A Rude Awakening
This was to be the "over the hump day." Yesterday I descended from Frostburg on U.S. 40 way too fast. It just isn't fair after two days of continuous climbing that the payout is to coast for seven or 10 miles. Then pedal again. It wasn't too fast -- it just went by too quickly.
About two thirds of the way between Frostburg and Cumberland is the small town of La Vale, Maryland. Along U.S. 40 are many motels and I needed a good night's rest. The Comfort Inn and Suites was the best looking property available so I checked in. Every muscle hurt but I went to the pool and whirlpool. I thought the whirlpool would help but I don't think it did. But it didn't hurt.
I was in bed by 9:00 p.m. and had great difficulty falling asleep. Moving was very painful and if I rolled over in bed while sleeping the pain would wake me up. I tried to lie as still as I could.
At 3:00 a.m. I had a wake up call from the "front desk" asking me to come down to the desk. I ventured up front and, of course, they knew nothing about it. It was a prank call from inside the hotel. I could not get back to sleep after that.
By 6:00 a.m. I was in the lobby trying to find breakfast and looked forward to getting out of there. I was very sore and very tired. And very grumpy at this point. I'm not sure who I was more angry at though. The idiots who were prank calling guests in the hotel at 3:00 a.m. or the hotel staff who seemed not at all concerned by the fact that they did not provide this guest with a restful night's sleep. No apology was given at checkout and a letter to the general manager later produced a 50% voucher off my next stay. There won't be a next stay.
I was on the road at dawn. It was chilly when I headed out and that sure felt good. I rode through Cumberland and stopped at the trail head of the C&O Canal (MP 184.5). It was cool in the mountains and a little bit foggy. I had hoped the fog would stay but it soon lifted.
I had read that near Cumberland the towpath was reduced to one path through people's back yards but I saw nothing like that. The ride was mostly uneventful. The canal is at many times a depression in the earth, now filled in by trees and shrubs. At other locations the canal remains filled with water and is easily to visualize canal boats floating through those stretches today.
Not too far from Cumberland there is a long stretch of water full of life. As I was riding I was watching for the wildlife in the canal. I spotted something swimming and slowed down to watch. When the creature spotted me he dove deep and I could see the outline of an otter headed for safety.
Some of the canal was damned by many trees, the work of those crafty beavers. I saw some trees that were still standing but would not be for long as the beavers had been gnawing on them for a while. There were turtles sunning themselves on logs everywhere. I started to count but suffice it to say there were more than 100 turtles. The turtle would be the most often spotted animal along the canal.
I was in pain but determined to finish the ride. The canal tow path was bumpy in parts and not as smooth as the rail trail in Pennsylvania. Because of my saddle sores, I started spending more time out of the saddle and it was nearly impossible to get into a good riding rhythm and keep it.
I had driven near this stretch of the canal and wasn't surprised by too much. But approaching the tunnel at Paw Paw was amazing. This structure was completed in 1850 and carried the water through the mountain. It is water-filled today and the tunnel remains safe to navigate.
I started to ride through it but soon dismounted for fear I would crash. It is dark in there and without a light one can't see the wet path. Or what lurks in the dark. The warning was to bring a light but I did not have room to carry one with me. A wooden railing was to my left and the wall to the right making the path about three feet wide. I made a lot of noise as I walked though the tunnel. I needed to alert whatever creatures waited for me. It turns out there were none.
On this day I thought I might meet some through hikers or bikers but I met none. Around MP 150 I met a family of four who had come down from a summer cabin to fill up some water jugs. They had two small girls and a Labrador Retriever. The Lab was wearing a glow stick around his neck which they put on him at night for him to hunt frogs.
When I asked what was ahead they told me that there was a store in Orleans and I remembered the trail maps mentioning a store called "Bills." Although they told me it was a "mile or two" I thought I had missed it when I rode further. But after five or six miles I did come to an opening in the trail and saw that painted on the concrete wall was the word "store." I left the trail and rode up a hill for about 50 yards and saw Bills. On the left was a Pepsi machine which would not take bills (ironic for a place called Bills). I had no coins. I looked at the store and saw a sign "Gone Fishin'." What a disappointment. For a hungry traveler this was my mirage in the desert.
At MP 140 I met a man on a recumbent bike and we rode most of the way to Hancock. He was an interesting man about 60 years of age. I had passed him as I was headed east and he was headed west. When I had stopped for water at a pump and he had turned around and caught up with me. We talked the rest of the way to Hancock. It was here that I rediscovered how much easier it is to ride with someone. We rode to MP 135 then switched to the paved Western Maryland rail trail. The trail climbed above the Potomac River higher than the canal but we maintained a nice pace. And then after about 10 miles we came to an intersection and my new partner said he was going to stop. Cigarette break.
I rode the rest of the way to Hancock by myself. I didn't realize it was so hot until I reached town and saw the temperature on the bank sign. A sultry 97 degrees. I went to the low budget Super-8 motel and checked in. I then rode back to the bike shop in town and had my gears and chain cleaned form the miles of limestone dust. Hanging out there was my new friend Joe, smoking a cigarette. I went to dinner at the Lockhouse Restaurant. Ordered pasta. After dinner I returned to the motel and called it a night.