Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bike America Day 65: Reminiscing in Harper's Ferry

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Day's distance: 67.38 miles
Overall distance: 3,448 miles

When I woke up on Thursday morning, I felt nauseous, tired and weak. I hadn't had too much wine the night before but it was almost as if I was hungover. I had drank less water than normal the day before, and eaten a small dinner so I think even a small bit of alcohol really hit me. Whatever it was, I definitely wasn't in the mood to ride a bike. That being said, I knew it was our second to last day of Bike America and I wanted to enjoy myself.

We were very slow to get ready in the morning and, despite waking up at 7am, didn't begin riding until after 9:30. From the start, it was a sunny day but we were shaded on the trail. I felt cool at first and that helped with my nausea. I also tried to drink lots of water. At mile 18, we rode by Dam 5 and read the history lesson associated with it. During the civil war, Stonewall Jackson had tried to damage the Union's access to the canal by blowing up parts of this dam. They failed and the canal continued to be of great use to the union soldiers.

At mile 25, a little after noon, we arrived in Williamsport, MD and rode up a hill into town for lunch and coffee. I ate the turkey and tomato sandwich I'd packed but bought an iced tea and a mango smoothie at the cafe in town to go with it.

Back on the bikes after lunch, I felt rejuvenated by the refreshments. We rode about ten more miles and arrived at a "towpath closed" sign. There was a six mile detour on "dangerous" roads with "no shoulder". We weren't worried. After the initial climb away from the trail, the detour was wonderful. It made me realize how much I missed riding on roads. That's one downside of the trail- we're missing a view of what Maryland's country roads look like. In those six miles we saw some beautiful houses, impressively large cornfields, and old stone buildings. Toward the end of the detour, there was a sign that read "Bikers: steep hill, dismount bikes". I said to my dad, these people don't know who they're talking to. We've ridden up and down mountains and they think a little hill down toward the Potomac River was too steep? Ha!

Eight miles later, we met my mom who had ridden toward us from the end town. The three of us rode about 15 miles together and then arrived at a railroad bridge across the river from Harpers Ferry, WV, where we'd be spending the night. We walked our bikes across the bridge and took a picture of me standing in West Virginia on the Appalachian Trail. I had never set foot on the trail and it was on of my 25 before 25 goals. I didn't quite squeeze it in before my birthday but I'm still calling it a success. Now I'm motivated to come back and actually go for a hike.

Also, we were in Virginia without an official state sign to prove it. Still, that's state number 13 even though it wasn't originally part of our plan.

We went to our motel to shower and then went into town for dinner. We ate on the back patio of the Tavern at the Town's Inn, a restaurant claiming to feature civil war era cuisine. The food was good but they were out of a lot of things and the portions were unbelievably massive. I got bbq pulled pork with a salad and a side of seasonal veggies and potato. They were also very apologetic for the things they were missing and gave us an entire free 1.5L bottle of wine after serving us three glasses filled to the rim. That's one thing we've noticed this summer, the restaurants that seemingly don't know much about wine serve you A LOT of it. The terrace was cute and we met a couple from DC who'd taken the train up for the weekend. Harper's Ferry is a cute town and I loved that so many of the old houses are lived in as people's homes today, my one complaint was how early things shut down.

Now I'm sitting in the EconoLodge in a sort of disbelief that we will be riding our bikes into Washington, DC tomorrow. Earlier in the trip, when we talked about that moment, it made me feel like crying to think about it. Not because I was sad exactly but because it just felt so huge, it warranted a lot of emotion. At this moment, though, I don't feel like crying. I am really excited to see Josh and my friends and to sit on my couch in my apartment. I'm excited to go to the farmer's market and cook food, to lie around watching TV, to walk around Cleveland Park and to go for a run up Mass Ave. I'm ready to start my new job and I'm even excited to clean my apartment and to be a little bit more domestic. But I'm also feeling nostalgic about the summer and it hasn't even ended. I reminisced with my parents at dinner and, when this is over, I don't want it to seem like a far-off dream. Because this life has been so different than my life at home. Out here on the road, it's been hard to imagine my civilized, working life in DC so I expect that when I'm back in the swing of that life, it will be hard to imagine the day to day of Bike America. Even though they're worlds apart, though, I know that I will never forget this adventure and will always cherish all the happy and frustrating memories I've made with my parents. 

It is late and I should get some sleep so that I can embrace every one of our last 61 miles tomorrow. I'm sure there will be more sentimental thoughts to come, especially after the ride is officially over. I can't say exactly how I'll feel tomorrow morning and especially tomorrow at 5pm when we plan to ride into Georgetown. But I will say that this entire thing has been one of the greatest adventures of my life. Tomorrow I will have ridden my bike from Washington to Washington and I am proud of that. Here's to one more healthy day of happy, energetic pedaling!

This is where we'll begin our final day into DC...

Bike America Day 64: C&O Canal

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Day's distance: 60.86 miles
Overall distance: 3,381 miles

After marathon blog catch-up sessions at the Cumberland, MD YMCA on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, my dad and I began riding on the C&O Canal Towpath at quarter to ten. This trail begins right where the GAP trail ends in Cumberland and runs all the way to DC alongside the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. After the canal went out of service in the 1920's, the towpath was acquired by the federal government and converted to a recreational trail in the 1950's. We are very familiar with the other end of it as we've walked, hiked, and biked along it in Georgetown and Maryland but this end was brand new (to us) territory.

At the start, the trail turned out not to be much fun. The first ten miles were filled with mud and puddles so we could never get up any steady speed, slowing often to avoid puddles or avoid wild splashes. Our bikes and our bodies were still pretty covered in mud.

At mile 18, we left the trail to head into Oldtown, MD where we met my mom at a restaurant called Schoolhouse Kitchen. Having read about this place, I thought it was an old schoolhouse turned cafe so I demanded that we go. It turned out to be an actual school building converted into an auto repair shop and restaurant. We sat in the old cafeteria and ate some very inexpensive comfort food served to us by a menonite girl.

From Oldtown, the three of us rode 12 miles south to the Paw Paw Tunnel. This is a long, dark, scary tunnel along the trail that we'd been hearing about since we began our trip on the trail. It is the length of eleven football fields and has no lights. We were relieved to see that there was never a time at which you couldn't see both ends of the tunnel. Still, the views of the ends were misleading because they made you feel closer to the end than you really were. The canal still flows through the tunnel so we were on a narrow path with a guard-rail raised above the water and we were required to walk. My mom walked partway in with us because she wanted to see it and then turned around to ride back to the car. My dad and I proceeded on, making light of the darkness, the drips on our heads, the puddles under our feet, and the bumpy uneven ground.

Picture without flash.

Picture with flash.

On the other side of the tunnel, at mile 32, we remounted our bikes and continued on. Not much else happened all day. We talked about how we were kind of bored and neither of us felt the need to ride this trail again. It wasn't as pretty and felt more monotonous than the GAP trail and was much less fun than road riding. It was definitely something to check off our list but it definitely isn't the most fun terrain of the trip. Though we did ride over aqueducts, canal locks and by the cement processing plant that provided the cement for the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol (pictured below). So that was cool.

A little after six. at mile 60, we arrived in Hancock, MD. where we'd be staying the night. We got some ice cream and then had a short car trip to Happy Hills Campground. We ate turkey, tomato and cheese sandwiches for dinner, drank wine and I blogged in the dark. Only two more days to go.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Bike America Day 63: Falling Water

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Day's distance: 62.98 miles
Overall distance: 3,320 miles

On Sunday, my dad asked if I'd like to set up an appointment to see Frank Lloyd Wright's Falling Water while we're so nearby on the GAP trail. I definitely did and we knew we couldn't ride to it but would find a way to make it work. He got an appointment for Tuesday at 10:30AM. Though we were already south of it when we woke up Tuesday morning, we decided to ride further south and get some miles in before the late tour. We rode 20 miles by 9AM and met my mom in Rockwood and drove the 45 minutes to Bear Run.

Our tour was an hour long and it was amazing. For on thing, I think we had the best tour guide there was. He was a high school senior who wants to major in communications but has developed a passion for art and art history through his summer job at falling water. He clearly loved the place so much and really wanted us to be enthusiastic and have a good time.

And then there was the fact the the house is maybe the coolest one I've ever seen. From the outside, it is beautiful and weird but I didn't necessarily know enough about architecture and science to understand it all. The cantilevers everywhere, which the house is known for, are just incredible. Our guide, Josh, described the house like a game of Jenga. There was one solid base of stone, built on a natural boulder, with pieces jutting out all around, supported by the stone.

And the biggest thing about the house, which my dad got gold stars for pointing out during the tour is that the house was all about "inside, outside". Frank Lloyd Wright cared about incorporating nature into his homes and he wanted the Kaufmanns to feel like they were outside even when they were in. There were stairs from the living room into the creek below, there were glass and windows everywhere, and there were natural boulders, streams, and stones inside the home.

Also of note was the decor inside the house. From the moment I walked in I wanted everything. EVERYTHING. Even though it was built in the 30's, the house was filled with the finest looking mid-century modern pieces and I wanted it all. It made me want to re-do my apartment and I started opening and forwarding to Josh the daily junk e-mails I get from west elm and cb2 instead of deleting them immediately.

I could say a lot about this house. My dad, who was actually an architect, could say even more. But I will leave you with the pictures and tell you that you need to go see it for yourself. It is wonderful. I wasn't allowed to take pictures inside so I hope that mystery will be more motivation for you to make a trip of your own.

After our tour we grabbed lunch in the cafe. There were so many great things to choose from and I decided on a butternut squash, brie, apple, and arugula panini. Yummmm.

When we got back to Rockwood, my dad and I left on our bikes and met my mom in a town a few miles further south. The three of us wanted to ride into Maryland together and then she'd ride back to the car.

It was 12 miles to Maryland and we rode over the continental divide on our way. I will admit that I had a lot more fun on the Western continental divide but this was still a fun landmark to pass. Inside, we received confirmation that we'd been riding uphill from Pittsburgh to this point and it would, apparently, be all downhill from there.

We arrived at a tunnel that was the length of 11 football fields and rode through it together. It had big metal doors on either end and I kept imagining how scary it would be if we heard the doors close on either end while we were inside. There were lights lining the top so we had some visibility but it curved around so it was still a little scary during the time when we couldn't see an opening on either side. On the other side, we had a beautiful view of mountains and hillsides in the distance.

At mile 40, we arrived at the Mason Dixon Line and took a picture with my bike as the self-timer. After our photo, my mom got on her bike to head back to the car but I scolded her, saying that we all had to ride into Maryland together (even though I see in the picture below that we were already standing in the state). We got on our bikes at an angle and did our best to ride over the line at the same time. I like to make things as sentimental as possible and I think this one worked out very well.

My dad and I had one more tunnel and then we rode into Cumberland, MD. We rode downhill, more gradually than the elevation chart above would have you believe, and headed for the first beer sign my dad could find. He's developed a habit of craving beer immediately upon finishing a ride. We sat down at a Mexican place downtown and waited for my mom to arrive so we could all have dinner. I had steak fajitas with some Corona before heading to the YMCA where we set up camp under a pavilion in the field. I sat inside until closing time and used their internet to get some blogging in. When I texted Josh goodnight, his response included "Only three more nights alone!" I could hardly believe that to be true but it was. In four days, I'd be back in my bed in DC and this whole adventure would be a thing of the past.