Bike trip day 5/7: Pine Creek Rail Trail to Ithaca

This is the fifth of a series of posts about the recent solo bike tour I did from Pittsburgh, PA to Utica, NY.  It’s partly to share for those who are interested, and partly for me to record things so that I’ll remember.

Day 5 was simultaneously the worst day weather-wise (it rained essentially the whole day) and one of the better days route- and scenery-wise. It was also the longest day of the trip at about 90 miles.  The route is here.

I didn’t take very many pictures because it was raining and my camera doesn’t get along with water very well, but I got a couple in between the rain drops.

I had planned to wake up early and get on the road by 7 or so; there were 90 miles to go to get to Ithaca and I wanted to get there at a reasonable hour to be able to spend some time with the friend I was staying with.  But an early start was not to be.  I woke up sometime in the middle of the night and heard what sounded like rain but convinced myself in a half-asleep daze that it was just wind or something.  I went back to sleep.  I woke up again a few hours later, and this time there was no mistaking that it was raining quite steadily.  At 5:30 when I was planning to get up, it was still raining in a way that suggested it wasn’t planning on stopping any time soon.  Nevertheless I stayed in the tent for a bit (reading Snow Crash on my kindle) hoping I was mistaken.  I wasn’t.  Around 7 I started packing up everything I could while still inside the tent.  Around 7:30 there was a bit of a pause in the rain and I quickly pulled the tent down and got everything up the hill into the pretty much unused but large campground bathroom.  There I was able to get ready for the day out of the rain, but as I left at about 8:30 it was raining really determinedly.  I was completely soaked before I got out of the campground, but luckily it was quite warm.  Being wet wasn’t actually all that unpleasant.

The first 35 miles of the day were almost entirely downhill.  The roads were nice with really wide shoulders.  The scenery was gorgeous.  I’m sure the rain actually helped make the views more dramatic.  I’m sure I would have taken a lot of photos had it not been raining, but not stopping was nice too since I could get into more of a rhythm.  At one point a couple of 20-something guys in a PA parks truck pulled up and asked me if I wanted a ride in the back of the truck.  Although the fact that they were parks employees made it slightly less creepy than it would have been otherwise, I still declined.  I highly doubt they were going to Ithaca anyway.

I discovered that too much water seems to mess with something in my bike computer.   I lost about 25 miles when it stopped registering anything.  The only reason that was a problem was that I wasn’t as sure when to expect to see the turns I needed to make.  Luckily it was a pretty simple route on well-signed highways.  By a few hours through the day as the rain got a bit lighter, the computer started working again.

Throughout the entire morning I stopped at every likely place to see if there was cell reception.  I hadn’t been able to check in with my parents the day before since there wasn’t any reception at the campground, and I wanted to let them know things were still going well.  Every time I went through a town I checked my phone, but there was never reception.  AT&T, at least, appears to be completely ignoring north central PA.  Eventually I did find reception, but it wasn’t until a couple miles before the NY state border.

Coming up to the border I was on the only section of road for the day that wasn’t nicely paved with a wide shoulder.  Route 328 was the first of two real hills of the day and it didn’t have much of a shoulder.   For most of the time I was on the road there wasn’t much traffic so it didn’t matter.  But around noon or so a whole parade of school buses showed up.  It seemed like a weird time of day for school buses (dropping kids off here and there), but there sure were a lot of them.  Luckily most of the drivers were fairly respectful of me, and I was able to pull over now and then to let the buses and the inevitable parade of cars behind them go by.

Once I got up about four miles of hill on 328, there were another 20 miles of down hill.  It’s really hard to beat miles and miles of going down gradual hills on a bike.  Not steep enough to have to concentrate all the time to keep from crashing at high speed, but just steep enough to not really have to expend any energy.  Just before the New York State border the road improved greatly.  Once I was in New York, the quality of the shoulder changed noticeably every time I crossed county lines.

The rain mostly stopped as I was getting near Elmira, NY.  Just in time for me to get slightly lost.  Elmira has two roads labeled on Google maps as “Pennsylvania Ave” that are parallel to each other and not the same road.  This does not seem like it should be allowed.  At one point I accidentally got on the wrong one (which was a limited access freeway type road).  I managed to turn around and get back on the correct road.  Then somewhere later on I took some other wrong turn and ended up back on the phone with my father getting directions.  Luckily this time I called as soon as I suspected I was lost and only ended up going a couple extra miles instead of 14 like on day 2.  I got back on track and finally got out of Elmira.  I stopped at a Subway along the road on the edge of town for some food, and after that is was smooth sailing (or biking, I suppose) all the way to Ithaca.

The rain started up again as I was approaching Ithaca, so by the time I got to my friend’s house I was soaked again.  Also, I and everything I had with me was quite malodorous.  Luckily, my friend had a shower, some soap, some extra clothes, a washing machine, and an entry way that I could put my stuff in without smelling up the rest of the house.  After the washing of me and my clothes, we had a very pleasant and civilized evening complete with tasty food and a pie.

Bronwyn Woods