Back from biking

I’m back from a week of biking, a trip that took me some 460 miles from Ohiopyle, in southwestern Pennsylvania, through the Cumberland Gap and the Gettysburg battlefield, past buggy-driving Amish farmers, through Philadelphia’s north suburbs, across the Delaware and back to Montclair, NJ.

I thought I would come up with great ideas for my book, new insights about marriage and parenting, story ideas for when I return to BusinessWeek in two weeks (Yikes!). I took along poems to memorize, along with Hamlet’s soliloquy and the Gettysburg Address. My one concern was that my neck and back, which tend to stiffen with weekend riding, would lock up on this tour. But the riches pouring through my head would more than compensate.

And you know what? My head did nothing on the trip. No new ideas, no new poems, no story ideas. Not even a blog post! This is what occurred in my head: 24 miles to go. Try this gear. Ouch. What’s that whirring noise? Nice cows. Now this gear. 23.7 miles to go…You get the picture. And my neck and back don’t bother me one bit.

Conclusion: It’s work (and accompanying stress) that stiffens my back. Biking only brings it to the surface.

I’ll put other random notes from the trip below the fold.

For those of you who don't like hills or car traffic, consider the Great Allegheny Passage from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC. It goes along rail and canal trails, through forests, along rivers (the Youghiogheny and the Potomac). It piggybacks on great engineering of the 19th century, carrying bikers on great bridges across chasms and through illuminated (and a few non-illuminated) tunnels.

Despite the charms of this path, I was happy to get back on roads at Williamsport, MD. It was great to get back to hills, because they turn the relentless grind of flatland pedaling into a roller-coaster ride. Sometimes you can coast. Hills give bikers something to accomplish and also moments of joy.

The Pennsylvania government has mapped out a series of biking routes in the state. The one I was on (from north of Gettysburg to the Delaware) was beautifully marked. It led me along gorgeous country roads, and spared me the strip malls and glass-strewn shoulders I probably would have happened on by myself. I wish New Jersey had something similar.

When I lived in Pittsburgh in the '90s, I noticed something peculiar. The adults in my traditional suburb spent their weekends working, in the gardens or lawns, fixing things, doing errands. The children played. But when I traveled west, to cities like Denver and Portland, OR., I saw lots and lots of adults playing. They biked, rock-climbed, threw the frisbee around. In the newer sectors of the economy, I thought, adults play more. The challenge now for old-economy states like Pennsylvania is to attract new-economy types to its companies and universities. They're all vying for what Richard Florida (whom I used to interview in Pittsburgh) calls "The Creative Class." And a lot of these people, in addition to eating well and going to great museums, like to play. The old Rust Belt cities are competing with Austin, Boston, Berkeley, Stockholm, Barcelona--all places that ooze quality of life. So the old cities have to refashions some of their 19th century industrial infrastructure into "quality-of-life infrastructure," including adult playgrounds. The bike path is one example.

Now you may ride along that path, as I did, and see only a smattering of people in 150 miles, and conclude that the money is benefitting only a small minority. But I think that a region is more appealing if it has attractions, even if most people don't use them. We benefit from living in cities with great restaurants, symphonies and art museums, even if we eat at home and watch TV. It's nice knowing they're there. Possibilities exist. Same goes with bike trails.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.