Day 42: Cumberland to Williamsport, Maryland

I just wanted to give up this morning and go home.  This might sound strange given how close I am to the end.

I was biking alongside the Potomac River.  The mileage markers started at 188 and were counting down to zero.  Zero is Washington D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood.  I have pedaled a huge distance in the last 41 days and the only thought that went through my head over and over was stop, go back to where you started this morning in Cumberland, get on the train to D.C. and stop all this.

Why was the little voice saying give up?  Because the C&O Canal trail was very difficult.  This past weekend it rained heavily in this part of Maryland.  The Weather Channel on Saturday ran one story over and over about a town in Maryland, not far from here, where they were thinking of evacuating because so much rain had fallen the town’s dam was in danger of bursting.  Since the weekend even more rain has fallen, including a few hours of heavy rain last night.

One hundred miles back I met a man called Jan, who was a real character.  You occasionally meet people on the road who pedal a little and talk a lot.  That was Jan.  He was coming back from attempting the Pittsburgh to Washington route.

He had done it five times in the past but said it was too tough this year.  He also said someone he met had turned back because the water was up to the bike’s bottom bracket, which is where the pedals connect to the frame.  Jan was an old guy and clearly a story teller so I didn’t believe it.  I do now.  I went through at least one puddle that was so deep my bottom bracket was in the water and quite a few other very deep puddles.

Why was the path in such bad shape?  Part was due to the rain.  But another part is that the C&O Canal Bike Path is maintained by the National Park Service.  The Park Service is a wonderful, but woefully underfunded organization.  One result of the under-funding is that my miles today were in conditions designed for mountain bikers, even though there wasn’t a hill or mountain on the trail.   Unfortunately, I wasn’t riding a mountain bike.

What was it like to ride?  It was muddy, slippery and tree roots crossed the road.  Around 10:30 AM I used a spoon to scrape the mud off my chain, frame and brakes.  The storms also had dropped trees across the trail.  We met up with a three man crew cleaning up downed trees and limbs, twice during the morning.

Plus, to add extra misery you could not stop.  The C&O Canal is a giant stagnant pool of water that breeds mosquitoes.  Stopping resulted in large numbers coming over to feast on my body.

The result was that I didn’t pedal down the trail.  Instead, I lurched, slid, bounced and prayed that I wouldn’t crash for 50 miles.  At the 50 mile mark the state of Maryland had pity on the bikers who pedal down the C&O Canal Trail.  The state has built a 23 miles long paved bike trail.  It is literally 100 feet away from the C&O trail but because the state built it, the trail is maintained and in very good shape.

After 23 wonderfully easy miles, Maryland’s trail ended and we switched back to the C&O.  Luckily, for me and Greg who is still pedaling with me the last 18 miles on the C&O were much less muddy.  Part of this was due to the sun baking off the water all day.  Part seemed to be that this section of the trail was in slightly better shape.  Whatever the reason, after 89 miles I made it to the hotel I booked in Williamsport, Maryland.  My bike, gear and I were so muddy the hotel owner told me not to bring the bike or bags into the hotel’s lobby.  Luckily, he let me come in so that I could check into the room and pay.

Tomorrow there is just 90 miles left to pedal in the whole trip.  Most of it is back on the C&O Canal path.  It does not look like an easy ride, but to give up on the last day is foolishness.  My guess is that adrenaline will ensure I make all the way to Washington D.C.

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