Welcome to carbonstories.org. On this site you can learn about Michael Johnson-Chase and follow my blogs. With some exceptions, this site follows "theme based" cycling tours focusing on social and climate related issues. Slowed down observations of the world over days, weeks and months at 10 to 15 miles an hour can reveal a depth and quality of understanding about our environment often missed by faster modes of travel.

THE EAST: GRID Alternatives

THE EAST: GRID Alternatives

To see the final blog about the GRID Alternatives Trans American Cycling Tour, 2016, please go here

To donate to GRID Alternatives through Climate Ride, please go here

Welcome to my travelogue for the GRID Alternatives Trans American Cycling Tour, 2016. If you read some of my prior blogs you will see I am more interested in reflective writing on environmental issues than I am in writing a travelogue. However, the nature of the trip I have been on since April 8, 2016, makes me think this kind of writing has value. And because of the challenges and stresses a trip like this entails, I don't know that I will be able to write anything thoughtfully reflective until the trip is over. 

For those of you tracking this tour day by day, please log onto my Facebook and Instagram accounts. There are links for both (and my Twitter account) at the bottom of this blog if you keep scrolling down. But if you don't participate in social media you can check in here from time to time. But please be forewarned - I find it very difficult to find wifi reliable enough to keep my blog fresh - in fact, I am often as much as two weeks behind. That said, I will get to it when I can, so please keep coming back! I promise you I will add to it eventually, so your patience will pay off.

On this trip I will travel 6000 miles on a bicycle over a number of months and visit a total of 11 regional GRID Alternatives offices - 8 in California (San Diego, Inland Empire, Greater LA, Central Valley, Central Coast, Bay Area, Bay Area North Coast and North Valley) - and then 3 more GRID offices in Denver, New York City and Washington, DC. The route will zigzag northward through California, then east across the Rocky Mountains through Nevada and Utah to Denver, and across the great midwest and the Appalachian mountains back to my home in NYC. The final leg of the tour from GRID's New York office to GRID's Washington DC office will take place from September 17 - 21 as part of the signature “Climate Ride NYC to Washington DC tour". At each office I will meet with GRID staff and participate in volunteer installations wherever possible. I also intend to do some additional cycling to see family and friends, and celebrate the National Park Service’s Centennial.

A great way that you can help put some wind behind my back is to support fundraising for GRID Alternatives through the following link at Climate Ride. Funds raised from this Climate Ride Independent Challenge will support GRID Alternatives. Please know that I am not raising money for myself - the trip is entirely self funded. So 100% of your $ goes to a tax deducible organization. And several excellent ones at that - Climate Ride takes a small portion for providing the fund raising website, and the rest goes directly to GRID. GRID's teams of volunteers come together to install solar systems for low income homeowners at no cost to homeowners. In addition, GRID’s hands-on training has evolved into one of the best solar training programs in the country. Your generous donation will help GRID Alternatives improve the bottom line for homeowners, decrease carbon emissions, and offer workforce training in the solar field - from marketing and sales to system installation - for individual homes, businesses, community solar and affordable housing. This is how to put people to work; solar has been the fastest growing industry in the country for the last four years!

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July 31 was a needed and useful day of rest in Natrona Heights, PA, a suburb to the north of Pittsburgh on the Allegheny River. 

My host Kitty posing with my bike before I left the Pittsburgh area on August 1. 

August 1 -I cycled through some interesting communities on the Allegheny River on my way through Pittsburgh, where I picked up the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Trail. Although foggy when I started, the day became beautiful and sunny, and the industrial communities along the river looked alternatively gritty and charming in a strong-shouldered way. 

The sun rising over a scrap metal yard next to the Allegheny River. 

Although getting through Pittsburgh and down to the Monongahela River where the GAP Trail begins was challenging, I made it onto the trail by early afternoon.   

The GAP Trail just south of Pittsburgh. 

About five miles south of Pittsburgh the trail becomes well maintained crushed gravel, which leads 160 miles to Cumberland. This proved to be a great surface for cycling - kind on tires and a softer ride than asphalt. If only there were more long bike trials like this!  

I got lunch in Boston, PA in a local bar. I explained to several locals what I had been doing for almost 5 months.  When I went to pay for my food I discovered that my tab had been picked up by one of the guys I had been talking to. He wouldn't let me pay him back. As I was leaving he said it was his way of supporting my ride. I was touched, to say the least. This is only one of many small niceties that came my way during my trip. 

My campsite near Connellsville in the morning. Fog is common in the Allegheny region. 

Just at sunset as I was drifting off to sleep, several cyclists set up camp near me. They were teachers from Limerick, Ireland, who were cycling across the US. The next morning I snapped this photo. 

One of the earlier views of the day about 50  miles in on the GAP Trail. 

August 2 - This day on the GAP trail turned to be quite amazing. Several times during the day I reconnected with the Irish cyclists - Orla Knight and Karen Weeks - who had camped near me the night before. They were both having a great time, and charmed everyone they met on the trail. They were also intense cyclists. Most touring cyclists average about 60 miles a day, but these two typically logged 80 - 100 miles and had done a handful of days where they covered 120 miles and more. I like to think I'm in pretty good shape, but I had to work to keep up with these two!  

This view was pointed out by a cycling companion (pictured below) who joined me for about 20 miles in the morning on the way into Ohiopyle (yes, that really is the name of the town), where I enjoyed a terrific breakfast buffet at the Market Cafe.  

My cycling companion for about 20 miles in the morning - a retired mining administrator named Steve, who came from several generations of miners near Uniontown, PA.  It was Steve who pointed out to me with pride that the Youghiogheny River (which the GAP Trail follows after it leaves the Monongahela) had been cleaned up after years of pollution brought on by coal mining. This man was remarkable to me - he understood climate change, and accepted that coal need to be on its way out as an industry. His pride and his thoughtful understanding that change was now necessary challenged all my stereotypes about coal miners.  

Steve took this picture of me as we crossed the river near Ohiopyle, PA. 

Later in the day I caught up with Orla and Karen and cycled with them again for a while. But Karen got out in front (which was common) and when Orla and I arrived at a town where she had been waiting for us, she had befriended Bill and Nancy, who took us out for some food.  So, for the second time in two days, someone I had just met bought me a meal!

The GAP trial in the late afternoon as I approached the Savage Tunnel, a 1/4 mile long tunnel through the last mountain before the Eastern Continental Divide. 

Deep in the tunnel. 

The Eastern Divide on the GAP Trail. 

Although I left dinner early to get a head start from my crazy Irish cycling companions, it didn't last long. Here they are approaching the Divide.  

The view on the eastern side of the Divide just out of the tunnel. Cumberland, Maryland is about 10 miles away. 

The sun about to set on the way into Cumberland, MD. 

This day we cycled 92 miles, and ended up camping under a pavilion maintained by a local YMCA in Cumberland, MD. Fortunately, Orla was quick thinking enough to stop just as the sun was setting at a local liquor store, so we were able to enjoy some beer before climbing into our tents. Given that we hadn't had much to eat during the day, the beer took the edge of my hunger and I slept well. But I awoke yearning for a big breakfast, so I said my goodbyes to my Irish companions (who wanted to skip breakfast and keep going), and went looking for food. 

August 3 - The GAP Trail ends at Cumberland, and joins the C&O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Canal Tow Trail. This cycling trial derives from an old 2 track road, which is how barges were pulled on the canal, and it goes all the way to Washington, DC. I found it muddy and challenging out of Cumberland, but as the day wore on it gradually improved, suggesting that it gradually turns into a better surface as it gets closer to DC. I spent the night in the lovely small town of Hancock, MD. In a tourist renaissance, this old mining town now caters to cycling tourists, and has several decent motels and bar and grills for cleaning up and unwinding.    

August 4 - On the C&O Canal Trail until Williamsport, MD. Left the trail and biked north toward Gettysburg, PA, where I stayed in a KOA for the evening. It was a cute place, although pricey because of its proximity to Gettysburg. The husband of the camp managing agent was kind enough to drive me to a bar and grill a few miles away where I got dinner. 

August 5 - In the morning I rode past some of the battlefields and through the center of Gettysburg. I didn't think I had time to take a tour and I was worried about rain, so I didn't stop (hope I don't regret that choice - I know I want to return). But what an interesting looking town. Extraordinary architecture in every direction. I continued east, and in the evening I stopped at a Best Value Inn, and to my good fortune discovered an amazing Amish buffet was situated directly across the road. Although the place was packed (Friday night in prime vacation season) I was able to get takeaway and went back to my motel room to eat. I especially remember and extraordinary piece of coconut cream pie. Some aspects of Americana cannot be beat - authentic cream pies are among them.   

August 6 - Not much was distinctive about this day, except for an Amish breakfast at the same restaurant as the evening before, and increasingly busy traffic as I approached Media, PA on the outskirts of Philadelphia. I stayed at my brother's apartment at Pendle Hill, the oldest Quaker retreat center in the United States. 

August 7 -  Left Pendle Hill and rode into downtown Philadelphia, where I picked up SEPTA, the local train service, to Trenton, where I was able to roll my bike onto a New Jersey Transit train that took me to Penn Station in Manhattan. I quite like how SEPTA and NJ Transit accommodates cyclists in off-peak hours. Its a true service. I wish Amtrak was as helpful.  

Typical Philadelphia row houses on the west side. 

The NYC West Side Bike Path that runs north and south along the Hudson River. The bridge in the distance is the George Washington. I took this shot as I biked north to my apartment in Washington Heights on the day I returned. 

GRID Tour Finale, NYC to DC

GRID Tour Finale, NYC to DC

THE MIDWEST: GRID Alternatives

THE MIDWEST: GRID Alternatives