No, that’s not a shitty movie reference.
I started working on this blog after my 17-mile ride on Saturday, but quickly lost any idea of what it was that I wanted to write about. So, I decided I needed to put myself through a refresher course and go on another ride. Here’s the breakdown of my Monday:
Monday started like every other day has during the past four months. I woke up, so very slowly, put pants on, went out for a smoke and came back in to shower and brush. Halfway through thinking of what it was I wanted to do that day, I decided, fuck it. I’m going for another ride. By 9:00 I had the rack and bike on my car, a half-gallon of water in bottles and another 32oz to go on my back. I plugged the route into my GPS, because I’m horrible with remembering where the place I’ve been to seven times before is, and set out.
I got to the Potomac around 9:30, unloaded my bike, strapped an extra water bottle to my Camelbak and set off going north on the C&O Canal. There was very little wind, the sun felt great and it wasn’t too hot yet. The high was 87, but I wasn’t worried too much about it. I would be under tree canopy for the entire ride and wouldn’t be too beaten down on by direct heat.
At first, like the beginning of every ride I go on, there was a part of my brain that wanted me to stop and turn around. It kept telling me that maybe it would get too hot, maybe I’d get stuck or fall off and break something. Maybe I’d stumble across a secret pot field and be shot by roving bands of retarded Appalachian coal miners escaped from West Virginia. Thankfully, I overcame all that noise and continued on. While focusing on the heat growing inside my legs, my lungs ability to keep pace and my heart being surprisingly happy when being pushed as hard as it was, I actually almost did fall off my bike and into the canal. I found that I wasn’t looking where I was going, I didn’t notice the trees and their branches, the seed pods spinning in the air, the clouds of gnats circling over day-old horse dung, the bright blue beetles scurrying away from the path of my tires or even the three ducks that flew inches in front of my face, causing me to swerve and almost fall into the rocky canal. After recovering and promising myself to pay more attention to the wildlife, I pushed on.
I kept having a stray length of hair poke me in my eyes and I decided that at 10:00, I’d take a break and fix a few things. Thankfully, at about that time, I came to the aqueduct, a perfect stopping place.
I decided to check how far I had gone and was happy that in 30 minutes, I had a great gain of eight miles. I was going too fast. I walked around a little bit, stretching my legs and back, enjoying not being hunched over the handle bar. I watched two hawks circle over a bank, looking for food. I smoked a cigarette and had an energy chew. And, of course, I took some pictures. Hopping back on my bike, I quickly reached my usual cadence and convinced myself not to go too fast so that I could last a decent amount of time.
After the aqueduct, the path looked a lot like this. For a long time. Just trees on either side, some dirt going down the middle and water somewhere. It was really hard to see either the canal or river, but, at the same time, it was incredibly enjoyable and relaxing. Twenty minutes of riding in this seemingly closed kind of tunnel, I was hoping for a landing or lock house so that I could rest a bit. Unfortunately, nothing. Ten more minutes and still nothing. Finally, I saw two brown signs, or, what I thought were signs. As I approached them, they started running, which scared the holy fuck out of me. You see, when you’re riding, looking at the gravel and trees and occasionally some water, things start to blend in with each other and it makes the dividing line between what is alive and what isn’t very blurry. Almost crashing my bike into two cottontail deer was the second time I nearly crashed. I was very happy they noticed me when they did; I don’t have insurance to cover my “deer-related emergency room visit.”
I continued on. I kept pushing myself to go further and further, hoping for a break in the path. Finally, after my near-death experience, I came to Lock House #19 and took my second break of the day. I had gone an additional 10 miles, giving me a current total of 18. I wanted to do at least 40 that day, so after a 15 minute break, I took off again, looking forward to the last two miles I’d be doing in that direction.
But wait! Something felt weird. Something felt… flat. Yes! 1.6 miles shy of 20, my back tire went flat. I had no patches or extra tubes, or hell, not even a pump. Why? Because that’s the curse of being spontaneous. Preparing isn’t part of the deal. So, I turned around and walked back to the lock house, hoping there was someone there who had at least a pump. No one. The three cars that were there just a few short minutes before were all gone, leaving me with nothing. The path suddenly felt very empty. To be honest, it felt uncomfortable. Here I was, 18 miles from my car with a flat tire, limited water and no food except for energy chews. I did panic a little bit, but then my rational brain took over.
So now what?
I guess we’ll walk.
It’s almost 20 miles to the car!
Well, what’s the alternative?
I guess we’ll walk.
And yes, I did talk out loud, not just in a whisper, but loud enough for anyone else who happened to be on the path to hear me. Why? Because I was fairly dehydrated at that point and it seemed like the normal thing to be doing.
I started walking with my bike back the way I had come. The trees looked great. Peaceful. Relaxed. Twenty minutes of walking and I was getting fairly bored. I wasn’t prepared for a hike. I didn’t bring my poles with me. I didn’t bring any protein snacks. No bandana. Just… water and my bike. I checked my mileage and had walked about one mile. That’s three miles an hour. Three miles an hour would put me at my car in six hours, or around 5:30pm. Again, to be honest, that wasn’t the best motivator I wanted.
I noticed this little creek on my right. It was so comforting that I had to stop and just watch it for a while. I say comforting because it helped me remember that I willingly put myself out here in this secluded part of the District. It helped me realize that the worst thing that could happen would be that I would die and the chances of that happening were extremely slim. So I stopped looking at things in a bad light and enjoyed what it was I was doing. I had an 18 mile bike ride that felt great, so what would be wrong about an 18 mile hike? I love hiking.
The river soon came into view again and I found a foot path that led to it, so I parked my bike against a tree and walked down to the water. Holy crap it was beautiful. Not just, “oh cool, it’s quiet.” But, more of a, “oh cool, I can hear the buzz of beetles and the gnawing of that squirrel!” Looking up the river, I could see the edges of the Appalachian Mountains. Looking south, the air traffic of Reagan National Airport. I kept looking north.
I sat on the shore and took a short nap, more to rest my eyes than anything else. Shaking myself awake, I walked back to the main path, grabbed my bike and started walking again.
Two hours had passed and I felt as though I walked a marathon. Finding a mile marker, I saw that I had only gone six miles. A third of the total. I wasn’t even half done yet. Fuuuuuuuuck. The positive attitude I had disappeared instantly. I grew angry and bitter. I cursed myself for my lack of preparation. I wanted to throw my bike down and beat it for going flat. I wanted to throw my Camelpak in the woods. I didn’t want anything that would remind me of how shitty my day was going. I was fucking livid. I sat down in the middle of the path because I really was the only one out there. I lit up a smoke and angrily flicked the ashes into a little puddle of water I created. What the fuck am I doing? Who am I kidding? I’m not a cyclist. I’m not a hiker. I’m a fucking loon. I decided that when I got to my car, I was putting my bike in a dumpster and never coming back to this type of situation again. I finished my cig, doused it with some water and put it in my pack. Again, I started walking.
I was so bored. My fingers on my left hand were going to sleep. My right elbow felt out of whack from holding the bike up. Sweat was dripping down my shorts, creating a very uncomfortable slickness in certain areas. There wasn’t much point it wiping the sweat from my forehead; as soon as it was gone, newly excreted sweat would take its place. I started to hear sounds and convinced myself it was a song. There was a good beat. A constant but weak drum line. I couldn’t make out the words or the tune, but there were definitely words. My brain kept turning the volume up. Louder. Louder. Fuck, louder? Really, Brain?
“Do you need help?” Weird song.
“We have a pump, we’ll help you.” What the hell? Sure enough, in my dehydrated state, I completely failed to notice four cyclists come up behind me. In a sort of drunken haze, I took off my back tire, handed it to them and promptly sat down. Thirty minutes later, a patch set, the tube pumped up and put back on the rim and a surprisingly full water bladder, I was asked if I wanted to ride with them until the next lock house. Of course.
Immediately, my mood perked up. I had more water. They had given me an energy bar. They set the pace at 12mph, a little fast for my current state, but I didn’t want to be left alone again, so I convinced myself to keep up. Five minutes in, my back tire ripped open. I did what I could to not crash into the other riders or the trees. It took a couple seconds for them to realize that I wasn’t keeping up anymore. Almost as quickly as my mood rose, it fell again. But then, they came back. With a new tube. And they fixed my bike again. I pulled out a ten and handed it to one of them, but he refused it. “Everyone needs things once in a while.”
I rode with them for 7 miles, bringing me within spitting distance of my car. We all stopped at the next landing area and I thanked them profusely for helping me. They asked if I wanted to go with them into the nearest town, to try and get a lift back to my car, but I turned it down. Even if I were to walk, I’d be at my car in an hour and a half. No big deal. We shook hands and split. I was just a few miles from the end of the trail and didn’t pay much attention to what was going on. I was aware of my surroundings, but I was lost in thought. I wondered how many people would stop and help someone in my situation. How many would willingly give up their own supplies for some complete stranger? This, I thought, this is what Humanism is all about. Charity without gain. This is what humans do for each other, regardless of who it is. Soon, I reached Lock House #23, the landing where I parked my car at 9:30 that morning. I packed my bike on the rack, pulled off my shoes and sweat-laden socks and put on my shower shoes. I grabbed my second bottle of water, some Motrin and a half pack of smokes and went to sit under the trees and relax.
All in all, I’m very glad I went on that ride. I’m very glad I won’t ever give up biking like I have in the past, no matter the shitty circumstances that arise from it. I learned to always be prepared. Always have plenty of energy available, plenty of resources and an ability to keep my head up no matter how hard the shit is falling. Yeah, I had some bad experiences, but I learned a bit more about the way I think and the ways I treat situations. I learned new reasons for what it is I believe in. The way people are genuinely good creatures to each other. I also learned how to swallow my pride and accept help when I really do need it. The whole ride felt great. Refreshing. Cleansing. Everything about it, no matter how dark those negative parts were, I ended up enjoying.
I’ve got an extra tube, a patch kit and a hand pump. Now, I’m trying to decide if I want to get that 40 mile day tomorrow.