Whirlwind

With the favorable spread in the NY Post came more requests for interviews. An early morning freight train rouses me from my tent at Youghiogheny Canoe Outfitters Campground in West Newton, PA. There’s no hope of going back to bed, so I check email and see a message from WCBS Newsradio 880.

After taking a $3 "a la carte" shower, I do the phone interview while standing up and slathering sunscreen onto my face with no mirror. That is the beauty of radio—no one sees what you’re doing. This spot is broadcast throughout the day:

As morning sun erases the mist over the Youghiogheny River, I write and attend to social media, both of which I’m way behind on. Happy canoe people trickle in for their Saturday morning adventures on the Youghiogheny River, however you pronounce that.

 Riverside campsite in West Newton, PA. A busy day is about to begin.

Riverside campsite in West Newton, PA. A busy day is about to begin.

WCBS calls back for a follow up question: do I feel like a thief? I instead highlight the value of the experience and importance of spreading bike sharing awareness and inspiration for incorporating a bike into one’s life to find happiness. Money is paper and bank accounts are a bunch of numbers. I would have paid 5x the late fee for the new places I’m seeing and new people I’m meeting.

Suddenly it’s almost noon. I’m still at the campsite. How did that happen? I pretend I don’t see a Facebook message from WNBC Channel 4 in New York. In a rush to hit the road and reach Pittsburgh, I also skip breakfast. Bad decision because there would be no time for lunch either.

Back on the GAP
I rejoin the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage to Pittsburgh. Today is my last day on the trail and have 31 miles to cover. I cross paths with a family from Bucks County, PA. I notice the son wearing a Five Boro Bike Tour jersey and he notices I’m on a NYC shared bike. Turns out they used to live in Hastings-on-Hudson just north of NYC.

We are traveling at about the same speed, so I fall in line behind the father and chat about my ride and life in NYC under Mayor Bill de Blasio, which he asks about. The company and conversation help me forget about the media attention that I don’t really want to deal with.

It’s hot and dusty and I feel like I’m dragging twice the weight as yesterday. I’m only 30 miles from Pittsburgh but it feels like 300. I just want to get there, hopefully by 3pm in time for the end of a bike sharing event that I’ve been invited to attend.

The rest of the ride is forgettable except that a guy riding in the opposite direction cheers me on: “Yeah Citi Bike, yeah Countri Bike!” It’s the first time I’ve been called my trail name.

 McKeesport lies just outside Pittsburgh.

McKeesport lies just outside Pittsburgh.

 Towards the Paris of Appalachia or the royal château?

Towards the Paris of Appalachia or the royal château?

Pulling into Pittsburgh
I reach the South Side half an hour too late for the bike sharing party. As a consolation prize, I find a station of Pittsburgh’s new bike sharing system, Healthy Ride Pittsburgh. I muster a weak smile and then collapse on the ground. My bronzed legs are covered in limestone dust from the trail. I need a bath and food. To deflect hunger I whip out my laptop and wi-fi hot spot and catch up on emails.

The baking sun forces me to retreat to a shady bench outside an REI store. That’s where I meet Rob who recognizes the bike and has heard about my ride. Rob kindly escorts me to the local hangout OTB Bicycle Cafe. He buys me two summer ale drafts that I evaporate as fast as pouring water into sand. We’re sitting outside and I’m disoriented. Did I really just ride a Citi Bike to Pittsburgh?

Rob begins connecting me to local bike people, including a guy at BikePGH who is organizing the year’s biggest bike event—PedalPGH, which is tomorrow.

Rob’s on his phone sending messages alerting people that I’m in town. I’m on my laptop responding to emails while on my phone talking with David at Refilmery trying to coordinate an interview with WNBC 4, which apparently needs to happen in the next 30 minutes. Umm, can I get a sandwich or a sponge bath first? Unlike the radio, this TV interview has video.

To my right are two girls amused at what’s going on. The largest pug I’ve ever seen jumps all over me, tongue first.

“Sorry, she’s a big kisser,” one of the girls says, trying to yank the dog off by her pink collar.

“It’s OK, so am I!” I shoot back to a round of laughter.

I’m a crushed limestone salt lick for the dog, which right now is my only option for getting clean because I have no where to stay. No time to think about that, NBC needs an interview.

TV time
Rob bikes with me to a quiet place overlooking the Monongahela River. I thank him for his support and set up shop: laptop, wi-fi hot spot, and Lifesaver mints that I’m popping two at a time for some kind of sugary stimulant.

I position the bike in the background and tie on the New York souvenir license plate. I kick off my shoes and sweaty socks and sit on the ground. The laptop is balancing on a little wall. I log into Skype and tinker with the settings. Forty minutes later I’m doing a recorded interview, but Skype’s video crashes 2/3 of the way through. Because of NFL coverage, the producer is using a secondary room and doesn’t have the equipment to see me, so I don’t know what’s going on. I can only hope for the best when it gets played on the 11:00 PM news.

A hard day’s night
It’s now about seven o’clock and I’m starving, dirty and tired. The problem with Pittsburgh is that there’s no good place for a budget traveler to stay. There is one mysterious hostel whose address isn’t listed (you need to have a phone interview to qualify). Potential cycling hosts have not responded to my inquiries and the app Hotel Tonight isn’t giving me low enough rates nearby. I cannot move one more mile.

In the distance I spot a SpringHill Suites by Marriott. I’ve never heard of this offshoot, but it’s gotta be better than camping next to freight train tracks. Hotels.com shows $219 + tax. Too much, this is Pittsburgh. I call the hotel. Before I can beg, I’m quoted a much lower rate, which gets even cheaper the next night.

“Done!” I scream triumphantly, alerting the front desk clerk that I’m on my way and have a big dusty bike with me.  

“That’s no problem. We have a bike storage room. Just come right into the lobby.”

I’m loving this place already. I ride over, check in, store Countri Bike, and go up to the top floor ready for some peace and quiet. The door next to mine is festooned with pink ribbons. Girly screams leach out into the hallway. Bachelorette party.

I groan and turn on the a/c to help drown out the noise. Daylight is fading and I walk over to the window. The view is nothing special. And then I look down. Train tracks run right next to the building.