Hosted Travelogs and Stories from the Road - Alone in a Crowd: I ride the 2009 Bike Forums Montour/GAP/C & O Tour
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Alone in a Crowd: I Ride the 2009 Bike Forums Montour/GAP/C & O Tour
Day 1 - McKees Rocks to Boston, PA - 60 miles
Day 2 - Boston to Adelaide, PA - 38 miles
Day 3 - Adelaide to Rockwood, PA - 50 miles
Day 4 - Rockwood to Cumberland, MD - 45 miles
Day 5 - Cumberland to Hancock, MD - 61 miles
Day 6 - Hancock to Brunswick, MD - 60 miles
Day 7 - Brunswick to Washington, DC - 55 miles
Photographs and narrative copyright 2009 Neil R. Brennen. All rights reserved.
This is one rider's perspective on the June 2009 Bike Forums tour on the Montour Trail, Great Allegheny Passage, and C & O Canal towpath. Even though this was a group tour, as the title implies this is not going to be a story of how the group rode, but only one rider. There will be no descriptions of events or conversations I wasn't part of or present for, and no attempt to get inside the head of other riders.
Speaking of other riders, while most of the riders were posters to Bike Forums, some were not. I've changed some names of people who rode with us since they may not want to develop a 'web presence.'
Introduction - The day before
Early in 2009, Bike Forums member Spinnaker proposed a tour for Bike Forums posters on the Montour Trail, Great Allegheny Passage, and C & O Canal Towpath. The three trails cover 380 miles from north and west of Pittsburgh, PA, and Washington, DC. I and several other posters signed up to what promised to be an exciting, taxing, but satisfying trip. Having done the trails twice in 2008, I felt confident I could ride them again, and looked forward to riding in a group on tour for the first time.
I also felt confident in my level of training for the ride. I'd done rides of varying length and difficulty in the weeks leading up to the tour, including a 52 mile trip into Philadelphia and back. While none of these rides were pulling a full trailer, or indeed much of a load at all, I felt I was at least as well prepared as I had been in August 2008 when I'd ridden the trails ten weeks after crashing and fracturing a rib.
Finally the day came. Or more properly, the days before came. One of the group riders, "VT_Speed_TR", arrived at my home on the evening of the 11th. He spent the night and we departed early the next morning for DC, where we were to meet "ALHanson" and drive to Pittsburgh in a rental vehicle.
The trip to DC was uneventful, aside from my being talkative from lack of sleep. (I work second shift, and it takes a day or two for me to adjust to a 'normal' daytime life.) We arrived in Georgetown to drop off VT's car, and awaited the arrival of AL.
We had our first surprise of the tour. Car rental companies weren't keen on a one-way rental to the land of the Three Rivers, so the full-sized SUV turned out to be smaller than anyone expected. It was a tight fit to get all of us and our gear in, but we made it work:
Once we were moving, the hours sped by. AL and VT were good talkers when I let them speak. We reached Pittsburgh about 5:00 PM, unpacked, arranged for the return of the rental car, and soon were setting down to dinner with our host and ride organizer "Spinnaker" and other tour riders. From left to right, Bike Forums posters "Robow", VT_Speed_TR", "Twodeadpoets", "Spinnaker" (obscured by Wes, riding with us the first day) and "ALHanson."
After dinner it was back to Spinnaker's to see the final game of the Stanley Cup contest between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings and talk about the tour. We retired before midnight.
June 13 - The Detour Trail
At 9:00 AM the trip to DC began. Riders gathered at the starting point. In this photo, second from the right is Spinnaker, the ride organizer.
We headed down a steep hill about a mile to the trailhead, and we were chugging along the Montour Trail. I wasn't maintaining as fast a pace as last August, and I chided myself for not spending more time preparing. In particular I needed to do some riding with a full touring load. Well, I'll have to ride myself into shape, I thought.
We paused for photos at Imperial and to regroup. Spinnaker's plan was to keep everyone together for the first day to make sure all riders successfully navigated the detours on the trail. The riders with their backs to the camera are Bike Forums posters "Robow" and "Joel2old."
"VT_Speed_TR" and his rig.
The policy of regrouping every few miles continued, with mixed results. I felt too much time was being spent on rest stops. While I frequently need to dismount, I keep the time spent to the minimum. At one point I apparently misinterpreted a cue from another rider and took off before the rest of the group. This did give me the advantage of being able to spend time at McDonald Trestle, one of the most scenic spots on the trail. And I could photograph riders crossing it. In the photo below, ALHanson is in the lead, followed by Joel2Old.
Bike Forums poster JAGraham was running SAG on a limited basis for us, and she provided drinks and snacks about 25 miles out. At 32 miles Bike Forums poster and Montour Trail advocate "DonMccarty" provided hot dogs, soda, and water. In the photo here, Robow takes a red-hot from DonMccarty.
By now I was starting to have physical problems. Standing around for what seemed to be forever was causing my muscles to start stiffening up. I had my first attack of cramps a couple of miles from the 'hot dog stand.' I stretched the legs and moved on.
The detours around the unfinished sections of the Montour are difficult. In August last year DonMccarty transported me around them. This year I had to ride them, and walk portions of them.
As we reached the on-road portion of the trail along Piney Creek the trail leveled out, and I plugged along in the afternoon heat. From trying to keep up with the group I was neglecting hydration - I didn't want to stop to drink. Even the sole remaining extended stop I had - providing a spare tube to a novice riding with us - I didn't take the opportunity to drink.
Eventually we reached the trail end and picked up the on-road Steel Valley Trail in Clairton. VT_Speed_TR and Joel2Old contemplate the plant across the road.
My second, and more or less continuous, attack of cramps took place about six miles from Boston, our night stop. First it was the inner thighs. Then after that subsided it was the quads. Then my left hamstring. I drained what was left of my water and swallowed a potassium tablet from another rider, and plugged on. The cramping was completely avoidable - at the risk of delaying the group I should have peeled off to any of the stores in Clairton or Glassport and purchased Gatorade, or indeed any drink. Unfortunately I was suffering from the belief I needed to match other riders, and I turned what could have been a pleasant echo of my August ride into a death march.
I arrived at the Yough Shore Inn about 20 minutes after the last rider. I drank, showered, drank again, arranged to rent a room instead of camping as planned, drank some more, and joined the group for a nice dinner at a place across the river. I fell asleep about midnight.
June 14 - Unexpected company
Sunday morning I got off to a very late start. I had an unexpected reaction to the niacin I take for my low HDL count. For about an hour and a half I didn't feel well enough to ride. So while most of the other folks pulled out about 8:00 AM or so, I didn't get underway until 10:00. I was joined by JAGraham, a Bike Forums poster who was riding parts of the trail with us. We rode to Dravo Cemetery, the free campsite six miles south of Boston. I had considered going there the night before instead of staying at the Yough Shore Inn, since I'd done that back in August 2008. My bonking and muscle cramps deterred me from attempting the additional miles, and my decision was a prudent one all things considered.
I knew from a discussion with the organizer that we were to meet another member of our group that morning at Dravo, but I figured he'd have been picked up when the main group went through a couple of hours before. Imagine our surprise to find Chuck sitting on a bench waiting for the group. I was startled that the group would blow past someone they knew was meeting them.
As I said goodbye to JAGraham, who was riding back to her car at Boston, I turned to Chuck and suggested he might be able to catch the main group if he dropped the hammer. He said he wanted to ride with me instead. I warned him I'm only marginally faster than a glacier, but he said he remembered my riding and could keep 'down' with me.
I'd met Chuck on my previous trip - he and Spinnaker had ridden with me for about 30 miles on the Montour Trail in August. Chuck is behind Spinnaker in this photo, riding his self-built bike - that's the Nashbar touring frame, incidentally.
We headed out to the trail from Dravo, after I visited the adjoining cemetery for photos.
We stopped in West Newton, a town about 15 miles from Boston, for lunch. While there we saw a sign advertising the Movable Wall, a touring half-size replica of the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial in Washington, DC. After getting directions from a resident and discovering the display was only a mile away, we set off for it. After some fearsome hills and lots of motorcycle traffic we came to the park with the Wall:
Once back on the trail I had as good a time riding with others as I'd ever had. Chuck and I had many of the same interests, read the same books, and possessed the same 'gift of gab.' We stopped at every historical marker, even ones I'd read on my two previous trips. At one of them Chuck and I discussed wild edible plants, and he went foraging on the banks of the Yough. He came back empty handed, however.
At Cedar Creek Park, south of Boston, JAGraham took my trailer from me. While I could have pulled it, I was still very worn out from the previous day and the problem with medication that morning. The 'side effect' this caused made me better able to keep up with Chuck.
We arrived at our campsite, River's Edge in Adelaide, about 5:00 PM, three hours after the others. I set up my camp, went swimming in the pool, and received a campsite cooking lesson from JAGraham. In the second photo, that's my MSR Pocket Rocket and pot on the left. The pizza and beer were another camper's.
I crawled into my tent about 9:00 PM, as the bugs began to bite.
June 15 - Uphill
Monday morning the Bike Forums group awoke early and began to break camp in the early mist.
After three miles of trail I entered Connellsville, passing underneath the new arch they installed over the trail last fall. I looked ahead at the mountain I'd be climbing today.
At one point or another in town I passed most of the group either on their way to or from breakfast. I picked up food in town and headed for the bridge into Ohiopyle State Park. This is the first of the several old trestles rebuilt for trail use. I ate breakfast and photographed Spinnaker riding across the trestle.
Spinnaker and ALHanson suggested I ride with them, but I said no, partly because I didn't want to slow down faster riders, and partly because I enjoyed the solitude of the ride. I faced 17 miles of near uninterrupted forest till Ohiopyle, and I wanted to be alone with my thoughts.
My thoughts, however, were increasingly "what happened to me since August 2008?" I wasn't riding as strongly as I had the last two times I'd climbed in the park. Unlike my two 2008 trips, this time the climb was a struggle instead of a grind. Still I soldiered on.
Chuck, my companion of the day before, must have slept in that morning, as he caught up to me near what is perhaps my favorite scene on the Great Allegheny Passage. As you climb the tree cover breaks and below you see the rock-studded Yough. The trail turns to the left as it goes by an old railroad retaining wall. Chuck took the opportunity to go foraging for wild edibles as I sat on the bench and took in the scene.
We eventually reached Ohiopyle, the small town surrounded by the park. On discovering that Sisters' in Confluence, our lunch stop, was closing at 2:00 PM, Chuck and I pushed it over the remaining 11 miles. We were seated at 1:40; I'd maintained about a 10-11 MPH clip with a loaded trailer on an upgrade.
Bikes in the rack outside Sisters' in downtown Confluence. Note the trailer on the left; I'd probably sleep poorly if I had to share a campsite with that rider.
While in Confluence, I remembered there was a covered bridge a couple of miles out of town. I decided to see it, and Chuck went with me out of a mixed sense of adventure and concern for my safety. After a three mile trip I discovered I'd gone in the wrong direction. Chuck urged scratching the trip, but I told him I'd go on alone. I rode with him back to the GAP trailhead, and headed out.
I didn't get very far, however. I soon decided Humboldt bridge could wait for another day, and headed back to the trail. I regretted my action. It was rude of me to dismiss Chuck, and by taking a side trip in an area without cell phone service it meant the group had no way to contact me. I thought about this often during the 20 mile climb from Confluence to Rockwood.
I'd been struggling with the dynamic of the group since the first day, when I neglected hydration in order to keep up with stronger riders. While I found all the folks on the ride congenial, it didn't mean that we could, or should, ride together. I resolved to pay more attention to my part in the fabric of the group, but at the same time not stress myself more than I should in a desire to fit in with stronger riders. So no side trips, but at the same time if I needed to stop or needed more time, I'd take it. As Chuck and I had discussed that morning, I'd done this trip twice before. I had nothing to prove to anyone, least of all myself.
As I thought this I noticed a stiffness in my right knee. My hammering with Chuck on the trail to Confluence was having an effect. I traveled in my lowest gear as slowly as I could, took frequent breaks, and when I met JAGraham at Markleton trailhead, accepted her offer to SAG me and my gear the remaining six miles to Rockwood. On getting to Rockwood and learning there was a new hostel in town, I took a bed there instead of camping. I iced, took Ibuprofen, and went to bed.
07-08-09, 07:47 AM
wow, beautiful ride!
07-11-09, 07:33 PM
To paraphrase from Paul Harvey: Where is the rest of the story? :)
You took some great snapshots there Niel.
I don't know how I missed the "gate" outside of Connelsville. Very pretty.
I love the morning campsite picture.
Thanks, Spin. More on the way. I needed a couple of days off from journaling.
June 16 - Glide
I used the morning in Rockwood to get a proper breakfast and headed out to the trail late. My plan was to take it easy on the remaining ride to the top of Big Savage Mountain and the Eastern Continental Divide, and then simply coast down the 2 per cent grade to Cumberland, MD. The downhill is often called the "Frostburg glide" after the only town between Meyersdale and Cumberland on the 28 mile slope. JAGraham took some of the gear from my trailer, and would ride down to Cumberland with me, racing me in her TerraTrike.
Before I left Rockwood, there was one man I wanted to see. I pulled into the trailside visitor's center and greeted Maynard Sembower. I'd met him in August last year when he was a callow youth of 99, and I wanted to see him now that he'd reached his century year. I hope I'll look half as spry as he does should God allow me to reach his age. The town of Rockwood honored their oldest citizen by naming the town visitor center in his honor, and incorporating him into this mural that greets visitors crossing the bridge into town. That's Maynard looking at his watch:
Maynard accepted my wishes with a good grace but also, I thought, with bemused resignation. I recalled what my late friend and co-author Martin Simsak had told me about turning 90. "Everyone thinks it's a big deal," Martin told me a few months before his death at 92, "but it's just another day." I hope someone in Rockwood takes one of those 'days' and works with Mr. Sembower to record some of his stories. After all, he remembers when the Western Maryland Rail Road came into Rockwood, laying track on the same ground I, and thousands of others, ride their bikes on.
I headed towards Cumberland. I was feeling very chaffed from the Brooks saddle, and I had lingering stiffness in my right knee, so I took frequent stops. I met two middle-aged women riding north to Confluence as part of a credit-card tour, and rode several miles with a middle-aged guy on a mountain bike who had never been on this part of the trail. Even though this is perhaps the most scenic stretch of the GAP, I kept the camera in the case. I was both too distracted by my chafing and anxious to make time to Cumberland.
I stopped outside the 1900 foot long Salisbury Viaduct and visited the small graveyard before the crossing, and then headed over the Cassleman River. The sky looked threatening. I put the cover on my Brooks saddle in case of rain. While it didn't rain, my saddle felt much better under me with the cover on.
I rode past Meyersdale, Bollman Bridge, Keystone Viaduct, and across the tableland on top of the mountain to the Eastern Continental Divide. I looked for Nola the trail cat, the ***** who greeted me back in August as I rode through Deal, but she must have found a mouse or something, for she didn't appear. The Divide sported new murals and signage since my last visit. I was passed by a young couple on mountain bikes, touring with everything in enormous backpacks. Since they were stopping in Cumberland, I offered to take their gear down the mountain in my trailer, but they declined.
Once I crossed over the descent began. The trail drops 1800 feet in 24 miles. First up was Big Savage Tunnel. The 1900 foot long hole is lighted, but I still stopped to turn on headlights and blinkers. I should have pulled out a jacket as well, since the tunnel is about 15 degrees colder than the outside air.
On the other side, at the wonderful scenic overlook of Maryland....
...I met JAGraham, who was touring as I should tour, with plentiful breaks for photographs. We headed down the mountain, stopping at the Mason-Dixon line for photos...
...and continued to Frostburg. JAGraham and I share an interest in history, and I tried to ask intelligent questions about the Passage and C & O, tapping her immense personal experience with these trails.
We also talked about more personal issues. As I remounted after a stop Judy asked me, "why do you think you don't mount the bike correctly?"
"'cause I don't. It's wrong."
"Why is it wrong?"
"It's awkward, it's inefficient, and it's not recommended by Sheldon Brown."
"Sheldon knew a lot about bikes, but he didn't know everything. You're out here riding, aren't you?"
"I don't get up enough speed as I kick off."
"It's not a race. You get enough to get moving. That's all you need."
"Point made. Should I serve cheese with my whine?"
At the base of Frostburg's switchback we observed a group of our fellow tourers. I met Chuck and apologized for my dragging him along yesterday on the fruitless search for the covered bridge and then my bullheaded insistence on going off alone to find it. My rash actions were forgiven. We then continued down the mountain, passed through the two remaining tunnels, and entered Cumberland.
After leading some of the new riders to Canal Place, I headed to Cumberland Trail Connection, the bike shop that had treated my injuries back in June 2008. Both Kurt and Hutch were in, and surprised to see me again. Judy called to make arrangements to get taken back up to her car on the mountain, and I got directions to our campsite at the Cumberland YMCA, a mile from the trail. When I arrived there I found Bike Forum members had already taken over the pavilion in the camping area.
I set up my tent, ate, showered at the YMCA building across the street, and retired to my tent at 9:45. By 10 I heard the patter of raindrops on the tent, and went to sleep wondering what the trail conditions would be like tomorrow morning.
June 17 - You'll never ride alone
The look on Spinnaker's face as he emerged from his tent into the cold rain probably summed up the feelings of many ride participants that morning. I wasn't bothered by it, since I'd toured in the rain before and ridden the C & O when it was muddy. However, I was concerned about trail conditions. Ride members had been hearing reports of horrible surfaces on the towpath since our second day on the GAP, and Judy and I had to work to quash a mood of panic building in the group. With these thoughts I quickly packed alongside everyone else.
I headed out with VT_Speed_TR and Twodeadpoets. At first I rode with them to get back to Canal Place, since I wasn't familiar with the route, but then as I passed Daisy the Mule I decided I'd try to hang with the faster folks. Perhaps their speed was kept down by trail conditions, or my familiarity with the towpath caused me to ride faster than I should, but I was able to hang with the stronger riders for almost two miles. Once beyond Cumberland the trail surface deteriorates, and I decided to slow down. I had nothing to prove by riding fast, and trying to ride beyond my limits for the sake of others had caused me enough problems on this tour. I slowed, stopped where I needed to, and took photos of the wet trail.
JAGraham was waiting at a road crossing about ten miles out. I advised her that I'd spread word among the group about the Schoolhouse Kitchen in Oldtown, 16 miles from Cumberland, and that probably riders were going to congregate there to warm up. She headed off to there, and I rode on. The rain picked up, and I began to sing to myself to give me courage.
"When you ride through the storm keep your chin up high,
and don't be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm is a golden sky....."
I calculated that riding the 60 miles to Hancock at my current rate of speed would mean I'd arrive after dark, barring any mechanical or physical mishaps. I looked at my wet bike, the trail, and rode off the towpath at Oldtown with a decision made.
The Schoolhouse Kitchen is a little diner in the former high school of Oldtown, known for cheap, good, basic food. It was known for wet and muddy cyclists as our group filtered in.
I spoke with someone, perhaps Spinnaker, about my plans.
"I'm not going further. Judy said she'd take me to Hancock by car. I have nothing to prove by riding 60 miles in the rain on bad trail surfaces. I've done the towpath twice before." If this had been a solo tour, I'd have cut the mileage for the day and stayed at Paw Paw, 15 miles away, at one of the bed and breakfasts in town, or found another way around the problem. But I felt the need to stay with the group. I spent a few hours drying out in Oldtown as the rest of the group rode off. Spinnaker leads a few folks out in the rain:
Judy wound up transporting three riders that day. I arrived at the motel in Hancock as other riders began to pull in, full of horrible stories about the trail. One fellow nearly fell into the canal. Another crashed into a lockhouse wall. Judy and I worked to calm frazzled nerves and prepare a road route for the next day so folks could avoid the towpath.
Meanwhile, we all needed food, and so Judy began to take people to Weaver's in Hancock for dinner. The fit was tight in her car, but by taking folks in shifts and sticking joel2old in the back she made it work.
After dinner Judy, apparently now the group leader, plotted a road route for the riders to get to Harper's Ferry, the next night stop. I'd already plotted my route, which differed from theirs. I went to bed about 10:00 PM, hoping for better weather tomorrow.
07-14-09, 09:10 AM
great story and i can't wait to hear the end.
the picture of your bob trailer covered in mud tells everyone how bad the trail conditions was. i think my trailer was a little cleaner because some to the standing water i went through was deeper then my trailers height. i don't think i will ever be on a trail that is in worse condition!
June 18 - I'm back!
The skies cleared overnight, and as morning dawned in Hancock the Bike Forums riders were preparing to move out. The plan for the group was to follow roads to Harper's Ferry, bypassing the towpath, and then spend the night at a hotel outside of town. Two of the group were to be shuttled by Judy to the hotel. MY plans were to ride a combination of local roads and the towpath, and camp near Harper's Ferry. After the series of problems I'd had this tour - reactions to medication, sore joints from trying to keep up with other riders, and the usual matter of my being the last person finishing - I felt the need to strike out on my own. Even if I was the only person who needed convincing that I could do it, I needed that convincing.
However, I didn't get an early start. I decided to see everyone else off. I spent a minute with Robow and Spinnaker discussing their route:
After the other riders left I had a long talk with Judy. She was leaving that afternoon, and wouldn't be around for the final day of the ride.
"You aren't the best cyclist," she said to me, "and you aren't the fastest, but you persevere more than most."
"But you are so pig-headed that you might get yourself into trouble. Be careful out there."
"I will. No broken rib this time."
"Thank God. Please, no more epic journeys, Neil! I don't want to read about you having to redo this trip to prove something."
I let time slip by, and I didn't get underway until 9:45. After hitting a gas station for 'fuel' I reached the Western Maryland Rail Trail a few minutes after 10:00 AM.
I made good time on the WMRT. I stopped at the small cemetery along the trail and paid my respects.
I passed by the sign for cyclists to turn off the WMRT at Big Pool and instead rode another mile to the end. I turned right onto Rt. 56 and climbed the hill to Fort Frederick State Park.
I'd passed by Fort Frederick on my June 2008 trip on the towpath, but the speed of my companions and my fractured rib prevented me from exploring the fort. I'd skipped the park entirely in August 2008, so seeing it this trip was a goal of mine. I was happy the weather was nice for my visit to the French and Indian War fort, and as it was a weekday I had the fort and guides to myself. A woman in period dress gave me a tour of the fort and answered my questions - how was the fort supplied? How big was the garrison? What was the water source?
From the fort it was about a half mile downhill to the towpath. The trail conditions around Williamsport are usually pretty good - the surface is as much gravel as dirt, and the path is usually high enough above the river the ground dries out quickly. Not so today. Subsequently I'd learned Maryland had a very wet spring, and the towpath was soft and sloppy in parts. The twelve miles to Willamsport took me nearly two hours. And every time I stopped, flies and skeeters thought dinner was served.
That said, the area at Four Locks was dry, and I stopped there for photos. And I visited the dam as well.
Once I reached Williamsport, I abandoned the towpath for streets. I climbed into town and braced myself for serious hill-walking on the local roads.
I needn't have. The worst climb was the one into Williamsport. Once I got on Rt 35 I found small rollers, but nothing brutal. And the change from the damp, flat, tree-tunnel towpath was a welcome change. This is the farm country of Maryland, and it's almost as pretty as that in my native Pennsylvania. (Almost.) I followed the road through small towns, by farms and streams, and before I knew it I passed Antietam Battlefield and was in the town of Sharpsburg.
After finding an ATM and visiting Nutter's for an ice cream cone...
...I headed through town on Rt. 54 towards Shephardstown, West Virginia. After a few miles I saw the bridge into town. I regretted not having the time to see the Princeton of WV, but I had miles to go before I slept. I turned left onto Canal Road, and bombed the hill down from the bridge.
Canal Road parallels the towpath for several miles, and I used this route till the Antietam Creek trailhead. I switched back to the towpath, and the mud, and the bugs, for the remainder of the night. I approached my planned campsite, pulled in, and as soon as I dismounted I was attacked by skeeters. I recalled there was a public campsite run by the city of Brunswick about five miles down the towpath. Betting that the paid site would be better maintained than the free one I was standing it, I remounted and set off, racing against the setting sun. The trail seemed drier than it had earlier today, and I rode so fast the trailer rattled as it bounced over the rocks at Harper's Ferry. I liked hearing the rattle. And I felt good.
I reached the Brunswick Family Campground at quarter past 8:00. I walked into the registration trailer and settled up. The camp director ran through the list of potential discounts.
"Yes or no?"
"I-, err, I have scoliosis. Yes."
And I got the discount.
As I rode towards my tent site I analyzed why I'd answered as I did. I normally get annoyed when people apply the "D" word to me. I don't consider myself 'differently-abled', because I do whatever I want to do and I'm far better off than most folks who have challenges in everyday life. Why did I accept it now? Was my honor worth the slight discount on the campground rate?
Then I realized it's not my honor in question, it's the perception of others. I'd ridden sixty miles today with a loaded trailer. I've ridden centuries and done touring many "able" cyclists wouldn't dream of attempting. If someone wants to offer me a discount or makes some stupid recommendation that I need an electric bicycle, that's their problem. I need to do what I need to do. But I'll do it. That's all that counts.
I set up my tent, chatted with some other cycle tourists in the tenting area, showered, and went to bed. Tomorrow was the final day on the C & O. And today had been the best day on the tour. I was back.
June 19 - Czeching in, or How Nice to Meet You
At 7:30 AM I was packing up at Brunswick Family Campground when the last of the tour's "day riders" rolled in. Scrap Metal, a regular poster to the Clydesdale Forum, joined me for the trip from Brunswick to White's Ferry. His screen name comes from his beater bike, a ride he salvaged from a dumpster.
If the bike looks muddy in the photo above, it's because the towpath was still saturated from the rain the day before. In addition to mud patches, there were large puddles of standing water. My bike and trailer had little choice at times other than plowing straight through them. At times I was pushing my smallest gears simply to maintain any forward motion.
Scrap was a delightful conversationalist, and a good distraction from the horrible trail conditions. Born and raised in what is now the Czech Republic, he recently became a US citizen. I have a strong interest in Czech history and culture, and Scrap is still trying to figure out the US, so it seemed every time I had a question on the Velvet Revolution he had one on, say, Jefferson or Madison. I can't imagine what it seemed to passers-by, my riding along talking about US history with a fellow who sounded like Boris Badenov.
We took a couple of short breaks, including one for a flat on Scrap's bike just north of White's Ferry:
At White's Ferry I said goodbye to Scrap, and he headed back north to his car. I had lunch at the general store at the ferry. Four of my fellow group riders came in as I was eating with their own tales of the towpath. I had been spared a broken spoke and falls they suffered.
In fact, other than the fact my drybag hadn't been sealed properly and water had gotten in, I'd not had any major troubles on the towpath. Even the leak didn't cause major damage. Aside from throwing out my oatmeal and not having any socks to wear, I was OK.
The general store at White's Ferry doesn't have potable water, so I set off for the next hiker/biker site to fill up. I was soon passed by the four riders I'd seen at lunch. Trail conditions had been improving, so I expected them to continue to do so to DC.
I was wrong.
The trail was in even worse shape than before. From White's Ferry to milepost 20, a stretch of about 15 miles, took me three hours to cover. I had to stop repeatedly to clear mud from the brakes. At one point I dragged the bike up under a cistern pump at one of the hiker/biker sites and pumped water onto the brakes, wheels, and drivetrain to clear them. And every time I stopped I was set upon by flies and other bloodsucking bugs. And every time I rode I'd have mudpuddles to ride through.
The slog continued. I fell twice. Both times there was a small embankment to stop me, and I never came off the bike, but that rattled me, in every sense of the word.
Finally I reached milepost 20. The surface began to improve here, and I was leaving the wooded area and entering the 'tourist' section. I sat on the grass, took off my shoes, and ate trail mix and drank water from the pump. I noticed the blisters forming on my feet and regretted my decision to not wear socks wet with trail water. And I calculated the miles remaining.
Food and water gone, feet rested, I saddled up. I had a job to finish. My experience on the trail last August paid off, for I knew there were many locks in the remaining 20 miles, which meant the trail had a good downward slope into DC. I also knew where the stopping points were, and how fast I could ride on the surface. And off I went. For the first time this trip I matched my speed from August 2008 - 11 MPH. I buzzed by Great Falls, and in less than two hours I was at the Capital Crescent Trail.
I followed the CCT to the Key Bridge. I was tired, sunburnt, blistered, and showing signs of bonking, and I walked the heavy bike up the hill to the bridge. As I drew stares from elegantly dressed Georgetown natives, I noticed my rear wheel was wobbling. I decided the wobble had been there for a while, so I could ride across the bridge and address the problem in Arlington.
I wobbled into rush hour traffic and pulled up at a light next to a cyclist on a hybrid. He wore the uniform of a commuter escaping 'casual Friday' at work - jeans, sport shirt, helmet, and a dorky reflective strap around his right ankle. I instantly felt at home.
"I'm glad to see you. I've spent a week on the trail and I'm lost. Can you help me get across the bridge?"
"Follow me" he said as the light changed. Off we went with three lanes of traffic, and I was over the river. He wished me well as I took off the trailer to get to the rear wheel.
As soon as I looked at the quick release I discovered the problem. The QR had become loosened. It could have happened anywhere, but one of my two falls that afternoon was the probable source of the trouble. I put the wheel back on, tightened the QR, and spun. I held my breath. The wheel was true.
The rest of the group, including my host ALHanson, was waiting for me uphill at the Hyatt Regency. I walked up and was greeted by my fellow tour riders. As they set off for a raw fish place I went to a Quiznos across the street. I couldn't wait to get served food and fluid, and sushi wouldn't fill me. I may have appeared uncivil to some folks, but bonking makes me not only hungry and thirsty, but irritable and paranoid.
Later, I sat at the entrance to the Hyatt waiting for ALHanson to retrieve his car so my bike, trailer, and I could get to his place, drink, wash, drink again, and sleep. Having food in me my paranoid thoughts of spending the night on the streets of Arlington faded. And soon enough AL and his car were here.
June 20 - It's over.
I spent the intermission, so to speak, between my two tours with ALHanson and his wife as their guest. Their hospitality allowed me to charge my cellphone, wash both my clothes and myself, spend two nights in a bed - or at least a sofa, and most importantly, have a 24 hour period free from a bike saddle.
During the morning we witnessed the departure of the rest of the Bike Forums tour members. I regretted I never really got to know most of them. Joel2old, for instance, was a heck of a talker, but I experienced little of his conversation.
But the shuttle taking the bulk of the riders back to Pittsburgh was soon at hand, and the tour was coming to an end. AL, his wife, and I waved goodbye as the truck was loaded.
During the rest of the day I accompanied AL and his better half on errands. I considered exploring DC, but that seemed to create logistical problems. Also, I was tired. And who tries to cram a visit to the US capitol into a few hours?
That evening AL and I cleaned the bikes and my trailer, and he did a brief mechanical inspection of the bike. I slept well that evening, mentally preparing for the next tour - riding home from the DC area the following day. That tour journal is posted under the title "Every Day Is a Winding Road."
Some final notes about the tour:
- my conditioning was very poor. I should have done more and harder riding in the weeks beforehand. In particular an overnight tour with the trailer would have been helpful.
- my weight gain was a big handicap. I started the tour 25 pounds heavier than I was in August 2008. Those pounds told on me.
- this was a tour I shouldn't have done. While I enjoyed myself, this was the second time I'd ridden the Montour and third time I've done the GAP and C & O in about a year. It was time for a change. Also, I was riding with folks who have not only a different cycling skill set than I do, but different interests in touring. I'm not into 'mileage' as a goal in itself.
- if this is typical of group touring, then I'm not suited for group touring. I spent the entire tour struggling against the rules of the group - ride so many miles, stop here, leave at this time, etc. Had I planned the tour to match my riding, I'd have dropped the Montour Trail (too many detours and miles) and started from Boston. Also, getting to DC on a Friday with the final day as the 'rest' day doesn't allow for the unexpected event such as, say, rain in Cumberland.
That said, I enjoyed the ride. Thanks to VT_Speed_TR for taking me to DC, Spinnaker for planning and organizing the tour, JAGraham for running SAG and being herself, and ALHanson for the drive to Pittsburgh and hosting me two nights in northern VA.
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