No words or pictures I throw at you could adequately convey how grueling or completely satisfying yesterday was for me in the saddle, but I’ll try.
I started the day with serious motivation issues after two weeks on the road and feeling utterly depleted and I ended the day feeling stronger than I ever have on a bike in Cumberland, MD, with the formidable C&O behind me.
The day started with rolling hills on country roads to Big Pool. After the flooding and relentless mud of the C&O I opted for pavement without hesitation. But I felt those hills, even after a huge Waffle House breakfast.
I stopped for a Gatorade and a pit stop after about an hour and bore witness to creative gas station bathroom cleanliness:
It was more winding, hilly roads up to Big Pool, but when I made it to the Western Maryland Rail Trail I had my first mini celebration of the day. It wouldn’t be the last.
I tried to not think too much about this warning…
It was a mercifully flat, car-free stretch of pavement for 23 miles. The earbuds went in and I locked into the feeing of joy only being on a bike can provide. I desperately needed it after the long slog the previous two days.
The rail trail parallels the C&O, and I was happy to see it from a distance and cruise along unencumbered by mud for a while.
I eventually made it to Buddy Lou’s in Hancock, MD, and parked the bike while hearing Motown come from the outdoor speakers. I was feeling so good from the progress and smooth riding that I actually started dancing and singing to myself to Smokey Robinson’s “I Second That Emotion”. I may have listened to three Grateful Dead shows on the bike yesterday but you can’t ever deny Motown.
After the mud of the previous two days the colors inside Buddy Lou’s had me in a state of bliss, all while still grooving to The music. I got some caramel ice cream that just made that bliss all the more visceral.
I made it down to the C&O Bicycle Shop along the trail to pick up a water bottle because one of mine broke. I went for an aluminum one for durability with the stamp of the store to remember the lessons that trail has taught me. Kinda weird that it was as much a general hardware store as it was a bike shop…
The trail gave me beautiful views of the Maryland hills. I’d been riding through them but they proved elusive on the towpath visually until this last day towards Cumberland.
Eventually the rail trail ended and it was back to the C&O proper. I was getting the jitters about getting back on the towpath but I also had a resolve to keep pushing forward.
The towpath was in far better condition for this stretch, yet I still hit my fair share of mud.
Around Little Orleans, MD, I saw some awfully fitting graffiti on a bridge. This might be my favorite picture I’ve taken the whole tour so far.
And then I kept moving through the lush, verdant trail, getting further and further into a transcendent headspace to just. keep. moving.
These mud pits slowed me a little but I cranked on through them without getting stuck in negative thoughts, something that didn’t happen on days one and two of the towpath.
I made it to a fork in the trail to take me to the Paw Paw Tunnel. I didn’t get a picture, but I met a unicyclist coming from Cumberland on his way home to DC… an effort he felt the need to take after getting laid off from his job the day before. I’m not the only one that needs a bit of adventure-induced life change…
And then I hit the tunnel. Over 3,000 feet through damp darkness to the other side. And it was gorgeous…
After a few hundred feet I had to stop to put on my headlamp. It was a pitch black manmade cave with the end of the tunnel just a flicker of light down the path…
Lots of smiles when I made it to the end:
It was decision time after the tunnel. It was around 5pm, and I still had over 30 miles to go to make it to Cumberland if I wanted to finish yesterday. I decided to go for it. I knew it would be a hard few hours, but the mental game was ironclad and I needed to beat the trail that beat me up the last two days. Onward, passing one mile marker after another, making sure I spread out my food for energy over the next two and a half hours.
I began to love that towpath. I never would have thought that possible on Sunday, but it earned my respect.
It was a huge snapping turtle.
It was a wildlife highlight. I’ve passed dozens of dear, even more beavers, and all the mosquitoes western Maryland is home to, but I loved seeing the snapping turtle. Hope I didn’t scare it too much.
And in short order I saw Cumberland welcoming me. I shed a tear. Such an unbelievably gorgeous town was a gift to finish the day in, and the day taught me more than I could have imagined about perseverance, my abilities on the bike, and what it means to be out here on this ride.
I made my way to the YMCA to camp out for the night, just at sundown.
I hung my hammock in the shelter and chatted with a lovely couple coming the other way from Pittsburgh. I told them about the troubles ahead of them and showed them pictures of the mud, and they said I was about to enter into paradise in comparison.
I’m now finishing breakfast after a shower in the Y, plotting my next two days. I scheduled the GAP for 3, but I’ve been told by more than one traveller doing it in two with the direction I’m going is very doable. I want to get back the day I lost in DC. Getting to those Dead shows in Boulder July 2 and 3 has become a huge motivator, and after the gift of those three Grateful Dead shows from the spring 1988 tour of the east coast guiding my way yesterday, I’m more resolute than ever to get there on time.
Yesterday provided everything I could possibly hope for out of my journey. I can’t wait to keep cranking further west.