Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Earbuds and Auditory Cues

I receive admonishments from drivers when I arrive at my destination with my iPod attached to my person. Is this behavior risky?

If you keep one earbud in your right ear, you still get the auditory cues from the traffic side.

Keeping the volume down makes the ride go by pleasantly, while not interfering with "road noises".

If you listen to music (not podcasts), you are more likely to tune it out in situations where your attention needs to be on traffic and pedestrians.

My vote? Music is good. Use common sense and be cautious!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Digby in fog
Sunday, July 20th 2008
We’re off- a 7 day tour of Nova Scotia
JC and I drove (really just JC drove) to Saint John’s, NB Canada (home of the reversing falls) and left the vehicle there to take the ferry to Digby. Sticker shock, though JC had warned me. $10 for the bike and $40 for my person. A massive ferry, capable of carrying many semis and bus sized RVs, the ride is very smooth. The car was left in the hotel parking lot and we rode to the ferry. The clerk at the Ferry booking desk asked me JC’s name and I told her “Jim”, but she didn’t ask for his last name, so as she was printing up the receipt I asked if she didn’t need his last name. She told me she thought I said “Jones” and that was what the receipt stated. JC and I had a good laugh about it and noted that if the ferry sank, he would go down in history as James Jones (JJ).
You can sometimes see whales and dolphins from the ferry and there was a naturalist from a local museum on hand with binoculars, but moderately heavy fog rolled in and enshrouded us on our journey.
The fog mostly lifted as we entered Digby. An interesting phenomenon- as the fog was thinning, you could look down into the water at the edge of the boat and see a halo of rainbow. There were Salmon cages near the dock; they look a little like docks themselves, with screening over them.
Donning raincoats/windbreakers we headed out of the ferry area and came to a visitor’s center, where they advised us to take Highway 101! The lady there said NS highways aren’t like highways on the mainland, but we went through Digby and up onto Highway 101- no difference to me except that bikes are allowed. Fast cars, lots of tarmac to warm you up- we stayed on for one exit then got off- but inevitably we had to get back on because it is the only route going across an inlet we needed to cross. Between exits the road was very hilly and I was thinking about proposing a shortening of the tour. It would probably have been faster/ shorter/ flatter on HW101, but route 1 was definitely more scenic.
On cue, we did manage to find a store with both Gatorade and ice cream- an event I had declared would be a miracle.
Annapolis Royal presented a grocery store (where there was cyclist from Europe- said he had cycled Cape Breton and suggested it be cycled clockwise due to extreme hills) and an ATM, but no cell phone service. A short distance out of Annapolis Royal was another causeway, on which perched one of the few tidal electric generating plants in the world. There was an extremely knowledgeable man, who proceeded to tell us the pros and cons and mechanics of the system and how it compared to other types of electrical generation. JC later suggested he was probably part of the team waiting for the tide to go out so they could do some tinkering/ research into how the system was holding up (they could actually stand in the turbine chamber and look at the channel and turbines).
JC pointed out our probable destination across the bay. At the campground (CG) we ate a little of the food procured in Annapolis Royal and scoped out campsites other than the one we had been assigned- it was really quite nice, but we were looking for something a little more protected due to the expectation of rain. JC made a decision to grab a camping cabin. I revolted after finding out that even after paying $75 (inc tax), we had to pay for showers and refused to shower- I am sure JC will be paying for that later.

Monday, July 21st

It did indeed rain most of the night, making the cabin seem the correct choice in hindsight. We deliberated waiting 'till 8:00 for the camp’s restaurant to open or leaving while it was not raining. We chose the former and were amused by a group of bikers in the café. About six strong, they didn’t really resemble bikers, except for their black clothes; no tattoos, perpetually looking angry faces or tough guy stuff. They were all from New England and consisted of engineers, computer people and one accountant (3 Harleys, 2 BMWs and a Triumph). We had a great conversation with them. The waitress was equally entertaining. When we finished it had started raining again and this continued until about 1:30, not necessarily a downpour, but drizzle/ mist. We stopped once for Gaterade (I didn’t partake) and no ice cream. The owner/employee of the store was very familiar with Kejimkujik provincial park and called it just “Kedgee”.
The second real stop was at a huge grocery store while still about 10 miles away from the CG. They had more variety/selection than yesterday. The approach to the CG (according to JC’s GPS unit) was a down a long road with deep newly added gravel. We shouldn’t have to travel that road again to leave the CG, fortunately, because it was slow and hard on the rear. No cell phone service- pay phones only and no ability to get change at the CG. Showers (currently being converted to pay), laundry, food, wandering and bed.

Tuesday July 22nd
We packed in a fine drizzle this morning… wet tents after out efforts yesterday (camping cabin) to not have to pack wet tents. The drizzle stopped shortly after leaving and we cycled about 15 miles to Canning for breakfast. We shopped there, also. There are no towns big enough to have a grocery before Blomidon PP. The path became more and more hilly until we finally arrived at the park, which was the climbing finale, with such an extensive/steep hill (with switchbacks), that we gave up riding and pushed 50% of it and rode 50% in the lowest gear. My bike is now refusing to shift onto the granny gear. We walked down to the flats as the tide came slowly/quickly in. The cliff at the edge there is very soft and erodes easily. There was a marked line from which ground water escapes and the cliff is stained and seeping below the line. Scott’s Bay would have meant about a 10 mile ride and then a return up the CG hill, instead we hiked along some trails along the ridge to outlooks, almost 3 hours. Upon our return, we slacked and lay around talking about what we might be able to ditch and additional things we might need in order to ride across the US. While hiking we had discovered that this CG actually had showers (unusual in a public CG), so we took advantage of them- quite nice. While there, we met a couple from London, ON (we passed it last year on our circumnavigation of Lake Erie). They cycle, canoe and backpack. He looked the part, but she didn’t- it's always a pleasant surprise when my guesses about people are way off. We also visited the CG hosts, Gerry and Wheet of NS. They told us about their 6 children and the gypsum mines on NS. Dinner was little- granola bars. We really don’t eat dinner and are not generally hungry in the evening. No cell phone service (of course) and the change I had did me no good- the phone only accepts quarters.

Wednesday July 23rd

It was barely drizzling when we left this morning. The hill down was scary as opposed to
difficult. The rims of the wheels get so hot on such a decline, you need to stop and let them cool. My bike caused the CG gate to go up, which I found amusing, but JC’s did not. Lots of mist this morning. We returned to Canning for breakfast again (same restaurant), and were given advice from a local man about our conflicting directions to Barass Corner- one set of directions came from the GPS unit and the other from the unit’s computer software. Coming into Kentville, we searched for a bike shop to repair my granny gear. I have already lubricated the heck out of the cable housing and almost unscrewed the stop screw to no avail. At this point I think the lower cable housing is bad, about which I can do nothing. I also lost a machine screw from my front rack, for which I again did a temporary fix with a cable tie. We found a bike shop, but no tech until 1pm. Not killing me enough to wait 3 hours. I was able to find a hardware store and the staff helped me size and replace the machine screw. I made it up all but 4 hills and those were walkers (JC walked them as well; I am sure he did this just to make me feel better). No rain and the skies had cleared. At New Ross, I got desperate and accepted the kind offer to use JC’s phone, since the credit card phone in town wouldn’t take any of my CC. No answer- I left a message that I was alive. The Canadian phone company and my own cell phone company seem to make it incredibly difficult to phone anybody. It is weird; they seem to make it possible to only make local or collect calls. I sent postcards starting on day 2 (all of which made it to their destinations after I got home) and collected the $4 dollars in quarters required to make a 1 minute call to the states in expectation of finding a pay phone.

I would have bought Gatorade if I had realized the magnitude of the hill just beyond the town’s center. We stopped at the top and collapsed at someone’s drive and talked to the home owner. He let me fill my water bottle. Lesson learned- always top all bottles at every chance. More and more ups and speedy downs. At Barass Corner we found a little mini-mart/ grocery store and asked about hotels. The family running the store told us about a B&B and called for us. We were pretty shot. There was no answer, but just as we were hopping on our bikes the owner came out and put us on the phone with the B&B owner. The owner had asked the store owner how we seemed- like the local version of a credit check: very funny- how old are they, are they skuzzy or respectable looking… the B&B is 5 miles in the direction we are going tomorrow as opposed to 10 miles in the wrong direction to the CG. Gravel roads in decent shape brought us to the B&B- 100 Acres and an Ox. It was a beautifully appointed new house, built in old NS style overlooking fields of blueberries, a faraway lake and several valleys. The owner had told JC she would not be home until 7pm. We waited on the pleasant back porch and were much more presentable after about an hour of drying. Ardythe, the owner, was incredibly kind and gracious. Realizing we had not had dinner (she doesn't realize that is our style), she cooked us a great meal (while we showered), a beautiful pairing of fresh ingredients and the perfect portion sizes made me feel like she knew me and how I eat. I am a vegetarian, and JC is not, but she didn’t blink. She gave us homemade lemonade, poundcake and fresh fruit w/lightly sweetened whipped cream for dessert: so excellent. We talked with the other couple staying and then went to bed. Now I have to put in my disclaimer. There are only queen sized beds at this B&B- I know, because we were the first to arrive and I looked into all the bedrooms. I had a very difficult time sleeping in the same bed with JC and thus got about 3 hours of sleep. This in turn made JC feel badly and he got only about 4 hours of sleep. He is going to have to let me sleep happily on the floor. It is however, only sleep, and we got up to a fabulous breakfast.

Thursday July 24th
We got up and picked blueberries (at least I did- JC was only interested in eating them). Ardythe made eggs I doubted I would be willing to eat. They looked like poached eggs, but when you cut into them, they were more like hard boiled and she had seasoned them excellently. Since breakfast is normally our biggest meal, I also partook of yoghurt, fresh fruit, whole grain muffins with blueberries and sautéed veggies. The meal was truly a fabulous start to our day. We packed up and headed out, initially taking the route suggested by Ardythe, but then turning around to rely on the GPS. The GPS route was quite nice. The unit has the normal settings for “no highways” and such, but additionally has a setting for “pedestrian” and “bicycle”. It is not always perfect in its routing, but accurate. It occasionally sends us off on “shortcuts”, one of which turned out to be a street running parallel to the main drag, but used solely for accessing driveways. Lots of rolling, but nothing compared to yesterday. We saw a moderately sized group of summer camp teens cycling for 3 weeks. They were scarfing lunch prepared from a grocery store’s shelves, just short of Lunenburg. In Lunenburg we tried out the Fisheries museum- pretty good, but could be so much better with more info about how things got done. The tall ship was nice to walk around and JC seemed to enjoy relating to it as a Navy guy. Next we went to the Bike Barn to have my granny gear worked on. It was indeed the cable housing, but not the one I had thought. The problem actually lay in the upper housing coming out of the bar-end shifter. This is a very old housing, but since it doesn’t get subjected to the rain, like the lower one does, I did not suspect it. Apparently new cabling contains a lining of some sort- maybe Kevlar or silicone. The owner also worked on my back brakes, which had become merely a slowing tool and he “gasp” actually replaced the pads. I usually just spin them around or take them off and rotate them, then readjust them. When test driving it, I was almost thrown from the bike when braking. Funny.Very nice. While there, another group from the same summer camp came in. There are apparently 3 of the groups out at once and they are all self-supported and camping. One of the other groups had been in earlier and had reportedly suffered 9 broken spokes. On to the Ovens, approximately 9 miles away. This natural park is private and its main lure is ocean caves. Uplifted shale is eroding vertically/perpendicularly to the shore. There is a trail and several stairways through chimneys into a few caves. I would like to come here with Dwight and kayak them. Afterwards I had a great veggie sandwich, made from diced veggies, an avacado/hummis spread and field greens w/vinaigrette on local whole grain bread- very messy, but great. JC had fish and chips doused in vinegar. It was plenty of food with no need for ice cream. It has been very foggy all day near the coast and the Ovens was no exception. After dinner (and during, really) various Chapin family members and friends played a ukulele, guitar and piano (though the ukulele was not played at the same time as the piano), and later Steve Chapin played the piano, sticking mostly to Cole Porter and Gershwin, with the twenty somethings chiming in. I tried the pay phones several times, but one had no dial tone and the other had been co-opted by a teen calling Microsoft tech support for the laptop he had in the booth with him. He had a pile of quarters to be admired. We walked back in the dark, using my headlight as a flashlight. JC showered, but I was too shot.

Friday, July 25th
Wow, I slept well last night; head on pillow and “blink”- out. It rained throughout the night and we hopped up and packed as soon as it stopped. After yet another unsuccessful attempt to use the phone, we ate breakfast at the same attached camp restaurant (Hodge Podge Lodge), with similar great results: fresh fruit, local soda bread and a small serving of home fries. We left at around 9:30. It was a really late start for our ~69 mile day. The hills were all doable, but we did disregard the GPS in the end. It takes us on a more circuitous route, with less traffic, but more miles. We were just about spent when we found a tiny “dirt” road enclosed by pines. Pulling off about 25 feet, we took off our shoes and lounged on the pine needle cushioned ground. So needed, even though 10 minutes after getting back on the bikes we came to a store we knew would be nearby. Spent is spent. At Kejimkujik National Park, it started to pour and the kind admissions person told us to get out of the line of cars and go pay at the visitor’s center. I found a CC pay phone, called home, but talked to the answering machine. It stopped raining as we finished paying and rode another 4k to the CG. I have heard all sorts of great things about this park, but they were all said by car campers and day visitors. It is a long way in and might be better appreciated if you spent a couple of days there if entering on a bike. Things are spaced quite far apart. In addition there is no laundry, the concession stand (no store) is 7k away (walking- too late to try this) and the only pay phone in the CG is quarters only. Dumping in my $4 for 1 minute, I got to speak to my 14 year old, but he never told anyone I called… note to self- investigate why only some species eat their young. At least I know no one is dead. Showers were welcome and then a dinner consisting of the two 4 day old rolls and the jar of pesto, carrots, granola bars, cashews and M&M’s. It is amazing, considering the heat, that the rolls were not moldy- gobs of preservatives?

Saturday, July 26th
Today we got up around 6am. There were a bunch of really obnoxious 20 somethings roaming the CG until 5am, talking very loudly and being extremely vulgar, even for my standards. At one point one was talking about what he expected from his sleeping girlfriend when he returned to his tent and what he was going to do if she did not perform, followed by some charming words used to describe her. I had to resist the temptation to pull down their tents; it would smear the image of peace loving cyclists. Hopefully life will stick it to them. The combination of a lack of security, long ride in, no direct lake access from the CG, no laundry or store would probably discourage me from ever returning on bike or at all on a Friday or Saturday. We ate breakfast at a restaurant just outside the entrance (Tent Dwellers), where the owner also runs a stand apart grocery store. She moved back and forth pretty efficiently. It was drizzly when we entered, but had stopped when we finished breakfast. It seemed forever until our 1st turn at about 15 miles, then the riding got better and the sun came out. We stopped at a house and JC rang the bell to ask questions about whether the closed bridge was truly impassible, even for bikes (since we have had long detours avoided by the discovery that a bridge was only impassible for cars). The owner was said it was definitely out, but that we could go on to Bear River and cross there. It was much further than we expected and we went down this outrageously steep hill, which we could see climbing back up the other side of the valley. The worry about hot rims resurfaced, because we worry about the possibility of popping a tire from the heat. At the bottom were no ice cream cones, but we did meet another Vermonter, who said we should “fuck” them? She clarified (it seems she thought JC would automatically know what she was talking about) she was talking about Bush and his cronies- just making a statement about the way a specific county in Vermont feels. JC is enamored of the root beer popsicles he finds in the novelty ice cream cases and found them there in Bear River as well. The way out of Bear River was to follow the river itself (still hilly). Someone told us the shortest way to Digby was to go up the steep hill, but I laughed at this prospect. It would have been about a 1.5 mile walker. I had already gone up that road, past two houses and had to walk after just a short way to them. We did need to get back on Highway 101 for a bit, since it was the only road to Digby along the coast, but we stayed on it for just that one exit again. Digby itself has quite a bit of traffic and the road seems a little dangerous, so mostly we rode on the asphalt sidewalk. Digby CG is only 4.67 miles from the ferry we will catch tomorrow at 1pm. Entering the drive, I checked the door latch of the office and there was a note telling people to come to the trailer at the top of the small hill. JC had overshot the entrance, so when he caught up with me I suggested he not stop, but continue up the hill. At that moment, the owner came around the office and JC had to come back down. I laughed myself silly and almost fell off my bike; maybe I was a little punch drunk by that time. There were pay showers and a laundry and each tent site had a little lean-to with a picnic table inside. If it rains, the owner had told us, we could swap the table out and tent in the lean-to. The lean-tos are sided with Kevlar? House wrap or something and there are several which are fully enclosed and have board bunks built in; very small, but could be fun. There is a rail trail into town, which we took and had dinner and ice cream.

Sunday, June 27th
We went back into town for breakfast, then wandered around on the wharf, taking pictures. Moving to the ferry dock, we were joined by a group of 30 supported cyclists. Many were tired from the unexpected hilliness of the terrain and the high mileage of their organized tour. They averaged 70 miles a day (no packs). I was rather proud that we had averaged 50 miles per day with packs, and had some days of 70 miles or so. The ferry ride back was blessed with porpoises jumping around us, but fog killed any chance of seeing whales. JC was disinterested; apparently in the Navy you become unappreciative of marine life. Off the ferry, onto the roads, back to the hotel and going home.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Haha, here is a one day account of the first day by our friend RH. I was a little hard on him. He shaped up superbly.

Hello friends -
I am on this bike ride - the Allegheny Passage - not for the casual rider. 50 miles a day is quite a bit and my first day was a relentless 1%+ grade (doesn't sound like much but for 50 miles you can feel it). Of course I did not train and my legs and backside told me so. But, I am here to report it so that's a good thing. My traveling companions LD, DK, and EK like to travel @ 13 mph. Now, that's a tad fast I think - not huffin' puffin' but lets you know it. Why? There is a reason - limits time on your as_ mostly, which makes sense. LD is the taskmaster. It feels so good to stop. I have enjoyed the scenery though - very good and is shady and not too hot. Mostly cloudy in fact which brings me to why I'm at a computer rather than camping as planned. About 1600 yesterday the sky opened up (and I don't mean the clouds cleared) mucho agua mucho mucho for 1/2 hr+. We rode w/me in the lead at 12mph. Kept warm until we stopped. Got drenched. Our stuff was mostly in plastic and some stayed dry - others not, incl my wallet, (not). Then the sun came out & it was quite nice. We rode on to our planned destination for the night - the longest 7 miles I ever saw! At the little town of Rockwood PA we saw a B&B which looked all so inviting in the late afternoon sun. (lot's of biker's there too - wonder why?) We continued along the trail for 1/2 mile to the chosen CG. Yuck, dark (and wet of course) but 10 smackers P/P and no H2O or showers, pit johns. Had to ride about 3/4 miles for those ammenities (incl. however). I felt they could stick it ___ ___ ___ ___ ____. Went to B&B, no room at the inn. Asked in store - another CG just 3 miles aways (that's a bunch and 'up the hill') - but they had been known to come pick up people - glory be. Called and got a recording. Checked tourist brouchure and after a few other frustrating phone calls (cells don't work by the way) went to the place where the washrooms are for the expensive CG. They had room in their guesthouse (sans breakfast so not a B&B we were told). That was way over 100 greenbacks for 4 dirty bikers but we were stuck. Ride on 10 more miles to another town? Dark clouds now building. LD and I were in the 'it's the principle of the thing' mood. It was getting about 7PM now and our level headed DK said let's get the guesthouse. That done we washed the sand off our bikes and get them under the porch and gear inside before more raindrops fell. Good decision. The room is a whole house! Gameroom w/pool (billiards) in the basement too. Even a computer. Take Care - RH

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Okay, thanks to an article from Adventure Cycling, four of us investigated and then set out on the approximately 320 mile trail from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC. Here is our story...

Saturday, June 28th, 2008 (McKeesport - Connellsville)
The trail from Pittsburgh to McKeesport is not yet finished. That part continues to move back and forth from trail to road. As a result, we started at McKeesport. We arrived here in a Honda CRV, with two bikes (front tires removed) inside and two in a Rocky Mount rack on top. A friend (RH) dropped us off, will drive to Connellsville, drop his bike there at River's Edge Campground, drive to Hancock, leave the car, take a shuttle to the Amtrak station, the train back to Connellsville and then get a ride back to his bike. Very convoluted, but there is a reason to his madness.
We spent a considerable amount of time configuring the bikes, sorting out which bungees would work best with which baggage/racks and which small bags were unneeded. Starting time was approximately 11:30am.

It is possible we did not start in the right place in McKeesport, but the marina in which we started was not bicyclist friendly. There appear to be only two bike trail parking spaces, no bathrooms and no water. A few miles down the trail in Boston was a park which made up for these deficits. The trail here is moderately well marked, though we chose the GAP trail (East side of the river) instead of the Youghiogheny which would have taken us across the river. No big deal, but we may have had a slightly nicer trail on the other side.

We lunched at West Newton in the Trailside restaurant/bike shop, as it conveniently rained during our meal. There were three men there, a father and two adult sons, who were en route to California. They were shunning the Adventure Cycling route so they would be novelties. The journey is to promote the active participation of fathers in the lives of their children. They were plotting and watching the weather via an armored laptop.

As we left, two women on the deck above poured water down on us from above, oblivious to the fact that the deck was not solid and was situated above a bike rack. A little funny; at least it was not soda.

At the River's Edge Campground (6:00), the only reason we realized we had arrived was that my rescue bike, which RK is riding, was locked at the side of the trail. If he hadn't locked it there we would have passed by and needed to double back. It rained on and off, but EK (14 years old) had managed to put the tent up in between. We ordered food from a pizzeria, showered and did laundry. Setting a clothesline was a waste of effort- we had to take it all down and use a dryer. At about 11:00pm one of the owners/managers went to the Amtrak station and brought RH back. I thought this was truly amazing kindness. Trains come through on the other side of the river about every 2 hours.

Sunday, June 29th (Connellsville - Rockwood)
River's Edge was just a hop/skip from Connellsville's town center. We found a diner almost immediately. Stares accompany our cycling shorts, though with the trail running right through town one would think people would be used to them. EK is not wearing cycling shorts. The plink/snap noise I heard yesterday is more pronounced since adding the equipment RH had brought in the car for us (sleeping bag, pad, tent). I stayed behind in Connellsville to await the 11:00 opening of the bike shop, while the rest went on to Ohio Pyle. The owner showed up a little early. He took apart my axle (I have broken one before with the same resulting noise), replaced the cones and bearings, then tightened down the spokes. It was probably the spokes. He didn't want me to pay him... hmmm. I caught up with the gang at Ohio Pyle; the GAP trail is all crushed limestone, very smooth and well draining.

We stopped in Confluence, which does a very good job of encouraging cyclists to come into town. Each town has a Welcome map, pinpointing where services and sights are. Very cute town.

The Pinkerton tunnel is probably permanently closed and a trail goes the longer way around the hill. It was on this part of the trail that we were struck by a total 30 minute downpour. Our stopping point was Rockwood, but since it was 7:00, the B&B's were filled or closed and the campground was $10 per person for no local water, pit toilets and no local hot showers. Some ammenities were available across the river in town. We finally settled into the campground's "bunkhouse", a full house with a full kitchen and 3 bedrooms, tv, pool/ping pong tables and internet capable computer, but for $160. Sometimes a roof over your head and a dry bed are worth more than at other times.

We washed our clothes by hand as it rained quite a bit more. Dinner was partly an MRE (meal ready to eat) left over from some government mission, chicken wings from town, grapes and jarred pesto on rolls (from a Confluence grocery) and dried fruit. The trains did not keep us awake.

Monday, June 30th (Rockwood - Evitt's campsite just past Cumberland)

Just past Salisbury we crossed a huge viaduct, under which I saw a deer on a deer path. You are so high up here it is a little like riding in a helicopter. RH later looked up the difference between a viaduct and a bridge- reportedly a viaduct is a series of different spans all tied together. Probably many of what we call bridges are actually viaducts. Windmills abound on the two ridges.

We breakfasted very late in Meyersville. Again, excellent signage/map encouraged us to go down a steep hill to a diner, something we would have been unlikely to do if we had not know the diner was definitely there.

The Keystone viaduct spans a valley through which a river, railroad and road all travel. This day probably held the largest quantity of interesting things to see. Just short of the Continental Divide we passed a tractor mower, who did his best to avoid catching up to us when we stopped. This included stopping for pictures at the divide, where there is a bridge he passed under as well.

The Borden tunnel is unlit, though moderately short. RH failed to remove his sunglasses before entering and so followed me closely through. I had also forgotten, but managed to take them off while riding. Hmmm. Why are we so opposed to stopping?

Savage tunnel is lit and long, with a long smooth downhill ride alongside a scenic railroad track. In the Brush tunnel, you actually share the tunnel with the scenic rail, but that train does not run very often.

In Cumberland there is a nice visitor's center and a grocery which was off the beaten path. Several cyclists passed through here while we plotted and we met two men also going to DC.
We never saw them again.

At Evitt's hiker/biker campsite, there was already someone in the site and only one table, so we illegally camped in the day use picnic grounds. The pump at this site and one other might have been impossible to get water out of if you only had one person working it. We cooked dinner and hit the hay. The trains were almost on top of us, but we were so tired we slept pretty well anyways. In the middle of the night there was an incredible BOOM, which at first seemed to be thunder right above us, but must have had something to do with the idled train starting up on the hill next to us.

Tuesday, July 1st (Evitt's campsite - Hancock)
The C&O is much rougher than the GAP, with the surface constructed from dirt overlaid with gravel. Of the four of us, three have road bikes. Additionally, the towns along the trail are generally smaller. We were to stop in Old Town for breakfast, but missed it, so we left the trail and traveled the under 1 mile to PawPaw for a lunch of pizza. Since it had been raining, we were quite a mess, but the owner didn't blink at our muddiness. We did our best to rinse/refill our water bottles and selves. It was 11:00.

A National Parks crew was working on the PawPaw tunnel. They were working on the all brick interior (the portion under the towpath), but when we went through they were eating lunch. Again, this tunnel is unlit, but the towpath is very uneven, requiring us to use flashlights. A family came through after us without any lights at all, but it is creepy and you don't get to see the details. The towpath is moderately narrow and passing just a few people on bikes coming the other way requires hugging the wall. As we emerged it started to pour, so we drew back inside. EK's helmet fell in the canal inside the tunnel; he fished it out with a clothesline and a hooked bungee. It is fortunate it floats.

We passed several primitive campgrounds, all on the Potomac side of the trail. It rained on and off, making the trail mucky and finally it poured on us long enough to soak us. The trail was a mess by this point and we mostly gave up trying to avoid the puddles and mud. We saw a huge spider on the trail.
Its body was the size of a quarter. If anyone knows what kind of spider this is, please leave a comment.

Eventually we hopped on the Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT), which seemed cheating, but it was paved and sooooo pleasant to our rears to be on something so smooth. This trail exactly parallels the towpath for a while.

In Hancock, the C&O bike shop was very easy to find and right next to the WMRT and C&O. At the bunkhouse we hosed our bikes, panniers and pretty much everything else. Dwight and Rick showered while Dennis, the shop owner, fixed EK’s shifter, which was slipping constantly, and tightened the front derailleur cable so EK could use his granny gear. The granny gear would turn out to be essential for the hills on the detour and our side trip to Antietum.

The compound is ultimate funk and very cool; the yard, enclosed by a 6’ fence, is bounded by outhouses and outdoor shower stalls, as well as a “bunkhouse”, which is probably an old lumber shed/lean-to screened in. As a guess, the shop and the yard were probably a hardware and lumberyard in a previous life. 8 bunk beds were built in and closed cell pads were provided. Altogether it is a fine place to “camp”. RH and I compared the bunkhouse to a chicken coop or a dog kennel, but you didn’t feel caged when inside. Dinner was at Weaver’s. The food was basic, but pies are their specialty.

Wednesday, July 2nd (Hancock - Horseshoe Bend campsite just short of Sharpsburg)
RH left us at this point to go to BWI and take a flight to a family party. DK’s phone, which took a beating by getting soaked on Sunday now turns on and has graphics on the screen, but the whole image is upside and backwards as if your were viewing it in a mirror and the picture’s colors are inverted… very funny, but it seems to function fine. We continued for 10.7 miles on the WMRT and returned to the C&O. The rail trail is marked by hand printed signs where you need to exit it, for the rail trail has a dead end spur beyond that.

At Fort Frederick we stopped for bathrooms and water but didn’t enter the fort. At Williamsport we trekked uphill to a mini-mart and bought supplementary food to eat w/the rice and beans we’ve been carrying: salsa, Combos, cookies and doughnuts for the morning. We also went into the canal museum and played a “build the cheapest canal” game. EK constructed a model suspension aqueduct.

The first of the two detours (called the extended detour) around the collapsed towpath takes you around some rough ground, which sandy patches and gravel, some of which needs to be walked. The second detour is unavoidable. It follows country roads and is very hilly.

The next possible hiker/biker site when returning to the trail was taken by an SUV with Virginia plates (more on this later). The subsequent site was 3 miles further and the pump handle had been removed due to water quality. We ended up taking that one (Horseshoe Bend) and sharing it with Jim, a retired dairy farmer, Wendy, a 27 year old from Beaver Creek, PA and 3 young men from Boston, PA. I went back to the Big Woods site for water- the pump gods were with me for this one could be operated by one person, then returned for a dip in the Potomac. It is very difficult to get into the water, for the mud is 2 feet deep at the edge.

Thursday, July 3rd (Horseshoe Bend - Calico Rocks campsite just past Point of Rocks)
We left moderately early, but the 3 young men beat us out. I was commenting that I would need to have my bike tuned before my next trip, to have everything tightened from the rattling it has gotten on this trail, when I looked down at DK’s bike and noticed that he had lost the bolt which holds his rack and fender on. The only reason I looked was because I had lost this same bolt a couple of years ago on a bone shaking gravel campground drive. We used a cable tie, which turned into a permanent fix. Hardware stores are hard to find.

We had to backtrack a little to exit onto the roads for Antietum. This brought us into contact with the same vehicle which had parked in the Big Woods site. I commented that she had forced 7 people to move on to share a site with no water. She claimed she was supposed to be there, worked for the Parks service and had a permit/key. To me it was irrelevant, for she took a hiker/biker site with her car.

Moving on to Sharpsburg for breakfast, we began our detour to visit Antietum. Not unusual, the “diner” was a store/gas/diner shop. A clerk scrounged around and gave us a bolt which might fit DK’s bike- very sweet and resourceful.

Most people on the roads were exceedingly cautious around us and our bikes. The car tour of Antietum was hot and hilly but interesting. It was nice to return to the shade of the trail. There was a curious man-made tunnel/cave, but we never found out what its purpose was. The main tunnel had been deliberately filled in, but someone had dug out the fill of a smaller, secondary tunnel and it was open near the top.. too creepy for EK and I.

At Harper Ferry, the Appalachian trail joined us for a while. Trail traffic steadily increased between this point and DC, though the only place it really caused us trouble, in hindsight, was near Great Falls Park. We stopped at Calico Corners campsite and asked to share with some people who had hiked the ½ mile from the Point of Rocks access point. There was also an older cyclist with a hammock tent. After putting up the tent, we returned to Point of Rocks and got some grill food, potatoes salad and coleslaw, at which point we were joined by Gene from the campsite. He is retired and cycles everywhere. Now living in Florida, he is cycling the whole C&o and Gap this year. He does about 70-90 miles per day. Returning to the camp, we jumped in the Potomac, again knee deep mud. The other group there was building a bonfire. Later they were on the phone giving friends directions to the site and I had visions of loud drunkards, but those never became reality. They were moderately quiet and turned in around midnight.

Friday, July 4th (Calico Rocks - DC)
I got up in the middle of the night because it had started to rain; rescued the clothesline items. I thought it was just a passing shower, but at 6:30 it was still raining. The same car with the Virginia license plates came down the road, so the driver was probably not lying, but no uniform, special license or signage. We packed inside the tent and by the time we were finished the rain had stopped.

Continuing on to White’s Ferry, we encountered the same diner/store/gas shop combo and ate breakfast. I believe this is the last ferry across the Potomac and it continues to run on a cable to keep it from drifting downstream with an engine pushing it across.
Several cyclists crossed to our side. It is probably popular to come up from DC on the Virginia side of the Potomac to White’s Ferry or Harper’s Ferry and then return on the Maryland side.

Great Falls Park is very beautiful.

The river there is reminiscent of something out of Algonquin Provincial Park, with huge rocks and unusual habitats for the region. There is a really nice boardwalk out, but the place was very busy due to the holiday. Many people use the trail from here to DC and we saw lots of families, joggers with dogs and people fishing. Despite the fact that the population density is quite high in this area, the trail continues to be secluded from surrounding development and sheltered from noise. Even as we approached downtown DC this continued to be the case.

Unfortunately, we needed to get up onto the Francis Scott Key bridge and most cyclists seem to carry their bikes up a set of stairs. We could probably have gone further and ridden up a hill on our bikes, but it turned out to be not as impossible as I thought it might be. We ended our tour quite muddy in the lobby of the Holiday Inn in Arlington. The weather the last two days cleared up and became quite muggy, but the heat was kept at bay by the river and the shaded path. Tomorrow RH will return from the airport with my car and we will go home on Monday.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Reduce, reuse, recycle, repeat

Nicest newly discovered site for material reuse (bike themed):

cool diy messenger bags This person makes these messenger bags out of vinyl banners. I am not saying I think nylon banners are cool, but companies are going to continue to use them and throw them out. Moral dilemma- do we refuse to reuse them and demand they stop using them?

Hometown reuse? Not bike related, but: Buffalo ReUse tears down houses board by board and resells the stuff from a warehouse. Not just the mantelpiece or the doors or doorhandles, but the studs and floorboards and glass block windows, kitchen cabinets and clawfoot tubs.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Winter Geek
Having become more focused on my 75% travel miles by bike challenge, I did invest in one winter item to make travel more comfortable.

New purchase: booties (very dorky looking)- these are just heavyduty waterproof nylon covers; they have no insulation, but paired with my waterproof pants, they keep my feet dry. There are no solid bottoms on these, but they are extremely effective. MEC $28

In Buffalo the weather generally hovers around freezing in the winter, with February temperatures sitting in the mid-twenties. Temperature is rarely a problem. On my way out of the house w/bike, one of my children's friends asked me if it wasn't currently too cold to be cycling. I told him, "if you are cold you aren't peddling fast enough". Leaving no skin exposed is vital and insulating extremities keeps frostbite at bay.

Old purchase- reuse: Ski mittens; why people use gloves for sports which don't require fine finger control I don't understand. When your fingers are together, they keep each other warmer. I will look for/design myself new mittens; my ski mittens (though they had zippers to open the sides up) made my hands sweat. Something to keep the fingers warm, while allowing the palms to cool would be perfect. Think pit zips for the palms : ) Also, a pair of safety goggles- I priced out clear glasses made for cycling and they approached $100. The safety goggles don't look too weird, I can attach my mirror, and they cover my exposed face and eyeballs (see above). They work great.

I also now have a rescue bike. It is a low end Trek mountain bike, which was left locked to a fence about 1 week too long. Devoid of wheels and its seat/seatpost, my spouse bought me parts and now it is a happy functioning bicycle again. The bike shop told him it would be cheaper to buy a new bike... but he saw the environmental cause and rallied in time for Christmas.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Looking Back- Mirrors

It is amazing how many comments people make about my mirror. Living in a mid-sized city makes you continually conscious of the traffic. Turning your head to look behind you puts you in several dangers: the proclivity to swerve slightly when turning your head around, the momentary lapse in attention to the doors of parked cars and the chance that a pedestrian might choose that time to step out. Using a mirror can mitigate some of these problems, though it is not always wise to exclusively rely on it.

Mirrors come in two basic flavors. There are the mirrors which either strap on or attach to the handlebars and the mirrors which stick to the helmet or attach to glasses.

On the pro side, handlebar mirrors have a greater reflective surface and can stick out further. On the con side they vibrate with the bike, are farther from your eye, don't show what is behind you if you are turning and make you wider.

Helmet mirrors have all of the opposite pros and cons. They don't vibrate, but have a smaller reflective surface. In addition, if you attach them to your glasses... you have to wear glasses. During the day, this is not such a problem. At night however, if you don't normally wear prescription glasses, you have to wear clear lenses or safety glasses.

My preference is for the latter. Although there is a period of adjustment, the close proximity to my eye allows me to shift my attention quickly from the road to the mirror and back. In addition, wearing glasses is a good practice anyways to keep bugs and debris out of your eyes. Someone commented to me that it must be annoying in the rain, however I use a Giro helmet with a visor and this keeps most of the rain off my glasses.

I find it amusing that while searching for a picture of my mirror, I found this article on the Icebike site. They have the full address for the company which makes my mirror (the Take-a-Look), though I got mine from my local bike shop. It is also important to point out that mine came out almost unscathed from being fully stepped on, when foolishly left on the concrete sidewalk. Its reflective side kissed the concrete. The result was one small scratch on the top border. The thing just folded up and protected itself. You don't "bend" it as cited on the Icebike site; it is jointed in three places to allow for adjustment.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

For the most part, this winter has been mild. Although the temperatures have hovered around freezing, there has been little precipitation sticking on the ground. For about 9 days I was forced to take a bus, which it turns out picks me up 1 block from home and drops me 1 block from work. It is kind of nice to listen to my podcasts on the bus.

There are so many reasons to bicycle and every time you ask another commuter or bicycle errand runner (?) you hear another. I have decided to try to use a bike for 75% of my single person, non-huge item travel. This relegates the car to hauling lumber, multiple children and vacations. I do, however, use the car when getting all dressed up for a night out on the town.

Most errands can be accomplished on a bike. I have a trailer, which can be used in the summer for grocery shopping, but not in the winter. It is a Burley double. The hitch is superior to anything else I have seen, but it is made of rubber and may become brittle and snap in the cold.

A couple of years ago, I went into my local pet supply store and purchased a 40lb. bag of dog food. I had my helmet on, but the clerk asked me if I wanted him to put the bag in my car. I told him that if he didn't mind walking about 10 blocks, that would be very nice. We still laugh about this, though recognize that sometimes we are also oblivious to what is going on around us.

So how did I get it home? I have my panniers and if you lay the bag across the panniers, the weight is supported and balanced. It was very stable.

Lately I have been cheating on the 75% miles by bike by picking up the groceries on the way home from a regular deployment of children. This allows me to shop less often, because I don't have to rely on getting everything in the panniers. The big grocery store is exactly on my way home. Still cheating I suppose.