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.

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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!

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