Tuesday, September 28, 2010

BYOB (bring your own bedroll)

There has been an event that has been on my mind for about 5 years now, and with the release of a certain documentary, it has become an obsession once again. The idea of pushing my limits, to see just how far I could ride. To crack mentally and contemplate bailout. I have witnessed countless others meltdown, but I have yet to find that threshhold. SDS 2- day 2 years ago, was close, but I was able to keep it together. The pace was brutal, especially the road sections on a single speed, but I somehow pulled through. Something about when the comfort and safety of everyday living begins dimishing and the adventure sets in, for me, a different state of mind does as well. Thoughts and decisions are no longer emotional, but very systematic. A thought process I rarely experience but chase constantly. I find that many people cannot relate.

Friday preparations were made for something I have been eyeballing for sometime now. Bags packed, I hit the sack early as I knew there would little sleep in sight for the next 36 to 48 hours. I awoke at 7am threw on a backpack which contained my riding clothes and headed off to a busy day at work. Off at 6, I changed into my riding gear, consumed a couple of hotdogs courtesy of a salty asian street vender and began my journey up the canal. No matter how many times I see it, I still find myself stopping along the Potomac to take in the sunset. I figured it would take me around 5 hours to make my way to Harpers Ferry where I planned to spend the night. As I passed by Pennyfield Lock I was stopped by a ranger who told me the canal below Seneca Creek was closed at sunset. He then asked where I was going and I told him Brunswick which is just a few miles below Harper's Ferry, to which he replied, "Brunswick!?!" He just asked that I not camp until I get past Seneca Creek and sent me on my way.

My evening commute....

I thought about how I wanted to gear my bike for the trip and decided 32 teeth in front with the option of 18t (commuting) and 20t (single track). The 18t felt perfect on the way up and I found it quite easy to find my rhythm on the pedals. I wasnt straining, nor was I spun out. Just a nice, comfortable pace which I felt as though I could maintain for days. I pulled into Brunswick at 6 minutes to midnight, just shy of my estimated time to arrive, and lay out my bedroll in a grassy area, where I had no problem falling asleep. I decided to sleep here as I would be riding the road the rest of the way and late saturady night riding on country roads didnt sound like a good idea.

4:15am, I woke up, and packed my bike and headed out on the road. Only a couple of cars passed, half of which had words for me. One of the vehichles was a pick up truck full of kids who I encountered just before the Sheetz on 17. They pulled in as did I. I thought twice about it, but I needed some coffee and food to keep me rolling. Not a one of them even looked my way. I probably wouldnt either. I mean, seriously, a tattoed traveller with wild hair out in the middle of nowhere on a bike at 4:30am? I wouldnt mess with him either. Anyway, my plan was to meet up for an 8am ride in Frederick, so I got back to it. The 25 miles on the road seemed to pass fairly quickly and I got onto 40 just as the sun began to rise. The early morning clouds glowed pink over the silhoette of the Catoctin Mountains capped with the familiar Comcast towers I would soon be riding past.

As I made the left onto Gambrill Park road, I stopped to switch my gears and adjust my b/b for the single track ahead. I jumped onto the blue trail and began heading towards the bottom lot on Hamburg road where I would be meeting up with the group. All of these years riding out there, I had never taken the blue trail down that way. Other than a few blow downs, the trail was nice and rocky. I rolled into the lot at 7:55am, just as the rest of the group began to arrive. My timing couldnt have worked out better.

We climbed the way I had just come down, and I was having difficulty conjuring up those short bursts of energy needed for riding the single speed or picking your way through the chunky Appalachian rocks. I had to humble myself saying that there was still another hundred miles of riding ahead. I did my fair share of walking and captured a few images along the way. At the top of blue, we headed up to the tea house and took in the view at the overlook where we were aproached by a friendly, attractive, young ranger who introduced herself and told us she was new there. We all chatted for a while and she asked where we usually met on sundays to which Ted replied, "Come over to my place on saturday night and I will show you where we meet." I couldnt believe it took so long for his charm to present itself. She took it well and kept talking to us for a while before we parted ways and continued the ride.

The overlook...

Everybody wanted to see this new trail that is all the buzz lately but after riding the yellow loop we still had some time to kill. Lawnmower to Volkswagon and up Knuckle Buster before hitting up Kublai Khan. Tony let me lead out on most of the descents and I could hear him just inches off my wheel. I enjoy the pressure. I asked once again if he wanted to lead on Kublai Khan, but he deferred saying he wanted to watch my lines, as to not be outdone by someone on a hardtail with a bedroll strapped to the bars, but not even the allure of fame and fortune and fortune with the paparzzi's presence could convince him to ride that last steep. Maybe next week I will have to bring out my mid '70s Bianchi touring bike.

At the bottom I parted ways with the group and began the climb back up blue with Don. I was feeling rough; very low on energy and finally enterred that dark place I had been looking for. I bummed a little water off Don and told him to leave me alone in the woods with my food and thoughts. I was happy to be alone at this point as it would have been far too tempting to jump in someone's car after being offered a lift. I ate the rest of my food and got moving again, with the promise of nourishment just over the hill. A burger, onion rings and a coke put a smile on my face and I was on the road once again. I rode through downtown and picked up 85 in route to Point of Rocks, where I stopped for more food and jumped back on the canal. I knew I had squandered too much time at the 3 eating establishments in the last 20 miles to make it back before sunset, and I knew there would be even more squandering done taking pictures.

Homeward bound...

The view from Indian Flat...

Even with the 18t on the rear, I was feeling spun out on the way back down to Washington. My butt and shoulders were sore as my bike is not set up for riding long distances in the saddle. I had to make a conscious effort to keep my elbows in and shoulders down. My rear light ejected somewhere along the way but the headlight was still intact and still had juice. As I rolled through Pennyfield Lock, I once again laid an eyeball on that ranger, but he didnt see me until I was way past. The closer I got, the more I was filled with the excitement of getting home. All in all a pretty good trip, but not half as epic as this guy's...


  1. Can you post a map showing the route you rode? It sounds epic enough, but I don't know any of the landmarks up in your parts, so seeing it would make it that much more badass.

  2. That is awesome.

    Big moves Nate!

  3. Sounds amazing. Interesting how you desire to find that place in your mind that most are so scared of. Great story.