Thursday, August 8, 2013

Day 35 - August 8 - An Appalachian steam bath

Day 35 - August 8 -   Dover, OH to Moundsville, WV - 78.0 miles (125.5 kms) - total so far; 2865.0 miles (4610.7 kms)

Distance:78.0  miles (125.5 kms)
Total time: 8hrs11mins (including lunch stop, chats on the road with interested persons and sightseeing in Wheeling and a big climb detour) 
Average Moving Speed: 12.3mph (19.8 kph)
Maximum Speed:34.9mph (56.2 kph) 
Calories burned: 3892
Elevation gained: 3570 ft (1088 meters)

Weather: Mist and fog at 8am in the morning with the threat of imminent rain. Even more humid thabn yesterday and felt very steamy. Temperatures rose to 91F (34C) with south winds that were strong at times in the valleys.  It felt like a steam bath especially after some light rain as (literally) steam rose from the road.

Powered by:    Breakfast - scrambled eggs and huge pancakes at a diner.  No lunch since I was still full but had a large protein bar, 2 liters of Gatorade,  and 2 liters of water. 

Today, I plunged into Appalachia.  I expected a lot of climbing and combined with the mugginess of heat and humidity, it was a day for sweating.  The first 30 miles or so was fairly flat but after Cadiz (pronounced Caddis by the locals), the route featured some serious climbs of 8% or more, culminating in one of 13-14% at points towards the end of the day.  The wind did not help as it was in my face in the valleys which tended to be wind tunnels.  There were strong thunderstorms in the region but none in my immediate vicinity. I was hoping for a little rain to cool me off as it felt as if I was sitting in a Russian banya.

I had two interesting conversations along the road. (Most interactions are not worth reporting).  The first occurred when a 75 yr old man pulled off the shoulder in front of me and flagged me down, He had noted my appearance and wanted to know about my trip. After I told him, he explained that he had always wanted to do what I was doing but never did. He had a lot of regrets as he felt that he was now too old to embark on a coast-to-coast trip. He lives the journey vicariously by reading biking blogs and books about the completed trips.  It was a sad encounter in a way because he is someone who let the opportunity passed him by and wistfully wondered how he might still pull it off. I told him of my encounter yesterday with the retro biker and that seemed to give him some cheer and hope. 

Two lane busy road getting a new tar coating 

The second encounter of interest was with a couple of tobacco-chewing truckers at a road repair on a very busy two lane road with convoys of dump and construction trucks between Urichsville and Cadiz. There is no shoulder on this road and traffic was as intense as a suburban road with many more trucks.  As usual, the flagger waved me through while holding up the vehicles.  I had to ride on the grass margin which was a bit taxing and when I saw two truckers waiting for their trucks to be called to empty the contents, I pulled over to chat.  They explained that the heavy truck traffic was recent as fracking for oil and gas of the Marcellus Shale in this SE Ohio area had started in the past year.  They also knew about my presence on the road from the CB traffic of the truckers who warned each other to watch out for the bicyclist.  They noted that they are particularly careful around bicyclists as their jobs depend on a good safety record.  They also correctly said that the traffic would ease considerably after Cadiz, the birthplace of Clark Gable.

They pronounce it "Caddis" like the Caddis fly

The boyhood home is gone but the plaque marks the spot where he was born in 1901

Cadiz, Ohio 

Cadiz and other towns in south-east Ohio, as well as the region in general, are significantly more run-down than places further north and west in the state. In fact, I would say that it is the poorest area that I have passed through since the Indian reservations of South Dakota.  The proportion of mobile homes has jumped dramatically as has the number of dogs chained in yards.  It was a coal-mining area that has passed through rough times of high unemployment over the past 3-4 decades as mines closed but is now on the cusp of another oil- and gas boom.    

I followed the route of a Civil War raid into Southern Ohio by a Confederate force in 1863

Welcome to my 13th state

A narrow pedestrian bridge across the Ohio beside I-70 provided a passage for me

Still in operation and looking good

Old theater in Wheeling now used as a community center

I crossed into West Virginia over a narrow pedestrian bridge beside Interstate 70 with its flying vehicles.  I toured Wheeling briefly and it was depressing as the downtown was almost deserted and many commercial buildings boarded up and for sale.  I had planned to ride on a busy road along the river but as I entered the ramp, I noticed the sign prohibiting bicycles (as well as pedestrians and animals) on the freeway. I might have taken a chance for the 13 miles to Moundsville but the cop in the car sitting on the ramp clearly indicated by a shake of his head that this would not be a good idea. I asked him for an alternate route to Moundsville and he suggested a small country road along a creek that involved a big climb at the top of over 10%, reaching 13% and even 14%.   The houses along the road were really dilapidated and one young local, sitting on his porch smoking and drinking in his underwear, confirmed for me that I was on the right road but thought that the climb would defeat me. (At least, this is what I think he said).

"Take me home country roads" Backroads, West Virginia

Still a muggy day even up here on the ridge above the Ohio river

Like many hotels in this region and in the adjoining South-Western Pennsylvania counties, hotels are crowded with oil and gas workers and are much more expensive than similar hotels outside the Marcellus shale area.  The workers tend to smoke outside, are observant about removing the dirt from their boots before entering the hotel, and tend to leave at 6am to go to work.  Talking to them, it's clear that most are from the Appalachian region and they go home on weekends, so the hotels empty out.  New hotels are popping up to cater to this demand but I wonder how long it will last when the wells are opened. 

Tomorrow I plunge further into Appalachia as I head towards Cumberland, MD via the southwest tip of Pennsylvania. The route promises more climbing but  I hope to be on the bike trail to Cumberland and beyond on Saturday.

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