Bike Tour 2002 - Tour de Big Smoke Stack

Jim and Tom's 6th bike tour


I purchased my bike box at the Amtrak station. It's the same size as the airline boxes but $5.00 cheaper. There's a remarkable difference between the train station and the airport. I called to see if I could come over and just buy a bike box, and a real person answers the phone! He tells me to make sure and be there before the train arrives and he'll help me. I park the car a short distance from the entrance, walk in, and buy the box from the ticket agent. There's no security anywhere at the train station.

I take the pedals off the bike cranks and the aerobars off the handlebars. Next the handlebars are removed from the headset, turned sideways, and fasten to the top tube of the bike. The handlebars and aerobars are wrapped with bubble wrap, and I roll the bike into the box. I put the aerobars, pedals and panniers in the box with the bike, tape it up real good and hope it's ready to fly. Somehow I just can't help but think that this is only a cardboard box protecting my bike against an army of airline employees. Soon I'll give my bike to an airline and they'll just take it away and do whatever.

Why am I doing this?

Visit the following web site for information on bicycle transportation which contains the following good advice:

Do one of the following:

I clumsily walk through the airport with my bike in a box and make my way to the airline ticket counter. I'm using the "Bikes Fly Free" program through the League of American Cyclists.

The whole process goes fairly well and they tell me to just leave my bike along side the counter and someone will come by and get it. So, as I walk away from the bike, I turn back and see it just sitting there with no one paying any attention to it.

I make it through airport security with few problems and I get a bite to eat. "How is my bike doing?" I wonder to myself obsessively. I go back out through security and my bike is still sitting there. The ticketing agent seems totally unconcerned as she tells me there's no problem even though it's time to start boarding the plane. The second time through airport security is a bigger hassle. A coin purse appears to the guy scanning my carry-on luggage to have two blades hidden inside it. My carry-on is searched, checked for explosive dust, and rescanned without the coin purse. I keep thinking about that peaceful Amtrak station as I make a mental note that my plane is already boarding.

I do make it onto the plane, fly uneventfully to Pittsburgh, get off the plane, and wait near the oversized luggage department for my bike. Jim meets me by the baggage claim area and we wait some more. Finally my bike appears, though the cardboard box is looking a bit beat up. I can't help but wonder what a bike box looks like after it is unloaded from an Amtrak train. Jim and I haul the box to the garage area where Jim's car is parked. We unload the bike and it appears to be in real good shape. I knew I could trust the airlines.

shine on silver streaks

This map covers the entire 4 day bike tour.

Here is a link to the detailed maps of our tour: Detailed Tour Maps.

Sunday, July 21, 105 miles, 25 hills, Avg. 12mph, 8h39m riding time
Grove City to Wheeling

After a big breakfast we start riding at 7:15am.

shine on silver streaks

It's very comfortable in the early morning with a bit of mist in the air. I soon discover that I forgot to fill my water bottles before starting to ride. There really is no person that I'm more afraid of than myself.

Dutch Ridge Road

We ride back roads for the first 25 miles as we cross from glaciated to unglaciated terrain. Once we enter unglaciated areas the hills get bigger and steeper. We start counting the number of hills we climb each day. As we approach Elwood City the hills get bigger. I hit 45 mph going down the hill on Hogue Rd. These downhills are typically followed by an uphill climb. Hill #9 is our first big steep climb and it takes us up toward Elwood City.

In Elwood I fill my water bottles at a convenience store. It's starting to feel a little warmer. We cross over a bridge that spans the Connoquenessing River.


A little further on we find ourselves across the street from a Pontiac dealership with an old Pontiac icon.

Pontiac Icon

This Pontiac symbol used to be very common. The following is a picture of a hood ornament from a 1929 Pontiac:

Pontiac Hood Ornament

which is an image of the great Indian leader Pontiac.

Back in 1938 it appears that Uncle Sam wanted you to buy a Pontiac.

No hard feelings

After Elwood City we ride through some beautiful green tunnels along the Beaver River.

We live for danger.

As you can see, we are riding on a well established and official bicycle route.

Beaver River and Geneva College

Before long we cross the Beaver River and see Geneva College up the hill.

As we ride through Beaver Falls we see many vacant shops along the main drag. A sure sign they had some advance warning of our arrival today. Beaver Falls is also part of a local online community.

We cross the Beaver River again and arrive in New Brighton.

Many nice homes line the streets of New Brighton. A lady sitting on the porch of an old folks home waves at us and says, "hi" as we ride by. Seems like a friendly town. Maybe it's just a little too friendly, meaning we gotta leave, I mean adios New Brighton. We're looking for adventure.

We get on SR18 and ride to the Ohio River.

It's not the Iowa River

Here is some Ohio River information:

We cross the river to the city of Monaca and start climbing a hill, which turns out to be a very long hill (hill 16) that finally ends in a big box shopping area.

Industrial Art

The Ohio River valley has its share of big smoke stack industry. Around here they think you're a total wimp if you work for some little smoke stack industry.

From here we turn onto Raccoon Creek Rd and soon find incredibly steep green walls on both sides of us. Green walls are green with vegetation but also feel like a wall. The prospect of climbing one of these hills is a sobering thought. We're only about 20 miles from Pittsburgh yet it feels quite secluded.

The Good Life

We take a rest at Junk Yard Alley.

Soon we encounter the hills that we knew had to be there. Hills 20 and 21 are really one hill but they had just enough of a downhill to make them two consecutive challenging hills. Plus it's getting quite hot and humid. Soon we have to reroute because we encounter some dirt roads. We take Moffet to Holt to Patterson, and then get on Service Church Rd. Soon we encounter our steepest hill yet - hill 25. This part of SR18 is hilly. Climbing all these hills in this heat means we're drinking a lot of water. At the bottom of one hill is a General Store. Unfortunately it's closed. Soon there are several people in cars asking us directions. We're clueless.

After riding to Raccoon Creek State Park we decide to apply more sunscreen as the sunlight is quite intense. Soon we come to a service station but they decided to close at 2pm and go for a swim on this sunny Sunday afternoon. However, a cute little girl offers to fill our water bottles for a dollar. I'm convinced she'll do just fine in her life. She knows we need the water and she has a smile that is irresistible.

We ride a few more hills then come to Florence, PA where we find a CoGo convenience store. After drinking some ice cold Gatorade we eat lunch at the Pick-n-Eat Drive Inn and visit with some motorcycle riders coming back from a biker rally in West Virginia. They were pleased to hear we were on our way to West Virginia.

By now it's really hot and the highway is littered with its fair share of ripe smelling road kill.

Too bad we just had lunch

We found this poor soul on the Steubenville Pike just after lunch.

Oui oui y merci beaucoup

We ride through the town of Paris and soon enter West Virginia. About the exact second we enter West Virginia, one of my panniers falls off and gets stuck in between the bike rack and the spokes of the wheel. This causes the back wheel to lock up and skid until the bike comes to a stop. The bike rack is bent and there is severe tire damage. Fortunately the tire still holds air and seems roadworthy. No choice but to continue riding as we ride to Weirton, WV.

Largest Single Producer of Tin Mill

Soon we come to the Weirton Steel Mill.

There is quite the spectacular downhill through town. We went down this hill that drops 400 feet vertical and goes on and on for over a mile. I'm somewhat distracted from this nice downhill because I keep thinking about my back tire and wonder how it's holding up. At the bottom of the hill we find a DQ and enjoy a well-deserved treat and break from the heat. I look up a couple of bike stores hoping to find a new tire but they're all closed because it is Sunday.

Weirton Steubenville Bridge

We ride across the Weirton-Steubenville bridge to Steubenville. The Weirton-Steubenville bridge is an interesting piece of architecture, but the ride across was a bit of a white knuckle ride as traffic was thick on this four lane bridge. A ride through the Steubenville downtown area reveals many vacant storefronts. We ride out of Steubenville and back to West Virginia by going across an old metal grate bridge. Jim recommended we get off our bikes and lift them over the rail and onto the sidewalk but I say to him that we can just ride over the bridge. After all how bad can it be. Bad call on my part - the bridge is narrow and rough, and you can see the river below as you ride.

This one is stinky!  Pew!

We soon come to the Wheeling Pittsburgh Coke Byproduct Plant. This one is not the most pleasant smelling place.

We head toward Wheeling, WV on a busy road with a nice enough shoulder to ride on. Soon we come to a bike path in Wellsburg, WV that we think will take us all the way to Wheeling. Unfortunately it comes to an abrupt halt with a tree across the path and the end of the pavement. Seems like there could be a sign before this point telling you to stop right here cause the trail just stops dead up a head. Is that too much to ask?

We have to back track a short ways and get back on the road and continue following the Ohio River toward Wheeling.

What is this strange creature doing?

After several miles and some road construction we see the Wheeling Heritage Trail and get off the road and back onto the bike path. We ride the last eight miles to Wheeling on this path.

At least they're not genetically modified crops.

Near Wheeling we pass a community garden just across the river from a power plant. Bon appetit. We also ride past the Pike Island Lock & Dam with the sun starting to set across the Ohio River.

Once we get to Wheeling we ride to the Ramada Plaza in downtown Wheeling. We must have been in the sun too long today because we have trouble finding the Ramada even though we're right at the intersection where it's located. The sun has almost set. This is when Jim tells me he booked the reservations over the internet and never told anybody we had bicycles. He tells me not to worry. He's right. Jim is always right. That evening we eat at a nearby Mexican restaurant.

Monday, July 22, 103 miles, 30 hills, Avg. 12.9 mph, 8h00m riding time
Wheeling to Marietta

Wheeling to Marietta Profile

This is a very hilly day as you can see from the profile view above. The big hill is "Swiss Hill" and is described later.

After a routine breakfast at Ramada Plaza we ride to Wheelcraft Bike Shop.

Unfortunately the bike shop is 4.5 miles in the wrong direction. We follow the "Heritage Trail" and go through a neat tunnel on the way. Fortunately Wheelcraft is an excellent bike shop and we are enthusiastically greeted by their dog. I get a new tire, another spare tube, and a few other items. Very friendly people there at Wheelcraft. We leave Wheelcraft about 10:15am noticing that it's already getting hot.

AMC Pacer - what more need be said!

Soon we come across this old AMC Pacer. Makes us want to pack in our bikes and drive away. We ride back through the tunnel and back to downtown Wheeling. A local senior citizen says to us, "can I have a ride?" as we ride by the corner she is standing on. We leave Wheeling with fond memories and in good biking condition again, as we cross the Ohio River via the historic Wheeling Suspension Bridge to Wheeling Island.

Nice bridge!

Did I mention it was hot? Also, we're riding on this miserable stretch of 4-lane controlled access hell of highway 7. There are regular occurrences of rumble strips along the shoulder. We stop for some Gatorade in Bellaire. The convenience store employee tells us he'd like to tell us to have a nice ride but it's too hot. In 10 miles or so we drop down to two lanes and bump into some road construction that features an impressive cliff removal project with huge boulders along side the road.

I traveled hundreds of miles by bicycle to stand here.

Three are narrow lanes, no shoulder, and plenty of white knuckle riding. The automobiles passing us by are really quite accommodating and friendly. Most likely they are wondering if we are lost.

Ohio River

More Gatorade is consumed in Powhatan Point as we consciously replenish our fluid and electrolyte levels.

It's that strange creature again!

It seems to keep getting hotter and the sun is very bright. A good time to stop for lunch in Clarington at Brians Drive Up. Nice al fresco dining, great chocolate shakes, and some friendly locals that visit with us since they have finished their roofing project for the day.

We follow highway 78 along a stream and through a green valley that takes us away from the Ohio River. Soon there are steep green walls on both sides that are several 100 feet high. Since it's close to noon there is just not much shade anywhere. Soon we start climbing a gradual hill. As this hill continues up we eventually come to a sign telling us this is Swiss Hill.

Topographic map of Swiss Hill!

When they give a hill a name you know you're in for a major climb. It starts to get steeper and continues on for over a mile. When we get to the top of the hill we notice we've hit the half way point for the day. The heat makes us feel like we've already put in a full day's worth of riding. After a well-deserved rest we continue on, but deviate slightly from our planned course so we can go to the town of Woodsfield for some more Gatorade and to fill up our water bottles.

In the little store where we buy Gatorade, we stand in front of the blowing air conditioner and cool down as much as possible. One of the friendly locals tells me that it's hot but he sure likes this heat better than zero degree temperatures.

On the way out of town we follow highway 26 south toward our destination of Marietta. Soon we encounter a major downhill. This one is tricky because in the middle of the downhill, highway 26 makes a sharp right turn. When I apply my brakes at this speed, the frame starts to wobble, making it hard to control my bike. I've read about this bike frame wobble before. The biking magazines tell you to squeeze the top tube of your bike frame with your knees. This works! The wobble stops and I'm able to slow down and make the turn. A major adrenaline rush for me and it provides Jim with an interesting moment too. But that's the way we like it! The following web page says you can take your weight off of the saddle with the same effect. This article refers to the wobbling phenomenon as speed wobble or shimmy, and defines it as a lateral oscillation at the head tube.

Our next opportunity for water is the small town of Graysville. The road to Graysville is filled with steep green walls that we have to climb (hills 13 and 14 are most memorable). The downhills are intense as this bumpy road usually has several S turns. When we arrive in Graysville, we fill up with water at a local mom and pop store. She tells us that she's planning on staying inside in the A/C all day. I ask her how far it is to Marietta and she says it's 40 miles. This is not what we want to hear as our estimates were closer to 32 miles. It is 4:00 p.m. and over 90 degrees outside. We still have to ride 40 more miles through hilly Wayne National Forest.

Wayne National Forest is located in three distinct units. The road through this unit of the Wayne National Forest is quite nice. At first there are steep grades everywhere, but the scenery is beautiful, the road eventually levels out along a stream, and there are no cars anywhere. There's just this road, a lot of green countryside, and two guys riding bikes in the 90-degree heat.

We haven't seen a car in hours.

This is a pleasant change from our morning ride on highway 7.

I fear nothing!

One interesting part of this highway 26 is that there isn't a single sign telling you how far it is to Marrietta. We take several breaks to enjoy the National Forest and let our legs recover. Near the end of the National Forest we come across a covered bridge.

Built in 1975 and hasn't fallen down yet.

This one was built in 1975.

The sun is starting to set behind these monster hills and soon we find we are climbing these hills once again. After climbing a few steep hills we attach red blinking lights to the back of our shirts to make us more visible to the evening traffic. We finally reach the Marietta city limits and ride to our motel. We arrive about 8:30 p.m. and are exhausted. After a nice dinner at an Applebees restaurant we sleep well that evening.

Tuesday, July 23, 78 miles, 9 hills, Avg. 12.9 mph, 8h00m riding time
Marietta to Pomeroy

After a routine pancake breakfast at Bob Evans we start riding at 8:30am. A definite improvement over the previous morning's start time, and it's cooler today. Our first destination is downtown Marietta.

Marietta is located at the confluence of the Muskingum and Ohio rivers and was the first organized settlement in the Northwest Territory. It was named Marietta in honor of Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France, our ally during the revolutionary war. It is a pretty city with a lot of history.

Historic Lafayette Hotel.

We rode to an area that overlooks the confluence, by the historic Lafayette Hotel.

Muskingum Park.

We rode through some pleasant historic neighborhoods along both rivers, admiring the nice river architecture, and Muskingum Park.

Williamstown Bridge.

After touring Marrietta we cross the Ohio River by riding across the Williamstown Bridge to Williamstown, W.Va. This bridge features a nice view of the river and surrounding area.

The next destination is Parkersburgh, W.Va. and we decide to ride on the W.Va side along highway 14. This is white knuckle riding along a narrow busy road with no shoulder. We pass through the towns of Boaz and Vienna before coming to a long shopping strip where the road finally widens. This leads us to Parkersburg where we take a tour of the town. We have trouble finding a view of the Kanawha River because of a flood wall that's been built. We notice there's a fair amount of vacant commercial property that might explain the long shopping strip we encountered when entering the city. There's a nice courthouse we pass as we ride out onto a bridge overlooking the Kanawha River. There's a notable difference between the Kanawha River and Muskingum River in Marietta. There are no parks along the Kanawha - it's just a muddy river with the occasional tire lying on the riverbank.

On our way out of Parkersburg we pass an adult book store with the following sign.

No one will believe them when they say it's big.

There must be one enormous basement to accommodate that big screen theater.

We ride through some hillside neighborhood with impressive homes. Then it's back to Ohio as we cross the Ohio River again on a bridge that is down to one lane due to construction. After a short distance we stop at a roadside place on highway 618 and get some delicious chocolate shakes. A friendly local tells us how dry it is there right now. Shortly after we start riding again Jim gets a flat tire. We fix the flat by the side of the road and continue on highway 124 to Little Hocking.

Little Hocking River

Soon there are a number of resorts, mostly between the road and the Ohio River. In order to more closely observe this river resort community, we stop and get some Gatorade. In the parking lot of this little store we see the skinniest woman we've ever seen. You had to be there.

On our way to the town of Portland, we stopped in Reedsville to see the Belleville lock and Dam. There seems to be additional security in place since the attacks of September 11th.

A few changes since 9/11.

We watch a barge go through the locks and started chatting with some friendly Lock and Dam employees. They recommend that we stop in Portland and see one of the largest Indian Mounds in the state at the park. They tell us we can fill our water bottles there too. They also recommend that we ride on road 336 to get the best scenic view of the Ohio River. We thank them for their helpful advice and ride on toward Portland.

Music to my ears.

This ride along the river is off the main highway and quite remote. It provides quite a nice scenic view with lots of trees and nice views of the Ohio River.

One of the biggest.

We arrive in Portland and quickly find out that the there is no water at the park. Also, this mound was built by WPA workers and isn't an Indian Mound at all. Then it starts to rain on us. Fortunately there is a covered picnic area where we take shelter. Three showers come through in an hour. In between showers we asked some ladies running a yard sale of sorts if they have any water. Fortunately they have water in a jug that they have to haul with them when they work at the yard sale. They let us fill up our bottles, and drink all we want of their cold delicious water, as they are about to close up and leave for the day. They tell us the water was turned off at the park several years ago and all about the WPA mound.

After the third shower finishes we decide to make a run for it. The roads are wet but within five miles we encounter dry pavement. Those showers were very localized.

Soon we come upon a sign that tells us the road is out in 1.5 miles. The detour will take us six miles out of our way and the sky is looking darker. We decide to ride to the construction site to see if we can convince them to let us go on through. Fortunately the road is only out for a quarter mile and they let us walk our bikes through. After we get through we pick up the pace and ride faster to avoid riding in as much rain as possible. This also means we will have to skip scenic road 336 along the river.

We pass a power plant on the River and then it starts to sprinkle. Fortunately our final destination of Pomeroy is only five miles away. We only get a little damp but it turns out there's a mistake on our fancy computer generated map and the directions lead us the wrong way when we are near our motel. We ask directions a couple of times and we finally arrive at our motel around 7:15pm. The motel is located in a little bit of an out of the way place and all the rooms are filled with construction workers. We order pizza. Although we got a little wet, the temperatures today were far more pleasant than the previous two scorchers.

Wednesday, July 24, 70 miles, 23 hills, Avg. 12mph, 5h45m riding time
Pomeroy to Ashland

In the morning it's cloudy and cool but the roads are mostly dry. This appears to be our nicest biking weather yet. Our first stop is a converted KFC for breakfast located along the river in Pomeroy. The restaurant is filled with friendly locals helping me to thoroughly enjoy my pancake breakfast. Everyone has been quite friendly on this tour and this makes the trip far more enjoyable.

After breakfast we ride through Middleport, a string city that that hugs the Ohio River.

Cheshire Power Plant.

We pass by another power plant near Addison. Our next stop is the DQ just within the Gallipolis city limits for some tasty treats. Gallipolis is also a string city but very busy. We get off the main road through town and ride on some side streets to avoid traffic. When we leave the city we start riding away from the river and encounter more hills.

I do this cause it's fun.

Near the town of Northrup we see a sign that says "Road Closed" and about that instant I get a flat tire. I have a torn sidewall in my two-day old $50 tire that I just purchased on Monday. Such is the life of adventure we lead on the road. I stared death in the eye and death told me that I just wasn't worth the effort.

Jim rides ahead to see if they'll let us through the construction site as I put a boot inside my tire and hope that it'll let me limp on through to Ashland. After the tire repair I ride nervously hoping the boot in my torn tire will hold. When Jim returns he says they'll let us through.

The construction workers are quite friendly and help us get our bikes across the big ditch they just dug. They tell us there are some dirt roads ahead and to watch out for pit bull dogs. We thank them and head toward Ashland once again.

We're riding on a road called the Lincoln Pike that is paved initially, but before too long the road conditions start to deteriorate, and soon we're riding on hard packed dirt. This road has steep hills, tight turns, and a fire in its belly. In other words it's perfect. There appears to be no flat land anywhere.

Don't forget my tire sidewall is torn.

When we get back on the pavement it's still all big hills. Hill 16 is especially memorable for being very long and very steep. I'm going down these hills with some caution, instead of my usual reckless abandon, because of my torn tire.

We're in another unit of the Wayne National Forest, and this part has more homes and farm land than we encountered on day two. Very pretty countryside and almost no traffic. At one point we're chased uphill by three mean looking dogs. I say to Jim as I pass him, "I only have to ride faster than you." A big adrenaline rush allows us to ride away from the dogs and eventually they give up. We leave Wayne National Forest and get some Gatorade in the town of Aid.

chomp chomp

On several occasions we pass by some old barns with advertising still on them. The traffic starts to pick up as we get closer to the city of Ironton, and this road has no shoulder. All in all, the traffic is pretty accommodating as they cautiously pass us on these steep hills. When we finally reach Ironton the roads level out and there's a grid pattern as we get close to the Ohio River again. We pass by a lot trucks and industry, and some affordable housing that we all dream about. We have to get off of our bikes and climb up a grass hill to get onto highway 52 that takes us to Ashland.

Bridge over Ohio going to Ashland

The bridge over the Ohio River going into Ashland is well over 100 feet high and gives us a nice last look at the Ohio. To celebrate, Jim and I decide to take a dive off the bridge into the river - just kidding. We cross over the Ohio one last time and arrive in Ashland. We ride to our hotel and check in, safe, sound, and tired. This concludes another great and memorable bike tour. I can't wait for the next one.

Total Miles: 356


I get to the Pittsburgh airport almost two hours before my flight. Jim and I get my bike into the bike box - which is not looking anywhere near as nice as the box I first picked up at the Amtrak Station. We tape it up the best I can. I make my way to the ticket counter and say adios to Jim and thank him for planning such a great bike tour.

I run into a little trouble at the ticket counter though. Unfortunately the agent cannot figure out how to make his computer accept my "Bikes Fly Free" coupon. He tries several times, he calls people on the phone, and he runs off to some unknown locations a couple of times, always returning and experiencing more failure. Finally he figures out he needs some special form to fill out. I barely make it onto the plane in time. My bike gets a few paint scratches on it during the flight home but, otherwise, is in good shape. The Amtrak bike box, though, is looking pretty beat up. One round trip flight is all these boxes can handle. I put my bike back together, recycle the cardboard box, and I'm ready to ride again.