The C&O Canal Bike Trip on 10/16/2002
Relive every exciting, wet and painful moment.
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Hey everyone,

Just got back from an amazing trip out East. My housemate Tad had finally
convinced me to get on my butt for what for him has been an annual Fall
Foliage Bike Trip on the Chesapeke and Ohio Canal Tow Path. I flew into
National Airport Thursday afternoon and made my way on the Metro out to
Tad's brother Leo's house in Bethesda. After putting my stuff down, I got a
call from Tad who was back in the old Mount Pleasant hood. I took a cab down
there and hung with him and Randy and Andy. The main topic of conversation
of course was the sniper that had been poppin off rounds at unsuspecting
victims all over the DC metropolitan area. We talked about how that kind of
thing wasn't new to the Mount Pleasant neighborhood that endured the shotgun
stalker back in 1994. People were pretty angry, but not at all convinced
that who ever was doing it would get busted.

In the morning we packed our three bikes into Leo's pickup truck and headed
out in the rain to Harper's Ferry. There was a sniper attack that day in
Fredericksburg and we strained to hear news on the old AM radio in the late
'70's truck. We had a very nice lunch at a little diner and they gave me a
big garbage bag that was going to save my sleeping bag and tent from getting
wet. Tad explained to me that I need to put the sleeping bag in the garbage
bag before putting it in the stuff sack because it won't rip like a plastic
bag and it doesn't really matter if the stuff sack gets dirty and wet as
long as the contents stayed dry. I had planned on some rain and all my
clothes were packed in a dry bag used more regularly on boat trips. I also
had my goretex rain coat and all my clothes down to my underwear and socks
were all synthetic polypropolene so they wouldn't absorb much water and
would be very light and compact. Beyond that, I didn't have much else other
than a small repair kit, a pump, a tooth brush a light for the bike and a
headlamp for around the camp fire. I basically accepted that my feet would
get wet and stay wet the whole trip.

We met up with Pete Mondale, TR, Don Frederico, Chuck and Mop at the A-frame
house/tourist information place in Harpers Ferry and we waited a little
while for JD to show up with the van from Rolling Rapids Resort to take us
and our bikes up another two hours to the head of the path in Cumberland,

The rain was falling steadily the whole time and it only took about 10
minutes of riding for the last trace of dryness to leave my feet. The dirt
tow path was full of puddles and mud. It was then we discovered the real
beauty of Tad's latest purchase. He went out and bought himself a top of the
line recumbant bike. On top of the fact that he didn't have to sit on one of
these nasty saddle seats (a topic we'll get more on later), the pedals are
two feet above the road, so while our shoes and socks became completely
disgusting, his were white as new. The recumbant was fitted with four
panniers and they remained completely mud free while the rest of ours got
completely covered in mud.

We trudged on thru the mist and rain and since we left mile 185 of the tow
path at 4 in the afternoon, we were pulling out our bike lights before we
got 3/4 of the 40 miles planned done. The tow path follows the Patomac River
185 miles from Cumberland all the way back down into Washington DC on the
Maryland side of the river. It was built in the 1850's as a part of the
canal that was supposed to bring boats up river to where it could connect
with the Ohio River and head West to the Mississippi. The tow path is where
the mules would stand and drag the barges along the way. When I was in
England this summer, I saw a lot of old canals that were built like this
that brought boats in from the coasts to just about every single town and
farm in the land. The thing was, just when they were about finished with the
C&O, the Iron Horse had been invented and made it obsolete before it ever
got much use. Oh well. The other really interesting thing was that it was
built before the Civil War. So armies from the North and the South would use
the same path we were riding on to move their supplies and troops up and
down the river. Many of the most decisive battles of the Civil War were
fought right along side of the path. This first night, I really started
feeling the ghosts as we rode in the dark through the 150 year old half mile
long tunnel built for the canal. As we rode slowly on the thin path hanging
on one side of the tunnel, the patterns on the old bricks, the strange
shadows thrown by our bike lights and sounds of water dripping created an
eerie sense of timelessness and connection with those who built it.

On the other side, Mop got a flat under a bridge and a few of us took the
opportunity to make the beer run. Unfortunatly all they had was Bud Light.
About every 7 or eight miles along the tow path, right where you seem to be
the furthest from anything, there are camp grounds with a out house and a
water pump. We were surprised when the next one we came across was actually
occupied on this rainy day, so we had to forge on for another 7 miles til we
found the next one vacant. The rain lightened a little and we were able to
get our tents set up and even get a fire big enough to cook our giant steaks
to perfection. Tad and I stayed up late drinking the nasty beer and singing
songs that we've been working on and praising the glory of his new and still
kind of clean bike.

In the morning, I remember not wanting to wake up. At least it wasn't
raining. I don't think I got out of camp til well after noon. So we all
piled down the trail from mile 147 hoping to get to about mile 102 where we
would meet Sparkles, Amberg, Sylvia, Francesca, Maria, and Randy who were
starting in Harpers Ferry and taking the path up the other way to meet us.
Leo left early and Pete caught up to him. I rode on spending time riding
with Tad, Mop, Chuck and Frederico before finally getting into a great
groove and reaching our camp at 102 ahead of them. Unfortunately, Pete and
Leo and the rest of the gang were nowhere in site. There was a small family
there saying our group had gone on ahead. So with 45 miles done, and the sun
gone, I pressed on hoping they'd be at the next campsite at mile 96. No such
luck. That campsite didn't have a working pump. It wasn't til mile 91 that I
saw the camp fire and heard people arf'ing in my direction. It was great to
get hugs from the gals and beers from the boys. At 56 miles, that was my
longest day riding ever and it came a day after I had ridden 38. I'd never
put in two long days in a row before. I was only half way home.

Meanwhile, one of the main supports on Mop's rack had broken and he had to
MacGyver it so he could keep going. Then the other side broke and he was
screwed. This happened right before the original planned camp, so he thought
he was fine, but when the bitter family told him he had at least 6 miles to
go, he had no choice but to walk. He made it to the camp without the pump
and had given up and set up his tent before Sparkles went to rescue him and
bring him back to the fold. Sparkles discovered that the other side wasn't
really broken. It just lost a screw, so it turned out Mop had walked 6 miles
with a bike he could have ridden. They replaced it and got back to camp in
time for the last of the fajitas and beer. We all slept pretty well that

We woke up to the sound of rain. I had to jump out of my tent to cover up my
bike seat and grab other things that were flying around. That was it tho til
much later in the day. The 14 of us had a leisurely breakfast and broke
camp. We stopped at a cool old store to get some snacks and refresh our (non
pumped) water supplies. I found an ingenious solution to my saddle sores
that doesn't really deserve much attention here. Tad of course had no butt
sores, no sore wrists, shoulders or back. He was completely comfortable in
his recumbant bike. Mop, Pete and I really started to work as a team on the
path for about 20 miles. Each of us would take the lead for a mile while the
others would draft behind the pannier laden bikes. It had been hard to get
over 10mph on the muddy trail, but for these miles we were grooven at around

At Harpers Ferry, everyone but Tad, Pete, Frederico and I headed into town
to get their cars and drive back. I made it to about mile 50 before my back
tire went flat. I fixed it in about 10 minutes, took off and five minutes
later it was flat again. I looked more carefully and saw the tread had a big
hole in it. I tried patching the tire and tube this time and made it to camp
still just before Tad. Meanwhile, Don Frederico had made it to camp, set up
his tent and met me on his beer run. When he came back he had a 18 inch
pepperoni and garlic pizza and three six packs of great beer. That was not
too shabby. With one last burst of rain, we had the end of the frontal
system and the sky cleared and the moon and stars came out. We found an old
dead oak tree and had plenty of firewood. There was a train track that
seemed to go through the center of our camp and we woke up at night a few
times to the thundering of trains.

Monday we were up pretty early and ate the last of the food we were carrying
with us and mosied down the trail. At one point we had to go over a bridge
over the Monogohila (sp?) River. The whole ship canal had a causeway too.
Can you imagine what it was like to see ships going over a bridge? Soon
after that, my rear tire blew out again. I fixed as I could but it blew
again right away. I was behind the other three and stranded, but managed to
send a message ahead with passers by to tell Pete to go to a bike store to
get me a new tire. Meanwhile, I walked and finally rode very slowly on a
tire with virtually no air in it til I got to where we were leaving the tow
path. Tad was waiting for me there and we took the White's Ferry across the
Patomac into Virginia. Pete got the message and got into White's Ferry and
met us on the other side of the river. We were on our way in no time. After
about 5 miles of riding on the street, we took a left on this other bike
path. We followed that about 22 more miles to within a mile of Pete's house
in Vienna. Unfortunately, I had another slow leak start about three miles
from home. My legs were so tired and the extra strain it took to keep me
going burned out my thighs and achillies tendons. I still am having a little
problem walking.

But we all made it. We showered and my bestest pseudo niece Lily made us
shrimp dumplings as an appertiser for a huge chicken feast. Sparkles, and
Amberg came by and we sat down for sniper coverage... this time he struck
less than five miles from us in the 7 corners area... and to watch the
Giants win the pennant. In the morning, I took the metro into DC and had a
breakfast in Dupont Circle and lunch with Tad and Leo before flying back
home to New Orleans. It was very nice to sleep in my own bed and have a
blackend shrimp po-boy for lunch.

So that's the tale of the annual fall foliage bike trip on the C&O canal.
Here are a few things I found in my email box this morning.

You think you have it bad:

Nothing keeps a relationship on its toes so much as lively debate.
Fortunate, then, that my girlfriend and I agree on absolutely
nothing. At all.

San Francisco is getting active:
This morning's blockade led to attacks by riot police.

Try this quiz (if you already haven't)

My friend Holly is releasing her Burning Man DVD. Check out the trailer if
you have a decent connection. It's $50, but I may indulge:
Online event flyer: http://www.desertdrama.com/news.html

Raised Barn Press proudly presents the release of:

Drama in the Desert: The Sights and Sounds of Burning Man, based on
the images of Holly Kreuter
http://www.desertdrama.com (There is lots of new info about the book here!)

Celebrate the launch of this stunning new Book and DVD set that
includes photographs, video, stories, poetry, interviews and an
original score.

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