WASHINGTON, DC 2005: It was a really big job to get everything ready for a nine-day trip with six people. One thing that just didn't seem to get done was installing fenders. But we knew we would be very unhappy without them if it rained (and it did!). So we installed them before leaving. At last we were ready, and family members joined us to see us off. One of them got an unusual picture of us going away from the camera, down the trail. (SCROLL down)

Installing fenders

Start of trip, Boston trailhead, Youghiogheny River Trail, June 14, 2005, with family members

In motion!

We were making our first rest stop, at Milepost 23 on the Yough Trail, when we heard a sharp report from the back tire of the solo bike. The valve stem had exploded. Calling Jerry Kraynick (Kraynick's Bike Shop) on the cell phone, I learned the interesting and useful fact that it was possible to run a Presta tube in a Schrader rim (we had no Schrader-stem tubes with us since someone had forgotten to bring one along). But we were able to buy a new tube at the bike shop in West Newton.

Our trail mom commented afterwards that the first day was really long (it was 36 miles). The tire trouble, sign of more to come, did slow us down, as did stops where there were no porta-potties. The last was under the bridge at Dickerson Run. The several miles of upgrade to that point took its toll on everybody. Shortly afterwards, thinking we almost had it made for the day, we saw the sky turn black as the wind whipped the trees into a frenzy. A sudden burst of new energy brought us under the shelter of the side porch at River's Edge Family Campground only a couple of minutes after we started to get wet.

The next morning, we stopped for a picture in Connellsville, in the city park.

Connellsville, PA, Day 2

We were hungry by the time we got to the overlook approaching Ohiopyle, so we stopped to eat lunch. Four solo bike riders, also on their way to DC, stopped to chat. We also took a dip in the Yough at Ohiopyle.

Lunch stop at the overlook, Day 2

Bicycle bridge over the Yough, Ohiopyle

Leaving Ohiopyle, some of the younger stokers and captains wanted to switch places. It was a nice change for them, but carefully-chosen combinations usually work out the best when tandeming and/or traveling in groups. We went more slowly.

It was late, although still light, when we arrived at Confluence. We learned that our chosen campsite, adjacent to the showers, was covered with a deep bed of gravel--not the stuff for stakes or comfortable sleeping. So we had to switch. There was some discussion about eating first or pitching tents first. We eventually made our way to the eating place to discover that the deep fryer had been turned off for the night, so we had to be content with cold cuts.

As we broke camp to leave Confluence, Pennsylvania, starting our third day, spirits were not very high. It had rained in the night--not a downpour, but slow and steady, making the insides of tents wet. Breakfast was soggy, despite a brief respite from the drops. The rain resumed soon after the start of our ascent of the Alleghenies, and it did not stop for the next several hours. Because of the long, unrelenting grade and heavy load of camping equipment, worsened by softening of the trail surface, speeds dropped to the point where walking often became necessary. Clammy rain ponchos did not really keep us warm, and our six-year-old's lips began to turn blue. Riders coming the opposite direction were unsure about the distance to Rockwood, but it seemed to be forever away, and Meyersdale seemed unattainable (we were going to be ferried by van to Frostburg, Maryland, since Big Savage Tunnel was still closed). Worse yet, our supply of Gatorade had run out, and no water was available. At last, drenched with rain and covered with a crust of sand and pebbles, we trudged down the sidewalk toward Rockwood, brake pads crunching horribly on rims. The store across the bridge there was a welcome sight. The rain had not stopped, but there was enough room on the porch for all of our bikes. We squeezed inside and began to buy anything we could lay our hands on to eat and drink, spreading out sodden belongings on empty shelves in the back of the store. Hamburgers and hot sausage sandwiches disappeared as if by magic, and we took advantage of the lowest Gatorade price on the whole trip--less than a dollar. Over the next few hours, the rain stopped, and we began to clean up the bikes. Our ferry crew agreed to pick us up at Rockwood instead of Meyersdale, and before nightfall we were ensconced at Charlie's Motel in Frostburg. Mysteriously, in the night, the back tire on the tandem went flat. But we were happy that it did not happen out on the trail!

Waiting to board the Western Maryland train in Frostburg (riders and bikes aboard train from Frostburg to Cumberland)

Beginning C&O Canal towpath, Western Maryland station, Cumberland

Our fourth day was a long one. We had to start out according to the schedule of the train from Frostburg, since Big Savage Tunnel was still closed. Along the way, one of our stokers lost her glasses along the towpath not too far beyond Cumberland (we found them THAT time), and we also had to wash down one of the bikes that had been parked in poison ivy. Along the way, we stopped at the lockmaster's house at Lock 68, where the Mileposters spent the second night of their three-day camping trip in 2004.

Lockmaster's house, Lock 68, C&O Canal

Since the troops were getting discouraged about the rain the night of the second day, I had called ahead and made reservations at Grandma's Country Inn in Paw Paw, West Virginia. This was farther than we had planned to ride that day, but everyone was pleased at having to camp out one less night. It became dark before we got there, and our trail mom and her daughter, unaccustomed to the experience, were frightened, but they bravely carried on. We were scheduled to arrive by 9:00, but it was nearly 10:00 by the time we rolled past the Red Rooster Hostel. A group of cyclists on their rooftop observation deck cheered us on, saying that a search party had been sent out and that Grandma was wondering where we were (cell phones don't work too well in that area!). We staggered up to the door of the inn, all the lights still blazing, but it was shut up tight. We were relieved when one of the employees, who was just coming around from locking the back door, let us in. They fired up the deep fryer again and fed us a royal feast at 10:30, which we hugely enjoyed, being totally starved!

Grandma's Country Kitchen and Inn, Paw Paw, West Virginia

Leaving Paw Paw, we made the mistake of taking a room key from Grandma's along with us. So the solo rider and I climbed aboard the triplet to take it back, leaving everyone else at the west portal of the tunnel. As we were coming back, we had an uncomfortable incident in which the bottom of the front fender caught on the tire. We almost went down, but didn't understand the true significance until the next day.

It had been a late night, and we got a late/later start. It was infuriating to see a scoutmaster riding a mo-ped past our lunch site, belching fumes, but the cell phone could not get a signal. The scouts were all riding normal bicycles. Poetic justice was served when we arrived at Bill's Place (Little Orleans). The scoutmaster limped up through the tunnel with a flat tire on his mo-ped! Meanwhile, our trail mom was dismayed when she came out of the store, having just bought $35 worth of Gatorade.

A dip in the pool at the campground eased our aches and pains, and there was a fantastic potluck supper going on. After we had set up camp, by which time it was dark, we found a convenient picnic table and gathered around it for our church service (we had decided to hold it Saturday night instead of Sunday morning). For illumination, we used bicycle headlights and the little LED lights we had brought along. Besides our planned order of service, we had spontaneous singing.

2005 Washington, DC trip, exiting Paw Paw Tunnel, C&O Canal

It was a great relief to get on the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail. The two sisters and I were flying toward Hancock at about 18 miles per hour on the triplet. Their brother, on the solo bike, was not pleased with us, since he could not catch up! But I suddenly noticed a strange bald patch on the front tire. The miscreant fender had done its work the day before--a piece of tread was flapping loose on this just-installed, Kevlar-cord tire (Specialized Nimbus Armadillo, 700X38C). The bike shop in Hancock had a lot of things, but not a large, heavy tire for a triplet. I bought a folding spare that was really too small, and the solo rider and I borrowed the tandem for a bit and pedaled to a hardware store at the other end of town, where I bought some contact cement to glue the tread back down and some electrical tape to protect the patch job from the pavement. I backed off the adjustment on the front brake pads so they would clear the whole mess. We headed on toward Williamsport.

Resting at Hancock while tire options are being explored

A large parent group met us at Williamsport, hiding some of the younger kids behind trees along the towpath, to surprise us. The Red Roof Inn was a welcome refuge from the vicissitudes of the trail, but there was general dismay that the swimming pool was out of commission. One of the younger riders considered dropping out, but made up her mind to stay.

After some discussion the next morning, it was decided that one of the parents would drive back to the bike shop in Hancock to buy a lightweight tire to swap onto the solo bike, which had also at first had heavy tires installed. After considerable swapping around, we left Williamsport refreshed and re-outfitted, but once again late.

About the middle of the afternoon I became aware of that very unpleasant sensation of riding on a tire gone flat. Stopping confirmed the suspicion, and we had to partially unload the triplet and remove the back wheel. It was very hard to find the problem, but at length I discovered a tiny, sharp triangle of rock that had slipped between two of the Kevlar cords--a typical problem on the lower section of the C&O. A passing cyclist offered a piece of old inner tube as a boot, which I gratefully accepted. After a long delay we got underway again.

Lock, dam, and power generating station

By our seventh day, we were all very tired, and our trail mom's knee was getting worse and worse. Her six-year-old daughter, with her on the tandem, was a strong help, but there are limits. The continuing string of flat tires and other problems kept us running late. As we approached Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, riding with the canal bed on our left, twilight was almost gone, and the full moon was rising. It was a dramatically beautiful moment as we saw the lights of the town across the huge boulders in the Potomac River, and the sisters behind me on the triplet broke into song. Their songs continued in the darkness beyond Harper's Ferry, but our trail mom was unhappy to be riding in the dark again. Captaining with a headlight in familiar territory, I was not too uncomfortable; I had ridden this stretch of trail in the dark before, and with no light. Our solo rider went down about halfway to Brunswick, but suffered no injury. The cell phone worked, but the campground at Brunswick did not answer. It was approaching 9:00, and we were uncertain that we would be able to check in.

At last we saw the lights of civilization ahead, and we wheeled across the large railroad yard to the Brunswick station. Another phone call revealed that the Green Country Inn, home away from home for railroad crews, had two rooms left; we would take them! The ride on darkened streets and up a steep hill was almost unbearable after all day on the trail, but everyone was happy to settle into the cozy rooms. At midnight, some of the trail grime wiped off, we headed upstairs to enjoy a feast at the excellent 24-hour cafe, although the six-year-old fell asleep before she could finish her chicken nuggets (someone else was glad to eat them!).

Next morning, it was much more pleasant to ride downhill back into town, in the daylight. We were hoping for a perfect day. But when we stopped for a break at White's Ferry, we found that the pesky glasses had disappeared for good. And midway through the afternoon there was a really loud bang--it sounded like a high-powered rifle going off. The back tire on the triplet had exploded. We later traced the cause to a tire pump with an inaccurate built-in gauge, which led to overinflation (I now carry a separate gauge). It was a longer stop this time, requiring taking another tire off the solo bike and putting the folding spare on its front wheel. Despite that, we arrived at the Chisel Branch H/B campground before dark, and set up camp for the last time.

White's Ferry

Fixing one of the six flat tires (most serious stop with swapping of tires between bikes)

2005 Washington, DC trip, campsite at Chisel Branch, C&O Canal

We awoke the ninth day to the sound of rain on tent roofs. The rain stopped long enough for us to eat breakfast, but it started again along with us as we rolled down the trail. Our trail mom's left knee had become almost intolerably painful, and only the heroic exertions of her daughter kept the tandem going. Our final flat, an invisible hole in the front tire of the solo bike, slowed us down one more time. After it was fixed, the rain stopped.

Entering Washington, DC, we paused for pictures at Fletcher's Boathouse before doubling back up the hill on the Capital Crescent Trail. We eagerly gobbled burgers at McDonald's in Bethesda, and then anxiously watched a darkening sky. Pedaling hard, we plunged into the Wisconsin Avenue tunnel in downtown Bethesda just before the rain started. At the other end of the tunnel, we paused to watch the skies empty. Only a few miles from our final destination, we donned ponchos and started along the Georgetown Branch Trail as the rain slackened. By the time we got to Silver Spring, it had stopped for good. We then enjoyed the downhill beauties of the Sligo Creek Trail and made the connection to the Northwest Branch Trail. Darkness reigned by the time we got to the Northeast Branch Trail and threaded our way onto the Indian Creek Trail. The darkness was comfortable for me, since I had ridden there many times. At 9:00 p.m. we rode the last two blocks up Ruatan Street to our host's house and slapped hands in the driveway. We had done it!

The next day we managed to see the White House before we boarded Amtrak's Capitol Limited for our trip back to Pittsburgh (more pictures below).

Monocacy River aqueduct

2005 recordholders (47 miles/day, loaded), Fletcher's Boathouse, Washington, DC--their ninth consecutive day

White House visit

One more picture!
The Allegheny Trail Alliance Web site has maps and many links to information on trails in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and West Virginia.

Messages: jornada AT juno DOT com