Friday, September 9, 2011

5 States in One Day

Riding through western Ohio reminded me a lot of Michigan.  The roads were straight with views of fields and farmland as far as I could see; it was beautiful.  Because the land was more flat than Grand Rapids area farmlands, I could see much farther.  Groups of trees were more linear, demarcating the fields of wheat from corn, from alfalfa.  The sky above was filled with whispy billowing clouds.  After 69 turned south, my body asked for a break from the pummeling it takes at high-speeds so I got off the expressway and I headed east from Auburn through Defiance into Findlay then south toward Columbus.  I passed through lots of small towns where the speed limit dips down to 35 mph.   It’s a welcome change of pace though it slowed me down.  I fought off frustration that I had turned off the expressway too soon and lost valuable time.  Then I caught myself- it was only day one and I was already feeling like I’d messed up.  I pushed those ideas from my mind and focused on the road in front of me.  I eased through the farmlands at a moderate pace with very little traffic.  I finally hit 270 around Columbus and made a push for Zanesville via I-70.  I crashed at a Super 8 right off the highway and grabbed dinner at the A&W next door.  I retired early knowing my next day of riding would be a long one. 

I woke on Sunday morning to hear that Hurricane Leo would be bringing in storms with expected flooding over the Midwest and South throughout the week.  As I packed my bags, I tried to fight off the frustration.   I wasn’t concerned about riding in the rain but I was worried about how well my rain gear and my spirits would hold up if it rained non-stop.   More than that, I’ve found that rain and cold are fatiguing.  I’d planned for 2 long days of riding with rests midday at roadside parks.  Without the option for a quick nap, I’d have to find a new strategy for getting down into southern West Virginia where the great roads were waiting.  I couldn’t count on covering a lot of miles if I needed to take frequent breaks to warm up.  And I’d need  a Laundromat to dry out my gear.  The weather radar showed rain was expected in every area I would ride in the next 2 days.  I briefly considered abandoning my planned trip and choosing another area to ride in.  From the radar, it looked like I'd have two days of rain no matter which route I took, so I dismissed the idea of riding out of it.

My plan for the day was to run the 555 from Zanesville through to Little Hocking and then ride through 4 other states.  That'd get me two RIDE patches in one day.  I'd expected to do the 555 the first day so I was slightly behind schedule and wasn’t sure if I could do it.  I reviewed my West Virginia map again and set up several alternate routes that could get me through each state more quickly if needed.  I didn’t know how long it would take me to get through the winding routes so I left the motel at 9:00am, fueled up, checked tire pressure and headed out.  Although, feeling behind, I knew I wouldn't enjoy the trip if I focused on the variables I couldn’t control.  I decided to take it one road at a time.  I wanted to get on the 555 and see where it lead me. 

A few turns out of town I found myself in the most beautiful country.  Eastern Ohio is hilly territory.   The 555 curves unlike any I’ve ever been on- even Deal’s gap.  It’s  nestled between hills that wind through tiny towns divided by farms.  Neighborhoods consisted of groups of houses clustered together between these farms.  I marveled at the twists these roads took- perhaps fashioned from old horse and buggy trails.  Not only did the road jog from side to side but it climbed up and down.  Riding along at top speed- only 25-30 mph- felt like riding a roller coaster.  I could not travel faster safely, because I could not see the road in front of me for the hills and the twists.  More than once, I’d slowed for a hill only to discover it took a sharp turn just beyond the crest.  I continued the route, slowly and took in the views.  I remembered requests from two friends to take lots of pictures so I found myself stopping every few miles to snap a photo.  I came upon only 3 other vehicles on that route- a car, a truck and an ATV – so it felt very isolated.  I often stopped right in the middle of the road to snap a picture.  I was riding at the edge of beauty. 

I felt myself staring into the landscape as though prying into another life.  What is it like to live for the land and the animals you keep on it?  The hillsides were dotted with cattle of every color- unlike the Michigan dairy farms I’d seen with black herds.  Whatever kind of cattle they were- beef or dairy- no doubt the signs advertising their products would say, “grass fed” for these small herds were spread over hundreds of acres of land.  I wondered what these hills and valleys, and the roads winding through them, meant for the people who live there.  How had it shaped them?  When I was riding through it, it felt like undiscovered territory.  I don't think that's just because it was knew to me;  I think that was the feel of the land.  When I ride along Michigan's western coastline, I feel an absolute sense of freedom- like I'm opening up inside.  When I rode this part of Ohio, I felt like I was coming upon a secreted place.  These homes and lives were hidden amongest these hills.

I finished the 555 and turned towards Parkersburg, West Virginia.  I didn’t know yet, if I could make all 5 states but I planned to work my way toward it one state at a time.  Crossing into West Virginia, the road continued to swerve around, this time through dense enough forest that I caught glimpses of a massive steel structure through clearings.  At first glance, I couldn’t imagine what it was, as I’d never seen anything like it before.  As I drew nearer, I noticed a river- a very wide Ohio river and realized I was seeing a bridge.  I’d have loved to get a picture of it - it wasn’t just a feat of engineering, it was an artist’s vision.   Because I was on a freeway, I couldn’t get a shot of it.  Crossing the bridge put me in state 2 for the day and I headed northeast to hit Pennsylvania along route 7. 

This part of West Virginia felt a lot like eastern Ohio without the hairpin turns of the 555.  I continued to marvel at the farms that stretched out before me that were placed amid such sloping acreage.   The road traveled alongside streams with slate stacked hills on the opposite side.  Between the stream and the mountains beyond, were plains that had become farmland dotted with rolls of hay.  I tried to imagine riding a tractor in this terrain.  It must feel as though you were leaning back in chair, riding up those steep hillsides.  

I made it into Pennsylvania without a hitch and found a café just off the expressway.  I just missed the first of the pouring rain as I settled in for lunch of homemade perogis in a butter sauce.  I pulled on rain gear before hopping back on the bike.  Each time I stopped for gas at a place right off the expressway, I found myself facing familiar fast-food stops and gas stations.  While the landscape was different, the businesses weren’t. 

I gained understanding of the term “Anytown, USA” because so many towns were edged by the same businesses: McDonald’s, Shell, Family Dollar, Applebee’s, Days Inn.  It was hard to feel like I was leaving anything behind, when I kept coming upon the familiar.  I recalled the fact that I have boycotted McDonald’s and Wal-mart for over 10 years, until recently.  I had avoided McDonald’s after reading Fast Food Nation and Wal-mart after watching a documentary about it.  I found the business practices of both to be unsettling and I determined that spending my money elsewhere was my way to take a stand.  Riding past another group of the same tired businesses, woke me to my naïve thinking.  Wal-mart and McDonald’s weren’t the problem.  They were only two examples of many who are part of our capitalist society.   It’s not that my boycotts were misguided, but I was seeing they were ineffectual.  

As I headed south into Maryland, thoughts flitted through my mind but then the landscape would jolt me out of my reverie and I’d be right back on the bike, on the road, making my way into a new world.  It felt like I was clearing away debris.  And as I climbed into the mountains, I looked up to see a huge thundercloud hanging in the sky up ahead.  It occurred to me then, that hurricane Leo hadn’t done what the forecasters said, or what I’d feared.  It hadn’t wrecked my trip.  I was nearly through my second day of riding and I had gotten caught in a few sprinkles, but not the serious downpour I was expecting.   At that point, I had only one more state to get through to earn my second patch of the day, and it was clear in my mind, if not the heaven’s above, that I would make it into Virginia before the day’s end.

Virginia greeted me with more twists around mountain curves.  I could rarely focus on anything around me except the road for all it's switchbacks.  At points, trees from both sides would canopy me in and I'd ride along as if in a tunnel of filtered light.  I'd clear the tunnel and sweep left, then sharp right up a steep incline.  Back and forth, I'd ride, the engine whirring faster, then slower, again and again.  Finally, the road evened out and I dared look out beyond it into the valley below where farmhouses nestled at the base of the mountains.  

Finally, hungry and tired, I headed for the expressway and the businesses I knew would be at it’s edges. While the rain hadn’t wrecked my trip, the long day of riding had sapped my energy.  I pulled into the  Super 8 at 9 PM, unloaded my gear from the bike and changed into dry clothes.  I dined on sushi and sake at the place next door and then settled into the bed for a little T.V. until my eyelids grew heavy.  Sated in every way from the riding, I turned out the lights and settled in for a restful sleep.

1 comment:

  1. Awesome day of riding! Thanks for your impressions. If I'd only known there was a 5-state patch, I'd have done it just like you did!