Mexico by way of Pittsburgh

1700 miles east of Carbondale the Shark started to sputter. Must have been some bad gas in Ohio. Close enough. We were almost home, ready to pack the van up and get the train west. Going back to Pittsburgh is kind of a convoluted way to start a bike tour in Mexico, but we had to drop the cats off.

And it was good to be home for a little even if we had to sleep on a series of three-foot-wide mattresses that weren’t close to wide enough for two people.

“How’s the bed?”

“A little narrow.”

“Well you know it’s only designed for one person.”

“Yeah, we figured that.”

It wasn’t the fastest cross country drive (50 miles an hour the whole way), but for a 40-year-old van, the Shark did good. I’d give the thing a big hug if I had longer arms and it had feelings.

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The rocks don’t seem quite as big as they used to, but I still love the trails on Laurel Mountain. I mean, it’s where I learned to tear it up brah. It’ll always be great stuff. The new Waltworks is pretty fun too.

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415mm chainstays with a 29×3.0 tire, a 68 degree head angle with a rigid fork, a 73mm bottom bracket, and no room for any shifty parts. It wheelies nice.

We rode lots in Pittsburgh. People have been scratching trails in all over the place since we left a few years ago- at least 20 miles of new stuff in the city limits. Riding around there was great before we left too (as long as you like railroad tracks, slag heaps, and dodging scrap yard cranes), and it’s just getting better. I’m not a dude that loves cities, but if I was forced to live in one, it’d have to be Pittsburgh.

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I’d never make it without a Zoloft prescription in one of those gigantic, flat, sprawling cities in the west. But I could do drunk rides on muddy quad trails, eat fries on everything, and get stoked when somebody builds a jump off an old washing machine. Feels like home. Because it is.

But there are a bunch of other places to see. And maybe I just feel all sentimental because it’s been a while, I was on vacation, and it didn’t rain every day while we were there (just most days). Hard to say.

In any case, we’re headed back west, then south.

Without knowing it, we timed our run up to Ohiopyle perfectly, and hit the holiday wine and cheese party at the Wilderness Voyageurs store (free food, free drinks, and everybody in one spot. Ohiopyle’s the best place to be a dirtbag). The next morning, we stopped in the employee house where we used to live.

The door has a handle now instead of a piece of purple webbing (the slow creep of gentrification), but we were hit with that familiar White House smell as soon as we got inside. Stale weed and staph infection pus, over mouldy garbage and Drain-O. Door handle aside, it’s the same dirt hole that it ever was.

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But with more dusty cats. So better than it ever was.

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We tarped the Shark, and rode down the Great Allegheny Passage towards Pittsburgh. Made it a little less than halfway then camped for the night. I only woke up shivering a dozen times, so it wasn’t the worst night.

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But for mid-December, real shockingly excellent weather.
151208_Laurel GAP Trail_HR-33 151208_Laurel GAP Trail_HR-34The not-quite-world-famous Red Waterfall:

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Bright and toxic from acid mine drainage that’s been leaking for around 115 years. Acid mine drainage is from pyrite that’s exposed by mining, then reacts with oxygen and water to form sulfuric acid. The acid dissolves iron in the soil, and the water turns red.

Streams all over Western Pennsylvania look like this thing- when I was a kid, I thought it was normal for a creek to look like meat sauce. I hadn’t thought about it in a while, but the massive freakout in Colorado when a spill of the same stuff turned the Animas orange this summer really drove home that most people didn’t grow up with the same impression.

A few hours later we pedaled back into the city. 151208_Laurel GAP Trail_HR-36

A couple more rounds of beers with amigos, lunches and dinners with my folks, and we then we got the Amtrak at midnight.

Capitol Limited to Chicago, half-day layover, and now we’re crossing the plains on the Southwest Chief to Flagstaff.

151210_Chicago Bean_HR-7 151210_Chicago Bean_HR-2The train seemed like a sweet idea. It’s just over $200 for a cross country trip, and checking bikes is only $10.

But now that we’re here, and the people sitting behind us have united in their love of making noises about uninteresting things, I’m not so sure.

“You know Naperville?”

“Oh, yeah Naperville…”

“You know Aurora?”

“Oh, yeah yeah Aurora…”

“I once got a dog from Indiana.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Oh yeah, yeah. He got dead now…”

“Everything years ago used to be real big sized remember?”

“Oh yeah…”

“Yeah like the calculators. Used to be real big sized then they made them small.”


“My dad’s name was Frank.”

“Oh yeah? I knew a Frank.”

“Oh yeah. Well my dad was a Frank. He got dead now…”

Might be a long 30 hours.

151210_Chicago Bean_HR-1-2But provided we don’t beat anyone to death with a bike shoe by the end of this train ride, after we get to Flagstaff we’re going riding until spring. We’re headed down to Baja to see some whales and eat fish tacos.

5 thoughts on “Mexico by way of Pittsburgh

  1. Ha… reminds me of a bus trip my wife and I took from FL to Mexico to help my parents move. 24 hours of crying babies and then the AC on the bus broke. It was awful but we made it and had some stories to tell! Have a great trip!


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