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.
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
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!
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.