Officially began the trip. Wednesday, my mom came home from work. 4 pm. Um, is it even worth me leaving at this hour? Not to mention I could have used another 2 hours to be fully prepped. I knew this was going to take me forever, but come on. So, I asked my mom if she could drive me to Scranton, so I could at least get a good head start. My mom said, “why don’t we wake up early and I’ll drive you even further?” My mom rocks. I wanted to leave from my hometown for symbolic purposes, but screw symbolism. I want to get started!

I wasn’t sure how much longer it would take me to do this trip fully loaded (see “training” tab for the first stab at this), but I figured a few hours longer. Serious underestimation. Every hill, even just an incline, made me feel like a beginner bike rider. As if I hadn’t ridden my bike in ages. Granted, the month of August saw little action from me on my bike for training – too much to do! But still. Listen, I don’t know how heavy everything I’m lugging is. My best guess based on me trying to lift my bike, at least 100 pounds. It’s probably quite a bit more. Basically, I’m super happy my bike didn’t break in two. I guess they are designed to haul big folks, too, so weight that is distributed as mine is I guess seems okay. I’m still pushing my luck, though, and I know it.

Starting from Bartonsville at 7 am, I immediately got lost. Went the wrong way – south on 611. I knew I was headed south (hey, I’m not that bad!) and knew 611 was my road, but since I got dropped off there, I wasn’t too sure where to begin. Um, I left my maps at home. Do’h! I guessed south, and after about 3 miles could tell I was going the wrong way. I had done this route before, so I could feel it was not right. No worries, uphill I go to get going in the right direction. I considered this my warm-up.

Somehow, after I passed through Wind Gap (which, flying down my first real hill, stripped me of all my concerns still floating around in my head), I got crazy lost. It started with missing a road. I looked and looked for my road, and it just wasn’t there. I guess I was headed in the right direction initially, before I turned around because I knew my road wasn’t up ahead. I consulted my GPS, but until I load it with street level maps, it’s not the most useful device ever. At least I could track in which direction I was going, so I knew every time I was going the wrong way, but not for at least a mile in.

Being as lost as I was on backroads took about 3 hours out. Finally, I found a farmer selling his tomatoes. He put me in the right direction, and tried to give me a million tomatoes. I took one, and gratefully ate it right then. I tried to give him money, but he asked me not to insult him like that. Yes sir!

Smooth sailing from then. So smooth that I got a little cocky. I thought, well, I’m making better time now, I might make it to Philly tonight after all. It was about 6, and I should have started looking for somewhere to sleep, but really thought, hey, I can make it. It will be dark, but not that different from the last time I did this. I changed my mind pretty quickly when I realized I didn’t have my red blinky (pretty much a necessity) and I was on 309, which is heavy with traffic and not light. Yep, I need to pull over somewhere. I searched, and found nothing. I finally pulled onto a road once 309 turned into Bethlehem Pike, and told myself this is where I needed to find something. I went a little way down the road and found a construction vehicle parking lot of some sorts. It was the only place among residential areas I could find, and walked my bike back as far as I could along this soggy grass path to stay as hidden as possible. I figured, people will be by here to work in the morning, so as long as I am out of here really early, I’ll be fine.

I thought I would sleep super well. I was on my bike for close to 13 hours. But the dummy I am didn’t put the rain tarp on, even though I thought before I fell asleep, hmm, I’ll bet it’s going to rain tonight. Well, it sprinkled some, and so that’s when I got up to put the tarp on my tent. I was stupid with sleep, and didn’t really secure it OR take in the rest of my bags. So torrential downpours happened, and most of my gear was caught in it, and it did come into my tent. I stayed dry, though, so I slept. This whole thing was avoidable, but I like to do things the hard way.

Day 1 part 2 (so yes, day 2 but since there was a destination in mind…) Unionville, PA to Philadelphia, PA – 30 miles

My alarm went of at 5 am. Raining hardcore still, so I thought, nothing I can do. I woke up another hour later – the rain hadn’t let up yet. I waited for it to stop, but it wasn’t going to happen. I was nervous about the people who might come into work and find me there. I was even more nervous that every now and again, I heard a dog barking. I hoped the owners, if they heard her, only assumed she was barking on account of the rain. I was pretty sure she couldn’t hear me or there would have been more barking.

The rain finally let up around 7. Enough time for me to quickly pack everything. I shoved the wet tent into the stuff sack – I’ll deal with that first thing in Philly. I did my best to sneak out – no one seemed to be in yet. As I was pushing my bike onto the parking lot pavement, a car drove in. I took out my directions – it did seem as though I was coming from the back area (which I was). Close call. 7:30 – I’m back on the road.

I went overboard with talking about yesterday, so I’ll keep this short. I had to pull over for about a half hour because of a monsoon. I couldn’t find the rain cover for one of my front panniers, so I knew everything in one of them would be drenched. Ah, such is life. The biggest problem with having your stuff get all wet is not that your stuff is all wet – it’s that it adds more weight. I was also pretty chilly, so I pulled into the Whole Foods somewhere north of Philly and bought a coffee and squeezed out my socks. I also bought a peach, to make me feel a little less guilty for drinking dehydration in the form of delicious black gold.I don’t drink coffee much, but when I do drink it, I enjoy every sip.

It was an easier ride this day, and even though it took me 4 1/2 hours (including the stop for the rain to let up), I was in good spirits. My good spirits went a little fuzzy once I entered Philly – it already felt so different. But I’m writing this the day after arrival, so that feeling didn’t last. I got to see a friend visiting from out of town, and things were as they should be. Ginger beer, temporary tattoos, cat poop floats/picture telephone/picture-down the lane and really good people – what more could a girl want?

Ready to ride

Plus I got to see my squid. And so – yup. I’m pretty darn lucky. It’s going to be hard to roll out of here to really begin my trip.

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The Beginning

August 24, 2009

This is the first post. I am writing two days before I’m scheduled to leave on my bicycle trip from Dalton, PA to San Diego, CA . I am stressed because I haven’t tied up all my loose ends, and now I still have them lingering as I begin. But it’s me – I should have known. I am a procrastinator. I also hate being rushed. These two things go against each other. But that’s the way it is. I don’t even have my bike in full form. I am hoping when I ride through Philly Chris H. (I’ll be mentioning him again) will be able to help me remove the cassette off of my old wheels so I can put on my new wheels. I need some leverage so I can crank the bolt. Who puts on new wheels before they get a chance to try them out? Me, that’s who. I’m a darn fool. I also have a broken rear fender, which needs to be welded or something. I doubt very much that will get fixed anytime soon. Cable ties to eliminate the rattling is what’s going to have to happen. I still have a few other little things, which seems I will just have to deal with.

I should mention that my bike is a Schwinn Mirada Mountain bike, it is blue and I will soon have pictures up of it. No one thinks my bike is a good idea for this trip, save the guy I trust for all my biking needs (Chris H. – see – I already mentioned him again). I love this bike. It’s too heavy for touring, it has little idiosyncrasies that no one has ever heard of, like when I am weighed down with all my gear, and I shift up from the middle ring to the high (bigger) ring, my chain will pop off if it feels like it. This never happens when I don’t have gear. Even Sheldon Brown would scratch his head.

But let’s be honest: I am not really doing a lot of things as I have been told. I prefer to learn the hard way with some stuff. No toe clips or any clipless business, although I do have the shoes for it. Not happening. I went on one group ride with about 80 Philadelphians on an urban farm bike tour the city, and in the 8 hours we biked together, three people got injured from their inability to get out of their clips. They confirmed to the group as they dropped like flies that they were not novices, and this confirmed my suspicions when people say, “oh, you get used to them.”¬† My feet prefer to be free, and I revel in the efficiency I will be losing. Who says I need to get anywhere at anytime? Only me. People toured for forever without them, so I am not concerned. Not to worry, anyone who is reading this gasping for air. “She’s wrong!” I hear you say. “No! The Horrors! Her ankles are much more at risk of falling off that way!” etc. If I need them at some point, hey, I can get them. Okay?

I am also planning on cooking as much as possible. I have two stoves made from soda cans that run on denatured alcohol. I need two because when I need to refuel, the can is a bit too hot, so now I can switch them out. Or, I can cook some food and heat some water for cleaning, tea, whatever. They’re soda cans, for crying out loud. We’ll see how I feel about them later, but right now, I want to cuddle them as I fall to sleep every night (I still have to make the second one – trickier than I thought).

I have a darn wok, if you can believe it. No pan, just a wok and one pot. Go ahead and laugh. Also, shoot me tsks and looks of pity as you see all the junk I am lugging along. I will be SO WEIGHED DOWN. It’s my problem. I need to let things go as I am ready to. That’s just how it has to be. I have an entire front pannier dedicated to food (my current guess is it weighs 30 pounds). Bringing my crazy heavy laptop and books and magazines, which I will discard as I go. Lots of maps. Lots. Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad to some people. Just wait until you see pictures, you’ll surely change your mind. As will I, at some future point.

Oh, check out the gear tab if you want to know what I am using and how much everything  cost. I scoured the internet for great deals on everything. I still spent more money than I have ever spent on anything.

Day one of the trip starts in a few days. I’m going back through Philly. Stay tuned and you will hear more about that. This is just introductory prep stuff. I’m stressed. But once I am on the road, I know I will feel like all those monkeys clinging to my flesh will be torn off with the wind as I fly down Old Bethlehem Pike. Hey, relax, animal lovers. They’re not actual monkeys, and will not leave any carcasses. They may go bother someone else, but that’s the way metaphorical monkeys are.