Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Riding the Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal: The Final Push to Pittsburgh

If you’ve ever wondered how far that bike path goes, last year, Cincinnati Cyclists Marty Sanders and Aaron Kent (AK) set out to cover 700 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal by bike.  Over the past few years, Marty has become a veteran of these rails to trails trips while Aaron, even though a long time cyclist, was new to the idea of a week-long self-supported adventure.  The story is presented in seven parts.

By Marty Sanders

Day 7 Cumberland to Pittsburgh

Other than the normal aches that come along with a 550-mile pedal session, I felt great when I woke up.  We were going to have to get off to an early start to make it to Pittsburgh by sundown.  I gave AK another hour before I sounded the trumpet at 6 a.m.

My stomach screamed.  I’ve been constantly hungry from the 2nd day of the trip.  With 140 miles ahead, I planned to destroy the Marriot buffet.  The place was busy already, virtually all cyclists.

We saw my buddy Larry having breakfast.  H told us about his previous day’s ride, a solo 25-hour ride from D.C. to Cumberland.  I put extra point on his man card for that. 

As I talked with Larry, AK got into a conversation with a few ladies sitting at a table just across the way.  They looked to be with a bicycle tour group.  I had no idea what they all were talking about, but it must have been funny as they all were laughing.  I invited Larry to ride with AK and I towards Pittsburgh.  He obliged and I passed on my phone number to call when he was packed and ready.

Even though he spun a mean tale with the ladies, AK wasn’t his normal self this morning.  He only ate fruit, yogurt, and granola while I smashed eggs, bacon, and whatever else I could stack on my plate.  I made a few trips up to the buffet, and stowed a few bagels and cream cheese for later.

Packed and ready, we waited for Larry's call and waited.  Maybe he was waiting out front.  Nope.  “Did he leave without us?” Then I realized, for some crazy reason, I gave him a phone number I hadn’t used in years.  I felt like an ass.  I searched for his number in emails, found it and called him. He was already few miles ahead of us, so we set off as well. 

We caught up with Larry a few minutes later.  He stopped to talk to the father and son team we knew from the overnight at the bunkhouse in Hancock.  Larry joined us and we joked and laughed our way up the climb to the Eastern Continental Divide stopping occasionally for photos.

It didn’t take long to reach Savage Tunnel.  After the tunnel, we hit the continental divide, parked our bikes and snapped more photos.  This was also the point where we said our goodbyes to Larry.  Even though we were riding in the same direction, our pace wasn’t the same.  If AK and I were to make Pittsburgh by dark, we had to push. 

We flew!  I glanced back and thought I saw someone drafting AK.  Was that Larry?  We rode several miles before we hit a small rest stop at an old railroad depot and I got my answer.  It wasn’t Larry, but some guy on a hybrid who had snuck into our slipstream.  As big and bulky as our bikes were, I wondered if he even had to pedal.  

Minutes later, Larry rolled up. He was going to find a post office and mail all his gear back home in order to ride to Pittsburgh with no load.  We said goodbye again.  This time, it was only the two of us.

It was sometime after lunch we rode a long stretch next to a popular rafting area.  We could see big groups of inflatables tied together as well as single canoes.  It looked like lots of fun.  A loud siren tore through the quiet of the afternoon.

An emergency vehicle rolled up behind us and passed.  I’m guessing the siren was for someone in the water who was in distress.  A few minutes later, we came up behind a truck with a flashing light and two people in the back.  We followed the truck about a mile and AK began asking questions. 

The guy flipped his boat and had to swim to shore.  He was ok, but his boat was out there somewhere.  The paramedic on the back asked us if we were racing.  We said “just the sun.  We're trying to get to Pittsburgh by dark.”  So, we did in fact pass an emergency vehicle with a patient in transit.  I felt a bit guilty, but he was ok.

We started passing groups of people heading the other way.  Then a group of ladies zipped past us and I heard one say “oh my goodness, that...” That’s all I heard, but I recognized them.  They were the ladies AK was joking with at breakfast.  They must have been on a bike tour which started with a bus ride out of town and a ride back to Cumberland.

We rolled into Ohiopyle and it was a mob scene, an unbelievable number of bicycles and canoes. We split up.  AK headed over to the same restaurant we ate at a few days ago and ordered us two more Nasty Burgers.  I went to the store for a gallon of water.  When I came out of the store, I almost had a heart attack.  My bike!  It wasn’t there.  Wait, wait…someone must have moved it.  There it is.

AK and I relaxed while we waited for our meals.  As soon as the burgers hit the table, we immediately asked for the check. Those burgers didn’t stand a chance.  With filled bellies we got back to the pedaling.  Pittsburgh by sundown would happen.

As I rolled off a bridge onto the dirt again, my rear tire felt soft.  It had been two days since I aired up my tires with a gauge.  I hit it with a CO2 cartridge and we moved on.  Lots of paintings lined the trail.  Then again, my rear tire went soft.  I wished that my tires could make up their damn minds!

We pulled over at a picnic table.  A sharp rock had worked its way through the rubber.  After riding on these tires for over two years commuting and touring on them, I only had two flats.  I’m guessing the casing of the tire was wearing out. For god sakes I thought, they only have 3500 miles on them! As I changed the flat.  AK watched the rafters unloading and floating downstream.

As we moved through small towns it was amazing the parties that were going on. Two different towns had bands playing music and people everywhere.  We passed at a giant RV party with their own security.  We wanted to stop, to party, but we had to press on.

Despite our good pace, darkness beat us.  We still had 10 miles to ride after the sun went down and switched on the headlights.  After almost 140 miles, with a 75-pound bicycle, I counted each little Pittsburgh riser as a climb.   As we rode into town in the dark, I thought to myself.  “It’s over, back to the real world.”

AK and I rolled up to the Tower where we had parked, I reached over and tagged him!  “Your it!” We had been playing “surprise bike tag” the whole trip.  I sprinted away to the lot entrance, and to the car.  AK was only a second behind. We dismounted and gave a high five.  “Great ride,” AK said.  I agreed.

The whole trip was pretty incredible.  I saw more cyclists than ever before on one trail.  AK and I passed hundreds of riders, some solo, some in groups, and some riding tandems.  The scenery was amazing at times, the whole experience unforgettable.  AK wasted no time and asked, “When we riding the Great Divide?”

Monday, January 13, 2014

Riding the Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal: The Drenching (Part 6 of 7)

If you’ve ever wondered how far that bike path goes, last year, Cincinnati Cyclists Marty Sanders and Aaron Kent (AK) set out to cover 700 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal by bike.  Over the past few years, Marty has become a veteran of these rails to trails trips while Aaron, even though a long time cyclist, was new to the idea of a week-long self-supported adventure.  The story is presented in seven parts.

By Marty Sanders

Day 6 Hancock to Cumberland 

The rain had picked up considerably and woke me early.  At times, the rat-a-tat-tat on the thin roof of the bunkhouse was at times almost deafening.  I couldn’t fall back asleep.  At 5 a.m. I read the news and checked weather on my phone. The forecast didn’t look good.  More storms were predicted after 10 a.m. and the front was coming from the direction we were headed.  I was tempted on wake up AK to get a jump on the weather, but I knew we both needed more rest.  I put my phone down and closed my eyes. 

Something made a loud noise behind the bunk.  I switched my flashlight on only to see a large mouse scurry off with some of AK's food.  I got up.  The mouse even managed to get a nuun container open. I had no coffee, but there were those three beers in the bunkhouse cooler.  Still cold, I normally wouldn’t consider drinking beer at this time of day, but figured what the hell, morning beer.  

As we started getting things in order, the father and son who had shared the bunkhouse with us were getting up.  I remember hearing the father say something like “I've slept better standing up!”

Aaron, the son and bike messenger from Philly mentioned that the Eastern Maryland Rail Trail paralleled the C&O for 20 miles and we were at the 10-mile point.  We basically had a dry, paved warm-up, if we chose.  Aaron and his father were gone before us, hoping to get to Cumberland by day’s end.  

We would soon follow, but needed coffee first.  Krispy Kreme donuts and coffee at the Speedway wasn’t exactly as awesome as I thought.  AK was feeling terrible.  Other than my hands being sore, bruised and cut from yesterday’s wreck, I was OK.  Before we headed out, we went back to the bicycle shop to thank the owner for taking care of us. We offered a tip, but he refused.  So, we bought more stuff. 

The Eastern Maryland Trail head was just outside the bicycle shop and a welcome change.  With a nice wooden rail on one, some sections cut through stone, and a vista of the C&O Canal off to the side, it was an excellent trail. 

Transitioning on to the C&O Trail was simple.  We crossed over a lock.  As we rolled onto the trail, you could tell from the standing water that the rain had come down hard the night before.   Thankfully, there was room to avoid the puddles. 

After 15 miles, we took advantage of a lock.  I leaned my bicycle up against a tree and used the port-o-let.  When I exited, AK was standing on the edge of the canal wall.  “Check out the snake,” he says.  It was thick with a diamond shaped head.  Just as I said, “That snake may be poisonous,” it dove off the wall and into the brush at the base of the wall.  Sometime after the snake we rolled past one of the campsites rest areas.  Aaron and his father had stopped for a break.  I waved and hooted at them.

The rain started to come down.  AK put on his poncho.  I wasn’t cold and knew we were going to get soaked regardless of the jackets.  Then it came down harder.  I tried to persuade AK to stop at a port-o-let for a minute to let it pass, but he wasn’t having that.  It came down in a fury for 5-10 minutes.

During the storm, I became nervous about trees falling on us.  I held AK’s wheel close.  When the storm had finally pushed through, it was still raining some, only more of a sprinkle.  We stopped briefly because AK’s poncho was too hot for him.

We were now riding on mud and crushed gravel with nearly non-stop standing water.  It was a little tricky for our slick tires.  Considering yesterday’s debacle, we erred on the side of caution. 

After 25 miles, we reached Pawpaw Tunnel.  The entrance of the tunnel requires you to ride a section of wooden walkways.  They were wet and I took it super slow to the entrance.  There were people inside the tunnel.  I turned on my light, dismounted and headed into the darkness. We passed a family.  One of the children was scared and wanted to leave.  Out of earshot AK mocked them, “Marty I wanna go home!”  I chuckled. 

On the other side, the rain picked up again.  Remembering my morning weather check, it was going to keep coming down until early evening.

After about 10 miles of riding we stumbled across Christine and Jeff, good customers where I work and super nice people.  They were on their way to a Pig Roast in Pawpaw.  They had seen some of my pictures on Facebook and knew I was out there.  Jeff joked he was waiting for me to come fix his flat tire.  It was great seeing both of them.  We posed for a picture.  They were clean.  AK and I were a muddy mess!

We stopped Cumberland and thought about our next move.  Considering we pedaled for over 25 miles in varying levels of rain and through a few inches of standing water, we wondered if we could now refer to our speed in knots?  I wished we could!  A “knot” is faster than a standard mile per hour.

We decided to pack it in and checked into the Marriott in Cumberland.  We figured we'd get a good dinner, a good night’s sleep and punch out the last 140 miles the next day.  As I walked in, the desk clerk said, “You look terrible, do you need a room?”  I smiled, gave her my card and checked in.  She mentioned there was a bike wash around the building and pointed out the breakfast buffet in the morning.  

In the time it took to get clean and changed, the storm passed.  It was going to be a nice evening, so we headed back to the pizza place we stopped at two days prior.  It was busy and happy hour. We ordered a lot of food: pizza, wings, fries, celery, salad, beer and coffee.  We relaxed while laughing about the wet ride. 

On the way back to the hotel, we ran into the statue of the Boy and Mule.  The Santa-looking gentleman we met a few days ago said it was a mandatory photo op.  I posed with the mule, while I got a shot of AK pretending to choke the boy. 

(to be continued) 

Friday, January 10, 2014

Riding the Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal: The Crash (Part 5 of 7)

If you’ve ever wondered how far that bike path goes, last year, Cincinnati Cyclists Marty Sanders and Aaron Kent (AK) set out to cover 700 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal by bike.  Over the past few years, Marty has become a veteran of these rails to trails trips while Aaron, even though a long time cyclist, was new to the idea of a week-long self-supported adventure.  The story is presented in seven parts.

By Marty Sanders

Part 5 of Seven-Day 5 Bethesda to Hancock

At 5 a.m. I woke up with that feeling of...where am I?  In pitch blackness, the comforter draped over me must have been five inches thick, and heavy.  It's almost as if the bed didn’t want to let me go.  Pinned to the mattress, it took a moment to gather my thoughts.

I crawled out of bed and started into an extra-long stretch session. It was slow.  I was sore.  I spent 30 minutes doing a few poses to loosen up my lower back, neck, and shoulders. It's amazing what a good stretch can do for an aching body.  After washing up, I felt great.

Sean was starting to make breakfast.  We all sat together at the table for breakfast, and it was a good one!  Fresh fruit smoothies, thick strips of sweet bacon, sausage, eggs and Vegemite, yup. Just like in the Men At Work “Down Under” song.  We all chatted and sipped espresso, except for AK who warmed up coffee from the prior evening.  Ick.

It was unfortunate that we had to go as Aaron’s family made us feel very welcome, but the time had come for us to start our journey back to Pittsburgh.  With hugs and goodbyes, we were rolling again.

On the trail, with ran into other bike travelers.  They had square-ish cat litter buckets as panniers.  We saw it a lot, a trend perhaps.  Some using 5-gallon buckets instead.  It seemed smart and frugal to AK and I.  At the the 12-mile marker, we passed the whiskey drinking hiker we saw the prior day.  On the outskirts of D.C., I gave him a fist pump and yelled, “Great Job!  You’re almost there.”  He smiled.  We rolled on.

You could tell it had rained.  We skirted puddles, yet made great time for the first three hours, covering 45 miles before stopping.  I told AK that it probably be a good idea to back it down a bit.  We had a long day ahead and needed to conserve energy.

BAM!  My rear tire blows out, only a mile after stopping. I wasn’t surprised.  With 3500+ miles on them, this was my first flat, so I guess I was doing ok.  It took a few minutes to repair and we got back to pedaling.  

We started hitting bigger pockets of mud, and standing water.  We were moving fast when we rolled through another puddle which had a large rut/hole at the exit of it.  My front wheel sunk in deep and stuck.  I felt a hard hit to my hands and I was ejected over the front.  AK ran into me and went down as well.  We bounced back up.  Assessing the damage, AK said, “I’m solid.”

Both my hands were bleeding.  I feared the worst, stitches.  I tore chunks of meat out of each hand.  I had a large knob on my knee, a chain ring wound on my calf and a bleeding elbow.  AK broke out the first aid.  I kept alcohol in a nuun tablet container and had an action wipe body towelette.  I cleaned out the wounds, used an antibiotic cream, bandgaged my hands and gingerly put my gloves on.

What about the bikes?  They only sustained minor rack bends.  I had to change the way I held the handlebar to compensate for the loss of skin.  The first few miles were pretty uncomfortable.  After the accident, we rode for another 10 miles before lunch.

We called ahead to the C&O Bicycle shop in Hancock to reserve a few bunks. I was a little apprehensive about making the commitment, due to the wreck and it being 80 miles away.  However, in the end, I agreed it was a good call. 

AK asked the owner if they could have some first aid supplies available.  They obliged.  Just before AK hung up, he asked if it would be any trouble to have a six-pack waiting as well.  He said no problem and that was it.  Great customer service again!  We had just ridden about 50 miles and now have committed to riding 80 more all banged up.  What we would do for a six pack. 

The Ibuprofen kicked in as AK and I got in a good rhythm.  After a few hours, we transitioned out of the mud and standing water and rolled on dry trail.  AK was riding strong.  I I sucked his wheel all afternoon.  We switched the lead when we hit the concrete path along the Potomac River.  

A bald eagle swooped down and started gliding just over top AK and I.  It tried to land on a limb that was too small and immediately dropped and glided over to another.  We guessed it was hunting.

The clouds drizzled a bit of rain on us.  Then the sun popped back out.  On and off, it became a pattern for a while.  About 20 miles after the concrete trail, we stopped in Williamsport to eat.  I took the opportunity to change bandages.  In the triangular shape of Ergon grips, my palms were bruised purple and red.  We chuckled.   

A circus of characters engaged us in conversation.  A couple stopped and questioned us about our trip.  They couldn’t believe the miles.  A homeless guy whom obviously been in the sun too long, was ranting about being hit by a car once.  A big Santa Claus-looking gentleman going into the restaurant told us we need to get our picture taken at the boy and his mule in Cumberland. Apparently it was a custom.  

The deli with the high octane coffee was closed, so AK and I stopped at a little place across the street and ate gyros which were more like steak bits in pita.  We were finally alone long enough to eat.

With 40 miles still to ride and the feeling of darkness approaching, we got a move on.  Another set of rain clouds rolled in.  It sprinkled off and on for an hour or so.  Close to Hancock, the standing water and mud was back.  We turned on the headlights.  As soon as we entered areas where the canopy wasn’t thick, the lights weren’t necessary.  On and off we went, before it flat-out started raining.  It wasn’t a hard downpour, but enough to make us uncomfortable.  Soaked, dirty and frankly, tired of the rain and mud, we hit the marker noting our the 120th mile of the day.  The end was near. 

We reached the Bicycle Shop Bunk House at mile 126.  AK unlocked the gate and we got under shelter.  A wash of relief came over me.  Our bikes and bags were filthy.  We used the bike wash as a shower. 

I unpacked dry clothes and my hammock and took a seat at a table in the bunkhouse.  I found Bactine spray and a box of band-aids, like the owner promised.  Next to it was a cooler, inside a six-pack of Pale Ale on ice.  I smiled. 

I cleaned my wounds and showered.  The shower was a shell of a port-o-let with major upgrades, like a shelf for dry clothes.  It looked a bit questionable from the outside, but once the hot water started flowing, everything changed.  I was feeling good again. 

I sat down, cracked a beer and noticed some bags and items at the far end of the bunkhouse. We would have company.  I sat and listened to the rain hit the roof.  We talked for a few minutes before a vehicle pulled up to the gate and two people clambered out. They made their way into the bunkhouse and one went directly to bed.  The other introduced himself as Aaron, a bicycle messenger from Philadelphia.  He was riding back to Pittsburgh with his father.  We chatted about bicycles for a few minutes before he turned in for the night.  

I sat alone for about an hour listening to the rain.  

(to be continued Monday 1/13)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Riding the Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal (Part 4 of 7)

If you’ve ever wondered how far that bike path goes, last year, Cincinnati Cyclists Marty Sanders and Aaron Kent (AK) set out to cover 700 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal by bike.  Over the past few years, Marty has become a veteran of these rails to trails trips while Aaron, even though a long time cyclist, was new to the idea of a week-long self-supported adventure.  The story is presented in seven parts.

By Marty Sanders

Part 4 of Seven-Day 4 Harpers Ferry to Bethesda/D.C.

The alarm went off at 5am.  I laid for an hour before getting up.  The Econolodge breakfast was typical: biscuits and gravy, waffles, sausage and eggs.  I snuck some bagels and cream cheese in my bag for a late morning snack. 

By 9am we were back to that bridge and the steps.  At the bottom, a train screamed by and was swallowed up by the mountain.  As the the final car entered the Harper’s Ferry tunnel, the noise almost instantly disappeared.

The day was going to be a long one, 120 miles to D.C.  Like the days before, we continued using the markers as reference points to stop and refuel, every 15 or so.

About 45 miles in, we decided to break out the bagels. This was AK's first meal, as his stomach had been upset after eating Econo-sausage.  

The closer we got to D.C. the more picturesque the Potomac River grew, with large rocks and rapids.  The animal life was abundant, and we were literally surrounded by beauty.

Maybe it was the waffles.  It felt as if we were fueled on adrenalin all day.  We made it to the outskirts of D.C. in no time.  With 25 miles to go, we stopped for water at a campground.  While filling our bottles, a hiker strolled in.  He said he met a group touring that had shared their whiskey with him, then passed out during a rainstorm and got soaked through.  It showed in his water logged pack.  We wished him best and moved on.

I mentioned to AK that I wanted to stop at Great Falls along the way. I’d been to Great Falls many times as a teenager, but never on the Maryland side. As we got closer to the Falls, it brought back memories of climbing the rocks and going for hikes.  The area gets a lot of tourists as the locks were very well kept.  A few have been restored and were offering boat rides. The employees wear historic attire and use a large mule to pull the boat.  At Great Falls overlook, you can see the VA on the other side.  I smiled.  With abounding vistas, it was a great part of the trail to ride. 

5 miles from the White House, we rolled into Bethesda at about 4 p.m and stopped at a bridge crossing the trail.  AK made contact with his sister whom was going to put us up for the night.  We were trying to put together the last piece of the trail to connect to her neighborhood. This is where it got fun.  We should have just rolled down to marker 1 where the Capital Crescent Trail intersects the C&O (I did not know this at the time). AK and I both thought she lived off the C&O trail.

We asked a few people for directions.  Only a few miles from her home, but it didn’t seem simple.  We spoke to a young lady who said that the bridge behind us went up into Bethesda.  With a ridiculous slope, the bridge offered a plank to roll your bicycle up.  I struggled.  It was so archaic, but considering bridges I’ve ridden in the past with missing planks or lengthwise cracks, it could’ve been worse.

After the bridge, we hit a dirt trail cut into the hillside, with switchbacks. More hike-a -bike.  We asked a guy on the climb for directions who obviously wasn’t the right guy to ask for directions.  He said to follow this path to a spiral of concrete going up to a bridge that crossed George Washington Parkway, turn right at a road, ride to a stop sign and turn left, look for a gap in the trees and you should see the Capital Crescent trail below. 

Figures he was right.  Once on the Capital trail, we rolled into the heart of Bethesda. The place had grown a bit since I'd been there last.

We rolled into AK’s sister’s driveway. It was good timing as the family rolled up behind us.  This was my first time meeting his sister Rachael, Sean, her husband and his two nieces: Claire, and Ila. They also had a newborn Patrick.  Almost immediately I picked up on Uncle Aaron's very fitting nickname: Inappropriate Uncle Aaron.  Sean offered me a beer from his beer of the month club.  I said yes and he produced two bottles of beer that had little round skulls on it.  It was very tasty!

As I cleaned the bikes, Inappropriate Uncle Aaron had a soccer match going with his niece Claire.  I went to the fridge for a 2nd beer and realized Sean had set out six beers, all different.  Fat Tire Amber would be next. As I closed the fridge, I began to read a set of House Rules they had hand written and all signed, sort of a Washington D.C. household constitution.  

At dinner, Sean and Rachael fixed little calzones. Each was filled with different things and had three different dipping sauces.  We helped clean up after dinner and went to bed.  We're halfway there.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Riding the Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal (Part 3 of 7)

If you’ve ever wondered how far that bike path goes, last year, Cincinnati Cyclists Marty Sanders and Aaron Kent (AK) set out to cover 700 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal by bike.  Over the past few years, Marty has become a veteran of these rails to trails trips while Aaron, even though a long time cyclist, was new to the idea of a week-long self-supported adventure.  The story is presented in seven parts.

By Marty Sanders

Part 3 of Seven

Day 3 Pigman’s Ferry to Harpers Ferry

The next time I opened my eyes the sun was starting to rise.  It was a very nice morning. I made my way up to the trail which was bone dry and smooth.  Perfect spot to get in my morning stretch.  It was amazing the number of deer and rabbits that we encountered. Almost fearless, as they wouldn’t move out of your way and often stayed within arm’s reach. This happened every morning.

Within a few miles of camp, we reached our first lock of the day.  They are numbered and assuming the numbers would count down to 0, we assumed there are 75 locks.  Some are grown over; others still had water flowing through.

After riding for a while we entered The PawPaw Tunnel.  Used for the canal, it also had water in it.  It was dark with a small walkway and wooden railing on one side.  I turned on the headlight.  It took me a second to get used to the confined riding conditions, all the while spooked by the 2x4 railing and the drop into the darkness that awaited the unwary.

SMASH!  I clipped the wall with my handlebar.  Everything came to a halt only 100 feet into the tunnel. Luckily, just a dab.  Even with the light, peripheral vision was limited at best.  Instead of pedaling across the tunnel’s remaining 2800 feet, I ratcheted my cranks back and forth so I could keep momentum and keep my bicycle more balanced.  It seemed like it took forever to get out and on to a wooden walkway that followed the canal through a rocky man-made path.

Before long it was back to what seemed to be our norm: ride 10-15 miles then take a break.  Campsites dotted the trail seemingly every 5-10 miles making it nice to always have somewhere to sit and lean your bicycle.  At one point AK said something about his bike making a noise.  We thought it might be his pedals.

Soon after, we arrived in Hancock, home of the C&O Bicycle Shop, located right on the trail.  I stood outside for a minute before entering and ran into a couple.  The gentleman rode a Rivendell “Bombadel.”  As a huge Tolkien fan and a lover of steel lugged frames, I commented on his bike and he seemed very pleased I could identify it without seeing the head badge.  We talked about the bike and the route ahead, getting a heads-up on some mud along our route.

I said goodbye and went in the bicycle shop where AK was looking at pedals.  We asked the owner if we could use a 12mm allen wrench to see if a crank bolt cap was tight enough.  He kindly helped; and it was indeed loose.  Noise fixed.  We purchased some bars to eat and took his card. He mentioned there was a shelter for ten dollars a night that had hot showers, but that we should call before 6 p.m. if we couldn’t get there in time.  Now that’s customer service. 

We pushed on out of Hancock.  As we made our way out of town, we started passing small groups of riders heading the opposite direction and the same.  One group was at least 20 deep.  Goofing around, I tried to get creative by saying hello to all of them personally.  It got a few smiles.  At one point, a rider asked as we were passing them, where you going?  I said Washington. DC.  AK was riding away from me at this point. So I told her to have a nice day and then sped off to catch AK.  I teased him about not being very social.

We rolled for a few hours before hitting a major climb leading up into Williamsport.  Our reward for reaching the top was The Desert Rose Cafe.  With large tables outside, it was very inviting.  We hadn’t eaten real food all day.  We both ordered some wraps and coffee and kicked back.

Within a few minutes of being seated, a woman looked around the corner.  All of a sudden AK was Mr. Social.  It was the couple we passed on the trail I had teased him about.  I walked in the deli to pay and order a to-go for us.  When I came back out they were all laughing.  AK invited them to eat with us.

Albert and Kelly had had rode the GAP and C&O before and were telling us about all the cool places along the way we missed.  We could have had pizza in Pawpaw!  After eating our wraps and veggies, it was going on 4 p.m. and we still had some miles to cover.  We said our goodbyes to our new friends and pushed on.

From Williamsport, AK set a great pace, obviously coffee induced.  We came to a concrete section of bicycle path that hung on the edge of the Potomac River shoreline with a literal drop to the water with no railing.  It went on for miles and was absolutely beautiful!  

We continued on into the dark, running headlights for about an hour before we made it to Harpers Ferry.  During this time, it seemed my headlamp was attracting every bug within three miles.  Bats swooped down in front of our faces snatching bugs. It made our night ride a little more exciting.

At the Harpers Ferry Bridge, we had to take our bikes up a 3-story spiral staircase.  Easy for your typical road bikes, but considering our bikes weighed about 75 bulky cumbersome pounds, it was not fun and kind of eerie at night. 

We rolled around in an equally dark town and found nothing, except for a mob of people standing outside a dark building listening to a man speaking.  We steered clear.  Soon we ran into some teenagers and they helped direct us to an Econolodge a mile away.  The kids also told us the pack of people were on a ghost tour of Harpers Ferry.  The eeriness kinda made sense now.

(to be continued)

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Riding the Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal (Part 2 of 7)

If you’ve ever wondered how far that bike path goes, last year, Cincinnati Cyclists Marty Sanders and Aaron Kent (AK) set out to cover 700 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal by bike.  Over the past few years, Marty has become a veteran of these rails to trails trips while Aaron, even though a long time cyclist, was new to the idea of a week-long self-supported adventure.  The story is presented in seven parts.

By Marty Sanders

(Part 2 of Seven) Click here to read Part 1

Day 2 Ohiopyle to Pigmans Ferry

It was an early morning, which isn’t too different than the norm. I decided to make my way to a camp restroom to clean up. As I approached the building, I wandered through a veritable landmine of bodies strewn across the forest floor. A large party of teenagers on a cycling trip made camp just off trail. When I say make camp, let me clarify: they had mats and sleeping bags but otherwise were just sleeping in the dirt. One kid was near a big nasty puddle on the trail. Had someone rode through in the dark he would have been soaked.

After a few cups of coffee courage, we bombed down the steep hill back to the trail with full gear.  The morning fog was still lingering over the water below.  The trail was so smooth, you could really move sometimes. AK and I were really digging the scenery as we ticked off the mile markers. We were also starting to use the mile markers more often to decide when to break, still stopping and stretching about every 15 miles.  After about 50 miles, we hit a small town that had a depot in it. We fueled with water and had a protein mix.  Then we were off to the Eastern Continental Divide.

We rolled up and over the divide, through The Big Savage Tunnel and over the Mason-Dixon Line. With a tailwind, the downhill into Cumberland was the fastest 20 miles of the entire trip.

We stopped at the Visitor center for a map, then over to the local pizzeria for a late lunch. The waitress kindly allowed me to charge up my phone as we ate a large pizza ahead of embarking down the C&O Canal trail.

We rolled out of town along the backyards of houses then paralleled a highway. Soon things got a bit quieter. The canal itself started to come alive. We started seeing herons, turtles, snakes, and many groundhogs. The canal itself had a very thick layer of algae on top of it. If you did see a turtle, it was generally covered in green.  We made our way along the canal for 20 or 30 miles before we decided to call it a day.

We camped at Pigman’s Ferry.  It had all the amenties: a water source, a porta-potty and a picnic table. We unloaded, and I was able to find two trees situated the perfect distance apart to use my hammock.  Not sure if it was the 95 miles we rode, the previous night’s sleep, or it being warmer, but I was out fast. 

(to be continued)

Dirtwire.tv Features Junior Spencer Petrov #cxnats

Monday, January 6, 2014

Riding the Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal (Part 1 of 7)

If you’ve ever wondered how far that bike path goes, last year, Cincinnati Cyclists Marty Sanders and Aaron Kent (AK) set out to cover 700 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal by bike.  Over the past few years, Marty has become a veteran of these rails to trails trips while Aaron, even though a long time cyclist, was new to the idea of a week-long self-supported adventure.  The story is presented in seven parts.

By Marty Sanders

(Part 1 of Seven)

Gather around the fire my friends.  I’ll tell you the tale of 2 bicycles, 2 friends, 2 trails, and 700 miles of riding the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (C&O). 

Both the GAP and C&O figure prominently in American history. The GAP is the end result of four different railroad lines that previously connected Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland, MD which now is one of the country’s finest rail-trails.  One hundred and fifty miles long, the trail crosses both the Mason-Dixon Line and the Eastern Continental Divide.  In addition to transporting people, I assume this route saw lots of steel moving back and forth in its day.  The C&O Canal trail follows the Potomac River into Washington, DC.  Stretching 185 miles, the canal was necessary due to the Potomac's turbulent waters and The Falls.  A towpath ran alongside for the mules to pull boats between locks. The C&O Canal Trail traces the towpath.

A few months ago, I rode a rail trail in West Virginia. It's weirdly wonderful being able to disconnect mentally from your everyday life.  The experience of the ride becomes your daily grind.  When I get back from trips like these, I want another, and another, and another. I'm hooked.

I've known about these trails since I was a kid, but it never really clicked in my head to ride one until a co-worker who has done a lot of touring mentioned it.  I went home that night and did a little research.  By the time I was done, I was determined to ride the GAP and the C&O.  A few days later, I mentioned my plan to my friend AK. He was interested, but there was a catch.  He needed a bike that could carry gear. So we stripped the parts from a bicycle I had and, after fabricating a rear rack mount so the bags wouldn’t hit his heels, AK was a proud owner of a new Surly Karate Monkey.  AK got himself a used set of panniers and a few camping items, and he was set to go.  We did a few rides of considerable distance in preparation.  With one last go-thought of our supplies and equipment the night before, it seemed like we had everything covered.

Day 1 Pittsburgh to Ohiopyle

I used the four and a half hour drive between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to read over some literature that AK had printed out for our ride. Remarkably, we decided to stop at a McDonald’s, which I can proudly say is only the third time I'd stopped at one in two years.  All have been while en-route to rail trail adventures.  Every time the same thing, they screwed up my order.

We reached the outskirts of Pittsburgh in no time.  A few miles out from the tunnel, traffic was bumper-to-bumper. During the traffic jam we had the privilege of witnessing the Honda next to us learn a harsh lesson of tailgating.  Smash!  It drove up under a big silver pickup, luckily only a fender bender.  The truck didn’t have a scratch on it, but the Honda’s whole front end was crinkled up. AK and I both laughed a little at that one.

As we rolled out of the tunnel and into town, I reminisced on the last time I had been there. I was 13 years old on a Greyhound rolling into town at night. The river was lit up by the moonlight. This time though, it was 1 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon.  The sun was bright.  The breeze cool.  Perfect riding weather!

When we reached the parking lot, I noticed a ton of cyclists: touring bikes, hybrids, kids bikes with training wheeled, some with knobbies, others with slicks, some wore Lycra, others cotton and denim.  It was almost magical.  All these people from different places and backgrounds were brought together in one place.  The only thing missing was a giant plate of mashed potatoes shaped like Devils Mountain to complete the puzzle.  Ironically, we were parked under an old water tower that resembled Devils Mountain from the Close Encounters alien movie.

After checking over the bicycles again and again, we clipped in. It was a paved path out of town and we both settled in for the long haul. We didn’t really have any particular destination for the day.  We planned to ride till we got tired, then either get a room or camp.  Mile by mile, as we rode out of town across impressive steel bridges with ramps that allowed us to cross the ever present railroad tracks, the bike traffic thinned and AK and I picked up the pace.

Ten or so miles out, the pavement became finely crushed packed stone and we could hear screams. We whizzed past a fence that seemed to be the edge of an amusement park.  I could see two giant roller coasters from the trail.  One seemed not to be in use, but with the screams of the riders, the other was. 

Once Pittsburgh was behind us, little towns dotted our route along the trail.  As we got closer, bicycle traffic would increase.  Most of these towns cater to the cyclists, offering services virtually trail side.  We rolled on.  We kept a good average of about 15mph. It doesn’t seem fast, but when your bicycle weighs 75lbs it changes things.  You've got to stay on top of the nutrition/hydration and listen to your body. We stopped about every 15 miles to stretch and take in food. This seemed to work great for us.

We stopped briefly along the way at little huts designed for camping.  Each offered a nice view and serenity.  These areas also had pumps for treated water.  Although it was supposedly safe to drink, I stuck with filtered tap water along the way.  AK, however, was content drinking the brown stuff.  We rolled for hours, passing noteable sights along the way.  A lot of people were out checking out the natural water-formed anomalies that the waterfalls caused.  Really cool stuff!  As I rode I tried to remember the ones I wanted to stop at on our return.

Later in the day, we passed into a small town where people were tubing down the river and it reminded me of the time I floated down the Gauley River in a life preserver.  This same town had art everywhere.  As an artist and professional printer himself, I’m sure AK questioned my use of the word “art,” but I enjoyed this town.

Eventually we arrived at a Ohiopyle. It was about 7:30-8 p.m. and we were hungry. The town had a nice restaurant on the path.  I also spied a small motel and camping sign. We had covered about 70 miles on our first day.  Dusk was melting into dark.  We pulled the plug.

We sat down for a dinner of “Nasty Burgers,” drank a few glasses of water and each ingested an emergency vitamin pack.  The burgers were big and had fried green tomatoes and horsey sauce on them.  Yes please!  I enjoyed a few Bell’s Oberon beers at dinner and AK loaded up on coffee.

Dark came quickly and the restaurant was closing soon.  We said our goodbyes and headed back to see if the bed and breakfast had any rooms.  We had no luck there, so we rolled down to that motel and AK went in.  I watched through the glass.   AK's expression changed and he began to run his fingers through his hair like he was deep in thought.  The place wanted $200 a room!  As Aaron walked out, they offered a 10% discount.  Even though it was getting colder and darker, we declined and turned to the campground.. 

The sign read, “Campground ½ mile.”  It turned out to be a very steep hike-a-bike that was in fact a ½ mile to the top. We set up in the dark with me in my hammock and AK using a small tent. I put on my jacket and passed out quickly. I slept solid for about 3-4 hours before I woke to a chill.  I zipped up a little tighter and managed the rest of the night. 

(to be continued)