Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Spinning Wheels (From DC to PGH – Day 10)

Packed up and ready to ride
            Sometime during the night I realized that my inflatable sleeping had a small leak because I woke up feeling my shoulders and butt pressing against the cold ground. I added more air so I could comfortably sleep and repeated the above steps two or three more times during the night.

            As I emerged from my sleeping bag and tent around six in the morning, I realized that this was the first time in over nine years that I had camped alone. I often cycle and hike alone but had not camped alone overnight since an overnight backpacking trip in the West Virginia Dolly Sods Wilderness in June of 2007. I had not camped alone while on a cycling trip in over forty years.

            I knew before leaving on this trip that my stove’s gas canister was almost empty but decided not to carry a second canister because I knew that running out of fuel might be an inconvenience but, in the warmth of early August, would not be a safety issue. It turned out that I had enough fuel to boil water for last night’s dinner and this morning’s oatmeal but ran out while boiling water for a cup of coffee. So as not to go without my morning cup of Joe, I used a heat tab from my emergency supply to finish heating a cup of water to boiling for coffee.

Outside the Cumberland Trail Connection
            I was cycling again by 7:45 AM and rolled into Cumberland about an hour and fifteen minutes later.  I stopped at the Cumberland Trail Connection where I purchased a few souvenir decals and an ice cold bottle of Snapple Iced Tea. Then I rode over to the National Park Service visitor center where I washed my hands and face in the restroom, filled up both of my water bottles with cold water from the water fountain, and bought a souvenir pin, patch, and hiking staff medallion. While cycling around the area I snapped some photos, including picture of the iconic brass sidewalk inlay marking the beginning of the Great Allegheny Passage.

The iconic GAP inlay
            As I rode out of Cumberland and reached the section of the Great Allegheny Passage that more or less parallels the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, I started gaining the elevation I had dreaded. As I stopped for rest breaks at milepost 5 and 11, I was glad I was riding in the cooler morning before the real August heat and humidity of the afternoon set in.

            Not long after my mile 11 rest stop, I passed three cyclists off to the side of the trail, one of them fixing a flat. As I rode by I asked them if they needed anything. They said they did not, so I didn’t stop. In less than half a mile, however, I realized that my rear tire going flat. I surmised that there must have been some sharp debris on the trail that cause both me and the other cyclist to experience a flat within the same half mile section of trail.   Since I was about only five miles from the end of my ride, however, I decided to pump the tire up with air using my frame pump and try to finish the ride without stopping to patch the flat.

            After another mile or so I again noticed that my rear tire was going flat. Still not wanting to stop to repair a flat so close to the end of my trip, I peddled on to the Frostburg trail head where I used the repair station pump to bring my rear tire up to 80 psi and then headed up the switchback leading to the Trail Inn and town. While I still had to get up to the trail Inn, arrange for a shuttle back to Cumberland, and drive home, I now felt like my ride was complete. I had finally cycled the entire route from Washington, DC to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I had not accomplished the feat in one trip, but I had accomplished it!

            The last eleven miles so had not been the most scenic. Looking back, they were probably some of most boring miles between Washington and Pittsburg. There were few scenic overlooks, little history, and with the Scenic Railroad right next to the trail, I did not feel like I was out in the wild like I had on many other sections of the Towpath and GAP.

            While I had dreaded encountering the elevation gain between Cumberland and Frostburg, I had managed to cycle the distance without shifting into my granny gear. In fact, the ride from Cumberland to Frostburg had not seemed as grueling as the shorter ride from Frostburg to Cumberland that Vince and I had cycled over two months earlier.

            The short switchback connector trail from the Frostburg trailhead up to the Trail Inn was another story. Not only did the steep serpentine trail force me into my lowest gear, but so did the sharp turns. Even if I had been able to ride faster in a higher gear I probably would not have been able to make the several turns if I had been cycling any faster. I remember that when Vince and I descended this path from the Trail Inn down to the trailhead that we had to brake to near stopping in order to negotiate the tight 180’s.

            After huffing and puffing up the Trail Inn, I parked my bike in from of the Inn a few minutes before noon. I had just cycled between 75-76 miles in less than 24 hours! Even though I had been out for only 24 hours, I was sweaty and dirty and looked forward to a shower, followed by lunch accompanied by a cold beer.

My last lunch of the trip
            I saw the owner, John, and asked if I could get a shuttle back to Cumberland after a shower and some lunch. He said yes but that it would be at least an hour to an hour and a half before he could drive me. I had no problem with the wait and figured it would give me the time I needed to clean up and eat.

            I locked up my bike and climbed the stairs and ramp to the shower house. After a refreshing and cleansing shower, I changed into clean clothes and headed back down to the café where I enjoyed a pulled pork sandwich with fries and two cold Coors Light. I wasn’t planning to cycling any more that day and it would be at least another hour or two before I would be driving home from Cumberland, so two ice cold beers were not going to affect my cycling or my driving.

            Not long after I finished eating, John was ready to shuttle me to Cumberland. When I went to put my bike on the van’s bike rack I saw that the rear tire was now as flat as a pancake. “I guess one cannot ride from DC to Pittsburgh without experiencing at least one flat,” I thought. Perhaps I should have been thankful that I experienced only one flat, and that that flat was so near the end of the trip that I could wait until I arrived back home to repair it. After all, I have read that some cyclists experienced as many as three flats while riding from DC to Pittsburgh.

A muddy bike after over 75 miles
in just under 24 hours
            I do not know if the ride from DC to Pittsburg will be the ride of my life or not since I might undertake and experience similar bike camping trips in future years. I imagine that someday I will make the same journey, but next time starting from Pittsburg and ending up in DC. There are also many other rail trails to explore, so who knows. The future is full of possibilities. Until then, the ride from DC to Pittsburgh has been the ride of my life, at least for the time being.

            I am glad I took Vince up on his offer to join him on his ride from DC to Pittsburgh back in May. I think we made good cycling companions in spite of the difference in our ages. We were nearly equal in cycling and camping experience and abilities.  What Vince brought to our May trip, and what I had missed on this two day overnight solo trip, was Vince’s knowledge of local railroading history. All through our May ride, but especially along the GAP portion of our ride, Vince offered historical tidbits about the former railroad lines we were riding on, railroad lines we were paralleling, and the many rail road related structures we passed. I had missed hearing about that history on this trip.

            Once back home I sewed a C and O Canal patch and a Great Allegheny Passage patch onto the side of one of my rear panniers, a reminder of what I had experience and accomplished. I still wanted to purchase a GAP riding jersey to also commemorate the trip.

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

From DC to PGH - Day 9 (26th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 8 (25th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 7 (24th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 6 (23rd Installment)
My First Tour the Montour (22nd Installment)

From DC to PGH - Day 5 (21st Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 4 (20th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 3 (19th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 2 (18th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 1 (17th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 0 (16th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Prologue (15th Installment)
Transitioning (14th Installment)
Flats (13 Installment)
Beware Dehydration (12 Installment)
Creams & Powders for your Butt (11th Installment)
Group vs. Solo Rides (10th Installment)
Competitiveness (9th Installment)
Stats (8th Installment)
Accidents Happen (7th Installment)
Pedals for Cleats (6th Installment)
Riding Shoes with Cleats (5th Installment)
Be Kind to Your Behind (4th Installment)
Combating Hand and Arm Numbness (3rd Installment)
Reading and Riding (2nd Installment)
Group vs. Solo Rides (10th Installment)
Competitiveness (9th Installment)
Stats (8th Installment)
Accidents Happen (7th Installment)
Pedals for Cleats (6th Installment)
Riding Shoes with Cleats (5th Installment)
Be Kind to Your Behind (4th Installment)
Combating Hand and Arm Numbness 
Reading and Riding (2nd Installment)
Starting Over (1st Installment)

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