I don't always refer to myself in the third person, but when I do I'm usually badmouthing myself. To be fair, it wasn't a total ass kicking. I still did 55 miles my first time carrying gear. I fell short of my goal destination, Harpers Ferry, by 11 miles, opting instead to call it a night at Point of Rocks, a lovely little hamlet with a lot of nocturnal train activity. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
Thursday morning I must have snoozed my alarm a good 6 times. Instead of the moderate hour of 8:00, I woke at 8:45. What are you gonna do? I had been up late unpacking, sorting, and repacking all my gear for the trip. I was paranoid I was going to leave some vital piece of gear behind. Like the key to my bike lock. Yup, definitely did that. So I carried a good 5 lbs of locking mechanisms for nothing. But I think that's all that I missed. Not bad for my first overnight on a bike.
Even with all the late night hours I devoted to handling this task, I still took an hour to get out my door from the moment I left my bed, most of this deliberating on how much food (not enough) and water (just right) to take. As I tied together the final loose ends, I looked out my window towards Georgetown where the trail began. Rain was coming down where it had been merely threatening an hour prior. Scheisse. Oh well. This ride was supposed to be breaking me in to the world of cycle touring, and I would have to become accustomed to riding in rain eventually. Might as well be today!
Bike fully loaded, I made my way down to the lobby of my building where I paused for a photo op with my baby. The cleaning lady gave me some funny looks as I propped my bike against the wall and took some provocative photos with the handlebars turned just so. She wouldn't understand. With that out of the way I saddled up and rode for Georgetown.
At least the rain held off until I arrived at the trail. And even then it only misted for the first few miles. Then I got drenched for 40. The rain jacket I brought either didn't do its job, or I sweat enough inside of it to be completely soaked. I spent the better part of the day inside the cloud that was raining on me. But it made for a beautiful ride. My only lapse in judgement was to not bring a change of clothes for the next day. Putting on cold, wet clothes first thing in the morning takes a lot of courage and willpower.
I rode with a persistent pain in my right hamstring and I stopped frequently to stretch. Stopping for lunch, I ate my dinner too. I don't know what I was thinking when I packed my food, but I didn't plan on having an appetite, apparently. Leaving myself short on food definitely motivated me to make enough miles to hit some sort of town. But about 20 miles in I also developed a pain in my left knee, so the frequency of stretch stops increased and my mileage went down. My pace wasn't what I expected it to be, either. The majority of the ground below was soft to downright mushy. The tires on my bike were acceptable for gravel. Not great, but acceptable. They weren't meant to be put through muddy puddles and piles of wet leaves. I skidded and splashed my way up the trail, dreaming of the supposedly drier day ahead of me tomorrow, though I knew the ground would still be soft.
The biggest frustration of the day was not bringing my lens hood so I could avoid all the rain spatter on my camera, and a humidity that built up between the lens and my UV filter. Rain and fog are prime conditions for interesting shooting. I got a few in, at any rate, both that day and the return trip the next day. As evidenced below.
The hamstring pain I had been dealing with gained an accomplice on the other side when my quads started cramping around mile 50. Only a few miles away was a hamlet, Point of Rocks, that looked somewhat promising for food, and there were designated campsites within a few miles on either side of it. Rolling up to town I saw this (above) off to my left, and my hunger was pushed aside by the desire to capture the last few minutes of light and the fog settling over the woods. But not for long. A mere 15 minutes I was sat at a little fast food shack and a West Virginia family a few tables away did everything they could not to stare at the mud splattered, soaking wet guy with the man-bun set a record for consuming a gyro and fries.
When I was finished being a spectacle I crept back outside to my bike and disappeared back into the woods that were now pitch black save for my pathetic bike light shining off the wet leaves that blanketed the ground. I opted to backtrack to the last campsite I had passed about a quarter mile back instead of riding 2 miles in the dark to the next. The rain had held off for the last hour or so, so setting up the tent was not the miserable affair I expected, and I was all set up and cozy within a 10 minute span. I had brought a book, but at the very late hour of 7:30 I was already feeling sleepy enough to call it. Moments later I was out.
The trouble with camping along the C & O Canal Trail is that it parallels train tracks for much of its 183 miles. Two trains had passed before I fell asleep, and another few passed by in the night. Thankfully, I sleep hard. I woke for a few seconds on a couple train passings, but I more or less slept through the night. And a good way into the morning. I woke to my failsafe alarm at 8:00.
Packing was quick and breakfast was quicker. I needed to keep moving. Having not brought a change of clothes for a simple 2 day trip I left no option but to put on my cold, wet clothes in the morning. The temperature had dropped about 10° overnight and was forecasted to hover in the mid fifties all day, despite being sunnier than the day before. It definitely motivated me to keep pedaling that day. That, combined with the fact that a) I had seen all this scenery the day before in much more dramatic and appealing light, and b) the ground was a tad firmer than the previous day made for a fairly brisk return trip, relatively speaking. I cruised into Georgetown at around 1:30, shaving a full 2 hours off my time from the ride up. I was temporarily waylaid when I realized I was dangerously close to Stachowski's and that I hadn't eaten anything substantial in 6 hours. I think I deserved a meaty treat. My only regret is not ordering the pastrami.