Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tuesday, October 12th. At home, a week and a half later..

Writing all this from memory, my collection of maps, my pictures and the use of the Internet has been great fun.  I am sure I left something out, and perhaps added where it did not belong, but on the whole, this is as good as it’s going to get out of this old memory of mine.
It was, all in all, a most wonderful experience.  One of the great ones in my lifetime.  The beauty of the places along the way, the connection with new friends, staying in touch with old ones, the physical challenge of that hill in the rain, all the work ahead of time training for the ride, the great food and camping out in small campgrounds.  It all came together much better than I had any reason to expect.
Two last things. 
My greatest gratitude goes out to my wife, Carla Michelotti.  Without her support, her patience, understanding and her encouragement, this ride would never have taken place.  After bobsriverride, she admitted how concerned she was for my safety and I knew then that I was most likely never to take another ride by myself.  This tour reassured her that I would be in good hands and safe along the way.  Thank you Carla for everything.
Finally, this tour completed the circle for me.  The disappointment I had after not completing my first ride along the Mississippi to New Orleans has been erased and I finally realize that bobsriverride was a success in every sense of the word.  It does not matter how far one travels, for there are always miles still to go and to be seen.  There is always tomorrow and another adventure to seek and complete.  It is in the doing that success manifests itself, not in the dreaming.  It is the journey that is important, not the finish.  I hope you have enjoyed reading about this trip as much as I had taking it and writing about it. 

See you next time along some other adventure on the road.

Day 8. Saturday, October 2nd. Adelaide to Pittsburgh. 42 miles.

Our last day on the road together.  The day dawned misty, cool and damp.  Fog-your-glasses kind of weather.  My friend Wayne and I, along with a couple of others, all left camp about the same time, having packed our gear up for the last time.  The road was flat, the bed of limestone and dirt hard and easy to ride.  After some few miles, the sun peeked out and it turned into a  beautiful day for riding.  I don’t know about others, but when I exercise for a lengthy time, I find that my mind has gone off into its own place, somewhat removed from my body.  That often happened on this trip and used to happen a lot when I ran. Such was the case today, as I thought back about all the fun, the challenges, the way the tour was led and supported.  Not a hitch and all we had to do was show up and ride.  After all the training and planning, we had experienced a great accomplishment.
As we rode into the suburbs of Pittsburgh, we rode through old neighborhoods where empty factories stood rusting in their decline and where abandoned rail spurts turned off into..... empty land.  Every now and then, we’d see signs of rejuvenation as new office and light manufacturing buildings rose, like the phoenix, out of the ruins of an old deserted industrial park.  You can’t tell a book by its cover.

In Pittsburgh, Loading Up to Head
Back To DC
And then, suddenly, there was the bus up there on the right, with those who had preceded us loading their gear on the bus and their bikes onto the truck for transportation back to DC.  Several of us pulled up, found our gear, changed out of our riding clothes into traveling clothes and after an hour or two, when everyone had completed the journey and was all packed into the bus, off we set for Washington, DC.  Was it really over?  Were we really not going to see these folks again? Were we done?
Yes, well, maybe and yes! 

The ride back to DC was quiet, for we were all exhausted and soon most were asleep.  Again, the miles flew by, except this time, someone else was doing the work and we were all left to our dreams, our quiet conversations and the passing view.

I woke up once just in time to see the turn off for Uniontown.  I'll be back soon to take the turn off and continue my search for family history.

We stopped at a roadside rest area where a large commercial store greeted us with clean restrooms and all the junk food you could want.  Wayne offered to buy us an ice cream and so not wanting to look a gift horse in the mouth, I ordered a double.  I rationalize this by thinking that my body did not know it was not going to be on a bike the next day for another 50 mile jaunt. Sorry, Wayne, but thank you again.
And then.  Home at last!  The Virginia Suites Hotel about a week to the hour we all were first meeting in the same hotel conference room.  Well, almost home.  Rather quickly the gear was unloaded off the trucks, cars were loaded and started, goodbyes were said and rather quietly and sadly, the 8 day trip along the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage passed into history.

Day 7. Friday, October 1. Rockwood, PA to Adelaide, PA. 47 miles.

It was 5:00 am; I was struggling to get out of my sleeping bag and to get up off the concrete floor.  “Where the hell am I, and who are all these old guys moaning and groaning,” I thought?  Slowly, several things came to mind.  "I am one of the old guys, about 15 of us had spent the night in sleeping bags on the concrete floor of the basement of the campground owner’s house, I had to pee really, really bad and I ached from head to toe".  And the day before, I had, along with these guys and about 30 other folks, ridden in a hard rain 22 miles up the side of a 2300’ hill, crossed the Mason Dixon line and crossed through the Eastern Great Divide and 23 more miles down to a little town, Rockwood, PA, where I was now struggling to get out of that sleeping bag.  Other than that, Ms. Lincoln, how was the play?  A couple of months ago, when I signed up for this, it seemed like a really good idea.  This morning, not so sure…
Looking around, I marveled at the collection of guys stretched out in their sleeping bags, or just barely moving like me, unwinding legs and arms after a long night on a concrete floor.  Tall guys, fat guys, wiry guys, average guys, old guys and older guys.  And the noises.  I never heard so many noises coming out of a group of men in my life.  Stretching, moaning, sneezes, farts, burps, groans, coughs and noises I couldn’t begin to define the origin of.  All we needed was a piccolo, a trombone and some fruitcake strutting around with a baton and we’d have a band John Phillip Souza would be proud of.
How could this group of guys, along with the other 30 or so men and women crapped out around the camp possibly have the physical will and capability to ride up that mountain in the rain yesterday?  Hell, even without the rain?  But they did.  All 43 of us rode up that hill and lived, although some in various states of pain, to ride another day.  And we had two days to go.
Today was going to be another special day for me.  Our route this day would take us past the little western Pennsylvania town of Connellsville.  It was in that small town that my grandmother’s mother was born, where she met and married my great grandfather and after moving to Uniontown, PA just a short distance away, had two daughters, my grandmother and my great aunt.  And it was in Uniontown, PA, that my grandparents had two daughters, my mother and my aunt Jean.  It was from there that they moved to Los Angeles in the early 1920’s, where they built a home in Hollywood on Martel Street, a home where I would be raised by my grandparents after my parent’s divorce.  On my maternal side of my family, it traces back to Connellsville, and I would be there in a few hours of bike riding.
The rain was gone, although the air was wet and heavy with morning mist. The trail was again beautiful and we began to see the very first sign of autumn coming to the hills of southwest Pennsylvania.  Here and there, the leaves were golden and red as they fell from the trees, or covered the path in a blanket of yesterday’s greenery.  Another week, I thought, and this would be beautiful.  But my mind was on Connellsville and as mile after mile flew by, I thought about my childhood in Hollywood, about my grandmother and grandfather who raised me in their home until I went away to college.  I remembered my grandfather telling me as a little boy about how he had to quit high school when his father died and had to go to work in the foundry to support his mother, brother and sister.  I remembered my grandmother telling me about how when she was a little girl, going out with her country doctor father as he called on patients around Uniontown.  About helping him from time to time with amputations and other major surgery.  I remembered all those stories as I rode along that morning. 
And the most amazing thing happened as I was riding.  Suddenly, just in front of me, a vision of my grandfather appeared, clear as any photograph.  Just out in front of my face a foot or two.  It came up so fast my reaction was, “Whoa”, what is that?  And it stayed with me for as long as I wanted it there.  I tried to pull up a picture of my grandmother and it took a little work and time, but I got it.  Not as clear as my grandfather, but there nonetheless.  Those two people who influenced me greatly accompanied me for several miles.  Their spirits were there with me on that sunny Friday morning as sure as I’m sitting here writing this.
I rode into Connellsville around noon.  I stopped a couple of folks to ask about where the library was and when asked why, I explained I wanted to explore a little bit about the history of the Longanecker and Mathiot families.  Directed to the library up on the hill, (of course), I parked the bike, went in and asked the librarian where I might find microfilm copies of old (1850??) newspapers or some history of Fayette County.  She came out with about a thousand page book, (yes, it’s true!) of the history of Fayette County, (Who knew?), and I spent the next hour and half, sitting in the reading room of the Connellsville public library, out of place dressed in my sweaty biking gear, my helmet on the table, reading about my great grandparents on both sides of my mother’s family, their ancestor’s immigration to the colonies in 1733, their settling in western Pennsylvania in the early 1800’s and enough additional information that I will have great fun filling in the details this winter when it is cold and snowy out.  God Bless Judith, the librarian in the Connellsville library, the History of Uniontown and the internet.  I will go back there soon to finish the search for deeds, birth, marriage and death certificates.
As I rode down off that hill, through old city streets, I wondered if perchance I might be riding on the same streets where my great-grandparents rode in their buggy 150 years ago.  Could’ve been…
It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This
Back on the bike trail, I was just several miles from the last stop on this tour.  The sun was out, the day was beautiful, I had experienced the spirit of my grandparents who I had not seen since they passed away in 1965, had read their history, visited their hometown and was now going to be, for a last night with new friends with whom I had shared a wonderful week of riding, laughing, swearing at inclimate weather, praising my Trek 7500 and all of whom had survived to ride another day.  Dinner that night was wonderful and the laughter loud.  Small groups of new friends gathered around tents here and there.  This was all coming to an end and it had snuck up on us too fast. 
Tomorrow we would ride the last 45 miles to Pittsburgh and be bussed back to Washington DC, our departure city 8 days earlier.
The Carnegie Library, Connellsville, PA. b1901-02
Where Judith Got Me Started
Old Downtown Connellsville
Courtesy Wikipedia
Our Bikes, Getting Together On The Last Night
For One More Conversation

The View From My Tent

Fall on the Great Allegheny Passage

The View From My Tent, Last Night In Adelaide

Day 6. Thursday, Sept. 30th. Cumberland, MD to Rockwood, PA 45 miles.

Good morning...

It was raining.  Hard.  As those of us staying at the Fairfield Inn made our way down to breakfast early that morning, I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone’s thoughts were on the rain, the ride, the new trail – our first day on the Great Allegheny Passage (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Allegheny_Passage)  – the mountain we had to cross, including passing by the Mason Dixon line near the summit and at the summit, 2390’, the Great Eastern Divide, that point at which rain falling over there makes its way down to the Mississippi River and falling over here, makes its way down to the Atlantic Coast.  All in all much to think about as we dressed for rain, ate our breakfast and put our gear out for the vans to pick up.  Did I mention it was raining? Hard?

I need to mention a couple of things here.  About the trail.  We had just ridden 155 miles on a trail that was composed of crushed rock, clay and dirt, all compacted down and baked hard by rain, sun and bike traffic.  The Great Allegheny Passage Trail was different in that this trail had been laid on top of an old railroad bed with an under packing of rock, on top of which had been placed a bed of crushed limestone and dirt.  The difference.  Limestone is porous and rain does not accumulate nearly as quickly as it does on a trail of dirt and clay.  The limestone trail was more firmly packed than the C&O Canal Trail and had virtually no rock sticking up through the dirt.  Except for the rain, the trail was almost as easy to ride as asphalt.  We would ride for the next two and half days on much firmer trail.  Less difficult on us and certainly so on the bikes.

The other thing is about the rain gear.  Someone said, “Proper rain gear is not designed to keep you dry.  It is designed to keep you comfortable”.  Thus so.  What happens is that the rain gear keeps the rain and cold out, but keeps the heat and sweat in.  If the ride is long and the exercise even mildly strenuous, the sweat accumulates on the inside while the rain runs off on the outside.  Very quickly you have the same effect as in wearing a wet suit while surfing.  The inside water gets very warm and insulates the body against the cold and wet outside.  You actually become quite comfortable, once you get past the idea that you’re gonna be wet no matter what.
And so it was, on the 6th day, God said, “There shall be water, and I will call it rain.  And it will rain mightily on the Great Allegheny Passage”.  The Archangel Michael, not wanting to question God, said, "What’s an Allegheny?”  God replied, "Never mind, check it out in Chapter 2”.  And so it was.
And so it was, I set out from the comfort of the dry Fairfield Inn and off on a double adventure.  Today I would climb in elevation from 620’ at Cumberland to 2390’ at the Great Eastern Divide, a trail distance of 22 miles to the top, and then ride back down to Rockwood at 1820’, another 23 miles.  I would do so bundled up in my raingear looking somewhat like the Michelin Tire Character and would do so while it rained almost 4’ of rain on the trail in the face of 10-15 mph gusts of wind.
Strangely, I was not worried, just curious about how all this would turn out.  There would be 44 of us on the trail that day plus our guides at 2 rest stops, so there was no concern about being left behind.  And by now, I had complete confidence that the 45 miles would be of little physical consequence.  And finally, I will say again, I’m like the little boy that likes to watch rain, lightning and snow and loves to jump in puddles along the way.  So the rain posed no serious question to me.  It just all made it very curious and the most interesting kind of adventure for this old guy.  Finally, I knew there were older, there were those in not such good condition and those more timid, so what the hell, this would be a grand adventure.
Boy, it sure was.  After leaving the hotel, in about 2 miles the trail started  up, and just continued so until it got to the top about 20 miles later.  How up?  If you are reading this in Barrington, IL, imagine Route 59 between 14 and 12.  Or, if you are reading this in Los Angeles, imagine Beachwood Drive above Franklin Ave before you get to the junction where the small market is.  Or in Palos Verdes, Hawthorne Blvd. between Pacific Coast Highway and Silver Spur.  Or in Hollywood, Doheny Dr. between Santa Monica Blvd and Sunset Blvd.  If you know those places, you know that’s not steep up, just up, up.  And imagine 22 miles of it, with no place where it is level or downhill until you get to the top.  Now throw in a hard, steady rain with a little wind now and then, and you’ve got it. 
At the first rest spot, the hot chocolate was more fun than a shot from a bottle of 25 year old Macallan and just getting off the bike for a few minutes, standing under a shelter even though water was running off it like water out of a fire hose, was so welcome.  The very wet apple, banana and handful of M&M’s was just the thing for this needy body and then most of us, like the old pony express riders of yore, quickly jumped back on our bikes to continue to the top of the mountain.  Did I really just say that??? Riders of Yore?
At some point a couple and a half hours into all of this, the trail began to level off just a bit and there in the distance, a big sign indicating that we were approaching the Mason Dixon Line, the boundary separating Maryland and Pennsylvania.  Sure enough, there were a couple of my tour mates stopped taking pictures and were kind enough to take a couple of me.  The good news is that I was just near the summit but the bad news is that this location is one of a few with fabulous views back across Maryland and out over Pennsylvania.  Supposedly fabulous.  But not this day.  Low clouds obscured everything further away than a ¼ mile so our satisfaction would not come with the view, but with the knowledge that we had made this ride in the face of some severe weather conditions.  Hell, just had made it at all.

Almost to the top.  The Mason-Dixon Line!
Pennsylvania over there; Maryland over here.

In just under a mile, we approached the Great Eastern Continental Divide, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Continental_Divide), and finally made it to the top of Savage Mountain, the highest elevation we would cross on this ride.  Several of us standing around just inside the entrance to Big Savage Tunnel savoring the moment were in conversation and somebody said, “Drinks to the person who makes it down all the way without using brakes”.  How silly.  Once out of the tunnel, back in the rain, we all found out the descent was very gradual and the rain and wind would prevent any of us from coasting even 5 feet!  No coasting on this day, just pedaling our bikes downhill towards our stop for the night, Rockwood, PA. 
As we descended on the trail, by about 3:00 in the afternoon, the rain began to let up a little and the wind to subside and once again the beauty of these wooded trails began to be apparent.  About 3:30, wet, muddy, the bike looking like it had been rolled in wet sand and the rider in mud and grime; I rolled into our campsite at Rockwood.  Everything and everyone was drenched and we all looked like wet rats just off the sinking ship.  Our bike again to the repair center, our bodies into hot showers and dry clothes, and it was our turn to compare stories of our day in the rain.  It turns out that only 4 people had to use the Vans on the day’s ride, and even then, except for one, those for only a portion of the distance.
It’s time here to talk a bit about Kate. It did not take long early in the tour for her story to make its way through the group.  She had been a marathon runner, a triathelete and a long distance bike rider.  A top competitor in all those events.  Hard to tell her age, but I’d reckon somewhere around 50.  Trim, fit and wiry, short cut gray-blond hair.  Walked with a bit of a limp.  It soon became apparent she was outgoing and gregarious, never hesitating to grab a beer at the end of the day and sit with the guys and ladies to compare stories.  And always, a big smile and a good word for everybody.  On the trail or off.  Her bike though, was what we call a tricycle bike, low to the ground, two wheels in the rear and one in front, with the pedals sticking straight out almost over the front wheel.  Tough to get traction that low to the ground although the seat is like a bucket seat, much easier on long rides than a conventional seat.
One day a few years ago, after a training run, Kate was sitting on a park bench talking to someone on the telephone when a car came up and over the curb, driven by a drunk driver.  The car took flight and came down in her lap.  In her lap!  Broke her pelvis in several places, broke both legs and badly bruised her spine.  She was left with months and months of rehabilitation, including nerve damage to her hand.  Her balance was permanently impaired, thus, the three wheeled trike. 
Now the miracle is that Kate is even walking, let alone riding.  But the bigger miracle is that Kate is an inspiration to anyone who ever thought they had a problem.  Kate doesn’t dwell on this accident, she only works hard to continue riding, walking, getting the use back in her hand and trying to live as normal a life as she can.  Why all this fuss about Kate?  I did not see it, but those who did say she had the biggest smile of all time as she rolled into camp at Rockwood that afternoon in the rain.  She had made the whole ride up 22 miles, up and over that hill, all 2390’ of it, and down another 23 miles.  Without help.  Only with determination and a strong will.  What was one of the first things she did when she got into camp and got her trike cleaned up and her shower?  She grabbed a beer and sat with us to talk about the day.  Not the in extraordinary sense that she was special, just that she had made it.  Just like all the rest of us. On pure energy, a goal and hard work in pretty awful circumstances.  Remember what I said earlier about not knowing a book by its cover?  Kate was one of those who would have fooled you, for sure.
Dinner that night was a great celebration of victory over a hostile environment.  It was wet everywhere. We ate in cramped circumstances in the warehouse of the fellow who owned the campground.  The campground was flooded so everybody was on garage floors, on the basement floor of his home, in local hostiles, anywhere where one could find a dry spot.  And you know what, not a word of complaint, for we had all just shared in a group victory, a great ride on a miserable day. That’s how I got on the floor in the basement at 5:00 in the morning. You remember?

We started out at Cumberland and ended at Rockwood
Why'd the bear go over the mountain?
Just through that tunnel is the other side.
Big Savage Tunnel.  El. 2390'
Click on an image to make it larger

Day 5 Wednesday, Sept. 29th. Little Orleans, MD to Cumberland, MD. 45 mi.

Another Beautiful Ride, Our Last, on the C&O Canal
  The day will take us again through beautiful forests with the trail sandwiched, as always, between the Potomac on one side and the canal on the other.  At just about 5 miles, we would come to the single most impressive feat of engineering along the whole C&O Canal route, the Paw Paw Tunnel, (http://www.fred.net/kathy/tunnel.html).   It is impressive for several reasons.  When it was constructed between 1836 and 1850, there were only Irish and German laborers using picks, shovels and dynamite to blast, shovel and muscle their way through 3,100' of hard rock.  No bulldozers, cranes, earth movers or trucks.  Just men with their hands.  It took years longer and much more money than originally estimated to complete, but allowed the engineers to cut several miles off the length of the canal.  As always, water was lifted up the grade to and through the canal via locks along the route.
Gathering at the Paw Paw Tunnel
We Had To Walk Through That. 3100'

On this day, we had an explanation of the process of building the tunnel by Kim, a very knowledgeable Park Ranger who explained, the history of the Canal and the economic and social ramifications caused by the delay in building the tunnel and after a short break, we walked our bikes through the tunnel – it is not lighted - so we had only the lights on our bikes to light the way and the ambient light from the tunnel entrance 3100’ feet away to guide us.
Once through and to the other side of the tunnel, we all got back on our bikes and set off for Cumberland.  These last few miles would be bringing us to the end of our time on the C&O Canal and tomorrow we would start another day.  Those last few miles were both satisfying and a bit sad.  The Canal had come to be a friend, a beautiful place along the way filled with history, new friends made, challenging distances to ride and a short few days away from the real world in which our families, friends and loved ones lived waiting to hear from us when they could.  They would be hard pressed to understand our physical accomplishments and for sure, hard pressed to appreciate what we would be going through over the next couple of days.
As always, we ended the ride with dinner for all over at the campground where a few hearty souls were spending the night in spite of the forecast of heavy rain.  
This night we had some interesting news to discuss.  A weakened weather front was making its way up the east coast of the US and the weather forecast predicted rain, heavy rain as far inland as to cover virtually all of Maryland and Pennsylvania, with rain predicted to start in the middle of the night while we slept in Cumberland on day 5 and to rain hard most of the next day, clearing sometime late afternoon or early evening.
It appeared that this strong weather front might either continue on its path just directly east of us or veer slightly further east.  In the former situation, it would be really, really, really wet and in the latter, just really, really wet.  The options were to remain in Cumberland and stay inside all day, avoiding the rain, or get up in the morning and ride.
After some discussion it was decided by a vote that we would ride.  Easy to decide when you’re sitting around a camp dinner table, no rain coming down and nice and dry.  Some of us had decided the previous evening – in fact, most of us – had decided to get hotel reservations for this night to get a good night’s sleep before we took on the heavy rain predicted by the weather service.  A fellow I had met, Wayne Maloney, had already had his wife make such a reservation at the Fairfield Inn in Cumberland and asked if I’d like to share the room with him.  Of course, and with that settled, we all went off to bed that night in the Fairfield Inn in Cumberland, MD. 
Just as we turned off the light, we switched the TV over to the weather channel to get the latest forecast.  The massive green overlay stretched from Virginia almost to Pennsylvania and across all of New York.  It was moving slowly north and slightly east.  Very slowly, and the forecast was for strong rain and winds, 10-15 mph across southwestern Pennsylvania that evening and most of the next day.  Very slowly.  Sweet dreams.

There's one in every crowd.

At Cumberland, the last length of canal on the C&O Canal

Day 4. Tuesday, Sept. 28. Williamsport, MD to Little Orleans, MD. 46 miles.

A Bend in the River. 
God's Handiwork
I left camp about 7:45 on a beautiful sunny morning.  As always, the trail is relatively flat, the Potomac on the left and the canal with its locks on the right.  Just a few miles up the trail, I stopped for a few minutes at a most beautiful spot along a bend in the river.  Beyond beautiful. It was warm, quiet and peaceful. The sun shining on the trees and river, creating more shades of green than imaginable.  All offset by the bright blue of the bend of the river.  Truly one of God’s Kodak moments.  It seems like each of these trips offers me a place to quietly give thanks for my blessings and good fortune.  This was such a place.  At this place, at this time, all was right with the world and I was lucky enough to be part of that space.  I was blessed as God’s handiwork was spread out in front of me in all her glory.
Another mile or so, just up on a hill to my right, just off the bike path, was Fort Frederick, a fort built 1756 by the Brtitish to limit the influence of the French who were using the territory for fur trade. Moreso, to limit the French government's expansionist goals in the new world.  The fort was used in the revolutionary war and again in the Civil War.  For more about Fort Frederick, see: (www.dnr.state.md.us/publiclands/western/fortfrederick.html).

Just another few miles and I came to something I had been anticipating for a couple of days.  A slight detour of the towpath onto the Western Maryland Rail Trail, an asphalt bike trail of about 30 miles, we got to ride on asphalt, not burdened by the rock and gravel of the towpath.  After 3 days of riding on rock and dirt, the paved part was heaven.
Along our path was the small town of Hancock, famous in ACA circles for a coffee shop and bakery, Weavers, where allegedly, the best pies of any in the world are made.  Of course, to be able to combine fresh coffee and fresh hot pie in the middle of this ride was beyond tempting.  The cherry pie was very good and the cup of coffee was hot and delicious.  After about 30 miles, my appetite was up and all that pie and coffee hit the spot.
The remainder of the paved pathway seemed to glide by in minutes and too soon we were back on the towpath.  It might have been my imagination, but the rock and gravel after the paved path was really, really rough.  Much more so than before.  Of course, I realize that such was not the case, just my imagination after those smooth 22 miles.
This stretch of the ride was the most remote of the entire trip, with virtually nothing mile after mile except woods, the canal and off in the distance from time to time, the Potomac, now a quiet, meandering river.  Even riding with one of the tour members, the quiet was startling.  Just the afternoon sun, an occasional bird call, the snake – THE SNAKE???? – and the noise of the tires on the towpath. Yes, a snake.  A black snake, harmless but probably 4 feet long and guaranteed to attract one’s attention.  As mentioned earlier, laying out in the sun to warm itself.  With all the commotion created by several goofy bike riders, Blackie slowly slithered off into the brush and into the woods.

In another few miles, we came to the town of Little Orleans, our destination for the day and our campground for the night.  The prime attraction in Little Orleans is Bill’s Joint.  In fact, I think it’s the only attraction in Little Orleans.  Bill’s is known far and wide as a biker bar and grocery store and sure enough, upon entering the place, 3 guys, all bikers, all looking like Willie Nelson, all sitting at the bar, cast us a wary eye, ordered another round and started for the door to go outside to drink in peace.  I made the attempt to let them know that they didn’t need to leave on our part.  “You don’t have to move.  We’re just a bunch of bikers”, I said, and then of course realized how stupid that must have sounded to them.  “Well, not bikers but bicyclists”.  Even stupider.  They left to go outside and drink in peace.  Duh!

Bill's Place. Where the Real Bikers Go.
 Bill’s is a classic joint and Bill, now in his late 80’s looks like he’s seen it all.  Wizened, white hair, slightly stooped over but eyes clear and fully alert, he minds the bar day after day, playing host to all manner of local characters. He works with oxygen helping him to breathe now.   The beer was cold, cheap and was a fitting end to our day, for our campsite was just up the hill.  The sign over the bar says you gets your cheeseburger the way it comes and the crowd looked like that was just fine with them.
Just up the hill, was The Little Orleans Camp Ground, our home for the night and after 46 miles of riding, which included my visit in God’s country, a piece of homemade Cherry pie, the snake and finally Bill’s place, it did not come a moment too soon.  That evening was like every other.  Arrive in camp, pitch the tent, get the bike tended to, eat and like every other night, a short meeting after.  Then sleep.  By now, I had gotten used to the sleeping bag and tent, and so slept like a baby.                                                                                                                  

Good, but not as good as some others'
I've had.

"Think I'll go out on the trail and
sun myself, Ma."

"Nuff said!

Day 3 Monday, Sept. 27th, Brunswick, MD, to Williamsport, MD. 48 miles.

Today the C&O trail will enter the Appalachian Mountains.  We’ll intersect the Appalachian Trail at the Red Brick House and if interested in doing so, will pass over the Potomac River to Harper’s Ferry, (www.nps.gov/hafe), where just under two years before the civil war started John Brown and a band of accomplices took over the Federal Armory in the first overt act against slavery.  We’ll ride past Antietam National Battlefield, the site of the single greatest number of casualties  in one day of fighting of any war fought by US troops in history.  We will make our way 48 miles along the trail to the Snug Harbor KOA campground.

Harper's Ferry.  Just to the left, the foundation of the origiinal Armory taken over by John Brown.  This less than two years before the civil war.

The day dawned wet and drippy again, not a hard rain, just enough to get our bikes full of dirt and sand, our rain gear on for the better part of the day and enough to keep us damp and cool.  Just up the trail from the campground a mile or two, on the West Virginia side of the Potomac is the historical town of Harper’s Ferry.  On this rainy fall morning, several of us crossed over the river and spent some time in this historic town. Click on the link to read more about the significant role the town played in the Civil War (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harpers_Ferry,_West_Virginia#John_Brown.27s_raid).
The town was almost deserted; the stores still yet to open for the day.  We found the location where the old armory stood before it was burned down and the last remaining building of the original town, now rebuilt and moved from its original location.  Just up the street, the National Park Service has its office and the Park Rangers inside were helpful in directing us to various points of interest. 

Back on our bikes, the trail still wet, we pedaled on  to our first rest stop, coincidentally, at the road which would take those interested in a visit to the Antietam Battlefield at Sharpsburg on up the road a piece for a visit to that historical battlefield. On the dates of September 16-18th, this was the first big battle of the civil war, fought to a standstill with the loss of life, captured or missing, 23,000 in a single day of fighting.  For more about that battle, click on the following link: (www.nps.gov/anti).  It was quite moving to stand in the observation tower and look out over the fields that had been so tragically bloodied on that fateful day, now so long ago. Quiet, so very quiet with just the sound of the wind blowing across the grass, up and over the gently rolling hills.   
As I would be riding along, posted occasionally would be a historical marker with some point of history explained to those who would take the time to stop and read.  Once such marker was at a little draw that comes down off the cliffs above, identified as McCoy’s Ferry.  Today it is nothing more than a spot on the road, but in the evening of September 20th, 1862, JEB Stuart and his Confederate Cavalry crossed the Potomac at this point to escape the Union Forces out to cut him off from escape.  His mission had been to cover the retreat of the remainder of the confederate forces under General Lee as they abandoned their aborted thrust into Maryland from Virginia.
The location at McCoy’s Ferry is one of only a couple places on the Potomac where the water is shallow enough to allow such a crossing.  The crossing was made at night and allowed General Lee to come back and fight another day.  It is strange to stop there in that quiet place and imagine tens of thousands of men and horses riding down the cliffside, across the towpath and on into the river.  Ghosts and spirits abound.
All in all, the day which started out drippy and wet, turned out to be a beautiful early fall day.  The ride itself was uneventful, except that the ghosts of a conflict long ago whispered in the wind as I rode back onto the towpath and finally, 48 miles after I started the day in the rain, I finished the day under cloudy and threatening skies at the Snug Harbor, KOA.  Rain was again forecast for tonight and tomorrow and I snagged a bunk in one of the small cabins which were part of the KOA offering.  Sure enough, by about 4:00, the rain came down with a vengance and continued throughout the night.  With the 3 other fellows in the cabin that night, the fee to stay dry was $15.  Such a deal.  A long hot shower, dinner and meeting later, I shut my eyes for some much needed sleep.
A final word about day 3.  Two of my cabin mates that night were 2 fellows who would, over the length of our adventure, become two of my favorite riders.  Sean Sweeney, reportedly the oldest rider of our group at 75, is also THE legendary rider of the ACA organization.  He has reportedly ridden more of the ACA tours than anyone else.  He would never tell us how many, but has ridden them all multiple times.  Across the country west to east, east to west, north to south and south to north.  Local rides like this and longer regional rides.  Not only that, he is the first to leave each day and the first to arrive at the next stop on the way.  There is a standing offer of a drink to any rider who beats him on any segment of the ride.  Quiet, slightly hard of hearing, slightly hunched over at over 6’ tall, he is imposing in both his size, reputation and once one gets to know him, his kindness.  Just a great gentleman both in camp and on the trail.
My other cabin mate that night of great consequence was Earl Wooten.  A combination of Ichabod Crane, Lurch and a thin Santa Clause, with white hair and a white goatee, Earl was genuinely a happy contradiction in terms.  Off the bike, he could never find anything of his. I watched as it took him 45 minutes to pack, constantly forgetting to put something or another in his gear bag.  It was a made-for-movie experience.  He couldn’t find his left hand if life depended on it.  On the other hand, once he got on his bike, he was a machine.  At 73, he put much younger riders to shame. 
Now please understand.  None of this ride is a contest.  Not a race, not in any way one person against another.  Having said that, each rider finds his or her own cadence and pace, and that’s pretty much how we each rode every day.  Earl’s pace was just mechanical.  He’d start out, within a few minutes he had his groove, and barring a rest stop or lunch, he’d keep that pace all day long. He’d ridden across the country, west to east in 2002 and had ridden several others of the ACA routes.  Watching him pack or get his act together, you’d be fearful to let him near a bike, but once on the bike, unreal…
Sean, Earl and I spent some time at meals together, just thrown together by the availability of an empty seat at the table, but it was always fun to listen to their stories and to laugh with them at some of their antics