I wish I could say that things went well after all that
What with leaving John “Timesuck” Watson behind and the town of Connellsville in our helmet-mounted rearview, and while it did kinda look up there for a moment or two, really, on the whole, things did not improve. First of all, on they way out of town we passed a bank with one of those digital marquees that displays the time and temperature; it was 3:30 PM and 36 degrees. Secondly, it continued to rain and flood and rain. Though for a while, basically the whole way to Ohiopyle State Park, we were on a well graded dirt road deep in the woods and that was pretty cool, in fact it was a lot like a bike ride. Also, at some point there was a roaring river and some pretty cool wooden bridges with forest views—that didn’t suck. In Ohiopyle, village of, when we all stopped for some coffees, Scenic Overlook photo-ops and local chit chat, I rode over to the State Park Visitor Center to poop and text and forget, with any luck, that I was alive. That was a super welcome and semi-successful break from reality until Hahn click-clacked his way into the surprisingly busy Visitor Center, held the bathroom door open and shouted so everyone could hear him,
“Come on Daniel, we all know that even you have to be done pooping by now, it’s been like 35 minutes, you can’t hide from us and you can’t hide from your duty (laughter), stop wasting daylight, pull-up your bibs like a Warrior and get out here and get on your bike, nowwwwww.”
– HAHN ROSSMAN
Through sheer momentum and because nobody had any better ideas we eventually made it past Confluence, PA to the bottom of the last big push up the Appalachians. It was dark, it was raining harder than ever, the temperature was just above freezing and the trail was covered in two to three inches of snow. In normal conditions and circumstances the next forty miles would simply represent the crux, also, side note: the apex. But unfortunately for us we had a snowy mountain pass not unlike Donner Pass (circa 1846) to contend with, i.e suffer, hump, endure, possibly succumb to cannibalism, etc. Meanwhile Raffy was convinced a Bobcat was stalking us. We asked him to describe what he thought he saw and/or felt he saw; subsequently he described in very sketchy detail what we all agreed sounded a lot like a Mountain Lion or Cougar. Because at that moment I was seized once again by Vegan stew cramps I elected to poop exactly where I was in the middle of the trail as it was dark and I was way beyond caring. I hung my kit and outer garments on a wooden fence and squatted. Before everyone rode away and left me there alone in the dark I asked after some kind of toilet paper or extra sock or something but nobody answered me. Luckily I still chewed tobacco at this point in my life and so like there I was, like a total badass, I mean drunk redneck about to pass out and die in the woods behind a tavern—wobbly racing tuck, naked and steaming, explosive diarrhea in the middle of a public trail, 33 degrees and sleeting, alone, 200+ miles and Nondenominational Higher Power-knows how many hours from my desired destination, and a big bail of Cope in my lip, just like you know, totally in the zone!, hoorah bitches. I used a handful of remarkably granular snow and slush to wipe, which, as it turns out, was a bad decision on account of all the poop water run-off which ran down the backs of my legs into my already wet socks. Also I got icy poop-slush in my gloves.22At this point we are in some kind of State Forest or some such tract of woods. There were no roads. No houses. No civilization at all. We had a plan to meet the Van (currently long gone) some 80-odd miles down the road in Meyersdale, PA.
Riding uphill in the rain in pitch black darkness through eighteen inches of wet snow and practically an entire fucking forest’s worth of downed branches and trees for three and a half hours is not as fun as it sounds. High Points include listening to a distant train going past us in the opposite direction on the other side of the river across the valley, riding in the dark by Braille and a totally bitchin’ snow glow which provided (nearly) enough light by which a form of quasi-navigation was possible. Low Points include the crossing of many wooden bridges on which the snow was invariably deeper, a group-wide failure to attend this ride equipped with proper lights, packing snow and slush into my shoes for hours on end, a full-blown DWR/WPB outerwear breach resulting in a steady stream of ice cold rainwater pouring down my back, the time when we were lost and almost tried to bushwhack through a closed and pretty fucking seriously dark tunnel, pooping in the snow again, getting slapped and smacked (repeatedly) in the face by branches, and icicles, and branches covered in icicles.
Somewhere near the top but not the top because oh no the top was too good for us, we came out of the woods into the greater Rockwood, PA metropolitan area. It was late and once again the group was experiencing some light-to-medium yearning this time for something to eat and somewhere dry and heated in which to eat it. We saw an American Legion Hall. A well lit sign next to the road read Visitors Welcome. We left our bikes in the parking lot next to a POS 2-door sedan (‘merican) thoroughly wrapped in streamers of soaking wet 1-ply toilet paper. The front door was locked so we rang the button above which button ring the bell was written in magic marker. After the buzz we shuffled in together but stopped in a huddle on the threshold because two dudes in department store camouflage and two ladies in Pennsylvania lady clothes in an otherwise empty bar room were staring at us pretty hard and so moving forward felt like possibly a bad idea. Which made sense, because to normal country folk we definitely looked like a group of soaking wet French men in spandex and Special Needs helmets looking for the rest of our Halloween Sex Holiday Bus Tour group. After several tense but interesting seconds passed one of the ladies said, well don’t just stand there, come on in and what can we do you for? We said do you have any food. She said is whiskey and little bags of seasoned potato chips (Utz) considered food where younz come from?” And we said most definitely whiskey and potato chips is considered food where weunz come from, but can you heat ’em up first?!?!! After that things went really smoothly so we made another wet mess in a Commonwealth establishment and partied with them there for like fifteen, thirty, forty-five minutes max.
Some genius (Ty probably?) suggested we leave the trail and take surface roads to the next town where we hoped to hook-up with the Van and bivouac in a 24-hour diner. The problem with surface roads is that surface roads are designed for normal humans operating more typical post-turn-of-the-century forms of conveyance, you know like cars and trucks and shit. And I don’t know if you know this or not, but cars and trucks and shit, unlike old-timey trains and barge-dragging burros, can manage grades WELL above 1.75%, grades as high as e.g. 27%. Because old-timey trains and barge-dragging burros can’t manage grades above 1.75%, the trail we had been on and were supposed to continue on was super gradual and bona fide manageable even in Southeastern Pennsylvania, a region known for it’s steep hills and deep hollers. Good news though: it wasn’t raining anymore, just snowing as in for seriously a blizzard as far as the eye could see, three maybe four feet. I don’t want to sound like an asshole but riding a laden, improperly lit bicycle on the side of a rural road, at night, through Bumfuck Nowhere (rural Pennsylvania) in the Appalachian Mountains in the middle of a Haunted Blizzard, at night, with seriously limited visibility, is, even as fun as it was, pretty dumb. On the upside, because it was a fairly windy tropical storm every now and then all the clouds and copious snow and sleet would blow-out to reveal a nearly full moon, which scenario was, if nothing else, on point.
At 11:45 PM in a Sheetz in the town of Meyersdale, PA (pop. 2473 in 2000 down 551 from pop. 3024 in 1900) we regrouped with the Van and welcomed sensations in our extremities. The best thing about Sheetz, a gas station and fast food burger-type joint, is that the food ordering process is 100% automated using Touch Screen kiosks. So ordering, say 2 bacon double cheeseburgers extra pickles and onions, a large order of onion rings, a small order of french fries and a large chocolate milkshake is as easy as pushing a few buttons and following a few prompts. The second best thing about Sheetz, at least this Sheetz on that night, was that when you ask the lady behind the cash register if you can sit in your filth and Cave Man your warm burgers in the isle between the candy and gum rack and the battery and winter glove and snow chain and engine oil display, she says, “Yes no problem,” with her mouth words even though her entire whole body, especially her eyes, actually says please nonononononono. Look, at this point we all knew we’re fucked. Morale-spirits couldn’t have been any lower-worse. So really it wasn’t a surprise when I’m not sure who, but I think it was Raffy, started calling around looking for vacancies at any of the many (three) hotels in town. Meanwhile, the Somerset County Police Officer who walked into Sheetz for some Tums and to chat with Mindy at the counter ordered us Rambo: First Blood-style to vacate the premises even though (maybe because) that clearly meant, in our current state, our immediate deaths.
In the rain, absently kicking a gas station concrete curb with his SPD compatible foot, at 12:15 AM on Halloween night, on a Thursday, Raffy managed to get a hold of someone at the Morguen Toole Company, which person told him that that yes, they’d be happy to open up and rent us however many rooms we wanted. It’s hard to describe how warm, how dry, how drinks, how hot shower and how bunk bed-having the Morguen Toole Company (evidently a Bed and Breakfast) was that night. The owners, a lovely younger company with progressive values and sensibilities, knew all about the trail; in fact they had set up their business in large part to accommodate the many typically diurnal hikers and bikers who pass through the area throughout the Summer season; you know, when it makes sense to go for bike rides. Also, their newly artisanally-renovated building which building once housed the Morguen Toole Company (oh, okay, I get it now), was totes legit.
FTR (for the record), we told ourselves like out loud and everything that we were JUST going in to shower and warm-up, and n-o-t not to actually sleep like fall asleep-sleep. We said things like alls we need is a break, you know, a chance to regroup, reprovision and relaundry in preparation for the next 225 miles, which 225 miles we were going to bang-the-fuck just as soon as I can feel my feet, Son!
We woke up six maybe seven hours later. Sad face. Then, in direct defiance of the Universe and our self-inflicted mission, we stumbled a few blocks to the local diner where we had a shameful-and-gratuitous-but-delicious two-course breakfast like it was Sunday or something.
By the time we finally saddled-up at 9:30 AM that morning we knew it was over. We knew it was no longer possible to complete the entire route in the time we had left, even if we weren’t pushing our bikes uphill through a foot of heavy snow. Which some of us—Hahn—did a lot of, due to the fact his metal fenders were mounted to his 650b bike with inadequate snow clearance. Rookie. Anyway, the next four hours would have sucked if the previous Siberian-prisoner-escape-of-an-evening hadn’t happened. But since the previous evening had in fact happened, push-riding over the Divide through the snow and Lord of The Rings-type tunnels with big oaken doors and whatnot, in the daytime, in no-more-rain-and-or-precipitation-of-any-kind, was a frosted cake walk. We passed a cross-country skier. Cole broke his plastic seatpost shredding some natural rollers in a play park on the edge of Frostburg, MD. On the other side of the Mason Dixon line we left the snow and Chronicles of Gnarnia behind once and for all. Prolly Not came out of hiding. Shit was looking up. All we had to do was coast and hi-five and share smiles and do jumps as far as we could in the general direction of DC.
Or we could get nine fucking flats in the twenty miles between Frostburg and Cumberland on the best most buffed-out section of trail-road yet and the last bit of riding before we had to pack it in and drive the rest of the way to DC in one of two cramped mini vans. High Points include throwing rocks at trees, the Bone Cave and dry-humping an aluminum street sign pole. It was dark by the time we got to Cumberland where we did in fact quit just under two-hundred miles short of DC and slightly less than half-way along. On the upside, we found a place to eat where Raffy could order raw oysters which made a lot of sense based on having just expended 43,129 calories in the last 37 hours.