Any Road Tour: Day 3 – Critters and Mud

After a perfectly inadequate Motel 6 free breakfast (worth every penny) I rolled to a gas station to buy some snacks and backup water for today’s trek. The goal was Hancock to Cumberland, the western end of the C&O Canal.

The first 12 miles were on the Western Maryland Rail Trail. Clipping along at 12 miles per hour in the cool of the Mountain morning. Wheee!

I saw deer and bunnies in abundance. Then I was startled to see a possum run across the trail in front of me. She had a baby possum on her back. Cool!

I came to a construction zone. They are extending the rail trail. I can’t wait to ride it. I cut over yo the towpath. The towpath is bumpy going on a good day but intermittent patches of mud made the next 48 miles really difficult. For the most part the mud was not deep enough to grab my front wheel. I think having loaded front panniers down low helped stabilize the bike.

Deer and bunnies and squirrels and turtles and bull frogs and snakes (including a long light brown one) and exotic sounding invisible creatures made for entertaining companions. I came upon a family of geese with several pre-fledging goslings. One of the adults rushed strait at me with its mouth open, flapping its wings. Okay, okay. Just passing through, dude. Chill already.

I stopped at Fifteen Mike campground and talked to a camper as bugs swarmed around us. He was quite a chatterbox. 70 years old but he looked far fitter than me. He advised me that mud was in my future.

He told me how to find Bill’s Place, a canal landmark that I’ve never seen before. Unfortunately it was closed so I’ll just have to ride back to check it out someday.

I talked with a group of seniors who were being dropped off to ride the canal. 0ne was on an e-bike. I paid it forward by giving them info on the towpath section I had just ridden.

I took a bio break. You can tell you are near DC when you find a book about French history in a porta potty.

As I approached the Paw Paw tunnel the mud became a quagmire. I was lucky that the edge of the towpath was covered in a carpet of leaves, perfect for walking my bike through the muck.

The tunnel has a very rough trail surface. I walked it and was glad I did. It seemed to take hours with my claustrophobia increasing with each step.

I think the prettiest section of the canal is west of the tunnel.

They told me of a cafeteria in a closed school in a place called Oldtown. I stopped there for lunch before slogging on through more and more mud.

Miles and miles of the stuff was wearing my old ass out. Each time I hit a muddy spot I’d tense up and my back would ache as it tried to keep the rubber side down. I considered taking a nearby road just to get out of the stuff. I was stopping every ten minutes to clear mud from under my fenders.

I arrived in Cumberland and a passerby took my picture.

I really should pull my pants up higher for the full geezer in a bike look, don’t you think?

I went into a bike shop to buy a Fiber Fix spoke, a gizmo that will allow me to replace a broke spike without tools. They were out of stock. They advised me not to break a spoke. Yeah well…

I used there hose to spray all the mud off The Mule. Afterward I ran into a couple who were doing a big loop bike tour: Albany to Erie to Cumberland to DC to Albany. John and Sara (I think. My fusiform gurus is on the blink again) and I talked for a good twenty minutes as we snarfed down goodies at a sandwich shop,

They headed off down the canal to find a camping spot. Happy mudding, y’all!

I tried to get a bed or room in a Cumberland hostel. It they were booked. The YMCA in town puts people up for cheap but it was apparently under siege by derelicts. I checked the Ramada but they wanted $110 and that’s not in my budget. So I headed 16 miles up the gravel GAP trail to Frostburg where I got a bed in a bunkhouse.

I’m the only one here so it’s not bad at all. I have a bed, shower, TV, and laundry.

All the muck and the gravelly uphill really wore me out. I was on the trails for 12 hours.

Bottom line: 79 miles (Tour total 206). I’m 16 miles further along than I planned. Tomorrow I ride 5 or so miles to go over the Eastern Continental Divide then downhill for the rest of the day. Zoom!

Any Road Tour: Day 2 – Ridges and a Desert Rose

Last night my left arm and knee were screaming at me. I took some ibuprofen PM to knock me out. It killed the pain but even with drugs I was too pooped to sleep.

The hotel breakfast was later than lame. Bad coffee, OJ, toast, and Rice Krispies. It would have to do.

Everything was packaged in plastic. So depressing after reading this:

After a brief tour of charming Frederick, I turned west on US 40 and began to climb into a headwind. For about an hour I went up Catoctin Mountain, in my granny gear. I thought I’d descend to a valley but after a 1 minute screaming downhill I was climbing again. Up and down over and over again. Will this ever end? I mean how far could Rice Krispies and last night’s gas station food take me?

As it turned out I had one minute more climb to go. I saw the sign for the Appalachian Trail and I knew I was creating South Mountain.

The downhill was glorious. A few more inconsequential rollers later I was in Hagerstown.

The hills were about as bad as I expected but my granny served me well. Not once did I run out of breath. Knee cartilage is another story altogether.

The Google showed me the way and I found US 11, a highway that follows the Cumberland Valley to Williamsport on the C&O Canal.

I stopped at the Desert Rose Cafe for food and karma. Ryan, Kevin, and I ate here on the No Wrong Plan Tour from Pittsburgh to DC two years ago. Good food. Nice people.

As it turns out, Rose does some shuttling of people around washed out areas of the canal. Good to know.

Rose told me the towpath was in good shape but I decided I wanted to try my luck on the roads. I stupidly expected level ground but got more granny worthy hills. The scenery was pretty epic but I found this stone farm most interesting.

I forged ahead and stopped to admire this roadside tribute to one Lancelot Jacques, maybe the best name ever.

I finally bailed out at Fort Frederick. Lots of stone here as well.

I didn’t stay because a towpath inspection awaited. Thankfully it looks to be in great shape.

I diverted to the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail and cruised the last ten gloriously level miles into Hancock.

I had planned to stay in the bunkhouse at the bike shop in town but it looks almost as rustic as camping.

With all the rain, the thought of camping near the river isn’t floating big my boat so I decided to check into a Super 8 motel just uphill from town. ($60 plus breakfast and a Nats game on TV. Also they have bike cleaning rags that I put to good use on my chain.)

The AC seems not to be cooperating. I probably won’t need it overnight though.

So for today 58 1/2 mostly very hilly miles. Total mileage so far is 127.

I am beginning to wonder why I am carrying all this camping crap. I’m sure I’ll get around to using it.

I am pleased with my progress. And with the prospect of a dry towpath to Cumberland in the morning.

Further.