“M to A to S to K. Wear the mask on your face just to make the next day.” The Fugees apparently predicted all this craziness back in 1995. You pretty much need a mask to go inside anywhere anymore, though the wording of the signs and the adherence to the rules has changed from region to region. But one thing I’m grateful for is that I don’t have to worry about others smelling me. I’m sure they are unknowingly grateful too, because I stink. No amount of washing or showering or laundry can fix this sort of funk. So the mask is my friend and yours, embrace not smelling my stank.
When a man moves away from nature, his heart becomes hard. ~Lakota Proverb
After our morning coffee we are fresh and ready to rock this funky joint. Out of water, we hit the nearest pump for some iodine infused well water. Given actual options, it might not be the best choice, but it’s better than dehydration. We’re first on the trail this morning and it’s a spiderwebs-all-up-in-your-face experience for a good hour. Daniel gets genuinely pissed off about it – accusing the spiders of being free loaders and trying to get a ride to Pittsburgh without paying. When we stop I spend a good five minutes getting them off my face and off my gear. I’m sure some are still with me, having crawled into my saddlebags (or panniers if you wanna be a dick about it, scientist.)
Theres very little bicycle or hiker traffic this deep, so we cruise two wide for quite a bit and start chatting about our different bikes. Turns out both Daniel and I are the proud owners of seven functioning bicycles. And we seem to both actually ride all seven. Optimal number if you ask me, though bike nerds will profess that n+1 (where n = however many bikes one currently has) is the appropriate amount. Sounds elitist AF honestly. Deep down, I suspect these are the same folks that correct me about using panniers vs saddlebags.
I’m feeling alright so far but only moving around 10mph on this continued steady incline. In a day or two we will hit the eastern continental divide at 2,392 feet up so I expect the incline to continue. Daniel is moving more briskly so we separate a bit and I get into a bit of quiet reflection mode. My thoughts begin with myself, then of family loved ones. Then coworkers and colleagues. Finally, my thoughts are aligned with humanity as a whole. I’ve hit this point on a tour where I’m my frequency is vibrating in tune with all of the natural world before. It’s a warm and fuzzy feeling that i can’t explain, but it’s abruptly interrupted by the Paw Paw tunnel.
What is this Paw Paw tunnel you ask? It’s 3/4 of a mile long tunnel cut through a mountain built for a canal. Let that soak in for a moment. It is amazing to me. They went to such lengths for a canal that wasn’t in use for very long. Add on that it’s sole current purpose is to facilitate bicyclist and pedestrian traffic and the amaze balls factor increases exponentially. It’s basically a two foot wide, 10 minute ride in almost complete pitch darkness. I don’t have much in the way of front lighting, plus the path surface is highly irregular – so much so that one of the first dips sends me to the left; bouncing off the tunnel wall and almost falling into the canal over the three foot fence to the right. Absolutely wildly exhilarating. Needless to say it is a life experience I have never had before – and that’s a rare find that I love collecting. I capture some on the gopro but the battery is dead before we see the literal light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a few more tunnels ahead, but a DC-bound cross country tourist we encounter a mile afterward lets us know they are all at dimly lit. This one seems to be the one that I will not soon forget.
We roll into Cumberland MD hungry and hot as hell. We want an oasis cafe. Finally one is open. I indulge in two fantastic coffees. Two fantastic over easy eggs. Two fantastic trips of bacon. Two fantastic pieces of sourdough bread. Basically everything was straight Lynn Collins… you better Think. Or if you’re a new jack, it’s straight Rob Base. Do the math. Regardless, Cumberland marks the union between the 184.5 mile C&O and the 150 mile hello Great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail. We hit the grocery store for tortilla and trail mix and begin our journey up the GAP.
It’s literally a steady 1.5% grade uphill for 15 miles straight to our anticipated campsite in Frostburg. Its actually open for tent camping! It’s still hot as hell and there would appear to be no chance of frost in this burg. We take breaks every 5 or 6 miles. I feel like I have a flat tire and this will end up being our shortest day yet, but the steady incline in both altitude and temperature suggests it’s right up there in difficulty.
I’d been hearing thunder in the mountains and our arrival into Frostburg ushers in some rain. I get my tent up before it gets heavy. The campsite is also a hostel, so there’s showers, laundry and a covered patio. I check the first two off my list and hit the covered patio to male some campground dinner. The rain picks up and it’s coming down quite heavily now. This couldn’t be a more perfect spot to enjoy the evening. Daniel and I chat and eat dinner under cover from the rain. The woman working here is from Dallas, so she delivers some playful jabs about NFL football. Everything is bigger in Texas, including her ego. It’s all good fun, so I return the volley with some good awkwardly direct talk and of course I show my ass. It’s the ultimate show stopper and I know it. She doesn’t give me anymore Superb Owl grief after that, but I suspect she enjoyed the showing.
The rain lets up. A rainbow comes out. I stop building an ark to ride my bike onto and enjoy wonderful evening around a fire with 4 other cyclists, sharing stories and jokes. Also, teachable (yet possibly trivial) moments abound, yo: I explain the difference between a fire truck and a fire engine. Someone explains the difference between a cemetery and a graveyard. Daniel complains about overzealous roadies vs what he calls “gravel grinders”. It’s the coolest, least humid night on tour yet and I retreat to the castle, eager to finally sleeping without sweating my nuts off…