Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Spinning Wheels (From DC to PGH - Day 2)

            Light rain continued to fall overnight but at least it wasn’t raining when we woke up, and we woke up late. After heating water for instant oatmeal and coffee we sat at the only picnic table in the campground and enjoyed our breakfast.  By the time we finished eating, packed up our gear, and took down our tents and the tarp, and were ready to start riding again it was already 10:00 AM

A small downed tree blocking the Towpath on our second day
            We had not been riding very long when we encountered a downed tree across the towpath (photo). It was not a large tree but big enough that we could not move it. We climbed off our bikes, walked them through some brush until we reached a spot where we could help each other lift them over the trunk, and then pushed them through more brush back to the towpath. As we were getting ready to ride away another group of riders approached from the direction we had just come from. We offered to help them lift their bikes over the tree but they no thank you, that they could do it themselves, so we rode off.

            After another mile or so we encountered a pickup truck slowly driving down the towpath toward us. It pulled over to the side as we approached so that we could pass by but the driver waved us down to talk with us, asking of us if we had encountered a down tree across the trail. We told him there was indeed a downed blocking the towpath but that we had managed to carry our bikes over it. He said he was on his way to saw it up and move it.

            Eventually we again encountered Joel who told us that a stick or small branch had become entangled in his rear derailleur making it totally inoperable. He was now riding in only one gear, unable to shift. We would offered to help but he said he had have things in hand and I am not sure what we could have done to help him anyway.

Me Cycling the Appalachian Trail
            Not far Harpers Ferry, WV  we encountered the Appalachian Trail because for a short distance the C and O Canal Towpath and the Appalachian Trail are one and the same. The AT is the towpath and the towpath is the AT. We stopped to take photos as I wanted to send a picture of me next to the AT Trail sign to my Shepherdstown host Bob. The trail’s white blazes reminded me of when I had backpacked sections of the AT in NJ, PA, VA, and NC. They also served to rekindle my desire to someday attempt a through hike of the entire trail.

            Once back on our bikes we started riding past backpackers and day hikers moving in both directions along the trail/towpath.  From the size of a couple backpacks I reasoned those backpackers were either attempting their own through hiker or section hikers backpacking some significant distances.

            Even though I had once lived near Harper’s Ferry I had never biked or hiked this section of the AT/Towpath but I had hiked out of Harpers Ferry to Maryland Heights where I was able to see battlements from the Civil War. I had also attended a few National Park Service programs in the Harpers Ferry Park so as I rode by and saw the quaint village across the Potomac I felt like I was somewhat back home.

            Our revised itinerary called for us to break for lunch at the Huckleberry Hill Hiker Bike Campsite at mile 62.9, not far from Harpers Ferry and about half way into our planned day’s ride.  As we approached closer to Huckleberry Hill the sky darkened and we started hearing thunder. The clouds eventually opened up and the rain started falling. I raced ahead to the campsite and started putting the tarp up over the picnic table. Vince pulled in not long after and helped finish setting up the tarp.

            If we had arrived fifteen minutes earlier we probably could have had the tarp up before the rain started but now the picnic table was already wet. As it was, we were at least able to enjoy lunch, more tuna warps with avocado and parmesan cheese, out of the rain. By the time we finished eating, the rain had stooped, the clouds moved away, and a bright orange thing appeared in a field of blue above our heads.

            It has taken longer than planned for us to ride the 28.5 miles from last night’s campsite to our lunch stop and the day was already well spent. We had estimated that we could ride at a 10 mph pace and arrive at Huckleberry Hill for lunch by 1:00 PM. In fact,  we did not arrive thee  until 3:00 PM, having cycled at a mere 5.7 mile pace, a pace that included getting off our bikes to carry them over the downed tree, slogging through mud puddles, and resting about every five miles. Vince was so tired from cycling through the mud that we even considered camping at Huckleberry Hill for the night until we realized that there was no handle on the water pump. We would have to go on.

            As we took down the tarp we knew we did not have the energy or the daylight to make it all the way to the Opequon Junction Hiker Biker Campsite at mile 90.9 so we decided to take advantage of the next camping opportunity at the Antietam Creek recreation Area, a drive in campground at mile 69.4 and right along the towpath.

            Leaving Huckleberry Hill, we rode on to Antietam. As we crossed over the stone causeway over picturesque Antietam Creek I could not forget that the battle of Antietam was the bloodiest day in the Civil War. Over 23,000 soldiers lost their lives, were wounded or went missing. When I lived in the area I used to attend an annual memorial for the fallen. One luminaria was lit for each of the fallen and it would take dozens if not hundreds of volunteers to alight all the candles. Seeing all those burning candles under the darkening sky of dusk would bring home the loss our nation suffered that day.

            We rolled into Antietam just as the wind was whipping up and it looked like another storm might hit.  We set the tarp up over our very own private picnic table. Since this was a drive in site every campsite had its own table and fire ring but we were not planning to use the fire ring. We then set up our respective tents , this time a little closer to the tarp covered table than we had the night before,. We then then changed out of our riding clothes.  Eventually the wind died down and we lucked out. We never heard thunder and it didn’t rain.

Our campsite the second night
           The Hiker Biker Campsites along the C and O Towpath are free but campers have to pay to camp in the automobile accessible sites. Vince and split the $20 fee, put our money in an envelope, and deposited the envelope in the receptacle. We then hung the receipt on a post board at the front of our site, #4.  There was only one other group in the entire campground and they were all the way at the other end.
            I assembled and lit my whisperlite to heat water for our dinner and would use it again the next morning to heat water for breakfast. I enjoyed a rehydrated Mountain House entrée along with some rehydrated Mountain House vegetables.  I don’t remember what Vince had for dinner but I do remember we enjoyed some Hershey’s dark chocolate for desert.

            After eating we tried to clean our bikes.  I used one of my water bottles to try to squirt some of the mud away from the derailleur and from the clip in pedal mechanisms. I then used the two buckle lash straps I had been use to strap my sleeping pad, tent and tarp with poles to the rear rack to hang my bike from a tree branch so I could better wipe down and lube the chain, and to pick out chunks of mud and small pieces of gravel that I had not been able to squirt away from various mechanisms.
            We had biked a mere 35 miles this day, only half a mile farther than yesterday, and far short of our 58 mile goal.  The wet and muddy condition of the towpath had once again slowed us down and drained our energy even though we experienced only one short thunderstorm. We had barely been able to break 10 mph at any time, often riding 6-7 mph. Sometimes we dropped to 5 mph when we hit particularly muddy spot and we tended to ride only about five mile stretches before taking a break.

            Our original itinerary called for us to be camping at the Jordan Jct HBC tonight but we only made it only as far as Antietam. After just two days we are now thirty miles behind! It began to look like we would not be able to make up the difference and still arrive in Frostburg, where we had reservation and to meet Vince’s Aunt and Uncle near the continental divide. We began thinking about skipping over the Hancock to Frostburg leg of the ride and arranging for a van shuttle to get us back on schedule.

            We eventually retired to our respective tents. I could hear an occasional car on the nearby road and louder trains rolling along across the Potomac. The cars were not so bothersome but I put in a couple earplugs to dampen the sound of the trains  so I could get some sleep. As I drifted off I wondered if any ghosts from the Battle of Antietam might pay a visit overnight.

Here are links to previous installments in the "Spinning Wheels" series:

From DC to PGH - Day 1 (Seventeenth Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 0 (Sixteenth Installment)
From DC to PGH - Prologue (Fifteenth Installment)
Transitioning (Fourteenth Installment)
Flats (Thirteenth Installment)
Beware Dehydration (Twelfth Installment)
Creams & Powders for your Butt (Eleventh Installment)
Group vs. Solo Rides (Tenth Installment)
Competitiveness (Ninth Installment)
Stats (Eighth Installment)
Accidents Happen (Seventh Installment)
Pedals for Cleats (Sixth Installment)
Riding Shoes with Cleats (Fifth Installment)
Be Kind to Your Behind (Fourth Installment)
Combating Hand and Arm Numbness (Third Installment) 
Reading and Riding (Second Installment)
Starting Over (First Installment) 

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