Monday, June 4, 2012

My Idea of Vacation: The GAP and C&O - Days 1 & 2

So. Here I am. Sitting in a cozy little coffeeshop in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of DC. I haven't been in Pittsburgh in a week, and it feels very weird. I've spent the majority of the past week on my bike, running around the forest looking for firewood, or in a tent. I am exhausted. Mentally and physically. More than I ever have been before. But, I have a whole day to myself here in DC, and it looks like rain and storms, so I plan on hopping from coffeeshop to bar to coffeeshop to eat (my body needs calories like WOAH) and write. It's been a while since I've had a computer in front of me. Though my body feels like it has been run over by a semi-truck twice (and maybe a third time for good measure), I feel refreshed and ready to recap.

My Idea of Vacation: The GAP and C&O - Day One
Date: Saturday, May 26
Departed from: The Eat 'n' Park at the Waterfront
Camped out: Roundbottom Campground, milemarker 99 of GAP
Total distance biked: 40 miles

I had hoped that I would be way less nervous this year than I was last year starting out. Not the case. I was just as nervous, if not more so. When I undertook a bike trip last year, I was totally a newbie and really had no idea what to expect. But I was going a considerably shorter distance, I had been coached on the Great Allegheny Passage by my friend Mark, who had made this trip many many times as a guide, and Cumberland, Maryland, didn't really seem that far away. I would only be gone for three nights, and I barely missed any work.

This time around I raised the stakes considerably. A week away from work (something I haven't done in years), a week of biking and camping - by myself, and the great unknown of the C & O Canal. From what I'd heard about that trail (mostly the roughness of it) made me worried, but I had three days before I reached it, so I tried to be "out of sight, out of mind" about it. That didn't work. I'm a worrier by nature, which is something I truly learned about myself on this trip. (But I also learned to manage it - more on that another time)

I also hadn't done the part of the trail from the Waterfront to Boston, PA. Last year I had Corey drop me off under the Boston Bridge. This year, because the trail had been completed through the Waterfront (still not through to Pittsburgh proper yet, maybe next summer!), I started there. Here's the first of several "pro-tips" (disclaimer: I AM NOT A PRO; DO NOT TAKE THIS AS PROFESSIONAL ADVICE): From the Waterfront until after McKeesport, you will have to deal with several small, annoying hills and inclines. Without an additional fifty pounds of gear on the back of my bike, these would have been nothing. But with that additional weight, my knees were already starting to hate me.

I also saw my first snake in the first three miles, and had a minor freakout about it. It's funny to me now, because I saw a lot more snakes along the way and no longer feel terrified by them, Near the end of the trip, I even felt bad when I accidentally rolled over a little garter snake, killing it I'm sure. A mile or so after seeing the snake, I saw a TORNADO. I'm not kidding. A dust tornado at least fourteen feet tall. A kind of ominous start to the trip...

Worried (see, there's that worrying nature of mine again) about having enough daylight once I got to camp for the night, I booked it to Roundbottom Campground, which was already filling up. Along the GAP there are not a ton of places to stay, so you have to have a much more planned out itinerary than while on the C&O. By the time I got to Roundbottom, it was already filling up, but I managed to get a small site by the edge of the woods. It felt nice to set up my tent, gather firewood (was not provided, so gathering and hatcheting was a must), and make myself a nice meal of kluski noodles. I was pretty pooped early after nightfall, so I fell asleep to the sounds of the big group of dudes at the site near mine drinking beer and lighting fireworks.

Some things I saw along the way, Day One:

Taking off from behind the Eat 'N' Park at the Waterfront.

Riding right alongside the Phantom's Revenge.

So I saw a snake and then I saw a twister. You know, normal things that are calming and not stressful at all.

Crossing the Mon.

Home sweet home, first night: Roundbottom Campground.
Why yes, I did bring a collection of Gary Paulsen books with me on this adventure.

My Idea of Vacation: The GAP and C&O - Day Two
Date: Sunday, May 27
Departed from: Roundbottom Campground, milemarker 99 of GAP
Camped out: Rockwood, Husky Haven Campground, milemarker 44 of GAP
Total distance biked: 55 miles

The second leg of my trip included swinging through a few towns along the way: Connellsville, Ohiopyle, and Confluence. Last year I stopped and had breakfast in Connellsville, but I filled up on my dino oatmeal and went straight for Ohiopyle, where I scarfed down a hoagie in record time. It's nice to have the option on the GAP of stopping in a town for breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack. Last year I stayed outside of Confluence, and had a meal at Rivers Edge. (Another pro-tip: don't stay at the Outflow Campground in Confluence; it's basically a trailer park and their spot for bike campers in unshaded and there is no fire pit.) 

Somewhere between Roundbottom and Rockwood, I experienced my first sudden rainstorm. I was going along nicely and then the drizzle started. Then the rain picked up. Then it full-on started to pour. Last year, I didn't deal with any rain while I was biking (lucky, I guess), but this year I was prepared for it. Taking an actual pro-tip from B-Man's workshop at REI about hiking the Appalachian Trail, I packed a couple large black garbage bags with me and had them easily accessible in the event of rain. Within minutes I had waterproofed my tent and sleeping pad bags and was back to pedaling and getting soaked. 

The rain didn't last too long, and I got into Rockwood with the sun shining, but that feeling of rain still heavy in the air. Let me tell you a couple things about Rockwood: a) this is my favorite town to stop in on the trail, and b) Husky Haven is the best campsite on the trail. Husky Haven is run by two of the nicest people on the planet. The campsite used to be training grounds for their sled dogs, but once they retired from dog sledding, they turned the grounds into really nice campsites. And! For $10, you get one of those sites, tons of firewood, and the ability to TAKE A SHOWER. I took full advantage of the shower, which ended up being my only one of the trip. (Ew, I know.)

I was able to get my tent set up before I headed into town for pizza and the very necessary task of charging up my phone and iPod. I started to hear the rumbling on thunder and booked it back to camp and napped through an early evening thunderstorm. By the time I woke up, the rain had cleared, so I made a fire and settled in for the night with my traveling library of Gary Paulsen books (further proving that I am a fourteen-year-old at heart).

Some things I saw along the way, Day Two:

Normally, I hate oatmeal. But this, I had to try. After the first day, I loved it.

Delicious, funny, and informative.

Coffee in the morning while camping is one of life's simplest pleasures.

Mural at Ohiopyle

This is pretty much what I looked at for six days.

The necessities wee acquired in Ohiopyle.

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