Saturday, June 29, 2013

Ohiopyle Falls, August 2008

In my last post I wrote about a young man who climbed onto a dew-slick railing to photograph the fog inversion at Bradley Wales Vista in Pine Creek Gorge. That same post mentioned I climbed over the fence at Barbour Rock to shoot down into the canyon. However, the photo below puts both of them in the shade. Its one thing to climb over a fence when alone in the middle of nowhere. It's another to do it in a busy state park only a thousand feet from the visitor center. The photo below is Ohiopyle Falls from the observation area in August 2008. The young man gives some perspective to the photo, but still, he shouldn't have been there.

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Hikes in Pine Creek Gorge, September 2012

The photo above should look familiar to readers of A Taste For The Woods. Its from a series of hikes I undertook in Pine Creek Gorge in September 2012. And its from the shortest of them, since the hike was a short distance from my campsite. How is that for a morning view?

But back to the start. In September I headed to Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania to hike, ride, and take photographs. Rather than stay at either of the two state campgrounds on either side of the northern end of the canyon, Colton Point or Leonard Harrison, I obtained a camping permit for the Tioga State Forest and set up at Bradley Wales Picnic Area. Bradley Wales was one of the best places to camp I've ever been to. True, there is no running water, and its 20 miles of forest roads from the main highway, but there's a cistern pump, and a building with chemical toilets. And a quarter mile away was the Bradley Wales Vista, accessible by the bumpy forest road. On my first morning at the campsite I was lucky to arrive just as the clouds were breaking up. Anyone who has tried to photograph in a Pennsylvania gorge knows that the early morning is for cloud studies, but here at a quarter after 8 AM the clouds were parting.

I was soon joined by a young man with a better camera and steadier nerves. He climbed up the dew-slicked fence and began shooting hundreds of feet above the canyon floor. I told myself if I were twenty years younger and 100 pounds lighter and were wearing Vibram Five Finger shoes I'd be up on that railing too. However, I didn't believe it any more than you do now. I contented myself with shooting him against the fog; the image reminds me of Caspar David Friedrich's painting "Wanderer Above The Sea of Fog", which I've included via a link to a file at Wikipedia. Once the young man climbed down from his perch we chatted about photography, and he showed me other nearby places to shoot. We both left as the clouds broke up and the sun climbed in the sky.

That short hike was followed by a slightly longer one near the north end of the west side of the canyon. The Barbour Rock Trail is a mile hike to an overlook that's unfortunately getting very overgrown. I was there in 2010 and its amazing how much less of a view there was this time. I tried, even climbing down past the wooden fence to get some down the cliff photos of the gorge, but still, the shooting wasn't good. The hike itself, however, is pleasant, passing through the woods and over ground that seemed free from the usual rocks one finds on a Pennsylvania trail. One interesting aspect of the trail is that it's split. The state forest, which is responsible for the trail, put down a layer of crushed stone to create a surface suitable for a wheelchair with oversized tires. You can see the split in the trail below. For my hike I took the left trail and returned on the ADA trail, which meant 1.2 miles of a hike/walk. 

Last of the hikes was a 2 mile search for an overlook on what the book 50 Hikes in Central Pennsylvania called "the Refuge Trail". The trail is located about halfway between Bradley Wales and Route 6, on the series of switchbacks the forest road takes to get around Little Slate Run. While the hike itself was pleasant and not too strenuous, once again the promised overlooks were missing. The photo is the best I found, but one cannot see the opposing forest for the trees. That's supposed to be Colton Point in the distance. Had I felt like scrambling down a slope through the pine trees, I might have had a better view. Still, it was a great hike, one I felt good about and one that tested my new joints and new motivation.  Also, Pine Creek Gorge always sets my soul at peace; I can think of no better place to have a taste for the woods.

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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

True Grit: My Attempt to Ride Across Pennsylvania, June 2011

The year 2011 started bad and got worse. My long-standing knee problems had deteriorated to the point I was seeking an alternative, any alternative, to replacement. I was sedentary again, unable to ride or hike. And what's more, I was unable to see a light at the end of my troubles. After entering a course of physical therapy and being told I was "wasting my time and money, see a surgeon now" I decided on a course of action. I was going to see the surgeon and set up the probable bilateral knee replacement for the winter, and my summer and fall would be spent being as active as I could physically stand. The physical therapist called it "strengthening", noting that a fit, active person recovers better from the surgery. I called it mental therapy, because I'd go mad spending a summer sitting around waiting for the trip to the operating room. 

I spoke with one of my doctors about my plans. "Activity is a good idea, but in moderation."

"Hmm. Moderation. I don't know what that word means, doctor", I said. 

"What did you do last weekend?"

"I hiked up a mountain at a place called Pole Steeple."

"That's almost as bad as you spending a day grouting a tile floor! What am I going to do with you?"

"Look, I know most people who have knee replacement did it so they could walk up stairs without pain. For me this is about more than climbing stairs."

But I kept my doctor's word "moderation" in mind. My early rides were short. And when it came time to plan my vacation, I kept the cycling plans moderate. 

I decided to ride across Pennsylvania. Well, not the whole state. Just most of it. Doing the whole Commonwealth would be a bit excessive. But to make up for the short gap between the Delaware River and my home I chose to begin in Ohio. 

My Buckeye buddy Aaron signed on to ride with me to the border. This would be his first bike tour, and so I planned two days, with camping at Mosquito Creek State Park in Ohio and Pymatuning in the Quaker State.  From Pymatuning I'd continue solo across the northern part of the state, turning south on the flattest route possible in my hilly home. The sole concession to my physical condition was that I'd keep mileages short and stay inside where I could. 

Months of planning were put in motion a sunny morning outside of Akron. Aaron and I were off. The photo shows my buddy pulling out of his driveway. However, we didn't get very far. I thought my tires still had enough wear in the for the trip. But I was wrong, and in the second mile from the start I got a flat on the rear. Aaron rode off to the local bike shop while I sat on the curb.
Once I had a working tire again, we headed off. At this point we realized our directions weren't the best route I'd ever plotted. And it would have helped if I'd not left them back in Pennsylvania. But soon enough we figured out where we were going. 

And then the second revelation. Ohio has hills. Or perhaps I should call them rises. But anyway the state has them. And I found myself have to work harder than I anticipated on some roads. 

We found a respite on a rail trail from Stowe to Kent. Or we did for a minute until the heavens opened. We ducked under a trail shelter to wait out the passing rain. And the rain did pass. But it left a messy, ponded trail for our riding. 
This was the first band of rain. The second held off until we reached Kent, the end of the trail. This time we ducked into a market, propping our bikes at the ice machine while we waited inside. 

The second band came and went, and so did we. Directions didn't improve, and we had to reroute a couple of times. Aaron's GPS didn't get a very good signal, and it was a while until we found a sure path to Mosquito Creek. Meanwhile I realized how spoiled I am riding in Pennsylvania, where motorists are used to seeing cyclists on roads, and the roads have shoulders. We both had uncomfortable moments and close calls. Aaron is one of those folks who rarely has a bad day, so his good cheer helped me endure a rough first day of touring. 
And then the rains came again. And again. Band after band, and sometimes the rain was hard. Our progress was painfully slow. At one point we ducked onto the porch of a warehouse, and Aaron had to urinate. We both looked at each other, laughed that a little more water wouldn't hurt anything, and I turned my head as I walked a few feet away. Then it was back to the bikes and seeing the road through raindrops. 

The ride was catching up to us. I stopped counting bands of rain when I reached eleven. Aaron had to stop and walk up one rise. "I have to catch my breath" he said, and I should have caught his reason. Finally by seven PM we'd ridden 40 some miles, and had less than five to the park. We stopped for food and water at the first store we'd seen in hours. For all the rain, we didn't have fluids in our bottles. Aaron appeared a broken shell of a man, sprawled on the step guzzling water and shoving pastry down his throat.  We pushed on, although I found the going a little difficult. My saddle seemed to be getting higher. I figured it was just fatigue playing tricks on me, and we continued on. 

We reached the campsite, set up our tents as the light faded, and I started the camp stove.  Aaron was looking very defeated, and I figured something hot and salty would help his mood and prevent cramps. He grimaced when I served him my tuna and noodle mixture, but he ate his plate clean. And since the rain began again, he didn't need to wash it. 

The tent sites at Mosquito Creek are small, and our site was partly flooded. I gave Aaron the pine needle area and chose to camp on the concrete parking slab. I crawled into my tent, listening to the patter on the roof and thinking of the day past and the day to come. I wondered what I'd dragged my friend into. And when the first cramp hit me, I wondered why I'd dragged myself into it. I was soon enough distracted by the coughing coming from Aaron's tent, and it was to the cough and the rain that I fell to sleep. 

I rose early the next morning. The rain had stopped. After I got back from the bathroom I found Aaron sitting on the picnic bench.  He didn't look good.

"How was your night?"

"I was coughing all night. I'm coughing up blood. My wife is coming to pick me up."

After assuring me that he'd be OK, we talked about the day before. Aaron was disappointed to not continue on with me. Meanwhile I realized I could have killed him. He'd pushed on past all his danger signs so he could ride with me and so he could consider himself a bike tourist. 

As we waited for his better half, we talked about the tour. 

"Look, buddy, bike touring can be riding your bike somewhere and camping. You've earned the title. And you worked harder for it than many. You rode through all that rain, over those roads, nearly got killed by that truck -"

"The black one?"

"Was there a black one? I meant the delivery truck going up that hill at the intersection."

"Oh, that one."

"Anyway, you did great."

"Yeah, and I've not seen so much water since I left the Navy."

Aaron's wife arrived, they packed up, wished me well, and then headed to an emergency room to be checked out. I began to break camp, only to notice I couldn't straighten up. I tried to mount my bike, and I couldn't reach the pedals. It seems that odd sensation that my saddle was raised was a warning sign. My hamstrings were overstretched during the ride, had contracted overnight, and now were pulling my lower back out of shape. I called my next stop, my friend Troy, and he picked me up that afternoon. I spent two days recovering at Troy's farm while I pondered my next move. I eventually returned to Ohio, and shelved my trans-PA ride for another year. 

Was I wrong to have attempted such a ride in the shape I was? I don't think so. I needed something to get me through the time before surgery, and I'd not be who I am if I didn't push myself hard. I had discomfort, but I tried. This isn't about being able to walk up stairs. As I told Aaron, a thousand men wouldn't have even attempted to do what we did knowing we had bad joints and bad lungs. As for Aaron, he fully recovered, and a week later we were turning out 40 mile rides. We had good weather, but after what we went through nothing could rain on our parade. 

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As readers saw yesterday, my friend Matty finished his first 5K since his nearly fatal auto accident last year. In a post on his personal blog he wrote about his experience during and after the event, and he gave me permission to quote him at length.

"I finished the race (walk) even though volunteers had abandoned their posts, the water station had no water, & the race clock had been put away. So many times I wanted to give up. So many times I wanted to just turn around and go back to my car. So many times I kept asking myself, “Why?”

"I asked that question even as my sweaty, tired body hit the bed. And the answer to the question beyond the pain, beyond the fatigue that follows me today is that I could. Simple as that. Last night was a celebration of sorts, a celebration of life, a celebration of function. Of having a semi-functioning leg that 8 months prior could have ended up being amputated. No telling what the future will hold for my leg, for the time being I am thankful that it is still there painful as it may be…"

Matty's question, "Why", is one that crops into my mind now and again. And I've written about that one-word question too.  In 2007 I rode a century, 100 miles in a day, ten months after learning to ride a bike. Although my knees weren't as bad as they were to become, I was still a structural wreck, and had to fight through very hard to get to the point I knew I could start a century, let alone finish it.

In 2007 I wrote, "I don't want to quit. I know why I am riding. I am riding because my limitations are entirely of my own making. I am riding because I couldn't before. I am riding because I am no longer 400 pounds and unable to move. I ride because I've wanted to ride a bicycle for a long, long time. I ride because people tell me I can't, tell me I shouldn't. I ride because I am not a fat man on a bike, I am a real cyclist. And I've been one for a long time now. This ride only confirms it."

Your Why will be different from mine, or from Matty's, or from your neighbors. Motivations are personal. And I used the plural because you aren't limited to a single reason. However, from comparing my 2007 post to Matty's, it seems for some of us we do things simply because we can, and we know Can is worth celebrating. Also, pushing your limits gives you a tremendous endorphin rush. This explains how we both managed to push through the pain we experienced in the event - and why we both felt it keenly afterward.

In my case, there's another reason. Life is full of people who tell you "don't" and "can't." I like to prove them wrong. Not out of spite, but because "I am fearfully and wonderfully made" and being so made I find it hard to justify playing safe or sitting on the sidelines. I spent the first half of my life sedentary. I have time to make up. And as Matty mentioned in his post, who knows how long until the body is no longer able to keep up with what I demand of it?

So that's my Why. Have you thought about yours?

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Matty Returns!

In a previous posting, I wrote about my friend Matty, a man who lost two hundred some pounds, lost his focus on weight loss, and almost lost his life in an auto accident. At the end of that posting, I said I was going to run a 5K with Matty in Michigan. Well, it seems the man got a little practice in yesterday. It took him nearly an hour and a half, but he completed the Zeeland Zoom 5K Run/Walk last evening.

Society tells super-obese people they are victims and they can't change themselves. Matty is changing. After his accident the doctors told him he may never walk again. He's walking.  And for a brief period of time Matty thought he'd never return to the active life he led.

But he's returned....

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Fat Ride: Bartram Trail, August 2012

The John Bartram Trail is a segment of the unfinished Schuylkill River Trail. The six mile pea-gravel trail runs from just outside the borough of Hamburg to a dead end at the Schuylkill River. One day the falling and failing railroad bridge will be refurbished and the trail will push on, but until then riders and hikers have a gorgeous path cut into the side of the mountain. 

"Cut" is the right word. The Bartram uses an old rail line and much of the trail is cut out of the rock. The path has the usual markers for miles, interpretative panels with the history of the railroad, and an abundance of green. After it passes the last trailhead before the dead end the forest gives way to field, and you ride in sunlight instead of shade. At the dead end are a couple of picnic tables if you decide to have lunch overlooking the drop to the river on the other side of the fence. 

I consider the Bartram the best segment of the Schuylkill River Trail. Its long enough to be a ride - 16 miles if you ride the two mile connecting trail into Hamburg and back, or 18 if you take the potholed access road down to the Kernsville Dam. But its short and easy enough for the novice rider, or for the family. Aside from the access road and the parking area at the Kernsville Dam it has no road crossings between the dead end and downtown Hamburg. And its scenic, as I've mentioned. With the railroad cuts, the forest, the river, and the old trestle a mile into the ride, the Bartram reminds me of the best parts of the Great Allegheny Passage. Its just fun to ride. 

Its also fun to hike, and if you want a challenge one connects with it. As the Bartram passes Port Clinton it intersects the Appalachian Trail. The AT descends a set of stone steps from the trail to the Reading, Blue Mountain, and Northern train station. Port Clinton Station is also the corporate headquarters of the short line, and the station is designed as an imitation of a Reading Railroad stop of a century before. The ride I'm writing about took place in August, but I've reproduced a photo from October 2010 to show the station. The photo was taken from the trail, so you have an idea how many steps there are to get to down there. 

Back to August 2012. I met my friend Sayre, his wife, child, and another friend for a ride on the Bartram. This was Sayre's last ride with me before he moved his family to Florida. I'd just returned from Western PA a few days before, and I was trying to increase my riding and hiking. However, my stamina was still very low despite my surgery having been five months before. I completed the dozen miles but I was very slow and very weak. Physical therapy got me walking again, but I still had the "Frankenstein gait" and sometimes I'd put down my right foot and be surprised where it landed. I struggled to swing my leg over the saddle when dismounting the bike. 

But the stiffness, clumsiness, and lack of stamina weren't the worst problem. Being sedentary and frustrated for being sedentary left me little to do aside from eat. Combine that with nausea from a drug I was taking, nausea that I treated with masses of starches in my belly, and the expected happened. I didn't weight myself at this time but based on my photos and weigh ins of a few months later I estimate I was tipping 350 pounds. I cringe when I see this photo. That's not the real me; I'm the active man trapped in the balloon next to Sayre. That's why I'll always remember this day. This was the Fat Ride. 
Fast forward a half-year to my next meeting with Sayre. Its now 2013, I'm off all drugs, I'm getting active, and I've gotten my diet back in better control. And I'm 40 pounds lighter, with promise of being lighter still.  While I'll ride the Bartram Trail again and again, I'll never go back to the Fat Ride. Just as my friend Sayre will never go back to being a 400 some pound man, I'll never be back to where I was. 

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West Penn Trail, August 2010

In August 2010 I and my friend Judy took part in a group ride on the West Penn Trail. The WPT is a 17 mile patchwork of trail segments along the Conemaugh and Kiski Rivers between the towns of Blairsville and  Saltsburg. Having just visited Johnstown the day before, I was curious to see where the Conemaugh went to, so we met up with the group on a warm afternoon at the Newport Road trailhead west of Blairsville. The sun had come out after a rainy morning, and the ride promised to be good. 

The ride was led by three rangers from the nearby Allegheny Portage Railroad National Historic Site and the Johnstown Flood National Memorial. The dozen or so riders traveled 4.5 miles to the end of the Conemaugh River Lake segment of the trail, ending at the now-closed railroad tunnel.  Our guides stopped at each bridge and the tunnel to allow the group to catch up and to talk about the history of the river and the railroad. At the turn around it was everyone at their own pace, but still most of the group stuck together. 

The tunnel is an impressive structure, but to prevent flooding of the Conemaugh Dam area on the other side of the mountain the tunnel is sealed at one end. For safety's sake the Blairsville side of the tunnel is blocked off. The trail continues as a steep mountain bike/hiking trail for two miles as it crosses the mountain. 
During our ride on the flat, gravel covered trail, we crossed four stone arch bridges built by the Pennsylvania Railroad a century ago. One can't get a good look at the bridges when riding across them, but there's an overlook, partly overgrown, you can ride to for a view of one of the spans. The bridges have a gravel trail surface because, as a guide said, "gravel is easy to replace after a flood." Despite the dam and other flood controls in place, the Conemaugh is still a flood prone river, as any resident of Johnstown can tell you. Seeing the lazy river at a low level, I found it hard to believe the water occasional laps the surface of the bridge. 

I had a great time on the ride, although I had one regret. This guy seemed to be a regular rider on the trail, and I overheard him say how he's improving his health and losing weight using cycling as exercise. He also spoke about the various species of birds he'd seen along the trail. I regret I wasn't bold enough to introduce myself and strike up a conversation with him. As a fellow fat guy, albeit a guy a lot less fat and a lot healthier, I like to meet other people on their trip of self-improvement. Also, he was the only other hefty guy sporting Lycra, so we had that in common as well. Its been nearly three years since the ride, and I hope this guy saw success in his weight loss and lifestyle improvement.

The West Penn Trail was a lot of fun, and I hope to be riding it again soon.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

The Wild Side: Fern Cliff Peninsula, Ohiopyle State Park, August 2010

This is one of the most photographed waterfalls in Pennsylvania. 

But its shot from the 'wrong' side. You can see the observation platforms in the photo. Obviously I should have been on the other side of the cataracts with the thousands of other visitors.  That's the side of the river with the boat launches, and the visitor center, and the pizza place, and market..... In other words, the Ohiopyle State Park everyone visits. But just across the bridge, accessed from a parking lot or the Great Allegheny Passage trail, is a wild side to Ohiopyle. The Fern Cliff Peninsula is the Ohiopyle no one visits, and in many ways its the best part of the park. A stick of land jutting out into and partly surrounded by the Youghiogheny River, the peninsula has one of the best short hikes in the state. When I hiked it on a late afternoon in August 2010, I saw only one other person during the slightly more than two miles that passed under my boots. 

The trail I hiked was less rocky than most of the trails in Penn's Woodlands. The rockiest portion was near the falls. To get the photos above and below I had to walk out onto the rocks at the edge of the cascade. The river flow was lower than normal due to the drought conditions; I'd hate to imagine what the river and falls would look like in spring after the snow melt. 

Just downriver of the falls, I saw the only other man on the peninsula. Well, he wasn't quite ON the peninsula. But I'm guessing he had to swim  or wade over to his fishing perch from the peninsula side, if only because the distance was shorter. Not that I'd swim within 200 feet of the falls, or swim with a fishing pole. Or for that matter swim in my underwear. Then again, its Westsylvania. Things are different here. 

As you get further away from the falls, the trail takes you through a forest of pine and hardwood. But you are never very far from the water. The sound of the river crashes around you as you walk, following it as it drops 90 feet rounding the peninsula. It drowns out the tread of your boots on pine needles and dead leaves.  As I walked through the woods, I thanked the men and women who saved the peninsula, and the whole of Ohiopyle State Park, from becoming a vacation resort decades ago. As I finished my hike, I kicked myself for having visited Ohiopyle three times before and never once taking a walk on the wild side. I know it won't me my last time at Fern Cliff Peninsula. 

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Sunday, June 23, 2013

Alone in a Crowd: Montour/GAP/C & O Tour, June 2009 - Part 9

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 reportedly 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.

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Alone in a Crowd: Montour/GAP/C & O Tour, June 2009 - Part 8

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 and the Constitution. 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. 

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Alone in a Crowd: Montour/GAP/C & O Tour, June 2009 - Part 7

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."

"Thank you."

"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.

"Over 55?"





I paused. 

"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.

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A Taste For The Woods: 2013-06-23

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A Taste For The Woods