SEA TO SHINING SEA: The yin and yang of travel

Trains roll through the heart of Pittsburgh night and day. We have never seen a city or town with a more constant presence of trains. If their volume is any indication, this nation's economy is definitely on the rise. BY DENNIS FORNEY
July 25, 2013

DAY 72 - July 24, 2013 - Rolling is a good thing.  I'm glad humans invented the wheel.

We rolled out of Steubenville this morning while the struggling city was waking.  Crossing the Ohio and heading northward toward the Panhandle Trail and Pittsburgh, we looked back on buildings glowing warmly in the day's early sun.

Downtown was mostly vacant - not because of the time of the day - but because of the vagaries of time's passage, changing times, recessions and associated decay.  We were told to stay off of certain hills, out of certain sections of towns.  Heroin and gangs, guns and violence.  A hospital security guard told us that just a few nights back, a young man was brought in.  "Two bullets in his head.  AK47.  He didn't make it. On that one hill, they shoot at cops.  Gun fights."

You would never know it riding through town at 7 a.m. Steubenville will rise again.  All of those empty buildings some day will be occupied by immigrant entrepreneurs.  A few seeds of pride here and there will take hold in the worst sections of the city - sweetly situated in a valley along the river - and over time the determination of enlightened people will prevail as it always does.  Nature never stops sowing her seeds of beauty and life. Steubenville, like so many struggling towns and cities, still has plenty of fertile ground where those seeds can take root and prosper.

We hopped on another great trail about seven miles out of Steubenville.  The Panhandle Trail crosses the narrow section of West Virginia dividing Pennsylvania and Ohio in this area and heads northeastward to Pittsburgh. Since we entered southwestern Ohio from Indiana, most of our riding has been on trails.  The Panhandle connected with the Three Rivers Heritage Trail and the Great Allegheny Passage in Pittsburgh. From here we will ride nothing but trails to Washington D.C. and then when we cross the Chesapeake, we will get on the Cross Island Trail at Stevensville, Kent Island. Then, like spawning eels following their noses to the Sargasso waters where they were hatched, we will pick up the scent of salt in the air and continue pedaling east to the Atlantic.

Elaine's good luck charms have helped keep us safe.  Hopefully their power will hold for a couple more weeks. That doesn't seem like much time even though Elaine said it equated to about four centuries. Then I realized she was speaking in bicycling terms, of the miles we have left to complete. Even at that, time passes quickly.  "As eternity is reckoned there's a lifetime in a second."

Pittsburgh, adding high tech to its manufacturing portfolio - and its surging Pirates baseball team - feels vibrant.  Here where the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers join to form the Ohio, long trains rumble through town constantly with their whistles wailing and their cars loaded with everything from coal and combines, lumber and chemicals to grain and steel and unknown other goods hidden behind the steel walls of portable containers still salty from their voyages on oceangoing vessels.

The trains speak of travel and commerce and the comings and goings of civilization.  Sometimes when they pass, I look closely for hobos who may have hitched a ride, heading westward for a different life, or just drifting with no particular place to go.

And there's the yin and yang of travel.  While home beckons, so too does the desire for discovery: seeing what lies over the next mountain or around the bend in the next river; falling asleep beside chattering rapids while trying to translate their ancient language; wondering what that next trail will look like and what the people we meet along it will have so say.

What's it all about Alfie?

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