Saturday, 29 June 2013

Welcome to New Jersey

Now go fuck yourself.

Excuse my French, but that was pretty much our greeting to the state as we crossed the bridge from Pennsylvania.  We were instructed in no uncertain terms that we couldn't ride the bridge and had to wheel our bikes on the side walk, OK, whatever, those steel surface bridges aren't so nice to ride anyhow.  But as us manoeuvring over the barrier caused a minor kerfuffle some fat ugly older lady in a saloon car with Jersey plates was hurling abuse and bad language in our general direction along the lines of "these ain't your fucking roads."  She couldn't  have been referring to our foreign nationality, not having any significant identifiers to that, so must just be anti-bike to a massive degree.  So New Jersey, home of mobsters, guidos and ranty old ladies according to popular culture.  We're staying in Princeton tonight so I'm expecting a little high brow entertainment... until I lower the tone.

PA to NJ
PA to NJ

Riding out of Philly we re-traced our revolutions up the river again, in Saturday morning sun with the joggers and cyclists.  Mostly rural riding, very hot, but at least less humid.

PA to NJ
I drew first grease

It got pretty rural pretty quick and all in all a pleasant day ridning.  Ephram (hope I've spelled your name right buddy) joined us out of town, and I wonder if he knows now what he got himself into.  SO there are 13 riding and Tom in the van, though Bob and Tom swapped for a while.

P2P Packing Down
Empty Ducky

This is the penultimate day, but only of this chapter.  The ride for me so far breaks up as follows:

  1. Pre ride (October to April)
  2. Portland to Minneapolis (The West)
  3. MInneapolis to NY (The Cities)
  4. NY & London (The End?)
  5. After the return (The rest - but no resting)
So we're over half way through the narrative, but chronologically only at the beginning.  I'm trying to be philosophical, as I have all along the way, to balance out the fact that I'm really going to miss this weird family I've shared the last few months with as that's what we've become.  Tensions and arguments, friendship and hugs, food and laughter, sharing memories.  

There won't be an experience like this for any of us again, and we've all taken different things from it as much as we all brought different skills and baggage with us (talking of baggage, how did I acquire so much excess in 2 months?)

There's plenty more stories to tell. And I shouldn't be so down, there's still a good day to go.  New York beckons.

notes to self:

  • rider profiles
  • people
  • places
  • food
  • rooms
  • stats
  • speed
  • distances
  • road kill
  • policy
  • top trumps
  • planning
  • Planning?
  • pools
  • tools
  • trying to be cool
  • read 
  • write
  • stay in school

No videos today as it's late and we have an early start.  Imagine it will be another amazingly few busy days. Must enjoy, and take notes, and don't forget my camera.  OK one video to dedicate to the last 2 months...

Friday, 28 June 2013

Harrisburg to Philly

Harrisburg to Denver, PA

Not much to speak of.. but whenever I say that I'm here an hour later still typing for Britain.

3 Mile Island

  • 6.45 at the van, no keys
  • Probably a bit too much
  • Breakfast
  • Well kinda 2 breakfasts really
  • Short ride for the day, only 52 miles or so.  Not as hot as the last few days, not quite as scenic, unless you count Three Mile Island.
  • Stopped for a nice milkshake after about 20 miles or so.
  • Got to Econo-lodge Denver at around 1, bonza.  Loads of free time.
  • Attempted to fix my broken spoke - yeah broken spoke, why must it be always spokes and chains with me, why not just a little puncture repair.  Though there has been a bit of that.
  • Can't fix the spoke without a new nipple so will have to wait til tomorrow in Philly
  • Did my laundry
  • went for lunch
  • sat around
  • spoke to home base, which was very nice
  • getting excited about Everything: Philly, NY, Bristol, Home.

Knackered chain
Put the fun between your legs

An amazing meal with limited numbers,
Getting close to the end so researching NY bars.  Must have a final bash somewhere

Denver to Philly

Of course This has been my earworm all day... well the first few lines anyway
There were pretty severe (or from my point of view, amusing) navigational issues from the off, travelling along in pretty heavy fog.  Meandering along busy highways and quiet rural roads.  My tunes were set to 'Philly Sound' as over dinner last night I found out that Grant was oblivious to the Philly sound.

Redshirts in the Mist

More lovely rural roads, no big hills, but some fine views and well maintained farmsteads
Stopped off after 30 miles in St Peter for a coffee and peanut butter brownie.
Carried on in convoy, a until the head of The Schuylkill River Trail into town.
Luckily for me we came in past the Philadelphia museum of art, and 'the Rocky Steps'.  OK yes i'm a bit of a philistine for just running up, getting a picture of me with my bike and completely neglecting to appreciate anything in the way of art beyond the terrible Rocky statue.  But it had to be on the must do list for someone with a love of popular culture and a nickname of Rocky for various vague reasons.

Bike Trail into Philly
Some friends call me Rocky

We made the rest of the way into town and eventually found the motel on Walnut street.  Relatively early, but there was lots for me to do as my spokes is gone, the cleat fell off one of my knackered shoes and the chainset doesn't have much life left in it either!

Rocky & Surly

But being a bit over-excited over-tired and over-heated i ended up just faffing about until a few of us left to join the Urban Geek drinks somewhere up north.  We grabbed a couple of cabs as the skies opened, proper cats & Dog.  We were early to the bar, and with a couple of drinks in started to meet some Urban Geeks.  I met a couple of chaps variously involved in ways to engage people in local planning issues and city building which are particular interests of mine, so some more links to follow up when the dust settles in a week or two.  I was also busy gaining some valuable local knowledge from like minded locals but had to shoot to dinner quite soon.

Riding the L
Avoiding the Philly Thunderstorm

We rode the el train back, which was cool, because I've seen it in films and everything.  Made it to dinner which was laid on very generously by local architects George Skarmeas and Dominique Hawkins.  A good meal, made all the better by being able to pick Dominique's brains about local knowledge.  As a proud Philly native and someone who has great knowledge of cities her info and general chat was very appreciated indeed.

Being a tourist in Philadelphia
Being a tourist in Philadelphia

After dinner there may have been a few more drinks in the Gaybourhood.  Another sign of being back in metropolitan areas.  Through this trip I'm realising more and more how much I like living in cities.  Yes I'm a white middle class hetrosexual man as vanilla as they come for all intense purposes.  Guardian reading sandal wearer with aspirations of fixing the world and no real knowledge of any serious hardship or experience of being ill treated for my race or background (unless you count being the only Englishman working in an Irish bar in Australia during the ashes of '06!, which we shouldn't really now should we) but as much as I'm not any kind of minority in the world I live in it's nice and reassuring to be in a city with difference and tolerance around.

Being a tourist in Philadelphia

I was a little late to rise in the morning, missing breakfast but joined a few of the guys out to the Peoples Emergency Centre in West Philly.  Another insight to some interesting projects aimed at rejuvenating deprived areas and trying to engage people in their places.  Saw an old vaudeville theatre with an installation in about the cult of Pythagorus or something like that.  Really quite fun, and in a great derelict space.  In fact the whole area had that kind of run down urban feel that looks like a well lived area ripe for gentrification, though that only means that in an area where 1 in 3 people live in poverty, they'll only get displaced so it sounded interesting that the kinds of projects that were being talked about for the Lancaster Avenue area were more about engaging the people living there and improving their opportunities rather than making a buck or two for developers.

Lancaster Avenue

I had unfortunately broken the important rule of an urban researcher in the digital era and neglected to bring any photographic recording device

  • Parklets
  • Make your Mark
  • Hot & Sweaty
  • Ride back to the Van
  • Breakaway bike shop to replace shoes and spoke
  • Rejoin the gang outside civic offices with the baton
  • Bit of a ride around town with no particular purpose with a spare wheel slung across my back
  • hot
  • humid
  • Return to the van (which by the way was not in a particularly convenient location)
  • Turns out that, yes, I had left the van locked.
  • Soda
  • Off to the Reading Market
  • Italian Hoagie (Hoagie being another Philly related thing that has links to old nicknames of mine)
  • Back for a rest
  • Massive storm again just as I was heading out
  • little bit of a touristy photo walk
  • back for dinner.

So in summary Philly, well I really need more time.  A very dense city with a strong identity.  The home of Independence, and National Treasure.
I have had a few good chats, more related to wider planning issues than cycling itself, which is quite nice actually, and helping form a stronger idea, or at least remembering the aspects that drew me to studying planning and cites in the first place.

Being a tourist in Philadelphia
Being a tourist in Philadelphia

In terms of cycling in Philly I think any issues are very different to those of many of the other cities we visited. It's more akin to British cities with it's older smaller streets.  Cycling seems to be growing, as it is in many places from more personal drivers such as economics and lifestyle choice, and provision is slowly being added in response to this, rather than cycling being seen as a way to revitalise the city.  The city is strong enough that cycling is just a practical way to get around.

Being a tourist in Philadelphia
Being a tourist in Philadelphia

So a bit of a long one again, not really with a huge amount of insight but it's late, I'm lethargic and an early start for the penultimate day of riding in the USA.  I didn't even have a Philly Cheesesteak.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Breezewood to Harrisburgh, PA state Capital

What a freeking day.

This could well be the best of the bunch.

I've finally managed to let go of all the worries and stresses I'd been carrying round the last week or so.  Though I'm not exactly rested I feel vibrant and full of beans.  I'm in the moment all day, and what a day.

Breezewood, PA
Pennsylvania Highway

I left the motel to the sounds of Chris Rea.  The road to hell was appropriate for the worst junction I've seen in some time, tons of lorries vying to get on the freeways, but the P2P machine snaked it's way onto the appropriate highway.  As we turned onto the first big hill of the day almost immediately Fool if you think it's over came on, a fine way to think about the ride.

Pennsylvania Highway
Pennsylvania Highway

Last week while heading towards the end of 10 days straight cycling I found a spreadsheet with the day by day route. I miss read the columns and had assumed that 'the worst' in terms of long days were behind us. Sitting in room 228 of the Red Roof Inn, Harrisburg/Hershey after cycling over 100 miles over the Appalachian mountains with 2 days previous being close to similar distances I look back and smile at my naivety.

The terrain for the first 50 miles was exactly the kind of bike ride I love, and the kind of terrain that made me love riding a bike for leisure beyond a utilitarian tool.  It's like the ups and downs of Hampshire I grew up in and still love to ride, but with a little more oomph.  And very hot, not sure I've ever sweated so much.

Pennsylvania Highway

Yeah there were navigational issues, but the way I have been blindly led across a nation by a man with a machine more attuned to navigation than the whole hive mind of the P2P machine, I have learnt to roll with it, and let frustrations roll over and lie down like the so many road kill that we see all along the route (which are still maintaining a reasonable level of variety - raccoon, gopher, terrapin, squirrel etc.).  

Welcome to Newville, PA

After some faffing, admittedly, we ended up at possibly the best lunch spot of the whole trip, but a quiet river or stream, with ample space for van and picnic under shaded trees.  I was so enthralled taking it all in that I neglected to get a decent picture.  But, always reliable, Bob did a fantastic job of it.

Lunch in Newville.  Picture by Bob West

It's hard to accurately describe why the ride was so enjoyable, but partly the weather. Even if you're sweating buckets, if you have water and a destination then sun is preferable to rain.  it lightens the mood considerably   But the hills were the thing. Some of the steepest of the ride it seems, ups and downs, with curves and corners, a joy to ride.  Bring true the analogy of hills and riding equals life, you work hard to get up, and sometimes it all gets too much and you wanna give up/be sick/throw it all down and go back to where you started.  But once you've worked your way to the top, however you've done it, you get to coast all the way down wooping and hollering and honking your silly little clown horn like there's no tomorrow.

So I'll leave it at that for now apart form these last few notes.  But an awesome day. if this was a day on it's own and not 'tagged on' to a transcontinental bike ride then it'd be one to talk about.  Maybe it still will be, but even some of the older ones are starting to fade away and the true awesomeness of the component parts of this journey are being lost.  But hopefully to be re-found through the generous digital archiving  as well and good old fashioned memory.

The ride into Harrisburg
Harrisburg, PA

  • Saw Hockmans house
  • offered water by a dude with a tiny dog on a lawn mower
  • Still hot
  • Little bit of tension
  • stopping for watermelon
  • Stopping for cold drinks
  • (it really was very hot)
  • Heavy traffic
  • golf balls
  • Over the bridge to Harrisburg
  • Riding by the river
  • Big noisy fire engine 
  • Obviously staying a long way out of town
  • a few nice beers over dinner
  • agreement that there's not far to go now so a late early start tomorrow.
Oh and a final note  - keep forgetting about my mind turning to mush and the phenomenon of just announcing anything I see on a sign as a way of inducing conversation, be it with others or myself. Rotating back into society won't be all bad if I can avoid reading out billboards to strangers!

Monday, 24 June 2013


I've gone and done it again.  What a tough life that I'm too busy to maintain a decent blog.  So with the hope that I can have a pizza delivered to my room, with a few cold beers and some music through meagre amplified devices I will sacrifice a meal at some sports bar outside the Holiday Inn express in Breezewood, PA just to keep you cyclelist junkies (Hi Mum) abreast of my last few days adventures.

Stubenville to Pittsburgh

Leaving Stubenville - which apparently had the most severe depopulation of any town in the US from 1980 to 2000, it showed a little, but we only zipped through.

  • Diversions to check out industrial wastelands from the highways
  • Crossing the bridge of steel - pretty horrible really, well in terms of cycling at least, but nice to look at.
  • Made a quick skip through West Virginia, the panhandle part.
  • Some pretty sweet hills, lovely ups and downs and curves and twists and turns.
  • Punctures
  • Can't believe I've been slugging a mountain bike tube all the way cross the country!

  • Trails
  • Meeting Scott
  • Lunch
  • Hairy roads into the city
  • Courthouse
  • hotel
  • Bus to dinner
  • Free dinner
  • beer
  • back to hotel
Water feature in Allegheny County Courthouse

It was my full intention to expand on these notes, but as you will see below was a busy weekend, and no let up as yet.  On friday we wee treated to a meal at the OTB Bicycle Cafe on the South side of Pittsburgh.  I'm not sure how it came about, but what a treat: great beers, great food, great service, and great fun.  That nice de-mob happy feel after 10 days riding and being in another very welcoming city.

A day in PGH

  • Up early
  • Swim

Bike PGH
Pittsbirgh Bike lane

  • "Full rapha"
  • Breakfast 4 miles away
  • hot & sweaty
  • amazing breakfast
  • Meetings
Bike PGH
The Porch

So we went and had a really good round table meeting with the guys from bike PGH, also from the city and other organisations with an interest in city cycling in the area.  Was a really good chat.  I was pretty much in the background, but have some good notes. The same themes are coming through.  There are similarities in Pittsburghs development to that of London in the 'modern era', at least on an American scale where the original city was defined by pedestrianised and horse and cart transportation, with a hilly topography, but though this was raised a lot, I didn't feel it to be any worse than Bristol or Brighton, apart from the heat and those lovely Paul Smith Wool socks!

I've been considering compiling a bingo card of the phrases that crop up in all these meetings.  Things like Infrastructure, Funding, Political Will, Re-urbanisation.  The themes are showing through.  It's also interesting that I neglected to really appreciate how much those that we meet want to learn from what's happening in London, and if nothing else this trip is opening up more direct ways of international cities to learn from each others best and worst practice.  

  • bike chat
  • stickers
  • bike ride
  • Beers at the Porch, Schneley Plaza - Eric the bartender with a bit of banter and local knowledge
  • Benches
  • Walking to the museum
  • Getting caught in another conversation about bikes with Diane (I think) Curtin.  Dammit I just want 5 minutes not talking about bikes.  But was a very pleasant intervention nevertheless.
  • Riding down the hill to the CBD
  • Bumping into Grant
  • Market Square
  • Big noisy harley bike
  • PPG Building
  • Fountain
  • Kids playing
  • dinosaurs
  • Bumping into Sarah & Antonia
  • Over the river to see the tailgate party
  • Preperation for Kenny Chesney gig
  • end of days
  • No one even complimented my socks
  • but at least woke me form a riverside nap to ensure I wasn't dead.
  • riding back  through the melle
  • back onto point park
  • getting lost in the underpass
Tailgate Party Riverside
Pittsburgh Underpass

One of the major things I rediscovered this weekend was the joy of exploring a city by bike.  My mind is so fixed on what the infrastructure is like - and I am growing almost as fed up with the phrase 'bicycle infrastructure' now as I was with 'sustainable development' a little over a year ago - that I forgot that the bike is such a great way to discover a new place.  In some instances even more so when there isn't anything set up specifically for bikes as you have to ride through the fabric of the city, and ask people for tips of how to get places.  All in all I had a great afternoon riding around, with highs and lows, and not a full picture, but a remaining fondness for the city.

  • Out to Devonshire
  • The most spectacular hospitality and food.  Lots of good company
  • fireflys
  • still hot
  • being a bit overwhelmed again
  • trying to avoid talking about bikes, but being dragged back in

Pittsburgh to Confluence

Quite honestly after such a packed weekend my head was awash with the ideas of bicycle infrastructure  federal funding, changing landscapes, brilliant intelligent company, societal ills, planning regulations, faliure of the state, freedom and expression. Where am I going? where is the world going? Where the fuck are we going... oh New York, in a week!  Yus... sorry, anyway, mind was so awash that the last to days have just flown by with me trying to concentrate on 'more important' things than just riding acorns the country.

P2P leaving PGH
Great Allegheny Passage

It's shameful that I've let the last couple of days riding pass by as a chore.  We came out of Pittsburgh on the Great Allegheny Passage, a trail that has recently fully opened all the way from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh .  That's over 330 miles of dedicated cycle way (and other non motorised traffic).  Riding on a Sunday we were in the company of probably hundreds of leisure riders  making the most of the trail, the river and the early summer weather.

Youghiogheny River
Great Allegheny Passage

At Ohiopyle we turned off to visit falling water after Ice Cream.  Architectural mecca that it is.  A hot ride up was well worth it.  It is a strange situation to be visiting such places with people far more knowledgeable on matters of architecture and understanding of it's significance within the practice, but doesn't make my understanding or appreciation any different, which I feel is probably quite important.   Over 5,000,000 people have visited falling water.  My overwhelming feeling was just that it is a shame that it isn't still able to be used as a holiday home and party house, as that is what it was built for after all.  And how much I would like to live there.

Falling Water
Just the Architects

But anyway, on we went....

Swimming Spot

  • Detours
  • Directional Issues
  • A dip in the river
  • Off to dinner

Confluence to Breezewood

This is today...
It's hot
It rained
We started late after a cafe breakfast (at least there's real Maple Syrup here now)
First 20m along the trail
Then some lovely stuff through various Pennsylvania towns, many of which are blatantly just copying British place names (Somerset, Bedford, and so on).
Quite frankly with some navigational issues, but more so the sweat and heat and all irritations that brings with it are really meaning that I can't concentrate on much more than where to go in the evening, getting my picture at the top or the Rocky steps in Philadelphia and getting to New York!

Morning RIde
Before the Storm

But a note on Breezewood.. It's appalling  another junction on the freeways of America.  From where I type I can see neon signs advertising Shell, McDonald's, Denny's and Holiday Inn express.  Not inspiring.