Oops – Alan Turing I am not

Last night we sat down to work out the route of today’s stage from Cumberland to Mike’s house in Columbia. I soon realised that we had a problem. However I tried to route us, the miles were showing up to 170 – some way from the 105 I had on my schedule! It turns out in the planning when we’d been altering destinations along our route, I’d managed to keep in one of the previous finish points instead of the actual one.

Fortunately on these trips we always build in a bit of slack at the end so that we can cope with any problems – even ones like this. We eventually found a route that was either 126 miles in one go (doable, but hard). But we’ll probably find another hotel for tonight and split our final leg into two more manageable 60-something miles on each day. We’ll lose our spare day tomorrow, so probably no trip to Baltimore – but it won’t affect our sightseeing in Washington DC.

Across the Great Divide

When me and my brothers were little, Janet – my aunt – would take us to the pictures. She passed her love of movies to us. We would see an eclectic range of films from comedy to sci-fi. We didn’t see enough costume drama for my liking … but I was outnumbered! We did, however, go to see a movie called ‘Across the Great Divide’, the plot concerned two orphans travelling across America’s Rocky Mountains to claim their inheritance. To be honest, I can’t recall much about the movie, bar a few images of log cabins and blue gingham dresses. But the film has gone down in our family’s history as my brothers think that this was the most boring film/movie they were ever taken to see.

Today we passed our own very real ‘great divide’. After climbing for 50 miles we reached the Great Eastern Divide – the highest point on the Great Allegheny Passage. After this point it was downhill all the way to Cumberland for 25 miles.

Unfortunately, our much anticipated freewheel into town was disrupted by not one, but two mechanical stops. First Michael’s (McL) tyre punctured rather dramatically with a large pop, the tyre had been ripped by a sharp stone. After a running repair we set off again, but only made it a further ten miles before the tyre failed again. Fortunately we carry a folding spare tyre and so after Mike and Mike switched the tyre and tube we were off again – perhaps not quite as exciting as an action movie, but certainly not as dull a day as the other Across the Great Divide and we passed some very Hollywood-sounding names such as ‘Great Savage Mountain’ – thankfully we went through it as opposed to over it, (and through a very scary tunnel). Despite the incidents we conquered the Great Divide!

Fallingwater (as opposed to falling over)

After my numerous tumbles yesterday it seems to be appropriate to be visiting a landmark with the word ‘falling’ in the tittle. I am of course referring to Fallingwater, the house designed in 1936 by Frank Lloyd Wright as the holiday home for the Kaufmann family.

The house is a national monument in the USA and considered by many architects to be one of the finest modernist buildings ever built. It is also the only Frank Lloyd Wright house in public ownership with its entire furniture, grounds and artwork intact, (the house was gifted to a conservancy by the family in 1963). We didn’t even know the house was here until I spotted it marked on a cycling map as I plotted our holiday route a few months ago. Once we knew we’d be passing, it would have been crazy to miss the opportunity to visit, so I took the decision to book us on an 8.30 am in-depth tour of the house. Mike was a bit aghast at the cost of this tour (£138), but I though, how many times are we going to be cycling (or driving) past Fallingwater? – Not often was my answer, so that justified the expense. We were not disappointed. My words can’t really do justice to the house and how it sits in the surrounding landscape so I’ll leave that to some pictures.

Summary – day 11 – Pittsburgh to Ohiopyle (Sunday 30 June)

Estimated mileage: 77 miles, actual: 80.25 miles

Avg. speed: 15.9 mph

Cumulative distance: 672.16 miles

Patrick has one wall in his living room that he paints with blackboard paint and his Warm Showers guests write on it. When it’s full, he cleans and repaints the wall. We left some messages of thanks and took some pictures. Then it was time to say our goodbyes. Patrick has been absolutely superb – he’s been immensely kind and patient with us, even though he’s been very busy himself.

Mike (McL) had to take some stuff to Sam’s in Shadyside near Carnegie Mellon University, so he went off at 8:00 and we agreed to meet him at the Hot Metal Bridge, about 3.5 miles out of the city, at 9:30.

Before we set off we had time to clean our bikes and I discovered puncture #5 – Mike (McB) rear (again, this is becoming tiresome and I’m tempted to replace the tyre. I went with a new tube as it was faster than a repair – the tube already had two patches). We set off and it was a lovely, warm and quiet morning. We wanted to begin this leg of our journey at the official start of the route of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail, by the fountain in Point State Park. We wanted someone to take our picture and we asked a guy with an good-looking camera and who looked like he knew how to take good pictures to do it. He was called Duane and we chatted while he photographed us. He told us about hiking down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon – something I’d love to do! We rode off to meet up with Mike (McL), we were going to be a few minutes – but we rather banking on him being a bit late too!

Staying on the route was really straightforward, there was good signposting. There were loads of people out on bikes – all ages, sizes, abilities – it was brilliant.

Michael had arrived just a few minutes before us when we got to the Hot Metal Bridge. Mike was talking to guy – also called Mike – with a new mountain bike, (he offered me a go on it when I said how much I liked the look of it, which was a really friendly thing to do). He was waiting for a friend before setting off for Frick Park, which has mountain bike trails. He admired our titanium frames – he was a metal worker! We asked him to a picture of all if us and we set off.

The rest of the day was fairly uneventful. The trail turned from Tarmac to fine grit after about 20 miles, but it was quite well-compacted and easy to ride on, as Patrick has said it would be.

We travelled east and upstream mostly with the River Monongahela on our left. The trail took us through Homestead, Duquesne to McKeesport where the Youghiogheny River joins the Monongahela River. We crossed the Monongahela and started to follow the Youghiogheny River Trail. At the start of the trail we saw our first sign to Washington DC – 314 miles!

In Boston we stopped for coffee and juice, (plus French toast and maple syrup for Matthew and Mike (McL).

Then Greenock, West Newton, Whitsett, a campground called Roundbottom, which I thought was amusing. We’d intended to stop at Dawson for lunch, but it was on the north bank and we missed the turning – if there was one – there may not have been a bridge, so we carried on to Adelaide where we stopped for lunch at Milepost 92 Café, which was part of a campsite – there was a little pool (with rather large people in it) and rather fetching plastic frogs and flamingos all around! We were only about 20 miles from Ohiopyle by now.

After lunch on to Connersville, where there were some lovely community gardens segregating the cycle lane from the road. We called in at bike shop that we passed to buy some spare inner tubes. I saw some chamois cream called Chamois Butt’r and as Mike (McL) had been complaining I bought some little sachets for everyone!

After Connersville the road climbed gently but persistently to Ohiopyle. Just before entering the town we crossed a narrow iron bridge over river and high up in trees – it reminded me of the tree walk in Kew Gardens. We stopped to take some pictures – a man who we’d overtaken earlier, his name was Larry, came past and we asked him to take our pictures. He also directed us straight to our hotel – brilliant.

At Ohiopyle station Matthew fell off his bike – he wasn’t even moving, but couldn’t get his foot out of his cleats quickly enough – we were laughing at him and everyone around looked a bit more shocked and concerned! He was fine – just one or two some cuts and bruises, his pride was the main thing that was hurt!

Ohiopyle is a very small town, with only 74 residents according to the town sign – but it was very busy with tourists. There were lots of people milling about with bikes and some people were playing in the river – Matthew wanted to go for a swim and decided that after his fall he definitely wanted an ice cream.

The motel in Ohiopyle didn’t serve breakfast (probably not enough people to staff it) and there were odd injunctions in the room booklet against using too much toilet paper or stealing towels! We showered and then headed to the grocery store – bit hopeless but we managed to get some fruit and cereal for breakfast. At another store around the corner from the first Mike (McB) found a store selling soya milk – result!

Matthew and Mike (McL) had the ice creams that they’d been promising themselves since Adelaide (probably earlier in Matthews case), we went for a paddle, (it was too cold to swim in Matthew had decided) so we sat at the river’s edge and dipped our feet in the river.

Dinner – basic, but really nice after the best day’s ride so far. A Magic Day.

Gone fishing

What better was to end our day’s cycling than with a bit of fishing? The bait we were using, was in fact our feet. The cooling water of the Youghiogheny River was the perfect tonic to help us unwind and chill. The water wasn’t warm – but neither was it freezing, so sitting in the warmth of the evening, (the temperature is still easily in the 70s) it was wonderful.

Plenty of youngsters were paddling well up to their chests, (I suspect they have better circulation than us), we were happy just to watch.

King of the Spills

The Tour de France began a few days ago in Corsica. Normally we would spend a couple of weeks following the Tour. But being in the USA makes that quite difficult of course, so we’re having to catch up with news from the Tour when we can get online. For us today is ‘stage 7’ from Pittsburgh to Ohiophyle, not that our 80 mile ride compares with what the Tour riders go through. It is also our first stage with our own mini peloton now that Michael (McLoughlin) has joined us.

Having three cyclists makes it possible to set a faster pace and to share the load of riding at the front more – so each of us takes a turn up front, while the others tuck-in behind, benefiting from the slipstream. We made good progress, especially considering most of today’s ride was uphill on an unsealed compacted limestone path. Our average pace was 16 mph, one of our best paces of the journey so far! The benefit of the path, built on an old railway line, is that it’s very level with only a gradual incline. A gradual ascent meant no ‘King of the Mountains’ for us – for those who don’t know the King of the Mountains is the title given to the Tour de France rider who wins the most points for mountain stage climbs.

I did, however, get the embarrassing ‘King of the Spills’ title for falling off my bike today – not once, but twice! Even more embarrassingly I was virtually static both times that I went over. Firstly I was coming to a halt at Cedar Creek Park and rode over what looked like a little bit of mud. It turned out to be a little bit of very slippy mud, before I could in clip my shoe from the pedal my wheel was sliding and I was on my side.

The second incident happened just as we’d arrived at the end of today’s section. We’d pulled in at Ohiopyle Station and Mike called me back to stand in front of the station sign to have a group photo. As I turned to wheel back I again didn’t get my foot released in time and plop – I was on my side again. The second incident was more embarrassing, given the number of tourist around and as I actually grazed my knee – nothing serious, but not great for my nicely developing cyclists’ tan. A little later I realised I had a second injury. I could feel that my right toe was sore, upon investigation I found a small cut on the underside knuckle. So there we have it, not only have I gained the ‘King of the Spills’ crown I’ve also discovered a new injury – cyclist’s toe (beat that one Bradley!)

Ahoy pirates!

We’ve discovered a new (if rather tenuous) link between Pittsburgh and Bristol. The baseball team here in Pittsburgh are called ‘the Pittsburgh Pirates’ while in Bristol one of our (rather rubbish) football teams, (that’s soccer to out US readers), Bristol Rovers are also called ‘the Pirates’. As we cycled out of Pittsburgh this morning we passed PNC Park, the home of the Pirates – a rather more impressive stadium than the Bristol equivalent.

There was a baseball game here last night and the stadium was lit up so brightly you could see it all over town. Our host Patrick was taking us up to Mount Washington to see the city skyline at night. On our way we realised that there were going to be fireworks at the end of the match. We caught a glimpse of the fireworks as we drove up, I couldn’t help thinking the Americans know how to put on a show, you’d be lucky to get an inflatable banana at the end of a Bristol Rovers match.

This from Virgin Atlantic …

Dear Dr Mcbeth

Thank you for your email, from which I am sorry to learn that your helmet was damaged.

We take our baggage handling seriously and do everything we can to make sure your belongings arrive on time and in the same condition as you gave them to us. The occasional accident does happen, although I’m glad to say it’s very rare. I’m sorry that you encountered problems this time around.

As part of our claims procedure, we do expect any damage to luggage to be reported at the arriving airport where a ‘damage report’ is generated. I’m afraid as you didn’t notify our airport staff at the time, and haven’t completed a damage report, we’re unable to accept this particular claim.

I’d like to clarify that if passengers take delivery of their bags and leave the airport without reporting mishandling, it is deemed that the bag and contents were in good condition at that time. This is detailed in article 16.1 our Conditions of Carriage (which are available on our website), and is supported by the Montreal Convention (1999). Our Conditions of Carriage state:

16.1 Notice of claims
Acceptance of baggage by the bearer of the baggage check without complaint and without completion of a property irregularity report at the time of delivery, is prima facie evidence that the baggage has been delivered in good condition and in accordance with our contract of carriage.

Our online claims form is for those passengers who have completed the Damage Report at the airport or who, in the case of lost luggage, are pursuing a claim for this.

If you took out private travel insurance, I would recommend that your claim be referred to your insurers for their consideration as their liability may extend further than that of the airline.

I do hope that despite this issue, you are having a wonderful time in Chicago Mr Mcbeth, and that your return flight is more enjoyable. I’m confident that future flights with Virgin Atlantic will be relaxing and trouble free in every respect.

Yours sincerely

Becky Byers
Baggage Services Advisor
Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd
PO Box 747
Dunstable
UK
LU6 9AH