Day Fourteen: Zanesville OH to Wheeling WV: So many hills, so much sun, so little time

Lisa: One of our “plan Bs” while biking is to rent a Uhaul truck when we need to leapfrog ahead to the next location. Uhauls come in various sizes that accommodate bikes, they are designed for one-way trips, and you can find Uhaul dealers and franchises in every city and many small towns.

Last night over dinner at the Olive Garden adjacent to our hotel, Dan proposed getting a Uhaul so we could leap frog ahead to Wheeling. Our bikes are getting a little creaky after nearly 900 miles and so are we, and the map for today’s ride looked really tough. We are getting closer to the mountains and the sheer quantity of hills on the route was crazy … and it seemed many of those miles would on roads like the one we rode the last twenty miles into Zanesville, with 18 inches of shoulder covered in gravel and random auto parts and dead animals while big trucks fly by at 65 miles an hour.

We looked at where the Uhaul dealers were located nearby, and decided to call in the morning to see if a one way drop off could be arranged. So bright and early this morning, Dan called…and while the fellow who answered was delightfully helpful, there was nothing available to rent “because of the college kids” at Zane State University and elsewhere moving home. And so we went back to plan A, and packed our panniers and ate some breakfast and put on sunscreen and loaded up the bikes and headed out on country roads on a blue sky morning.

It was spectacularly beautiful. It was also spectacularly hilly. We were in the granny gears all day, going slowly up and then quickly down hills, like a roller coaster, over and over and over. We also had to walk up many hills as they were steep, and the physics of it all was against us as we are each carrying about 30 lbs of gear.

We left the hotel at 7:30 am and by 11:30 we had only gone about 25 miles, out of the 85 mile route for the day. This may not seem like a big deal, but calculations started to worry us.

Dan: (Lisa is falling asleep) it was very sunny, and hot, and while we had occasional places to get water, I worried about dehydration, which happens quickly on a bike. We rode through beautiful countryside which included both fabulous country manors with vineyards and ramshackle mobile homes flying Trump flags.

We were making terrible time, and I kept thinking about how far we had to go and am doing calculations (10 miles = one hour, except not under these conditions where maybe 7 miles = one hour) and I kept coming back to the thought of trying to ride into Wheeling after dark.

It didn’t help much that one of our fellow bike travelers had told us how much he’d disliked the route from Wheeling and how sometimes on his travels by bike, he’d just wanted to sit in a ditch and cry. He was an interesting man who seemed to want to be alone, and I thought of his comment often…

In any case, while I was not at the end of my rope, I could see this was going in the wrong direction. Every truck that passed us, I thought “we could throw our bikes in the back and fly up these hills” but they just blew by, loud and sometimes obnoxious.

As I came down a hill into a very small town (as they all were today – towns with few inhabitants, mostly old people literally sitting in rocking chairs), I noticed a towing/body/auto repair place and pulled into the parking lot and just stood there, looking into the shop. I thought “let’s call this a tow…” and when Lisa pulled in, a few minutes later, and overriding her objections, I walked into the place and said “hello – we are struggling a bit” and in three minutes, I’d explained the situation and asked for a ride.

These guys were gruff at first and looked at me like I came from Mars, but very quickly began to come up with ideas – I’d said I would pay for a lift for 10 or 20 miles and they said “the hills at Barnesville are bad” and the boss said “I wouldn’t ride a bike into Quaker City” (two miles away) and he motioned to the one woman in the group to get the truck keys and soon we were loaded on the truck and Patty was heading down(up) the road.

Patty drove us 19 miles up the worst hills of the day, through many small Quaker and Amish and communities, and we came upon the scene of a large tanker that had turned over at the bottom of a very steep hill, with lots of emergency vehicles present; Patty told us that she had seen many crashes there and then proceeded to explain to us that it looked like a hazardous waste spill, and knew the towing company on the scene…another moment when we were very grateful to be in her little truck.

She dropped us off in a little town by a Post Office and refused any payment at first, but we convinced her to just “put it in the kitty” for lunch/drinks for the shop. We unloaded the bikes and she was off as we attached the packs. Then we just sat on a curb in the shade for a few minutes and had some water and an apple with peanut butter Lisa had brought from the hotel in the morning. I’d wished that I had more water – we had about four half full bottles of hot water left and the towns ahead did not have services.

It was nice of them to wish me a happy birthday.

We still had some hills, of course, and we still had to walk, and there were virtually no shoulders on the road but we ticked off the miles. In one small town I went into a little bikers bar (dark, loud music, a couple sitting at the bar talking to the young woman barkeep) by a creek and got two bottles full of ice and water which was incredibly refreshing. We finally came to the town that we knew would have a store, and we pulled over, hoping for Lisa’s afternoon lemonade, which have both come to desire when we are a couple hours from the end of the day.

I calculated that we now were about 20 miles out of Wheeling, and it was around 2:30. A much better place to be than without Patty’s lift. Those 19 miles would have likely taken us three or even more hours to ride, given the steepness of the hills. We’d already walked up more hills than I could ever remember, pushing those heavy bikes as cars and trucks heading for lakes whizzed by. It seemed to me that we had it made.

In front of the store sat a friendly looking bald man holding a tiny and ugly but happy dog. I greeted the guy and said “yours is the first dog that hasn’t barked or chased us today” and as we chatted and he learned what we were doing, he said “you should be on channel 7 news” – finding out we were going to DC, he said “are you going to see Buh, Buh…what’s his name? I don’t even like him” and then, without starting a political conversation, we told him our President’s name.

We drank the mix of lemonade and cold water and left him as he wished us well, and told us we’d “licked the worst of the hills.”

Wheeling, West Virginia, is in a little sliver of WV that sits in between Ohio and Pennsylvania. I’m sure there is a story about how that oddity developed. They call this little sliver the panhandle and we were now riding north along the west side of the Ohio river into the city, still in the state of Ohio. Our maps showed that we had only about 7 miles to our old hotel in downtown Wheeling.

We left the rural roads we’d been on and started up some decrepit side streets as we could see the narrow riverside town ahead, clearly very industrial but also way past its heyday. A woman said something about my pretty jersey at an intersection and then said “you look really good, do you work out every day?” So, I thought “I guess 800 miles of biking DOES burn off the COVID pounds.”

We rode north on some gritty streets past homes and businesses that were struggling, and eventually came to an overpass where the ACA map showed us going down onto what appeared to be a freeway. We stopped and double checked and it was certainly the route. Lisa pointed out a sign leading down to the highway that said “NO PEDESTRIANS OR BICYCLES.” We googled an alternative route but it was ten miles farther, taking us up into the hills again. It was now about 5:30 and we were weary from the miles, the hills, the heat and dehydration. Neither of us wanted to navigate ten more miles. The shoulder looked wide and fairly clean, and the traffic, while fast, wasn’t particularly heavy. But we’d be breaking the law, and clearly it was dangerous. On the other hand, it was only a couple miles, and then we’d cross the river and find our hotel. We stood on the overpass looking at the situation for at least 5 minutes and I finally convinced a reluctant but exhausted Lisa to just go for it.

We rode down the ramp and onto the large shoulder, scofflaws riding ahead, looking to get across the bridge and into West Virginia before the Ohio law caught us. Trucks blasted by and we covered the two miles in about ten minutes. At the end, pulling our bikes up onto the grass at the side of the road when the shoulder disappeared entirely and walked them down under another bridge and into relative safety. We took a deep breath and figured out the next step – riding up onto the bridge which connects the states. We paused at the welcome sign for a picture, then walked our bikes across the river on a narrow walkway.

Within a few minutes, we were at the door of our hotel, The McClure, historic, but like everything else we’ve seen in Wheeling, well beyond its glory days. Signs everywhere prohibited guns, loitering, waiting for the bus, along other signs listing celebrities and even Presidents who’d allegedly stayed here. A lone desk clerk checked us into the large and largely empty hotel. Our room is spacious and there is a shower so we are fine and there is a good restaurant across the street.

Vagabonds

We ended up biking over seventy miles for the day, and arrived about 6:30. We were relieved and so thankful to Patty. Without her assistance, we’d have been something like three hours behind, in the dark and unlikely to have even made it. I have no idea what we’d have done – knocked on the door of a church to sleep on their floor? Hitchhiked?

We made it “home” because of the kindness of others, in these foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. We are beat and sunburned, our bikes are squeaky and our brakes, especially after yesterday, are wearing out. My hands are greasy, and hard to get clean, after working on the bikes. We are one day out from Pittsburgh and a day off before heading down the “GAPCO” and up to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial…god willing.

One final thought: we actually laughed several times this day, especially when my smart(ass) watch/monitor buzzed during dinner with a reminder to MOVE!

9 thoughts on “Day Fourteen: Zanesville OH to Wheeling WV: So many hills, so much sun, so little time

  1. I think I saw this movie! 🎥
    If not, it would make a great one, starring Steve Martin as Dan and Jane Curtin as Lisa.
    SO glad you finally made it by “relying on the goodness of strangers” (Scarlett O’Hara). I was beginning to hyperventilate as you described that, indeed, everything that CAN go wrong definitely WILL go wrong. But the day turned out to be heroic, and it’s (almost) all downhill from here.

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  2. A very tough day for you, but glad you survived and got some help along the way. I know those eastern Ohio hills and how hard it would be to traverse them via bikes. Wheeling has seen better days, for sure, but actually has a beautiful park and zoo plus museum – Olgebay – that is one of the largest in the country. I saw it while also going to D.C. but by motorized vehicle. Good luck and best wishes!

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  3. I absolutely love reading your blog and all of the details you encounter on your adventure. I only know about it because Dan and I were in the same PALS annual meeting, and Dan mentioned retiring, going on this trip with Lisa, and shared how to sign up to Confluence. Godspeed to you both!

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    • Dan, have you retired from UST? I recall an earlier post that said your current trip is for five weeks. When you get to D.C. and tour all the special places, are you taking a plane back to MSP?

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      • Hi, Norm – my last day is actually June 30, yes, we ship the bikes home and fly back after spending a few day in DC

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  4. What a joy to read about your adventures and to think most photos are smiling ones! (I don’t even see grimaces) Bravo to your strength and commitment to get through this and good for you for hitching a ride. The heat here in the TC’s is in the high 90’s so I can ‘feel your pain’ biking in the heat. Your travel pictures are so beautiful and glad you’re taking time to get off your bike to take them and to tell us about your adventures as life is all about our stories!
    Safe travels & love to you both!
    Nancy

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  5. OMG! You guys have seen some tough days – cold, rain, heat, and HILLS! You write about it with such grit and steel, that puts your readers right into the saddle. This post especially, brings back memories of biking through Missouri and I ache with you as you face these challenges.
    Way to persevere and overcome Dan and Lisa! You’ve definitely got the guts and glory!

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