torley manor

May 23, 2013

Cruising the Commonwealth

Filed under: Uncategorized — emma @ 11:06 pm

We celebrated my 32nd birthday by riding our bikes from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. There’s a bonkers unsanctioned race on the same route in April called Crush the Commonwealth that kind of tugged at me as something maybe I might want to do (you know, but then I realized I am the least competitive person and hate doing things fast, so….). Q suggested we do the ride over a few days instead, and dubbed it the Cruise the Commonwealth ride. I like it.

Q wrote up a summary of the ride from his perspective over at his new blog Not Distance But Depth.

He also uploaded a photoset to flickr, here.

First thing to know, of course, is that we made it and had a great time. Evidence:


Let me preface this by saying that for the first time in my life, I am surrounded by this amazing bunch of people who, instead of saying “WHY WOULD YOU EVER WANT TO DO THAT??? YOU KNOW THERE ARE CARS THAT CAN TAKE YOU THERE!” when I started talking about this bike trip, were totally amped for us.  One of my dearest pals made me this amazing birthday present:

The bike route is marked in red! Unbelievable!

So with that extra confidence of nobody being worried about me, and a few extra-long hill climbing rides under our belts, we buckled down on my birthday proper to make sure our bags were packed, hardware tightened on securely, chains all tidy, and rain gear ready. Threw in a hat and pair of gloves just in case, because if backpacking’s taught me nothing else, it’s always wise to have one more layer than you think you’ll actually need.

Day one!

It rained allllll night long and into the morning. We waited till it cleared up a bit and rolled out around 8am into several hours of rain. It was warm and we were cheerful, especially because we got to sneak through the not-quite-finished connection on the GAP trail. We stopped briefly at West Newton, where I took off my shoes and squeezed out my socks, making puddles of water on the ground. It felt pretty disgusting to put them back on, but I didn’t swap out for dry socks because it was obviously about to rain again any minute.  The day felt easy and familiar, but with this added bonus of being totally desolate. Almost nobody else was out. We saw more cats than people for a stretch. We stopped at a grocery store in Connellsville and had two really sweet exchanges — Q was walking off some gnarly hiccups and a woman told him she was proud of him for riding so far (!!!) and I talked to the store manager for a while, who seemed kind of wistful about having grand adventures and said “well, maybe if I were younger….” I encouraged him a little, and then he ran in and brought us two cold bottles of water. I think Connellsville’s really benefited by having the trail go right through town.


Somehow last year when we rode through this stretch en route to DC, we didn’t stop for the photo in the arch here. It’s so cheerful to ride through, especially because after so many flat miles, the trail takes a little downhill as you go through!

Q seemed pretty weary and was plagued by hiccups the first day. I felt really strong but like the next day would be the real test. We rolled into Confluence to camp and were bummed to learn that they didn’t have the showers opened up at the campsite yet. Not a big deal, but man is it nice to have a shower after riding in the rain all day! Q’s hiccups got worse till he threw up a little and then seemed instantly better. I was feeling nervous about the fate of the trip for a bit, until he stopped hiccuping!

Day two!

We both slept pretty hard in the tent (totally went to bed at old people time. crashed out by 9pm!) but slow-poked in the morning. Didn’t roll out till around 9.15am, but with our bags packed better than the previous day, which felt a lot better. Our chains were all gunked up with trail silt, but we didn’t want to really clean them up yet since we still had 20 more miles on the soggy trail to contend with. I scraped off some crud and didn’t bother more than that. Those last 20 miles were hard and rotten. It was cold and our noses ran non-stop. There was a lot of storm debris on the trail, and since it had rained so much, the trail was just sodden and sucked our wheels in. It was really windy and our chains were all squeaky. Tested our patience for sure. I was eager to get off the trail and onto roads, even though I was anxious about heading straight into the hills with less protection from the wind. Rightly so!

Winds picked up (gusting to 25mph-ish) and the road between Rockwood (where we got off the trail) and Somerset — though called Water Level Road — was 8 miles of rollers. Q really ran out of steam on them. I got tired but kept thinking “this one isn’t as long as 39th Street” or “this one isn’t as steep as 39th Street!” to get up them. The bulk of my very short commute is up a steep hill. I think it made all the difference on this trip. I started referring to my “39th Street Advantage” over Q. We stopped to eat lunch in Somerset, and Q got some hiccups again that subsided quickly.  Getting back out of Somerset was bonkers — it started to snow, and we were beat, and the hills got longer and steeper till we eventually made it over to the other side of the mountain. Q was struggling on the climbs, and I was struggling on the descents — they were fast, with some debris in the shoulder, and had either headwinds making my eyes water, or crosswinds causing some shimmy.

Then — glory! — the route turned onto smaller, less-traveled, no-shoulder roads that had been freshly paved! So smooth! The climbs felt so much easier and the descents so much less hairy. Or maybe I was just warmed up. Tough to say. But we were happy! Rode a good long spell and stopped for a snack at the intersection of three dairy farms. Couldn’t stay stopped for very long because it got so chilly, but we both felt a lot stronger the rest of the way. Stayed the night in a cozy PA Dutch themed motel:

Day three!

Didn’t wind up sleeping quite as soundly as I’d hoped. Not sure why. Rolled out early to get some breakfast at a charming little spot in downtown Bedford. Got a ridiculous chocolate chip, apple, and peanut butter panini that was delicious but heavy — my belly felt a little funny for the first hour or so but settled out fine. The ride from Bedford to Breezewood was long and incredible — huge long hills leading up to the ridge top, where we rolled up and down along some beautiful fields under a (finally!) warm sun. It didn’t actually get warm enough to take off our gloves or jackets, but it wasn’t raining or snowing! We stopped for lunch in Breezewood, where we ran into a neighbor who wished us well. Oh Breezewood!

Just after the sketchy on and off ramps is the steep little dirt path up to the abandoned turnpike, which was so so so so fun. It’s crazy to think that it hasn’t seen car traffic in almost 50 years. The road surface in the tunnels was way nicer than I expected, which made the tunnels more fun and less scary. I kept being amazed that we ran into NO people. At all. These tunnels felt less sketchy and scary to me than the Paw Paw Tunnel on the C&O.

From the turnpike on through the next several towns, each hill was tough, and we stopped on all of ‘em for a breather. I could hardly believe how much we ate! It can be pretty hard to keep up with calorie intake when you’re climbing all day! We stopped for a spell at the mill at Burnt Cabins and then plugged along. It felt like we were going soooooo slooooooowly for a while there, but the descents made up for it, so we kept up with our anticipated pace. We got to the road that goes through the Buchanan State Forest, fully prepared for it to destroy us. Turned out to be lots of great rollers, and an incredible, long, smooth, winding descent. We loved it and felt restored. We’d been planning on stopping at Cowan’s Gap, but just raced on past it.

Stopped at Chambersburg to eat and get a motel room instead of pushing on the next ten miles to camp at Caledonia. Q was pretty spent. I felt sure I could soldier on and get there just fine ….. until we stopped. It’s the stopping that’ll do you in! We ate a sketchy fast food dinner and then I felt suddenly so sleepy! I was glad to sleep in a motel that night — and the manager let us bring our bikes into the room, for which we were grateful.

Day four!

It was such a good call to save those extra ten miles for the next day — it really evened out the load. We felt a lot fresher and stronger after a rest. The hills up and out of Chambersburg felt long and slow and a bit boring — the climbs weren’t as hard, but the descents weren’t as fast. Another 10 or 15 miles out, and the hills turned back into rollers. Much more fun. There was a fair amount of truck traffic on the route this day, but I kept being surprised by how decent the drivers were, the whole time. Maybe the “share the road” signs really work!

One thing I really enjoyed over the last few days was watching the dairy farms give way to orchards, which then give way to beef farms and then to towns. But at every place — every farm, every town, every house — there were blooming lilacs. What a time to take this ride!

We stopped at East Berlin for a quick lunch. Hoped for a grocery store lunch, but the grocery store was miles out of the way, so we just had some gas station food. Got some local potato chips (of the many many local varieties in East Berlin!) and found them to be inferior to other local varieties. Obviously I still ate them all.

The rest of the ride was more rolling hills, easier and easier, though the day warmed up enough to make it tough to regulate temperatures. Still needed gloves and jackets, but just barely. Made good time — got to York in time to get groceries for dinner, shower up, and do a load of laundry before anybody got home at Q’s sister’s house!  Had a great time visiting the family that evening.

Day five!

This was pretty much a rest day, which I was grateful for — Q’s knee was feeling beat, and I had some really stiff feeling stuff going on in one thigh. We got up and had a huge amazing breakfast with our friends Jesse and Hayley who also live in York — pancakes bigger than our heads. Glorious! Hung out for a spell with them, then rolled off to Lancaster in a drizzle. We were in no hurry as we were only going about 20 or 25 miles. Crossed the mighty Susquehanna, which I loved. It ‘s so wide! The bridge felt like it went on forever, and the drizzle made the river all foggy and dramatic.

The road to Lancaster was kind of trafficky and red-light heavy, but smooth. The lack of pot holes on this trip has been amazing. We got some great chai at the Square One Cafe, where the folks working greeted us with “are you the guys from Pittsburgh?” because our York friends posted on their facebook page that we’d be coming through. Awesome.

We fixed a dinner and stayed the night with some old friends of Q’s – it was the first time I’d met them, and it was so fun to do that conversational dance of getting to know somebody new, find out what you have in common, think about what assumptions you’re making about each other. Especially wonderful as you learn you have tons in common and really like each other! I feel like it’s been a very long time since I stayed with somebody I didn’t know well.

Day six!

We got up to a dark sky and pouring rain, a soaked saddle and bar tape (don’t know that I’ll go for leather bar tape again. It gets so clammy and gross feeling when it’s wet….). Quietly ate our breakfasts and re-packed our bags, trying to get excited about rainy riding. We set out and it wasn’t bad at all, especially as we got out of town and onto the farm roads. We saw a good number of horses/buggies, and it stopped raining after not too much time. It did start to get pretty warm and was so humid that I struggled a little. Took my one and only hit on the inhaler and felt a lot better.

We stopped at a natural foods store in New Holland, where a young Mennonite woman teased me for being so soggy. She said that I could get a shower every time a vehicle passed me. We rode on steadily to Morgantown to eat a little, dry off, and put on some sunblock. Mark the first time this trip we rode without jackets! After lunch on the last day! HA! I also joyfully took off my soaked socks and aired my feet out before putting on dry socks. It is hard to express how good dry socks feel.

As we rode on and the day heated up, we struggled a little — the heat was tough on us after riding in such chilly weather, and Q’s knee was really starting to bug him. Somewhere around Valley Forge, we realized how tired we were, when we briefly got off-route and were testy with each other. Took a break for more sunblock and snacks, crossed the (comparatively tiny) Schuylkill River, and gleefully found the river trail. I think we were as excited to get ON the trail here as we were to get OFF the trail at Rockwood! We plugged along the last 20-odd miles and encountered a thousand spaced out teenagers at some crazy rowing event. I felt like I was in a video game, trying not to get beaned by a boat or an oar.  We made it to the art museum, took a Rocky photo, called our families, and then made our way to our friends’ home to get cleaned up and eat a magnificent amount of food.

After spending the day and night in Philly, we jammed our bikes and bags in the trunk of a tiny little rental car and drove to visit Q’s parents for a few days. It made for a really lovely friend and family tour of the state.

I’d do it again in a minute. As much as we felt astonished by the range of weather we saw on the trip, it was kind of ideal. I don’t know that I could do all that climbing in hot weather. The funny thing is that I expected to feel like a superhero when I got back to town and started riding my regular commute again, but it feels like the same slog home as always, because I’m usually pretty out of steam by that point of the day anyway. Maybe I should try it NOT at the end of the workday sometime.

I was a little bit nervous beforehand about our preparedness — we both rode through the winter, and Pittsburgh has lots of hills, and we’d done one bike camping trip and a few hill-seeking rides leading up to this trip, but not a lot of … you know, “training.” But I think we were as prepared as we needed to be. The PA bike route system is pretty remarkable — it’s so well signed, and the route is pretty nice, and thoughtfully put together. I feel like so much of this trip was a pleasant surprise, honestly! I wasn’t worried about being able to do it, but I think I was worried that it might not be fun for us, or that it would be a real struggle to accomplish. It was HARD but the good kind of hard — hard enough that we really feel like we did something.

Now on to the next great adventure…..

April 19, 2013

Q’s New Blog

Filed under: Uncategorized — q @ 10:53 pm

The Torley Manor blog has been quiet for some time. Maybe we’ll get back to it, maybe we wont, but I just wanted to let you know that i’ve started working on a new blog. I’m just trying to get back into doing some more writing on a regular basis. It’ll be some personal stuff, hopefully some interviews, some drawings, some photos. Please check it out here: Not Distance/But Depth


January 2, 2013

FUN-A-DAY 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — q @ 9:13 pm

So we are both doing the Fun-A-Day project again this year. My project is to do a drawing each day (i know i’ve done it before, but i like it and the parameters are different this time around). This year I am taking 3 elements from my previous day and then working them all into a drawing. The drawing above is day one — including an outing to see ‘Lincoln’ the movie, a snowy bike ride home and the waffles we made for breakfast. Keep track of my photos by following this set on my flickr account.

Emma is keeping track of some of the things that make her laugh out loud. She is documenting them on a separate tumblr account over here.

For more info on the Fun-A-Day concept in general and other projects that folks are doing, visit the Fun-A-Day blog here.

The Fun-A-Day art show is scheduled for March 1st, 2013 at the Mr. Roboto Project (5106 Penn Ave) as part of the monthly Unblurred event.

Double-headed rubber spatula?

Filed under: Uncategorized — q @ 5:09 pm

We received this as part of a Xmas present. Functional, yes; but we couldn’t really figure out a good reason to have a double-headed rubber spatula. Your thoughts?

Lobster Claws vs Simpson’s gloves

Filed under: Uncategorized — q @ 5:05 pm

So in 2012 Emma and myself attempted to get kinda serious about biking. We were pretty successful, becoming regular bike commuters, running many of our errands around the city by bike, going on several bike trips, etc. Of course, it is much easier to be a consistent biker in the summertime and into the early days of autumn. But as temperatures begin to dip from highs in the 60′s to 50′s to the 40′s…well, it begins to get a little tougher. One of the things that makes it really tough is cold fingers, so we both decided to invest in full-fingered bicycle gloves.

We weren’t sure if we were committed to biking into the depths of winter, so we didn’t get anything super insulated or anything — just enough cold weather protection to keep us going and to see how far into the winter we could go before we either 1) gave up biking for the season, or 2) decided we were going to keep biking but needed better gloves. We decided if we were still riding on a regular basis as temps dipped into the 30′s consistently, then we would plunk down some money for some winter bike gloves.

And option #2 was the one that came to be — we were still biking well into December but longing for a little more protection for the fingers. So one day while down Xmas shopping on the Southside, we procured some new gloves at the REI. It seems that most of the time people recommend the use of “lobster claws” — a type of split-fingered mittens that puts your pointer and middle fingers in one part of the mitten and your ring finger and pinky in the other section. REI had one pair of normal lobster style gloves by Pearl Izumi, which were nice, but had velcro’d cuffs that we weren’t sure would do a good job of keeping out the cold air.

Then they had some Novara gloves that featured a four finger design. The thumb, pointer and middle finger are all separate like a regular glove and then the ring finger and pinky are the only two fingers doubled up. We were a little less sold on this aspect of the design, but they had larger cuffs that would go up and over your jacket cuff and could be pulled tight with a quick pull of a tab. Also they were the cheaper option (by about $30), so we went with them.



Having the 4 finger design, it didn’t seem right to call them “lobster claws”. After looking at them one day, it hit me, they are “Simpson’s gloves.” This was reinforced when I caught Emma staring at her hands as she wore her gloves in a manner reminiscent of Otto (in the episode “Weekend at Burnsies”) at the pro-pot rally — “They call them fingers but I never see them fing. Oh, there they go.”

Anyway, they are warm gloves. Emma has said they are perhaps a bit too warm. The warmth comes at a bit of a cost in the nimbleness of your fingers, which is to be expected from any winter glove really. Mainly we’ve noticed this mostly in our ability to get full braking power with our hands positioned on the brake hoods. I’ve found it best to drop down to the drops if i’m concerned about needing full brake power. Otherwise, these things have been treating me pretty great.

After taking a week off from riding around the Xmas travels, Emma and I have both been biking for the last three days straight, including some rides in the snow. It’s been a great adventure and hopefully it’ll keep us active during these gloomy winter months. More tales of winter cycling to come, I’m sure. Stay tuned.

November 12, 2012

Coffeeneuring 2012

Filed under: Uncategorized — q @ 12:07 am

Emma and I found out about the 2nd Annual Coffeeneuring Challenge via the Bike Pgh messageboard. The idea behind this challenge is to hit up at least 7 different coffee shops via bicycle between October 1st and November 11th. There are rules: only one trip per day, trips need to be at least 2 miles in overall length, Saturday/Sunday trips only, you must document your rides with photos and a write-up, etc. Even though it is the Coffeeneuring Challenge, other beverages were acceptable: tea, hot chocolate, hot cider, which works good for me as i’m not a coffee drinker.

Here’s the write-up of my 7 Coffeeneuring excursions:

August 29, 2012

PGH to DC bike excursion

Filed under: Uncategorized — q @ 7:28 pm

Emma taking a break along the GAP, day zero

This year Emma and I decided that we were going to do the Pittsburgh to DC bike trip utilizing the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Towpath trails. Emma broke down and finally bought herself a new bike back in June – a Surly Long Haul Trucker – her first never-been-owned-by-anyone-else bike. Shortly thereafter, suffering from a severe case of bike envy, I stumbled upon a used Surly Cross Check at a good price and I picked it up. Now we were both equipped with good hardware to make the trip.

Emma had never really spent any time in DC, so we wanted to make sure that we would have some time to explore once we got there. I hear of so many people who bike the trails, get to DC and then immediately return home and it seems like such a missed opportunity. Part of our plan to allow us enough time to do this was skipping the first section of trail right outside the city and starting out towards Ohiopyle.

July 7, 2011

new potatoes!

Filed under: Garden & Homestead — emma @ 11:40 pm

We grew Red Norlands this year, and they look like pink jewels coming out of the ground:

We only dug up one plant to see how things were looking, and jeez louise, they are lookin’ GOOD! We were out and about running errands and decided to stop at the community garden plot just to see how things were looking and could not resist getting at least a little dirty.

The beans look pretty safe since we deer-proofed them, but of course the deer went for the next unprotected crop: the sweet potatoes. So we netted those too, for now.

Honestly, if we get nothing from that plot but those gorgeous red potatoes, I think I’ll still be happy.

Also, this Saturday (7/9/11) is the Fourth Annual Torley Manor (Angry) Gorilla Blues and Folk Fest. Q and I will be performing a handful of fun songs, and we are making mountains of food. I confess that part of my excitement is that I’ll get to give garden tours!

July 5, 2011

the string beans have arrived!

Filed under: Garden & Homestead — emma @ 6:18 pm

And so have I: Artnoose saved the very last “UP THE PUNX over 30″ card for me!

How is it that every year, after a long winter of eating string beans that we’ve blanched and frozen (and then steamed for dinner), I forget about the soft fuzz on a brand new freshly-picked string bean? Every year I forget this and am amazed to be reminded.

learning to garden with deer (and slugs, and Japanese beetles)

Filed under: Garden & Homestead — emma @ 2:28 pm

Well shoot! We’ve been doing a lot in the garden (and on a million other projects) lately. A quick run-down of the home garden before I move on:

  • Strawberries produced beautifully this year. Ate enough fresh to make our mouths prickle, made a small batch of jam, and also froze a few pints for the winter. I thinned the bed majorly before they started really moving in the spring, and I think that made a big difference. Smote a lot of slugs in there. I think I’ve finally just about gotten over how gross it is to slice them in half. It’s just the most effective method.
  • Sweet potatoes are finally taking off. We pulled the garlic about a week earlier than usual this year to make room for more sweet potato plants. Should be a good sweet potato year!
  • Blueberries aren’t doing a lot this year. We gave them a big pruning last year and I think they’re recovering. We ate I think six berries. I’m ok with that. They’re pretty elderly bushes too, but they look healthy and good.
  • Asparagus had a tough time this spring — it was wet and very cool and asparagus just doesn’t like that. I was feeling upset like I’d done something wrong or hadn’t given the bed enough attention, but once it warmed up, we got a good harvest. We put a big load of compost on the bed and topped it with a thick layer of mulch so they can feed happily while they’re all ferned out.
  • Raspberries are all filled out and tall and grand, but there is (oddly) one little cluster of berries. I think that cane is confused. We’re expecting a late summer showing from them.
  • String beans are CRAAAAAZY. We should get to eat the first ones tonight! Q really probably overplanted them and they are insanely dense, but who cares?  They’re not suffering for it.
  • Popping corn is taller than I am and a lush dark green.  This photo is from June 26. Go, corn, go!!!

As you can see from that photo, dill has volunteered all over the garden. I’m perfectly happy with that, as it brings in the good bugs, and puts me in the good graces of friends who like to have fresh dill heads for pickling. Let me know if you want any!

Torley-on-Stanton updates below!


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