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Saturday, October 31, 2009

Feist on Jools

I've posted before about how great Feist is and how good Later with Jools Holland is at shooting live performances...and here's a clip of "My Moon, My Man" that brings both of those things together.

That shot at the 1:00 mark where the zoom follows the pianist's hands down the keyboard is just right, for instance. (Though the audience cut-away shot at 1:13 with the one guy standing there snapping his fingers is weird -- sort of looks like he's conducting the band.)

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Pittsburgh recap

A few weeks have elapsed, but I wanted to add a couple more things about the bike trip to Pittsburgh. Some stats:

> Miles ridden: 348.5
> Days:5
> Feet of elevation gained: 2,392
> Panniers carried: 8 (4 apiece)
> Coffee shops visited: 5
> Tunnels passed through: 4
> Flat tires: 1

My photos are up on Flickr.

Also, Aron and I cut together some photos and video from the trip, providing a 5-minute summary of the trip (made more dramatic by the Arcade Fire soundtrack):

I think I stressed my knee a bit the night we hurried to get to Confluence, PA before it got dark...it has continued to hurt since I got back, so I'm going to see someone about it next week. But aside from that, it was a great trip that I would definitely recommend. For those who live in DC (or Pittsburgh), it's a trip that provides great scenery and little towns that feel very far from home, but it's actually fairly forgiving because of the not-so-steep hills and decent availability of food and lodging.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Rainy day

Whole lot of rain today, though I think it's drying out now.

Earlier, I was idly looking out the window as the rain fell. I heard the tempo of the raindrops on the roof suddenly go from a patter to pounding -- and in perfect sync with that, a small flock of birds that had been flying straight across the sky dove at high speed to the trees below. It was a really cool little thing...I've never seen birds react to the weather that way before, and it was the fastest I've ever seen them dive (they were sparrows or some other common small bird).

. . .

I've been a combination of lazy and busy since getting back from the bike trip, but I have ambitious plans to post a map-based recap of the trip with photo and video (in Google My Maps, like the unfinished map of my 2007 European trip). Also, I noticed that the USA Today article about our bike route was quickly followed by an article in the Times this past week. Though I would add that the number of crashes the reporter had is not typical -- it's a really smooth and easy trail!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mission accomplished

We arrived in Pittsburgh this evening, getting to McKeesport, PA (where the trail ends, just short of Pittsburgh) as dusk fell, about 30 minutes before we were to meet our taxi to Zach's place. About 349 bike miles in total, including detours.

Since we lacked cell phone access, I haven't posted since Cumberland. The Great Allegheny Passage took us from there up a couple thousand feet (over the course of 24 miles) across the Eastern Continental Divide. At the top, there was the impressive Big Savage Tunnel, which cut through several thousand feet. The rest of the trail wound slowly down the other side, eventually ending near Pittsburgh. There were great views, enhanced by fall foliage. The towns along the way were interesting -- some small places that grew up along the railroad and the Yohiogheny River and have had the world pass them by, rotting industrial towns, and cute hamlets that have found a tourism niche.

The plan had been to camp out last night, after staying in a hotel in Cumberland. But we checked the forecast yesterday when we had a whisper of cell service, and it said there were freeze warnings for the area near the town of Confluence where we had planned to camp. We decided to sleep inside instead, and rolled into town around 6:30. Confluence has a hotel and upwards of ten bed and breakfasts, but we soon discovered (using the phone at the Sisters' Cafe, the only thing still open) that the hotel was full and all the B&Bs had closed up for the night and were not answering their telephones. "Well, I'm not sure what to tell you," said the guy at the hotel. With visions of shivering in our summer-weight sleeping bags, we struck out in the dark (with our bike lights on) for the campsite outside town. But, we took a wrong turn and ended up in a neighborhood. We were trying to find our way back when we saw two guys getting into a truck with a canoe on top of it next to a dark B&B. We asked if there were any rooms available, and they directed us to the house down the street of the lady who owns it, where we knocked on the door and miraculously obtained a room. The heat was much appreciated, as were the muffins and tea in the morning.

We're at Zach's place now, where between the three of us we ate 10 pancakes, 14 eggs with cheese, one pound of sausage, one pound of peaches, two pounds of strawberries, and 1 cup of cream. We'll look around Pittsburgh tomorrow and head back to DC on an early morning train (following, I should add, a pretty similar route to the one we biked). I'll post some of my many pictures when I get back to DC.

As Aron remarked, it was pretty cool to be in any one of the middle-of-nowhere places were were along the way and think "I biked here from my front door."

Monday, October 12, 2009

Third day

We biked the remainder of the C&O towpath today, from milepost 127 to 184.5. I think this was my favorite part of the towpath, with somewhat more varied terrain/scenery, including the amazing Paw Paw Tunnel, which is more than 3,000 feet long, and thus very dark. There was also a lot more fall color...it was overcast almost the entire day, but it seems that actually makes the colors on the trees more dramatic.

Because this was the most rural part of the towpath, was also the emptiest -- we rode for about two hours this morning without seeing anyone (this may have also had to do with the fact that it was kinda cold). We saw a beaver and a wild turkey.

We're in Cumberland tonight, at a Holiday Inn downtown that miraculously only cost $20 more than the hostel we had initially planned on for this night of the trip. And they let us take our bikes up the elevator and into our room. Cumberland is one of those small cities whose population peaked more than 50 years ago, so it's got an interesting feel.

Tomorrow it's 22 miles of uphill to start the day, and we'll brave the predicted chilly temps to camp out for our last night on the trail.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Second day

We did get an early start, as planned, but we were stymied fairly soon by by my flat tire. It's the first flat I've gotten since putting on Kevlar-lined tires last winter, but it wasn't their fault -- I hit a particularly pointy tree root with my heavily loaded wheels, and a couple miles later realized I had a slow pinch puncture. We fixed it with the help of a full-sized pump from a tour group that was unloading from their van.

We hit another delay when we didn't believe the Park Service sign that said the trail was too washed out to be passable ahead...after a few miles, we determined that it was in fact impassable. The back-tracking and 5 (very pretty) miles of detour chewed up a good bit of time.

Which is to say, we're a bit behind where we planned to be, camping near Hancock, MD. But there's room in our schedule for delays, while still allowing us to arrive in Pittsburgh on Wednesday.

Snafus aside it was a great day, with perfect weather and an increasing amount of fall foliage as we go. We also went slightly out of our way to get lunch at Waffle House, which is never a mistake. (Props to the iPhone for finding the Waffle House.)

We'll either stay in Cumberland tomorrow night, or camp a little way past that.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

First day

We're camping tonight at Antietam Creek, near the eponymous
battlefield. Mileage was about 75, ten fewer than we anticipated.
Though there was also less rain than we anticipated, just a few
sprinkles around lunchtime.

A couple nice things to mention: Beans in the Belfry was a neat (and
rather large) coffee shop in a converted church in Brunswick, MD,
which is otherwise a depressed river town. Also, the sunset, which
was just after we passed Harpers Ferry, WV, was a brilliant pink over
the Potomac River.

With a low around 40, it's pretty chilly tonight, but we hope to get
an early start in the brisk air tomorrow morning to cover the miles we
didn't do today.

Friday, October 09, 2009

To Pittsburgh!

Aron and I will be leaving tomorrow morning for Pittsburgh. According to an article in yesterday's USA Today, we're taking a hip-with-the-times "recession-resistant getaway."

We met up this evening to divvy up the common gear and make sure everything is set; the bikes are fully loaded. I've added a rack to the front fork on my Cross-Check -- with a pair of big panniers on the back and a smaller pair on the front, it's a lot of stuff. It's maybe slightly unnerving to realize that when we roll out tomorrow, it will be the first time I've ridden with cargo on the front wheel. But I don't think it will be too tricky, and we only have a few miles on city streets before we pick up the C&O Canal towpath in Georgetown. Then it's 180 miles of riding to Cumberland, and another 140 or so on the Great Allegheny Passage trail, almost all the way to Pittsburgh without any cars at all.

We're planning to camp three nights, stay in a hostel one night in the middle so that we can clean up (the one next to the opera house, as mentioned in the USA Today article), and stay with Zachary once we get to Pittsburgh. We'll spend a full day there, then take a train back to DC on Friday. Both the train ride and the bike ride should feature some nice fall foliage.

Per Aron's request, I will be emitting occasional blog blurbs from my phone as we go. (See how smoothly I shifted responsibility for such dorkiness?) I'll probably also post a few pictures to my Flickr stream, which you may peruse if you choose.

Really looking forward to my first long bike touring trip...

Wednesday, October 07, 2009


I've been a member of Zipcar for a couple years now, but I've been using it a bit more recently, which has confirmed how awesome it is. Having it available makes it much more feasible to not own a car in cities (all American ones except NYC, basically) where you do need one occasionally. It would be a huge hassle to do a normal car rental to run an errand to the suburbs, and very expensive to take a cab, but Zipcar lets me do it inexpensively on a moment's notice. It was even slightly cheaper than renting a car for three days for my recent Catskills trip (though admitttedly this is mostly because the rentals were unusually expensive), and far more pleasant because we didn't have to trek down to the rental car office, fill out the paperwork, and turn down all the extras they would have tried to sell us.

And Zipcar has just released an iPhone app that does snazzy things like let you find out which cars are available near wherever you happen to be. You can also lock and unlock the car from your phone, as well as honk the horn.

There are Zipcars in Pittsburgh. If, after arriving there on my bike next week, I decide I want to get somewhere that's hard to bike to, I can check my phone for the nearest cars, reserve one with a few taps, and drive away. Pretty slick.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Long ride

Aron and I leave on our bike trip to Pittsburgh in less than a week. While we've each biked 60-70 miles in a day a number of times, this trip will still be somewhat challenging -- about 315 miles over four and a half days. So yesterday we decided to bike a good long way to prepare for the trip. Our route took us out to Purcellville, VA, and back, for a total of about 93 miles. It would have been a nice round 100 if we hadn't wimped out and hopped on the Metro for the last bit into DC as it got dark, but it's still the farthest I've ridden in a day. We packed a bunch of unnecessary stuff in our panniers to make sure it was good practice, and put in a respectable 14 mph average speed.

Only a bit sore today. I think things are looking pretty good for the trip -- it's a great time of the year to be biking through the Appalachians, both in terms of temperature (highs in the 60s) and foliage. I'm also looking forward to seeing a bit of Pittsburgh, which I've never visited. Zach moved there a couple months ago, and is generously letting us crash at his place. We're planning to arrive there on Wednesday afternoon, but our Amtrak tickets back to DC aren't until (very early) Friday morning.