There are three types of people who set out on a cross country trip by cycle.
1. The sane, sensible person who works hard for a number of years, saves up and embarks on either a supported or self-supported trip with relative comfort provided. They have the money to stay in hotels when the going gets tough and never have to worry about food. They can choose to be frugal as opposed to being forced to save and collect pennies.
2. The moderately insane person who takes a credit card and runs up the charges while touring the states. Like person number one, they set off on their journey in relative comfort, never having to worry about the financial logistics. However, they are a little bit crazy because they will have to deal with the debt when they go back home — to reality.
3. Then there’s the super crazy person. This person needs to be chained up. Why? Because this is the person who decides to take off with less than $100.00 in her pockets and rely on the mercy and generosity of people. She lives like a vagabond, letting the road decide her fate. Sometimes she might even throw a dog in the mix. You know who I’m speaking of, and boy did the C&O trail remind me just how crazy I am.
Nervously posing next to my kayak.
My host family unloading kayaks off truck.
We departed on the C & O trail on Tuesday. Monday, I kayaked for the first time with my host family on Devil’s Backbone. It proved its name when I crashed into a tree and up set into the river. It was the best!
After the fabulous weekend, goodbye was the last thing I wanted to say to Pattie, her daughter, Liz, and her three dogs. But we set off in the rain (my enemy) towards the Dam and trail.
Beauty describes the first day. The sights, history and other touring cyclists kept my mind off the pedaling and cracking sounds the trailer tires made on the gravel. (It’s a miracle I didn’t get a flat.)
When I’m on my bike, my imagination runs rampant. From vagabond romances to zombie apocalypses, I’m usually in another world while pedaling. However, the first day did not require such distractions. I made it to my first campground, and Fiji and I spent the night in a comfortable tent and sleeping bag.
The next day was more challenging. In one night, the sweat from the day before had dried and crusted on my body. Our water was down to the liter, and Fiji refused to drink the Iodine treated pump water–spoiled dog. The sights still intrigued me, and Fiji bursting and jumping into the river water kept my spirits high, and my mind intrigued.
Midday, while on potty break, Fiji spotted a deer before I did and took off into the woods.
In that span of time, my brain provided me with all kinds of horrible images. Fiji had fallen into a crevice in the Earth. Fiji’s collar got stuck on a tree branch, and she was strangled to death. Fiji found the deer, and it beat her with its legs. Fiji jumped into the river, and it took her to the point of no return–the Dam waterfall.
Fiji cools off in river water after a long run alongside the bike.
I screamed and raged at Fiji when she limped back 15 minutes later with a “I know I did wrong” look on her face. I checked her back legs — no breaks. She was in no condition to run, though. I put her in the doggy trailer, still steaming, and pushed down hard on the bike pedals. The trailer rocked and bumped. Yeah, take that, you bad dog, I thought. Remembering her limp, I felt guilty and quickly found a small town to stop in. With the help of two wonderful people, Ray and Jackie, we stayed in a Super 8 in Hancock, MD, and Fiji was able to rest before we hit the road again. (Thank you to Jenny Arata for finding and replenishing Fiji’s dog food. She had run out the night before.)
ROMANCE, REVELATIONS AND ZOMBIE MOSQUITOS
Packing up and setting off day in and out starts to take a toll. It’s the hardest part of the journey, leaving the comfortable to go onto the uncertain. When I start my day, I do not know what I’m going to eat or where I’m going to sleep that night. With only $6.00 left to my name, I biked out of the Super 8, received a free tune up at the C & O bike shop and began on the paved portion of the Western Maryland Rail Trail.
Yes! Paved is the way to go. Smooth riding feels so awesome. This portion of the trail revealed two things; my legs had gotten stronger and faster.
It’s amazing the types of people I saw: chubby, skinny, tall, short, old, young. Biking is truly an activity that anyone can do, and they can do it well. I found myself racing all the older people that passed me. They beat me.
I didn’t see his face, but a man came speeding down the trail. Fiji perked up in her trailer. “Shall we?” I asked her. Fiji stood even taller. I began to move my legs with vigor in an effort to catch up with the old man that dared to pass up these young, albeit chubby, legs.
“Sit down, Fiji. We’re going to catch this guy.”
We continued like that for 5 or 6 miles. Although the man became a vanishing, living dot in the distance, my thighs impressed me. With a 125 pounds in tow, we sped with no let up. I felt like Iron Woman! I didn’t want to stop the groove, so I missed picture moments. One such photo that rests in memory was a barred up cave. A hole as big as day in the rock caught my attention, and I considered getting off my bike to explore. The image of it collapsing and Fiji and I sitting in the dark for hours and hours helped my legs to race right by that cave.
30 minutes later, we came up on the man. I felt triumphant, but that changed when I noticed his bike propped up against a fence and both tires blown. We had only caught up because he busted his tires. Oh well.
“You need help?” I asked. The old man turned around. He was no old man at all. He was young, hot, vibrant and had a nice smile. Kind of caught me off guard. Clearing my throat, I parked my bike up against the fence and offered my support.
“I can’t believe I blew both tires. Do you have a patch kit?”
“I sure do.” My voice croaked, and I couldn’t make eye contact. Normal reaction when in the presence of a biking speed demon who is too handsome for words. I smirked at my thoughts.
I eventually got over my shyness while he repaired his tubes. We had a lot in common. He was a triathlete with hopes of going cross country. He loved Rottweilers, and his brother lived in my old hometown in California.
Unlike the last time I ran into a hottie, I offered my number (in case he ran into more trouble, of course), and we parted ways after I was sure his patch job would hold up.
He probably wouldn’t contact me, but that’s the first time in my life I offered my number to a guy. New experiences are always good.
After that small bout of romance novel-ish sorta meeting, we pushed onto the unpaved, gravel portion of the trail again.
The encounter provided me with a lot of material. 1) He was a cowboy. She was a vagabond, running from her dark past. Could their love survive? Could Jasmine handle farm life? Could Fiji handle farm life? 2) He was a troubled athlete. She was a carefree spirit traveling the world with her dog. Could he get past his problems and find new love with the woman of his dreams?
Excerpt from the novel: Brad turned his head to see the woman who just asked if he needed help. He dropped the tire he held. She was gorgeous and curvaceous. Double whammy! Jasmine lost her words when she caught sight of the man. He had eyes that held a world of experience. Even in her travels, she could not reflect what she saw in his steamy, dark eyes. They were silent for some time….
Blah, Blah, Blah.
During my reminiscing, we somehow ended up at another checkpoint. Fiji was tired and so was I. Cmberland, MD was still far off. We needed to camp again. My last $6.00 was spent on a can of pineapples, juice and a bag of chips, so the reality of cycling across America with no money became very real on the trail. Other than my meal replacement protein shakes, I had no other nutrition and no way of getting it. It’s not like I could ask the bears for a donation. I set up camp, stomach growling and a little worried about what tomorrow would bring. I just knew we needed to get to civilization–Cumberland–fast.
It rained through the night. Fiji and I woke up soaked. In addition, Aunt Flow was in town, and my stomach/uterus area cramped like crazy. Not to mention, I had forgotten that particular feminine product. Miserable, I took two tylenols, called my mom and told her to please find a situation for me. “We’ll be in Cumberland, tonight.” I overestimated myself.
It was hot. I was sticky in more ways than one. My stomach hurt, and my Body wanted to give up. The Mosquitos had set in, and bug repellent was also something this city girl had failed to put on her list.
Weak, dehydrated and disheartened (the difference a day can make), I got off my bike to Walk. I fell, scratching up my already bruised and beaten legs. We saw a sign for the Paw Paw Tunnel and took that road.
It’s quite disconcerting. That huge tunnel is dark. There was a woman sitting at the entrance of the tunnel. She said we were too wide. “Your bike, you, and the dog walking on the side takes up the whole walkway. Hopefully, you don’t run into anyone else.” She stood up and looked down into the trench and said a water moccasin had just eaten a fish and was now headed back into the tunnel. Way to go, lady! Why don’t you just add “people who go in that tunnel never come out” to the creepy stuff you’re telling me right now?
We went ahead. I took out my flashlight. It became pitch black, and Fiji and I followed the light I shined on the ground in front of us. I didn’t dare shine my light on the walls or in the trench. It was sure to reveal snakes, spiders and Descent-like man-eating creatures. At one point, I put the flashlight on Fiji. Her tail was between her legs and she trembled. “We’re almost there, honey.” I kept talking to her. All-in-all, the Paw Paw Tunnel was a lot of fun. On a different day, I would have thoroughly enjoyed the horrific images my mind conjured up.
On our way to tunnel.
Entrance of tunnel. Lady talking about poisonous snake.
In the tunnel.
Light at the end of tunnel.
When the cramps and mosquitos became unbearable, I decided to stop again. Covered in fresh bites, I set up my tent with tears streaming down my eyes, begging the little devils to please stop sucking my blood. Fiji was hot, and also caught in the attack of the Mosquitos.
I saw river access. Dropping Fiji’s leash, zipping up the tent, I ran full speed toward the river, Fiji hot on my heels; we both jumped in. For a moment, we were frozen in the air, like Thelma and Louise, trying to get away from the mosquitos, not caring about the consequences that waited for us below. Stinky, but mosquito-free river water hit my skin. I was fully clothed, shoes and all. We both slept in the tent, wet and river-nasty, all night.
I woke up at 4am with determination. No matter the distance, we would make it to Cumberland today!
Like a scene out of a Jet Li movie, or even better, when the girl in The Descent decides not to take the monsters’ bullcrap anymore, I ripped open the tent, and came out kicking and punching. Any bug was a goner. I packed up, put Fiji on the Springer America, and we rode off. No bug was safe! I ran over caterpillars, butterflies, bees, horseflies, rolliepollies. They were all objects of my wrath. It’s sad they had to suffer because of the Mosquitos, but seriously, every bug was annoying to me at that point.
We had no service since I talked to my mom the previous morning. When I reached an area with phone connectivity, I found out my mom had called state authorities, trail authorities, and federal and international authorities, reporting I was missing. I had several voicemails from said authorities. I called my mom, and laughed deliriously, explaining my trials for the last two days.
In an angel’s voice, my mom told me she had gotten me a free night at the Super 8 in La Vale, MD. I just had to make it there. On the verge of tears, I told my mom I loved her and got back on my Kona. There were no breaks, just constant pedaling to stop the onslaught of bug bites.
For 4 hours, I pedaled like a maniac, set on my end destination–Super 8.
The trail started to even out and became easier to maneuver when we got closer to city limits. More people were on it, and despite the condition I was in, I talked to them. I didn’t say I needed help. I didn’t say I was bloody, in pain and dehydrated. I said,”I’m great. How are you?” With a big smile on my fictional face. I don’t know why. I guess I just had to prove to the Mosquitos, my mom, you and myself that this wasn’t the end for me. I could handle it.
We had started at mile marker 126. Cumberland was at 184.5. Every time we reached a little pole that said what mile we were at my muscles worked a little harder. At mile marker 179 or so we came up on the following scenery.
We stopped. Nothing buzzed in my ear. There was a farm house on my left and a breeze on my right. It’s so freakin’ beautiful, I whispered to myself. At that point, the Mosquitos, the challenges, the worries melted away. There stood only me, Fiji, a picture and endless possibilities. I was restored, and all it took was looking at the same forest I had been miserable in for the past day and a half.
7 miles, a fallen tree we had to climb over, one more fall and several baby turtles later, we made it to Cumberland. And I had a clear mind. Forward thinking only, not dwelling on the past.
Bridge leading to Canal Place and downtown in Cumberland, MD.
Although, I did a get a text message from a certain guy I mentioned earlier. The past looks so rich all of the sudden.