None of this trip went as planned.
A month or so ago I did a little test run out to visit my folks. I made it to Ohiopyle on the way out, then came home from Meyersdale with one night camping in each direction. I talked about doing the whole trip in November and my aunt reminded me that peak foliage would be in October, so I scheduled the trip for the 11th. Then I found a tick and had to do two weeks of rough antibiotics until the 10th, so rescheduled my train ticket for the 18th. The weather was initially looking like it would be cold but mostly dry, so I bit the bullet and bought a bunch of (pricey) cold weather gear. Then with a few days left, it warmed up and I had to reconfigure.
The morning of the 18th (and by morning, I mean the ungodly hour of 3am) I woke up to my cat puking all over my bed. Decided that meant I should get up and eat breakfast, discovered holes in my hydration pack’s bladder. I duct taped the holes and got everything ready to leave, then rode to the train station… with water leaking all over the place. I got there around 5am dripping wet. The guy working gave me a massive garbage bag, and it was my companion for the rest of this trip. Also rolling your bike on is remarkably easy, and nobody checked my ticket or identification which I thought was strange.
If you’ve ever taken the train to DC, it’s a beautiful ride. Very long, but beautiful. I had a pretty good seat neighbor, Charles from Honduras. I mention it because I learned that there is an island in Honduras where everyone has British names, and also that Charles may or may not have pirates for ancestors. Kind of fascinating. We sat and watched the leaves and made small talk with other folks on the train. You’re really missing out if you don’t talk to anyone on a long trip like this; there are tons of fascinating people from all over the country on the train. An older guy kept pointing at things and muttering, and eventually I caught on and started pointing at things and asking him questions… he seemed to know everything.
I got lost in DC. I did get to see the White House (in passing) and the Washington Monument. Google Maps did not navigate well at all and my 3 miles turned into more like 8 after 2 hours. Everyone I asked on bikes had no idea what the Towpath was and some guy day drinking on the sidewalk was convinced I should cross the river into Virginia. I finally found a guy named Art who led me to the Capital Crescent Trail, so I missed mile marker 0 but at that point I didn’t care and was pretty grateful that one human in all of DC knew where the stupid trail was.
So obviously having spent 4x as long looking for the trail, I needed to figure out where I would be camping for the evening. Some lady yelled at me to get off the trail if I was going to play with my phone (hunny or sweetie included) because I delayed her race-pace passing a pedestrian. There was no “off the trail” except in the canal. This didn’t help my mood. I’m including it here only because it goes well with the overall trip.
The first night I made it to Horsepen Branch and camped with a guy named Ron. He was a local, and he was doing our Pittsburgh equivalent of camping at Dravo Cemetery. He boiled too much water both at night and in the morning and let me use the extra, which was fantastic. It somehow didn’t end up with me making up any time, but whatever. He did make one comment that was a little off, when I asked him if he had ever slept in a hammock. “Yeah, all over Asia!” Why were you in Asia? “Killing little people. They didn’t care, they just made more.” (Vietnam war). It was pretty toasty, I didn’t put my rain-fly on, and I made friends with all the spiders in hopes that maybe they’d eat all the mosquitoes. They didn’t.
I don’t remember a ton of details from the next day except that I saw my first awesome enormous snapping turtle, hit a string of really iodine-heavy water pumps, and right around late afternoon I hit a bump and threw a bag into my front wheel – ripping it open and lodging a pair of wool underwear into my brake. Couldn’t get the fabric out so took the brake off and hung it from my handlebars.
That night I camped with a guy named Ron. I told him I would call him Snowbird Ron because he bikes to Florida every fall and back to Pittsburgh every Spring. Ron watched me puke from the iodine water. We also were both paranoid at night, I heard footsteps and we both heard voices (I thought it was his radio). He checked both times and nothing was wandering our campsites, but he was also concerned about a woman who was behind him earlier in the day.
 I almost forgot this part, but we burned the torn underwear that destroyed my brakes as well as an odd sock (I must have lost one on the train). Sort of a funny detail in retrospect.
Woke up the next morning, ate a few nuun tablets and made my way to Williamsport Sheetz for breakfast and better water. Fried food and redbull… got back on the trail and puked again (I had more iodine water before making it to sheetz). Definitely saw a theme for the trip. Ran into quite a few folks making the PGH to DC trek, and several told me to take the Western Maryland Rail Trail, a paved 20+ mile trail parallel to the towpath. I’m glad I saw the sign; the trail was beautiful and fast. I stopped at the bike shop in Hancock and ate popsicles. Note – they have the sketchiest toilets of the entire trip. Watched an older lady fall off her bike (she was fine) and her friend ride away on her bike. Good midday comic relief (obviously only because she was fine).
Got back on the C&O and was thinking “I feel pretty good, nothing terrible happened today” and then my phone fell, while connected to a charging cord. I caught the cord and it swung into my wheel, destroying my phone and bending a spoke.
At this point I hadn’t really been running into folks on the trail so expected to camp alone. I knew the next place I might find a Verizon store would be Cumberland, and that I’d want to try to make up the time I’d lose looking. I also knew I’d have no entertainment after it got dark so thought I’d ride after sunset. Made it through the Paw Paw Tunnel – holy sketchballs. But riding the Towpath at night (and trying to pick up speed) may actually be more sketchy.
I camped by myself that night, for the first time ever. Not sure I expected camping alone to be more sketchy than camping with a stranger, but it was. I had no concept of time. I woke up the next morning and had a cold. Packed up and hit the trail as soon as I could see. The guy at the next campsite (traveling from Maine to Mexico) told me it was 8am, so it was the earliest i had actually made it out.
The sky was pretty angry the next day and the wind had picked up considerably. I kept looking for places I could take shelter if it started raining, but the rain didn’t come until I was in the very last 2-3 miles. I made it to Cumberland and went into the bike shop. They told me there were no verizon stores nearby and kindly let me call my mother. After determining that riding another 150 miles with no maps or contact was a bad idea, and also that the weather looked terrible… I opted to eat a sandwich and get a ride home.
On the way home, I noticed that most of the leaves had already fallen compared to when I came through on the train a few days ago. This made me regret my decision a lot less. I also found out my aunts were in town for an event and ended up having a pretty good weekend with family, so all-in-all I’m definitely glad I didn’t opt to bang out the GAP in the rain just to say I could.