia.

Yesterday, we hiked around. Kevin went for a swim, and we saw some sights in the park.

Today we head to Fallingwater, which is one of the most famous residences designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. It's only a few miles away! We will bike there without our gear today. I am really looking forward to that.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

What goes up must come down, but in PA this cycle never ends

Days 2-4

There's no turning back now! We've begun our journey westward from Philadelphia and we won't be ending it until we hit the Pacific.

However, the trip has gotten off to a little bit of a rocky start...We took a little longer than expected to get everything ready to go in the morning before we left Philadelphia, and once we had everything packed up on our bikes and we're ready to go, Caitlin got a flat tire not more than 50 feet from the front door. We replaced the tube, pumped it up, and hit the road. About two miles later I got a flat tire. After changing that, we prayed to the tire gods for no more flats and continued our journey.

Even though we were behind schedule, we decided to take a break in Downingtown to visit Victory Brewing Company -a local brewery that prides itself in their commitment to using ingredients from nearby farms, and running an environmentally friendly operation (using solar energy to power their machinery). We couldn't bring our bikes inside, but we enlisted the watchful eyes of Jason (a worker at the brewery) to watch our bikes while we got some food and beer.

On our way to Quarryville we passed by dozens of farms amidst the rolling hills of Lancaster County, PA. We stopped to take a picture of a group of truly free-range chickens and were greeted by a lovely Amish family who were raising them. It would have been nice to talk more about their life in the countryside, but the sun was setting and we were anxious to get to our final destination for the day -the Gnome Countryside.

The Gnome Countryside is the secluded home in the woods of one of the nicest men we've ever met (also father to a good friend of Caitlin's). The property is surrounded by a beautiful stream and doubles as an educational nature trail for all ages. Here you can learn about the interesting history of Gnomes, experience the beautiful ecosystem of Lancaster County, and hear fantastic tales of adventure. To contact The Gnome Countryside to schedule a tour go to their website and contact Rich Humphreys.

We awoke to a beautiful day (75 and sunny) and were ready to hit the road after an energy-packed breakfast of oatmeal with raisins and almonds. We had initially planned to bike ~75 miles to Gettysburg, but having talked to Rich about the surrounding terrain we decided to cut our day short by 50 miles and bike to his wife's house instead. Rich says that biking 50 miles in Pennsylvania is like biking 150 miles anywhere else -5 hours, 25 miles, and yet another flat tire later, we both understood why biking in Pennsylvania is so difficult. The terrrain goes from straight downhill to straight uphill for miles -over and over...Needless to say, when traveling with the amount of gear that we are carrying this type of terrain is extremely demanding. When we finally arrived to our destination, we both felt as if we had just biked 75 miles.

Rich's wife Linda was just as hospitable as he was and we are incredibly grateful for their generosity during the very beginning of our journey. Now the real test begins as we head to Pittsburgh through what some say is the hardest part of a trans-American bicycle trip. We're keeping our fingers crossed for good weather (although yesterday was cold, rainy, windy, and overcast...ugh), and also the good fortune of running into people like Rich and Linda along our adventure.

We're currently packing up our belongings after spending the night in Codorus State Park in Hanover, PA and heading to Gettysburg. It should be a nice short 18 mile ride, which will give us some time to explore historic Gettysburg Park The weather is a little bit chilly and windy, but at least the sky is blue and the sun is shining.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

One State Down, 10 to Go!

Day 01: Long Beach Island, NJ to Philadelphia, PA

It seems like there is never enough time to finish what you need to get done! The night before we were supposed to depart we stayed up finishing our kickstarter profile, packing, organizing, cleaning, etc. and the next thing we knew, it was 2am. Our friend Ann was coming by the house at 4am to pick us up and drive us to the shore before she had to go to work. So we went to bed, slept for an hour, and then got up and drove to Long Beach Island, NJ.

We arrived at the beach and immediately laid out our sleeping bags and took a 2 hour nap beneath the rising sun. Then we woke up, got a friendly surfer to snap a picture of our rear tires in the ocean, and headed out for the 65 mile ride back to Philadelphia.

The ride was beautiful and the weather was even BETTER (70 degrees, sunny, and a light wind). We traveled (on a slight incline most of the way) through farms, woods, and small towns, one of which had been established in the late 1600’s. Since we got such a late start and we were SO tired from our lack of sleep, we took more than a few breaks. We started losing sunlight when we finally reached Camden…

Words of wisdom 1: when the sun goes down, get out of Camden AS FAST AS YOU CAN!!!

We tried to do that by crossing the Ben Franklin Bridge pedestrian/bike path.

Words of wisdom 2: The pedestrian/bike path on the Ben Franklin Bridge closes at 8:00pm

…we arrived at the Ben Franklin Bridge at 8:15pm

So instead of coasting down the bridge toward the setting sun, we had to carry our bikes down 2 flights of stairs and take the PATCO line into Philadelphia. We were not happy.

As we took the elevator up from the subway and the doors opened, we were greeted by chaos. The combination of the PIFA (Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts) Street Fair and the 30,000+ people getting pumped for the Broad Street Run seemed to be all out on the streets while we were trying to bike across the city. It was like trying to bike down Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras!

We finally made it home at almost 10pm, so we ordered food and passed out (I might have actually passed out in mid bite).

Because we had so many loose ends to tie up before we officially departed Philadelphia, and we were running on fumes yesterday, we decided to take the day off and start the trip off right. So tomorrow, we head to Quarryville, PA with a good night sleep and a new haircut for Kevin!!