I know I’m 10 days behind, but try to keep up, will ya?

May 25 – When Jake’s alarm jingled at 5:30, I’d already been awake. Had I even slept? My discovery of the caffeinated Nuun tablets the day before had clearly come too late. So much for restfulness.

Dan prepared a giant breakfast for us. Bread he baked the night before, scrambled eggs with cheese, a chunk of ham, potatoes, coffee, OJ. I wasn’t that hungry, but you gotta have shit to burn. I couldn’t finish all of it, but I did my best. Lots of political discussion. All of us on the same side (to say it most simply). Dan took pics of Jake and me before we took off.

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I told Jake to head out, as I wanted to take at least a few minutes to try to do some of the warmup that Kristin, my friend and an amazing athlete and trainer and genius inventrix (have you heard of the Pilates Wheel?) He laughed and said, “Yeah, I was stretching and wearing sunscreen and doing all kinds of stuff I stopped weeks ago now.” (I think I failed to mention yesterday that Jake is doing all of this with a cast on his arm. He broke his wrist in St. Louis. Read about it here.)

Dan had said to make sure I turned left when I got back to the C&O path.

Really?” I said. “It feels like if should be right.”

“Nope, you’re gonna cross over the river back into Maryland and then make a left. The river should be on your left along the towpath headed in the right direction.”

Me: “Hmm, ok.”

Dan: “Well, go whichever way you want but if you hit the tunnel again, you’ll know you went the wrong way.”

When I got to the path I just went left like he told me, even though it didn’t feel right. I know we are all dumbed down by the platitudinous “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” You know that old saw, right? Even sitting here hundreds of miles from that morning and picturing the entrance to the trail, it still feels like it should be the opposite. I really am insane.

It was before 8, and I was getting a handsomely early start. The frogs were aplenty. I could hear but not see them. Along the canal there were fields of what I think are lily pads, but then again, I don’t really know what a lily pad is. Are these lily pads or something else? WTF is a lily pad anyway?

After pedaling about 2 hours, making decent time, my back wheel started groaning in such a way that suggested that it was rubbing against…I dunno, help me out here…something? Like maybe my brakes? I lifted Whitey’s hind parts and tried to spin my muddy back tire. Frrmph, it groaned. My rear brake pads looked too snug against the rim. No biggie. I decided to try to adjust them. Now, I’m no bike mechanic. (Yeah, I know, giant surprise.) I can change a flat and lube my chain, but that’s pretty much it. But, how hard can it be? Problem with Whitey is that he has cantilevered brakes and so adjusting them isn’t as easy as with my normal road bike. I decide to just google it, but of course there’s no cell service where I am. I attempt the brake-adjustment feat without an internet net, and… I figure it out. Whole time I’m thinking, that’s right, get intimate with Whitey, get to know your bike, this is how it’s done.Home freeeeeee!

Except the wheel still isn’t spinning. As it turns out, mud has caked under the back fender. It takes me a while to find something to use as a wrench (I have these tiny pliers that worked with some effort) to loosen the nuts of the fender in order to clean it out properly. This whole process from stopping to hitting the road again took an hour. So much for setting off early. But I did feel a sense of accomplishment.

What’s interesting about this turn of events is its domino effect. I’m not particularly a fan of “everything happens for a reason”, especially as a rationale for really shitty things like illness and death and car accidents…and what about fucking war?? But, so far during this trip, I have been running into a bit of good luck as a result of bad luck. After a few miles back on track a dude on a mountain bike passes me up, says “what’s up,” and keeps moving. A couple minutes later he swings back and asks me where I’m headed. This is Rick. He’s headed to Pittsburgh that night, so he can catch his daughter’s volleyball tournament there in the AM. Yes, he’s riding 200-something miles that day and plans to get there by midnight. We ride along chatting for a while and connect. Rick’s a former EMT, turned Nurse Practitioner in a trauma center in Baltimore, turned 9-to-5er palliative care NP for a hospital system in Harrisburg, PA, so he can finally have some semblance of a normal life with his wife and kids who are still at home. He’s an awesome (in the real sense of the word) athlete, commutes on his bike to Harrisburg 4 times per week (52 miles EACH WAY, even in the snow), has done some of the most insane bicycle, triathlon and ultramarathon races I’ve ever heard of. He’s super-driven about all of it, yet casual and off-handed at the same time.

Ok, so this ends up being yet another “yes” experience as we decided to eat lunch together in Cumberland, MD (the end of the muddy C&O) and the beginning of the GAP trail (GAP = Great Allegheny Passage) and continue riding together.

Cumberland is scenic, all red brick and white steeples, and sidewalk cafés. Rick says he’s all about “Pepsi and jerky” so he doesn’t care what we eat. We choose a spot along the promenade that serves lunch. I under-order (still stabbing at kale whenever I see it) with a moderately sized salad and a muffin. We eat and get going.

The GAP rail trail, which was completed in 2013, starts in Cumberland, Maryland and ends in Pittsburgh, just like John and everybody else I’d met had said. It’s 150 miles, and from Mile Marker 0 to about 24 it’s a gradual 1% incline until you reach the Eastern Continental Divide up in the Appalachians, and from there it’s a slow, steady decline into Pittsburgh. At about 15 miles up the path, Rick says bye-bye; he’s got to make it to Pittsburgh (which he does by 6am the next morning after thunderstorms and a rather hairy evening) and I’m having trouble keeping up with him on my 3rd day (and my heavy cargo doesn’t help either). I really enjoyed chatting and also being silent on my trek with Rick. Definitely one of those intimate telling-a-complete-stranger-your-life-story situations.fullsizeoutput_213c

Somewhat relieved to be on my own again (if only to reclaim my slower pace!), I made it up to the Mason Dixon Line (which separates Dixie from Yankeedom/Maryland from Pennsylvania) and then the Eastern Continental Divide in a little over 2 hours. Annoyingly, there’s no Welcome to PA sign, so I snap a shot of a sign by the Pennsylvania Game Commission to document the state line crossing.

I arrive in Rockwood, PA at about 7:06pm. Long day. I’d phoned the Husky Haven Campsite ahead earlier to make sure they had a spot, told them I’d be there at 7, which they said was fine, but the office was empty. I pressed the button (ONCE, as instructed) but no one came. Instead, I called a B&B around the corner and crashed there. Not in the budget but the only choice.

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