Tuesday, June 5, 2012

My Idea of Vacation: The GAP and C&O - Days 3 & 4

Continuing on with my biking adventures...

My Idea of Vacation: The GAP and C&O - Day Three
Date: Monday, May 28
Departed from: Rockwood, Husky Haven Campground, milemarker 44 of GAP
Camped out: Evitt's Creek Hiker/Biker Campsite, milemarker 180 of C&O
Total distance biked: 48 miles

I woke up at Rockwood and felt kinda like crap. My knees hurt, my back hurt. Here's the thing, between Pittsburgh and the Continental Divide (about 23 miles from Cumberland, MD) the trail goes at a slight uphill grade. It's so slight that you can't see it while you're biking, but after 100 miles or so of it, you FEEL it. At least, I felt it. Hardcore.

The upside of Day Three was that it was my favorite stretch of the trail that I had done before. Between Rockwood and Cumberland are several really cool sites: Salisbury Viaduct, Continental Divide, PA/MD border, and the Big Savage and Borden tunnels. Without these things along the way, I might not have made it. That's how much pain I was in.

I'm not a religious person by any means. But last year on this trip, I felt like I experienced the closest thing to a religious moment when I crossed the Continental Divide and started the descent into Frostburg and Cumberland. At that moment, I knew my goal was in sight and that I would accomplish something I set out to do. This year, I needed that religious moment earlier, and it came in the form of a group of Mennonites (I think they were Mennonites) literally bounding out of the woods in front of me and crossing the Salisbury Viaduct at the same time as me. The children were barefoot and as I passed on my bike they all waved and said hello. It was exactly the thing I needed to wake me up, clear my head, and shake off the extreme pain I was feeling in both of my knees. The last ten miles leading up to the Divide were still hell (especially the five or so unshaded miles leading up to the Divide), but seeing such an odd sight and being greeted so warmly by these children and their parents was wonderful.

However, when I got into Cumberland, I was in such pain that I could barely walk. I had been led to believe that there was a campsite right in Cumberland, and when the Visitor's Center people told me I had another four miles to go before reaching the closest site, I almost broke down in tears. I called my dad while I hobbled to a Sheetz for more Advil and told him I wasn't sure if I could finish the trip. I had never ever felt pain so severe before, and I was seriously worried about doing major damage to my knees. My dad just had his first knee replacement surgery, so the prospect of doing damage to mine this early on in life was a little scary. But he gave me the usual dad peptalk, including the common refrain "shake it off," and I told him I would call him the next morning if I wanted to be picked up.

I went to the only place open in Cumberland for dinner (it was Memorial Day; everything was closed), which was the same place that was the only thing open last year on the Fourth of July when I pedaled into town. Formerly a Japanese fusion place, it was now a Mexican joint! This pleased me greatly as I filled up on tacos, chips, salsa, and a margarita before suffering those last four miles to camp.

Of course, as soon as I came up on the campsite, a huge snake was crossing the trail into the woods right next to where I'd be sleeping. Tired and grumpy and unable to continue on to the next site, I reasoned aloud with the snake: I won't bother you, if you won't bother me. Setting up my tent and getting ready for the night took way longer than usual, because I could barely walk or bend my legs. But I managed and slept like a rock with my rainflaps open for the first time. The combination of tons of rest and fresh air seemed to do the trick, because I woke up the next morning ready to tackle another leg of the trip.

And I ended up far surpassing my mileage goal for the day. Proof that margaritas and tacos are the cure-alls for everything.

Things I saw along the way: Day Three

This little guy!

My hatchet - not the best, but it did what I needed it to do.

This is from Gary Paulsen's The Hatchet. And it is awesome.

Husky Haven - Recommend times a billion.

Packed up and ready for day three's very exciting trek.

Some of the Mennonites.

These were the best thing! Sadly, I only had one pack.

Before the Continental Divide is what I like to call the Shade Desert.  I found a small patch and stared up at this hawk until I was ready to make a final push toward the Divide.

Yeah - wanna know what's bullshit and what will kill your knee? Three solid days of gradual uphill. Read that right to left.

It's all downhill from here. (Kinda)

Big Savage Tunnel - definitely a favorite of mine on the trail.

Atop Big Savage (saw another snake about three seconds after taking this).

Yeeeeeah! (Note: Terrible Towel was specifically bungeed to the back of my packs for this exact purpose.)

When it rains, you hop off your bike and throw a garbage bag over your tent and sleeping pad and hope they stay dry.

The Canal! Coming into Cumberland.

Banksy in Cumberland?

In Cumberland, I ate food. I inhaled tacos and chips and salsa and margarita. It was glorious.

Sometimes, you have to figure out a way to entertain yourself when you are kinda bored and really alone.

My Idea of Vacation: The GAP and C&O - Day Four
Date: Tuesday, May 29
Departed from: Evitt's Creek Hiker/Biker Campsite, milemarker 180 of C&O
Camped out: Cacapon Junction Hiker/Biker Campsite, milemarker 134 of C&O
Total distance biked: 46 miles

So instead of quitting, I overshot my mileage goal for Day Four by about ten miles. 

This was my first real day on the C&O, and I quickly learned that it's as rough as I had been advised. The GAP is very nicely cared for and pretty comfortable to bike. The C&O is much more primitive. You're basically in the woods throughout, which means, rocks, fallen branches, mud pits, and other fun things like that making for a bumpy ride. Your butt. It will hurt. 

I woud've gone farther, but as I frantically tried to find cell signal, when I could see a main road to my left, to let my dad know I was still alive, I hear rumblings of thunder and knew I needed to find a campsite, and fast. Here's the really great thing about the C&O Canal: there are plenty of hiker/biker campsites throughout the trail. They are well marked and each have treated water (a definite plus), a port-a-potty, a fire pit, and even - in some cases, firewood sort of provided. Each site tells you how are away from the two closest other sites, so you can make quick determination of if you want to call it a day or keep trucking along to the next site. I knew I was only a couple miles from the nearest site as a result, so I sped along and managed to get to the site, throw up my tent, and gather as much firewood as possible before the rain and kinda bad thunderstorm hit. I was exhausted from the ride and the frantic setting up of camp, so I again napped through almost the entire storm. 

Things I saw along the way: Day Four

They told me I wouldn't miss this coming out of Cumberland. And by the smell, I knew it was the sewage treatment plant.


Doing laundry, cause everything started to stink. Like, real bad.

I beg to differ.

Best part of breakfast? Advil. Always with the Advil.

Pigman! As in, Tyler Kennedy's campsite. I did not stay here, but it I do this again, I surely will have to.

This is the Paw Paw Tunnel. However,  I vote we rename it the Piece of Shit Tunnel. Hated. This.

You can't see a THING for 3,000 feet. Miserable. No way to ride a bike through this. It was pitch black and kind of terrifying.

I so so so looked forward to this dinner, which I had to make and eat in my tent because of the rain,

I hatched those larger logs myself! Woo!

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