Sunday, June 9, 2024

390 miles through the mountains on loaded bicycles: Whose Idea was that? Part 2


Steve and I have a few things in common, one of them is getting up early, extreme early. We left the RedRoof Inn in the dark, ate a large meal at the WaffleHouse and then set off with our bikes loaded all the way up, on the downhill route through town to find the actual trail. By the time the sun was up, we were already cruising along, wondering what we were going to do with all the extra time because we were riding so fast. The countryside was beautiful and it was great to see it without the constant curtain of rain we experienced last year. We didn't really know how fortunate we were, until the locals started  telling us about how much rain had come before we arrived. Soon, this was evident in the muddy trails and I was never so glad that I had purchased fenders for my bike right before we left on the trip.

It was surprisingly warm up there. We expected from the 40's-70's and it was more like the mid 80's. I had one pair of shorts in my pack and that's what I wore the whole expedition. I was really getting into the trip and was thinking that we would sleep like babies when we finally got to our destination for the night: a bed and breakfast called the Bikepath B&B in PawPaw, West Virginia. It was a town so small, that I think the audience for a Friday night high school football game in my town might dwarf the population here. It was about a mile off the trail, and we followed our GPS, me with dreams of a T-bone steak, baked potato, and perhaps a fresh garden salad with some locally-sourced dressing at a little diner where the chef might come out of the kitchen to make sure my steak was just the way I wanted it. Reality soon came into view. Our spot for the night was an old house, with a handprinted sign. I had misgivings right off, and then realized plan B was camping on the side of the trail without any camping gear. Then it came to mind that I saw nothing like a restaurant nearby and the advice being given was that the only gas station in town also had a grill and made good hamburgers. It was about then I started trying to remember what I trying to accomplish, I knew I wanted out of my comfort zone, but that was to be done by riding my bike longer than I ever imagined. Somehow, I had also imagined each night I'd have a wonderful meal and perhaps a masseuse with lots of experience with deep tissue massage.

We did get a great breakfast at the B&B and also made friends with a couple and their dog. The day looking like another good one, and we were facing the big deal: we had to climb the mountain to get to our next night's stay, which was a hotel, hopefully that had chocolates on the pillows and a large shower in the bathroom and a big screen TV that got something besides Fox News....We got half a mile from the B&B and Steve had a flat tire. Looking back, I realized that was one of the better parts of the day...

Tuesday, June 4, 2024

390 miles through the mountains on loaded bicycles: Whose Idea was that? Part 1

 There is something wrong with people like me. We see something that sounds difficult and uncomfortable and think, "Wow, I'd like to do that!" Unfortunately, I have a couple of brothers that feel the same way. We find fun sports and start contemplating how it would be possible to remove all the fun and make it more like really hard labor. This was how this adventure was born in our minds, when one of Paul's friends told us of a trip up north on a long rail-to-trail that was nothing but misery. Our ears pricked up, and we started thinking about how we could get involved in spending days riding full loaded bikes up a mountain and then spend our evenings in somebody's guest room in an old house.

If you have read any of my work before, you probably know that we already attempted this in 2023, and came home with our tail between our legs. Sickness, broken bikes, and a week of solid rain and cold, convinced us of one thing: We must try again! This adventure consists of 2 trails, The Allegheny Gap Trail from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, and then the C&O Towpath from Cumberland to Washington DC. Apparently, last year, when it was raining and miserable, we did the easy part. I didn't fully understand that part until I started reading about why they named it the "Allegheny Gap". It means that they found a low point in the mountains to run railroad tracks from Pittsburgh, but that low point is a relative thing, especially to Floridians.

This time, we started where crapped out last year: The Redroof Inn in Williamsport, MD. You might be thinking, "Wait a minute! That's a hotel, sounds good to me!" I'd tell you that if you ever need a cheap room, where you can bring your muddy bike in with you and nobody's perfect. If fact, they let us leave my car there for a week while we took off on our biking trip. They were great people, and there was a Waffle House right next door. Would I take my wife there for a vacation? That's tough. She has endured a lot, but this would have been next level, me never allowed to select a hotel again, kind of stuff.

Nevertheless, We took 2 days to drive up, dropping Paul off on the side of the road for his backpacking trip, and then left Tuesday morning, me, all pumped up and ready to take on the mountain, Steve shaking his head that somehow, my CPAP machine broke during the drive up, and I had to go without. I promised I wouldn't snore at night....

Friday, September 29, 2023

Two Old Coots and the Tow-headed kid


I was sleeping that great way you can when it's cold out and the only way to stay warm is to keep the sleeping bag pulled up the way up over your head. You know it's dark outside and getting out of that bag merely means the pain of the upcoming day is about to begin. Sure, there will be wonderful sunrises and sunsets. The sky will be clear and blue, and the leaves will be in the midst of changing to the vibrant colors that happen in the fall. will be seeing and feeling all of that while carrying a large pack with tent, sleeping bag, and all of the supplies for 5 days on your back while marching uphill with small breaks to eat some food that tastes like something from a vending machine that hasn't been serviced in five years. Yes, there are times when it seems like the best part of the day is right before you crawl out of that sleeping bag.

At some point, I looked at my watch and marveled that it still seemed dark at 7am, and thought, if we don't get going, the uphill marching will continue farther into the night than I might prefer. I pulled on enough clothes to make it worth venturing out to attempt a decent cup of coffee.  I had the tent half unzipped when this head floated into view, saying "I have a great deal for you!". It took me a minute to register where I was, who I was, and I had to hold my hand up, while I realized that it was Levi, my grand nephew, the only 12 year-old I'd ever met that wanted to go backpacking with a couple of old guys. Levi kind of reminded me of myself at 12 years old, except that I remember me as being a shy bookworm, that loved science fiction, and books in general, much more than any physical activity. If this kid had any of my DNA, it was polished up, and refocused in a totally different direction. He was tall, thin, with a shock of blonde hair, and a personality that knew no enemies, just prospective friends. He was smart and could talk a mile a minute, and that's what was happening now. We had arrived on this trip with me in a solo tent and Levi and his grandfather sharing a two-man tent. The idea was that Levi might be scared sleeping alone in the woods and having his PopPop nearby might offer some comfort. This was our first morning after sleeping under the stars and Levi already decided the sleeping arrangements could be improved. 

    "So, I could sleep in your tent tonight and you and PopPop could sleep in the other tent together!" My guess was Levi was thinking I might enjoy Paul's snoring, and Paul might enjoy mine. I almost felt sorry for the kid for a hot moment and then replied, "You're on your own, kid. I got my tent and that's where I'm sleeping!"


Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Traveling The Potomac River The Hard Way: Part 2


It sounded great on paper. An epic journey beginning with riding the Amtrak train from Winter Park, FL to Washington DC and then riding bikes from there to Cumberland, MD on the historic C&O trail, stopping at hotels in small towns and sampling the food and culture along the way. It was to be an escape from the incessant Sunshine and heat of Central Florida. The talk of this trip began way before the whole Covid Pandemic and much of the discussion was, could we even pull this off? What kind of bikes would we need to make the trip. In the beginning, we were riding lowslung Catrikes and were told they couldn't go on the train, nor would they work very well on the rough conditions of the forward to 2023 and we were on lightweight e-bikes that weighed less than the 50 pound limit of Amtrak and had enough range to last a day. We started attempting long distance trips close to home, loaded down with saddlebags, seeing if we could really do 60 mile a day for multiple days. 

We booked pretty far in advance, as the space for bikes is limited on Amtrak, and what started getting a little spooky as the trip was getting closer...the weather forecast...

It was hot, but not that kind of hot where you can smell the asphalt melting under your feet. Steve and I were standing alongside the railroad track in downtown Winter Park, FL. A quaint little place in central Florida, populated by  the very rich and those who serve them. It was one of those places where the phrase "the wrong side of the tracks" came from. On one side was Park Ave and the blocks of shops that sold things that didn't have price tags on them...the kind where if you had to ask, you could not afford them.On the other side of the tracks was Hannibal square. The place where black folks used to live, and is now populated with hipsters that paid lots of money to have a small old house on a tiny lot, with a new Tesla parked out front. 

We waited patiently, wondering what was ahead, when we started feeling the train coming from the vibrations at our feet. Moments later, our bikes were handed up to the gentleman in the baggage car and we were welcomed up and into our roomette on the sleeper car. It was calm and exciting at the same time. Nothing much like an airplane terminal in Orlando. We had our own concierge and he took us to our room and explained how everything worked. My first impression was that it was a long time ago that this train was new, and it must have been built for smaller people. Neither Steve nor I are small and we were jammed in, facing each other...for the next 17 hours. The seats folded together to make a single bed and there was some kind of contraption that pulled down from the ceiling and made a top bunk. Steve took one look at that and said, "You are sleeping up there!" By this time, the train was rolling down the track and I was looking at a familiar landscape from a totally different perspective. I was thinking this was going to be much better than backpacking. I mean I had a really good bike, some electrical motor help if I needed it and it wasn't going to be hot like Florida...the only thing was, I was still getting over a really bad cold I had picked up a week before. I was gulping Steroids, Anti-biotics and cough medicine. It was going to be epic, I just knew it. Our Concierge came by and request our dinner desires and things were really looking up. A few hours later, we lurched our way up to the dining car, just like in the movies and picked up our trays. There was plenty of food. It wasn't awesome, but it was way better than some things I've had before and since. We sat together in silence in the dining car, munching on steak while looking at the industrial landscape rolling by us...that part was nothing like the movies. Apparently, where they put the railroad tracks in Florida is the equivalent of looking out behind a restaurant....they must figure nobody is ever going to look at that. We started seeing rain, and kept telling each other that it was just sprinkles and that will just cool stuff off a bit..then I started noticing how deep the mud puddles were in the fields...and it was raining harder..


Saturday, May 6, 2023

Traveling the Potomac River the Hard Way: part 1


I’m having this well-known feeling of dread. In spite of being prepared six-ways from Sunday for every possibility, here I am. It’s starting to get dark, traffic is rushing all around me, and I’m pushing my fully loaded bike up yet one more hill. I’m in Bethesda, Maryland. I don’t know why, and I don’t where exactly where my hotel room is and my waterproof phone inside a waterproof case is acting very much like water is winning the war. I’m down to a couple bars of battery and I have no idea of what happened to my battery-backup brick. I’ve been pushing for hours and ahead of me is one more steep hill. Steve calls me from the hotel to say he is following me on the locator app and that I’m heading in the wrong direction. I’d like to stop and discuss this, but I’m also noticing a guy across the street waving his arms and yelling at the passing cars. He sees me, and decides to cross the crowded six lane highway to come over and help me with the bike. I’m tired, medicated, soaked to the bone, and almost ready to hand this $4000 bike over to anybody that would like it. Of course, any would-be robber might notice that one of the crank arms and pedals is missing. Yes, even expensive bicycles can break, and when this kind of failure occurs, pushing is the only option.

I know, you are already thinking, me? I’d just call Uber! I did that, and the Uber guy pulled up, looked at me and drove away fast….yeah that was a one star review, and then I got really unhappy when Uber told me I got charged $8 for the guy to come look at me and drive off. Before that point, I was even smarter (my brain cells were dying off at a rapid rate). I had pushed the bike to a Home Depot, and rented a truck to carry it to the hotel, somewhere off in a distant place, that seemed so much closer when I had two functioning pedals. I ran inside Home Depot, waited patiently, while dripping everywhere, and people staring at me and my muddy, loaded-up bike. Got the keys to truck, ran out to Steve and rolled up the back door and turned to see Steve’s face. It wasn’t good. I turned back to the truck and it was loaded to the ceiling with used drywall material. The Home Depot crew came out, tsk-tsked, took photos and mumbled about how somebody was in big trouble…but there were no more trucks, and nobody wanted to unload the drywall….if I had known how the day would proceed after that….I would have unloaded the truck by myself…Meanwhile, Steve decided he needed to pedal on to the hotel to make sure the bed was made correctly…

Sunday, July 31, 2022

A Black Night On The Trail





I was sitting on the step of a shelter on the Appalachian Trail, doing what I normally do while on the hike, pulling everything out of my backpack, looking for the one thing I need that always seems to be on the bottom. I think I need a special pack that opens on the bottom and that might be my one big contribution to the backpacking community. While I'm examining the contents of my pack and marveling at how many things I've brought along that I have yet to use, I'm listening to brother Paul tell his famous stories to a young couple that we met at the shelter. They were quite an oddity. Both were in their early 20's at most and both were fair-skinned red-heads. My kids are redheads and I'm often told by my daughter that red-heads do not go together. I'm not sure if that is some genetic thing, or just that two wildcard personalities don't usually match. But, this time it did and the second thing I realized about them is they were really scared. They were sitting  very close, knees touching and holding hands while they told the story of their last few days to Paul. I was trying not to listen, but did anyway and soon I was getting goosebumps and wondering if I could make it all the way back to the car without stopping....and that would have been an incredible feat, because it was getting late in the day and the car was an 8 hour hike ahead of us.

I frequently marvel how worry and fear can consume me, yet many things I do all the time don't bother me much at all. If my brain can find some kind of math that makes me feel good, I'm fine. For example, surfing. Many people worry about shark attacks, and I live in a place where that is more likely than others, but what I know is that I am way more likely to die of drowning while surfing than from a shark attack, so I spend my energy making sure I'm safe from least until I see a big shark fin heading towards me, then everything changes. Fear on the trail is a different thing. I've learned that the small sounds you hear in the night are not bears, no, even medium sounds are probably raccoons, A bear would sound like a dinosaur plodding in the dark. What IS scary is footsteps, careful, deliberate footsteps.

The young couple was asking if we minded stopping here at this shelter and spending the night with them. That was something I had never heard before. Usually hikers want solitude and hope that you are moving on. These two were hoping we could lend some protection from this ominous person they had met several times and thought he might be stalking them. They described him as an older homeless-looking guy with wild eyes that loved telling horror stories. The girl relayed one that I cannot forget to this day. The man said he had been hiking all day and was running low on food and came to an opening in the woods where somebody had placed some trail magic. Trail magic is a hiker term for presents people leave in the woods for fellow hikers, usually it is food, sometimes, it is something you can't usually get in the woods like a cold beer in an ice chest, but it is always something that brightens up your day in a large way. This time, he did find a large ice chest, and ran for it, hoping for some cold drink and something to eat. He opened chest and found it full of raccoon heads. Somebody had gone to all of the trouble to kill a dozen raccoons and leave their grizzly remains behind for a terrible joke on a hiker.

His wild eyes gleamed at the young girl as he reached that part of the story and she slowly realized that he was the one that had placed the dead raccoons in the ice chest. They left him soon after that, but he was calling after them, asking if they were planning on staying at the next shelter and to save him a place to bunk. They ran as fast as young folks can with full backpacks, and knew that they were now deep in the woods with a crazy person. Their hope was Paul and I. 

This is where my low-level reptilian self takes over...there is no way I'm sleeping in the woods, waiting for crazy guy to show up. "We hike all night until we make the car. I'd rather die from exhaustion than getting chopped up by a serial killer!" Paul wanted to make a stand, find a big stick, make booby-traps, surround the guy, tie him up and take him into the cops.

While this discussion was going on, my brain was also flashing how this would be a great story if i survived, and if I didn't, perhaps that "found diary" would be my "black Travis McGee story". That certainly needs explaining. A part of our society has wanted to clean up our literature, in an effort to show that we are better than we used to be. John D. MacDonald's books may someday fit into that category. He was an old guy, writing that kind of stuff we still get today, where tough detective guy solves the problem while disposing of the bad guy and getting all the chicks...except that in John's day, the female characters weren't too well fleshed out, and the black folks they got even less. Me? I think we need to remember how people were and we read that stuff and didn't complain. I'd like to think we've moved to a higher plane, but I'm not so sure. John did one particular thing with all of his Travis McGee stories: they all used a color in the title. There was a large rumor in the literary community that when John died, he left behind a manuscript that was the "Black Travis McGee Story", the one in which Travis died. No one ever found such a story, but that particular night it occurred to me that this might be the Black Ed Perkins story.

We pushed on, using headlamps and eating whatever we could while walking. All the while listening for footsteps behind us, and that my friend, was the fear feeling I carried with me for a whole night.

We got home, laughed about it, then read in the news that a homeless man that had been traveling up and down the Trail had killed two people with a machete. The description was that two young men had tried to restrain the man while the woman with them ran ahead...Those two young men died. The woman ran the trail for 6 miles......running 6 miles in the woods and knowing your friends were getting murdered behind you....that is a real fear....








Monday, May 2, 2022

The Wilderness Of Things That Need Some Explaining: Part 3

 I've had a few times in life when my senses totally let me down. Where this happens the most is on the water. I remember looking across a bay from my kayak and thinking "What is the world is a large cruise ship doing in this bay?" and when it finally gets close, it's a small shrimp boat. I'm pretty aware that my brain is trying to make sense out of something with bad information. 

That was happening to me tonight. There was a pink light floating out there in the woods. This is the same woods where the wild PTSD guy was menacing us earlier in the day. There was also a guy running around somewhere out there with a sock over his head and I was starting to feel like a kid that had been told one too many scary stories around a campfire.

My pulse was racing and I realized that being alone is quite a bit different than sitting around with my two armed brothers that are also karate experts. I was hearing crackling sounds behind me and then to my right and I knew then that there is a distinct amount of worry that I can handle at one time. Then I felt the wet touch of something with a really bad smell. I turned to face the monster alone, still not registering the full amount of fear that was working it's way up my chest and wanting to be born as a full blown scream, when my brain did another one of those tricks. Suddenly, the monster came into view, and it was a huge Pitbull dog with a large pink harness with glowing LED lights all over it. Confusion reigned with knowledge that I was alone in the woods with a wild pitbull dog and the cute pink harness claiming that she was a friendly girl...In the end, the pink harness did define the situation, and once she determined that I was a nice guy, she laid down by the fire, just out of reach.

Not much later, the guys returned from their ride and the pink-alien dog ran off. Nobody believed my story, and many laughs were heard around the campfire as I tried to explain what had happened. 

As wild as the weekend seemed to be in my head, we had a blast getting jeeps stuck in the mud and driving places where it would have taken a tractor to get us out. It was almost perfect until I backed into a tree leaving the campsite....good news...I had not worried about that beforehand at all!