On May 26 I woke up screaming!
Not from a nightmare, though I did have a (metaphoric) running-in-place stress dream (these occur nearly nightly, even in the more normal of circumstances). No, not from pain either, though my knees were aching, and my butt was a little sore. And not from the prospect of another longish day so soon into the trip.
But from…the frighteningly in-your-face old-timey B&B décor.
I mean, seriously, have you ever noticed that most Bed & Breakfast establishments are engaged in a never-ending battle to be named this year’s Spookiest, Tweest, Quaintest, Mustiest, Dustiest, Old-Lady-est, Sad-Clowniest Establishment in the Universe? How many “Home Sweet Home” needlepoint pillows and three-foot-tall cows in blue gingham dresses with pearls and broken-down pieces of rusty obsolete farm equipment and tetanus-infused wagon wheels and items that resemble the Tin Man’s accoutrements and American flag doilies and rose-pink knitted-tatted-embroidered lacy mats under tarnished tea sets and cigar boxes and sugar tins and tea tins and cookie tins and biscuit tins from the 1890s, andprints and watercolors and needlepoints and rugs depicting all of the above do ya need to win the grand prize?
However, the breakfast provided – which I shared with 2 husband-cyclist/wife-SAG support team couples – was quite delicious and locally generated. Debbie, the B&B’s proprietress, served us local eggs, local maple syrup (yes, they make it in PA, too), and locally made sausage. The cow in the blue dress and pearls still loomed over my shoulder, but the food distracted me from her menacing presence.
And I was off on Day 4! It was later than I wanted it to be (what else is new?), but them’s the breaks, as breakfast was at 8, and what Deb says goes. It took me 2.5 miles to realize that once again my poor sense of direction, fueled by foolhardy haste, sent me awry. Leaving Rockwood and all points north of the Eastern Continental Divide headed toward Pittsburgh, there are only two directions to travel on the GAP trail: 1) slightly uphill (the wrong direction) or 2) slightly downhill (the right direction). Never mind that 2 minutes into the ride, I passed by the Husky Haven Campground that I’d planned to stay in but was too late for the previous evening, never mind that the numbers on the GAP mile markers were getting smaller instead of larger, and never mind that it felt as though I was going uphill. Never mind all those glaringly obvious indications, I couldn’t possibly be going the wrong direction.What’s that Occam’s Razor thingy? The most obvious choice is most often the correct one? …Whatever. I’m not googling it. Let this stand as proof that I’m not afraid of getting things wrong. Obviously.
I am proud to say that at 2.5 miles in I did ask someone riding by, “Am I headed to Pittsburgh?” Nay. Okay, then add 5 miles to the ‘excess fat’ mileage chart.
I did get into my groove pretty quickly after that, for a while. At mile 20, I passed 3 older guys riding together. A few minutes later, one pedaled up to me.
This is Gary, a retired guy from Pittsburgh. He and a group from his church were having their annual “Wheels to Meals” event where congregation members drive up from the Pittsburgh area to Confluence (a small town right on the GAP) where they ride their bicycles on the GAP (like 10 or 20 miles) and then break bread at the home of Chuck, Gary’s former boss at Turner Dairy, which, according to Gary, has the best-tasting milk in the US. So, you probably know where this is going…Gary brought me over to the party. He assured me that I could eat and run, and though I wasn’t hungry yet (it was barely 11:30am), I said, “Yes.” Because that’s who I am now. That’s what I do.
When we arrived several miles later, Gary introduced me to Chuck and his wife Zeta, who were friendly and welcomed me into their home, asked me if I needed a shower, gave me cold water and fruit. I had told Gary that I currently make a living as a grant writer for nonprofits dealing mostly with addressing poverty and inequity and their reverberating impact on the health and well-being of communities (to keep it simple, like Occam). Carol, his wife, had recently started a nonprofit – and they were starting to try to raise funds through grants. I can’t believe how frequently I am having this sort of conversation, and I’ve only been on the road four days. Their organization is Pitcare.org, located in Pitcairn, a town experiencing entrenched poverty and inequity where Gary and Carol and another couple had decided to move a few years ago so that they could bring their ministries and resources to this challenged community – but to approach its challenges as neighbors, rather than outsiders. Their organization is getting shit done! Housing, employment development, life skills, tutoring, a library for kids. Go Pitcare!
Though everyone was nice, I felt a bit awkward. It’s a tightrope. Being invited to break bread with strangers. Showing up. And knowing when it’s appropriate to move on.
Gary and I cycled back to where we left the trail – and we got turned around again (after asking someone who gave us wrong directions!) I got on my way and spent the rest of the day getting back into the monotony of the revolutions happening below my waist, singing when no one was around to hear…and trying to beat the rain which had been promised to begin late in the afternoon.
My goal for the night was West Newton. I’d read that camping is allowed at a reportedly haunted cemetery, a few miles past that town. I stopped for a few minutes for my weekly convo with Alex, who chastened me for being so filthy (I had been wearing the same cycling clothes for 4 days). I did smell. And the graveyard campsite was amenity-less (I think there may be port-a-potty but no shower). As our call winded down, the rain started. Fuck, I do not like to camp in the rain, even in a haunted graveyard. Especially one with no running water. I hung up with Alex and rode into West Newton. Luckily, I came upon Youghiogheny (pronounced sorta like ‘yock-a-haney’)Canoe Outfitters which on the map I thought was just fishing and canoeing and kayaking, but it turned out to be a campground as well. $10 plus an extra $4 for a shower. Done, done, and done.
The rain slowed, as I set up my tent under the pavilion. I was the only camper on the property which was only several yards away from the riverbank. I dragged my tent out from under the shelter provided by the pavilion. I figured if it starts raining, no problem. The tent is waterproof. Or is it water resistant? Hmm, it’s not like I’ve read the instructions or specs on it…since 2009 when I bought it. But it’ll be fine. I mean, that’s what the fly is for, right?
CUT TO…Midnight. Thunder. Lightening. Pounding rain. Our hero pulls the sleeping bag over his head.
CUT TO…1:38AM. More deafening thunder. Lightening coming faster after the thunder. Harder pounding. Drip, drip. Drip. Fuck me.
I drag my tent back under the pavilion, mop off the top of it with my towel, still wet from the shower I took earlier. So, was it waterproof or water-resistant or WTF? Señor Occam would say that the simplest answer is that my tent leaks.
Sleeping restfully isn’t something I can claim to be good at, and that night in the storm was no exception.