Thursday, July 23, 2009

Fabian's Time Trial Frame: The Shiv



This is the frame on which Spartacus rode 40.5 kms in 48:33 today at the Tour de France's Annecy time trial. This ride included the Cat. 3 climb at Bluffy (not to be confused with nearby Gruffy!) and comes after several days of dragging the Schleck brothers around the mountains. Well done, Fabian!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Bike Cave™

Floor-to-ceiling cycling!

With the gradual growth of the bicycle fleet and the apparent reduction in size in our basement, I finally decided to get serious about organizing things and went off to Mountain Equipment and purchased some bike racks. These things look like they can't possibly hold up two bikes but in fact are very cleverly designed. And with six bikes at home (BlackAdder resides in the garage for most of the year) I was all set.

The Bike Cave™ features: three racks with bikes; hooks for hanging spare wheels in their bags and for workout tubing; a set of wire shelves for touring equipment, extra parts, spare tubes and tires, cleaning supplies and lubricants; a large television/DVD/VHS system for the training videos; a big set of plastic boxes containing cycling magazines; a small sound system for Eurotrance music workouts; a gym bench with weights, sitting on rubber workout mats; a large bookshelf with doors for the cycling book collection; a really large wardrobe for cycling clothes, shoes, helmets and nutrition supplies; a Kurt Kinetic trainer workout area, with a floor fan.

My considerable collection of framed jerseys and posters has not yet found a home mainly because the basement is unfinished and I can't figure out where or how to hang them.

There is no beer fridge. Yet.

Not very glamourous but probably better than what Eddy Merckx began with.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Be Careful Out There

Yesterday, a nice sunny day, saw a serious incident when five cyclists, riding early in the morning on a marked bike lane in a quiet area just west of Ottawa, were struck by a hit-and-run driver and left unconscious on the road. Two of them have life-threatening injuries.

They were apparently experienced riders (I don't know any of them personally), so all I can say is be careful out there. A report of the incident (I do not consider these things "accidents") made the national press in Canada here, as well as the local press here. An arrest has been made and five charges of failing to remain at the scene of an accident have been laid, with more charges expected. In my own view, the standard of driving continues to decline in North America and it should be far more difficult to obtain a driver's license.

UPDATE: Although four of the cyclists seem to be out of danger, the fifth is in very critical condition and apparently has brain damage. On a positive note, Lance Armstrong, in his daily video from the Tour de France, mentioned the incident after his summary of Stage 16, and sent his best wishes. Although an often controversial person in the world of cycling, he certainly has some admirable qualities off the bike as well.



Tour de France Pre-Stage 16 Update from Lance Armstrong -- powered by http://www.livestrong.com

Friday, July 17, 2009

Time Trial Thursday Yet Again

Stopwatch Test
photo by casey.marshall, Creative Commons

Although I was feeling a bit tired after doing a 15 km time trial on July 2, a 40 km time trial on July 5, a 10 km time trial on July 9, and another 40 km on July 12 (every one of which was a personal best on those courses), my coach thought it would be a good idea to do the Thursday Ottawa Bicycle Club Open Time Trial yet again, describing its importance more a mental thing than a physical one. So I left work a bit early and cycled home to get ready, with what looked like an impending thunderstorm overhead. Quickly packed up, I drove off to the course although I have to admit I did not feel as aggressively happy as last Sunday, or the previous Thursday.

While the thunderstorm did not actually appear, there was a goodly amount of wind blowing down the course. This week there were almost no rollerbladers so I could not use the excuse that I had to change my line as a reason for riding so slowly. The number of time triallers seemed to have dropped from last week as well and someone told me that a lot of the 15 km participants don't bother coming out for this shorter ride. I have to say that I like riding on a smooth closed road very much, and if nothing else it is a 10 km interval training session.

The warm-up went well, although I was starting to overheat a bit as the temperature was around 26C, but I find that I go better in heat so I was not worried. The launch went smoothly but I could feel the tailwind as I quickly reached up to nearly 51 km/h before spooling down and getting into a more relaxed position. At about 3 kms I felt some pain in my stomache but I could see my 30 second man, on a fancy Cervelo, up ahead, and I quickly forgot my discomfort.

At the turnaround, I tried out the advice of braking at the last second as the volunteers gesticulated wildly, probably thinking I was going to keep going. It was not the best turn but I was on the climb very quickly and found on this part of the return course I could really bring up the speed, hitting 44/45 km/h. I could still see the rider on the Cervelo and thought I was getting a bit closer, although it was unlikely I could catch him.

Fully into the wind now (it was blowing out the west at around 20 km/h) and I had trouble keeping the speed much over 39-40 km/h, and my heart rate was a hammering 172 bpm. This week the finish line did not come up unexpectedly but seemed tauntingly far away once I saw it. But I kept at it and crossed the line in a decent time, albeit not nearly as fast as last week. I actually felt slow for most of the course and the wind really exhausted me at the end. I was surprised that I was only 13 seconds off of last week's pace, coming in at 14:44, for an average of 40.72 km/h in spite of the wind. My coach thinks this shows a good consistency and I am happy that last week's fast ride was not a fluke. Two of the riders ahead of me were two I was faster than last week so perhaps next week I can surpass them again. It was a breakthrough of sorts since I was no longer placed 5th in my age group, leaping to 4th (and only 5 seconds away from a podium placing). Still came 15th overall, this time out of 47 riders.

And now I can look forward to some bike polishing and some recovery time before next week's time trial.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Dollars and Sense of Commuting

Piggy Bank
Photo by alancleaver 2000, Creative Commons

Although I truly enjoy riding to work every day, I basically have no choice except for cycling anyway since walking takes about 50 mintues each way and the bus requires a transfer and is otherwise quite inconvenient. No parking is available at my workplace either, but there is lots of bike parking and a locker room.

However, if I did have a choice, I would probably ride anyway. And, even better, according to a calculator at Kiplinger.com, a finance website, compared to driving I save enough money to buy a rather modest lunch each day. Modest enough to ensure that I will not gain any weight. You can figure out your own savings here here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Time Trial Sunday: 40 Kms around Fournier

Although the weather has been generally miserable this summer in the Ottawa region, we had our second superb Sunday in a row, which has worked out nicely since both of them featured 40 km time trials. This week it was the Ottawa Bicycle Club's 40 km Open Time Trial held, as it was last September, in Fournier, Ontario, not far from the boundary with Quebec.

Although the weather was excellent, with sun and temperatures around 20C, there was some wind. Going out on the course, the promised tailwind did not materialize, but more of a niggling side wind. The course is not flat but constantly climbs and descends except for a medium hill near the turnaround.

There were 36 participants and my friend the Mocha Man joined me but decided he was not feeling well enough to race so he was a much-needed volunteer, freeing up someone who did plan to ride. Rather than going with the usual one minute starts, it was decided to go with the 30 second intervals we use for shorter races. This was a bit strange to me as I caught my first rider within 6 kms and proceeded to overtake a (for me) astonishing number of other cyclists. Of course, this did not preclude me from being passed at the 27 km mark and again at 37 kms.

I did not recall that the road was quite so cracked when I did the ride in September and running Dreadnought 2's tires at 140 psi I could really feel a lot of jolts. I held a pretty steady pace, reaching the turnaround at 20 kms in just under 31 minutes. But the way back was hard although I was making good time, having done more than 38 kms by the time I reached the hour mark. But the last 2.5 kms saw the road turn directly into the headwind and I could feel my energy draining out.

My sinuses were bothering me as well for the last part but I think the ride was a good one. With a time of 1:02:56 and averaging 38.14 km/h, I easily beat last September's time of 1:05:30 although I am still somewhat off the winner's mark of under 52 minutes! And the riders I beat or tied on Thursday's short time trial easily outpaced me this time as once again I placed 5th in my age group (my invariable position) and 17th overall. It was really fun (especially when it was over) and I will not have another 40 km time trial until the next Calabogie one in September.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Thursday Night Time Trial: Short but Sweet

It is always good to go back to basics and think about your training and racing, and earlier this week I very carefully read a piece by Bruce Hendler about time trial basics here at pezcyclingnews.com. In the article he interviews two coaches about time trialling and techniques they are using to improve performance. It confirmed the approach my own Coach of Cruelty suggests but I found it helpful as well to think about working more in the time trial position and to work on my flexibility. As well, one of the coaches expressed his irritation with riders with $6000 worth of equipment who nevertheless wore gloves, had cables sticking out, and used jerseys instead of skinsuits. Although I certainly do not have expensive equipment, being the Very Cheap Time Triallist, I took the hint and wore my Louis Garneau skinsuit for the first time, having been a bit too self-conscious to wear it before. And I did not wear gloves.

We had a glorious sunny evening in Ottawa, with not too much wind and temperatures around 23C. Due to road construction, our course has been shortened to 10 kms, which makes the starting area a bit crowded as we are no longer at the nice big parking lot at the Aviation Museum, but also means that we have only smooth pavement instead of the usual 2 kms of bouncing and banging that starts and ends the 15 km course. It also means that the climb up to the St. Joseph Blvd. overpass is a greater proportion of the ride so although the smooth pavement would help I was a bit worried that my overall time would not be much better.

The other issue was that since the road is closed to traffic now we had other users to contend with: rollerbladers. They tend to use up a good part of the road and not be as aware of other traffic as they should be. My 70+ nemesis, Hermann, signed up and then decided not to race as he thought it would be too dangerous to mix it up with the bladers. I decided to try and see how things went.

My launch was faster than expected due to the smooth road and I was suddenly pushing 50 km/h and seeing a heart rate of 170 bpm within the first minute of riding. I backed off to around 40-41 km/h and tried to get comfortable but it was hard for me to establish a good rythym. I passed a few rollerbladers but they kept their lines fairly well so it was not too difficult since I had no oncoming traffic to consider. Suddenly, it seemed, I was on the climb, and rapidly backed off to let my heart rate come down. My speed dropped quickly to around 30 km/h but I soon felt comfortable raising it a bit so that I was climbing around 35-37 km/h.

The turnaround was 50 m before the usual spot and I came up to it too fast and had to brake more than I had planned, so the turn was not so great. But I had geared down properly and could attack the return part of the hill very well. There was a slight tailwind coming back and I was able to hold my speed around 42-43 km/h and even passed another rider on a small rise as he was overtaking a rollerblader.

And as suddenly as the climb had come, the finish line loomed ahead of me. There was still gas in the tank so I wound it up to cross at around 45 km/h. My feeling was that my pacing had not been very good because with 5 km less of riding I should have pushed much harder on the return and crossed feeling more tired. But for a first ride on a 10 km course it probably was okay to set a baseline to work with over the next four weeks while we still are using the short course. Plus I like to think of this as serious interval training to get me ready for the 15 kms when that happens later this summer.

The official results have come in and to my surprise I came 5th out of 15 in my age group, only 10 seconds off of the Virtual Podium, and 15th out of 62 riders overall. My time was 14:31, giving me an average of 41.3 km/h, and putting me ahead of a number of racers who are usually much faster than I am on the 15 or 40 km courses. Maybe I am a prologue specialist? Anyway, I did not feel overextended on the ride and am very much looking forward to my 40 km time trial on Sunday in Fournier.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Great Allegheny Passage, Day 2

We awoke for the second day of our adventure in America’s heartland and fortified ourselves by going to the diner next to the motel for breakfast. The joint was hoppin’ and everyone had their plates loaded up with what the menu described as “Amish meat.” Our wildly exuberant waitress, Hope, high-fived us all when we sat down to eat. The food arrived rapidly and in sufficient quantities, as could be expected. My omelette was quite alright but when Dr. Chef shared his potato pancakes with me I realized that we had perhaps hit the establishment’s culinary ceiling. Both the good doctor and I commented for the remainder of the day that we could still feel those pancakes sitting there, leaden and immobile.

As we left the motel, the Badger and Mrs. B. struck up a conversation with a group of cyclists from Las Vegas who were also riding the GAP trail. They had various kinds of rental bikes and at least one support vehicle. Apparently the men did the riding and the women went antiquing so everyone was happy.

A future B&B?

We enjoyed the very rapid downhill that took us through Connellsville and back onto the trail, although by going back to where we had left the trail the day before we found ourselves facing the wrong way. Backtracking past an impressive old house that looked abandoned although the grass had been cut, we passed a large bike shop and soon found the signs directing us to the Great Allegheny Passage.

Today would probably be the wildest part of the ride as about 8 miles after leaving Connellsville we entered Ohiopyle State Park, one of the most visited parks in the state. This section of the GAP trail, opened in 1986, is the oldest and remains the most popular. The Las Vegas group caught up to us along this stretch, although some of the cyclists in the group were definitely faster than others. A further 9 miles of cycling took us over a wonderful pair of bridges over an oxbow of the river before we came into the village of Ohiopyle proper.

More than 2 million visitors come to Ohiopyle, many for the white-water canoeing and kayaking on the Youghiogheny. There was a very nice Visitors’ Center in the restored railway station and it was here we decided to split up as Dr. Chef wanted to take me to Fallingwater, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house, which the Badger and Mrs. B. had visited numerous times before. They would have some lunch further along the trail and meet us at our day’s destination of Meyersdale. The lady at the Visitors’ Center suggested we leave our panniers with her as the ride to Fallingwater, while only 6 miles, included some big hills.

Properly fortified with ice cream, we rode our now much-lighter bicycles along Rt. 381 north to Fallingwater. The sun was out and we were getting pretty hot as it was around noon but we arrived at the parking lot pretty quickly. We had booked a tour for 1:00 p.m. but could get into an earlier one with no problem. The area where the tickets sales were was attractively done up, and there was a small café and a bookshop as well. We waited for our group to be called and today was the first day for one of the staff to make an announcement, so we recorded Becky’s inaugural speech:



Fallingwater is a house designed by renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1934 and was designated a national historic landmark in 1966. It is unique in that it takes its natural surroundings and incorporates them into its overall scheme. The house itself is built above a waterfall, cantilevered out from the surrounding rocks. It was constructed for Kaufmanns, who owned a department store in Pittsburgh, and was their weekend residence from 1937 until 1963, when it was given to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and opened to the public.

The house is quite extraordinary, with an impressive sculptural quality. The rooms have huge windows, and open onto wide terraces. The idea was to blend the outdoors and living spaces. In this it is successful, although as a practical home it has had certain issues, including mildew and other maintenance problem. The biggest problem was that Frank Lloyd Wright reduced the amount of structural steel in the cantilevers recommended by engineers and the house began to top over. A major renovation project to correct this was undertaken in 2002 to retension the floors and for the first time since the house was built there has been no scaffolding anywhere around it. It really is quite magnificent although perhaps more as an artwork than a house. Another Wright house, Kentuck Knob, is close by, and this was more designed for family living needs.

Dr. Chef and I climbed the big hill on Rt. 381 before rolling down at high speed to Ohiopyle, where we reclaimed our panniers and settled down for lunch. Our timing was ideal as a few minutes later the sun disappeared and was replaced by black clouds and a monsoon-like downpour. We enjoyed our lunch, starting with another large plate of deep-fried vegetables–a sort of Pennsylvania tempura, I suppose, and watched the rain fall.

The downpour over, we took to our bicycles and rode along the river towards Confluence. The trail was wet and quite muddy and we had to stop at one point as more rain came, but nothing was interrupting the enjoyment of the white water kayakers we saw.

We stopped briefly in Confluence, where the Youghiogheny and Casselman Rivers meet Laurel Hill Creek. George Washington once camped here when it was still called Turkey Foot. Now following the Casselman, we passed Fort Hill, once a stockade of Native Americans and abandoned before the Europeans arrived, and came to an abandoned tunnel, the Pinkerton. It was completed in 1871 and, as was the practice then, lined with timber. It subsequently burned in 1879 and a temporary grade was built around it. The grade is where the bike path now goes but there are plans to eventually repair the tunnel, as has been done elsewhere on the route.

The town of Rockwood was to our left, on the opposite shore. Passing a ridge punctuated with wind turbines, we approached Meyersdale over the Salisbury Viaduct, an impressive structure that dominates the valley. It was opened in 1912 as part of the Western Maryland Railway’s Connellsville Extension, and gives a wide view of the valley, the Casselman River and existing CSX railway. The viaduct is 1,908 feet long and 101 feet high and was abandoned for railroad use in the early 1980s and brought back to life for cyclists in 1999.

Dr. Chef and I soon after came to the Meyersdale Trailhead and Visitor Center, in another restored railway station and turned left along Main Street, rolling down the hill into Meyersdale, Pennsylvania’s “Maple City.” Without much difficulty we found the Burgess House, a large Victorian home where we would stay. The Badger and Mrs. B. were already there and we spend the next while hosing down our bicycles and shedding the layers of mud acquired on the day’s ride.

The Burgess House is available for up to nine guests, and we had it to ourselves. After getting cleaned up, we walked over to Take Six Pizza for dinner, ending the evening with yet more ice cream. It had been a great day, with 65 miles of cycling, some memorable sights and even some bad weather.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Tour de France Team Time Trial

I very much enjoy following the time trials of the Tour de France and so far this year we have not been disappointed, between the excellent opening individual time trial in Monaco and today's team time trial. Although Team Astana was the winner, I thought that Fabian Cancellara's nearly single-handed attempt to drag Team Saxo Bank to the finish line was terrific as well, and it keeps him in yellow for at least one more day. Here is a video showing Saxo Bank's finish after getting a bit disorganized, and watch how the Man in Yellow brings everyone in:



Of course, not everyone had such a great day, as you can see from the misadventures of poor team BBox Bouygues:

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Almonte Bicycle Club 40 km Open Time Trial: More Progress

After an hour's drive, I arrived in Calabogie feeling very rested in spite of having gotten up at 5:00 a.m. Conditions on the course were ideal for the time trial today with very little wind, and the turnout was quite big at around 45 participants.

I felt really relaxed and had a good 45 minute warm-up before rolling out to the start line, hoping to be possessed by the spirit of Fabian Cancellara. My launch was smooth and my new strategy of working on pacing meant that I tried to keep my heart rate around 158 bpm on the outward leg, which is uphill. There was a very slight headwind nibbling at the front of the bike but it was no big deal. I found this lower heart rate let me maintain a good speed without feeling too tired, and I made a serious effort not to chase down riders ahead of me but just slowly ride up to them. I passed one at 6 km and another at 15 (1 minute starts). At this point I was holding a speed of around 38-40 km/h but could not get much higher without feeling stressed.

The turnaround is difficult on this course as it is downhill on a narrow road but I shifted into the small ring, coasted through the turn and immediately spun fast up the climb coming back. I felt much stronger than I had previously on the course so now I added speed to bring my heart rate up to 163+. I was seeing lots of big numbers, with long drags at 45-47 km/h, and some of the downhills at over 60. At 60 minutes I had ridden 37.06 kms. I crossed the finish line at 1:04:02.

This was more than four minutes faster than last time but conditions were very poor then. A better comparison would be the rides I did last year: 1:06:10 and 1:06:18. This was also faster than the flat 40 km course I did in September at 1:05+. I was very conservative with the pacing today and am sure that I could increase speed on the return leg even more. Since I had always been pretty exhausted on the return leg, I had never noticed that it is markedly downhill. I also used my small chainring a lot more today and tried to spin up the climbs more quickly. A lot of extremely strong riders were out due to the excellent weather, so we had a dozen under 60 minutes, but I think my results were very encouraging.

Next Sunday there will be a flat 40 km time trial near Fournier so we will see if my pacing strategy will work there as well as it did today on 350 m of climbing.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Time Trial Thursday: Progress!

I went out last night in spite of the clouds and did a good warm-up. I decided to change my strategy as the wind was dying down (for the first time ever!) and I would have a slight headwind going out and nothing much on the way back so this time I would hold back on the ride out.

The result was surprising as I crossed the finish line (after my first time trial in rain) feeling much stronger than usual. Not only did I manage to pass two other riders en route but I set a Personal Best time of 22:42 in the 15 kms. This translates out to 39.65 km/h, so while I am not quite at 40 km/h I only need to find 12 more seconds and I was 21 seconds faster than last week. Unfortunately, this effort will be delayed a bit as part of our tt course is being repaved and as of next week the course will be shortened to 10.75 kms. On the next two Sundays I will have some 40 km time trials to contend with...

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Lance Armstrong Rides the Columbiere with his 8 Year Old Training Partner

Lance Armstrong's final preparation ride for the 2009 Tour. I rode this stretch at the Tour d'Enfer in a hailstorm last year. This looks like more fun!


Demand Media Video -- powered by demandmedia.com

Obesity in America

Before I continue with my travelogue in the Land of Deep-Fried Cauliflower, a side note. Today the Trust for America's Health released its 2009 "F is for Fat" report (you can see it here) and things are not looking up. 2/3 of Americans are obese or overweight. Adult obesity rates increased in 23 states and decresed in none. But what is alarming it the rate of childhood obesity, which has more than tripled since 1980. Mississippi has the highest rate of obese and overweight children at 44.4 percent, a number that seems incredible to me.

As a cycling enthusiast, my answer to this is that kids won't exercise unless they find it fun and cycling is enjoyable. But with fewer children walking or cycling to school, this outlet is being cut off, and good habits that they might develop in childhood will not be carried over into their adult lives. Couple this with bad dietary habits (such as mine during the GAP trail trip) and it is no wonder the numbers look so bad. Canada's rate of obesity is apparently one-third less than the U.S. one but still nothing to be particularly proud about.

Of course, who could resist this?

New Wearable Feedbags Let Americans Eat More, Move Less

The Great Allegheny Passage, Day 1

Getting all the equipment loaded up in Cumberland, MD

In August 2007 Dr. Chef and I rode the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath from Washington, DC, to Cumberland, Maryland. At one of our overnight stops, our host gave us a Trailbook for the Great Allegheny Passage, a continuation of the C&O that runs along abandoned railway right-of-ways, reaching nearly Pittsburgh. The book whetted our appetites for more Mid-Atlantic Region cycling adventure. We were determined to ride this 134 mile stretch at some point and agreed to get together again at Cumberland. Of course, time passes and Dr. Chef is now on the West Coast and I am in Canada but all things are possible if you try hard enough and on June 8 we met up in Cumberland again, joined by the Badger and Mrs. Badger.

The first issue was logistics. Although the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail is an important source of tourism income for an economically-depressed area, it is still hard to get transportation one-way to either Cumberland or McKeesport, Pennsylvania. However, Dr. Chef solved our problem by working with a local Cumberland taxi company and we were able to book a minivan and driver. John, our driver, had even obtained a bike rack suitable for three bikes so with the fourth bike in the luggage area we were all set We left our cars in a special long-term parking lot under the Interstate after checking in with the Parks Service and off we went towards Pittsburgh. Heading west on I-68,we soon turned off on US-219, crossing the Maryland-Pennsylvania line (the famed Mason-Dixon Line, of course) and driving past Meyersdale, which would be our stop on the second night of cycling. We passed through Berlin, PA, home of the pretzel manufacturer Snyder’s of Berlin (not to be ever confused with those Other Guys making pretzels in Pennsylvania, Snyder’s of Hanover) before turning west on I-70 and soon reaching our destination, McKeesport, after a drive of 2 ½ hours from Cumberland.

Ready to leave McKeesport, PA

We unloaded the bikes near a bridge at the confluence of the Monongahela and Youghiogheny Rivers. Pittsburgh was across that bridge but as yet the Great Allegheny Passage trail has not yet found a way over to the other side so for the time being the trail begins in McKeesport near the McKees Point Marina. Once noted for its coal deposits, which would have been important in the development of Pittsburgh’s steel industry, as well as its own steel-making plants, McKeesport is a faded town with a lot of boarded-up buildings and signs of urban decay. There are probably only 20,000 people living there compared to its heyday of 55,000. It resembled some of the towns I have seen around Buffalo, New York, where the Rust Belt decline since the 1980s has caused a significant population outflow and the virtual abandonment of downtown areas.

After the obligatory starting photo, we said goodbye to John and rode off along the shore of the Youghiogheny. Looking at this name, I had to admit I was clueless as to how it might be pronounced but Mrs. Badger, coming from the region, told me to say it as “Yock-i-gain-y,” and that the locals simply call it “the Yough.”

Milkshakes!

Dr. Chef was feeling some hunger pangs so we were on the lookout for a likely place to eat but as we rode along the crushed gravel trail it became apparent that there would not be many choices. We asked a lady near Boston (or “Little Boston,” as the locals call it) if there was any place to get food and she told us that most things were closed on Mondays but that ten miles up the trail there was an ice cream place. Sounded good to us, so off we rolled and near Sutersville we found the Yough Twister, an ice cream drive-in the 1950s style. Even better than the 1950s, in fact, because along with a lengthy selection of various ice creams, both hard and soft style, there was a long menu featuring all kinds of food you would not expect in such a small place, including gyros and pitas. We enjoyed our food, including some great onion rings and deep-fried cauliflower, and some superb milkshakes. Perhaps not the kind of food for endurance athletes but we were on holiday.

The restored train station, West Newton, PA

Back in the saddle, our route took us to West Newton, where a beautiful restored train station was a reminder of the railroad whose path we were following. West Newton has been a jump-off point in the late 1700s for people heading west. Taking advantage of the abundant forest, they would launch rafts here and float downstream to Pittsburgh and on to the Ohio River. Evidence of industrial activity is commonplace and near Whitsett we saw the concrete silos of the Banning Number One mine, all that remains from a once-active coaling operation. We had a good view of the impressive Pittsburgh & West Virginia Banning trestle that crosses the river.

Dr. Chef relaxes in West Newton

There were tracts of land here once owned by George Washington, an active land speculator, but the region really blossomed due to the Pittsburgh Coal Seam. Our stop for the night, Connellsville, was a boom town once and no fewer than eight railroads, in competition with river freight on the Youghiogheny, went through the town. It had a population of 7,170 in 1900, but a century later this number was only 9,146, a mere 2/3 of what it had been in 1940. Immigrant labourers came to work in the area’s mines and Connellsville Coal was considered to be the finest metallurgical coal in the world for the production of the coke used in the iron and steel industries.

P&WE Banning Trestle

As we entered Connellsville, we could hear thunder. We asked for directions to our motel (the only one in town) and soon were on a busy uphill road. We made it to our overnight place just in time as the rain began to fall. The Melody Motor Lodge was the only game in town for accommodation, except a Victorian b&b, and was a bit grim, with possible the thinnest towels I have ever seen in a bathroom. Next to it was a small diner, but it was only open for breakfast and lunch.

Dr. Chef wandered down the road and found a beer store and brought us back some interesting craft beers, including one named for Eliot Ness (of “Untouchables” Chicago crime-fighting fame). There was not a lot of choice in restaurants in walking distance, since we did not really want to ride on the busy highway in the dark anywhere, but Dr. Chef told us we could get food at the beer store so we walked over there. The menu was fairly simple but yet again we could get deep-fried cauliflower, which seems to be a sort-of gourmet speciality of Central Pennsylvania. We had massive sandwiches with lots of fried things alongside, washed down with a mixed six-pack of beers taken from the cooler. And to finish off this healthful meal, we walked to the front of the place for yet more ice cream. If we had not been cycling all day we would probably would not have been able to burn off this food for several weeks.

And so ended our first day on the Great Allegheny Passage, with 73 kms (45 miles) ridden in 4 ½ hours of relaxed sightseeing.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Graham Watson's Tour de France Travel Guide: A Review

Lots of reading these days in preparation for La Grande Boucle! My second book review in a week is at Pezcyclingnews and can be found here.

With the Tour de France starting on Saturday, July 4, with the Monaco time trial, this book has arrived just in time. Enjoy!