Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Spinning Wheels (From DC to PGH - Day 3)

Our Antietam Campsite before breaking camp
            When I woke up our third morning and stuck my head outside my, I couldn’t tell if it had rained a little overnight or if there was just heavy dew. Everything was covered in moisture and a heavy fog was lying in the nearby hay field to the north east. The Sun seemed to be in the ski somewhere behind the fog, promising a rainless morning if not day.

            Once I climbed out of the tent and headed for the tarp covered picnic table I soon discovered that I had neglected to properly put away my food the night before. While no ghosts of Antietam visited overnight, one or more hungry nocturnal creatures apparently scurried about. I lost three packs of instant oatmeal, a cliff bar, all my tortillas, and bag of GORP. They had been ripped into and were strewn over the table and on the ground. Any of their remains were beyond salvaging.  Somewhere in the vicinity was a well fed and caffeinated creature!

            Three other packs of instant oatmeal and a pack of Starbucks Via Vanilla Latte had been nibbled at but not opened and I felt safe using them. That meant I ate three packs of oatmeal for breakfast our third morning rather than the usual two. Since I was eating and drinking hot food and liquids out of the same cup, I had to wait until I finished the oatmeal before I enjoyed the latte.

            With tent flies and tarp soaking wet but the promise of the sun burning through the fog, we took our time with breakfast, cleaning, and packing up, saving the flies and tarp for last so they might dry a little.  Just before we finished loading up I popped a couple Aleve to help with my knees that were starting to feel sore after two days and nights.

            We were not on our bikes and riding until 10:30 or 11:00 AM, another late morning, and we hoped to ride over 48 miles to camp at the Jordan Junction HBC at mile 101.2. That meant that if we did not ride any faster than our previous two days we would not be arriving at our planned campsite until after 5:00 PM.

            As we rode out of the Antietam HBC, the towpath seemed a little dryer, but there were still plenty of mud puddles with standing water and muddy spots. Our early miles were fairly uneventful, unmemorable and slow. Our only problem, other than our mud induced slow pace, was pollen.

            Apparently, after the sun came out and the temperature warmed up after a couple days of cold and rain, some sort of airborne spore had recently decided to make its appearance. Vince and I were both experiencing ticklish throats and coughing.  We could see the pollen spores suspended in the air whenever rays of bright sunshine broke through the trees. At least our eyes were not burning or watering, and neither of us were sneezing or having any trouble breathing. Even though I tied a bandanna around my neck and mouth I could not keep from coughing and I wished I had brought along some throat lozenges, but I hadn’t

            Hitting the towpath so late in the morning, we stopped for lunch after a mere ten miles at the Horseshoe Bend HBC at mile 79.2. It was our first sunny and dry lunch of the trip so far and we enjoyed it. The campsite was relatively dry, flat, and with a beautiful expansive view of the Potomac. Vince gave me one of his tortillas for lunch since mine had been ravaged the night before, and we both enjoyed tuna wraps along with some GORP, dried fruit, and chocolate.

The Potomac rushing over Dam 4
            We stopped again for a photo-op break at Dam 4 where we also read the interpretative signs. The Potomac was rushing over the dam and I suspected that the recent rain had increased its volume and flow rate to well above normal. Not far downstream we could see a small powerboat entangled in the trees a few feet above the water, so apparently the river had been even higher.

            We had not seen many other cyclists, with the exception of Joel, since we left DC, but at Dam 4 we met our first bikers of the day. They were riding toward DC and told us that three sections of the towpath not far ahead of us were flooded and that they had to dismount and walk their bikes through the water. Not long after leaving Dam 4 we encountered a solo cyclist, also headed toward DC, who said that he slowly rode through the flooded sections ahead of us because the water wasn’t that deep and he could see through it to the surface below.

            Before we arrived at the flooded sections around Big Slackwater we encountered yet more mud and once again our derailleurs and pedals were clogging. Vince was also having problems again with mud clumping up between his rear wheel and fender. Our bikes desperately needed a good cleaning but I was not looking forward to cleaning them with flood water.

Danger/Caution Sign at Big Slackwater
            For the first time in three days I started feeling more normal temperatures. Whereas I was wearing just about all the foul weather cycling clothes I had to stay dry and warm when I started riding two days earlier, I was now wiping sweat from my brow and away from my eyes. I was now longer feeling wet from rain and puddle splash but from perspiration.

            Caution signs warning about Falling Rock greeted us as we approached Big Slackwater. Never having cycled the C and O before I wondered what awaited us. Maybe I would need my helmet to protect against falling rock rather than to guard against head injury if I took a spill.  The last time Vince road this section he had to detour on back roads around Big Slackwater because the new concrete sections for riding were still under construction, so he didn’t know much about what was ahead either.

            When we encountered our first flooded section, neither of us felt safe riding through it. The National Park Service powerboat that had recently passed by as it headed up stream and the cyclists that not long before had been through here had stirred up enough mud that the water was now too turbid to see through to the bottom. We estimated that it might be only six to eight inches deep, but we could not be sure.

Vince pushing through flooded section
            We dismounted and walked our bikes through floodwater that rinsed rims, shoes and sometimes a pedal.  After reaching the semi dry towpath we started riding again but twice more we had to dismount and walk through Potomac River water over the towpath rather than risk riding through water we could not see through and did not know the depth of.

            After riding a mere 31.8 miles rather than our revised plan of 48.2 miles, we decided to call it a day and camp at the Jordan Junction HBC at mile 101.2, where our original itinerary called for us to camp the night before. That meant that we were averaging only about 34 miles a day and were now almost 50 miles behind schedule after leaving DC three days ago. It was looking more and more like we would have to skip over a section of the ride if we were going to keep our reservations at the Trail Inn  at Frostburg and rendezvous with Vince’s aunt and uncle in two days at the continental divide.

            The Jordan Junction HBC was empty as we coasted in. There was a working pump, plenty of dry, grassy, ground, tall trees perfect for a clothesline; a dry picnic table setting in a relatively dry, grassy spot, and an outhouse, all nestled along the eastern bank of the Potomac with a beautiful view. I set up my tent just a little downstream but still in the campsite’s clearing.  Vince set his up in the opposite direction. I put up a clothesline between two trees next to my tent, hung up damp gear, and hoped it would dry in the day’s remaining sunshine.

            With good cell reception we were able to check the weather forecast and confirm that there was no chance of rain for the night or next couple of days. Things were looking up and we decided not to erect the tarp over the table.

Joel, me, Eli and Glenn at Jordan Junction HBC
            A little later we saw a familiar face riding into the campsite. Joel, whom I had met the first morning as we were both setting off in the rain for our first day’s ride and whom Vince and I played leapfrog with over the past three days, was also calling it a day at Jordan Junction.

            Not long after Joel arrived two more cyclists rode in, Eli and Glenn, a father-in-law/son-in-law team that had departed from Pittsburgh on Friday and who were heading toward DC. Each of us had our own tent so there were now five tents set up at Jordan Junction, all arranged in a semi-circle around the only picnic table.

            Cooking, eating and talking around the table gave Vince and me the opportunity to better get to know Joel and to become acquainted with Glenn and Eli. Vince, Joel and I told Eli and Glenn a little about what was ahead of them and they in turn told us about what was before us. We exchanged riding stories, talked about our favorite rail trails, compared notes about gear, and simply enjoyed each other’s company. It was our first real social interaction after nearly three days.

            Our third night camping along the C and O Canal Towpath was certainly our driest, warmest, and most comfortable so far. Before we retired to our respective tents, Vince and I agreed that the next day we would ride a short 23.3 miles to Hancock, the closest trail town near Interstate 68 between us and Cumberland, and there arrange for a shuttle to Frostburg where reservations for beds and showers awaited. The last thing I did before climbing into my tent for the night was to make sure all my food was securely stored in Ziploc bags and put away in a tightly closed pannier.

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

From DC to PGH - Day 2 (Eighteenth Installment)
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)
Competitiveness (Ninth Installment)
Stats (Eighth Installment)
Accidents Happen (Seventh Installment)
Pedals for Cleats (Sixth Installment)
Group vs. Solo Rides (Tenth 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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