No Wrong Plan – Mind and Body

I have a friend who refers to my bike commute as my daily meditation. Anybody who sees me in my trance on the way to or from work knows what she is talking about. I often find myself three blocks from the office and have the “How did I get here?” feeling.

This tour took the mental aspect to an entirely new level. The gentle hum of my tires in the grit and dirt on the GAP trail as we rolled along was perfect for shutting down the monkey in my head. On the C&) towpath, we had to focus on the rocks, roots, horse poo, and irregularities in the trail, leaving no room for stressful thoughts. Even when we weren’t rolling there was the rumble of passing trains or the occasional drone of water spilling over a dam in the Potomac to put us at ease. Adding to these calming effects was the fact that, the gentle steady slope of the trails lent  to a constant level of effort. This was tiring for my legs, but meant that my respiratory rate was constant for long periods of time.

I don’t mean to imply that the three of us didn’t converse as we rode. None of us is particularly chatty by nature. The presence of Kevin and Ryan also meant that I didn’t have to occupy my mind with concerns about contingencies for shelter, mechanical problems, and the like. Moreover, the ride was virtually devoid of auto traffic. Setting aside my not-all-that close encounter with an Amtrak train in Meyersdale, the fact that we didn’t have to worry about big metal things added another factor that made this ride perfect for turning off my busy mind. Six days on two wheels felt like six months of therapy (not that I know what therapy feels like, but you get the idea).

As I just mentioned the constant level of effort could be really tiring. Riding up a gentle 0.3 degree incline with no opportunity to glide for any significant distance meant that the same exact muscles were used over and over and over again. My legs were tired from the time we got off the bikes in the evening to the time we got back on in the mornings. The funny thing was, after 15 minutes of gentle riding my legs came right back to life.

I definitely grew stronger as the ride progressed. We took a relatively easy day on the third day and it gave our bodies a chance to recharge. If I were doing this again, I might plan to alternate long/hard and short/easy days.

When I arrived home and dismounted, I felt oddly mentally and physically refreshed. My body felt a good kind of tired. I took The Mule out two days later and it felt like a racing bike without the touring load and with my legs fully recovered.

As with all five of my bike tours, I simply did not eat enough. The day after I got home my clothes were falling off me. (This was literally true in the case of my pajama bottoms the next morning. Whoops.)

I suppose the biggest testimony to my mental and physical state was simply that I was sorry the ride was over when my bike came to a stop in my backyard. My mind was clear. My body ready to wake up the next day and do it all over.

So here I am seven days later still feeling the mental and physical afterglow of six days of riding a bike in the woods. I hope it never wears off, but I know that it will. There is only one remedy:

Bike tour anyone?

Can’t Argue with the Numbers

During the day I saw online, for the umpteenth time, the statement that only about a quarter of cyclists in the DC area are female. My experience differs:

Alex, Amy, Bec, Betsy, Charmaine, Claire, Crystal, Cyndy, Elisabeth, Elizabeth, Elizabeth, Emilia, Erika, Flor, Gina, Heather, Jean, Jean, Kate, Katie, Katie, Katie Ann, Kathy, Kirsten, Kristen, Laura, Lauren, Leslie, Lesley, Linel, Lisa, Lisa, Lisa, Lorraine, Lydia,  Magen, Mary, Megan, Michelle, Nancy, Nelle, Rachel, Samantha, Shane, Reba, Veronica

That’s off the top of my head. The women I know that ride bicycles in DC. I know I am leaving several names out. I also commute daily on the Mount Vernon Trail and my sense is that the share of women riders is much higher than a quarter.

So, tonight I conducted an experiment. Starting at the Memorial Bridge I kept track of the share of female riders for 100 northbound riders.  27 were female. The percentage started out near 50 but fell erratically until it settled in the high 20s and stayed there.

I’ll try this again another day, but 100 people is a pretty big sample.

The Young and the Restless

I am back to commuting on my new lightweight Mule. The ride in was dominated by a “Wah Wah” earworm. Beyond that I don’t remember much about it. Probably this is a carry over from my six days of bike trance on the trails from Pittsburgh. (More about the mental aspect in a future post.)

I had to wait 15 minutes to leave the garage at work because it was rain was pouring down and Lynn Street in Rosslyn was a river. Impatiently I rode out in the rain. Lucky for me it stopped in about five minutes. I expected it to start up at any moment.

I rode straight home. A mile down the Mount Vernon Trail, I had to stop. Goslings were bopping about in the grass nexDSCN3980_1107t to the trail.

At the south end of Old Town a mother held her toddler boy’s hand as I rode past on the trail. He was dying to go into a big mud puddle next to him. As I was about to ride into it, he said “Puddle! Puddle!” and pointed at the water. I either upset him or gave him a big thrill.

A couple of hundred yards later on the north side beneath the Wilson Bridge, I nearly ran over a five foot long black snake. Next up, just a short ways further on the south side of the bridge, I rode past a medium sized turtle. It was about twice the size of a box turtle so I am guessing it was an immature snapper.

I was sure I was done with the critters after that. I left the trail at the stone bridge and rode a quarter mile on Alexandria Avenue. The road was wet from the rain so I focused on not slipping as I turned left onto Shenandoah Road. As I leaned into the turn, I was startled by three white tailed deer directly in my way. Two went left. One went right. I rode through the middle thankful that there weren’t any more to startle.

No Wrong Plan: Day 6 – Brunswick to Home on the C&O Canal Towpath, the Capital Crescent Trail, and the Mount Vernon Trail

Ryan was keen on staying at the Brunswick campsite because he wanted to have breakfast at Beans in the Belfry, a coffee shop in Brunswick that is very popular with the #bikeDC crowd. We broke camp after another cold night and a squirt of chamois cream we headed back into town. It was 8 a.m. Beans in the Belfry doesn’t open until 9 on weekdays. Fail.

We found another place and had coffee, croissants,and chocolate cookies. The croissant and coffee were okay but the cookies were top notch. This being Friday, we were establishing the westernmost outpost of #bikedc’s Friday Coffee Club.

It was also Bike to Work Day. The weather could not have been better. Throughout the day we checked social media to see huge crowds participating in the eveDSCN3965_1086nts of the morning. This was in sharp contrast to the poor turnout last year which coincided with a monsoon.

As we pedalled toward DC we finally started seeing some deer. We only saw a couple on the GAP Trail but they were rather burly. Deer closer to DC are smaller but fast. We were very careful once we saw one deer because deer often run in clusters. Getting run over by a stupid deer would be a lousy end to a bike tour.

After about 20 miles we stopped at Whites Ferry for some grub. All they had were snacks so we made do and got back to riding. After about an hour we met up with Ryan Heinz, a #bikedc and Friday Coffee Club friend, who was taking the work out of Bike to Work Day. We chatted for a long time. Ryan was headed for, you guessed it, Beans in the Belfry. Hope he had a good cup.

We were within 20 miles of DC and the scenery continued to be spectacular. At one point we spotted a great blue heron standing on the edge of the towpath. He was immense. As we approached he launched. Magnificent! From this point on the canal is filled with water. We saw dozens of goslings with their protective elders at their side. A duck swam across the canal with what looked like a day care center full of ducklings in pursuit. Turtles basked in the sun. It’s a critter’s life on the C&O Canal.

At Swain’s Lock we spotted Rudy Riet, another #bikedc and Friday Coffee Club friend. He had ridden out to escort us into town. The pace accelerated. Adrenaline kicked in. We cut over to the Capital Crescent Trail at Thompson’s Boat House and soon were met by Mary, The Coffeeneur! Another escort. We rolled the rest of the way on the paved CCT. At Georgetown Waterfront Park we stopped for pictures.

We made it!DSCN3979_1097

If we wanted to be anal about the whole thing we should have kept riding to the 0 milepost. Having screwed up the start in Pittsbrugh and having seen that the 0 milepost is nothing special we headed instead through Georgeton and the west end of DC to Glen’s, a market near Dupont Circle. Along the way Chris B. picked up our scent and joined the parade. Rudy led the way as we rode the streets of the city. At one intersection a driver did a right hook. Rudy was on to him and avoided being road kill. Welcome home.

Glen’s has outdoor seating, coffee, food, and cold draft beer. The perfect place for a celebration. Soon we were joined by a bunch of #bikeDC and Friday Coffee Club folks including Ed, Peter, Jacques, Brian and others.

After a couple of hours of socializing I headed home. Ed gave me an escort nearly all the way. We rode down the 15th Street cycletrack. It was incredibly crowded, mostly with people riding northbound. This was clear evidence that Bike to Work Day had been a smash.

Now that I was riding in more familiar roads and trails, The Mule felt like a bus. It was a damned good thing I had changed the brake pads on the beast or some tourists and bike commuters would have been vaporized.

I pushed the pace as hard as I could but my legs were nearly dead. South of Alexandria I stopped to show Ed some bald eagle nests. They are now almost completely obscured by tree leaves. Ken Schantz, a bike commuter stopped by to chat. He’s a bike commuter who’s daily ride is something like 70 miles roudn trip. (He uses buses to make the trip manageable.)

After Ken took off, Ed and I rolled to my neighborghood. Ed went west and I went into my backyard to dismount for the final time of the tour.

I was pooped. My final day was 73 1/2 miles.

Total mileage for the ride was about 364 miles.

I’ll take it.

Some pix of the trek are over on my Flickr page.

No Wrong Plan: Day 5 – North Mountain to Brunswick on the C&O Canal Towpath

Loudest train whistle ever.

In the middle of the night. It is cold.

Get back to sleep.

Loudest goose ever. It is still cold.

Part of our morning ritual is to put chamois cream on our butts to prevent saddle sores, chafing, and other problems down yonder. As it turns out, chamois cream takes on the temperature of the air around it.

Whoopeee!! That stuff wakes your ass (and the rest of you) right up. There is shrinkage too.

Each hiker biker site on the canal has a portapotty (also known as a green room) and a manual pump for water. The portapotties on the western part of the trail were spotless. Truly remarkable for those of us who have seen the disgusting mess at Gravelley Point on the Mount Vernon Trail.

I filled up my water bottle from the pump. The water was a bit brown but tasted fine. My first bottle came with a flavor enhancer. A spider. Ick. Kevin found one in his helmet just before he strapped it on his head this morning.

We hauled our bikes up the incline back to the trail. This was a bit of a work out but after four days of riding we were strong as oxen. We smelled like oxen too.IMG_0602

We were pedalling along without a care when Kevin called a time out. He had to stop to make a small repair: his rear rack was coming loose. It took a while and a clever tool called a Fix It Stick that Ryan had, but we finally got it squared away.

Off the trail and up the hill we rode to the coolest eatery in the Cushwa Basin, the Desert Rose Cafe. It was ten o’clock. The owners offered to cook us either breakfast or lunch. Ryan chose lunch. Kevin and I went for breakfast. I recharged my devices as we ate. (Kevin and Ryan brought battery packs which made the whole device situation a lot easier to manage.)

The Desert Rose has a funky vibe to it. It’s motto is “Serving karma by the cup.” The staff are the nicest people on the planet. Before we left Rose Harris, the co-owner, asked if we wanted to get a sandwich and chips for the trail. Great idea. I opened the menu and saw that half of the items on the lunch menu were vegetarian and several of them were vegan. There was even red beans and rice. Lordy, what happened to ‘Merica?

I ordered a veggie and cheese (needed the DSCN3928_1058protein) sammich to go. And we went.

We pedalled along for a few hours. We stopped occassionally. Ryan and Kevin seemed to be much better at hydrating than me. Maybe I just have a king sized bladder.

At one point Kevin noted that you could blindfold him and place him on the canal and he’d have no idea where he was along the route. So much is just double track through woods and flowers. Not that I am complaining. It’s just a little odd.

We stopped to eat our sammiches. Not only did Rose put a pickle spear in each of our bags, she wrote a little note of encouragement on each napkin. So thoughtful.

We pulled into Brunswick and went into town for dinner. We found a restaurant with outside seating. The tables were empty but for the owner and his wife having a smoke. Ugh. We were too hungry to explore other options. And as we soon noticed, Kevin had a flat tire. We ate a truly unispired meal, fixed the flat and headed to our campsite across the railroad tracks.

The campsite was a pay site.The charge was $5 for which we received a spot to pitch our tents (Kevin’s hammock had to sag to the ground unfiortunately), free electricity for our devices and showers. A bargain at twice the price. The only downside was the fact that Brunswick is a rail yard town. There was much whistling, rumbling, and clanging going on all day and night. Oddly the noise didn’t bother me much. I slept well after a 58 mile day.

Pix of the excursion are over on my Flickr page.

No Wrong Plan: Day 4 – Pigmans Ferry to North Mountain on the C&O Canal Towpath and the Western Maryland Rail Trail

Whippoorwill’s make an amazing alarm clock. As to peepers. And croakers. And honkers.

Okay. I’ll get up already!

Kevin reported hearing a couple of very large animals near our campsite. We initially thought it could be bears but it turned out to be cows foraging in the weeds a few yards away in the dark.

Ryan and Kevin had coffee using Kevin’s coffee gizmo. Ryan made some oatmeal. I made do with the fruit in my belly from last night. We talked a bit with Anti-Meth Man. He was incredibly organized. I suppose you have to be if everything has to fit on your back.

We rode off into the tunnel of green. I wasn’t drinking much because of my distaste for iodine and metallic well water. The fuel from the fruit was soon used up. I was running on empty looking forward to going to Bill’s Place in Little Orleans. It’s a landmark on the Canal that I have heard much about.

The first order of business though was the Paw Paw tunnel. This 3,100 foot tunnel is lined inside with bricks. It’s incredibly dark. The path is narrow and the footing is all kinds of bad. Sometimes there is washboard, sometimes puddles, a rock or two to trip over. It takes quite a while to get through to the other side. Lights are most definitely recommended.

One the eastern side there is a boardwalk that could use a little work. It gets you over some rather nasty looking rocks though.

Temperatures today were noticeably cooler than the 60s and 70s of the previous three days. We wore layers and hardly noticed.

Flowers everywhere.DSCN3912_1039

River vistas.

Bumps on the trail.

We rode on fumes and stopped at a clearing after about 30 miles. There was a building over there but we were focussed on getting to Bill’s Place. After a short rest we rode on. In 4.7 miles we stopped again at the turn off for the Western Maryland Rail Trail. A sign said Hancock 11 miles east, Little Orleans 4.7 miles west. We had missed Bill’s Place. We stopped right near it but didn’t see it for our fatigue.

We decided not to DSCN3914_1041backtrack and moved over to the paved WMRT.

Normally we would be zooming along but we were gassed. This was one of those times that you put your head down and just get it done.

We pulled into Handcock. At a bike shop Ryan topped off his rear tire. I bought some snacks and inhaled most of them. The bike shop folks gave us directions to a place with beer and burgers and we headed there for lunch.

I had been trying not to eat meat on this trip but this became futile. ‘Merica. We expected humongous burgers for some reason. We got hockey pucks. Fortunately, we threw dietary caution to the wind and ordered up some cheese fries. I find these disgusting but we needed CALORIES!!!  I ordered coffee. There I was at a bar in rural Maryland with two grimy bike riders alternating drinks between water, beer, and coffee. There are no rules on a bike tour.

The barkeep filled our water bottles and gave us directions to a produce store up the road. Apparently “produce” means junk food because there was nothing but snacks, candies, jellies and breads at this place. Kevin and I bought some Hancock produce and we headed back to the WMRT on a rocky access path.

BAM!

Ryan’s rear tire blew. We decided it was time to pull out one of his new tires and give up the old one to the bike gods. And then we rolled on.

Near Fort Frederick we cut back over to the towpath where we met a volunteer trail ranger on a Sun Tomahawk recumbent. He and I talked ‘bents and he reassured me that recumbents are a much more comfortable ride on the towpath. Yeah, well.

We were near a pay campsite but the ranger advised us of a free site not too far up the trail so we headed there. The North Mountain site was down a bumpy decline from the trail. It was nice though. We could hear the trains rolling along the tracks across the river in West Virginia but the trees dampened the sound. Or so I thought.

I ate all my junk food in one go. I would pay for this will gyrating blood sugar and reflux for the next 12 hours. Dumb.

As we went to sleep the temperature dropped into the 40s. My sleeping bag is rated to 55 degrees. I wore all the clothes. No problemo.

We slept as if we had ridden 59 miles. Which we had.

Pix are over on my Flickr site.

No Wrong Plan: Day 3 – Meyersdale to Pigmans Ferry on the GAP Trail and the C&O Canal Towpath

No trains. No birds. Just bleary eyes. We woke up and ate breakfast in Yoders. The kitchen had been fully stocked while we went out for dinner and ice cream last night. We ate our full and headed outside dreading another encounter with the Meth Man.

The first order of business today, as it was yesterday, was chain maintenance. The limestone grit covers bicycle drivetrains. If it gets wet it can solidify and freeze up gears, cause chains to skip (mine already skipped a couple of times on the way here) and derail, and incapacitate brakes. A few minutes each morning kept our machines in working order.

We climbed back up to the GAP trail. It was a three step operation. First, we rode uphill to a flat cross street. I slowed to take a picture of a beautiful victorian house that had both a tower and a wrap around porch. (I am a tower person; Mrs. Rootchopper is a wrap around porcher.)

Kevin and Ryan rode ahead and turned uphill. The hill is interrupted by train tracks then continues steeper still to the trail. As I approached the tracks I head a horn. The gate wasn’t down so I proceeded across. I looked left and spotted an Amtrak train coming round the bend. The gate came down behind me.

Pedal. Pedal.

The train gave me a little adrenaline boost which helped me get up the last bit of hill.

On we rode on a slightly damp trail. The trail was wet like a baseball infield, just damp enough to keep the dust down without making it muddy.

We continued the climb through the woods, trestle after trestle over gurgling streams. The water ran more slowly up here, I suppose indicating that we were nearing the top. To our left a freight train rumbled past. It was pulling only new black tanker cars, probably oil from fracking operations.

IMG_0578

Soon we came upon a series of photo ops. First, the Eastern Continental Divide which is marked by a small tunnel. Our climbing was over! Yess!  A map inside the tunnel showed us what we had accomplished and what was in store. A 70–ish mile gradual climb of 1,400 feet would give way to a 1,600 foot downhill run over the next 20 miles.  We took pictures celebrating our achievement and headed downhill to our next landmark, the Big Savage Tunnel. It’s long. It’s lit. It’s a hoot (and much easier than climbing the mountain on the roads). On the eastern side of the tunnel the terrain changes abruptly. The tunnel of green gives way to majestic vistas of rolling mountains with farms as far as the eye can see. We stopped and  gaped at the view. Wow!

Back on the bikes we soon reached another landmark: the Mason Dixon Line. This marks the border of Pennsylvania and Maryland. South of here slavery was once legal.

Onward we rode, now spinning freely at 18 miles per hour. If this were a paved trail, we’d have easily topped 20. Our next landmark was the Borden Tunnel. This one is shorter but rideable behind Kevin’s generator light and with Ryan’s headlamp. (My camp headlamp was useless.)

Soon we arrived at Frostburg where Ryan said the “F” word: he had a flat rear tire. Good timing. We needed a break. We decided to use a $1 bill to boot his tire (covering the hole the puncture made) even though he was carrying two new tires.

After the repair, we rode onward, downward, curving with the trail as it ran back and forth across the tracks of the excursion railroad that runs between Frostburg and Cumberland. We continued to pass westbound bike tourists, all were smiling despite the effort of their climb.

We entered a very dark tunnel, shared by the rail line. This was a bit disorienting for me and my crappy camp light. I focussed on the reflective material on Kevin’s back and concentrated on staying upright.

After a stop to admire a barn and the countryside it was located in, we came to the Bone Cave. This cave was filled with bones of ancient critters. Kevin found it fascinating.

Onward we decended through Woodcock Hollow. A ridgeline loomed to the east. Covered in green with some rocky parts for visual variety. Woodcock Hollow gives way to The Narrows where US 40, a river, a train line, our trail, and our train line all squeeze through a gap in the mountains. In a few minutes the trail became paved as it wound its way into Cumberland. We had biked the GAP!

The canal boats on the C&O were towed by mules. We stopped so that I could pose The Mule with a statue of a mule and its driver.

Next up was lunch at a cafe in the touristy part of Cumberland. The sammiches were good and the beer was cold. We had ridden 150 miles in 2 1/2 days. Once fed and watered we were ready for more.

The C&O Canal towpath has a very different character than the GAP trail. Like the GAP, it is mostly unpaved but it is much bumpier with many more tree roots and rocks. This means that riding requires much more focus on the trail and less on the scenery. As it turns out this is just fine because the scenery is constant for long stretches. The canal, usually on the left. is either filled with clear water, a stagnant swamp, a bog, or a wooded sunken tract. To the right more often than not is the Potomac River. Woods and mountains encroach on the canal, towpath, and river in various configurations. Wildflowers, purple and white, line the towpath for miles and miles. This different sort of trail results in a different meditative quality to the ride. Where the GAP lets your mind wander and lets you feast your senses on your surroundings, the C&O rewards your wandering brain with a jolt of a rock or tree root.

Focus. Pedal. Breathe.

We stopped to admire a canal lock and lockkeepers house. A solo hiker bound for DC chatted with us. He was stocky but had calves of steel. We hadn’t seen the Meth Man all day so he became the Anti-Meth Man. A solo rider heading west warned us that there was no food to be had for many miles ahead. I was happy that I kept and apple and a banana from Yoders.

At after a few more miles we spotted Pigmans Ferry campsite near a farmers field with no animals in sight. We pulled off and set up camp. A short day of only 48 miles. Ryan cooked up some mac and cheese with Velveeta. I thought it was disgusting, but it was fun to watch his cooking process. I decide to eat my remaining food rather than take the chance that a critter would find it while I slept.  Anti-Meth Man showed up and made his dinner, Thai food in a pouch. He had is act together for sure. Westbound cycle tourists, a family of three, set up camp at a distance.

The campsites on the canal have water pumps. The National Park Service treats the water with iodine. The water here had a brown tint to it. It didn’t taste all that bad, but I was reluctant to gum up my water bottles with the taste. It was useful for bathing and getting all that GAP grit off our bodies.

At sunset I looked westward across the farmer’s field. A distinct yellow haze hung in the air. Ryan had been sneezing all day. I had itchy, watery eyes (despite having taken an antihistamine). Each day I was awakening with eye boogers from all the pollen. Ick. As annoying as this was, I’ll take pollen over cold rain any day of the week.

I am not a good tent sleeper. I think I need a thicker sleeping pad. I closed my eyes and listened as frogs peeped in the woods. Birds tweeted. A train whistled in the distance. ZZZZZ.

Check out my pix on Flickr.