Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Spinning Wheels (From DC to PGH - Prologue)

Milepost Zero at the beginning of
the C and O Canal
          I first rode my Trek 8.3 DS on the Great Allegheny Passage (affectionately referred to as the GAP) in late June 2014. My nephew Chris and two of his friends, more experienced cyclists than I, were cycling from Pittsburgh to DC. I met up with them one evening as they were camped along the banks of the Youghiogheny River in the campground at Youghiogheny Canoe Outfitters in West Newton, PA. The next day I accompanied them on a forty-four mile ride from West Newton to Ohiopyle, PA where I met my ride home. They, however, continued riding on to Confluence, PA and eventually DC.

            Not only were my cycling companions that day more experienced riders than I was, they were also all at least twenty years younger. I was happy to just keep up with them and to not make a fool of myself. After all, I had gotten back into cycling, after a more than thirty year hiatus, less than two months earlier. The day I joined then them to ride from West Newton to Ohiopyle I had only about 220 miles under my tires.  It was not only my first time on the GAP, it was also the first time I had cycled with panniers filled with camping gear strapped to my bike in something like thirty-nine years. Furthermore, it was my longest ride to date.

            Even though I did not ride as far as Chris and his companions did that day, by the time the four of us rolled into Ohiopyle I no longer felt like a casual beginner with less than two months riding experience. I thought of myself as a semi-serious intermediate cyclist, and  I had caught the bug. I too wanted to ride all the way from Pittsburgh to DC, but I knew I was not yet ready.

            During the rest of that summer and the following summer I began venturing farther from home and cycling the GAP and other trails. Through several day trips I eventually cycled the Gap from Point State Park in Pittsburgh, where the Monongahela and Alleghany Rivers flow together to form the Ohio River, all the way to West Newton, where I had first met up with my Chris and his friends. I also explored most of the Montour Trail around Pittsburgh and in one day rode the entire 29 mile Panhandle Trail from near Carnegie, PA to Weirton WV. In addition, I continued cycling on my home town Brooke Pioneer Trail and the Wheeling Heritage Trail to which it connects. With each ride I gained experience and grew more confident.

            To prepare for someday riding from Pittsburgh to DC I joined “The Great Allegheny Passage (unofficial)” group on facebook and began reading what people posted there. I aso purchased and read the tenth edition of the TrailBook, “the Official Guide to the C&O Canal and the Great Allegheny Passage.”  I was also thinking about how and when I might accomplish what some consider “the ride of my life”

            Because I have been backpacking and car-camping for decades I knew that I already had all the camping gear I would ever need for riding from Pittsburgh to DC and camping along the way. But I also knew that if I was going to undertake such a trip that I would need to purchase front and rear panniers to put all that camping gear as well as my cycling gear into. I already had a Trek dealer installed rear rack that I expected to be able to attach rear panniers to but I knew I would also need a rack to attach  pannier’s to my front fork.

            When I camped an evening and rode the next day with Chris and his friends I used old REI Panniers I had purchased nearly four decades ago. Packed full, they held just a little over 2,000 cubic inches of gear and supplies, large enough for maybe a three day and two night bike camping trip, but not large enough for all the gear and supplies I would need  to ride from Pittsburgh to DC and to camp along the way.

            Before purchasing new rear and front panniers I wanted to first determine what rack would work on my hybrid fork. After a little research I decided to try the Axiom Journey Suspension and Disk Lowrider. After installing it with its included slightly longer quick release hub, I rode my bike several times to make sure it would work. I liked the simplicity of  this rack but wished the quick release hub was just a little longer. In hindsight, it has functioned well as I have not taken the rack off the front fork since I installed it and I have not experienced any problems with the hub.

            Once I determined that the Axiom Journey Suspension and Disk Lowrider was satisfactory I started researching panniers. I did not limit myself to Axiom panniers but eventually it seemed that Axiom Seymour DLX panniers cost less than many other brands and designs and were well within my budget. I first purchased a pair of Axiom Seymour DLX 30’s to see if I liked them on the front rack and if they would work on the back rack. They fit well and I liked the design and features so I eventually bought a pair of Axiom Seymour DLX 45’s for the rear rack. I was now outfitted for the ride of my life.

            Even though I often rode alone, sometimes riding for miles on somewhat isolated parts of the Panhandle Trail, I preferred not to undertake such an adventure solo. I wanted to ride with a small group or at least another person.

            In the spring of 2016, a former Philosophy student of mine from back in the day when I was an Adjunct teaching Introduction to Philosophy and who is also one of my Facebook friends, posted on facebook that he was planning a late May ride from DC to Pittsburgh and invited others to join him. I remembered Vince as a kind, considerate, conscientious student with some Boy Scout camping experience and thought he might have obtained his Eagle. Now married with a young daughter, he had cycled parts of the Gap and the C and O Canal several times before, once coming within fourteen miles of finishing his trip before a broken spoke and bent rim forced him off the C and O Canal early before he could ride all the way to DC.  I knew he also had some backpacking and camping experience as the previous year he had backpacked the seventy mile long Laurel Highlands Trail in Pennsylvania. I had backpacked the same trail nearly forty years earlier so we also had that in common.

             I took Vince up on his offer and replied that I would like to join him. He had already picked the dates to coincide with his vacation and had also planned out an itinerary. I would simply be joining him on a trip from DC to Pittsburgh that he had already prearranged. I wouldn’t be riding from Pittsburgh to DC, but rather from DC to Pittsburgh.

            As Vince and I texted back and forth about our trip we decided that while we might eventually share some gear and food, we would each be self-sufficient. We would each carry and sleep in our own tent. We would also be responsible for our own food and each of us would carry our own stove. That way, if either one of us had to bail before finishing the ride, the other person could continue on uninterrupted.

            I did not want to drive the whole five hours from my home in West Virginia’s northern panhandle to DC and then leave a car in DC to pick up later.  Nor did I want to impose on anyone to drive me all the way there just to drive back.  I considered Amtrak but thought it was too expensive. I finally contacted friends and colleagues in West Virginia’s eastern panhandle to see if anyone might put me up the night before my ride and drive me, my bike, and gear into Georgetown the next morning. If I found anyone, I could ask a friend to drive me the four hours to the Eastern Panhandle and then drive back the same day, a much more doable drive than a ten hour drive into DC.

Terminus of the Great Allegheny Passage
            A Presbyterian Minister colleague and Pastor of The Shepherdstown Presbyterian Church put me in touch with Bob, a member of the congregation who volunteered to help me out. Through an exchange of emails Bob and I coordinated my arrival and his taking me into DC the next morning. Thanks to him the pieces of the puzzle were starting to fit together. The ride of my life seemed more and more like it was really going to happen. I was going to ride from Washington, DC to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania along the C and O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage.

           The next installment will be about my drive from home to West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, meeting Bob, and spending the night at Bob's home in Shepherdstown, WV the night before starting my ride on the C and O Canal.

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

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) 

No comments: