Sunday, July 17, 2005

If you build it, they will come

Around the time that the bicycle was being invented, a group of forward-thinking sadists built the C&O canal towpath because they knew that generations upon generations of masochists would try to ride the thing in a day:

It's 10pm and were sitting around Rickyd's house planning the support stops for tomorrow's ride. "140/100/60/35," I scribble on my arm. Those are the mile markers where Jay and Deb are supposed to meet us with a car full of goodies. As I ponder the distance, I already start having doubts. The longest ride I had done before this was a 100 miler on nice dry road. Now we were planning to do almost twice that distance on what would probably be mud-soaked gravel. At 11pm I go to sleep thinking that I would make it to mile marker 100 at the most. It's 1am when the wake-up call goes around and we get ready to leave.

The 3 hour drive up to Cumberland is punctuated by passing rain showers, some of them quite strong. I try not to think about what these are doing to the towpath. "Maybe I will make it to mile marker 140," I think to myself.

It's 4am and the ground is remarkably dry at the historical town center in Cumberland. After a quick breakfast of granola and milk, I look over my setup: Surly x-check with Serfas 700x38 inverted tread tires, moustache bars set an inch higher than I normally ride, handlebar flashlight, 48x20 fixxed gearing. In my pockets are 2 Gu packets, 2 Cliff bars, Jethro tool, spare tube, pump, patch kit, map, and most importantly-- an MP3 player. After a few pre-ride group photos, were off at a little past 5am.

It's still dark as we finish off the first few miles at a quick-but-not-so-smart pace. The towpath is surprisingly dry and morale is good, even though I'm struggling a bit to follow the gentle but unpredictable turns of the trail. After a few more miles of riding together, Stoner spies an outhouse and the call is too stong. For some reason, Rickyd stops too. I push on and the peloton is officially broken. The sun is starting to come up. A half hour or so later I spy Rickyd gaining on me. He passes me at an 18mph pace and pulls ahead. I grudingly resist the urge to give chase knowing that I have to save my energy for the remaining 160 miles. This isn't supposed to be a race after all (yeah right). Just as he's about to disappear ahead of me, his foot is thrown from his pedal and he almost stops dead. As I catch up I ask if everything's ok. "Forgot I was riding a fixed gear," he says, "go on ahead." I do so and that's the last I see of him until Harper's Ferry (100 miles later).

Meanwhile I'm heading into the pitch-black darkness of the Paw-Paw tunnel. I turn on my handlebar light and ride slowly over the uneven ground marked with potholes to rival any in DC. I spot the proverbial light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel after a few minutes and focus on it. Bad idea, there are still several potholes between me and salvation that almost send me over the bars. As I emerge from the tunnel I'm on a wooden walkway flanked by mountains of granite-- one of the more scenic parts of the trail. I'm slowly closing in on the first checkpoint.

Panic sets in soon after I realize that I've passed the checkpoint by a couple of miles and still no sight of Jay and the support wagon. I've probably got enough water for another 40 miles, but I need food. I decide to turn around and ride back to the checkpoint, hoping that Jay will show up eventually. On the way back, I run into Stoner, who convinces me that we should just ride to the next checkpoint 40 miles away and hope for the best. My stomach is grumbling as I get back on my bike. In my mind, I'm pondering pulling off the trail and finding the nearest steakhouse. As we pedal into Hancock, we find Jay waiting for us. We're saved.

Reload the supplies, rest for a bit, and set out for another 25 miles to the next stop. This time I hooked up the MP3 player, which helped the miles roll by easy. I was closing in on the second checkpoint before I knew it with Stoner on my wheel. A few hundred yards from the stop, I drop my chain and Stoner slips ahead to claim the stage victory. 84 miles down, only 106 more miles to go...

We're all going at our own pace now, not really waiting to regroup. The drama is starting to build as I catch glimpses of phantom riders behind me trying to chase me down. Any moment I expect Stoner and Rickyd in a two-man paceline to just rip past me like I was standing still. All in fun. The mental games are a way to keep myself from getting bored.

As I got to Harper's Ferry I saw Rickyd's bike on top of the wagon. I knew at that moment that his knees had betrayed him again. I felt bad that he had to stop since he was the mastermind behind this ride and it would have been nice to see all three of us finish. It's the middle of a very hot day and there's not a tree in sight at Harper's Ferry. I take a break under an umbrella while Ricky helps get my stuff together for the next stage. After 130 miles, I'm now starting to feel the effects of the ride. As Stoner arrives, I get ready to leave.

The next stage is a relatively short 25 miles to White's Ferry. Would have been easy except that I got a flat front tire and found out that my pump was defective. I rode for a mile on the front rim until I found some campers who had a bike pump. I caught a glimpse of Stoner way back on the trail as I finished my repairs and headed out again. In no time I was at White's Ferry getting ready to start the home stretch.

The 35 miles from White's Ferry to Georgetown is my nemesis. Before, I had bonked twice on this part of the trail towards the end of some relatively short rides. It's only 35 miles, but the first half before Great Falls is usually a muddy pot-holed mess. So when Stoner pedalled into White's Ferry and decided not to ride the last stage, I knew where he was coming from. Normally I would have tried to pull him out of the car to finish, but not this time-- he could barely grip the bars.

After some minor wrenching (courtesy of Rickyd), I set out to do the last 35 miles on my own. My only goal was to finish before dark. 10 miles from the end I feel a surge of energy. For whatever reason, the tiredness has left and I'm giddy. I flat out sprint the remaining miles. While I never made it past 19mph, I felt good. Some guy on a hybrid bike zips past me, looking over his shoulder to see if I'll chase. "Yeah mthrfckr," I mumble to myself, "try that after 185 miles."

With 1 mile to go, the sky opens up with a torrential rain. I get soaked and it feels good for a little while until I start getting cold. I pull into Thompson's Boat House with a time of 15h26m expecting a nice dry car and a change of clothes, but instead find my buddies are having dinner back in Georgetown. I waited out the worst of the storm under an apartment building awning before riding back to the car. I'll admit I was a bit miffed at first but then again I thought, those guys must be starving and bored waiting around for me (each of them had done at least a C&O century). Besides, I just rode the entire C&O towpath in a day and I'm complaining about a little rain?!

There's already talk from Rickyd of attempting this again and I hope both he and Stoner finish it. Me? Err, I think I'll drive the support wagon instead...

More pics and Cliff notes here.


Blogger gmr2048 said...

congrats joe! that's a ride to be proud of. you are an amazing cyclist.

9:19 AM

Blogger Blue-eyed Devil said...

Great job, JoeP. You're a friggin' monster! Also, excellent write-up; hard to imagine you were lucid enough to remember that much.

Those slackin' bazturds left ya hanging at the end? Damn! No loyalty among the degenerate, I guess. 8^)

12:16 PM

Blogger Marc from Human Resources said...

truly sick. great job.
there's no way I could have done that. no way. great write up.

12:29 PM

Blogger riderx said...

Great job Joe. You da' man!

12:47 PM

Blogger butch said...

W O W ! ! ! !

1:25 PM

Blogger Love2Ride said...

Absolutely EPIC ride! Kudos to all of you. 195 miles is at the end of reason.....but on fixeys?!?!?!
I hearby nominate you to the fixed gear Hall of Fame.


Awesome write-up too.

5:02 AM

Blogger gwadzilla said...

a few years ago I did a similar trip
but got dropped off n Cumberland with camping gear
rode a mile or two in and slept in my hamock tent
mosquitos and deliverence style paranoia had me up early
put the lights on
it was misty... misty enough to be slow
then storms
miserable storms
it was one of the worst days of my life
and I want to do it again

10:59 PM

Blogger Unknown said...

After an epic ride like that,need to repair your bike? Then why not visit for a great article about replacing your bike's bottom bracket bearings, the photos are a real help too.

6:22 AM


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