Day 2: Williamsport, MD to Paw Paw, WV - Biking while Black: Riding the C&O and GAP Trail - CycleBlaze

Day 2: Williamsport, MD to Paw Paw, WV

Sunday (10/24/21)

After awaking from our first sleep of the trip we grab some critically-acclaimed Waffle House (breakfast of champions & bike-tour enthusiasts). I load up on several hundred cholesterol laden calories and think about the miles ahead of us today. A few dirty looks later and I quickly remember that we are but a fleeting minority to all the regulars of this fine establishment. 

While checking out of the motel a vacationing family takes notice and asks us about our trip. The husband & wife curiously ask why we’d ever want to do such a thing. 'Because we can' I find myself instinctively answering, adding that 'we're healthy enough and we have the time'. They're intrigued, but I notice a look of confusion much like I observed in a similar conversation the day prior. I then explain the more mundane details; the convenience of the towpath to Georgetown, it’s long, peaceful, nature-filled scenery and traffic-free benefits.  They share their praise and wish us luck, but my reasoning and motivation for the trip is still lost on them. It again reminds me that many don't view this type of thing as a vacation.

Back to it

After leaving the motel and riding along the shoulder of a main road for a little over a mile, we reach the Cushwa Basin (MM99). This is a familiar sight as it was the stopping area of my first Century on the C&O just a few months prior. 

Cushwa Basin - Williamsport, MD (MM99.6)
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Six miles in and we stop at Dam 5 (MM106.6) to take in the epic views. While admiring the scenery, a nearby couple overhear Allison & I chatting. The man is initially confused by the sound of our conversation, thinking there's an echo coming from the point which we are standing. I explain how we are talking to each another through our helmets and the couple is instantly interested in learning more. In hindsight it would have been funnier to go along with the idea that we'd discovered a unique sound-vortex phenomenon in nature, but oh well.

Beats by helmet

If you don't already know, there are Smart Helmets that allow you to communicate with your riding buddy more easily, directly via your helmet. They have bluetooth capability, a microphone and speakers which allow you to talk, share and listen to music together and make and receive calls, etc. Check them out if you didn't know. They make great gifts for that special cyclist of yours - thanks Dad!

C&O Canal - Dam 5 (MM106)
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I really like the ever so brief piece of trail near MM107, which I'm dubbing Baby Slack. This was a visual delight for me, especially since we'd missed out on Big Slackwater by shuttling in to Williamsport. 

C&O Canal (MM107): I'm calling this section Baby Slack
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I kept my eyes peeled for the Western Maryland Rail Trail(WMRT) today since Allison had repeatedly made it all to clear that she wasn’t fond of the bumpy single track. Plus the Paw Paw fruit was in abundance and scattered all over the trail, which she hated. I eventually notice a sign beside the trail directing cyclists to the WMRT & exclaim 'Follow me!' as it catches my eye.

We veer to the right just off the towpath, follow a winding road and quickly arrive to the head of the Western Maryland Rail Trail. Now I'd personally enjoyed the single track, but the pavement was an admittedly smooth change and I don't know how much longer Allison could've handled the bumpy terrain without the supporting sounds of Marky Mark & the Funky Bunch's Good Vibrations (Feel it, feel it!).

Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT)

The WMRT is a 28-mile-long fully paved trail that runs parallel to the towpath for its entire duration. It can be a useful way to break up the single track and also potentially pick up a bit of time by removing some rolling resistance. The views are also pretty impressive as there are many points in which you ride well above the towpath, providing a different perspective than down below on the canal.

Entering the trail town of Hancock, MD(MM125) via the WMRT
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Arriving in Hancock, MD(MM125) via the WMRT, we take an opportunity to break and make concrete reservations for the night. We crunch the numbers, check the time and set a goal to end the night in Paw Paw, WV. This means another 31 miles of riding and a 1-hour hike over the Paw Paw tunnel detour. Ambitious, but the target is set and we have ground to cover. I connect with Dan of Bikepath Bed & Bath, who confirms our reservations and also makes a special point to remind us of the hike ahead. A few proud displays of the Confederate flags in nearby store windows is the only motivation needed to keep moving towards our destination.

WMRT - Paw Paw bound
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More single-track, please

The continuous paved glory of the WMRT which Allison so deeply cherished eventually gives way to a few miles of rugged single-track that hit 'us' like a ton of bricks. Between the decreased speed and hike still lingering ahead, concern begins to rear its annoying head.

As we approach Little Orleans, MD I quickly begin to realize we can't make it to Paw Paw at this pace before dark. Right on cue, Allison says her tire is flat, hops off and begins walking her bike painfully slowly up the long, twisting path below. 

Fast forward 3X - we get a fresh tube in & voila! It fails immediately as a tear forms near the valve while pumping it up.. I briefly consider either (1) guiding Allison through the repair of her first ever flat in a teachable moment, or (2) fix it myself so we can get moving asap. I decide on the latter, however, it becomes painfully clear that we can't do another 13 miles at this pace and then also successfully navigate an hour-long hike in the dark whilst carrying our bikes. It's also worth noting here that my cell phone is minutes away from dying, Allison's is nearly dead and she has no service and our battery charger is completely dead.

Allison fixes first flat
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Enter Cliff & Jeff

Out of nowhere appears two middle-aged cyclists and long-time friends who happen to be out on one of their semi-annual trips. They approach to see if we need any help and the moment they learn of our dilemma, graciously volunteer to give us a ride. Without no hesitation at all, they hook up our bikes (along with theirs) & proceed to shuttle us through 16miles of steep, winding switchback roads all the way to Paw Paw, WV. The horror movie Wrong Turn is based in West Virginia and I foresee another sequel taking place on these very backwood roads quite soon. 

I don’t know how we make it to our destination, especially considering no one has a hint of functional cell service, but we do - all thanks to them. Cliff and Jeff were awesome guys who really showed the true nature of caring for one another & helping your fellow man. Indebted, I asked how I could repay them (cash, beer, dinner), but they humbly turned down my offers and told me to ‘just pay it forward’. Cliff and Jeff weren't just our saviors for the day, but genuinely inspiring people to meet along our journey, and life as a whole.

Dan's Bikepath Bed & Bath

As we arrive Dan politely introduces himself & asks about our day's ride. We fill him in on the most recent happenings & he instinctively checks Allison's tire situation out, then quickly confirms he'll have it all fixed up and ready to go before morning. Unexpected, but very welcomed surprise. He shows us to our room, tells us where to grab dinner nearby & finally asks us about food preferences - He explains that he will be preparing breakfast in the AM & that there's homemade bread baking as we speak. What a pull. 

We grab dinner at the diner, Amanda's Place, right next door. The food's good and we eat excessively. The conversations had inside are pleasant and create a nice first impression of the small town of Paw Paw. After dinner, we head to the gas station to load up on copious amounts of junk food (ideal fuel for extensive physical activity), before finally heading back to call it a night. 

Dan proudly shows us that he's already replaced Allison's punctured tube with a new, identical one and also patched up the old one for good measure. We're appreciative for his help and pleasant personality & glad to know we'll be ready to roll come morning. We shower up and then begin eating the aforementioned junk food before Allison quickly passes out in the separate, much smaller bed(which she chose).

I spend the next few hours reading about the upcoming miles while periodically looking up to view the spooky, Halloween themed programming and eventually pass out eating candy.  

It was a great day.

Today's ride: 44 miles (71 km)
Total: 124 miles (200 km)

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Comment on this entry Comment 2
Rachael AndersonWow what luck running in to friends that could help!
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2 years ago
Keith KleinHi again,
Trail angels, for sure.
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2 years ago