Our night in Cedar Creek hiker/biker campground is highlighted by overnight trains and invasive raccoons. The first instance all ride that the fuzzy intruders come close to getting into our shit. We must be close to Pittsburgh, because these little fuckers were ballsy, knocking over bikes and searching through bags for food. Another crew reports that they got into their dehydrated chili mangos, though they didn’t like them much. I can see Chad take mental notes on it.
The last of my coffee and oatmeal and wet wipes takes its place in the ever after. Actually, food wise all I have left is some beef jerky and the emergency trail meals that I’ve now carried for about 5,200 miles — happy I still haven’t needed them. Though I should probably check the expiration date. It’s a pleasant morning, warm and sunny. I expect that the script will flip by late morning — highs are forecasted to be in the mid nineties so the July sun is gonna cook us on our way into the ‘Burgh.
One of the most impressive aspects of this C&O + GAP trail is that it runs downtown to downtown. Typically on a long ride, I’ll avoid cities like the plague. (I wanna say like corona, but I failed at avoiding that one last year). Navigating through the suburbs of most any American city brings forth more than a few of the six million ways to die. No bueno. No me lo gusta. Rarely does both city and suburb present an opportunity and means to safely cycle in. 40 miles ahead of us, the GAP into Steel City offers us just that.
Much of the trail is volunteer maintained, and the signs along the way remind me of this fact. As I’m reflecting on all the work that goes in, a gentleman rolls up on my left. He asks if I’ve come from DC, how I like the trail and where I’m from. He tells me at some point the trail will continue up to Erie, sadly adding, “probably not in my lifetime”. We chat a bit more and he cruises ahead, which is when I notice he’s got a “trail volunteer” plate on the back of his bike. Well done, sir.
Betsy’s Shoppe provides us with the last countrified stop for breakfast, as well as the best breakfast of the tour. Afterward, now late morning the heat is downright oppressive. Like colonizer level oppressive. As we move toward the city, we lose tree coverage.
The heat is getting to me. I’m already feeling lightweight sluggish, probably a combination of too much coffee and too little water — but now I’m really dragging ass on the keep-it-movin’ tip. We’ve got 20 miles left and the remnants of rural PA completely roll away, leaving no trees to even pee on, spiraling into suburban enclaves and eventually down “steel valley”. A version of this still exists back home, but WNY hasn’t done nearly the job to rehab and revitalize the industrial wasteland that dominated both regions until the 70s and 80s. Bridges start piling up; the sharper inclines remind me that I’m on the lesser-geared Space Horse — missing the Sojourns easy breezing granny gear.
My head is pounding and I’m running on fumes; we’re about ten miles out. Fred comes down to join us and ride in the last hour, stopping to give tour guide info on the city. He really knows his shit; I’m trying not to pass out in the heat. We hit the terminus and I celebrate by standing close enough to the fountain to gain some misted relief.
Fred has also arranged for us to stay at the guest suite in his apartment/condominium complex. Superb accommodations for which also include a pool. We dip, shower, enjoy a beverage, hit REI, and finally grab some Thai food on Carson. All of it is amazing, though despite chugging water after water, I’m still out of it. Headache, cramps, blurred vision. I’m pretty certain I’m in heat stroke. Between this and the hearing on the Space Horse and the fact that Kara and Chad are driving back to Buffalo, I pull the plug on riding the 260 miles back home. I was 50/50 on it the entire time and it will now have to wait for another day. I pass out on the couch, hoping to feel better in the morning.