Type 2 Diabetic. Cyclist Flâneur.   Coffeeneur.    Errandoneur
A bike / map geek with a gadget obsession and a high-viz fetish.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Point of Beginning in the Middle

05/06/12 245# 60m
Rode 59.92 miles from Monaca PA to the Mountaineer Racetrack in Newell, WV (and returned). This was an unusual ride in that (1) I got to the Point of Beginning halfway through the ride, and (2) I broke out my road bike, an aluminum Trek1100, rather than my Surly LHT.

Started in Monaca with an annual ritual in which I try to use this year's New and Improved version of BreatheRight nose strips, which do a great job of opening your nose and improving your airflow. Unfortunately, I have never been able to keep one on my face for more than about ten miles - but hope springs eternal, perhaps the Advanced version contains much better adhesives; we must try, try again.

Rode through Rochester PA where I got to cycle around Pennsylvania's newest roundabout, which is a curious thing to use with a bicycle and I think I stumped those waiting to enter.

Rode through Beaver PA and reflected on the essential puzzle: Is Beaver the Sewickley of Beaver County, or is Sewickley the Beaver of Allegheny County? I like to think that Beaver is what Sewickley might become in the future, when Sewickley gets a bike shop.

The Breathe-Right strip lasted for 12 miles, at which time it popped off one nostril while doggedly remaining affixed on the other side. It's too bad; there's a tremendous improvement in airflow while the gizmo is attached. I would actually have these tension bars implanted in my nose, except then somebody would give me a nose-noogie and I'd be forever impaired, and probably make a whistling sound that only dogs could hear.

Continued west to the three-way border of Pennsylvania, West Virgina, and Ohio and came upon the historical marker and obelisk for The Point of Beginning, which is just an awesome official name for anything.

From Wikipedia: The Point of Beginning is significant as being the point from which the Public Land Survey System was performed, starting in 1785, which would open what was then the Northwest Territory for settlement. The survey was "the first mathematically designed system and nationally conducted cadastral survey in any modern country" and is "an object of study by public officials of foreign countries as a basis for land reform." It was conducted in the late 18th century by Geographer of the U.S. Thomas Hutchins surveying the Seven Ranges.

First, it's funny to think of East Liverpool, Ohio as the Northwest Territory. But what this brings to mind is the fantastically ambitious landgrab and struggle between Pennsylvania, New York, and Virginia, and their respective investment companies - which we really don't see in today's map because of the Virginia-West Virginia schism.

This map shows state land claims and cessions (releases) from 1782 to 1802:

At its peak, the Virginia colony included present-day West Virginia and Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. The West Virginia panhandle, which we today consider a specious bit of cartography, is an artifact of Virginia's push to the Great Lakes. It's just curious to me to consider Virginia holding land due west of Pittsburgh.

It gives me pause that NY, VA, and PA made such tremendous land-grabs with so little ocean shoreline. NY and PA have no ocean coast; VA has very little, and that was never developed. They do have tremendous harbors, and it seems that they jumped off their ships and ran inland while others focused on coastal economies. They did not lack for ambition.

It seems wasteful that such a significant geopoint would be unexploited; you'd think some ashram, a 12-step program, or a magic underwear outfit would be happy to establish a presence at the official US government "point of beginning". People have done more with less. Why has no politician seeking to kickoff a campaign taken a stand at the Point of Beginning, and - begun?

These days the West Virginia Panhandle seems too removed from the promise and the wealth of the Old Dominion, but Chester WV still is home to the World's Biggest Teapot, a throwback to Route 30 coffee shops that used attention-getting buildings to encourage motorists to stop.

Again, a tremendous historic artifact reduced to drive-by kitsch. Does the Tea Party need a rallying point? This is the place! (Does the Tea Party still exist?) These are the things I wonder about on bike rides.

I will note that the road drains on Route 30 and in Chester are incompatible with bicycle tires. Chester seems like a nice town; certainly all the drivers were very courteous.

I am quite fond of the nearby Newell Toll Bridge, which has been in use since 1905. A privately owned structure, there is a five-cent toll for pedestrians but they allow bicyclists to pass gratis as a courtesy. Old school.

The town of Newell, much like Chester, seems very nice. South of town the road becomes a bit narrower and faster, and for the last two miles before the Mountaineer Racetrack there is no shoulder at all, and the edge of the road is often decroted.

This was a very nice ride, mostly flat, paved, and with adequate sources for snacks and drinks enroute. It was a beautiful day for a bike ride.

As I closed to within a mile of the finish I saw a young father in a parking lot teaching his daughter how to ride without training wheels, and it reminded me what a great thing it is to ride a bike.

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