Introduction - Steel City to Cow Town 2014 - CycleBlaze


My 2014 bike tour started on September 9 at the Pittsburgh Airport. I pedaled to downtown Pittsburgh, known as Steel City.

Then I followed the 147-mile Great Allegheny Passage trail southeast to Cumberland, Maryland.

Then southwest through the Allegheny mountains, eventually crossing the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky.

Farther west I traversed the Ozark Plateau in southern Missouri and northwest Arkansas, then west through the Ouachita mountains into Oklahoma.

Then I pedaled southwest through gentle terrain to my parents' house in Fort Worth, Texas.

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This is the only map in the tour journal. You can open the route map in a separate tab by clicking View Full Version in the upper left. Then while reading the journal you can switch to the map tab at any time.

The tour took me to both "ends" of the Ohio river. In downtown Pittsburgh the Ohio river arbitrarily begins where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers merge. And south of Cairo, Illinois I saw the Ohio river arbitrarily end where it flows into the Mississippi river, more than doubling the Mississippi's flow.

The tour took me through 11 states. 5 were "new" for me:
West Virginia, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.

This was my first self-supported bike tour without camping gear. I stayed in motels every night. The bike is lighter with no rear panniers and no rear rack.

Map image showing the terrain.
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The tour was 44 days, from September 9 to October 22, 2014. Total distance including missed turns, detours to restaurants, etc., was 2209 miles (3534 km) from Pittsburgh airport to my parents' home in east Fort Worth. Exhaustion wasn't a problem because I stayed in motels every night and took 8 rest days.

The first half of the tour is in Appalachia, a mountainous region characterized by poverty, isolation, coal mining, logging, and fiercely independent "mountain man" culture. Bluegrass music is the most famous cultural export. I was dreading coal mines and coal trucks, but managed to avoid most of the coal mining regions.

I found the accent most difficult to understand in westernmost Virginia and eastern Kentucky, the heart of Appalachia. I pedaled through Appalachia once before in 1989, but mostly on Blue Ridge Parkway which isn't really typical of Appalachia.

"Appalachian region of United States" by Jax42 at en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
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Later in the tour I pedaled 10 days crossing the Ozark Plateau in southern Missouri and northwest Arkansas. Most people call it The Ozarks. Like Appalachia it's sparsely populated and undeveloped, with relentless steep hills that are unsuitable for farming. A place where the word hillbilly is a term of endearment. The Ozark plateau is a limestone Karst area that produces crystal clear spring-fed rivers, and it has the last dense forests I saw during the tour. Quite enjoyable except for the heavy traffic near Branson.

"Ozark Overview" by Tosborn at en.wikipedia. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
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The tour took me along two early westward trade/migration routes. The Great Allegheny Passage was the easiest route from the Atlantic coast region to the Ohio river valley. Farther south, Cumberland Gap was the easiest route from the Atlantic coast region to the Tennessee and Mississippi river valleys. The actual gap once had a busy highway through it, but a tunnel was completed in 1997 and the National Park Service restored the original route to approximately how it was in 1800, shortly after Daniel Boone improved the foot path into a wagon road. I pedaled and pushed my bike over the actual gap on a 2.5 mile trail.

Cumberland Gap, on the Wilderness Road trail.
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The tour starts in the northern U.S. but on the 5th day I crossed the Mason-Dixon line into the southern U.S. In many ways the south seems like a foreign country compared to my Oregon home. Most towns in West Virginia, Virginia, and Kentucky have a monument to Confederate war dead. I can't comprehend honoring traitors and losers who fought to preserve slavery.

Typical monument to Confederate war dead.
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Another distinguishing characteristic of the south is that it has many churches but comparatively little religious diversity. It's the Bible Belt, where everyone is presumed to be an evangelical Protestant. Starting in southern Virginia most churches were Southern Baptist. Then starting in Missouri most churches were Missionary Baptist. I've seen other religious mono cultures in the U.S.: Mormon in Utah and southern Idaho, Roman Catholic in the rural southwest, and Lutheran in rural North Dakota and Minnesota.

Church of the Brethren (German Baptist Brethren) in West Virginia.
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Near the end of the tour I pedaled through eastern Oklahoma, the former Indian Territory. I pedaled through the modern-day home of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, 2 of the 5 "civilized tribes" that were forcibly exiled from their eastern homes to Indian Territory in the 1840's. Indian Territory was sovereign until 1907 when it and Oklahoma Territory were combined to create the state of Oklahoma.

"Okterritory". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons
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After a quick stop at the stockyards, the tour ended in Fort Worth, Texas, known as Cow Town.

My last tour in the eastern U.S. was way back in 2001. Navigating in the east is more complicated than navigating in the west because the east has far more roads to choose from.

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