Riding the ACA Chicago-NY Bicyle Route.
After a great catch up visit with Anthony in Columbus–which included driving around a really nice city looking for hot chocolate and bike shops–I hit the road once again. The end is in sight, and that is both motivating and frustrating, It is a mad dash to Wheeling, West Virginia. From there on it is almost entirely trails down to DC and victory. Getting there though has me riding a squirrelly network of state roads through lovely increasingly hilly eastern Ohio. The good news: there are views and small pretty hilly farms. The neutral news: hills are back. The undoubtedly bad news: pickup trucks. Each in order. Views. After so much flat it is interesting to suddenly have horizons that lift up and assert themselves. There are few farms, that industry having moved away from here long ago. But there are lots of low tree-clad hills and it is a nice change for the eyes. Hills. Most people would say “rolling” or “gentle.” That is fair enough, but then again most people are not riding them. These being small state roads, they rise and fall more or less as the ground does. Big highways carve their way through elevation changes they don’t like. I remember being a kid on family trips on New York’s interstate system and being really fascinated by the huge cuts Eisenhower’s navvies blasted, bulldozed, picked, and chewed through the “rolling” hills north of the big city left isolated by the ridiculously conceptialized paved spider web. But few states and no counties have the money to level their roads’ paths, and so they rise and fall as does the land itself. What planners can do though, is seek out the easiest passes over the hills. Of course the planners have had some of that work done for them already–first by the Native peoples who figured out all the good routes, and then by the colonial come-alongs who appropriated that network and massively expanded it. Eventually the roads were widened and later paved and graced with a charming array of numbers and occasionally stupid names. The steeper the grade on a road though, the less likely it is to have had Native origins. These were not stupid people–and despite some colossally inflated population numbers one hears from time to time–they were also not that numerous. A few million north of Mexico by the time Europeans arrived. That meant that their main paths were few and generally went the easy way, along river runs and seeking out the passes. So, every time I have to crawl up a 10% grade road or worse, I am suffering on a fairly recent path made viable only by the advent of non-human propulsion. The ACA reputedly seeks out the roads that score best on having low traffic, gentle grades, and good shoulders. Some score better than others. The route into and out of Zanesville has scored poorly on all three metrics, The hills are steep, but in truth they are not that long and actually are pretty fun to take on–even for a terrible climber such as your humble. The shoulders have been a mixed bag though. When they are there, they are a bit narrow and too often covered in inhibiting matter. This is a huge problem on the steep downhills which can rev one up to 40 mph. One time I had to rather suddenly stop thanks to a mass of gravel that had been dumped on the shoulder covering a length of easily ten feet. Even when a shoulder is not serving as an impromptu gravel storage patch, it is often deeply cracked, glass covered, or trailing off unevenly as if the road crews just got bored and walked away before the job was done. The third metric is traffic and so, Cars: Have I mentioned that I hate them? I know they are needed–our at least they are for now–and I do make use of them myself. But we have far too many and for too many terribly irresponsible people driving them. I know nothing is going to get better for some time to come, but I can dream. When you cycle, you get to see up close all the terrible habits of the modern clueless driver. Texting, running stop signs, tailgating, trying to pass a dump truck on an incline on a narrow road, cutting corners so that you drive on the shoulder, adorning their conveyance with all manner of idiotic images (skulls are very popular in this part of the world), and more, all dance and swirl before me at corners or on the occasional shoulder. The terrain here deamads that the ACA select roads that are a bit busy–there seems to be no other choice, and a detour today thanks to a closed bridge showed me that the non-ACA roads are worse. Riding into Zanesville yesterday at about 4:30, I stopped at a store to wait until about 6:30 when most of the cars had stopped zooming by. They come in pulses–five and six cars strung together. This is because the pace is set by the first car in the line and the others are pressing in close behind waiting to seize their chance to pass. I blame NASCAR. Too many of these people have exactly the wrong images in mind as they drive home from work or stop for 12 packs of beer at a road side convince. I say cars, but really it seems that most of the vehicles here are pickup trucks. And not just shining new suburbanite Silvarodos–these are beefy loaded monsters. Some have big flat platforms on the back instead of shiney new beds. Others are loaded with specialized boxes. Still other cart trailers with lawn mowers or other gassy things in tow. Some of those trailers can be twice as long as the truck itself and make for scary passing. Watching these trucks it seems that the whole economy here is about maintaining what exists. One guy repairs a house for a dollar which he hands to a guy who mows his lawn, who then hands it to the guy who does home visit pet grooming, who hands it to the guy who fixes his toilet, who hands it back to the first guy who builds him a new garage for his extra large pickup truck. It is not the worst model for an economy all in all–at least it is at some level sustainable. They all share a few things as drivers though. They are all completely unaware that one can actually slow down on a road–these are people who see speed limits as a challenge and not a safety measure. They are also convinced that their own masculinity is somehow connected to the speed and noise their vehicles can produce. They also hate cyclists. They blast their horns, cut close, pull out onto the road before they turn so that they can block your descent or force you into traffic, yell insults, and take an almost visible joy in imperiling others. So this is what I deal with–or at least what I have to deal with unti l I get to Wheeling.
I made a paltry 46 miles today of car dodging, missing hidden turns and doubling back, extra hilly detours, and crawling up climbs before
a storm formed at about 2pm. As I passed through a small crossroad town, I spied a large and friendly looking pavilion in a park of sorts. I decided to wait out the impending rain here. Rain is my foe, and I really have no intention of adding water to the problems already inherent in riding these shoulders. My pavilion has picnic tables, electrical outlets, and a porta-san. It has a spigot but it is dry and there is no phone signal. I took a nap and the rain came. I ate a bit after waking and a second round of rain came in. By 4pm I came to realize that I was sort of stuck here for the night since the world was now wet and my maps showed nowhere close worth the effort. I thought about going to the store about three miles away in Quaker City but it started raining again as the idea formed. No Wheeling today as I had hoped. That will happen tomorrow–and maybe it will have to be the Saturday layover spot. The way forward has many towns, but no places to stay–nothing until about 30 miles south on the GAP. Tonight I will sleep on a picnic table–no cycling tour is complete until one has slept on a picnic table (my nap does not count). Up at 5 through and done with roads by noon! Ya’alla!
Now and then comes the distinctive clip clop of an Amish buggy. I saw plenty of human Amish varieties at the convenience yesterday during my rush hour sheltering. Most were young guys packed into pickup trucks coming home from construction jobs. The Ohio Amish are a bit different from the more fetishized Lancaster churches. The Pennsylvania people survive on an eastern urban desire for organic vegitables. The Ohio people though took up dairying ages ago and so their family farm economies were obliterated by mechinaized massive agri-business. Their choice was simple–hold the old order line barring modern technology and lose the community, or, adapt and survive. They adapted, and now lots of guys with the distinctive thatch haircuts and those curious green or blue button down shirts pour into convenice stores to grab a quick corn dog and a Snapple before getting driven back to homes that usually lack the technology they use on the job. Many would see this sort of accommodation as just so much stupidity. Not me though–I love it. The brilliance of Jewish legal thought is exactly this kind of careful as deliberative accommodation, and I am glad to see others working the same sorts of levers.
One straw-hatted Amish guy walking into the store was yelled at from a pickup. “Hey you Amish!” they shouted as if they wanted to beat the snot out of him. I looked over and all the guys in the truck were themselves Amish and visibly amused at the brilliance of their joke. Did they know him? Was this some inter-order hostility playing out in a parking lot? Maybe everyone just yells at one another here as a matter of course? At any rate, the entering guy did not seem to hear them and he just bought his Pepsi and Hostess unperturbed. Sitting here under my pavilion though, the passing buggies assume their usual imagined fetishized rural aspect–a charming hold over from a romanticized past–no hint of yelling at one another, the side cash puppy mills, or the horizons afforded by hard farm work and a sixth grade education. From where I sit, I can see the horses slow down noticeably when they hit the taxing road grade–I feel you brother! I also can see how the giant pickup trucks speed right up to the back of each buggy and then aggresively tailgate so the whole world can see just how distressed is this masculine driver at having to roll slower than just over the speed limit. “Hey you Amish!” they seem to yell from their pickups. “Get out of my way–there is a dollar I need to get so I can pass it along to another guy in another pickup!”