Day 5. 230 Miles. No Comparisons.

Campground morning chatter. Chad and Kara compare dreams, I sip coffee. I don’t dream; if I did it probably would be about coffee, anyway. I don’t think of much else in between awakening and that, usually. Out of nowhere Kara and Chad are now talking about their footwear. “My flip flops are crocs”. Then on to fruits. And bananas ripening. And then somehow banana hammocks, specifically some cyclist we passed heading in the other direction who was nearly naked. He’s a bit early for the Buffalo Naked Bike Ride — that’s Saturday July 10. He’s also going in the wrong direction.

Conversations and coffee and oatmeal. I fantasize about filling my thermos with a bold brew 15 miles up in the land of Cumber. I talk a lot about the Southern Tier Ride I just completed. I also bring up my time last year on this trail a lot. This morning or that compared to this ride to this or that time or whatever the fuck I babble about.

Butt.

Comparison are futile, which is also why you’re getting less words today. Simply because, no fucking comparisons allowed. Nothing compares to you, Sinead. The closest we might get is some Campari (in a Negroni). Compare and contrast. Nah. No sir. Things be. That’s it. I won’t say it is what is it is — I hate that phrase — let’s it be what it be. This is all why you must bear witness to my bare everything I use the word but.

I could write about how we gain 2,000 feet in elevation today. Or that the wind picks up. Or how those two things combined are making this a harder day than most. Comparisons are of no value, however.

I could write about finishing the C&O canal trail and moving onto the Great Allegheny Passage Trail; how the GAP is a better and much more well maintained surface. Iodine-treated well water or municipal water supplies along the trail. Comparisons. Or about the Eastern Continental Divide, entering the Gulf of Mexico watershed, and all the downhill. Futile efforts puny human; me.

We pass through three tunnels. Big Savage brings the biggest and most savage. That’s just your opinion man. All comparisons. Not allowed. Disqualified, yo.

We cross the Mason Dixon line. Lots is history here. Fighting between wealthy entitled white guys named Penn and Calvert. Life and death and freedom for others. The line was originally drawn when the province of Pennsylvania was mapped up. It’s based on the work of a surveyor and an astronomer. So instead of another comparison, I’ll end today this abbreviated entry with a pleasant quote before I pass the fuck out in my tent:

“From the solitary tops of these mountains, the eye gazes round with pleasure; filling the mind with adoration to that pervading spirit that made them.” -Charles Mason’s journal, June 1767.

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Day 4. 181 Miles. We Don’t Need Roads.

Our third full day on the towpath begins with Chad three bunks down snoring like a champ. However it is that champs snore, if champs even snore. I take a pre-dawn leak, settle back into my bunk and can’t pass back out. My left hand and arm are numb. I gather myself and begin assessing my life in relation to finding coffee. Behold, I needn’t boil water, theres an ice cream and donut spot called Fractured Banana around the corner. Good name. Hit it. Coconut donut and large dark roast, por favor.

An hour of bike maintenance later and I’ve got a completely clean and lubed drive train; I take a bonus combination outdoor shower-toothbrushing — wondering why kids make such a fuss about brushing their teeth. Why I probably did as a little piss pot. After a couple days, getting my mouth clean is a mega-magnificent feeling. This must be adulting.

Chad is now using Chad as a verb. Something and something about something in Paris or somewhere. It’s easy to give him about 12% of my attention span. Our mutual friend Tim may or may not have registered a web domain akin to “Chad speaks authoritatively on shit he looked up on Wikipedia dot com”. Or dot org. Or dot edu. Maybe it was a podcast. I don’t know. He also loves to do a slow monotone play by play of some of the most mundane shit possible. Like cooking utensils hanging on the wall kind shit. I feel like he seeks this shit out. Chad is a most definitely a Chad.

On what had already been ordained as a late start, we finally hit the paved Western Maryland rail trail around 11am. This paved rail trail literally parallels the C&O. Geography and math skills combine! We’re on such an awesome route that there’s two trails — where we’re going, we don’t need roads. It’s a welcome respite from the more rocky historic towpath that we’ve been on. Most delightfully, it is totally devoid of the mud puddles we’ve navigated the entirety of yesterday. After 15 vangloriously smooth miles, the asphalt ends and we’re back on the towpath, dodging muck holes. Mothermucker. The mud still wants to grab my front tire; I splish splash my way through it, getting wet and muddy again, though not nearly as soaked as in yesterday’s rain. Fortunately, today is a mostly sunny and cooler day and our first thirty miles cruise by blissfully, save the occasional bug in my mouth or mud splash on my sunglasses. Dragon flies and cardinals dart and glide across my personal viewing screen, sometimes even gracefully cruising alongside me for a good distance. Thanks for hanging little buddies, stay golden.

We take a brief rest stop and I toss the skin of a small clementine orange on the ground, devouring its contents whole. Then another — in thirds — and another in small normal size pieces. Whatever normal is. There is however a pile of orange pieces now loudly displaying my quenched desire for calories. I don’t consider this littering and if you do then fight me about it. I think of them as biodegradable wrappers, no one seems to mind. No ones around either. I return back to the present. Scanning my surroundings, I see a sign and a deep burning question rises up in my soul. The sort of question that can define ones existence. A question I may spend my entire life searching for the answer to…

Where the fuck is that one third of lock number sixty four? How does one even have just two thirds of lock? How does it all add up to one point twenty one jigawatts? I may never know, but I’ll never stop trying to know without doing anything to find out.

Paw Paw. The tunnel so nice they named it twice. I guess you guys aren’t ready for that yet, but your kids are gonna love it. I rode the Paw Paw Tunnel through it last year, all 3000+ feet of its uneven surface and darkness. Banging around blindly, I almost fell over the edge into the canal more than a couple times. Like Doc Brown hitting his head in the 50’s. This time, we mostly walk through the tunnel. I brought a new front light for just this purpose, only to discover the battery was drained. Plus there’s a lot more people walking than last year — when there was no one. We cross the bridge back into West Virginia, the town is also called Paw Paw. Grab breakfast for dinner or lunch or breakfast; stick a pin in the map to represent Buffalo, New York; push on for the final dozen miles toward a hiker/biker campsite.

Some wells are browner than others. One thing’s for sure, dehydration will kill me. Another short stop and we are tapping the well at Devil’s Alley Campground, where Daniel and I camped last year. Great spot, but this H2O is more like H2No. You can’t imagine how much of the iodine I tasted. Maybe you can. I don’t recall it being this brown when I was last here. Whatevs. I fill up all three bottles; pondering that it’s better to have and not need than need and not have. Not dead yet.

With fifty miles of making like a tree and getting out of here, we pull into Pigmans Ferry campsite about an hour before sunset. No more river access, but boy is this well’s water clean! Well, cleaner. Well well well. Only mildly iodine, for the win, fuck the world. It’s a bit more of a chilly and buggy night so I set out to gather firewood before hooking myself up a little ramen noodle dinner. Afterward we enjoy a decent fire in an open clearing under stars galore. I sit mesmerized in front of something much for fun that TV before crashing out amidst crickets and bullfrogs and a wild bunch of other nature sounds.

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Day 3. 131 Miles. My Name Is Mud aka Mud Butt aka Muddy Mudskipper.

I am a dirty man. Literally. There’s mud currently flying everywhere and caked on everything. Legitimately. Massive mud plashes occupy my ocular experience. Seriously. Synaptic nerves fire and I instinctively feel my body wanting to avoid riding through the muck pools. I resist. Le Résistance. La Revolución. I plow directly through it full Ernesto Guevara style. This whole experience rewinds me ten years prior, to my time in the New York State Academy of Fire Sciences. My bicycle is a motherfuckin time machine. Recruit Class 2011-1. Our PT instructor was an incredibly impactful and impressive man named Tom Margeit. He whooped us into shape each and every morning. He ensured we were “motivated, motivated, motivated, sir!”. He taught us the value of being present in our lives, especially on the job. Focused in the moment. One morning, we’re out running in cadence — in the rain. Chief Margeit was livid when some of us ran around, hopped over, or skipped a step through the rain puddles. Absolutely went off on us like Private Pyle in Full Metal Jacket. The Chief slightly resembled Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, and he exacted his toll on us that day. We maintained an unflinching pace and cadence from that day on. Tom Margeit lost his battle with multiples cancers a few years ago, but his words and voice have never wandered far from my mind. And his spirit is alive right now as I push on in pouring rain, through mud puddle after mud puddle with no shelter coming anytime soon.

Quantum Leap that ass to when I’m woken up pre-dawn by a movement rivaling anything Beethoven ever pooped out. An hour later and we’re all up and prepping for coffee and oatmeal. I break down the portable palace and within moments Mother Nature breaks down the precipitation. It is something fierce too. I don’t even make coffee. We pack up triple time and get moving. We are in quite a remote section of the C&O and there isn’t much out this way beside trees and iodine water pumps. And by isn’t much I mean there ain’t shit. Nada. Just us and the torrential drenching. So we might as well be moving toward somewhere.

The sludge brings with it a slower pace and much higher degree of riding difficult. Mud wants to grab my front tire and throw me. It’s clear I have to keep pedaling and moving forward. Easier said than done, as the downpour continues and the pools grow larger. I try navigating around. No bueno. Nope. Straight into the heat of the puddle seems to be the messiest but safest way through. Hard and fast. I get better at it. Pick up a little speed. Then almost get thrown when the system fails. I sharpen my attention and stay present with each one, white knuckling a good chunk of the morning.

Eventually the heavy rains let up. The puddles remain. So mud, mud and more mud continues to dominate the day. Finally, civilization! Places with covered shelters. We cruise into Williamsport, sloshing around with soaked sneakers. My feet feel like they might never unwrinkle again.

It’s now just down to a sprinkle. The oasis that is a late lunch at the Desert Rose is keeping us alive right now. Right I’m alive. Coffee is first and foremost on my list and they deliver a cup quite magnificently. The three of us crush a collection of caloric commodities. Sandwiches. Chips. Soup. Lemonade. The decor and staff and owner are all a little eccentric, which fits well with our style. A few miles later up the path and I inform Kara and Chad that they along with myself, we might be the three weirdest people alive. A turtles shows up to agree.

The rain finally let’s up and the sun comes out. We decide pound out 25 more miles (10 more than our daily goal) and check into a outdoor bike hostel for the night, C&O Bicycles in Hancock, MD. Daniel and I sort of crashed this place last year on our ride up the trail. It’s a bike shop up front with a little fenced in compound out back, complete with outdoor showers, toilets, sink and fridge. Apparently one can pay $5 for a shower. Daniel and I didn’t ask to use anything. Didn’t pay anything. Took showers in the middle of the day and kept riding. This time Kara, Chad and I take the official route. We book a space. $15 for everything, including an overnight in the screened-in bunk room. We do some laundry. We hit the grocery store and enjoy some dinner. We clean off the bikes and ourselves. We do all that in the reverse order I just typed it. All of this climaxes with some serious pass out vibes.

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