There was already a group of bicyclists sitting at the dining room table at the B&B when I walked in that morning. They were older folks, all kitted out, and talking excitedly about today’s ride. One of them asked me where I was from, and I told him I was from DC. This gentleman, from the Midwest, asked about the government shutdown, and when I told him that I was on furlough, he made it sound like it was just a nice vacation for me. Granted, I was having a good time on this trip so far, but I had made plans ahead of time for the ride– I didn’t exactly plan on not being paid while I was gone or not knowing when I would be allowed to return to work. It occurred to me that people outside of DC were not taking the shutdown too seriously. Being on the trail made all that seem remote to me as well, and I decided to put it out of mind and get ready for the ride.
It was drizzling steadily outside. The weather forecast showed a green blob, representing rain throughout the region. There was no choice but to bike through it.
After a breakfast of deviled eggs, ham, and apple dumplings, Jane, Nathan, and I pulled our bikes from storage. Nathan’s tire was flat once again. It was an inauspicious start to the ride. We ended up going to C&O Bicycle, where David also got his bike looked at. At the shop, we met up with Steel City Fox and her guy, whom I met on Twitter a couple nights before and had introduced myself to at Bill’s Place yesterday. Fox’s Pooh bear, sitting in the front basket of her bike, was equipped with rain gear– a plastic bag. Fox and the guy were looking for their own rain gear.
Once the guys were all set, our group rode back onto the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail. It was another ten miles of bliss until we had to cross over to the gravelly Canal Trail.
It rained steadily all day. We soon discovered our clothes had saturation limits and started feeling wet and cold. There were still some interesting sights to see. We stopped at Dam 5– I made the mistake of riding down the trail to the edge– don’t do this! There is a steep step at the end with no warning. I rode over this and got a rude jolt. My front brakes started feeling a little funny after that.
When we rode into Williamsport, we went to the Desert Rose Cafe just as much to get out of the rain as to get something warm to eat. We carefully took off our wet jackets, helmets, and gloves and tried not to make too much of a mess at our table. We sat across from a painting of a cartoon-like lion with a smile on its face.
After a good lunch of soup and a sandwich, I felt better– and a little drier. I was kind of loath to go back out in the rain. I made a quick stop at the nearby bicycle shop to have them look at my front brakes, which had felt like they stopped working. When the guy tested them out, they worked just fine. I asked him if it was worth it to buy mudflaps at this point. He replied, “Pretend like you’re a kid again and ride through the puddles– don’t worry about it.”
I was shivering for a while for the first few miles of the trail, but once I got moving, I almost didn’t mind the rain. And after a while, it was futile to avoid the puddles anyway. Most of them were fairly shallow and easy to ride through.
One of the more scenic parts of this leg was the newly renovated Big Slackwater, with a concrete surface and an open view that looks out into the river. The sky and the river were hues of steel grey, and the rain had turned into a mist. It was magical.
The group wanted to spend some time and look around. I looked at the clock on my bike computer– it was much later than I had thought. All of the sudden, I had a sense of foreboding. I didn’t want to get caught in the woods in the dark. I decided to keep going.
As I rode into the forest, it got darker. The soft mist turned into pelting drops of rain. It was slippery with the wet leaves and there were tree branches to swerve around. I wanted to go faster, but mud and puddles prevented that. I swear I had gone five miles in, but when I passed the mile marker, I had only ridden one. At the rate I was going, it would be well into the night by the time I arrived at Shepherdstown. Despair settled into my chest, and I started talking to myself to encourage me to keep going. “We have to get to the hotel… come on, keep going! … okay, another mile passed… okay, six more miles to go– I can do this! … come on, come on….”
There was a downed tree on the trail. I got off the bike and carried it over. As I turned around, I saw Steve coming towards me. I was never so happy to see anyone in my life. We rode together for the rest of the stretch.
When we got to the base of the ramp off the trail to the road in Shepherdstown, two deer stood and watched us. We stopped and wondered what to do next. I didn’t know how far behind Jane, Nathan, and David were. I took out my smartphone to map directions to the hotel– I was now shivering so badly that I could barely hold onto the phone. I told Steve that I would ride ahead to the hotel. He agreed to wait for the group.
Coming back to car traffic was a bit of a shock. I alternated between riding and walking on the sidewalk instead of riding on the road, not knowing how amenable the cars would be to my presence. The hotel seemed far from the trail, but I managed to get there just after it turned dark.
I was thoroughly soaked to the bone. I checked into the hotel, and the clerk didn’t bat an eye as I signed the paperwork, dripping water all over the desk. Thankfully, the room was on the first floor, just past the lobby. A group of students cleared a path for me as I wheeled my wet bike to my room.
I wasted no time in turning on the shower. I made it as hot as possible, peeled off my clothes, and went in. Slowly, feeling returned to my hands, feet, and face. I got out of the shower and reached for some dry clothes in my pannier. Thank goodness for waterproof bags.
This time, Steve, David, and I were in one hotel, and Jane and Nathan in another about a mile away. We had initially planned to meet up for dinner, but when we looked outside, we just could not face going back out into the rain. The three of us decided to get pizzas delivered. Steve and David ducked into a nearby laundromat to wash their clothes, and Steve bought a six-pack of beer along the way.
Over pizza and beer in my room, we reflected on today’s ride. Where Steve and I shared feelings of doom and despair, David said he had a very pleasant time chatting with Jane and didn’t mind the rain at all. You wouldn’t know that we were on the same ride, to hear us tell our stories.
We devoured two large pizzas. They got their laundry done, and I went to bed exhausted.