October 10, Day 100 of TheHopeLine Tour of 2014
Colder Nights and Shorter Days
We’ve altered our strategy of late. Instead of cycling into the middle of the day and finding out where we might land by day’s end, we’re planning our nightly stops earlier in the day. The cold weather has both of us shivering at the thought of camping. And with daylight waning by suppertime, we simply can’t cycle as many hours in the day as we could earlier in the season, which limits our options. We’ve discovered fall touring has more differences from summer touring than simply the clothes on your back.
So, when we saw today start with clearer skies and chillier temperatures, we utilized the early morning hours to plan a stop for the night. Several calls to churches within our estimated reach made it clear to us that we were approaching the northeast. (We can say that because we live there!) One church had a pancake breakfast planned for Saturday morning and thought our presence there would be incompatible with the early morning preparations. Another church said that they currently had no leadership and therefore no authority to grant our request for a safe haven. When yet another church suggested that we connect with a homeless shelter located several miles east of them, we knew we were no longer in the West or Midwest, where such requests are more commonplace and more readily welcomed. It also caused us to reflect on the state of affairs these days, when a similar request 25 years ago would likely have been handled much differently. Not even an explanation of our mission mattered to these people.
We decided to reserve a room at a motel within a shorter distance. We were concerned about room availability. Booking motels sight unseen can be risky these days, even with Internet reviews to scour. Without our trusted Adventure Cycling Association maps, which come vetted for appropriate and convenient accommodations, and with fewer daylight hours, considering lodging options has been more challenging and time consuming. Motels in this area don’t have many reviews. They are also older facilities whose lifespan has merely been elongated by a spike in oil and gas drilling activity in recent years. There’s no telling what the room would look or smell like, but it would beat sleeping in the cold…or riding in the dark on this truck-infested road. Of course, booking a room early is not a guarantee, as last night’s room came without heat.
Finally, around 10:00 am, we ventured out into the 39-degree morning. In case we had any doubt that it was cold, the smoke in the mountain valleys and the reading on the local bank thermometer confirmed it. So did our fingers and toes.
We tackled the hills that people had warned us about yesterday. There were four or five of them before arriving at Port Allegheny. They were reasonably sized hills, but their pitch and amplitude were modest compared to those of hills we have already faced in the West, in Missouri, and along the Ohio River valley. The worst part of cycling up the hills was coasting down the other side of them, which is normally the fun part. However, with the cold temperatures, the added breeze caused runny eyes and noses, and chilled the extremities.
Just outside of Port Allegheny on one of the last climbs, we met a couple tending to their property. This wasn’t just any couple. They were bicycle tourists from years gone by. And they had also worked with troubled youth from inner cities. The husband was planning one last tour for when he hits 65 next year. One last tour? Ha! That’s what they all say.
When we began our fundraising tour over three months ago, we thought God would place people in our path who would understand the mission of TheHopeLine and have the means to make a big dent in our fundraising goal. I sensed that this couple was one of those encounters, just as we’ve sensed others, who are now miles removed from us, have been. Our responsibility would be to simply share what TheHopeLine does and what the need is. The rest would be up to them, with God’s Spirit prodding them along. We had plenty in common with this couple and talked for several minutes. Eventually, we shared TheHopeLine and, due to the cold, left sooner than we otherwise would have, and made our way to a semi-heated diner for brunch.
Several patrons and the waitress were interested in what we were doing, so we shared it with the whole diner, since most were in earshot. When we departed, an equally friendly sun helped alleviate the cold start to the day. We were off to enjoy the fall foliage in the Susquehannock State Forest.
We ascended Denton Hill, noted as the high point on the map for Route 6 at 2,424 feet. People at the diner held the climb in high regard. Yet, we easily dispatched of it at this point in our trip. It took us some time to climb it, but little effort. Once at the top, a cordial man drove up and asked if we were the cyclists who had left a message on his answering machine last night. He runs a local motel. When I acknowledged that we were and that we’d booked a room farther down the road, he asked at which motel. When I told him, he uttered no words, but his smirk was difficult to mask and it said much. Debbie didn’t see his expression, but I did. And it made me wonder just how the evening would go.
The descent from Denton Hill was certainly a just reward for the climb. We made our way to our motel and checked in for the evening. My suspicions were confirmed when we cycled toward our reserved room, situated in an old strip motel. The roof of the accompanying restaurant was obviously in need of replacement, as it looked more like the lichen-covered bark on a cedar tree than a manmade structure. The management said that they were nearly full tonight and that the room hadn’t been rented out in quite some time, which explained its distasteful smell. They handed us a bottle of Febreze to address the problem. At least the heat worked, and the shower was good, so we were thankful. We spent the majority of our time in the back room of the adjacent bar, which served a two-fold purpose: we had Internet access and we reduced the amount of time we would spend in the motel room.
Bicycle touring is not for the faint of heart. There are circumstances, such as this one, that are simply beyond your control. If you can learn to accept the good and the bad, you’ll find that the challenging situations are a small price to pay for the benefits of touring. The same can be said for life itself.
Are you one of those individuals who has met us on our tour, or followed us online, you understand and appreciate what TheHopeLine does, you have means to support it, but you just haven’t yet pledged your support? You can do so now at this link. Young people whose lives are hanging in the balance will be most grateful.