Tuesday, August 09, 2022

Washington to Washington, Days 48-50

 Photos

Monday, July 18, 2022, Day 48: C&O Canal Towpath


Since our hotel was right on the C&O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Canal Towpath, lots of trail riders stay here. I met ten or more of them at the hotel breakfast. They were all riding towards Pittsburgh, so I asked about trail conditions ahead of me. They informed me of two detours coming up, one at the PawPaw tunnel.


Google Maps was confusing me here, as it didn’t route me on the trail the entire way. There are sections that go out onto the roads. Maybe this is to make the ride shorter, as the trail is quite circuitous. I decided to just finish out the ride on this trail, as it would be traffic-free, obviously. I did expect the mud that Lawrence and Louise warned me about, but hopefully it wouldn’t be a deal breaker.


More rain that morning had me putting off the start until after 10 a.m. I rolled out onto muddy trails, peppered with pools of water everywhere. Within two miles my shoes were completely covered in mud and after ten miles I had a layer of mud on me from the shins down, plus splattering all over my jersey. Mud all over my hands would bother me, but I didn’t really mind it all over my legs. My feet were soaked with water and mud, but they weren’t cold as the temperature was above 70 degrees. But it was such a mess that I sent Sheri a text not to ride towards me from the PawPaw tunnel, as I knew she would not like to be covered in mud.


The riding for the first twenty miles was more like mountain biking than gravel riding, complete with sections of single track riding. It was slow, muddy work and I only rode 17 miles in the first two hours. After that the trail became a bit smoother and a bit drier. I’d learn later that this section was the worst of the entire C&O, so that was good to have behind me.


After 24 miles or so, I caught up to three ladies. The front two were riding two abreast on the double track trail and the third trailed behind one of the lead riders. I didn’t have a bell on my gravel bike and didn’t call out from way back. Instead, I just eased up behind the other lead rider and said quietly, “Hello.” The lady next to me shrieked, startling the front two riders. I apologized for scaring her and it was immediately forgotten. 


The ladies singled up to let me by, but when I pulled even with the lead rider, I just matched her speed to chat. They all live in Cumberland and were riding to DC over the next few days, averaging just 45 miles or so a day. They were taking it easy and just enjoying themselves. The lead rider must have been around 45 years old. Her name was Sherry and I had to ask how she spelled it because of my wife Sheri. She responded by asking my wife’s middle name and it turned out that both her and Sheri’s middle was Lynn. She was a P.E. teacher that taught in West Virginia. The second lady was older and retired, maybe in her 60s, and the third lady was quite a bit younger, probably in her late 20s. I love seeing such a wide age range, as I have climbing partners that range from 24 years old to nearly 80 years old.


I rode with these ladies until just before PawPaw tunnel, after I’d ridden 28 miles. Sheri was on the trail waiting for me and we all stopped to chat. The ladies noticed Sheri’s tennis shirt and all three of the ladies were in a tennis group together. They mainly got into riding because Covid shut down all their other activities. Since Sheri already had plans to ride on this trail and now seeing these ladies, she was really motivated to do some riding. We modified our plan a bit and decided to cut the day short and stop in Hancock, as there was a motel there. Hancock (population 1,500) is located in the thinnest section of Maryland. Here Maryland is only 1.8 miles, north to south. So, 1.8 miles to go from Pennsylvania through Maryland to West Virginia. I wanted a motel since I was a muddy mess. I was so muddy that during my lunch break in Paw Paw, we used a pump water station and I basically showered from the knees down, including my shoes and socks, and washed off my bike. I was still soaked from the knees down, but I was a lot less muddy. 


I ate two sandwiches and we waited out 15 more minutes of rain before moving on. Sheri would drive to Hancock, book us into the hotel, and then start riding back towards me. The ladies told us about the Western Maryland Rail Trail, which is a paved bike trail that parallels the C&O. Sheri and I would hopefully meet on that trail.


Immediately after I left Sheri, I had to do the steep tunnel bypass (the PawPaw tunnel was closed due to construction). I heard from all the other riders that they just push their bike up the  0.4-mile hill and then ride down the other side. The entire bypass is about 1.4 miles and Sheri read on the website that riders should be prepared to take 90 minutes to do this. 90 minutes?! I wondered what was ahead of me.


The bypass climb was all single track and indeed it was steep, with roots across the trail that were slippery, but it wasn’t that bad and I could ride it on my gravel bike, though I was huffing and puffing, nearly at my limit. But before I did that climb, I had to cross a small 4-foot-wide wood bridge. There was a 90-degree turn to get on this bridge and I carefully negotiated that. Thinking it was cruiser now, I relaxed a bit and immediately my tires slid out from under me. The bridge had no railing on it and was only about thirty feet long, but the wood was soaked and incredibly slippery. As soon as my tires slipped, I knew it was over. I was going off the bridge and below me were lots of logs. I was only maybe four feet above them, but I knew this was going to hurt and most likely injure me. Maybe even damage my bike. In that moment, I feared I wouldn’t be able to finish the ride. I’d screwed up so badly. One moment of recklessness and now I was going to ruin my day, my ride, my entire trip. I tumbled over the edge.


And I landed in mud! I somehow missed all the logs through no agility on my part. It was pure luck. I was cringed and braced for a horrible impact and instead just sunk into ooze. I couldn’t believe my luck. I extricated myself and my bike and was surprised to have no injuries at all. The bike seemed fine as well. The only damage was having my feet and lower legs covered in mud. 


Descending the bypass, I caught up to my three lady friends. They were walking their bikes gingerly down the steep, wet, rocky double track. I stopped to chat briefly before moving on, carefully. I passed a tandem lower down that was creeping down even more carefully. Once down and back on the C&O, things smoothed out nicely and I was able to move along at 12-15 mph.


The canal was full of water and the surface varied from being completely coated in green algae to clear water. When the water was clear, I saw a lot of ducks. When the water was covered in algae, I saw turtles. During one half-mile section I saw hundreds of turtles sunning themselves on every log that protruded from the water. Previously on this ride, I’d occasionally get a glimpse of a turtle and stop to try and photograph it. But turtles have excellent eye sight and as soon as they spotted me, they’d leap off their logs and disappear beneath the water. I learned to stop early, well away from the turtle, and zoom in with my phone before trying to get closer. I mostly failed to photograph them. But now I had so many to photograph. I used my same technique and photographed a bunch before becoming overwhelmed with how many there were. To locals, turtles are like prairie dogs are to us: nothing unusual. But it’s rare to see a turtle in Colorado. I have, but there aren’t many. In this small section of the canal there are probably more turtles than in the state of Colorado. 


I got a text from Sheri that she had booked us a room and that she was riding towards me on the West Maryland Rail Trail. I wasn’t on it yet, but once I put Hancock into Google Maps as my destination, it showed me a slight jog to the north to get on that trail. It was just like the ladies had said: smooth, paved trail just above the C&O. I could now move a couple of miles per hour faster and cruised towards Sheri. I had no cell connection here, so I couldn’t inform her that I was on the trail, but we couldn’t miss each other.


I ran into Sheri about 7 miles from Hancock and she turned around and rode with me to the hotel. Once there, I got into the shower fully dressed, bike shoes and all. With my shell, which had been in my back pocket. For the next thirty minutes I tried to get all the mud off my shoes, socks, clothes, and me. I was mostly successful, though my jersey will need an industrial-strength cleaning and my socks might not be salvageable. Sheri took a shower next. She wasn’t muddy since she rode on the paved trail, but it was hot and humid and she was wet with sweat.


For dinner we went to a local chain convenience store called Sheetz, which basically is a combination gas station/convenience store/fast-food restaurant all in one. We ordered dinner off a touch screen where you can customize your food to quite an extent. We both got burgers and this was the first time I’d ever seen the option of putting fries on a burger. I’ve been doing that for twenty years, but this is the first time I’d seen it as an option when ordering. Cool. 


We ate back at the motel while we got caught up on the Tour and watched an episode of “Alone”. 


Two nights in a row in a hotel. Such decadence, but it was warranted. We should be done in two days. It’s getting pretty exciting.


Tuesday, July 19, 2022, Day 49:


Our Super 8 hotel didn’t have much of a free breakfast, so I didn’t gorge myself quite like I’ve become accustomed. I started riding a bit before 8 a.m. with the mindset that I’d likely be putting in over 100 miles today. We had at least 165 miles to reach Annapolis. Why Annapolis? Well, we started with my bike tire in the Pacific Ocean and so thought it was appropriate to end with my front tire in the Atlantic Ocean. Yes, technically, my tire will be in the Chesapeake Bay, but that’s salt water and connected to the Atlantic Ocean, so good enough for us.


Anyway, 165 miles meant that I needed to average 82.5 miles in the next two days and I wanted to be more than halfway after today. But the biggest reason was finding a place to stay. The C&O is a great trail, but it is surprisingly remote. It proved quite a challenge for Sheri to even find the trailheads adjacent to the trail where we could meet. Hotels or even campgrounds were at least ten miles off the trail. 


Always looking to chat, I pulled up alongside a rider. His name was Joseph Kannarkat (he ended up sending me a text message). He was riding from Pittsburgh to D.C., where he lives. He’d never done a long ride before but had heard about this trail and tried to recruit friends. Only Gabe would join him, though he wasn’t an experienced rider either. They were having a grand adventure. I love that spirit and I suspect they will build upon this one. They were staying at B&B’s along the route and had planned ahead. Unlike us.


I met Sheri at Williamsport at a nice park after 32 miles. I took a nice break there. Afterwards, I had to do a 3-mile detour with some significant hills. When I got back on the trail, I was directly against the Potomac River. I’d been following this river for a long time.


Next, I met Sheri at a trailhead parking lot at mile marker 64.9. I’d now done 65 miles. It was hot and buggy. Three ladies arrived and starting inflating their stand-up paddle boards. I ate and drank, but it was bugs that prompted me to move on.


I last met Sheri at the Edward’s Ferry trailhead parking. I’d ridden 97 miles to this point and knew I was going comfortably over one hundred today. Here we made our final plan. We decided on the Hilton Garden Inn in Bethesda and I plotted my route there. It was 25 miles away and I’d have to leave the trail for the last 11 miles and ride on likely busy roads.


I switched over to listening to music and just cruised along down the C&O. The trail was pretty smooth here and I moved along at a good pace. I exited the trail, following Google Maps, and got onto roads. It had been awhile since I’d ridden on roads, but I was eased into it via some quiet roads and then a bike path alongside the road. But the party ended abruptly. Not only did I have to deal with rush-hour traffic, but the road was coned and singled-lane in spots. So, no shoulder at all. 


Sheri texted me that she had checked in and gave me the room number. It was on the ninth floor. It was the first building with over four floors that we’d been in for the entire trip. We even had to pay to park. Sheri sent: ‘We aren’t in North Dakota any longer.” Indeed, we had finally hit the expected east coast density, though a lot later than I thought we would. 


Sheri had some traffic trouble herself and was happy to be in a comfy hotel, doing her exercises and watching the Track and Field World Championships. It was always reassuring to get Sheri’s text that she had secured the night’s lodging, whether a campsite or a hotel room. 


Google directed me onto the Capitol Crescent Bike Path and that took me to within a mile of the hotel. I rode city streets to the hotel and Sheri was outside waiting for me. I was tired, having ridden 122 miles that day. She ushered me into the hotel and up to our room. After a shower, I walked a quarter mile to Chipotle and Sheri went to Panera. We ate dinner in our room and watched something on TV.



Wednesday, July 20, 2022, Day 50:


The last day. Finally. We’d been looking forward to this for the last week. I waited until rush hour traffic subsided and  started around 10 a.m. I needn’t have waited that long as I was on bike paths all the way into D.C. I was taking a circuitous route to make sure I rode directly through D.C. on my way to the coast. 


While I had just fifty miles to ride, the weather was challenging. It was headed over 90 degrees and would get there less than halfway to my destination. Add in the humidity and, according to our weather app, it “felt” like 99 degrees. I do not perform well in heat. Or cold come to think of it… I’m an absolute beast if the temperature is between 64 and 68 degrees, though.


I quickly gained the Capitol Crest Trail and rode that until it dumped me onto the National Mall, ten miles away. I saw the Washington Monument from a good distance away and grew excited to be finally arriving in D.C. I snapped a few photos, but I forced myself to move on expeditiously, as Sheri would be waiting for me out at the coast and we’d be touring the city together the next day. First, I needed to finish the ride.


Why even bother going to the coast? Because I started with my back tire in the Pacific Ocean and if I wanted to claim that I rode across America, I felt I needed to go ocean to ocean, despite the name of my adventure. It was only forty miles further, which should be no problem for me, right? After all, I’d been averaging 75 miles a day. Well, it all depends on conditions and the weather and traffic for those next miles conspired to sap me. It was over 90 degrees and the humidity was brutal.


I rode through residential Washington and then onto the Martin Luther King, Jr. Highway. I was headed for Annapolis. Google directed me through a complicated route to pick up a couple of bike trails. I rode the South Shore Trail for a bit and then the Poplar Trail. Just as I got on the South Shore trail, I saw a heavier lady in front of me. She was riding a bike with panniers. I increased my speed to chat her up, but before I could make any headway, she turned the throttle on her e-bike and sped away. Those bikes are cool. I probably have one in my future.


Actually, a good part of the blame for being sapped was my own stubbornness. I only had two bottles with me and I was bone dry with ten miles to go. I decided to just press on, without stopping to take on more liquids, despite passing a convenience store. I didn’t think ten miles without water would be too hard. I was wrong. I made it, but I suffered the last few miles. I was just so dehydrated.


At the last signal, I could no longer hold my head up and it hung down as I slumped over my handlebars. Little did I know that Sheri was watching me from the corner of my next turn, into the park. If I had seen her, I’d have held my head up. The light turned green and I pedaled on and was surprised to see Sheri. She was on her bike and we rode together. 


I thought the finish was just a mile away, but it was more like three miles. That was disappointing in my weakened state, but the car was just two miles away and I had to stop there for hydration. We sat in the air-conditioned car while I recovered a bit and downed a liter of liquid. We didn’t linger that long, though, as I wanted to put this ride to bed.


We hopped on our bikes and Sheri led me down to the beach. A few people were there, none of whom spoke English. There were a couple of short, rock jetties. I posed for some photos on the beach, with my front tire in the water, and on the jetties. It felt anticlimactic, but we were both excited to have completed the project. It was time to put the bike in the car.


Over 50 days, I rode 48 of them, for a total of 3824 miles — an average of over 75 miles per day. I also climbed 115,665 vertical feet. The two days I didn’t ride weren’t for rest, but for weather: wind and rain. In addition, we hit four state highpoints along our route.


Conclusion


Did I see America? I saw a part of it. I saw farms everywhere, small family farms, mostly. I saw F*** Biden, Let’s Go Brandon, and Trump 2024 signs aplenty. I saw silos of grain and acres and acres of peas, soybeans, and corn. I saw amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesty. 


I have seen a lot more of America, but it was a thin slice. From my ride, you’d think that American was made up of mostly conservative, god-fearing farmers. While conservatives do amount for nearly half the country, only about 3% of Americans make their living farming. More than half of the US live in urban centers. So, while I’ve seen a lot, I learned much about Americans in general.


If you look at a map of all the counties in the USA and color the country red if Trump won it in 2020 and blue if Biden won it, you’ll see the US as almost entirely red, with blotches of blue, mostly concentrated on the coasts. That map is surprising and misleading, but the take away is that so much of the US is rural, even in these midwest and eastern states. I thought we’d see more pavement here but am gratified to learn that you need to get very close to the coast before you enter the megapolis. 


I did gain even more appreciation for Colorado, with views and vistas everywhere. They are so prevalent in Colorado, that we hardly notice them, but other places don’t have them. There are no vistas in the forest. Heck, even the turnout on 36, at the top of the Davidson Mesa, is a dramatic view if you are from the midwest. 


It had been a great trip, but it has just confirmed what I already knew: I’m a mountain man. Not in the sense that I’m tough and live in the cold, snowy mountains, but that I like looking at mountains and I like hiking and climbing up them, where I can see so far and get a sense of the area. In the east, it’s hard to even tell which direction is west. We have forests, but we can rise above them. We have canyons and deserts and not just open spaces but open views and skies. 


While we have space in the west, we don’t have much water. The east, especially the midwest is awash in water, which probably explains why it is the nation’s breadbasket. People have yards that are gigantic and there and no sprinkler system keeping them green. Water isn’t an issue there, like it is in the west. Yet, more and more people want to live in the west. It’s a conundrum that will plague us for decades, I imagine. At least until we can cut a canal from Lake Superior and pump it 1500 miles west and 5000 feet higher.


Drivers were almost universally nice to me, moving way to the left when they passed me. I probably had had less than ten unpleasant car interactions, with at least one being my fault. 


After visiting the memorials and museums of our nation’s capitol, we packed up the car one last time and headed west, into the night. Home to the Disneyland of Boulder, Colorado.



Afterward


Actually, we left DC at noon, but I resist stealing that line from Dada. We headed west to Backbone Mountain, Maryland’s highpoint. The summit is called Hoye Crest, in honor of a famous Marylander. My guidebook described the area as one of the wildest in the eastern states, stating that the brush can be so thick that finding the sign identifying the highest point can be difficult. It wasn’t. I think highpoints have become a lot more popular, as all the ones we visited were clearly marked with signage directing us.

We parked at a turnout in West Virginia and almost the entire hike (of only 1.1 miles) was in West Virginia. We crossed into Maryland just before reaching the summit.


After Hoye Crest, we headed south, still in West Virginia, to bag Spruce Knob, that state’s highest point. Driving US 48 through West Virginia, we were surprised to be on a nice four-lane highway. Above us, all along a ridge, towered huge windmills, all turning in the steady winds. Apparently, coal-centric West Virginia was embracing green energy.


We found a campsite very close to Seneca Rocks and erected our tent before driving another 15 miles to nearly the summit of Spruce Knob. We hiked a half mile, roundtrip, bagging this highpoint. It was cool up there and we hiked through a spruce forest (big surprise, right?). It felt alpine for the first time since we left Montana. It was great to breathe some crisp air.


Back at the campground, we went to a ranger presentation where she told us a true ghost story and we had s’mores. The next morning we hiked 4.5 miles up to the summit of Seneca Rocks. It was hot and humid. We saw some climbers approaching the crag on our way down. I was shocked that they would start so late. I’d have been going two hours earlier in an attempt to beat the heat. They are probably more habituated to this weather.


We took the climbers’ trail over to the base of the crag, but I found nothing that interesting or inspiring to climb. I’d find out later that doing the approach is not sufficient to find the goods. Others assured me that there were gems to be found.


We resumed our trip home at 9:30 a.m. First, we headed to Campbell Hill, Ohio’s highpoint, and then Hoosier High Point, Indiana’s highpoint. Both were…silly. Thankfully neither was that far out of the way. We probably spent an extra 90 minutes to bag these two. Over a 30-hour drive home, that seemed pretty cheap to me. Once she saw them, Sheri wasn’t so sure. She enjoyed the two highpoints of the previous day, but these were in another category. Just a hundred yards away from the Indiana highpoint, I was pretty sure I found a higher point in a cornfield. It was only twenty feet into the field, but this field was packed with corn plants and there was no way to get there without hurting the plants. But in this case, getting to the official highpoint was enough for me, just like in Pennsylvania. 


In total, Sheri and I bagged eight new state highpoints. That gave me 27. I’m more than halfway done. Sheri now has 18, but she is only mildly interested in these points because she doesn’t plan on ever getting Denali.


Would I do this again? No. At least not in this style. Not because it wasn’t worthwhile, but because it wasn’t a pure journey of discovery. To really know places, you have to spend more time there. I didn’t tour around towns enough, as I was tired from my riding. I experienced these places by riding through them. While much slower than driving by on a highway, it still wasn’t slow enough. 


I was extremely lucky to have Sheri with me for this trip, but I think it was too heavy a burden for her to do again. Nor would I want her to do it again. But it has turned me on to the idea of supported bike touring. Now, I just want to ride with Sheri and have a tour company support us. And to move through a smaller area at an even slower pace. I see the appeal of Ride the Rockies. Touring around one state seems to be a perfect size for a bike adventure. Or a smaller country. The United States is huge. 


So, what’s next? We are thinking about supported hiking tours in Europe. Like the Tour de Mt. Blanc or the Alta Via routes in the Dolomites. Back into the mountains, with their endless vistas.

Monday, July 18, 2022

Washington to Washington, Days 41-47

 Photos

Monday, July 11, 2022, Day 41:


The hotel had a nice breakfast spread and I ate too much, as usual. I watched and read the news while eating. Sheri came for a quick bite before heading to the fitness room for a stint on the elliptical. 


Today was pretty tough because of strong headwinds and crosswinds. The first 30 miles weren’t too bad as I was fresh and the Saginaw Rails-to-Trails path had lots of trees to shield me from the wind. The next 24 miles were brutal but I just put my head down, downshifted, and turned the pedals. I was on a road with little shoulder and too many cars. Eventually, I rolled into a park and found Sheri sitting in the car. Rain was coming. We took a 90-minute break to wait out the rain. We ate, chatted, and read our books. 


The final 24 miles were still rough, but the roads were better and almost deserted of traffic. The last 11 miles were all on dirt, farm roads, but the surface was good and no issue. 


Sheri found us a campground, but our site was near an algae-covered frog pond. Just as I arrived, a family with three kids headed right passed us to the lake. All carried small nets at the end of small poles. It wasn’t but a few minutes before they’d caught their first frog. They didn’t do anything with the frogs besides look at them and hold them for a bit. Then they let them go.


After dinner we watched an episode of “Alone” and I contrasted their starvation with my gluttony. I’d have trouble making it through a day on “Alone.” Donut-less and without Sheri?! I’d tap out immediately.


Then we watched the fireflies light up. I used to catch these in jars when I was a kid and visiting grandparents in Illinois. I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in Colorado.


Tuesday, July 12, 2022, Day 42:


Thunderous rain pelted our fly and lightning raged across the sky around midnight. I was glad to be snug and dry inside our tent. We’d anticipated the storm and had most things stowed in the car. This was wise, as everything out was soaked, and puddles ruled the roads.

Today, we needed to get the oil changed in Jeepy and see if REI had my road bike parts and could fix my crank and shifter. The plan was for Sheri to head directly to the Jeep dealership and I’d meet her there, switch from my gravel bike to the road bike and ride to REI. Then we’d meet up for a lazy, late breakfast and hope that both stops would be successful.


It’s been great but we are both ready for a new state. Pretty nice riding today with the exception of the time in Ann Arbor. But it was well spent as the REI shop had the part and replaced my crank and got my shifter working again.


Rode the gravel bike for the first 36 miles and then the road bike for the last 44 miles. We had to do an extra 9 miles when our first campground was a bust.


We continued to a KOA campground, expecting a bit more of a carnival atmosphere and were not disappointed. This campground had lots of kids and lots of places for them to play: multiple playgrounds, a soccer field, volleyball, basketball, a game room, a lake for swimming and a lake for fishing and paddleboats. It even had one of those giant, enclosed-tube slides that you see at water parks. None of this cost anything extra. This would have been a great place to go with a group of kids. It wasn’t bad for us either, as our site was well away from the action and even any other campers. Pure tent campers seem to be rare these days. I even took a dip in the lake. The lake was small and therefore not very cold. It was quite refreshing.


Wednesday, July 13, 2022, Day 43: Oh, Hi, Ohio


Riding through Toledo was the first real urban area I’d seen since a brief stretch in Seattle. It was gritty, with bumpy, poorly maintained roads, but it was interesting and the traffic wasn’t too bad and was giving me good space. I got on a bike path here, but it was short lived.


On the other side of Toledo I rode a two-lane highway, which wasn’t great, but the further I got out of town the less traffic I saw. Sheri ran into some traffic issues, so she was behind me and was going to be a bit late to our first planned meeting. I stopped and searched for a coffee place and found one right on my route: Ignite Coffee. I went there, ordered a coffee and hung out waiting for Sheri. When she arrived I had first lunch.


I rode on a great paved bike path. After 57 miles I met Sheri in a park and she brought me an Arby’s sandwich and some fries. It really hit the spot. 


The trail turned to dirt, but it was firm and no problem, though more exposed to sun and I got a bit warm.


Sheri got us a site at the exact polar opposite of the KOA the night before. Then she rode back towards me, reaching me 3.6 miles from camp. We rode together back to camp and then Sheri rode eastward, on the trail, a bit further until the threat of rain convinced her to turn back. She arrived at the campsite about five minutes before it started to rain.


So, our campground. Here’s what I think happened. This lady, young for a great grandmother, has a couple of acres of land. She maybe did something with it in her younger years but then nothing. At least until the new bike trail went right by her land. She thinks, “I’ll start a campground for all the cyclists coming by!” A campground is way easier than a motel, as there is hardly anything to build. But campers expect some things, like a bathroom, which will have to be cleaned and maintained (actually, we found a number of campgrounds where the managers seem to think this wasn’t necessary). “No problem,” she thinks, “I’ll just get a Port-o-Potty and the company will be responsible for managing it." Cyclists also like to shower. That’s a tougher nut to crack, but she has a great idea to just put a shower head on the outside of an existing maintenance shed. She had a little fence build around it, puts down some gravel and flagstone. Voila! Instant shower with absolutely nothing to clean!


Showering outside sounds great. I love it. But there is just one problem with it. What if you want to shower when it’s raining? What do you do after you turn off the shower? She built no roof or even an overhang around the shower. Do you dry with your towel, now wet from the rain, and put on your wet clothes? Yes. Yes, I did. It kept my shower short, which was not a plus.


Since it was raining, we decided to go into town, ten miles away. It beat sitting in the car or the tent. I searched for a coffee shop where we could hang out and found: Sheri’s Coffee Shop. It was even spelled right. We had to visit even though it was closing soon. We had a vanilla latte and I asked where was a good place to eat. The barista mentioned Bob Evans. I asked, “What’s that? Who’s that?” He smiled at me like I was a turnip that just fell off the truck (isn’t that an expression used around here? Somewhere? Sometime?). I quickly said, “I’m not from around here.” 


“I gathered that,” he said. “It’s comfort food.”


That sounded good to me, but I didn’t want a fast food restaurant. I wanted a place to hang out a bit. I asked, “Do you order standing up or sitting down at this restaurant?” He answered “sitting down,” and we headed there. It was great. Fast, friendly service with reasonable prices and good, “comfort” food. Sheri got a salad and I had roasted chicken, corn, and mashed potatoes. Yum.



Thursday, July 14, 2022, Day 44:


I rolled out the next morning and rode the trail until it ended on quiet country roads. After 14 miles, I turned east onto a quiet 2-lane highway and saw a sign that said nine miles to Lagrange. I immediately thought, “I bet they have a lot of nice girls there.” I hadn’t been listening to anything, but now I couldn’t resist. I found the Texas trio, dialed up the song, and cranked it. Life is good.


I met Sheri first at LaGrange park. Then we met again at a baseball field near Bath, and then another meetup at a high school near Stow. It is always great to see Sheri so often, as it breaks up my ride and gives me something to look forward to. With such frequent breaks, it doesn’t seem like I’m riding that far. I rode lots of great trails and paths.


When I wasn’t on the trails, I was on quiet roads, going by small-town America. In the last few days I feel that 50% of the time I’m riding by houses. Lots of these little towns have great, huge, well-maintained parks.


Super nice, though very large, campground at West Branch State Park Campground. Our site was huge and completely isolated from adjacent sites. The only other site we could see was across our road. We had nice grass all around our asphalt parking spot and all of that surrounded by dense woods. Nearby was a nice shower and fresh water nearly at our site. 


The only drawback was no wifi and limited cell connection, though it was sufficient for me to do my research for my Camera piece, which was due the next morning. I felt really tired for some reason and I lay down in the tent to do my research.


Sheri did a load of laundry, which was a pain in the butt due to a broken washer (thank you, Sheri!), and then she went for a run/hike around the campground and the lake.


I had great weather today. In 44 days in this trip (so far) we’ve had just three days above 80 degrees and zero days above 90. I feel very lucky about that.


We are counting the days now before we finish. We are under 400 miles and will be there in less than a week. It’s been a great journey but also a long one. We’re ready to finish it off, see D.C. and head for home.



Friday, July 15, 2022, Day 45: West Virginia, Mountain Mama


Take me home, country roads. That’s what I was thinking. I miss John Denver. Brilliant songwriter. 


West Virginia is the second fattest state in the nation. We noticed. It’s also the least flat state, meaning the most mountainous. I’m not sure how that is measured, but my buddy David The Sometimes Swiss assures me this is true. I guess it is appropriate that the University of West Virginia mascot is The Mountaineers. The Mountaineers, which may sound hilarious to us Coloradans, but the steepest roads of this entire ride were in this state. 


Rode backroads and bike paths for the first 44 miles. Then we took a 90-minute break in Lisbon— a cute, little town. We were at the small park in the town quad. It would have been perfect if not for all the big trucks running through the center of the town. They need a truck bypass. We also finished my bi-weekly piece for the Daily Camera.


I then rode 20 miles to Chester, West Virginia for another break. I went across a cool, ancient, suspension bridge.


The last 14 miles were adventurous. Constant hills and I even continued on through a closed section of the highway that was barricaded to cars in multiple places.


I finished with a very steep one-mile climb to the campground in…Pennsylvania!


Today was a good test. I wasn’t sure I’d even be able to climb a proper hill on a bike after 3500 miles of relative flats, but today, climb I did. True, my pace was glacial, but I did make it up without walking. The hills weren’t long, but some were extremely steep.


Saturday, July 16, 2022, Day 46:


This morning the Atlantic Ocean was 335 miles away. We figured it could be done in four days of riding, so that was the plan. Sheri found us another campground about 80 miles away. The impediment was the rain, which started around 7 a.m. I decided to wait a couple of hours to let the storm mainly pass us by. I didn’t start rolling until 9:30 a.m.


The route ahead looked very hilly. It was going to be up and down all day, much like the previous day, only even hillier. That was fine with me, though it would slow my pace quite a bit. I just needed to chip away at the miles a little bit at a time.


I picked up the Montour Trail outside of Pittsburgh and rode that until it dumped me onto streets. I followed signs to the Three Rivers Trail but found that to be just a wide shoulder along an industrial road with lots of debris. It wasn’t very pleasant.


Sheri picked out a park that we thought was along my route and it was close, but 300 feet above my route! It provides an incredible view of downtown Pittsburgh but proved quite the grunt to get up there. This was after 34 miles and I took a break here to eat first lunch.


After a rest, I rode back down the hill and through some industrial areas to get onto the Great Allegheny Passage (aka the GAP trail). I was riding right along the Monongahela River now. This is one of the “Three Rivers.” The Monongahela and the Allegheny River join to form the Ohio River. This path was really nice with lots of views along the way. It passed by some restaurants and had lots of signs describing the steel-producing history of Pittsburgh (the football team isn’t called the Steelers for nothing). With my late start, I wasn’t able to stop and read all these signs. That hurt, as I like doing this a lot, but I had a long way to go.


I should have stayed on this trail and I’m not even sure where it continued when I left it, but I was blindly following Google’s route to D.C. I met Sheri in Irwin City Park and I was drained. The road surface was so bad and the two-lane, shoulder-less road had tons of traffic. The road had the look of it that you’d expect little traffic…except there was tons of traffic. Maybe there is just so many people out here and all of them had places to go and people to see. It was Saturday, after all.


Sheri suggested some alternative stopping locations, including right in Irwin. Physically, I felt fine and we decided to continue to New Stanton, only ten miles away. From there it would be just 17 more miles to our planned destination in Donegal, at a campground.


The riding to New Stanton went fine. The road surface got a lot better, a small shoulder appeared and the traffic seemed less. I just had a quick drink here and continued on. What was in front of me was the biggest, steepest hill of the entire ride. I was in my lowest gear, spinning away on a shoulder with lots of gravel, going up a relentless hill on a four-lane highway. This hill was considerably steeper than Flagstaff. Not Super-Flag steep, mind you, but really steep. It wasn’t as twisty as Flagstaff, but it was probably the steepest hill I’ve ever seen with a four-lane highway going up it. I suffered. I nearly had to stop and I never stop while climbing a hill.


I got to camp about 5:30 p.m. I’d ridden 85 miles and just under 5000 vertical feet — the most climbing of any day of the trip. I wasn’t wasted, but I was beat. I drank a chocolate milk and had some meat and cheese, and then took a shower. It was nearly 7 p.m. when I started dinner, which was just canned Spaghetti O’s. That might turn some people’s stomachs, but at the time, it tasted great and took little effort to make. I just heated it on my stove.


After dinner, Sheri went for her usual exploratory walk. I just rested. The campground manager, Dan, came by to get us registered and to collect payment. He’d been out riding on the GAP trail when we checked in. A super nice guy, he gave me some good information on the best way to get back on the GAP trail. He even drove back up to our site later with a couple of maps for the trail. 


I should have stayed on this trail from Pittsburgh, but I didn’t know about it and Google routed me this direction. I just didn’t do enough research. Our route will end up being nearly 3800 miles and I just got route fatigue, falling back on Google to create my route. Oh well. My laziness caused me to partially miss out on the best route. That’s okay. Especially since I can’t change the past.

We think we could finish in three days, though it might be four if weather continues to be an issue.


Sunday, July 17, 2022, Day 47:


The rain started before 6 a.m. and was a downpour by 6:15. I got soaked making the coffee, but it was delivered to my sweetie in the tent on schedule. I hung out in the car, waiting out the rain for the second consecutive morning. The weather and roads were conspiring to make this a tough finish for me.


To get the most of the trail I’d ride to Ohiopyle (that’s a funny name), but it would then take me 62 miles to get to Meyersdale instead of 35 going the direct way. I decided to compromise and head for Rockwood, 25 miles away. I’d get on the GAP there and ride it for 13 miles to Meyersdale, where I’d meet Sheri.


The highest point in Pennsylvania is Mt. Davis and it was only 10 miles off our route, so we did a little side trip to bag it. This was another highpoint that we could practically drive to, so we did. We met at a gas station in Meyersdale and I put the road bike in the car for the ten-mile drive to the trailhead, eating lunch on the way.


We ended up hiking about three miles to get to the high point, climb the tower on the summit, and then try to get to the LiDAR high point that Homie had told me about. We hiked up a gravel road to get within a hundred meters or so, but the forest was impenetrable. We turned back.


We drove back to Meyersdale and spent some time in the historical museum at the trailhead. We walked through a caboose and viewed three running model train setups. One was the Lionel-gauge railroad that my dad had and one was HO-scale — the size that I had as a kid. It really brought me back to those times of playing with model trains. I then kitted up and got back on the bike. I had 32 miles left to ride on the GAP trail to Cumberland. The weather forecast did not look great. I was hoping to make it before the rain started, but I carried my rain shell.


I was feeling a bit tired and just soft pedaled, listening to my lectures on science fiction and on how to write fiction. I’m not sure I will ever write fiction, but if I do, I’ll have been trained up. Heck, some people view my trip reports as fictional, so maybe this course will help me polish them up a bit.


I caught up to a couple riding with panniers and I chatted them up. Lawrence and Louise, who were biking to Washington D.C. from Pittsburgh. We were on the GAP now, but the trail changed to the C&O Canal Towpath at Cumberland (where George Washington took control of the then British regiment fighting the native Americans). They told me that the C&O is a lot rougher, muddier, and grassier. Clearly, this wasn’t their first time riding this trail. They enjoyed it so much that they came back to do it again. The C&O becomes single track for sections. Lawrence asked if I had fenders with me because, if I did not, I’d get covered in mud. Oh well. Muddy I will be.


I pedaled on at a bit faster pace and a few miles later the rain started. I still had 25 miles to go. I pulled on my rain shell and continued. At first it was light rain and no big deal, but it steadily built to a downpour. I was gaining on a rider in front of me and I caught him in a long tunnel. We stopped at the far side to wait out the rain. It was raining so hard that I knew it couldn’t last at that intensity.


Chad lived in Frostburg, the next town on the trail and only three miles ahead. Chad was 82 years old and still skied and rode his bike regularly. In fact, he was still working for the state, helping seniors to re-enter the work force. He’s been widowed for 15 years. He said that he used to look forward to the weekends to spend time with his wife, but now he looks forward to Monday so that he gets to go to work and interact with others. He’s not lonely, though, as his daughter and son live nearby.


When the rain came nearly to a stop, we continued on. He told me about the steam locomotive that runs from Frostburg to Cumberland on the weekends. It is supposedly the biggest steam locomotive east of the Mississippi. He told me about George Washington and his activity in fighting the Native Americans out of Cumberland. At Frostburg, we shook hands and said goodbye. I had 16 miles left to ride.


It wasn’t long before the rain started again for me. I picked up the pace to limit my time in it, but soon it was raining as hard as ever. Despite my shell, I got soaked to the skin. I couldn’t have been wetter if I had jumped into a pool. With eight miles to go I entered another tunnel and stopped at the far side to wait out the worst of it, yet again. I texted with Sheri here and she told me that it was raining hard in Cumberland as well. 


It wasn’t cold out, but standing in the dark tunnel, soaking wet, wasn’t comfortable. When the rain eased just a bit, I decided to just ride on. I couldn’t get any wetter and the sooner I got to Cumberland, where Sheri had checked into a hotel, the sooner I’d get into that hot shower. So, I pushed on into the rain.


It was actually sort of fun, riding in such a deluge. I put on some tunes to pump myself up and started really moving. The path ran right next to the little-used tracks and would occasionally cross to the other side. At each crossing I took care not to slip and fall over. As long as I kept the rubber side down, the riding was fun. I even shot some photos and videos while riding.


I found the hotel, the Fairfield, directly adjacent to the trail, and entered the lobby, soaked, with my soaked dirt bike. The clerk at the desk didn’t bat an eye and just asked, “How are you?” I said, “I’m soaked.”


Sheri met me at the room (she had been in the workout room), and I proceeded to strip off my cold, wet clothing and jump into a hot shower. It felt so good. Sheri started some laundry, as both of my kits were now dirty. Then she went and got us some pizza and a salad for dinner. We ended the day by talking to my dad and then with Derek, before finishing an episode of “Alone.”