22 November, 2011

Go Tour

A guest post by Alec Burney

It’s been a bit more than a year, the calendar says, but it seems like just the other day that I shoved off from home with gear on my bike and dreams in my head.

I just got my photos back, and that brings it all into focus again. I’m reminded that I wouldn’t have seen these sights or met the folks I did if I hadn’t been inching my way a few thousand miles down the coast.

Relaxing in the shade

What I’m left with is a confirmation of what the bicycle is and can be. It’s a tool for going from “A” to “B,” some will tell you. Or it’s a toy for zipping around on the weekend. Or a piece of exercise equipment. Or maybe it’s a different way of thinking.

The Pine Creek Gorge
You can hop on and head towards “B,” but all along the way you’ll get to do something magical - you’ll get to bump around through life and experience all of its little joys. The bicycle is a tool - a tool of discovery. And it’s a toy, a magical thing that makes adults into children again. Exercise equipment? An exercise in life.

You can head out for a weekend or a week, and stick to the dirt roads, state forests, and country lanes where it’s quiet and there’s little traffic. Maybe you’ll find yourself on an unpaved track in the backcountry where you can go at your own speed and be contented with your own thoughts.

A sensible bike will let you put on some bigger tires, for comfort, racks for your stuff, but then the rest is up to you - go have fun! When you're out rambling, you don't need much to stay happy.

Tioga State Forest

My "navigation device"
As I made my way I learned about what I needed and what I didn’t. Cue sheets don’t help much when you’re going almost 3,000 miles and like to follow wrong turns and ride down bike paths. Each gas station in each state you go through has a huge folding road map for only a few dollars. These helped me get lost a little bit more, and ride up big hills I didn’t need to, and encouraged me to go West when I wanted to go East, and visit parks I might have missed otherwise.
Swimming in Pennsylvania

A turtle in the Genesee Valey
The bike paths were some of my favorite riding. It seems that deer and hawks and turtles come from all around to enjoy the little bit of woods in the suburban sprawl. Bike paths connected me to friendly folks, swimming holes, icecream stands, and great camping spots.

Life on the bike really was life without a schedule, where I could nap and read under a shade tree in the heat of the day.
Jersey Mills Post Office
I crossed Western New York from North to South, and wondered how towns like “Cuba” and “Nunda” extracted their names from the nearly-Canadian so-far-north, glaciatic terrain of Upstate. Soon I crossed into Pennsylvania, got a new state map, and tried my best to get lost in a maze of forest roads. Susquehannock, Tioga, State Game Lands this and that, and the Pine Creek Gorge. The trail is a strange mix of old and new, and I drew my water for the day from springs alongside while tourists in enormous traditional covered wagons rolled past joggers and mountain bikers. The town of Jersey Mills added to the charm - its post office was connected to what was almost certainly someone's house. The post office was closed, but I dropped my letters in the box and kept going.
Pine Creek covered wagon

And along the way I learned to ask for directions. “Anyone seen Williamsburg? It’s over there somewhere, right?” It’s fun to let on that you’re completely lost, especially when you are.

My "trail guide"
This guy showed me to the trail that would be my secret highway into Philadelphia. Some of the prettiest secret entrances to huge cities are via bike paths that follow big rivers. Way better than sitting in traffic. I can’t recall his name, but he was a spirited rider and had been enjoying his bike so long that the toptube was rusted through in one spot, from sweaty summer afternoons. I hope he’s gotten a new bike by now.

The NCR trail
Zigzagging to Philadelphia brought me to a weekend of reconnecting with friends while the Flyers missed the Cup by just a hair. Philadelphia was not happy about that, and I escaped up the Schuykill River trail and then across to York, and followed the NCR trail through the towns of Railroad, New Freedom, and Freeland.
Schuykill River Trail

Before I knew it I was on the Jones Falls trail, an amazing part of Baltimore that could be anywhere, a serious part in the middle of a busy city.

Gary joined me for the New York section

Virginia is a blur of long rollers, but then the flat, calm Outer Banks of North Carolina leave a lasting memory. I’ve been back to ride this section a couple more times. It’s very strange to find yourself so surrounded by water, but riding a bike.

There’s parts of Hatteras less than 500 feet across, and it’s all sand dunes. Just a long flat road all to yourself, and a nice campground at the end of it. There’s few bad places to ride a bike, but this might be one of my favorite, if I had to choose.

After landing in southern North Carolina, and attending my sister’s beautiful wedding, I set off on another adventure. Maybe we can talk about it next time.

Until then, who’s got stories to share? Been somewhere neat? Want to go somewhere soon?


Anonymous said...

ah, the freedom of the open road.

Anonymous said...

Great story, wonderful writting. Lets hear more.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Alec,
Really enjoyed this post, and want to affirm your observation that exploring by bicycle is a unique and wonderful way to be in the world.
Ride on.

Riggs said...

I love touring. You see so many things you otherwise would not, at a pace that is so nice. Our Great Allegheny Passage tour was one of the best trips I have ever made.

web said...

Spent 30 days this summer touring Scotland. Beautiful country - REALLY beautiful but we were rained on almost the entire time. And it was cold! But still loved it.
Looking forward to this coming summer, planning on riding from Brooklyn to Montreal via Mass and Vermont.
Great post Alec!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Wow, Alec. From here, I can almost see a better world where bicycles and canoes are primary modes of transport. Tell us more.

Biker Bob said...

Alec, wonderful inspiring report. Do you find state maps vary in detail? The NC map I have doesn't show any gravel roads or forest service roads. Sometimes you have to procure county maps to find little used back roads. I'm sure it also depends on the forest service acreage in a given state.

Mike said...

Alec, your story makes me want to get up and ride. Perhaps your adventures should be chronicled in a book.