Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Unpredictable 230 miles from Pittsburgh to Columbus

First off, Pittsburgh was a great time. The city was awesome and had what seemed to be a million bridges and a million great people. We stayed with our friend Alaina, who went to school in DC and performed at one of Rach’s Small is Beautiful Arts Festivals at our house. Their house reminded us of our home – full of friendly, welcoming folks and a whole neighborhood of community. We also met fellow adventurers, Collin and Faith, who were building a raft to sail down the Mississippi from Pittsburgh to New Orleans!! Hannah, Michelle and Collin took us out to see this great the Armadillos, a folksy rockin’ band, and we danced the night away. We strolled the strip, hung in the local coffee shop, and caught up on some much needed rest.

Our beautiful Pitt host

After two rainy days in Pitt, the sun came out for our first of 5 riding days on our way to Columbus, which was 230 bike-friendly miles down the road. We mainly took PA-51 north of the city toward the Ohio boarder. The trek was mainly uphill on old highways with big shoulders.

We ended the first day of riding in East Palestine, OH, which was just over the boarder into Ohio. The small town had a main street, a great park, railroad tracks and suburban houses like sardines. The dense town made it hard to find a discrete place to camp, so Rach befriended a group of kids on bikes for their advice. They suggested the city park in the back where the cops don’t check. “You shouldn’t get in too much trouble if they find you back there!” We got the same advice from another stranger who was hiker who lived in town so off we went.

We stuck out like sore thumbs in this town as Rach mentioned in her previous post. The park was packed with townspeople watching the high school baseball and softball games. As we were relaxing in the shade a man named John Cozza walked up to us and said he saw us taking pictures at the Ohio boarder. After a long conversation we found out that he owns a pizza joint in town, so he ran and got us two free pizzas, which were delectable! We found a great, hidden away spot by the creek in the park to guerilla camp for the night and made it out without any trouble.

Guerilla camping in east palestine, oh!!

Hallelujah! Ohio!

The next day we headed off for our next 50 mile leg to Canton, OH—home of the Football Hall of Fame, as well as the place Eugene V. Debs gave his Anti-World War I speech that landed him in jail. Midway through the day we decided to use one of our much appreciated Marriott gift cards that we got from our wedding. Eastern Ohio was DAMN HILLY and we needed a true rest! After a slight detour we got to the hotel in Canton and relaxed like royalty in a bed too big for a small family, doing our normal hotel routine of stuffing our faces and vegging out in front of the big screen.

The next day we woke up to high winds and pouring rain so we decided to stay at the hotel one more day with a discounted rate, thanks to Rach workin’ her magic J. It was relaxing to have another day off with all those hills we had faced, but we knew we had to leave the next day no matter what.

Unfortunately, the next day brought 35-40 mph winds! Bring. It. On. We trekked forward on our bikes with a day full of obstacles. First, a burned down bridge on the Sippo Valley Trail made crossing a little river near impossible. We tried to see if we could get our bikes across somehow, but ended up getting nice and muddy with no viable solution in sight. Hello, 45 minute detour. The trail went on for another 9 with gusting winds in our faces, nasty moods, and slow crushed rocks for a stretch. Once the trail ended, we said hello to our next-favorite thing: hills! Rach and I had some lovely arguments about what to do considering the crappy conditions, then she asked two people with pickup trucks if they could hitch us a ride 15 miles up the road to where the next trail picked up. (Trails=flat and usually paved). They both said no, “not on a Sunday” so we continued onward. After a while we decided to take a brake where we strategically leaned our bikes against a telephone poll and curled up behind them to block the wind. Just as we were eating a snack and apologizing to each other about our argument, Tom came by in his pick-up truck and asked if we needed help. Rach yelled, “I would kiss you if you gave us a ride!”

Major obstacle... That's a burnt down bridge

My favorite person in the universe right now--Tom--who gave us a 12 mi lift to avoid heavy winds!!

Meet Tom: Our New Savior. He was an aviation mechanic who worked for this company that specialized in building planes for disaster relief missions. He showed us some of his airplanes that were just down the road, then lifted us all the way to Frederickburg, OH, where the 15 miles Holmes County Rail-to-Trail started! He was so kind and told us about the Amish population that we were biking near, the trails he knew of, and his work with the airplanes.

Tom brightened up our day and reenergized us to go 15 more miles. We hit the trail with a great attitude and we realized the trail was not only for bikes, but for Amish horse and buggies. We ended up eating at Burger King in Millersburg, OH and then continued to the small town of Killbuck, OH where we pitched our tent guerilla style. At the end of the trail that day we met George, a true free spirit who was so excited for us that he took our picture, videotaped us telling our story, and got our contact info.

Sharing the trail with the Amish horse & buggy

At this point, we were two more biking days away from Columbus. The next day the winds were down and it was supposed to rain but never did. We had to face more hills in the morning when our legs were cold, which was especially rough on Rach’s knees. We stopped in Danville, OH for lunch and had a much-needed break after the hard morning. After Danville we got on the Kokosing Rail Trail, which was amazing. It was 13 miles of paved relaxation and went just past Kenyon College, all the way to Mt. Vernon, OH. We ended up going a few miles past Mt. Vernon to a small town called Brandon, OH (about 38 miles outside of Columbus), where we pitched our tent behind a Baptist Church. We had the church’s neighbor, Andrew, get us in contact with Pastor Marvin and his wife Jill just to clear the air. They were a lovely couple who gave us eggs from their chickens and made sure to tell all the important people in the town that we were not troublemakers.

That night a storm hit that was the loudest we’d experienced the whole trip. What sounded like marbles dropping on a tile floor made sleeping soundly quite the challenge—so in went the ear plugs! We woke up to more rain with the threat of thunder-storms all day. After some discussion, we decided we would do different things for the day. Rach hung out with Jill and some girls for their home school quilting lesson while waiting for Gretchen (one of our hosts) to come and pick her up, while I went through the rain into Columbus. This was the best decision we could have made because we had been together non-stop for 18 days (with the exception of a half day in Pittsburgh). I got to Columbus before the storms started and hung out until we went back to pick up Rach. Once we were all in Columbus our beautiful hosts, Susan and Gretchen (who both work at OSU), cooked us a lovely dinner and treated us so well. We’re so happy to be here resting in this great college town!

Quilting ladies

Brian going out on a solo adventure today while I wait for friends to pick me up

560 miles down!! Next up… Lawrenceburg, Bloomington, and Indianapolis! Then a week off in FL for my brother Mike’s wedding. THAT WILL ROCK!


  1. Holy crap, you guys have come so far!! I just took another look at your route...amazing!

    hearing about those winds reminds me of a blog post I came across while doing "research" at my internship.

    Here's the link:

  2. That's so awesome! I can't believe how far you guys have come!

    Oh, and I'd love to learn how to quilt someday!

    - Megan W.