Monday, June 29, 2015

Đại úy Chuck and the NCOIC Part 12

June 15, 16 and 17 – Days 11, 12 and 13

Hanging in Baltimore; 6/15 and 16

Two Zero Days were spent among Ða?i u?y’s cousins and extended family in Raven’s Country— except for Fred who mostly cares about the Yankees. Despite the NCOIC’s preference for the Steelers, only bread was broken. (ed: I love the Ravens and Steelers rivalry!) Outstanding food (Baltimore food one evening and superior Mexican the next) and libations (no National Bohemian) added to the pleasure of being around fine people.

Having someone skilled and familiar with Dundalk and in-town Baltimore made it obvious that getting from DC and traversing Baltimore would have been a very difficult ride. It was also good to have showers and beds and no need to be up and loading the bike at oh dark thirty. To successfully navigate a city aboard a loaded tandem requires much better maps than Google can provide!

Baltimore to York; 6/17

Well fed, panniers repacked with freshly laundered clothes and food for later, the duo began the final stage of its ride from north of Baltimore, again, thanks to Cousin Debi who found her way to the Trailhead in Moncton, MD. That she was traveling against the in-bound flow was good, but still served as a reminder of why riding a bike instead of driving is so compelling.

North of the Mason-Dixon, again

In Maryland, the Rail Trail like much of the C&O was under a heavy canopy of green. It climbed steadily uphill for the entire distance into Pennsylvania, about 20 miles. Soon after crossing the Mason Dixon Line again the Trail leveled and became more rural; farms, villages and less dense woodland. It also became Pennsylvania Bicycle Rout J-1. The packed earth surface in Maryland turned in to a variety of surfaces from gravel (packed and loose), paved and packed dirt. Lacking the picturesque quality of the GAP and the obvious history of C&O there were fewer Kodak Moments. The area’s significance in the Civil War was not close at hand to view or photograph.

New Freedom; historic train ride
PA Bike Route J

Big Wheels
In Glen Mill

The Howard Tunnel, built in 1940, was not the longest, darkest or wettest, but is still the oldest active railroad tunnel and deserved a picture. So, too, did the over-large wheeled replicas in a county park along the Trail.

Howard Tunnel; 1840

1840, Howard Tunnel

Indian Rock Campground, south of York, was the destination for the thirteenth day of riding. It was a small, neat place and dark clouds suggested that the tent should be located in a pavilion once more. An all-night rainfall validated the decision! Having only one functioning showerhead would have been a bigger complain had the owner/manager not shared libations which, when added to Cousin Debi’s bag of edible goodies, took care of dinner. Two more days of riding should complete the adventure.


Friday, June 26, 2015

Đại úy Chuck and the NCOIC Part 11

June 14 – Day 10

Horsepen Branch Hiker Biker Campsite to Washington, D.C.

The previous day at the Veterans’ gathering,Đại úy Chuck learned that he’d unintentionally planned the arrival in DC for Flag Day and the Foundation Day of the US Army, so wearing the Stars and Stripe/U.S. Constitution shirts given to him by RUSeeN Reflective Apparel  was even more appropriate.

Last morning on C&O. Bound for D.C.

Cuppa Joe made using the French Press feature of the JetBoil's Flash Java Kit, along with some energy bars satisfied morning hunger before setting off for Great Falls where there was supposed to be food. Here’s the sidebar about food. When riding an unsupported tour the greatest concerns are water, where to stay next and where’s the food. Specifics about food are irrelevant. If it’s edible, it’s food. So, if the Visitor’s Center at Great Falls has a concession stand, it was a potential bull’s eye.

Cuppa Joe from Flagship and JetBoil

The Visitor’s Center was good preparation for an anticipated mass of humanity to be encountered in DC and there were lots of people to test our ability to cope! Salvation in dealing with “Where’s the food!” came in the form of volunteers for Borrow-a-Bike, a program offering free, two-hour, loaner bikes to visitors. Deena, one of the volunteers, acquired an ATV and knew the route to the concession stand. Yay, food!

Real Bike Sharing!

All servicable bikes maintained by volunteers

Wearing jerseys depicting Stars and Stripes, the Constitution, Blind Veteran and Vietnam Veteran attracted the attention of many people at the Visitor’s Center, including the gentleman taking orders at the concession stand, a former Vietnamese National. On a very personal level the NCOIC spoke with the widow of a Vietnam Veteran and experienced a deeper understanding of the significance of the Vietnam War at home. Thank you, Ingrid.

Great Falls was a good stopping point to delay arriving in DC as Đại úy’s cousin would not be avail for a pick-up before 5PM. The journey through Pittsburgh had made an impression and if a ride could be had, then, fine! The operating, replica canal boat at the Park would have to wait for another day.

Replica on the C&O

Traffic on the Towpath increased dramatically inside the 10-mile post and became heavy before mile 5. Hasty, mumbled and cryptic directions were the norm inside the metro area. “Look for the pointy building” was the funniest and least helpful. Eventually, The Wall was reached. There’s nothing more that can be said about that right now.
The Wall . . . no more can be said.

While waiting to be found in DC a storm arrived in full force and making the decision to accept a ride a very good decision. Eventually, through rain and mysterious roads Debi arrived. Yay, Cuz! Now, two Zero Days awaited.

Đại úy Chuck and the NCOIC Part 10

June 13 – Day 9

Brunswick to Horsepen Branch Hiker Biker Campsite

 As always food was a primary focus upon leaving Brunswick aiming for Point of Rocks where “breakfast food, like breakfast sandwiches” were available; certainty of availability was questionable. Deli on the Rocks was an unusual place. It wasn't really a restaurant and it wasn't really a convenience store. With only one guy manning check-out and cooking (out of sight in a back room) service was slow and the results interesting. 
Đại úy ordered two eggs over medium that he received along with an obvious mistake; two eggs over very well. Hashbrowns and bacon accompanying the eggs was satisfactory.

Deli on the Rocks, Point of Rocks, MD

Joining the assorted locals and two sets of riders was a walker (Geared Up) doing “the Eastern Continental Divide”, having started in Key West, but who was currently on a short detour of a couple of hundred miles to Cumberland before returning to the AT and his overall effort to walk 10K miles in 3 years. Geared Up carried a paper backpack, little food and boasted of being able to walk fifty miles without carrying food

Geared Up and Friend

Light weight

With carbs out of the way the ride resumed with the intention of approaching but not reaching DC as Đại úy had arranged with his cousin for a ride to her home in Baltimore. Riding through Pittsburgh had been harrowing enough to make a portage highly desirable. Logistics required late arrival in DC thus one of the many Hiker Biker Campsites about 30 miles out was a reasonable option. 

Music caught  ’s attention followed by the scent of food. Riding an unsupported tour brings three basic things into focus; water, where to sleep and food. With two packages of noodle soup and a freeze-dried something or other, the evening meal would be limited. But there on the picnic grounds of White’s Ferry was a tribute to American Veterans and Soldiers arranged staffed and managed by most of the town of Poolesville, MD.
Đại úy and the NCOIC shared a table with a Veteran from the Forgotten War. Dinner was no longer a potential issue!
Harley Salute

Poolesville, MD honorts Veterans.

Horsepen Branch Hiker Biker Campsite was reached early and evening set-up was approached casually after riding less than thirty miles. Đại úy Chuck and the NCOIC were joined by an unlikely fellow traveler, a young man who said he’d ridden seventy miles and was “a little disoriented.” No argument there! It wasn’t clear whether he was a student studying hydrology or someone working in the profession, but his questions and responses were abstract and confusing enough to wonder how he’d managed to ride even ten miles. His “gear” was hanging or tied but definitely not secured to the rack on his mountain bike by the handles of the plastic bags holding the gear. When he wandered to distant portion of the primitive campsite and began setting up his site he first removed a tent from the box in which it had been purchased. His other equipment materialized in similar fashion.

Later, he explored the steep riverbank seeking a way to reach the nonexistent beach below and paused to ask whether a path existed. “Yes, there’s a path, but unless you have a rope no one up here’s gonna be able to help you get back up.” The young man stood, unmoving as he contemplated that response before returning to his newly purchased and erected tent. He made no more appearances!

At Bill’s Place in Little Orleans the idea was offered that there are people who live a life of panhandling and surviving along the canal. A disheveled man sitting at the bar was used as an example of “canal bum” in the same way that there are (or were) railroad bums. “He always has money—most of them don’t—and doesn’t cause any trouble.” Visualizing and discussing the lifestyle of a canal bum became a primary topic. The next arrival at Horsepens Branch seemed to be someone taking the idea of “canal bum” to another level.

Initially, the young man’s explanation for why he was parking a car a mile and a half away and spending the night in a tent seemed to be a way to live cheaply. The more he said, the more he slid toward being an “upscale canal bum” hoping to score some energy bars. What else are bike riders likely to have? Eventually, he explained that he had more legitimate reasons for choosing to spend the night in a tent: one, he had a job that he had a job that would have him in the same area the following day and two; he wanted to hear or see owls. Legitimate, but maybe not typical reasons.

When his coworker and friend arrived sometime later it was no surprise to learn that the new arrival, who hoped to walk the AT one day, used drier lint to stuff his backpacking pillow.  Unusual? How about if Đại úy adds that he, too, knows someone who collects drier lint? What’re the chances of finding two people along the C&O Canal who have a personal link to drier lint collection?

Đại úy, the NCOIC and the new arrivals (minus the hydrologist) soon became close personal friends for the remainder of the evening. The new arrivals played owl and other bird noises late into the dark of night, but were gone by 0700 the next morning, perhaps returning to their jobs or maybe to ply their canal bum trade.


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Đại úy Chuck and the NCOIC, Part 9

June 12 – Day 8

Williamsport to Brunswick

If it hasn’t been said before, can’t too much food. The day began a hundred yards from the Red Roof at Waffle House and two All Star breakfasts; eggs, hash browns or grits, “breakfast meat”, waffle and toast.

Đại úy has ridden many supported tours and has not had to solve the logistical problems that can arise when riding unsupported. When a very large tree blocked the Trail it posed a potentially serious problem. A couple who had departed Williamsport earlier had just finished getting through the Trail blockage and offered assistance motivated out of honest concern, but also from a belief that a blind guy was not adequate to the challenge. Without additional assistance Đại úy Chuck and the NCOIC had the Co-Motion clear of the blockage, packed and ready to proceed in less than 45 minutes.


Obstacle Overcome

Also inconvenienced by the fallen tree was a fellow-traveller on the final leg of a ride from San Diego to northern Virginia.

Nearing Home

Eventually the canal returned to its proper position and we resumed a more normal state of riding readiness until meeting an area of “Road Work Ahead” where gravel was being moved and smoothed and packed to repair or improve a section of the Trail that appeared to have suffered some serious erosion. Gravel was being brought to the worksite in a small dump truck that we had the misfortune to encounter at a point where turning around was impossible for the truck (that now seemed to be not nearly so small) and almost impossible for the Co-Motion. The truck driver pulled as close to the canal edge as possible while Đại úy Chuck and the NCOIC stood as close as possible to the precipice overlooking the Potomac. The picture below shows how close to the canal’s edge the driver positioned the inside tire of the truck’s dual rear wheels. As for Đại úy Chuck and the NCOIC? “He just scraped the pannier,” said Đại úy, with remarkable calm, as the vehicle edged past.


One of Đại úy Chuck's goals is to walk the Appalachian Trail and anyone who doubts his sincerity and ability is badly mistaken. Visiting Harper’s Ferry for its historical value and its AT fame was a goal, but making it happen was compromised by a too casual description of how to get to town. “Just cross the bridge . . .” would require ascending the locally and AT famous spiral stairway; a minor inconvenience for someone hundreds of miles into at AT but well outside reasonable for the Co-Motion and gear. So, keep moving on.

Harper's Ferry, the spiral stairs and AT.

There were more backpackers than riders on this short section when C&O and AT meet. One walker, whose Trail name was Ophi, or Ofi or some variation on that sound, shared a wealth of information including that he’d lost more than thirty pounds since departing Springer Mountain.

AT Walker and AT Walker-to-be

A stationary freight train blocked access to the other side of the tracks and a chance to visit the International Youth Hostel favored by many through hikers. Another keep moving” decision. The Co-Motion was aimed toward Brunswick and the city owned Brunswick Family Campground. It’s difficult to not draw comparisons and contrasts between GAP and C&O and the same ones arise regularly; both are interesting, water is more plentiful along C&O, but taste is an issue and GAP towns are much more committed to the GAP. Like many other parts of the trip, adjustments had to be made and this place was one of them. The place was clean and we were offered use of a pavilion to counter the rain that had just commenced.

Avoiding rain in Brunswick

A bivouac or Ravens’ fans posed a potential problem; noise. Playing the Veterans card, stating that the best rivalry in football is the Steelers and Ravens and asking that they keep an eye on our gear assured a positive response later. Food (and lots of it) was found at Potomac Street Grill in Brunswick. The recommendation by locals was excellent.

Serious rain never happened and the Ravens’ fans settled surprisingly early. What could have been a not-so-good day became a day with events and just another day on the road.
Beuaty by a Dam Site

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Đại úy Chuck and the NCOIC, Part 8

June 11 - Day 7

SOB said he’d be around Bill’s at ten and could “fix somethin’” but an early start was a better option with Hancock less than 20 miles away. Scenery was unchanging while the trail varied, as before, with all possible combinations including (but not limited to) wide, narrow, soft, firm, gravel and mud.

More history

Ten miles before reaching Hancock it’s possible to join the Western Maryland Rail Trail, a paved trail paralleling C&O for more than twenty miles. It was possible to maintain 15 miles per hour and gain some relief from the constant adjustments necessary on any gravel path. Food was the primary reason for wanting to reach Hancock and a visit to Weaver’s took care of those needs, but C&O Bicycle ( was of equal interest because the Specialize wireless computer that had been functioning only intermittently went comatose. In its place went a basic, wired unit from Planet Bike.

Western Maryland Rail Trail

C&O Bicycles

Enjoying the warm morning was one of the volunteers who ply the Western trail. His ride was worth a long look.

Rail Trail Volunteer's Catrike

Many of the locks have houses associated with them and some are particularly attractive. Some have been fully restored and equipped and are available for daily rental.

Living at the Locks

Living at the L|ocks

Other than the similar terrain and woods there was little to distinguish the section of the Trail to Williamsport, the next scheduled stop.

Most of the towns along the GAP and C&O are small and interaction with residents who are not involved in or at least familiar with bike riders is minimal. Even in Cumberland, a busy small city, the end of GAP and beginning of C&O and the riders and walkers using them is commonplace. Meeting a bevy of swimming suit clad adults, adolescents and children, maybe thirty or more, leaping into the Potomac River where the canal ceases for several miles was a shock to our woodland sensibilities. The towpath here has the appearance of a ledge and feels far more treacherous than it probably is, but after hundreds of miles of woods, a rocky cliff on one side and the broad river on the other was disconcerting.

Williamsport was cultural and physical shock with too many cars and too steep hills, but eventually the Red Roof Inn was located. Discounts for veterans and a generally bike-friendly attitude made the stop positive. Even with several eateries nearby delivery pizza was the food option of choice.

Đại úy Chuck and the NCOIC, Part 7

June 9 and 10 - Days 5 and 6

Day five was what hikers call a Zero Day; no miles. A visit with Đại úy’s family south of Cumberland was a welcome relief from Trail accommodations; real beds and no hastening to repack and move on. Oh . . . and food! It’s pretty difficult to eat too much when you spend hours pedaling, but Aunt Mary got pretty close to topping off the tanks with her culinary offerings while Uncle Ronnie offered his gentle, sage observations.

Back in Cumberland on Day six the journey changed significantly as the Trail traveled along the former towpath of the C & O Canal. Weekend traffic, both foot and wheeled, contrasted with the GAP as did the nature of the Trail’s surface. Where the GAP was primarily hard-packed and wide, C&O which is pretty much flat, varied from packed and rutted to parallel single tracks to muddy to being basically more technical and requiring greater attention to avoid mishaps.

On the C & O
Narrow trails

Visually, the C&O was very different. Vistas and mountains were replaced by the ever present Potomac to the right and the canal to the left and for many miles after leaving Cumberland man’s presence was obvious even in the size of trees and depth of forest along with the first of more than seventy locks we’d pass before reaching DC. Unlike the GAP, pumps provide water at frequent intervals, a very good thing, but iodine used to treat the water adds an odd taste and a potential problem for anyone with thyroid problems. Associated with the pumps are Hiker Biker Campsites; primitive, wooded, grassy spaces, fire ring, grill and picnic table.

Pumping Iodized water
Đại úy demonstrating his skill.

Locks came in various states of repair and many offered appealing Kodak Moments.

Lots of |Locks
Grooves on aquaduct made walking a better option than riding.

Lots and Lots of Locks
Lock with intact gates

After Big Savage and Brush Tunnels (remember, “Keep Left Of Fence”), Paw Paw Tunnel could have been a disappointment, but it wasn’t! More than 3000 feet of canal and towpath through a mountain? Took almost fifteen years to complete and the result is pretty damn remarkable.

Paw Paw Canal and Tow Path Tunnel
Paw Paw Tunnel

Paw Paw Tunnel fiinished with bricks
Lotsa bricks

Big tunnel with a small tow path
Big tunnel. Small towpath.

One significant difference between GAP and C&O is the way communities along GAP have embraced it. Locating services after leaving Cumberland can be frustrating even when being told “y’ can’t miss it”. Even when finding “y’ find it” the discovery can be a mixture of odd, interesting and frustrating. Little Orleans was like that. After 47 miles it was time to seek shelter for the night and food. So far C&O had not been the nightmare some people had depicted, nor had it been a walk-in-the-park. Bill’s Place is located in the small settlement a short distance off the Trail and up a hill, as many things are along both GAP and C&O. Reviews and opinions about Bill’s Place varied widely, but most suggested it was a must-visit place.

Bill’s Place is now SOB’s Place, meaning Son-of-Bill, since Bill died in 2013. Clientele was mix of bike riders and locals. A corner of the single large are held typical camp store fare, the central area had adequate seating for twenty or thirty people at assorted tables and an L-shaped bar dominated the area just inside the entrance; just a typical rural gathering place that happened to be close to a hiker biker trail. Đại úy chose a ham and cheese sandwich from the basic menu, but added Maryland Crab Soup. NCOIC opted for a burger. The food was above average and according to Dai uy, the soup which he said was more like a chowder was excellent.

Posing at Bill's Place
Posing at Bill's Place

More Bill's
Bill's Place

Welcome Bikers, Canoers, Hunters, et cetera
Bikers, Hikers, Canoers, Hunters, et cetera
Directions were given to Little Orleans Campground with the caution that there’s a hill. There was. There were; one steep downhill that would be negotiated uphill the following morning and one serious uphill that kicked both the Đại úy’s and NCOIC’s asses. The directions to the campground had said “.6 miles from trail.” Point five was vertical! Fortunately, the campground was pleasant and quiet and had adequate shower and laundry facilities. The NCOIC’s choice of tent site ran a bit too much downhill, but there was no problem sleeping.

Day 6 was physically demanding because of the nature of the C&O and the need to navigate obstacles and other people, but it was a good start.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Đại úy Chuck and the NCOIC, Part 6

June 8 – Day 4

In Basic Training one of the concepts learned is based on the expression, “Don’t stand when you can sit. Don’t sit when you can lay down.” I a similar fashion when the opportunity arises to spend a night in a real bed, make use of the opportunity. Yoder’s Guest House is a place where both body and spirit can be refreshed. If that seems like an overstatement you’ve never stayed there; B&B quality rooms and ambiance and access to a well stocked kitchen makes it a very special value without B&B pricing.

Yoder's Guest House
Yoder's Guest House

Duy ui at Yoder's
Posing for Yoder's

The other attraction in Meyersdale that draws bikers from the GAP despite the steep return trip is the G.I. Dayroom Diner, a breakfast/lunch place where tasty carbs are standard fare where locals in caps and ready-to-go-to-work attire share space with colorful kit-wearing riders. The grill operator knows his craft, wielding a spatula to make perfect over medium eggs, pancakes with smiley faces, local sausage patties and bacon on the flat-top. Not having pancakes s a mistake because one of the syrups offered is locally produced maple, one of the town’s claims to fame (PA Maple Festival).

G.I. Dayroom
Grill operations at G.I.

Up the hill from G.I. Dayroom
Up . . .

Down to Meyersdale from GAP
. . . Down

Meyersdale is the last town along Gap before reaching the Eastern Continental Divide after something like 75 miles of uphill. Fortunately, the up is a gentle grade and Đại úy Chuck and NCOIC could manage an easy 10 to 12 mph without great effort. Reaching the Divide brought one of those “man, that was cool” smiles.

That's Cool! At the Eastern Continental Divide
Eastern Continental Divide

Downhill from here
Downhill on the other side!

Graphically speaking
Down is cool!

The loose gravel trail paralleling a railroad made the fifteen mile descent a bit squirmy on but required a minimum of pedaling. Vistas and viaducts, deep woods and charming villages made the climb to the Divide especially picturesque, but, along with the dramatic marking of the Divide, Big Savage Tunnel and the windy vista encountered upon exiting and the Mason-Dixon Line, provided satisfactory sensory input. There are three tunnels on Cumberland side of the GAP, Big Savage, Borden and Bush, 3900 foot Big Savage Tunnel being the longest, and Brush Tunnel with a seemingly obvious warning where the Trail shares the tunnel with a sometimes operational set of tracks.

Big Savage Tunnel
Big Savage

At the Mason-Dixon Line
Mason or Dixon?

Keep left of fence?
It seems obvious.
 At the end of four days (and part of one night) riding, Cumberland was a welcomed stopping point as it marked a Zero Day with some of Đại úy’s family from the area. Two days later came the very different challenges presented by the C&O.

End of first leg.