A Year Well Ridden

For a guy who spent three weeks on a bike-free vacation and the better part of the winter waiting for a thaw, I rode a whole bunch in 2015.

For the year I clocked 7,518.5 miles. Nearly two thirds of this total was from riding my bikes to work 162 times. Pro tip: if you want to boost your annual miles, get a job farther from home. The remaining 2,601 miles was on various weekend and bike touring excursions. The No Wrong Plan Bike Tour was about 370 miles including riding to the shuttle at the start and riding home on Bike to Work Day at the finish.

The tour made May my biggest mileage month at 951. September, usually a big month, was my lowest mileage month at only 296.5 miles. I spent nearly three weeks on vacation and didn’t touch a bike despite the fact that I could have laid claim to riding in Asia and Australia and New Zealand. Oh, well.

The Mule, my oldest bike, got the most use, 3,342 miles, including exactly half of my bike commutes. The least mileage went to my new bike, a Surly Cross Check, at 1,000 miles. Of course, I only had this bike for four and half months. None of these miles was from commuting.

I rode indoors on Big Nellie, my Tour Easy recumbent six times for the equivalent of 99 miles. Otherwise, Big Nellie fell into disuse. I rode it only 86 miles since August. Over the course of the year, I rode it to work 25 times. Its total mileage for the year was 1,289.

Little Nellie got much more use than I expected. It is a Bike Friday folding travel bike but I didn’t travel with it. Instead I just rode it a lot locally. I did 56 rides to work and 1,887.5 miles overall. Being able to stash it in the trunk of the car came in handy many, many times.

My longest ride of the year was exactly 100 miles from my house to Whites Ferry and back on Big Nellie. The second longest ride of the year was the 18 mile ride home from the Tour de Fat event. I find riding a bike after a beer or two not to be problematic. Riding a bike after drinking beer in the hot sun for five hours, is considerably more challenging. Next year I will volunteer so as to remain sane. (Of course, I say this every year and rarely get around to volunteering. Bows his head in shame…) Another rather long bike ride was my bike commute the day after returning from Thailand. I was jet lagged out of my mind. It was not a lot of fun.

Other than the tour, the rides I liked best usually involved baseball games at Nats Park. The Nationals’ bike valet service is just about the best thing going.  Every ballpark, major or minor league, should do this.  A couple of times I had the pleasure of riding with Katie Lee to the Capitol and watching her do a victory lap – riding around in circles, hands free, head back, with an ear-to-ear smile. Pure bike joy. And then there’s always the fun of a ride home after a night game. I love riding home in the dark on a warm summer night.

The last ride home on the bike tour on the C&O Canal was special. Ryan intercepted us on his way to Brunswick. Then Rudy gave us a full escort from Great Falls. Near Fletcher’s Boat House, Mary came out to escort us. Somewhere along the line Chris showed up. We rode to Glen’s near Dupont Circle for a celebration where we were joined by even more #bikedc friends. I was escorted on my ride home against the Bike to Work Day flow on the 15th Street cycletrack and down the Mount Vernon Trail  by Mount Vernon resident Ed. This day was in stark contrast to the last day of my other tours when I was greeted with a ho-hum from non-biking relatives. (This is why I made it a point to meet Linel in Belle Haven Park at the end of her C&O Canal tow this year.)

I don’t recall how many times I rode to Friday Coffee Club, but it’s a thing and it’s fun.

I went to several bike events: WABA’s Vasa and Cider rides and holiday bash, the Great Pumpkin ride, the Tour de Fat, the kinetic sculpture race in Baltimore, the Cookie ride, and the #biketivismdc protest on Pennsylvania Avenue.

I hiked a bunch too. I honestly can’t say which trail was my favorite. They all have their distinct characteristics. I learned that I don’t much care for rock scrambles or crossing steams on slippery logs. In my running days I was a pretty darn good downhill runner. I am a pretty lousy downhill hiker.

I am not much of a massage fan but I had three massages this year. The last and only other time I had a massage was after a century in 1991. I liked the oil massage in Thailand the best. It was outdoors under a shelter in the rain. The next best was a Thai massage from a friend in McLean Virginia. This was relaxing and nothing like any of the other massages I’ve had. The reiki at the end was also pretty cool. The sports massage I had near my home was rather vigorous. I was sore for days afterward. I am still not much of a massage fan. I’m just not into pampering, I guess.

Enough with looking back already. It’s 2016. Let’s get on with it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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&O 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?

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.

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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.

No Wrong Plan: Day 2: Connellsville to Meyersdale on the GAP Trail

We woke up having not been murdered by the Meth Man. Two more of those bright orange birds zip past our campsite. What are they? They are beautiful.

It rained a bit overnight. Ryan had not put on his rain fly. Oops. Kevin and I were completely dry. I picked up some breakfast, fruit from the supermarket. Kevin and Ryan made coffee in camp. Ryan cooked some oatmeal for himself.

We broke camp and headed for Ohiopyle. Leaving town, the trail begins to rise, a false flat that requires constant effort for the next day and a half, about 70 miles.

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Ohiopyle is a town and  a state park that is to die for. Well, maybe not with Meth Man around. We stopped in town for an ice cream. Back on the trail we leap frogged with Meth Man for the rest of the day.

No wind. Butterflies. A tunnel of green. Incredible bridges over the Youghiogheny River.

We stopped at Confluence, once called Turkeyfoot where the Castleman River meets the Yough. Here the French and Indian War is said to have begun as a young colonial British officer by the name of George Washington led an ambush of a French settlement.

The trail follows the Castleman. We climb the nearly imperceptible incline. We clear the forest and cross the Salisbury Viaduct. It seems like it goes on forever. Next we reach the Pinkerton Tunnel. To our left is a rather shocking gash in the mountain, the apparent result of a highway project.

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The Pinkerton tunnel has never been open to trail users, but this day we can see straight through to the other side. We can see workers toiling away preparing the tunnel for its eventual opening. We take the detour through the woods. It will be a shame if they shut down the detour because it is a truly beautiful ride.

Onward to Rockwood we encounter our first bugs of the ride. Gnats or midges or some sort of little bugs in vast swarms. They are annoying and take me out of my biking trance. In Rockwood we see Meth Man lurking on the side of the trail. We pass him by with a nod and head into town for lunch at the Opera House, now a cafe and ice cream parlor. Rains starts to fall as we go inside. It is over once we leave. Timing is everything.

Back on the trail, we leap frog some more with Meth Man. Ryan takes the lead and encounters about 15 to 20 turkeys arrayed across the trail. The turkeys scatter as he rolls through. We begin to see bike tourists heading toward Pittsburgh. They are all smiles.

As we reach Meyersdale, Meth Man lurks along the trailside. We turn off the trail down the hill into town. We check into Yoders Motel, more of a boarding house than a motel. It’s plenty cozy and has secure indoor bicycle parking. We shower and head out for dinner. Then ice cream from the parlor across the street.

We finish the night watching the Wizards lose a playoff game on the big TV in the downstairs parlor. Shiner Bocks are consumed.

We finish with another 60 miles behind us.

More pix over on Flickr.

No Wrong Plan: Day 1 – Pittsburgh to Connellsville via the GAP Trail

You could ride from Pittsburgh to DC on roads. Since none of us is named Contador or Chiapucci or Lemond, we decided to do our tour on the car free trails of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and the Chesapeake and Ohio (C&O) Canal National Park.

Before we started we headed out for breakfast with Earl and Anne, my old Boston friends who relocated to the ‘Burg, Earl’s hometown. It being Mother’s Day the line at Pamela’s, our restaurant, was long so we didn’t get rolling until noon. We began at Point State Park directly across the street from our hotel. It’s the Point because the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers forms a point where the form the Ohio River. It has nothing to do with Harry Nillson or a dog named Arrow.

After some picture taking we headed out and immediately came to a disagreement about where the trail was. Ryan insisted it ran directly along the Monongahela River. Kevin and I recalled that Dave, our shuttle driver, said that it ran up the Boulevard of the Allies and then turned over the Hot Metal Bridge. Ryan insisted he was right but followed us up the Boulevard. We followed signs and soon cross the river, on the wrong bridge. What a way to start a tour!

Fortunately, we found a trail on the southside of the river, cleverly named Southside, and rode toward DC. After many bumps and a few odd detours we found the Hot Metal Bridge and signs for the GAP. Yay!

And we were on our way. Earl had given us a blow by blow of the ride out of town. Condos, a waterpark, big box stores paying minimum wage with no benefits now stood where steel mills with good paying steel worker jobs once lined the river. Soon we were clear of Pittsburgh and on our way to McKeesport about which I know next to nothing other than a goofy comedy routine by a comedienne named Donna Jean Young. (If you get that cultural reference you are hopelessly old.)

McKeesport featured abandoned mills and factories with weed filled parking lots lined by chain linked fences. So sad. In odd contrast, at one point on the trail we came upon a traffic light for bikes.

Once out of McKeesport, the paved trail gave way to an unpaved surface covered with a thing layer of finely crushed limestone. The ride began to take on the character it would have for the next several days. Trees and shade. Rivers. Train whistles. Mountains, often with rock faces and waterfalls. The crunch of our tires in the limestone grit on the trail. The chatter among us abated, replaced by reflection.

Pedal, pedal.

Breathe.

Feel the breeze on your face.

Hear it in your ears.

A bright orange songbird flits across the trail in front of me.

So relaxing. Later I write in my notebook: “Pure meditative bliss.”

We pull into West Newton hungry and eat at the Trailside Restaurant. It’s a good name because it’s right on the side of the trail. Clever.  It has a bike shop beneath it and a liquor store in back. We eat sandwiches and then head back out.

We roll with little effort up the gentle grade to Connellsville, about 200 feet above and 60 miles from Point State Park. We move with purpose to make sure we score a free camping spot near town.

Not only do we get the camping spot but it has Adirondack shelters, three sided wood structures. A pit toilet is also provided but no showers. I take the floor of a shelter with my sleeping bag and pad. Kevin hangs his hammock tent across the opening. Ryan sets up his new tent on the ground alongside.

A homeless looking man who coughs a lot occupies another shelter. A creepy guy riding with a backpack and a water bottle hanging off his side occupies yet another. He has a small thick cross on a chain hanging on his chest. Creepy guy comes over to chat. Asks us, “What’s the weather like tomorrow, brother.” We get an uncomfortable vibe. We decide he is a meth addict who will kill us in our sleep. He becomes “Meth Man”.

After he leaves Kevin and I head to the shopping center next door for pizza, ice, and several gallong jugs of water. We use the water and ice to fill our bottles with much needed cold water. Some of the water becomes bath water, much needed with so much limestone grit all over us. The pizza disappears without much effort.

We sleep an honest sleep despite noisy birds and trains clanging together into the night. Meth Man doesn’t kill us. All is well after our long day of riding.

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Lots more pictures in my Flickr album.

No Wrong Plan: Pittsburgh to DC – Day O

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I hadn’t done a bike tour in ten years so I was pretty stoked to do this ride. Ryan and Kevin were too. I rode the 12 1/2 miles from my house to Columbia Island Marina across the Potomac from the Jefferson Memorial. On the way I was passed a man riding a recumbent pulling a low, wide Burley Nomad trailer. He seemed to be on tour and headed to DC. I took this to be a good omen. A few miles later, Lane, a formerly local rando, passed by heading the opposite way. I took this as another good omen.

My bike, The Mule, was weighed down with four panniers – two small but heavy ones mounted on a Tubus lowrider rack on the front wheel and two large but lighter ones mounted on a Blackburn rack on the rear wheel – plus a two-person tent (I need my space) and a sleeping pad on top of the rear rack. The weight distribution was excellent with most of the weight between the two axles. Despite my careful packing, The Mule drove like a school bus. It was a good thing I recently put new brake pads on the back wheel because stopping this beast was going to be a challenge.

I arrived early. The shuttle van came next. The company is called Get Out and Play. Dave and Maria introduced themselves. As it turned out, Dave knew Ryan from Ryan’s previous job working for the state of Maryland. Small world. Kevin and Ryan showed up a few minutes late having been delayed by a breast cancer fundraising event on the National Mall.

Once we loaded up, Dave drove us west. He provided us with a guide book and map. These materials covered our entire route so they would come in handy. Dave advised us that a few of the towns have a meth problem and that we should be careful where we stayed overnight.

After several hours that seemed like no time at all, we arrived at our hotel, the Wyndham, located across the street from the start of our journey. We all agreed that the shuttle was well worth the money and that Dave and Maria had done a fine job getting us to the ‘Burg. If you do this trip, give them a call.

We checked in, rolled our bikes to our room, and headed out exploring downtown Pittsburgh. (The hotel had an automatic revolving door in front that was so big it fit our bikes.) I callled my friends Earl and Anne. Earl is a Pittsburgh native and gave us some ideas for food and drink in the downtown area. We explored the area near the hotel, had a light dinner, then headed across the Allegheny River on the Roberto Clemente Bridge (closed to cars on game days) to attend a Pirates game.

Our seats were located in the Bob Uecker section. We managed to get to them without supplemental oxygen because we are in great cardiovascular shape. (I kid. They weren’t bad at all.)  We soon were visited by fellow bike blogger Colleen. After we chatted, Colleen took our picture. Good to meet you Colleen.

The Pirates were kind enough to do three interesting things. First, they won the game, 7 – 5 over the Cardinals. Second, they had fireworks afterward. (The fireworks were set up on the Clemente bridge. I’d never seen so many.) One display during the performance looked like tall white grass swaying in the breeze. Bravo! Third, the Pirates turned a triple play. And the only triple play that went 4-5-4 (second baseman to third baseman to second baseman) in major league history. It was so unusual that third baseman’s teammates had to tell him to throw the ball to the second baseman for the final out. Weird.

PNC park is a beautiful ball park. They try hard to keep the fans happy. These efforts include captioning underneath the main scoreboard. This looks a bit like a work in progress (e.g., you don’t need to put the words to Take Me Out to the Ballgame on the captioning display when they are five times bigger on the scoreboard right above) but kudos to the Pirates for doing this.

So Day 0, the prologue to our bike trip, was a great success.

Beaucoup pix from the entire trip are on my Flickr page.