An Unexpected Surprise.

White Haven- Danville, PA

After unofficially being forced to leave White Haven in the early hours, my legs struggle to find the necessary warmth to work efficiently. Doesn’t help that the temperature is in the low 40s. As the sun begins to rise my body reacts by shaking off the frost and I’m able to push through the daily section of the Appalachians. The scenery changes from thick forest to open, hilly farmland. It’s a welcome change.

Just like in White Haven how I had a close encounter with being kicked out, I also had my first run in with a dog not chained or enclosed. I emerge from a patch of forest, to my left a few small reservoirs surrounded by soy bean fields and to my right a small two story home pushed up against a hillside. I pass the house with ease and begin looking to the horizon. Not 150 yards away a pitbull mix reveals himself, has his sights set on me. He barks from the distance and think nothing of it. Suddenly the barks grow louder and louder. I turn my torso and head to gauge how fast he is closing on me thinking of any slight possibility I may be able to out gun him. Not a chance!! This canine is in full stride. With fleeing not an option I stop and stand on my feet. Make my presence known and say in a calm voice “it’s ok… It’s ok.”

This may have been more of an attempt to calm myself then the dog. I can hear off in the distance his owner yelling for him to return. The dogs pace slows as he is mere feet from me. After hearing his masters voice his attitude changes from seek and destroy to curious and guarded. He realizes that I pose no threat and begins to turn back. After a certain distance is built between us I begin to peddle off and wave thank you to the owner for his efforts. That was a close one and begin to think of ways to protect myself should another event occur. A knife? Pepper spray?? Gun???

The miles begin to pile up but luckily I arrive into my stop for the night, Danville. I quickly begin to wonder if the city was named after a man named Dan. Still have no clue if that thought bares any truth. My stomach took first priority that evening so I ask the first person where is a good local restaurant that people rave about. She takes a moment then her face lights up “Old Forge Brewery, you have to go there. The food is great and they brew their own beer.”

Sounds perfect. I make my way down to the restaurant, lock up my bike, sit next to the window and gaze upon the menu to see what I may have. I easily become distracted by my bike, knowing what we’ve been through only a few hundred miles in and knowing what is to come our way. It is an emotional feeling that falls upon me as I start to become homesick. The waitress arrives and breaks up my thought. I order to start a bowl of beef chili followed by a burger with pulled pork and a fried egg on top with some housemade baked chips and a pint of their local amber ale. It was delicious… Totally hit the spot.

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As I’m finishing dinner and setting up the contents of my blog a man walks in and asks if that’s my bike. I turn to a man in his 50s with full running attire and respond with yes. He asks where am I going and I begin to tell him my story, my reason and my goal. He introduces himself as Joe. He is totally blown away and his face lights up immediately. Joe mentions that that has been something that he has wanted to do for years and was pretty envious. We chit chat for not longer then 10 minutes and asks where am I going to stay. I tell him that I saw a couple of places outside of town that I could make camp for the night and be on my way in the morning. He nods his head and says if you’d like you could stay with my wife and I up on our farm. I reply with a yes whilst remembering that something I wanted to improve on during my journey is to not only ask for help but to also accept help when provided. He gives me his cell number and address and mentions he lives 4 miles outside of town up a long hill. With having eaten that doesn’t seem to prove much of a problem. He says his goodbyes and leaves with excitement but not before saying that he is going to tell his wife that they will be expecting company.

After publishing my first entry to my blog I pay the bill and set off for Joe and Kate’s farm. After easily navigating the light the small town I embark on the long 4 mile trek up the hill. Joe didn’t mention that there would be no street lights and that it was a busy highway. No worries, I had my front and rear lights to keep me visible. After making it to the top I make a right onto their street then a sudden left down a gravel driveway. My headlight alerts them that I’ve arrived and their porch light illuminates as the come through the front door. Joe yells out “Mark!”
And I respond with “yup!”

I set my things in their porch and am greeted by his wife Kate, Joe and their dog. We make our way into the kitchen and immediately offer fruit, cookies, milk, beer, etc. I take them up in their cookies and milk for I’m a sucker of chocolate chip cookies.
After what I go into heavy detail if what I’ve done, who I met, what are my goals and what is next they offer me a bedroom to sleep instead of staying out in the front yard. It’s getting late and they make their way to their bedroom but not before they show me my room and shower. I say goodnight and bee line it to the bathroom for a long hot shower. Knowing that both Kate and Joe have work early in the morning I head to bed and get comfortable under the blankets. It felt wonderful to finally sleep in a warm, dry place that I didn’t have to disassemble.

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The Pennsylvania Chapter

Delaware Water Gap- White Haven, PA

My alarm sounds off and it’s back to work. Change into my cycling clothes, roll up my sleeping bag and sleeping mat, place everything into my panniers, carry everything out of the tent and begin to disassemble my mobile home. It’s nearly nine and the local congregation turns out for the first mass of the day. They begin to star as if to say “what in the Hell are you doing here?”

I smile and wave good morning.

I wanted to stop in to the hikers lodge to say goodbye but everyone had already left. Guess they had the right mindset. Early to bed… Early to rise.

You may be asking yourself… How did he make his way west through PA? Did he use Google Maps, TomTom, ride on the shoulder of a major highway? Nope, I found out one night in Jersey that Pennsylvania department of transportation or PenDOT have these bicycle routes that traverse the state. There aren’t many but lucky for me there was one that cut straight west through the center. Bike Route V!!!

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I kick it west with a rejuvenated feeling of positivity. The scenery stays pretty much the same but it slowly opens into vast valleys full of corn fields. I stay above the fields by riding along the hillsides.

After hours of peddling I make it to my destination, White Haven, for the evening. The town name truly fits it’s inhabitants. First duty that comes to mind is to find a place to stay the night. I ask around and a man outside his home tells me to either check the fire department or the local paramedics to see if I could stay there. Sounds like some solid advice. The fire department was closed because it’s voluntary only. I will soon come across many volunteer fire departments. The old man at the paramedic building didn’t offer much help either. He might as well been a volunteer too. I head to a bicycle rental shop that I passed whilst first coming into town and see these two peculiar looking mid30s white Americans. I approach and ask if there are any shelters, campgrounds or churches that could house me for the night. Tom and Adam, the two white people, would go off on random tangents and I would have to reinforce the question again. They finally said no but offered a solution of staying at this turn of the century stone shack by the river that was away from people so I wouldn’t be caught. I follow as they take me down this pitch black dirt road. My guard is completely raised and clench my bike lock as if it’s a club in preparation of any wrong doing. I feel like I’m in the Blair Witch Project and some creature is gonna swoop out of the darkness and dismember my “guides”. We finally get to the place and it’s an immediate HELL NO!! Nothing but spider webs, trash and debris litter the ground. Thanks but no thanks. We head back to the lights of White Haven, I thank them and say I know of a small clear patching outside of town that I can use as a camp site. We go our separate ways and make my way through the dark streets to the backend of town where a park resides. I gave Tom and Adam the wrong info of where I would be in order to avoid any unwanted encounter.

I come across a baseball field but realize there isn’t a place where I would be completely outta sight from any one coming into the park. I search and search until I settle on the roof of a baseball dugout. It was perfect. I would be off the wet ground, away from the creatures of the night and be able to sleep under the stars. I throw my bike and gear onto the roof then hoist myself up. It seemed like a dreamless plan but there was a flaw… the moisture and dew from the night. I wake up with water on the verge of soaking my sleeping bag with me in it. I pull out the waterproof fly from my tent and cover myself and gear. I’m constantly waking because the roof is at a slant and I keep sliding down as well as the protecting tarp. I should have known that being outside in low 40 degree night would welcome trouble. With hardly any sleep I wake before the sun rises and prep myself for the day ahead. I push the bike through the wet grass just as the park maintenance crew arrives to begin their daily duties.

Whoa… Dodged my first of many bullets to come.

Jersey Pt. 2

Long Valley, NJ- Delaware Water Gap, PA

 

Day 3 breaks and I rush to get my gear in order so that the local community knows not of my presence.  Another day of climbing and riding around the edges of mountains but can’t help to think that I am not making the time, mileage or goals set for the day. To make matters a bit more intense the weather report calls for heavy rain. This proves to be a great motivating tool to push hard for the Pennsylvania border but still have not a clue as to how I’m going to cut west through the state. Oh well, I’ll have to worry about the details of that later. My mind is set and I’m inching closer and closer but my stomach is beating me to the punch and I begin searching for a place to have lunch.

The landscape is very much the same. Large deciduous trees, thick grass and vines litter the ground, decomposed timber, moss in various shades and the fresh sent of the open air.  After peddling for miles I come across a lone hot dog stand. The place seems to have some sort of cult following because on a very unpleasant day there was quite the line. I had to stop and see for myself what the rave was about. My stomach seemed more excited at the possibility of being filled.  As the sky becomes slightly darker I order three hot dogs an order of fries and a cup of water. I think this should do the trick. I sit at a picnic table under a large patio. More and more people arrive to Johnnys Hot Dogs and begin to fill all of the tables. Nobody asks to sit with me and begin to feel like the new kid at a cafeteria being ostracized. Is it me? My clothes? My helmet hair? My bike? No matter, I begin devouring the helpless hotdogs and fries.

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Just as the second hot dog has know idea what is coming its way these three older ladies ask if they could sit with me. I smiled, stood and said “please join me.” Barbara, Gloria and third name escapes me are all very curious about what I’m doing riding in this weather. I immediately smile to myself because Barbara and Gloria are the names of my mom and Tia. My spirits raise for this is the first chance that I’ll have the uninterrupted time to tell complete strangers of my journey.  The looks of shock, confusion and wonder fall upon their faces. I begin to tell them more, the logistics of how I’m going to complete this massive undertaking. The sky grows dark, the temperature drops and not soon after the rain begins to fall. Now, this poses a huge problem for me because I still have some 20 miles until I cross state line. We all gaze at the rain, look back at each other then repeat. Barb, as she likes to be called, says “you’re not riding in that, are you?” Ive got no other choice but to deal with the weather and push on. They glance at each other and talk amongst themselves coming to the conclusion that they’ll drive me to state line. Gloria even knows a place that houses hikers fresh from the Appalachian Trail and thinks that would be a great place to stay the night. It all seems to be falling into place. We stuff my bike in the back of Barb’s Dodge Caravan and head up the 46 to the bridge that’ll cross the Delaware River into Portland, PA. They all start telling me of how they’re all cousins and have their summer homes just across the river in Pennsylvania right adjacent to one another. The history they have together is amazing to hear, several decades coming to the same place for the summer and bringing their respective families. We make it to Portland but there is no sign of this venue. Gloria then realizes that its in the next town north, Delaware Water Gap. We pass by their homes which are all lined next to each other and they tell me about the history of the Water Gap.

The minivan pulls up to the church and it is still raining. Gloria, Barb and myself walk into the lodging area and speak with the Pastor. She tells us that the venue is only available to hikers and not cyclists, that they have had problems in the past with cyclists. I become a bit discouraged but she does offer some solutions. She says to try the two hotels in town. The first has had problems with trafficking and drugs, I think to myself theres no way I’m going to pay money when all of that is happening around me. The second is a hotel next door that are quoting $90-120 a night. Um… No thanks. She can tell I’m not going to take either option so she says that I can set up camp in the back of the church on a small patch of grass under some trees. Sounds good to me. I say my goodbyes to the lovely ladies and thank them from the bottom of my heart.

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I head towards the back of the church and begin assembling my tent. I throw everything inside including my bike and check to see how the world is faring via my phone. Not soon after a hiker comes to my tent and says that the Pastor has left and that a he and another are going to a diner for dinner. Its refreshing to have a day of meeting complete strangers and swapping life stories. Dinner was full of great conversation. We made our way back and was able to take a shower before heading back through the fog in the dark of night to my warm sleeping bag. I fall asleep knowing that days like this will happen, you just have to be open and willing to ask for help.

Gettin Outta Jersey!

 

Alexis’ House – Long Valley,NJ

Morning breaks and I am still satisfied from last nights dinner. The newly weds, Ian and Alexis, walk in have a quick bite then step out to run some errands. I slowly begin to drag my feet by checking which route would be most efficient to leave Jersey and head for Buffalo. I decide on a north western route that would cut through Pennsylvania, reconnect to NY and reach Buffalo. After gathering all of my gear and arranging it properly into both panniers Alexis and Ian stroll in. I realize it’s almost noon, get changed into my cycling gear and in no time we’re on our way to a more isolated part of the Jersey suburbs. I assemble the all necessities to the bike hop on and ride off waving good bye to the only family I’ll see for some time.

After several hours of nothing but left turns and right turns I finally make it out of the burbs and to the Jersey countryside. It’s a beautiful, lush and pristine landscape. The only problem… Hills. I’m not talking about small rolling hills. I’m climbing up these steep bastards and remind you that the longest trip I’ve done was a meager 50 mile ride in LA.

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I’m losing daylight fast as the sun sets behind the hills. I quickly set off my route and find a small opening in the forest. I set up camp quickly because I don’t want want my presence to be known. I nestle in the tent knowing that this will be one of many slept alone and outside.

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Days 1

Sitting on the couch waiting for the cab to arrive. Too many thoughts and emotions for me to pull down from my mind. What do I say? The cab pulls up in front of the brownstone. I help her with her bags and load em up. I hold her hand, embrace her tight then pull back slightly to give her a kiss. A kiss with a promise that I will come back a better man, a kiss signifying that my heart belongs to her. My heart beats fast knowing that in a few seconds I’ll have to let go and not see her for 2 1/2 months. The only words I can summon are “I love you so much and can’t wait to have you wrapped in my arms.”
She expresses her love to me, she steps into the cab and before I know it she’s turning the corner and the car is gone.
My trip begins… I purchase my train ticket to Buffalo via Amtrak. As I hop onto the bike I immediately notice the weight that I’ll be lugging across the states. I make my way towards the Brooklyn bridge, passing through my old neighborhood of Fort Greene. Reminiscing of all the wonderful memories I have had there. I make it to the bridge but first a necessary picture to commemorate the where I began.
After navigating the traffic through Manhattan to Penn Station I’m hit with the unfortunate and unexpected news that I am not allowed to bring my bike onto the train. I immediately get a refund, sit to charge my phone and think of another plan. The only ways to push forward is to run the risk of checking with Port Authority Bus Terminal or just do what I intended to do originally. Cross the USA unassisted. I immediately realize that my cousin Alexis and her husband Ian live just across the river in Jersey. She tells me that she’s going to be on the Upper Westside working at one of the soccer fields coaching the elite under 11year olds. I kill some time by tuning up my bike in Central Park. After her practice is over we cross the George Washington bridge to her home. Ian is there to greet us and after dropping my stuff off we head out for dinner. Knowing that I have a long day tomorrow, I gorge on carbs and protein. We get back to their place, I knock out with excitement and fear of what lays ahead of me.

To Alexis and Ian…
Thank you so much for housing and feeding me. I am incredibly grateful and love you both.

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Hello world…

Sorry for the lateness everyone. It seems rural Pennsylvania isn’t known for having free wifi.

I should formerly inform everyone what it is I’m doing and my reasons why….

Well, I’m riding my bicycle from Brooklyn(BK) to LA(city of angels). Yes, this is the same Schwinn roadie I bought from my friend Fernanda back in BK some 3 years ago. Before you question why I would use a Schwinn from the mid 80s, let me inform you that I’ve invested major for the bike to handle the payload and the longevity of this adventure. Not to mention the necessary gear and clothing to help me to the finish line.

For the better part of 8 or 9 years I’ve been dealing with depression, lying and guilt. This has not only hurt loved ones but myself. To carry an unnecessary burden for so many years makes me question why I would do this to myself. A year or two after graduating high school the lies began and they eventually ballooned into several more than I could handle and friends and family began to notice. I left Santa Paula, my hometown, and Brooklyn because I couldn’t contain the lies. I felt like I could move to a new town and start new… fresh… a clean slate. Though I would relocate, my past and ease of lying would surface. I always had a preconceived notion that success on any level would make myself more attractive to family, friends, current/former girlfriends and the casual stranger. The ability to lie had a negative effect on my psyche. I became unmotivated to even finish a semester of school, didn’t want to venture to new and wonderful places, etc. I became depressed. It wasn’t until I had emotionally hurt my girlfriend that this had to stop, not just for our relationship but for myself both present and future. I want to feel good… I want to feel happy… I want to feel loved. She was the first person I had ever told as to how I was feeling for several years. It goes without saying that the conversation was heavily emotional but the weight lifted from my shoulders was indescribable. I then told my parents, brother, sister and select friends shortly thereafter. For several months I’ve been under the guidance of professional help and feel worlds better but know there is still more work to done.

I choose to do this ride for personal discovery, self discipline, to see this beautiful country and it’s people and for an unforgettable journey.

I’m ready to be happy….