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)

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