In which the brave Oregon Trailers conquer Potato City Hill, only to be undone by wrestling-club chickens.
Today – by which I mean three days ago; graduating college has not done as much as I hoped to improve my punctuality – we biked from the little town of Wellsboro, PA to the littler town of Smethport, PA, passing through some of the most beautiful scenery that we’ve seen on the trip so far. The first half of the day – up to about mile 40 – was a gradual climb, first through an agricultural valley surrounded by mountains, then – as we rode up into those mountains – through state-owned game lands. The last grade – which was apparently called Potato City Hill, although neither potatoes nor a city were anywhere to be seen – looked intimidating on the elevation profile of the day’s route, but ended up being not all that bad. We ate lunch when we got to the top of it, laying in the sun and watching people ride by on their ATVs. (For you city types reading this blog, an ATV – a.k.a. four-wheeler – is a motorized off-road vehicle with four wheels that you sit on top of and steer by using handlebars. So it’s kind of like a bicycle, except that you don’t have to exert yourself and it’s harder to fall off. I confess to feeling small twinges of jealousy as the ATVers rode by, and to stopping and taking a good long look at the next ATV
being offered for sale on the side of the road.)
After lunch, it was a long downhill through the towns of Roulette and Port Allegheny. Being, as usual, somewhat easily distracted, I ended up at the back with Jessalee and Alex. We were almost out of Port Allegheny when we noticed an inordinate number of chickens – hundreds of them, actually! – on two big grills by the side of the road. It turned out that the local youth wrestling club was having a fundraiser, timed to coincide with some sort of town-wide yard sale festival and – evidently – the arrival of the Habitat Bicycle Challenge. Of course we had to stop. We ate a whole chicken between the three of us, washing it down with cans of Mountain Dew. Little did we know – little did our elevation printout suggest – that the next seven miles or so into Smethport would be by far the most mountainous of the day. This provided our formerly-feathered friend with the opportunity to have the last laugh from the insides of our stomachs. Eventually, after much grasping at our stomachs, we made it to Smethport, mildly worse for the wear.
The church in Smethport was one of the friendliest we’ve stayed at so far and definitely the most thematically decorated. There were bicycle-themed tablecloths and several Tour de France posters, and one of the church members who fixed us dinner brought an old cruising bicycle to prop at the end of the serving line. Dinner was, of course, delicious.
The day ended with our first “town hall meeting,” which is HBC-speak for the weekly gathering at which we discuss problems and make group decisions. After hearing horror stories from last year’s leaders, I was expecting the meeting to be several hours of pure pain, most of it probably consumed by impassioned argument over whether to dry our bike shorts for seven minutes or eight. But it was surprisingly peaceful. The only semi-contentious issue was wake-up times, with the question being whether we should wake up really frikkin’ early or really, really frikkin’ early. And so, I am happy to close this blog entry with the news that the 27 riders of HBC Central 2007 still love each other.