The writing’s on the wall

Today we bid farewell to Patrick our Pittsburgh Warm Showers host. He’s been a great host despite us being particularly disorganised at replying to his emails and turning up and hour and a half late! I’m sure that when it appears Mike’s daily summary for yesterday will say more about our stay with Patrick but I just wanted to highlight his wall. Patrick is incredibly generous and hosts lots of passing cyclist and back packers. He’s come up with an ingenious way to record his visitors. No conventional visitors book for Patrick, instead one wall of his living room had been painted with blackboard paint and visitors are encouraged to ‘go crazy’ and leave messages on the wall. Patrick photo’s the wall when it’s full then wipes it ready for the next guests. He’s been so hospitable lately that there wasn’t much room on the wall for us, but I’ve manages to squeeze in a few messages – although not enough to really convey our gratitude. Thanks Patrick, you’ve been great!

Mind the GAP

Today we’ll be back in the saddle – and now we’re three, with Mike (McLoughlin) joining us for the next three days from Pittsburgh to his house in Columbia just outside Washington. After this three leg stage there is only a tiny 35 mile section to complete before we get to Washington, which is a bit sad really :0( Anyway, we’d better make the most of what we’ve got left. I’m very excited about this stretch as we’ll be travelling on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) – the 150-mile route will connect with the 184.5-mile C&O Canal Towpath at Cumberland, Maryland to create a 334.5-mile traffic and motorised vehicle-free route between Pittsburgh and Washington, DC. We’re only travelling between Pittsburgh and Cumberland today and tomorrow before we switch back to the road as the C&O canal towpath surface is a bit rutted for our bike tyres. The GAP is supposed to be really scenic with the old railroad route weaving its way though wooded valleys, across rivers and under mountains (there are several tunnels including one half a mile long). Mike is a bit concerned about the surface on the GAP trail as it’s mostly compacted limestone not sealed Tarmac, but I think it will be fine as long as it stays dry. We’ve got two shorter cycling days (75 and 77 miles) so we can go a bit slower and still make good time. Watch this space – there could be two daily summaries today if Mike decides to go on the road – because come whatever I’m cycling the GAP!

And then there were three …

We were joined yesterday by our friend Michael, Mike (McL) as I’ve taken to referring to him. Mike is the eldest son of our friends Aileen and Martin in Bristol.

I’ve known Mike and his brother Ruari since before they were born. Mike is 27 now. He regards me as something of an uncle, apparently. Which is kind of how I feel, I suppose.

Mike had been working on secondment in the USA for two years and coincidentally was starting his posting when we we were last cycling in the US. He happened to be in Los Angeles at the same time that were passing through, so we met up then, too.

This time Mike wanted to ride with us, so he flew from Baltimore to Pittsburgh with his bicycle. We sent our bicycle bags from Chicago to Mike’s in Columbia and we’ll be staying at his house the night before we go to Washington.

Summary – day 10 – Pittsburgh (Saturday 29 June)

Cumulative distance: 591.91

No cycling for us today – but today is a special day for cycling – it’s the first day of the Tour de France! It seems a little odd to be so far away from it. This year is the 100th edition of the Tour and it’s starting in Corsica – a bit of a controversial decision, as there are quite a few people in Corsica who don’t particularly regard themselves as part of France at all! We’ll be following the Tour from afar this week and then going to see the finish in Paris on our return.

We were planning in spending a very leisurely day exploring Pittsburgh. My knees were still a bit sore after all the climbing we’d done yesterday. So no riding whatsoever.

I needed to get some soya milk and some other breakfast things, so I wandered down the hill into the city to find a grocery store. Walking down afforded a wonderful view of the city skyline and brought home how much climbing we’d done at the end of our journey to get to Patrick’s house – it’s in a district called Fineview – there was a clue right there! I went through Deutchtown – an attractive nineteenth century area.

Back to the house for breakfast. Patrick had started some repair work on his shower, (so curiously no warm shower for us today!). Mike (McL) had ordered a new new cycle rack, but had discovered that it didn’t fit on his bike, so that needed to be sorted out, (I’ve a terrible reputation for being last-minute, but I think that even I would have wanted to establish that rack and bike were compatible sooner than the day before a trip!) Patrick took Mike (McL) to a bike shop over on the South Side of city – miles away. While they were out they also collected some donated bikes for charity – something Patrick often does on a Saturday. Patrick is a brilliant bicycling advocate (and he works for the city’s transport department – superb!) He’s also an exceptional Warm Showers host – I don’t expect that ferrying strangers from England across the city is what people expect when they sign up, but this is entirely typical in our experience – cyclists are nice people by and large and I’m really happy to count ourselves part of the cycling community.

While Mike and Patrick were preoccupied with plumbing and bicycle racks and donated bikes, Matthew and I went into the city to visit the Carnegie Science Center exhibition on the Science of the Bicycle – much more to my taste, (although I do a good line in plumbing DIY).

The Science of the Bicycle. exhibition was lots of fun and it was really interesting to look at so many vintage US bikes. My favourites were the 1950s and 1960s, children’s machines that were brightly-painted, had fake petrol tanks on the top tube and must have been a struggle to ride very far, light-weight they were not!

The display boards were really informative and revealed how as bikes became less popular in the ’50s and ’60s because car use increased, bicycle manufacturers concentrated more on children’s models – that mimicked some of the styling from cars and tied in with popular personalities of tv programmes. There was a ‘Champion the Wonderhorse’ bicycle, a Pewee Herman bicycle that looked like a scooter, and even an Elvis Presley bike!

There were some lovely bicycle posters on display, too.

Having paid our entry fee, we could visit any other part of the Center with our ticket so we also manged to go on board the Requin – a US submarine built in 1945 and launched just before the end of WWII.


It’s preserved as a museum and it’s fascinating – I couldn’t help feeling that it must have been a terrible life in such cramped conditions. There were recollections from crew members though who said that it was a good place to be, with a strong sense of community. I didn’t realise that submarines spend hardly any time submerged – mostly they sail on the surface with the crew able to be out on the decks. The kitchen was improbably big and well-equipped. The display boards made it clear that one of the ways that sailors were enticed into serving on submarines was the prospect of better food!

There were some stunning views from the Carnegie Science Center and the Requin over to the city and Point State Park on a peninsular, at the confluence of the Allegheny River and the Monongahela River, (which become the Ohio River at the peninsula) and down to the West End bridge that we’d crossed on our way in to the city last night.

Matthew wanted to visit the park, so we walked up past the Heinz field – home of the Pittsburgh Steelers American football team and up towards PNC Park, where the Pittsburgh Pirates, (aka the ‘Buccaneers’) baseball team are based. We passed a beautiful Vietnam War memorial and over Fort Duq Bridge to Peninsular Park. The park was laid in the 1970s and it was a deliberate attempt to change the image of the city from a declining industrial city to a more diverse and vibrant place.


We wandered through the park and watched the enormous high fountain for a while – getting soaked when the wind blew the jet over and gallons of the water landed on us! We headed towards downtown and visited the Fort Pitt block house, which was built in 1764. We saw an amazing sand sculpture still being prepared – we thought for the 4th July as it seemed to show the westward expansion of the USA.

Up through downtown, the skyscrapers are very concentrated in a small area – Pittsburgh was used as Gotham City in the filming of the recent Batman films/movies and we could see why.

We read about a major flood in Pittsburgh in March 1936 – a plaque on the wall showed the water level up to 46 feet – that’s over 14 metres! Heinz Hall was rather splendid, too – Heinz  has been a part of Pittsburgh since 1890 and the company’s world headquarters are here. The famous ‘keystone’ logo is based on that of Pennsylvania, which is known as the ‘keystone state’. We’d passed Heinz Field stadium earlier on the North Shore near the Carnegie Science Centre.

We took a bus back to Patrick’s house and waited for him and Mike (McL) to come in. I’d suggested to Patrick that we could take him out to dinner and he’d suggested a Thai restaurant that was in an old house. We drove there in Patrick’s car. The restaurant was perfect, we sat in the garden among plants and flowers and with fountains playing. The food was really nice – it’s so good to be able to have a hearty vegan meal every now and again! While we were there, we were visited by dozens of brightly glowing fireflies. We talked about Patrick’s work and family and his adopted city. After dinner Patrick wanted to drive us to up to Mount Washington a high point overlooking the city. It was fantastic. The baseball game had finished and there was a spectacular fireworks display. The view was terrific and it was really kind of him to show it to us. Back home – tired, after a good rest day.

Spinning around

It seems that our lives have become intertwined with bicycles, more often by chance than by design. Not that I’m complaining – as H.G.Wells put it: ‘When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race’. First we came across the Wright Brothers’ Cycle Works in Dayton, (completely unplanned) and now as we get to Pittsburgh we discover to our joy that the Carnegie Science Centre is hosting a fabulous exhibition called ‘Bike: Science on two wheels’, how could we resist?!

The science part was very interesting – lots of interactive things to explain how the bike works – these were mainly designed for the kids, but since I like to think of myself as ‘down there with the kids’ (a UK phrase used to suggest ‘being cool’), I joined in too. However, the main attraction was the amazing collection of bikes on display – or as we could call it: ‘bike porn’! From the very earliest velocipede (a bike with no pedals that you’d wheel along with your feet) and penny farthings right through to the most up-to-date bikes. The collection includes a Singer Tricycle made in Coventry – fancy coming all this way to find a bike made in my home city?!

I was quite taken by the collection of bike posters on display, some of which I’d never seen before. Some may think that the World War II propaganda poster image of Hitler sitting next to someone in their car with the caption ‘When you drive a car you drive with Hitler – Ride Your Bicycle Today!’ a bit harsh – but not Mike! I think this image will be appearing in an office at Bath Spa University soon – perhaps it might even become the University moto for their green travel plan! Pittsburgh has certainly earned itself a gold star with this exhibition, as the logo on the exhibition information boards put it, we were in ‘bicycle heaven’.

Rolling is definitely good for the soul @RftS_Bristol

When life gets busy, or stressed there is definitely one thing that will help – go biking! There is nothing better to clear the head and help you get a different perspective on what’s really important in life. The pace you go at on two wheels is perfect and gives you time to think, chat and just observe the world around you. It’s not surprising them that a two-wheeled revolution is going on around the UK – indeed around the globe. From London to New York, Chicago to Paris people are turning back onto bikes.20130630-062818.jpgWe’re really pleased the Bristol is right up there in the cycling revival. In Bristol cycling numbers have almost doubled in the past ten years and now a quarter of all those travelling to work go by bike. The other great result of the interest in biking is the emergence of a new generation of bike cafe. We’ve been enjoying ‘Look Mum No Hands‘ cycle cafe and bike works in London for a few years but we’re very excited that when we get home Bristol will have it’s own community cycle cafe and hub. ‘Roll for the Soul‘ (RftS) opens its doors on Monday 1 July (tomorrow!).

We’re sad we won’t be there for the first day – but I’m sure we’ll make up for it afterwards! RftS emerged from a ‘pop-up’ bike cafe that opened during Bristol’s Bike Festival – after a huge amount of hard work the guys raised funding and secured a location in central Bristol on Nelson Street.

If you’re in Bristol city center, (on bike or not) be sure to pay them a visit – they’ll have great coffee (hopefully with soya milk so Mike can enjoy it too) and a passion for cycling that you won’t find in another cafe in Bristol. Good luck Roll for the Soul – may your lattes be as smooth as a well-oiled bike and your customers flock to you in pelotons – we’ll certainly be there soon!20130630-062810.jpg

Water, water everywhere

Following yesterday’s downpours, it’s been a relief that the weather has returned to warm and sunny, perfect for exploring Pittsburgh. We took a stroll along the waterfront, and there’s plenty of it to stroll around. The city was founded at the joining of three rivers – the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela River. The rivers were clearly a boost for trade and industry, but they haven’t always been such a bonus – the city has experienced several major floods in its history. Crossing the rivers are many sturdy steel bridges, Patrick told us that Pittsburgh has more bridges than any city in the world with the exception of Venice. As many are very high up, in retrospect this maybe isn’t the best place to bring a boyfriend who has a fear of crossing very big high bridges! Much work has been done to clean the city up since it was at the centre of the prosperous, but dirty, steel industry. The river walkways are wide and landscapes with trees, benches and public art. The pictures show the Vietnamese war memorial. Where the three rivers meet a park has been created, the Point State Park has at its centre (or point I suppose) a giant fountain set in a large round pool with several smaller fountains besides it. On a hot sunny day, sitting at the edge of the pool with a fine spray of water was perfect for cooling down. The fountain was very popular and there was a wedding party having their pictures taken there. After we visited the park we walked to Downtown and found another pleasant water feature in the Agnes R Katz Plaza. We sat in the cool enjoying people watching. Pittsburgh is a great city – I could easily let it wash over me if we had more time – another place to add to the ‘would like to return to’ list.

Summary – day 09 – Newcomerstown to Pittsburgh (Friday 28 June)

Estimated mileage: 105 miles actual: 108.5

Avg. speed: 14.1 mph

Cumulative distance: 591.91

Today was something of a mixed bag – lots of highs and good things, but also some setbacks and frustrations.

We went down to breakfast at the Hampton Hotel to be greeted effusively by Deb, “Your breakfast host,” or perhaps more accurately: the Uriah Heep of Newcomerstown. “Good morning … How are you today? Did you sleep ok? We really do appreciate your staying here. Enjoy your breakfast. Have a great day today. Have a great weekend. If there’s anything that I can get you, anything at all, you just ask.” She went on and on and on – and every time anyone new arrived for breakfast, Deb, (or Debs – she hates being called Deborah), began her obsequious mantra all over again. It was driving me nuts. At first I wondered if she was possibly a cost-saving measure to get people out of the all-you-can-eat breakfast area as quickly as possible, but it seemed that most of the other hotel guests were lapping it up and only me and Matthew were finding her intensely irritating. Anyway, I took her at her word and asked her for soya milk, she said “Oh, no, I’m very sorry sir, but we don’t have that”. I wasn’t surprised and in fairness, lack of soya milk apart, breakfast and other facilities at the Hampton hotels have been good: lots of fruit for me to eat and decent coffee!

Back in our room and I needed to repair the puncture to my rear wheel. Overnight the tyre had deflated, and I found a fine piece of wire embedded in it. Getting the wire out was a bit of a struggle, it was short and sharp and I was trying to prize it out with my penknife – all the while feeling quite nervous about slipping and slicing my finger! Eventually we managed it together and so puncture repaired, we set off at about 10:30.

It was warm and bright, but rain was threatened. There’d be two sections of bicycle trail today: a short section between Bowerston and Jewett, then after Steubenville we’d be joining the Panhandle Trail – a longer section for 30 miles into Pittsburgh.

We left the hotel in Newcomerstown and took highway 151 towards Uhrichsville. We’d only travelled a few miles and we spotted a sign reading: Lock 17. We assumed that this was the next lock on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. Behind the trees on the other side of the road we could see some large masonry blocks and we wondered if this was the remains of the lock, so decided to take a look. There was a small house further up an embankment and a young women there asked if she could help. We asked if were looking at the old lock and she said “Yes. I have and old picture that I can show you if you’d like.” She was called Kelly and said that she has six kids. She showed us the old photograph – so much had changed, but the spot was still recognisable. We told her about our trip. She said that she didn’t know how we could cycle all that way. I said that I didn’t know how she could deal with all those kids! (See Matthew’s post on Towpath Tails for more about the canal).

We continued past Uhrichsville and with a tailwind we were really flying – our average speed made it up to 18 mph! Next town was Dennison, it has has a steam train museum alongside the railway line. I’d have really liked to see inside, but there wasn’t time for that today – particularly this early into our day, so I had to make do with a picture of the big black hulk of an engine that was parked outside. Hopefully awaiting restoration.


In Bowerston and time for a quick lunch stop. On the way into town there was a little convenience store staffed by Julie and Bettie. All the sandwiches on display had meat in them and when Matthew asked if they had anything else, they offered to make him a fresh cheese sandwich. Only coffee and some crisps for me though. Julie had lots of Irish ancestry her mother’s family came over in early 1900s and her father came from from England.IMG_4148

Julie and Bettie were lots of fun and we gave them our blog address – so we hope to hear from them again. They laughed and joked about being old and not internet savvy, Bettie said that she was 54 and I said that 50 was the new 40. Julie wondered what the new replacement for 75 was!

We really struggled to find the start of the trail in Bowerston – we’d been told to just go over the bridge and turn right. Trouble is there were two bridges – one had the main highway on it, so we assumed that it was not that one (wrong!) and cycled into the middle of the town. Over the second bridge we expected to be able to access the trail, but we were on a piece of waste ground in front of the railway line. There was a small tunnel under the railway line and as we approached it we could see that the ground was full of water and debris. There was also a swastika graffitied on the wall – we thought that it was just some kind of storm drain, not a cycle route (wrong!). We wondered if perhaps there was another bridge further on, so we rode through the town and out the other side, up a steep hill. We knew that the trail ran parallel to the railway line and it was

unlikely that the railway would have travelled up such a steep hill. So we turned back and went to the second bridge again. We looked at the drain/tunnel/swastika again and really didn’t fancy it. Matthew charged off to look at bridge number one, meanwhile I spotted a women out in a nearby garden with her children. I asked her for directions to the cycle trail. She told me that the it did indeed run on the other side of the railway line and we either go back and over bridge number one (where Matthew had just gone), then turn right, or go through the tunnel – it was a tunnel not a drainl! Or we could go along the road behind her house an cross the railway line just beyond the next house and we’d be on the track. Now I had to locate Matthew. He came back with news that we could go back to bridge number one, etc. rather than climbing uphill yet again or venturing into the tunnel, we opted to try and cross the railway line behind the houses.

I’d assumed that there’d be some sort of level crossing, but there wasn’t – this was becoming really irksome – we’d wasted an hour in Bowerston now, so we carried our bicycles over the railway line – walking over ballast in shoes with cleats on is no fun. But there we were, at the start of The Conotton Creek trail.

After all that hunting for it, the Bowerston trail wasn’t really worth it. It had the worst surface of any trail we’d used so far; really rough, uneven and pitted. it was hard going and I flatted after about 3 minutes. So puncture #4 Mike, rear – a pinch puncture, so two holes in the tube. At least it was easy to locate and fix. We set off through Scio to Jewett where the trail ended.

We had to travel on the main highway 22 to get to Steubenville. It was getting hotter and hotter. There were flashes of lightening accompanied by thunder. We were riding quite fast along route 22. And Then The Storm Came. It was horrendous! It went quite dark, big drops of warm driving rain pelted down and cars whizzed past throwing water everywhere. It was hard to see sometimes. The thunder and lightening and rain continued for about 25 miles. We passed Hopedale and Bloomingdale then left the main road to climb up to Winterville where we decided to take shelter in a filling station. They had coffee and napkins at least! Some of the other (motorized) customers looked at us with pity! We were completely bedraggled. We didn’t know whether to stay put and see if it abated or whether given that we were already completely soaked, we should just continue on. There was still about 40 miles to go. This was not going to be pleasant whatever we did. I was contemplating trying to find a hotel for the night in Steubenville. One of the filling-station customers said that it worse over to the east, (i.e. towards Pittsburgh). We decided that on the basis that it was unlikely to improve that there was no point in waiting and that we’d see how far we’d manage to get. It was 5:00 now and the traffic was pretty bad – riding into Steubenville there were lots of junctions, so lots of stopping and starting, and a horrendous 9% descent on wet roads. Steubenville town centre was rather desolate and run-down – but there was a very nice courthouse.IMG_4161

Just beyond the courthouse I was rather alarmed to see a very ominous-looking bridge over the Ohio River.

Matthew needed to go to the toilet and we noticed some portable ones over by an open air performance area. We headed towards those and saw that we were by a replica wooden fort: Fort Steuben. The portable toilets were locked, so we wondered if there were any at the fort’s visitor centre. There was a metal railing with a gate that opened into the fort – and it was amazing. We were the only people there, the rain was subsiding and all the different parts of the fort were accessible, so we had a look around!

The original Fort Steuben was built in 1786 by the First American Regiment to
protect surveyors who had been sent by the Continental Congress to map
the Northwest Territory from hostile Indians. The replica was built on the 200th anniversary of the fort in 1987. The current buildings are a more-or-less exact copy of the original and had rooms laid to look as they might have done when the fort was first built, (although they obviously wouldn’t have had any shop mannequins from the 1980s dressed in eighteenth century costume in them).

After we’d had a mosey around (and used the toilets), we headed back out of Fort Steuben. A man was walking towards us. “I fear that we may have broken in” I said. “Yes you have”, he replied. Oh dear. It wasn’t on purpose, honest! He was good enough not to charge us any admission and even gave us directions. Going on, of course, meant my having to face That Bridge.

I’ve said it before – I write it again: I just don’t like heights. Being enclosed, like in an aeroplane is fine; having a high barrier between me and the edge, like that time I flew in a hot air balloon – fine. Very high buildings with floor-to-ceiling glass windows? Not fine. Bridges in America with hardly any parapet protection between me and the edge and lattice-work slippery metal surface that it’s possible to see through all the way down? Really not fine! The man at Fort Steuben said that cyclists normally carried their bikes up the steps and ride along the pedestrian walkway. We did that. It Was Horrendous.

The Market Street Bridge is 546.8 meters (1794 feet) long, the walkway has a gap on the left between it and the main bridge. The walkway had slippery fine gravel on it and the ‘barrier’ on the right was really low and it had massive gap at the bottom that it would be easy to fall through in my view. My heart was pounding as we traversed the bridge and there were two points where I just wanted to shut my eyes and curl up and wait to be rescued. Once when my front wheel skidded in the gravel and then when the path had a step as two plates overlapped. I didn’t look down and just focused on Matthew in front. We made it and discovered, (rather unexpectedly that we were in West Virginia and not Pennsylvania as we’d expected – there’s a narrow strip of West Virginia – the Panhandle sandwiched between Ohio and Pennsylvania.

We cycled by the river and passed an evil-smelling iron and steel works. Then turned up Mahan Lane – it was a very steep climb. The roads were strewn with leaves and branches. Some trees had obviously been hit by lightening from the storm – we could see lots of freshly splintered wood. At the top it was drying up and warmer, so we took our raincoats off. A man passed us in a black pickup truck, he slowed and leaned over and shouted out of the window: “Hey, were you guys out in that storm?” When I said yes, it was horrible, he said “Sure was!” It kind of made me feel a bit better – someone else who was local had thought that it was a terrible storm – so it must have been, and we’d ridden through it!

We had some beautiful views across heavily forested valleys as we coasted down in to Colliers to join the Panhandle trail for the final leg of our journey.IMG_4193

We’d been looking forward to this long flat straight section, but it was a disaster. The ground was soft, fine grit and we were sinking in as we rode along, it was really hard going on our knees and we were barely managing 10 mph. It was getting late, we were tired and we’d been soaked. There were still 30 miles to go, but we couldn’t stay on the bicycle trail and we were in the middle of nowhere. So we decided to abandon the trail and take the road, it did mean lots of climbing and descending – but at least we were making progress. We went through some attractive little towns on our way into Pittsburg: Burgettstown, Bulger, Midway, McDonald, Noblestown, Oakdale and Rennerdale. In Carnegie – we had an email from Martin to say that Mike’s (McL, who we were meeting in Pittsburgh) had broken his phone, so he wasn’t able to get the address of where we staying tonight – we forwarded that and continued through Green Tree and the outer suburbs of Pittsburgh where there was another huge and terrible bridge to cross! By now the light was fading, which helped me a bit. We had to lift our bikes over a concrete crash barrier and onto the pavement at the start of the West End Bridge. There was no way that I was cycling on the road – it was getting dark and I discovered that my rear light wouldn’t stay on. it was flooded out. So we went really quickly over the bridge and through the city: Allegheny West, Central Northside and steeply up into Fineview where Patrick lives.

We arrived full of apologies for being late and looking so bedraggled Patrick was charming and friendly. He said that he’d prepared spaghetti and meatballs for us. We both froze. There was no way I was eating meatballs or fishing them out of a tomato sauce. I was trying to work out what to say – and Matthew could see that I was readying myself for what he later said was likely to be a rather long and convoluted explanation about why I couldn’t eat the spaghetti and meatballs, so he came to the rescue and said: “Thank you very much. We’d love to eat the pasta. We’re both vegetarian, in fact Mike’s vegan and I’m vegetarian. So we won’t be able to eat the meatballs.” Patrick was a total star – he didn’t seem in the least bit fazed and offered to make some fresh tomato sauce. He did and that’s what we had.

While we were eating, we were wondering where Mike (McL) was. There was a knock at the door and it was him! Great, so now there are three! Mike (McL) had his own challenges getting to us – the storm that had engulfed us, delayed his flight. As well as his mobile/cell phone dying and not having the address anywhere else, (hence the call to his dad back in Bristol and his dad emailing us), he’d also had trouble with the brakes on the car he’d picked up to get from the airport – but after all that we Mike got to us. Oh, and Mike isn’t vegan or vegetarian, so he ate lots of the meatballs!

Towpath tales

Yesterday (28 June) is exactly one month since I started my new job as Boater Liasion Manager with the Canal and River Trust (CRT). You’re probably thinking: ‘What? You started a new job and then went on holiday three weeks after joining?!’ I know, I felt a bit bad about that, but this trip was planned and booked months ago before I’d even seen the job advertised. If my new boss – Sally – is reading this, thanks for being understanding and be assured I’ll work hard to make up for it when I get back!

Anyway, even though I’m on leave I can’t escape canals completely. There are not many canals here in the USA – well not compared with the 2000+ miles of them we have in the UK. They do have some big rivers, (many with super-scary bridges you have to cycle over). Even though the canals are not easy to come across, we’ve managed to find one – or I should say the remnants of one. Just half an hour after leaving Newcomers Town yesterday, we passed a road sign that said ‘Lock 17, Chesapeake and Ohio Canal’, we had to stop and have a look didn’t we? (Mike thinks I’m turning into a gongoozler – the canal equivalent of a train-spotter!). We pulled over to take a look at a stone wall that we though we’re probably part of the old lock.

As we stood looking at them a young women outside a house adjacent called out ‘Can I help you?’. We explained why we’d stopped and Kelly said ‘hold on there, I have a picture to show you’. She went inside and came back with a black and white copy of a photo taken around turn of the last century showing lock 17 in all its glory. With the exception of one white wooden building there was nothing else left that was recognisable from the picture. Much of the canal fell into disrepair following major flood damage in the 1920s and 1930s and only parts of the eastern section of the canal now exist and form part of the cycle route from Cumberland through to Washington, we’ll see some of the remaining canal when we get to Washington but we’re taking to road from Cumberland as the towpath is apparently a bit muddy and rutted for our tyres.

If you’re interested, here’s a bit more history about the canal;

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, abbreviated as the C&O Canal, and occasionally referred to as the “Grand Old Ditch,”operated from 1831 until 1924 parallel to the Potomac River in Maryland from Cumberland, Maryland, to Washington, D.C. The total length of the canal is about 184.5 miles (296.9 km). The elevation change of 605 ft (184 m) was accommodated with 74 canal locks. To enable the canal to cross relatively small streams, over 150 culverts were built. The crossing of major streams required the construction of 11 aqueducts. The canal also extends through the 3,118 ft (950 m) Paw Paw Tunnel. The principal cargo in the latter years was coal from the Allegheny Mountains. The canal way is now maintained as a park, with a linear trail following the old towpath, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park.

What we (now) know about Pennsylvania

We have now crossed into the fourth state of our trip, so here’s a little bit about Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania is the 33rd most extensive and the 6th most populous state of the USA. It is one of the 13 original founding states. As of 2006, Pennsylvania has an estimated population of 12,440,621. It has a Republican governor, 1 Democrat and 1 Republican senator and 13 of 18 congressman are Republican.

If Pennsylvania were an independent country, its economy would rank as the 18th largest in the world. Pennsylvania ranks 19th overall in agricultural production, but 1st in mushrooms, 2nd in apples, and 3rd in Christmas trees. The U.S. chocolate industry is centered in Hershey, Pennsylvania, with Mars, Godiva, and the Wilbur Chocolate Company nearby, and smaller manufacturers such as Asher’s[123] in Souderton, and Gertrude Hawk of Dunmore.

Not a lot of people know that there is a connection between our home town Bristol and Pennsylvania. Admiral Sir William Penn, the father of William Penn (pictured) from who the state was named lived and was buried in Redcliffe Bristol. Here’s the history behind the naming of Pennsylvania:

On February 28, 1681, Charles II granted a land charter to William Penn to repay a debt of £16,000[28] (around £2,100,000 in 2008, adjusting for retail inflation) owed to William’s father, Admiral William Penn. This was one of the largest land grants to an individual in history. It was called Pennsylvania. William Penn, who wanted it called New Wales or Sylvania, was embarrassed at the change, fearing that people would think he had named it after himself, but King Charles would not rename the grant. Penn established a government with two innovations that were much copied in the New World: the county commission and freedom of religious conviction.