Andy Karr takes us to Hush Money Bikes‘ Fall Fuckaround ride in Lancaster, PA. Amish Buggies, underbiking, and an open-heart surgery all coalesce to form the story of this event. Make sure to listen to the adjoining episode of Big Dumb Ride for more from the event’s organizer Nathan Baker.
It’s early morning in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. As the sun crests over the ridge, the clouds in the valley slide up and over the surrounding mountains. Like lost spirits of past floods clocking out from their shifts haunting the city, the morning rush hour of weather is a wondrous sight to behold. It’s like watching a timelapse video in real-time. I told myself I wouldn’t talk about floods, or THE flood, when mentioning Johnstown, PA, but here we are. Here we are for Higher Ground.
When I first started gathering the necessary gear to give bike touring (or “bikepacking” in the parlance of our times) a go, the concept struck me as an opportunity to escape from the predictable, mundane, “rinse-and-repeat” order of everyday life. An opportunity to embrace a new kind of freedom of aimless wandering through paths and tracks out in the near-endless natural landscape. After a couple of trips, though, I found the reality of touring isn’t the carefree meander I had envisioned. It can involve weeks or months of planning, trail markers, GPS tracks, resupply points… Which is not to say that escaping on a multi-day trip isn’t freeing, it is – very much so – but maybe not in the conventional sense of the word. I think author Robert Moor says it best in his written exploration of travel, On Trails:
“But complete freedom, it turned out, is not what the trail offers. Quite the opposite – a trail is a tactful reduction of options. The freedom of the trail is riverine, not oceanic. To put it as simply as possible, a path is a way of making sense of the world. There are infinite ways to cross a landscape; but the options are overwhelming, and pitfalls abound. The function of the path is to reduce this teeming chaos into an intelligible line.”
The Philly Bike Expo brings together folks from all over the country each year, many of whom have transformed the event into a gathering of some of the finest frame builders in the world. I’ve made a lot of friends over the years attending the show and documenting these awesome builders. While at the show in Philly, I often approach it with a mission in the back of my mind to bring good friends back to Johnstown, PA where I live. It’s a place that desperately needs more cycling culture.
A couple of years ago I did just that and, with fingers crossed, I sprung this question on Megan Dean of Moth Attack: “This bike is unreal, it’s truly a work of art, have you ever thought about teaching a frame-building class?” I think Megan said something like “Funny you should say that… I actually have been.” I responded by telling her that I have a friend in town with a special spot we could use called Center For Metal Arts. It’s filled with light, a fire, and the glow of forged metals most days of the week. Not familiar with CMA? No problem, read on.
I met Andrew years ago at a fat bike event we hosted here in Johnstown, PA. Playing polo and ripping around the parking lot on the big bouncy bikes looked like something fun to him. Until that moment, Andrew had visited several shops locally and always got the glance; you know the look if you’re outside of the “normal” scope of a cyclist, whether that’s your size, appearance, or, hell, I’ve been in the industry for nearly 20 years and I still get the look. Those eyes and words can pierce through all the stoke you may have as a larger cyclist, and make you give up before you even get to start your love affair with bicycles.
If you’re not from Pennsylvania there’s a good chance you have at least heard of Johnstown. Maybe it was from the lyrics of a Bruce Springsteen song, or the pages of your history books. Sitting in the Conemaugh River Valley, Johnstown was the site of a devastating flood in 1889, and then again in 1936 and 1977. Given the city’s notoriety for flooding, the staging of this year’s Higher Ground Hundo event put on by the fine people of Hope Cyclery was mildly concerning.
Here in the Quaker City of Philadelphia, we’re blessed with a number of reliable shops in just about every corner of town. Shops for very serious racers, shops for mountain bikers, shops just for anyone in the neighborhood in need of help getting around on two wheels. We’ve got ‘em all and plenty of ‘em. Keystone is one of Philly’s newest shops catering to all kinds of bikes with an emphasis on everything rando, touring, and bikepacking.
Johnstown, Pennsylvania’s Center for Metal Arts is holding a framebuilding class, lead by Moth Attack‘s Megan Dean in October:
This course is designed to walk someone without metalworking experience through the process of fitting and brazing a bicycle frame together with an emphasis on hand tools. We will start at design and work our way through to a completed frame ready for paint. You will have the option to build a Track, Road, Gravel, Cyclocross, or a Mountain bike frame (you will want parts and tires in person for this option) and decide prior to the start of class. Lugged or fillet brazed construction is an option and will be design-dependent. This course will be a great start to picking up a torch and learning the basics of what it takes to build your own frame with something to ride when you’re done!
The course takes place October 18th-29th ( 9 AM – 5 PM ) and costs $3,275.00. You can apply now at Center for Metal Arts. Want to see more of this bike pictured here? Check out our Related archives below…
Somewhere along David‘s journey in 2019, where he spent weeks riding from New York through Pennsylvania and moving across the country from LA to Johnstown, something clicked and it was time to look for something a bit lighter to replace his long-loved Rocky Moutain Sherpa. That bike had seen a lot of miles over the years and the weight, well let’s just say it’s stout.
I’ve lost hours with a pen in hand staring at the empty page in a notebook. A cursor on a vacant screen blinking, daring me to try and recount our days from Pittsburgh to D.C. without a single mention of Covid. Alas, I couldn’t even make it two sentences without avoiding the dreaded C word, and rightfully so. Covid-19 and the pandemic we are currently in the grips of have dictated all aspects of our daily lives and certainly dictated this trip’s timing. Without Covid, the three of us would likely have been on the road in some capacity or other. Steph has been touring with bands big and small, managing their merchandise sales. Ed has been a touring musician for the better part of six years and was getting ready to embark on another tour just before the pandemic striking. As for myself, I would have oddly enough found myself in Washington, D.C., just the same, camera in hand, shooting the annual DCCX race.
Sometimes the best bikes for camping are the ones you’ve got or ones that are gifted to you. Although this bike is the latter, many people right now are clamoring to source a bike, partially brought on by the pandemic, a rekindled love for cycling, and scarcity of bikes. There may be a rad bike in your future and you don’t even know it yet. It might just be the one if your basement, parents garage or a craigslist ad. An 80s MTB seems to make the perfect donor bike to get out, explore more, and connect with nature.
unPAved of the Susquehanna River Valley returns on Sunday, October 11th, 2020 with up to 1,000 participants racing, or just riding, through the beautiful forests & farms of Central Pennsylvania during peak fall foliage season.
The unPAved courses showcase some of the best gravel riding Pennsylvania has to offer, with long climbs, lovely descents, mostly-smooth-but-sometimes-
All riders finish along the Buffalo Valley Rail Trail which brings them to the DONEpaved Party back in town for local beers, whoopie pies, lots of prizes and smiles all-around.
Words and photos by Dan Chabanov
Before I get into this I just wanted to point out that I am not a journalist. Everything I’m writing here is just my observations from hanging out at the track this summer. I didn’t have conversations with anyone “on the record” hence why I don’t name or quote any riders. I was just having casual conversations with folks about life, racing, and the Olympics. I wasn’t conducting interviews. So take this for what it is, just my glimpse behind the curtain of world-class athletes racing, doing their thing, and trying to make the Olympic dream happen.