“Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth” ~Thoreau
It’s a bit of a late morning on account of the excessive moisture on my rain fly, a deluging dose of coffee and a double deuce dropping. We’ve got full batteries and clean laundry (except I forgot to wash my gloves, which smell like season long unwashed hockey gear at this point). We’ve got about more 10 miles of the previously mentioned steady incline up to the eastern continental divide. At 2,392 feet, it separates the Chesapeake and Gulf of Mexico watersheds. Before that, we slide through a couple more tunnels, my favorite being named “Big Savage Tunnel”. As predicted, both are dimly lit so they are not nearly the challenge Paw Paw was. I yell and hoot and holler my way through it, enjoying the echoes and reverberations. We cross the Mason-Dixon Line for the second time and enter back into Pennsylvania. Oh that Calvert vs Penn dispute shit. History lessons later, or right now on Wikipedia if you’re into it.
Over the top and downward! Ladies and gentleman, we’ve reached our cruising speed of 15 mph on what is now a steady and continuous 1.5% grade decline. What a difference! The captain turns off the shirt and helmet sign and thus I remove both to fully enjoy the breeze. We stop off for eggs at a diner in Meyersdale PA. It’s classic rural America right here and I soak it up. Despite my arrival full of loud music and extensive bare skin art, the cute little old ladies sitting out front chat me right up. They thank us for stopping through and let us know all about Meyersdale. We talk about how much the GAP trail has done for this town. I tell them how I’d love to see the trail continue from Pittsburgh to Buffalo, but so many people in small towns don’t understand what they do. Bicycles tourism accounts for billions of dollars in Europe. It can be the same here too, if the idiots in charge would just get their fat asses out of the car once in a while and understand how wonderful two-wheeled travel can be.
I enjoy what is the best breakfast of the tour so far. It’s literally a trip back in time. 3/4 of the folks that walk in are clearly regulars, because the woman on the grill knows them by name and knows what they want to eat. No one is wearing a mask. Nor hairnets. Not even gloves. It takes a moment for me to compute. But then I’m like fuck it. I’ve forgotten all the stress back in the real world. I don’t know what’s on the news. I don’t know the latest dumb thing Trump has said or the latest pieces of excessive regulation Cuomo has signed into law. Honestly, with how many of the water sources have been locked out on this tour, I’m more worried about surviving coronavirus and dying of dehydration.
The downhill descent continues through even smaller little towns. I’m in my drop downs and it’s a steady 18 mph through Rockwood and into Confluence. It’s named that because three rivers converge there. So it’s sort of a tiny Pittsburgh I guess. I hit three different stores in town looking for tortilla. Maybe it’s because we’re now in the Gulf of Mexico watershed and tacos are on my mind. Maybe it’s because they pack so well and we devoured what we had last night. Despite impressively vast bread options at all three stores, none are rocking the south of the border variety. We take a small break at a cafe instead and study the map. Daniel and I really wanna check out Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater. It’s mega badass. It’s 4 miles off the trail near Ohiopyle (I friggin love that word for some reason) – our next town along the way. The problem is that they close at 5pm today and the one day a week they are closed all day is – of course – tomorrow. Fucker. Can’t make it happen this trip, which is why I didn’t take this photo of it below. But we all still get to see it anyway:
We also decide we want to push further to a hiker/biker campsite beyond Ohiopyle, but still stop in the small touristy town to chill. We’ve got 4+ hours of daylight and only 18 more miles to go. So let’s hang out and be tourists and less bicyclists for a bit. I hit the two more grocery stores In Ohiopyle. Lots of white, wheat and rye. Pita, rolls, bagels, English muffins…
But no tortilla.
What in the actual fuck is going on. I wanna call Salma Hayek and let her know her nation’s staple is being vastly underrepresented in rural PA but then I realize that I don’t have her number because I don’t know her because I’m not the luckiest motherfucker on earth. AND Also – if we’re all being honest here – she probably wouldn’t give a shit. We resign ourself to beers at a cafe with with socially distanced patio-only seating. Beer is kinda like bread. Or kinda like salad, depending on how you look at it. We can only order at a quartered-off-5 foot section of the bar and have to take the beer outside. The sign says wear masks but I can see everyone’s nose, including the bartender’s – a gorgeous bronze skinned gal with blue and purple highlighted hair. Turns out that last year she did some contract work on computer circuitry at the solar panel farm built in my home of Lackawanna NY. I wanna think that’s why she looks familiar but really I don’t care… I’m just looking for a cold refreshing beer. She’s the only one working and now there’s like ten people jammed into the doorway waiting to be serviced. Like 6 inches of personal space. It’s now taking absurdly long actually. Clearly whatever covid reopening phase this is, it’s not going smoothly around here.
We get a couple Bells two hearted ales (each) and are basically people watching while our phones charges on the outdoor island. After a brief encounter with an adorable 15 month pit puppy, I sit back and analyze the whole scene. Ohiopyle is a funky little 5 block town situated along the river and the outdoor lifestyle economy based around it. Kayaks. Boats. Bikes. Food. Fun. Each in their completely own different manner, all of locals are a little strange, but in an intriguing underbelly kinda way. I feel a bit like I’m in back on the pacific coast of Costa Rica for my 40th and everyone’s there’s for some surfing or yoga or juicing retreat. But this is America, Donald Goines. Don’t catch you slippin now. The small businesses here are struggling to find a way to stay afloat during this confusion of a conundrum of a clusterfuck. That one employee, as cute as she is, struggles to keep up. There are three or four other points of sale, both indoor and out, shut down. Limited capacities. Inept sanitization efforts. Tons of wasted space. Overhead generally unchanged, except of course for laying off employees. How does the average entrepreneur, who – through a ton of work and a little luck has conjured the tiniest shred of success with the smallest of margins – adapt quickly enough to stay afloat?? Most don’t have business degrees or financial connections. Plus the government isn’t exactly handling this any better than your average, run of the mill corporate bail-out-athon. More than a just health crisis, corona feels likes an entirely existential crisis for Ohiopyle and countless other small towns.
A couple wants to sit at the table next to ours. But no one has bussed it in the 20 minutes since the previous patrons left. Cups and cans and napkins are strewn all over the table. The couple takes a smaller side seat with very little view to the street. This is America. Look what I’m whippin’ now. In my view, our nation is fast becoming what I’ve been calling Fourth World since George W. It’s where all the First World infrastructure we’ve built crumbles at our feet due to lack of usage and no one even notices or gives two shits. Think Talking Heads’ “Nothing But Flowers”. Now that the Fourth World is upon us, it’s rather obvious to me that this shit has been brewing since Ronald Wilson Reagan (aka Ronald Ray Gun if you’re Gil Scott-Heron and aka 6.6.6. if you’re Killer Mike). Trickle down economics my ass – the gap between rich and poor swells toward Eloi vs Morlock levels. Everyone fell for that shitty actors crap in the 80s and now we’ve somehow found a bigger camera addicted clown to run the monkey show. Or is he a monkey running a clown show? They’re all crooks, left, right and center.
Back at the unbussed table, a breeze slides through and clears everything off the aforementioned unbussed table just in time for another customer to take a seat. I think to myself, at least Mother Nature is doing her part. I could sit there and spout deep thoughts over cold beer all day, but #1) I don’t really want to stay here to see the underbelly, #2) just two beers have me feeling a little buzzy and #3) we’ve got almost 20 miles to go. I need to fill my water so I walk back into the overpacked bar area. Still packed. Homegirl is still hustling to no avail. I’m tired of the bullshit, and so – shirtless but with a mask – I cut the line and use the word darlin to get her stop making margaritas or piña coladas or whatever and fill my bottles. We share a smile which cheers me out of my morbid analysis as Daniel and I saddle up to head downhill out of town at 17 mph.
Five out of eighteen miles in and the skies open up. Well I didn’t see that coming. Downpour. Then thunder. Then lightning. Tons of it all around us. Right on top of us. Not nearby, but where we are. We are rural AF, there’s no shelter or structures anywhere. I pick up the pace. We cross giant trestle bridges while lightning flashes overhead. I’m not a scientist but I don’t think all that metal is good for not conducting electricity. It’s storming hard. We keep riding. There’s nowhere to stop for cover. Nothing in between these two small towns. Finally, after 12 out of the last 18 miles in constant downpour, we drag our soaked asses into town and look for the hiker biker camp. Oh shit! It has a lean-to. The lean-to has water and electricity. Total score. Out of the rain. Dry off. Make dinner. Turns out Mother Nature not only bussed the table in Ohiopyle, but she washed my gloves. Is this what the kids call au naturel. No I think that’s something else. Whatever. I’m back in my happy place. I climb in the castle under the shelter and pass out, wishing I had some tortilla.