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Onward to Chicago

Onward to Chicago

Onward to Chicago

Post by Adam:

Hey there folks, just a brief little update on where we're at today.

We got to Pittsburgh on the 2nd and had gotten connected with a friend of a friend who we stayed with for two days. Steevo, as his friends call him, was amazingly hospitable; allowing us to shower, do laundry, use the internet and all the other things that you don't get to do on the road. Thanks a million Steevo! (I also had a blast staying with him because we had a lot of friends and acquaintances in common).

We left Pittsburgh on the 4th, which turned out to be a great plan (I use the term loosely) as there was very little traffic around the city. We did 87.5 miles and made it from Pittsburgh to Berlin Lake in Ohio, where we camped for the night.

As soon as we left Pennsylvania the hills leveled out and the riding got a bit easier, but we soon learned that the mellow terrain comes with a price, as a booming, pouring thunderstorm descended on us with about 10 minutes warning. We'll try and get a video of it up sometime soon.

Something that occurred to us today was to cover some basics of how to go about getting into bike touring. It's a pretty daunting undertaking if you're not familiar with the "sport", but the reality is that it's a lot easier than you might think.

There are a lot of blogs around the interwebs about bike touring, and they can be a big help in giving you and idea of what you're in for in terms of conditions and resources. We've discovered quite a bit from hearing about other people's travels, but the general theme is that if you're in need there are people who can and will help you out.

We've discovered that small town firestations are a great place to find restrooms and fill water bottles, and we've heard they tend to let you camp on the property if you give them some notice. We've also heard that if you talk to the local police about who you are and what you're doing, a lot of times they'll let you camp in city parks and such.

Aside from these direct forms of aid, there's a lot of resources on the internet for people who want to have adventures. Couchsurfing.org is a networking site that connects people wanting to host folks with those looking for a place to crash, and Warmshowers.org is a similar site specifically for bike tourists. Warmshowers is actually how we got in touch with Steevo.

As for routing and maps, the non-profit organization Adventure Cycling has numerous routes and maps available, although for printed copies (the only way most of them are available) they're a bit expensive. They do include information about amenities like bike shops, camping, restaurants and bathrooms though. These things can be hard to find on regular road maps.

Aside from the ACA, most states (or at least the cool ones) tend to have some official bike routes that you can find about by doing some digging. We didn't know it before we started, but it turns out Pennsylvania has just such a network of routes, which have great signage too. There's also usually some great trails around as well (see our previous post about the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage trails), and more and more places are realizing that cyclists are as excited to use them as anyone else, and developing accordingly.

Finally, there's always google maps. We've had mixed experience with this but, for the most part, their bicycle directions (just click the bike image above where you enter the origin and destination) are pretty decent. We've found they tend towards scenic/low-traffic routes rather than the most direct, so adjust according to your own comfort level and style of riding.

I think the biggest piece of advice I'd offer to people though is that you don't have to start off with a huge tour. Start with something small to work out the kinks; take a weekend trip to a nearby campground, or the coast. Visit a friend in a nearby town. Pick a short trail (C&O/GAP route is only about 300 miles total) and see how far you get. And that way, if you discover bike touring isn't really your thing, you're not halfway across the country.

If you're in the Portland area, I'd highly suggest a highway 101 tour of the Oregon coast. Lonely Planet has a guidebook that includes amenities, elevation charts and even divides the sections up into single day sized rides. Sadly it's out of print, but you can still find a copy at Powell's or on Amazon.

That's it for now. We're headed to North Ridgeville in Ohio tonight, then taking the ACA northern tier route across Ohio and Indiana before turning north to Chicago. More updates soon.

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