Day 1: From Conshohocken, PA, to Elverson

Last night, I slept well. The usual ten hours or so. That's the average amount of my sleep, which I know is more than the average person's eight. I suppose that's one of my quirks. I have many quirks, just like everyone else I know.

At 9 AM, Diem and I woke up. Diem is my girlfriend, a petite Vietnamese American who immigrated to the United State when she was about four years old. Like her, I'm an immigrant. I arrived in the US when I was eleven years old.

Even though we came from two different countries the story of how we met is fairly straight forward. I met her on a dating app called Coffee Meets Bagel. I like to think that I'm the coffee and she's the bagel.

We've been together for a little less than a year. Shortly after I met her, I told her one of my goals in life is to travel the world. I think she thought I wasn't serious since most people have that goal, but never plan on doing it. But I'm different. I planned on going once I hit $20,000 in my checking account. That's about the amount in my checking account now.

And of course, I can't go. Not when your girlfriend doesn't let you. So about a month ago, I convinced her to let me bicycle across America, which is another goal I have. It'll take about three months cycling rather than a year of world travel. She agreed, reluctantly.

So today is the big day. I had arranged to stay with a host named Sue on Warmshowers.org, a website that allows people to host cyclists. I've also already packed everything and stored them in the garage in the back of the row house that I was living. Diem helped me move my bed frame and mattress to the basement. It was a pain to go down the narrow stairs with the mattress that I knew I'll never move it up to the second floor again. After I spent most of my energy moving the bed, I swept my room and triple checked everything so that none of my things are left behind. My landlord, who is also my housemate, will most likely rent out my room after I leave.

Outside the house, I tested out my fully loaded bicycle. It was actually the first time I rode it with all the gears on it. After going up and down the block just once I felt I shouldn't waste any more time. I folded down the backseat of my car so there's more room in the trunk. With Diem's help, I was able to fit my bike inside after I took off the panniers, the front wheel, the front fender, water bottles, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and tent.

Around 11 AM, we left the house. I drove about 25 minutes to Riverbend bicycle shop in Conshohocken, just northwest of Philadelphia. We were there to meet Diem's friend, Hoang, so he can drive my car back to Diem's place, since Diem is afraid of driving in foreign places.

While waiting for Hoang, we walked through the shop briefly and found a nice café attached to the building. There were two older ladies with bicycles on the patio and they were about to get on their way. I quickly struck a conversation with them about cycling and my soon-to-be adventure. I noticed one of the ladies had the exact bicycle mirror as mine and had attached it to her glasses rather than on the helmet. That gave me the idea to do the same because the mirror would fall off the helmet for sure.

When the ladies left, Hoang arrived in an Uber. The three of us grabbed lunch nearby at a place called Café Zoe and Pizza. I had a lamb gyro and some fries, along with a soda. I paid for everyone's lunch since Hoang is doing me a favor. That'll be my last meal before my trip. Or is it my first meal? Not really sure.

After walking back to Riverbend, I took my bike out of the trunk. Just for fun, I had Diem sit on the bike rack and took her for a short ride in the parking lot. She was scared. Clearly, she has never been on a bicycle before, or at least for a long time.

After I loaded everything, Hoang said the back tire looked a little flat. I think it's because of the weight of the panniers. I'm not sure how much they weigh anyway so I ignored Hoang's warning.

The starting point


At 1 PM, I was at the front door of the bike shop and ready to roll when another bicyclist came out. I asked him if he’s going on the trail. He said yes and allowed me join him. I quickly gave a kiss to Diem and waved goodbye to Diem and Hoang. It wasn't very formal because I didn't want the cyclist to wait too long.

We biked and talked for about ten miles. I learned his name is George. He's a retired computer salesman and now bikes for fun. We chatted about his kids, his wife, and life. He had a clear and loud voice, which was great since it can be hard to hear when you're cycling.

The trail is nicely paved and ran along the train tracks for awhile. There were some gnats, which surprised George, who said they usually don't come out this early in the season. I guess that's the effect of climate change. It's also going to be 60 degrees this afternoon, unusually high for a mid-April day.

It took an hour to bike to Valley Forge, our destination. Once I we arrived at the rest stop I realized I had forgotten my water bottles in the car. I knew something like this would happen. After I quenched my thirst at the water fountain, I gave my email address and website to George. I should have made some business cards. Another mistake. Worst of all, I forgot to take a picture with George. Part of the adventure is to make sure that I capture my experiences with photographs. I made a mental note to try and photograph everyone I meet on this trip.

I rode for another good ten miles or so without any water. I was beginning to get desperate when I saw a car passed me and parked in the driveway. A lady got out of the passenger side as I rode toward her. I asked her kindly for a cup of water. She went inside the house while I made small talk with her son, who was the driver. When she came out she gave me two bottles of water. Two bottle of water is better than a cup! No doubt, she is my lifesaver. My mistake again when I had forgotten to take a picture of her and her son.

As I rode I passed by a lot of farms, sometimes seeing horses or cows. The roads didn’t have big shoulders to ride on until I turned on to Route 23. But the road was up and down, full of hills. I had to text my Warmshowers host a few times to tell her that I’ll be late.

The hilly Route 23

Finally at 6:30 PM, I arrived at Sue’s house, Her husband, Mark, was already at the driveway to greet me.

Mark and I talked for awhile. He actually led a bike tour of the TranAmerica Trail in 1987 from Oregon to Virginia. Back then, he didn't have the convenience of modern day apps such as Warmshowers, so he had to use the pay phones to call ahead and make sleeping arrangements for 12 people. The logistics behind that was impressive.

Soon Sue came home. I noticed that both Sue and Mark are very fit for their age and very healthy. We ate a vegetarian pasta dinner with salad, sweet potatoes, and bread. It was a lot of food. I helped them with the dishes afterward. Sue also gave me some tips about how to request stays on Warmshowers. I used to host guests on Couchsurfing.com so I know a little bit about what to say to hosts, but I appreciated her advice anyway.

After dinner, I took a much needed shower. When I emptied my pockets I realized that I had the garage key and the mailbox key of the house where I was living in Philadelphia. Mark gave me an used envelop so I can send them back tomorrow. He's very much like me by saving used envelops. I always find that we waste so many things by simply using them once when they can be reused. I love how Sue and Mark are living in an environmental conscious way.

It was past 11 PM after documenting my first day of riding. I’ll be getting up around 7 AM tomorrow so I can leave at 8 for Lancaster. Today was challenging. I hope tomorrow will be a little easier with the hills.

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