Intrepid Six – Part I

Here we were, two days from the end, somewhere along the Potomac River, living the dream

But two days after this, on the last day of nine straight days of cycling, boy did it rain. All 37.54 miles from Leesburg, MD to Washington D.C.. And not a light rain. And if it reached 60° that day I missed it. By then I’d donned every stitch of bike clothes I’d brought, never expecting I’d need it when the six of us departed Anchorage over a week earlier. Arm warmers, leg warmers, shoe covers, long finger gloves – everything I’d brought I was wearing that last day, all of it mud-caked and sopping wet by the time we made it to D.C. Which itself was a weird experience, the six of looking like we just crawled out of a fetid swamp, suddenly thrust into a congested city. We walked our bikes as we elbowed our way along sidewalks through a crush of D.C. denizens, past glam boutiques and high-end furniture galleries, in search of our hotel, which turned out to be over four miles from where we’d exited the trail. What a ghastly site we must’ve been.

Here we were (sans me) about 6 miles earlier, just north of D.C beneath a busy overpass lamenting the last of Skip’s tire flats, six in all!

Our tour began nine days earlier in Pittsburgh. The night before the cycling started we were treated to a fabulous multi-course dinner at Frances restaurant in Pittsburgh ShadySide, now owned and operated by close family friends of Happy Wife.

Upstairs above the restaurant is Franks bar, which was booked solid the following night for a drag queen party. Some of us ventured up there after dinner for a night cap or three (big shout out to Sue (left) for pickin’ up the tab!)

Recommend!

The following morning we packed our bags, checked out of the hotel, tended to various bike matters, then courageously set out on the 150-mile long Great Allegheny Passage Trail (aka The GAP), an abandoned railroad corridor turned off-road bike path. We being myself and Happy Wife, our friends Lindy & Scott, and their friends, Marcia and Skip, soon to become ours. Once we were out of the big city, the rest of the time we pedaled about 35-45 miles per day on a hard-packed trail with a gentle up-grade (2%?). We passed lots of other bikers on this portion, many more than we saw on the second half (aka the C&O trail). We stayed at cozy little Inns along the way arranged by the tour outfitter

Our bags were shuttled from Inn to Inn by van/truck – some days they even arrived on time! (Can’t recommend the shuttle company, which I won’t name). One night, the six of us stuffed ourselves into a four-seat Uber to travel to an Oktoberfest celebration at an unlikely castle-like venue in the middle of nowhere. The Pierogies and bratwurst were excellent (at least I thought so). Even the wine tasting was surprisingly good, for Pennsylvania that is. Turns out the grapes were sourced from, and the wine made in, California. After about glass #4 none of us really cared.

The GAP trail ended with a delicious 20-mile descent from the top of the eastern continental divide…

… all the way into Cumberland, MD. It was glorious day for cycling – the sun was beaming, the trees were just starting to show their Fall color, and the trail was dry and without peril with the wind at our back the entire way into Cumberland. Once we arrived, the six of us encircled the Mile Zero marker where the GAP trail ends and the C&O (Chesapeake & Ohio) begins (see previous post).

Along the GAP trail we’d heard from other cyclists that the C&O was not as friendly as the GAP, especially when wet. Sure enough, the very next day, our first day of what would be 180 miles to the end (Washington D.C.), it rained. From Cumberland to Little Orleans, all 44.07 miles, it rained. Some fun! By the time we rolled into Bill’s Place drenched and muddy from dodging rain-filled holes on the C&O, we were kindly dis-invited from sitting at the bar, asked to leave our mud-caked crap outside and to confine our dripping, stinky selves to one of the tables in the dining area (such as it was). Other than the barkeep, two good ‘ol boys at the bar, and the kitchen service, Bill’s was empty. Was it rednecky? Pretty much. But any contempt they may have had for us dissolved into welcome when they heard we were from Alaska. “Alaska! – you hunt and fish up dare do ya?!” Wanting to win their approval, I played up our celebrity status. “Yessir,” I said, “that is when we’re not runnin’ with the Palins and keepin’ a wary eye on Russia for y’all!” Backslapping and guffawing ensued. Friends for life. After 45 miles of rain, mud and 55°, beef burgers and Pabst never tasted so good.

Stay tuned for part 2…more from the C&O!