Life and adventures from a high school perspective
I climbed out of the 60s aluminum row boat, the edge of my shorts dripping with water, a warm Washington sun shining in my eye.
“You looked like you were the king of the lake out there” Grandma exclaimed. I’d just finished, for the second time, an “exploration” of Lake Cushman, a recessed mountain lake at the edge of the Olympic National Park in Washington. Two days ago, Grandma and I had braved a full day of travel, poor rest, and the muckity muck that is airport travel. But that was all behind us. We were visiting Peggy and Marty, some good friends in Portland.
It was a bluebird day on Lake Cushman, and as flicked around a corner in that cranky rowboat, the monotone engine vibrating behind me, Mt. Ellinor came into view. That was yesterday’s adventure: 3 miles one way, 3,400 feet of elevation gain. Yikes. I considered it an even bigger achievement as an Ohioan. But my legs protested their success, I could barely walk. I remember hobbling around that day between the boat and Peggy’s cabin. Eating hamburgers, napping, reading on the dock, petting the dogs, and being unplugged. It was the first time this summer that I felt like I was really on vacation. Before that, I was taking biology summer class for six weeks, getting up early every morning and sitting in a way too cold concrete classroom while the day’s opportunities shriveled on the other side of the glass windows. But now, everything was alright.
Grandma and I achieved a lot in a relatively short amount of time - props to Peggy for that. She truly went above and beyond to make it possible to squeeze the life out of every minute in a day. Some highlights: hiking with Marty’s nephew up Multnomah Falls, then finding Vietnamese food in Portland and doing hipster thrift shopping while eating habanero jam ice cream, driving up and down twisty mountain roads in Peggy’s redHyundai Sonata with a bobble rooster affixed to the dash, eating cod for lunch at an upscale French restaurant, exploring the Portland streets on one of those electric scooter things, and sleeping next to grandma on the plane ride back. It was magical.
But there was more to the trip, a discreetly giddy reality that this, the Pacific Northwest could be my home for the next four or more years.
Mom and I visited a lot of schools out that way over Spring Break, and my top three picks are still all in that area. I think this second trip to Portland solidified and made clear my attraction to the mountains, trees, and community. The trip was made all the better with this lingering notion, the feeling that I might be getting a sneak-peek at what my future holds.
There was some talk early in the morning and the night before: do we push on all the way to D.C.? We both felt alright, although not as fresh as the day before. We decide to reach out to a few WarmShowers hosts in D.C. During the course of the day, two responded negatively, and we hadn’t heard back from one. The other option was a campsite 25 miles from the end of the trail. While neither of us were keen on spending another night camping in the sticky, humid, and buggy Maryland rainforest, we were slightly less keen on picking through AirBnB’s meager Friday night last minute bookings that would be in all likeliness overpriced and mediocre. The plan was decided to start riding, hope to hear back from this WarmShowers host, and to camp if all else failed.
The 35 miles into Harper’s Ferry were smooth, although. I quickly noticed that I was fatigued from the day before. I had surprisingly good fish fry at a touristy restaurant in Harper’s Ferry, running mad from the flocks of shook kids hovering outside. I was that same school kid a few years ago.
I’m keeping the details on this section of riding sparse because the excitement of the riding was fairly unexciting. Until Brunswick. We had been warned by other cyclists that a section of trail had washed out, but advised by others that there was a small stream crossing that the intrepid traveler hold opt for instead of a detour. Crossing it was. We got there and it was pretty fun. I gambled on hopping across dry stone, rolling my bike in the water next to me, and using it as a support of sorts. It worked brilliantly. Matt made it across too. I think I have video; I’ll attach it!
As of the afternoon I had not heard from any of the WarmShowers hosts. Matt and I got separated, but I intended to meet up with him at the final campground. Meanwhile, I mentally prepared for another sticky, humid night. I thought about the logistics of an early morning and the final 25 miles into D.C. I fantasized about brunch at Farmers Fishers Bakers, a restaurant that my other Matthew friend had recommended. As the last campground approached, Matt was nowhere to be seen. I was confused as I knew he knew there were no confirmed plans to stay in D.C. Additionally, I was knackered, mentally ready to be done for the day. I turned my phone on to see texts of “where are you” and “just passed the last campground”, timestamped at 30 minutes ago. Upset, I called him, and listened as he told me he didn’t want to camp another night. I hung up the phone and ate a muffin. I met up with him in a few more miles at which point he informed me that an AirBnB was booked. 5 miles through D.C. after the end of the trail.
I zoomed on, alone with my thoughts, quickly realizing the need to enjoy the end of the journey, but it was hard. I was dismayed, and tired. Nevertheless, I had time to think. Time to realize that I was being stubborn, but not enough time to forgive and move on. But another thought: I was in awe of the human body, my body.
I felt done at the 26 mile marker. Mentally done, fatigued from being atop a bicycle all day, looking at the same slice of gray trail cleaving through the Maryland woods. The constant cadence of my reciprocating legs that seemed to convert sheer willpower into mechanical energy. A cadence that only changed as I tired or as my finger found the gear shift on the handlebars. Reciprocal. I was physically tired too, acutely aware of the generalized aches that besieged joints, muscles, and mind.
But I didn’t stop, and the miles kept ticking down. I kept moving. I reflected on the trip, and reflected on the achievement of my two longest consecutive days in the saddle. And suddenly it was over. The lights of Georgetown appeared, and I was relieved. It seemed that as quickly as we had begun it had ended. Even though we had another five miles ride through the city, I wasn’t worried. I wanted to enjoy it. We snapped a quick picture on the water, and I put lights on my bike to get through the city.
Fortunately, the city riding was uneventful. The sidewalks were flush with bumbling tourists. I was roadside and weary at that point, and my sole focus was to get to the AirBnB and into bed. It was 9:30 by the time we made it to the house. Everything from there was smooth. Matt offered to buy me McDonald’s, to which I did not feel too bad declining as I ordered panang curry, fish cakes, and extra rice on UberEats. I hopped in the shower, cleaned up, met the Uber driver outside, ate leisurely, and quite literally collapsed in bed, thinking as I drifted off about the next day’s eating activities.
This was getting real. We put down a blistering pace for the first 40 or so miles, our legs replete with rest and our stomachs replete with breakfast. We made some of our own oatmeal. The AirBnB that we stayed at the night before provided pumpkin bread, and the lightest, tastiest - homemade - yogurt and granola. Great fuel.
We stopped for lunch in what one could endearingly call a town - Little Orleans. In reality, as far as we could see, it consisted of one building, Bill’s Place. A no fuss diner. There were a group of other bikers outside, also traveling to D.C. On The door, a business card sized sticker of a confederate flag with the caption “pride not prejudice”. Matt and I headed inside, laying ourselves to rest in satisfyingly comfortable chairs. Even more satisfying. A cheeseburger, fries, jalapeño poppers, and a Starbucks iced coffee. We charged up, ate up, and enjoyed the mental change of pace from the trail. Two other bikers entered the restaurant just as we were finishing lunch. Motor bikers. They had the most expensive Yamaha adventure bikes, fully adorned with top-of-the-line accessories. I went to the bar to pay my expensive bill of $11.50, approaching who I assumed to be the proprietor, Bill. I think this image will stick in my mind for a long time: as I handed Bill some bills, he lifted up a previously unnoticed doormat sitting atop the bar counter, revealing rows of bills underneath, Monopoly style. He produced the change, and I walked away. Delighted, and surprised yet not surprised at all that this was the cash register.
The rest of the miles went well, if a bit more slowly. We stopped again for ice cream and finally some decent barbecue in Williamsport. The day ended, to my mind, with what I am calling the “C&O hobo shower”. All of the campsites have potable water pumps. They’re cold. Matt and I took turns pumping for one another as we rinsed off under the pump. Bracing. It was a good night to have the tent, as the bugs were ferocious, although somewhat dissuaded by 30% DEET content bug-spray. Even if our skin burned, no bug-bites.
Today’s journey can be broken into three distinct parts. Overall the day went really well - we both felt a lot stronger than the day before.
Part 1: Of course, we managed to turn an early wake up into a less early departure. Cold, cheesy, leftover pizza was for breakfast. Nevertheless, it was a promising start to the day. It was between 40-45 degrees when we up, and colder during the night. I was fortunate to be warm enough this time, remembering the last time I camped there I was much, much colder.
The trail was dry and fast in the morning, falling just next to the river. The suns rays hit the flowing water, even as the trail was shaded by foliage. The surface of the water shimmered and gleamed under the suns rays; I felt this same energy in myself: bright-eyed, excited for the day to come. It was about 20 miles from Connellsville to Ohiopyle, and we had 11:30 tickets to see Falling Water! The excitement for that kept the fire alive long enough in my legs to get to Ohiopyle quickly.
Part 2: It’s always cool for me biking back over trodden ground, seeing the same sights in a different way: different season, time of the day, and / or mental disposition. Riding into Ohiopyle evoked this feeling. I remembered the last time I rode over the river at about 8:00 AM on my last trip. It was a cold morning, the sky a dull steel. I sought refuge and a cup of coffee at the diner, and continued on my way. This time was different. We were rushed, it was a four mile bike ride to get to Falling Water, and we needed time before the tour started to disguise ourselves as regular, clean people. What we didn’t anticipate was a three mile, brutal uphill to get to Falling Water. It was really hard, hot, and sweaty. We both walked most of the way. Falling Water felt like a well-won victory, and a fantastic break from the biking routine. It’s going to places like this that validate bicycle touring - seeing all kinds of cool places in a cool way. Back in town, it was hamburgers for lunch and back onto the trail.
Part 3: The afternoon quickly took on a different tone than the morning. I was moving slower, but no less determined. The riding got a bit monotonous, following the same gravel trail all day has its demerits. There were points where the trail broke away from the river, carving through craggy corridors and lush forest - that was pretty cool. Listening to Paul Simon helped me make the most of the day. As afternoon turned into early evening, we neared our destination, a hostel in Rockwood. We also butted up against the river again. As the sun dipped lower, its rays again cast onto the water, the same shiny surface developing, the undulations of the water muted by the metallic lacquer on top. The light in my eyes was dimmer than it was in the morning, but the intensity remained the same.