Tuesday, June 30

Where is the next 'Feria'?

Of course it's a State capital, so you have a Capitol, a business district, a University, nice parks and bicycle trails, nice bridges across its eponym river, and even a State flag and city name that both seem almost French: Des Moines.

Yet the real attraction is the State Farmground.

Although it was not active, I rode thru the barns for the different sorts of cattle: you can hardly imagine how this large market can feel when filled with live animals and people.

Not to forget that it must be also quite festive as just next to the market, there's a loop for stock car racing and the usual eats & drinks. I'm looking forward to next opportunity to see one live.

Let's go west then.

More info:
* Iowa State Fair

Monday, June 29

Gone with the wind

Or rather against the wind: I left Amana this morning, with a slight west wind that got stronger and stronger as I rode thru the morning.

Amana was established as a colony around 1850 and it gathers today 7 Amish villages. Yet, whereas some Amish people make very little use of technologies such as car, sometimes electricity... and dress in a traditional way, the Amana Colonies look rather like a traditional village of Europe, with some old houses in the center and regular houses the back streets.

You can even drink a very decent coffee and browse Internet thanks to their wifi connection. On the week-end, it gets a little touristy. It's a good purpose for a bike ride from Iowa City, especially if you can take advantage of the west wind to come back.

Yet for the little girl I know that would enjoy dressing like a traditional Amish, you'll have to find another Amish settlement.

More info:
* Amana colonies

Sunday, June 28

Nico is back on the bike

Lance, are you really?

Hey Lance! It's my third week on the bike and I did not see you so far. In several bike shops, I saw this little sign though. I guess you are getting ready for this ride in that little remote country whereas the real adventure is here!

Lesson #4: don't push too hard, take your time
After three weeks biking, I start to build some experience on a longer distance ride. Over a few days, it is fairly easy to push yourself a little harder; but at the beginning of this week, I started to feel concerned with a pain I had behind my right knee. By adapting my way to pedal (softer, spinning more), drinking a lot, I think I managed it so far. Although I have ridden along 6 states ans more than 1,200 mi (2,000 km), I am just 32% done and still have to ride thru 6 states.

Tonight I stay in Amana, an Amish colony just west from Iowa City in Iowa. This ends my progression for this week:

Saturday, June 27

A day off (the bike)

Yet I had to work a little on my bike: a leak yesterday (which made me realize that one of the spare tube I had did not fit my tire), my rear tire ruined last Tuesday... I had to find some parts in Iowa City. And the town is quite pleasant to walk thru.

Despite many towns I have been thru, downtown is quite lively, thanks to its University and student population. You can find squares or streets with people walking along, 'cafés' the way the French like them, and bars of course!

How about this beer I had never heard of? Fat Tire. On their website, they offer to trade your car against a bicycle!

Friday, June 26

Navigating the Mississippi river

The Mississippi river drainage basin is somewhat a large "valley" between the Appalachian Mountains and the Rocky Mountains. I entered it around Curwensville in Pennsylvania: that was actually the Ohio drainage basin that then flows into the Mississippi river.

It's been quite a ride since as the "valley" spreads across 40% of the US territory. No doubt that it was a greater challenge at the time of the pioneers: Zadok Cramer wrote then one of the first travel guides to help people navigating the Ohio river, find the right settlement spots. The first edition of the Navigator was issued in 1801 and it got so popular that 12 editions followed in 25 years to enrich it and correct it.

Before getting to Moline in Illinois, I crossed the Rock river, one of the many affluents of the Mississippi river. Worth waking up early, isn't it?

Of course, as you ride along the Mississippi river, you have to get a picture of one of these traditional paddle boats (by the way, the bicycle trail in Moline is very nice): just a proof that it's actually the Mississippi river.

Across from the Mississippi river is Davenport in Iowa, linked by a few bridges and a dam that controls the flow of the river:

More info:
* The Navigator by Zadok Cramer, the actual text
* Mississippi drainage basin
* Ohio drainage basin

Note: tonight, I eventually reached Iowa City after a ride of 97 mi, my longest since I left.

Thursday, June 25

Interstate 80

Another one that runs from New York (almost, it starts 4 miles away in New Jersey) to San Francisco. I have so far been traveling along I-80, yet not on it as "non motorized vehicles are not allowed".

Tonight, I was discussing with Tim my expected itinerary thru the next states and especially the Rockies. Tim is a former truck driver, with a good load of experience of the road. The "great salt flat" west of Salt Lake City is not a good idea to ride thru. Even with a truck, he would be especially careful in case in gets a flat tire. Tim is also projecting a long bike ride. It could have been this year; may be next year.

Though Interstate 80 runs thru the salt desert and I know that our routes will most probably split as we get further west. By the way, we met and crossed today for the first time.

More info:
* Interstate 80
* Great Salt Lake Desert

Wednesday, June 24

The Old Faithful

Am I suddenly pulling you 1,300 mi (2,000 km) ahead of this trip, to the Yellowstone National Park where the most renown geyser regularly throws its hot water and smoke into the air? Nope.

Here is a little diversion from my daily stories that takes us back in time, 23 years back: in the middle of Illinois, just North East from Peoria, Metamora is a little town where my American family leaves. With Greg, Cindy, Natalie, Monica and almost Valerie, I had then the chance to travel across the mid-west, from Utah, thru the Yellowstone National Park, Mount Rushmore, the Bad Lands, (Wall Drug as well!)... back to Illinois.

Today, we manage to re-unite again as they drove from Metamora to meet me in Ottawa. We talked about the good old time when we had been enjoying traveling across some of the country together.

And we manage to re-unite every 10 years or so; not as often as the eruptions of the Old Faithful though.

More info:
* The Old Faithful geyser
* Peoria IL is often referred as "mainstream America": a little more about it.

* By the way, I breached today 1 thousand miles ridden since I left New York City.

Tuesday, June 23

Matter of time

Today was a very special day on my bike trip, that I should experience only three times along my way: I lost one hour. As the country is rather big (this, I really start to understand it), it is divided in four time zones. And I just switched from the Eastern time zone to the Central time zone.

The interesting aspect is that it did not happen as I crossed the border between Indiana and Illinois; it happened within Indiana, leaving Jasper county and entering Newton county.

Hum, let's look on the map a little closer. Counties are more or less square-like shapes. The county right south from Newton country, Benton county, is in the Eastern time zone whereas Newton county is in the next time zone, the Central time zone.

When you have only this to think of as you are pedaling thru the fields, you imagine that there could be some kind of a political statement there. First, a county can decide on its time zone, which reminded me that each county has its own Court and is an important component in the making of the US democracy. Then, Newton county decided to stick with Illinois time and not Indiana time.

As I rode thru, and that was not just the effect of the heavy sun today, I noticed that the fields were getting even larger and I saw large dairy farms like never before. Of course, I am getting to the wide open fields of Illinois and its mass production of cereals!

I crossed the border from Indiana to Illinois and got into a small village by the name of Hopkin Park. It looked like a rather poor neighborhood. As I rode by, I waved hello to these peasants working in their fields:

More info:
* After a quick check on 'What time is it in Indiana?', it looks like the proximity of Chicago attracted some of the northern counties on the border with Illinois to use the Central time zone.
* Counties in the US

Monday, June 22

Our daily breakfast

As I ride quite a bit, an ideal start of the day is to ride around 20 km and stop for a good breakfast in a place where I could get a 'Lumber Jack'. That's at least how they call it New York but I've seen it also called 'Big B'. Essentially it's few pancakes, the big thick american ones with maple syrup, sausage, eggs and you can add coffee and orange juice.

Unfortunately, I don't get to find it each and every morning as I had it this morning. I stopped in Silver Lake and at the crossroad was that good place "Kieffer's Iron Skillet".

Some local people have their breakfast there; have a talk before heading to work. And it tastes the good old food of the countryside, where the pancake are twice as wide and thick as what you would get in New York.

At the end of each table, against the wall, there's a little wooden case with a booklet: on the cover, it reads "Our daily bread". I pick one and open it. Each day has a page so I open it on June 22nd and read:

"Versailles was made the capital of France by Louis XIV in 1682 and remained the capital (except for a short time) until 1789 when it was moved back to Paris. [...]"

Oh you were expecting me here today; I guess we had to meet. It carries on explaining how Louis XIV was difficult to access whereas God invites His people openly to come to his throne.

No direct information about the church issuing the booklet. Yet the coincidence was amusing enough for me to take this little "daily bread" booklet with me on my journey.

Sunday, June 21

A milestone on Lincoln highway

As I rode towards downtown Fort Wayne, Indiana, I came across several times with memorial signs of the Lincoln Highway. On the Harrison Street Bridge, a milestone invited me to my weekly status on the way to San Francisco:

Let's look at it a little closer: the Lincoln Highway is the first coast-to-coast highway originally established in 1913 and it would link New York City (Time Square) to San Francisco (Lincoln Park). In Fort Wayne, the milestones shows that New York is 724 mi (1,165 km) away whereas San Francisco is 2,660 mi (4,280 km) away.

But of the I do not plan to ride on the steps of the Lincoln Highway as it runs thru southern states such as Colorado, Utah, Nevada that are not on my projected itinary.

Nevertheless and according to this milestone, San Francisco is 3,384 mi (5,445 km) away from New York City. As a comparaision, my estimate with GoogleMaps on my projected itinary makes San Francisco 3,100 mi (5,000 km) away from New York City; still a little shorter.

The original Lincoln Highway had to wind quite a bit around the country and it had been realigned in many places to shorten it.

Nevertheless, tonight I stay in South Whitley, a little west from Fort Wayne, which ends my progression for this second week:

So eventually, according to my definite benchmark Googlemaps, I should have ridden 1,080 km (671 mi) and I would still have 4,000 km (2,486 mi) to go; that's roughly 20% done.

Yesterday I had to take care of the bike (realign some breaking pads, look foor tires I still haven't found). Today, I started to take care of the biker as I feel a little pain behind my right knee.

"Qui veut aller loin ménage sa monture"
(if you have an equivalent in English for that, Claire?)

More info:
* My detailed mileage day after day
* Everything about the Lincoln

* The Official Lincoln Highway Association

Not just a park, an open church

In the center of Fort Wayne, Freiman square is both a square and a nice park, with a Calder sculpture on one end.

Yet on sunday morning, at around 10:30 am, it also becomes a church where Pastor Ron Bodendorf has been offering prayers, hot dogs and soda pops for 7 years. When I rode in, they were also putting away the equipment of a little band that had been playing.

Intriguing enough, I talked to Pastor Ron and some of his folks helping him. They offered me to share some food with them and, as he did it for this young man coming to him, Pastor Ron gave a word of prayer, wishing me a safe and sucessful trip to San Francisco.

Saturday, June 20

No riding today

"It is found again.
What? Eternity.
It is the sea,
Gone with the sun."

from 'Eternity' (Arthur Rimbaud)

Friday, June 19

On the road

We played hide & seek today, the rain and I. It was expected around 03:00 am but I only heard it come around 05:00 am, still in the distance. I was counting the delay between the lightning and the sound to evaluate the distance of its rumbling advance (number of seconds x 300 m = estimate for the distance of the storm).

As hail was expected, I had been recommended to set my tent under a tree. But with lightning, it's not that wise... What a dilemma? I folded everything and found a hard shelter to finish my night on a bench. I was already on the road indeed.

So the rain did not get then and when I escaped at around 08:00 am, I spent my morning in some kind of a race against it, trying to catch up with the blue sky in the distance.

Got caught a little before 11:30 am, on road 613 between Leipsic and Continental. Not much though. And after lunch, I was on the road again, I mean THE road:

There I was, a few decades later, on the steps of the beat generation, reading Jack Kerouac in one hand, steering my bike with the other hand and declaiming 'On the road':

"The air was soft, the stars so fine, the promise of every cobbled alley so great, that I thought I was in a dream."

Except that this road 66 is just a State road and not the mythic US Route 66 that for the most part does not exist anymore. It would not even run thru Ohio, nor Indiana where I ended up tonight.

More info:
* Jack Kerouac
* Quotes of 'On the road'
* US Route 66

Thursday, June 18

Strawberry fields forever

And not just strawberries, corn and wheat as well.

After few days in Ohio, it gets pretty obvious that the road is flatter and straighter. A quick look at a map shows how suddenly the roads get orientated east to west, north to south, as you cross the border from Pennsylvania to Ohio. As the land gets flatter, the fields get bigger and so do the farms, to the extent that the most modern ones may slightly look like a chemistry plant.

This little house along the road told me that the west wind can be pretty strong.

The weather forecast is talking of hail storm for tonight. Yet the end of the afternoon has been sunny and the sky has cleared. But "everything is possible, we're in Ohio!"...

I guess this is just an invitation to even wider spaces (wilder?),
"Let me take you down, 'cause I'm going to
Strawberry Fields..."

Wednesday, June 17

Think positive

Rain is good for the green fields of Ohio.

Still it rained quite a bit today which gave me the opportunity to try some of the equipment I had plan to cope with rain. The outcome is
1. Wet,
2. Eventually, the solution remains the pancho, not techy but efficient.

This mmorning, the weather forecast was about rain for the coming days in Ohio. Just like sailing, you need to handle the weather as part of your trip. There is no storm that lasts forever; but half an hour is already long considering the quantity of water you can get here on your head.

At a local level, storms can be quite sudden. The sun may break thru the clouds but it may still be pouring with rain. It may stop suddenly for 20 seconds and start again. Weird!

When I arrived at Country Stage Campground, I was welcome and invited by a nice bunch of campers to have diner with them. Richard and his wife were giving their annual diner there: a Thanksgiving kind of diner in June with plenty carbohydrate to better ride in the rain tomorrow.

More info:
* Country Stage Campground, Rd. 1031, Nova OH

Tuesday, June 16

The enlighted rider

Road 224 crosses Ohio East to West in an almost straight line. As I was ridding, I noticed in the distance the silhouette of an unusual bike rider, on a "recumbent" as they call it. As I get closer, I can see his many bags on the rear of his recumbent. He must be a traveler:

- Hey! Where are you going?
- Colorado! And you?

We stopped and talked for a while. He was not only the first long distance rider I came across with, he is certainly the one who has ridden the longest distance I will ever come across with: he has crossed the US around 15 times so far!

His name is Hans, Reverend Hans Myors. He leaves in Georgia, 4 months a year and spends the other 8 months on the road, riding thru America, going from places to places, from churches to churches. He speaks enthusiastically of his life on the road.

Yet no time to get into the mystery of his ministry: he has to be in Colombus in two days, which is leading him south from road 224. Our roads split there. We carry on our trips at each other respective pace.

More info:
* His website: www.pedalprayers.org
* More specifically, his various trips
* And advices on bike touring

We're closed

Riding thru Youngstown OH reminds me of this ads once published in Seattle, a long time ago, when the city was depressed: "Would the last person who leaves Seattle please turn out the lights".

I was just looking for a breakfast this morning, riding thru downtown Youngstown. From a distance and apart from the road which was in a very poor state, it looked like any other downtown, with high buildings to give it the look and feel of a place for business.

I was even a little excited as this was meant to be the biggest city I visit since I left NYC a week ago. Yet when I got to the main avenue, all shops seem to be closed; or rather seemed to have been closed for a long time.

In Pennsylvania, I have already been thru some depressed towns like Hazleton or New Castle yesterday. But it was not as depressing as Youngstown this morning.

It's 9:00am, there are very few people in the streets and sure they don't look like business people heading to work in a bank. I find one place that look like a restaurant: the room is dark and filled with empty tables. At the counter, the waitress is talking the only presumed customer. They don't serve real breakfast, the English type of breakfast you enjoy before biking for a day.

Although they tried to direct me to another place, I never found it. And I took the road towards the south. A guy I talked to in a gas station explained me that the town had been great in the 50's with a good mix of cultures and communities. The steel industry was strong then and it was known as the Steel Valley which extends between Cleveland, OH and Pittsburg, PA. The steel business has moved out of Youngstown. And so has the other businesses; they went south of Youngstown where you can get a decent breakfast.

As I was riding south, I came across with this group of Pro Life, chaplet in hands, praying in loud voice along road 7.

More info:
* Youngstown
* Steel Valley Authority

Hello Ohio!

Here I am half a mile past the border of Pennsylvania and Ohio. There was not even a sign to mention it, probably because I was ridding the bike trail that runs from New Castle to Lowellville.

This monday evening, this nice little town hosts a "typical american car show" as it was recommended to me by another bike rider: music from the 50's, food and drinks, and a gentle crowd walks thru the field paved with fancy cars.

Yet it was around around 7:00pm and I needed a place to camp. I checked with the local Police and they let me throw my tent on the field by the fire department: tonight I will sleep in Ohio.

Monday, June 15

Cumming's candy shop in Butler

Time has stopped at Cumming's candy shop. Almost. Already from the outside, it looks slightly different from regular shops; attractive. Tom is the third generation owner; Jason helps me an expresso and a muffin.

That's a real expresso like it's usually difficult to find them in the US! The beans are roasted in Pittsburg, in the traditional american way; I mean slightly more than what we usually roast them back in France.

The candy has been established in 1903 and was last remodeled around the 40's. It's a little dark; you can seat in the second half of the shop on dark wooden benches facing each other apart from a table.

It originally started as a candy shop until after the war, you started to get soda and ice cream. For more than 10 years, you can also drink coffee.

Yet the most exciting piece is the huge mechanical cashier machine. It seats on the side of the candies and Jason told me that from time to time, Tom still runs it.

More info:
* Cummings Candy and Coffee, 146 N Main Street, Butler, PA 16001 T.(724) 287-3287

Sunday, June 14

Scary figures along the road

Last Wednesday, that one almost scared me...

Yet today I've been looking at other figures: this is exactly the 7th days that my ride towards San Francisco has started and I took this Sunday off (biking) to reconcile some facts (and to rest).

I have ridden more than 700 km (440 mi) in a week; yet when I compare it to the distance I should have ridden according to Google Maps (544 km / 340 mi / option: 'walking'), it looks like I have ridden roughly 150 km (90 mi) that are not "west efficient". Hum, scary figures?

In other words, I estimated to 5,100 km my trip from NYC to San Francisco. If I apply this first experience, it would rather take me 6,700 km. Hum, hum...?

Let's think of that while I do my laundry.

Of course, I got lost a few times. And there's the distance to go and get back from the place where I camp (15 km today, one way!).

Yet a closer analysis day by day outlines that the back roads prove to be inefficient in my progression towards the west.

Hum... I guess you're right Jim:
"There is unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees"

(from 'The Trees', The Rush)

More info:
* BicyclePA: roads nice to ride and indicated along the way. I took road V but I can't manage to get hold of this PDF map (their ftp thing seems weird...)

Saturday, June 13

Bikers in Kittanning

It's apparently not just a tradition from Daytona beach to have bikers gathering. On the week-end, it is already pretty obvious that they are more numerous on the road. When I stopped for lunch in this lost Deli next to Burnside, I already came across with some of them.

The street along the river of Kittanning was closed for their gathering: Harley's mostly but not only. It's a whole business in this little and quiet city, 40 miles north from Pittsburg, PA.: some are trying to sell their bike; you can buy accessories, t-shirts, food, beer and get tatooed on the spot.

As a biker myself, I still notice that the profile of the biker is very different whether the bike has an engine or not.

Routing strategy thru Pennsylvania

Lessons #3: back roads are too winding and their maps are too uncertain to be biking efficient

For sure, ridding back roads is more enjoyable as there are fewer cars and they allow to have nice views on the countryside of Pennsylvania. Moreover they offer the proof that McDonalds and Starbucks have not yet reached every corner of that country. Neither Internet, nor wireless phones, as people often argue it there.

Yet at the same time, they are difficult to rely on as they are cut by numbers of smaller roads; their name or their direction change whereas it doesn't really show on the map.

In other words, I got lost once again and I even felt that I couldn't get out of a maze where roads were winding in every directions and people were difficult to understand.

Anyhow, Pennsylvania network of roads seems to have been designed in a very European and old fashioned way. I try to think how difficult it must have been then, when the pioneers first travelled thru Pennsylvania, thru the woods, the hills, crossing creeks and rivers.

Friday, June 12

Dam(ned) it!

Road 192 runs smoothly in some kind of a valley that leads almost to State College, the town where the Pennsylvania State University was settled in 1855. And this morning, past one shower, the sun came out and it was a fine pleasure to let the bike go its way along this road that even got less busy after Center Hall.

Yet something somewhat went wrong when getting to State College. My front tire seemed to have a new leak and I had a hard time stopping while ridding a steep downhill on a quite busy road. Pum-up to make it go a little further. Heading then to Philipsburg, I could not find better way than road 322 which turns into a busy expressway for several miles. It is not formally forbidden to bikes; yet it's a lot less enjoyable to ride on the side of the road with cars passing by.

After fixing my tire at a gas station and exiting Philipsburg, I mistook a road and I was back in Philipsburg... Damned it !

I decided to ask my way to a family standing in front of their house. Tim and Judy where very helpful to explain me the way to Curwensville. As we talked a little, Tim got quite excited when he learnt that I was ridding to San Francisco: he offered me to have a word of prayer to wish me a safe trip; which we had with his wife on the side of the road.

Back on the road: up the hill, find the barn, then the church, make a left... no this is wrong come back... there is the road to Curwensville and its dam where the camp site is located.

Just 12 miles to go, it shouldn't be long now to get to the dam. But in Curwensville I took the wrong side of the lake that avoids the dam. Damned it!

Eventually the proper way offers a pretty steep hill to climb up and down into the recreation area; I still can't find the camp site. Did I miss a road on the right? Damned dam!

More info:
* Philipsburg seemed a depressed city
* Curwensville

Thursday, June 11

In the very middle of Pennsylvania

I just crossed the middle of my map where it folds; and looking north and south, I am in the very middle of this almost rectangle state. Few miles before I got to Rebersburg, I saw this sign and came across with a little kid heading back from town on a little trailer pulled by a poney.

In Rebersburg, the lady who keeps the grocery store lives in Lavonia, a village I went thru right before the middle of the map. She tells me about these three girls she just had for lunch an hour ago. They are students and they also ride bicycle from NYC to San Francisco. It 's a highway of bicycle here!

Still these girls dropped the opportunity to spend the night by a remote cabin that Louis J. Peachey, an Amish entrepreneur, has few away from the town. He runs a quite big factory that manufactures wood pallets and I meet him in his office. We talk. He draws me a map; explains me the way to his cabin.

There's a lot going on here! On the way, I come across with the setup of a consignment auction to take place on Saturday. Quilts, crafts, oak & pine furniture, tack building supplies, trees, shrubs & other nursery items, lawn furniture... everything is to be auctioned for the benefit of hospital bills.

I park my bike against a house, next to a window. Sara is cleaning it, getting the room setup. She tells me more about the auction.
- I was told that Amish food is very good and I should test it. Where can I find any?
- We'll be serving food here in this room on saturday
- Sure, but I'm travelling and I'll be gone by then. Any shop or restaurant ahead of this road?
- Don't know... here, we'll be serving pizza, burgers and french fries...

More info:
* Centre Pallets LLC, Louis J. Peachey, 118 Pallet Dr Rebersburg PA 16872 (814) 349 8693
* Amish in Pennsylvannia