The morning of our 5th day of cycling, we woke in Columbus well-rested. Allison and Adam, an amazing couple who could easily run a B and B, cooked us a beautiful breakfast and served us coffee and orange juice. We couldn’t help but reflect of the morning before at the Hasty Tasty in Dayton and think about how much had improved in 24 hours. Dax the dachshund was a great character and although we really wanted to stay, the roads of Ohio were calling our name. We begrudgingly left Allison and Adam's beautiful home and were on the road.
Columbus had some beautiful biking paths on the way out and made our way to several rails-to-trails sections of central Ohio. East of Columbus we passed through a series of towns that had seen better days. From talking to several people there, we had heard about how loss of factories and the other economic engines of central Ohio left behind an able-bodied workforce with no jobs. In the restaurants and gas stations, pictures of these towns from the 1950s through the 1980s showed vibrant metropolises with active city centers. Middle class American homeowners who had invested in property in the 1970s had seen little growth. Although it was depressing at parts, it was illuminating to see how certain people were making the best of their situation.
As we headed toward the town of Zanesville, the shoulders narrowed, and we were passed several times by ford F350s with confederate-flagged license plates, honking as their black exhaust danced along the ground in front of us. Ben suffered a flat tire and we were on our last tube. We didn’t feel very safe on the road, but we wanted to get to Zanesville before lunch.
Zanesville was famous in Ohio for an incident in 2011 where a farm full of exotic zoo animals had escaped, forcing the state to initiate a Marshall law protocol to prevent the people from falling victim to the dozens of lions in the streets. When we got there, we ate at a local grocery store and one woman who talked to us was sent to Zanesville on a church service from Nebraska. When we asked her how she liked it, she stated that “I miss home, and this isn’t the number one place that I would want to be, but Jesus called me here and I am grateful for that”. Her optimism and silver lining were cute. Unfortunately, a combination of continued dangerous highways and the lack of a bicycle shop open to purchase new tire tubes led us to the conclusion that we needed to get out of Zanesville fast. Unable to access any bicycle shops for multiple miles ahead, we decided to hitchhike.
We hitched a ride at a Gas Station with two guys in their RV that was heading back from a music festival towards Pittsburgh. In exchange for the ride, we bought them some Wendy’s chicken tenders and frosties. They let us off in Wheeling, West Virginia, a beautiful town right on the banks of the Ohio River. Ben found a good rate at a local hotel downtown and I had my first Yuengling Lager, a beer that has a characteristic taste of Pennsylvania and a reminder that we were getting closer to our destination.
As we went to bed, we missed our friends in Columbus that morning, Allison, Adam and their dog, Dax. However, stuffed from delicious DiCarlo’s pizza (a famous Wheeling institution where they put the cheese on after the dough has been taken out of the oven) we were fortunate to have good food in our bellies and we looked forward to the next day of biking in a new state along the banks of the Ohio river.
Wheeling was one of those towns with a rich history. It had a charming downtown, and, in the morning, we ventured to a coffee shop that had been continuously roasting their coffee since the 1880s. The roasting machine, which was custom made by a boiler manufacturer over 100 years ago was still in operation, although it now took gas instead of coal. The owner was kind enough to give us a tour which was amazing! She was adamant that the coffee roaster was the oldest in the United States and we were impressed that it still could produce a great cup of high-octane morning joe. We left fully caffeinated and I felt like I had just seen a piece of undiscovered history.
Shortly after beginning our ride up the Ohio along a 17-mile bike trail, we ran in to a curious West Virginian at a red light. He said, “Boys, you are in for a hell of a ride when the rain comes down in an hour.” We asked him if he looked at the radar and shook as head and pointed as he said, “Nah, I just look at the sky.” We would soon find out that the man’s prophecy was true. It would be a turning point for the trip.
The route was very pleasant up the Ohio river and the flatlands of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio were replaced by lush rolling hills and mountains of the Ohio River valley. After a lazy route up the river, we turned inland and faced a big climb up to a rails-to-trails conduit called the Panhandle Trail. The crushed limestone of the trail was beautiful, and the scenery was amazing. It was shortly after hopping on this trail when water started dumping from the heavens, just as the West Virginia man foretold. We took shelter for a while at Biny’s Market in a little town called Burgettstown, Pennsylvania where a nice couple had just opened up alongside the trail. The route was so popular among cyclists that the storekeepers had a selection of stereotypical biking favorites such as good and kind bars. “We heard you guys like your fresh fruit and kind bars, so we like to have that for you when you come through.” We enjoyed the couple’s company over a cup coffee and took shelter.
Although it continued to rain, that cup of coffee got us all the way to Pittsburgh. I had never been to Pittsburgh before, but the stories of the hills there for cyclists reach far beyond Pennsylvania. I had heard stories that the roads there were built before certain gradient codes, and the slopes were legendary. Ben’s college roommate, Bake, who we were staying with lived on the top of Mt. Washington, a hill where people take inclines (a combination of a trolley and a gondola) to get to the top. Determined to bike instead of taking the local incline, we pedaled up what seemed like a 45-degree angle. Our tires slipping on the wet pavement before eventually getting traction, it was a challenge with our heavy bikes and sopping gear. It was all worth it once at the top, where Bake greeted us, and we warmed up in his apartment.
We went with Bake for dinner and had the classic wings and Pittsburgher sandwiches. It could not have been more perfect timing. We watched the Steelers for Monday night football with a bunch of Pittsburghers as they beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. As we drank some more Yuengling’s, we reflected on the day. It was wet and soggy, but it was a wonderful day of riding and a perfect way to enter Pennsylvania.