From the Mountains to the Flatlands

Tree Lined Bike Path
Scenic tree lined path on the bike route

The route from Cowans Gap was supposed to go under the mountain, through an abandoned PA Turnpike tunnel. Rumor had it that it was dark and creepy, but it beat having to slog it out over the mountain. Despite diligently following the signs to the tunnel, I found myself climbing into the fog. I knew I had missed it, and was climbing over the mountain. It was a hell of a mountain, with fog so thick I couldn’t see 50 yards in front of me. When I finally got to the top, the rains came.

Covered Bridge 2
Another Covered Bridge
Firewood Vending Shed
A firewood vending shed in one of the campgrounds

I descended into the town of Breezewood, which is an island of motels and fast food restaurants, clustered around the intersection of multiple highways. This is a town where walking is illegal! I got a motel room and decided to walk to get some dinner. Every intersection had no crossing signs. It was impossible to walk anywhere without breaking the law, and dodging traffic coming from all directions. I was not to be denied. I crossed anyway and ate my dinner.  It’s ironic, given that the town now known as Breezewood used to be a traditional pathway for Native Americans, European settlers and British troops.

No Walking
No walking for you!  Cars Only!

It was raining steadily, with temperatures in the 40s, when I left Breezewood. Clearly, I wasn’t going to get off the hook without riding in the rain.   After a long, difficult, wet day, I made camp in Shawnee State Park, where I spent 14 hours in my tent until the rain finally stopped the next morning. I immediately burned all the firewood that I had been hoping to burn the previous night. It was so nice to warm up in the cold, damp, 39-degree air.

Inside Tent View
The view of the world from my tent
Bike with Firewood
Loaded up with firewood

I had one more tough day in the mountains before making it to the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), a rail trail that will take me all the way to Pittsburgh. And a tough — but beautiful — day it was. Extreme gradients were the theme — 10%, 12%, 14% and 17%!  Continuous up and down all day, with a steady headwind.  I got it done and set up camp along the trail.

Old railroad tunnel converted to bike path
Foot Bridge over Castleman River
Footbridge over Youghiogheny River

The GAP trail has been a nice, quiet, flat path along the Casselman and Youghiogheny rivers, and a much-needed break from the steep terrain of the mountains. Side streams abound, with the sound of rushing water everywhere due to the last few days of rain. This area is called the Laurel Highlands. So far, this is a trip of temperature extremes — 90 the first day and 30 this morning.

Casselman River
Casselman River
Frosty Bag
Frosty bike bag on a very cold morning

Waterfall 2

Our beloved cat, Peanut, died on Monday night. I was both sad and relieved. Peanut was 18 years old and in failing health for some time. When I said goodbye to him before leaving for this trip, I had a feeling I might not see him again. As I rode along the trail today, I thought about all the wonderful times we had together. He was a real lover. Peanut will be sorely missed.

Jeff & Peanut
Hanging out with Peanut

And Then There Was One

Covered Bridge - Lancaster PA
Covered Bridge in Lancaster County, PA

The suburbs of Philadelphia gave way to Amish Farm country, with the smell of freshly fertilized fields and mule drawn plows.  We watched the horse drawn buggies, bikes and scooters of the Amish, who live a simple life with little or no technology. Then the farmland gave way to the forests, streams and lakes of the highlands.

Horse & Buggy - Lancaster PA
Amish Buggy in Lancaster County, PA
Waterfall - Caledonia State Park, PA
Waterfall in Caledonia State Park, PA
Tents & Bike - Spring Garden PA
In for the night

Thursday night’s forecast was for two inches of heavy rain, along with severe thunderstorms — not much fun in a tent.  With the help of Lissa, Bill and I were able to secure a 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps cabin in Cowans Gap State Park. As the rains came, we lit a fire in the hearth and stayed warm on the front porch.

Fireplace - Burnt Cabins, PA
Warmth on a rainy night
Lake - Cowans Gap PA
Cowans Gap State Park

Bill left for home this morning.  It was nice to spend some good time together. While I will miss the comradery, I am looking forward to the unique feeling of truly being out on my own on this great adventure.

Bill on Bike - Norristown, PA
AT Crossing - Caledonia State Park, PA
Caledonia State Park

Just before the checkout time of 10, the rains stopped, and I was on my way. There were road washouts and downed trees, with work crews cleaning up the mess. It’s beautiful how life comes through when you need it most.  Bike touring really connects you to the rhythm of Mother Nature. You become acutely aware of the wind and weather. The contours of the land. You sleep when it gets dark and awake to the bird songs just before dawn. You can only focus on what’s happening today. Tomorrow is unknown and yesterday is a fading memory.

Lake - Caledonia State Park, PA
A pond in Caledonia State Park


On the Road

Ready to start riding

After all the planning, training, preparing and anticipation, I am finally on my way.  Despite my minimalist packing, the bike and bags weigh over 80 pounds – and that’s without food or water. My only luxury is a 1-1/2 pound folding chair, which I wouldn’t do without.  I plan on riding 4,500 miles, from Atlantic City to Seattle, with a few National Park detours.  Bill will be returning home after a week, probably from Pittsburgh.

Train Station
Waiting for the train to Atlantic City

Bill and I met up in Philadelphia, and spent the evening at his place. On Saturday morning, we rolled our loaded bikes onto an Atlantic City bound train, for the start of our adventure. After a brief visit to the lovely Atlantic Ocean, we left the glitz of the Atlantic City boardwalk and casinos behind, as we headed west, into the wind.  Things quieted down as we reached the Pine Barrens, a vast area of sparsely populated pine forest, crisscrossed with pristine streams.  It felt good to finally start riding.

Quiet cycling in the NJ Pine Barrens
Quiet riding in the NJ Pine Barrens

It was a hot, humid day, which made for a tough start.  Neither of us are as well trained as we had hoped.   After fifty hot miles, we reached our destination for the day, a campsite on Atsion Lake, in Wharton State Forest.  We promptly headed to the showers, where we found plenty of hot water — scalding water to be precise — with no ability to control it.  Ouch!   Before we knew it, it was getting late, and we didn’t have the heart for the five-mile round trip to the local biker bar, so it was dehydrated meals for us.  Yum.  But we were serenaded after dark by the beautiful call of a whippoorwill, and again in the morning.  And the heat broke, which was a gift.

Camden Grafetti
Camden Graffiti

The next morning, we headed out in the beautiful, cool weather for the densely-populated route to Philadelphia.  This is my old stomping ground.  Lissa and I spent most of our lives in Philadelphia.   We rode through Camden and Philadelphia, then  headed north to Norristown, to see our friend Tim, his wife, Zoe, and son, Jake, who greeted us with smiles, a cold beverage and snacks.  It was great to see them again.

Entering Philadelphia
Entering Philadelphia from the Ben Franklin Bridge
Schuylkill Bridges
An old friend, the Schuylkill River.  I bike commuted along this river path for fifteen years.
Philadelphia’s Chinatown

Cycling Across the USA

Cross Country Route - Compressed
My route:  From sea to shining sea

I’m at it again — this time riding a loaded bicycle across the country!

I’ve wanted to do this for years, but after being diagnosed with Stage IV Lung Cancer in September of 2013, I thought it would never happen. I didn’t expect to be alive now, much less cycling across the country.  I wasn’t confident that my health and stamina were good enough for such a demanding physical effort.  Last year’s solo ride along the Pacific coast changed all that for me. I rode more than 1200 hilly miles on a heavily loaded bike, and discovered that I could do it.

While I always thought I would take this ride with friends, it turns out that I’ll be doing most of it alone. I enjoy the freedom of letting the trip unfold — without any schedules, expectations or goals, other than making it across the country, and a couple stops for chemotherapy along the way.

My friend, Bill, will be joining me for the first week of the trip.  I will be carrying a SPOT satellite tracking device, so that my wife, Lissa, and all of our friends can follow my progress.

Home Sweet Home

The bike packed up easily, which isn’t surprising. It’s always easier breaking it down than putting it together.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it makes it home safe and sound.  Travel bikes have a hard life.

We were quite the spectacle in front of the hotel with the bike in pieces.
We were quite the spectacle in front of the hotel with the bike in pieces.
All ready to go. We just hope that TSA stays out of it!
All ready to go. Let’s just hope TSA stays out of it!

After a long, but uneventful flight home, we landed in Asheville.  Bob, half of our fabulous house sitting team, picked us up at the airport and drove us home for a happy and raucous reunion with all the furry creatures, followed by a lovely home cooked meal, complete with wine and cut flowers from the garden.  It doesn’t get more perfect than that.  How sweet it is to be home — with a kitchen, a washing machine, different clothes and our very own bed with season appropriate covers! We are so very lucky.  What an incredible gift this has been.  Thank you all for your support!

Ciao! … or as they say in Germany, Tschüss!

Home with the kids ... in different clothes!!
Home with the kids … in different clothes!!
Bob and Karyn who took such good care of everyone and everything.
Bob and Karyn who took such good care of everyone and everything.
Home sweet home
Home sweet home


It’s been a long and wondrous journey. We have cycled for 46 days, ridden 1500 miles, followed 8 rivers, slept in 50 different towns and cities, not to mention the hundreds we have ridden through.  We have experienced many beautiful and amazing sights, emotions, places and people. Lissa and I have experienced all of this together.  Riding a tandem bicycle gives us a profound feeling of being connected. We pedal each stroke together, stop pedaling together, feel every bump in the road, every hill, every blast of wind, every sound. We’ve gotten lost and found our way, together. We’ve been challenged, elated, tired, joyful, hot, cold, wet, amazed, and awed, together. I feel deeply connected to Lissa. She is my best friend; we are truly intertwangled.
We have lived each day in the moment, barely able to think about tomorrow. It has reinforced the importance of today, a subject that I have learned a lot about.  Thank you to everyone who has followed us on this beautiful journey. It has touched our hearts to know you are with us.

Winding down

We got off to a rough start on the Ems River. Our 9-1/2 hour train ride morphed into 12 hours — in the sweltering heat, with no air conditioning. Ten hours into the ride, the train made a stop, and then just sat … for nearly an hour.  There were periodic announcements, none of which we could understand. After one such announcement, people cheered, then just got up and exited the train. With the help of some passengers who spoke English, we were able to figure out that the train was cancelled and we had to quickly switch to another one — which of course, meant getting the bike and trailer up and down two sets of steps.

A temperature map from our train day.  Yowza!
A temperature map from our train day. Yowza!

It was complete mayhem, with throngs of people everywhere. The Germans don’t queue up politely like the British. It was a free for all. I ran to the track, frantically trying to find the train car, struggling to get close enough to see the writing on the cars. Meanwhile, Jeff was getting the bike and trailer to the track, carrying the bike up stairs, against a sea of people going down, none of whom would budge an inch to let him by. Stressful to say the least. But we did eventually get on the right train, and make it to Emden. I had a mini-meltdown after walking into our 100 degree room with no air conditioning (and its requisite down comforter), but calmed down in the hotel’s garden restaurant over a beer and dinner.

A sheep looking for shade from the blazing sun.
A sheep looking for shade from the blazing sun.

Change is always a theme, in life, for all of us.  But bike touring has a way of bringing it to the forefront of our awareness.  From adversity to pleasure, and back again.  Sometimes we lose it (e.g., my hot room meltdown), but mostly we learn to take it in stride.  We know that whatever it is, it will change — weather, wind, surface, terrain, fatigue.  It all comes and goes, quickly and over and over.

Fishing boats outside of Emden
Fishing boats outside of Emden

The Ems river route was a pleasure, particularly after the heat wave broke. The terrain was interesting and varied; starting at the North Sea, where it was decidedly maritime, with harbors, locks and dykes, transitioning to country lanes and forested paths. It was really quite beautiful. We were both sorry to see it end. But end it did. Thursday was our last day of cycling. We are in Münster now – a lively city, with a great feel and a lovely, shaded promenade circling the center where the city fortification used to be. Today we take the train to Mainz, and pack up the bike.

An old ship trapped in a canal in Papenburg.
An old ship trapped in a canal in Papenburg.

This journey feels so long. We started riding May 16th. Some of the experiences feel fresh; some of them seem so long ago, it’s hard to believe it was the same trip. The season has changed; birthday and anniversary come and gone. One thing that hasn’t changed is our wardrobe. I’m still wearing the same damn black pants and gray shirt! Bike touring is not for the fashion conscious.

A very cool old time manual time piece.  In addition to time, it tracks the sun, moon and planets.
A very cool old manual time piece. In addition to time, it tracks the sun, moon and planets.

I don’t have many pictures for this one.  We’re so engaged that we just forget to take them.