Thursday, June 7, 2012

My Idea of Vacation: The GAP and C&O - Reflections, Tips, and Thank You

Now that I've recapped the trip, I thought I'd close out the week with reflections, tips, and other things. Bear with me. (But I'm peppering photos of my time in Washington, so it won't be a total bore.) Our regularly scheduled PGH-programming will be back next week (dinos, t-shirts, and Pirates - oh my!).

Last time I was here, I was freezing, had been standing around since 4:30 a.m., and was watching our President take the Oath of Office. I like coming to D.C. for excellent reasons.

New Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

First: Reflections.
  • Last year, when I told people I was planning on riding my bike to Cumberland from Pittsburgh, I had no idea if I could actually do it. It was something I just kind of said one day, and when people believed me, I had to follow through. When I did, I felt super accomplished. Then, this year, when I told people I was planning on riding my bike to Washington, D.C., from Pittsburgh, I really had no idea if I could actually do it. It was more than twice the mileage and more then twice the nights camping by myself. Having completed the GAP and C&O in their entireties, I feel like there is nothing stopping me from accomplishing whatever I set out to do now. This trip was physically exhausting and mentally taxing, but I have never felt this refreshed, focused or determined. 
  • I am a worrier. There is nothing I can do about it. I worried from the moment I left until the moment I carried my bike across the threshold of Rob's apartment. I worried about snakes, I worried about bears, I worried about flat tires, I worried about getting struck by lightning, I worried about losing control in a mud pit, I worried about my knees. I worried. But, with every day I was on the trail, I worried a little less. And when I did worry, I was able to rationalize. Snakes? Now not a big deal. Bears? Probably all in my crazy head. Flat tires? Didn't get one. Struck by lightning? Nope. Losing control in a mud pit? A couple times I came close, but managed to stay upright. My knees? Well, only time will tell. I probably won't ever stop worrying about things, but now I know I am capable of managing the worrying and focusing on what is happening, instead of everything that COULD happen.
  • I don't know if I'm capable of feeling lonely. I spent six days alone in the woods and never felt like I needed someone with me. I'm sure I can be lonely, but so long as I have a project I'm working on, something to write with and some blank paper, I'm a happy camper (PUN!).
  • I can take care of myself, in a variety of situations. Whether it was dealing with knee pain, dealing with fallen trees, or dealing with scary spiders and gross slugs, I never really needed help. (Except for when I got to Georgetown and had two lovely guys carry my bike with all its crap on the back up two flights of stairs so I wouldn't have to unpack and repack for the fourth time that day.) I like knowing that I am capable of this.

FDR Memorial is a hidden gem, in my opinion. Though I can't deny a love of the Lincoln Memorial, this one is adventurous, which was more Teddy's style and more mine too.

This looks like my dad's dog, Rocky. And I thought it was incredible they put FDR's dog in a memorial. If I have am memorialized, please make sure my cats are in it. Better yet, use this as a guide (direction given to Eric Lidji, who then drew this, what should be considered "the best thing ever"):

Now: Tips.

  • Some useful things to bring: small bungee cords (these came in handy for SO MANY THINGS), large garbage bags (the best use? covering up the back of the bike when the rain comes), Advil/Aleve (all of it, you will be sorry without it), Terrible Towel (useful for so many things at camp, and a good little way to Stand Up and Tell 'Em You're From Pittsburgh!)
  • Make sure you do some riding with your gear on the back of your bike a few times before you go. Even though I did a trip like this last year and knew what to expect, it still took me several miles to get used to the added weight on the bike. 
  • Make room for a variety of things to read. I might not have brought the Trailbook (which, honestly, you don't even need after you plan out your route), but I had several Gary Paulsen books and Joan Didion with me. So, you know, best of both worlds.
Jefferson Memorial

Rob and I used the bikeshare to get around the Mall and Downtown after taking the train to that area from his place in Columbia Heights. Was cool to try it out, but I still have concerns about a system like this working in Pittsburgh.
Honest Abe

Finally: Thank You. 
  • Thank you to the fine folks of REI in the South Side Works and Trek in Shadyside. Whether it was for this trip or last year's, you helped me prepare for this endeavor. 
  • Thank you to Corey and Carrie, who made me an awesome breakfast that morning I left and for taking me to Waterfront. I was nervous! But you guys made me feel as calm as possible in that situation.
  • Thank you to all the nice people I met along the way. To the other campers, bikers, and users of the trails: I enjoyed our conversations, however long, informative, or awkward. 
  • Thank you to that snake that did not attack me in the dark when I camped right next to its woods.
  • Thank you to those lovely dudes who carried my bike with all its crap on the back up two flights of stairs in Georgetown. Words cannot express my gratitude in that moment.
  • Thank you to ROB! Who was my gracious host upon my arrival. He didn't even bat an eye when he found me on a corner in Georgetown covered in dirt, sweaty, and completely braindead. We must have looked a strange pair sitting there at that ritzy cafe on the harbor drinking beers. Him in his nice, crisp and clean shirt and slacks. Me whose last shower was five days prior. He caught me up on all the cannibal/zombie news, which was seriously like the fourth or fifth thing he told me.
  • Thank you to MY DAD! Who drove from Pittsburgh to D.C. to pick my ass up and drive me and my bike and all my crap back home. I could've taken a train, but would have missed out on an awesome night of beers, steak dinners, and a rock concert in our nation's capital with my old man. On the way back, we took a detour - a good kind of detour! - into Boonsboro, Maryland, where he had grown up and went to high school. I saw the house where he lived when he was a kid. It was totally awesome. And totally appreciated.
  • Thank you to MY BIKE. Seriously: Bike, you are a goddamn trooper. 332 miles and not a SINGLE issue. You appear to have superhero-like qualities, and that is pretty awesome.

If you're thinking of undertaking any part of the GAP or C&O and have questions, I'm happy to answer given the experiences I've had on my two trips. I wouldn't consider me an expert in either biking or camping, but I survived both trips. And if I can do it, you can too.

Send me an email!


  1. Awesome series of posts, you killed it - congrats again!

  2. :) Thanks, Dr. Z. Looking forward to our joint birthday celebrations! Summer 2012!