Life and adventures from a high school perspective
This was the first day of my second time biking from Pittsburgh to D.C. on the GAP and C&O trails. I’m traveling with my friend Matt Dierker.
The pain of the day was in equal measure comeuppance, enjoyment, and cautionary. The cost of failing to prepare for a bike trip of this magnitude were evident as my legs gelatinized and my butt chafed. The scenery of the day was spectacular, made all the better by the scenes that remained the same from two ears ago when I did this trip, prompting glimmers of fond memories from my Freshman attempt of the trail.
Today, there was no snow on the ground. The dry crushed limestone provides a soothing monotone under tire as I cruised onwards. 62.5 miles of cruising, to be precise. After the first 25 I started to feel it in my legs. Soreness and pain developing way quicker than I anticipated - the cost of doing a trip like this off the couch. I anticipate that I’ll strengthen over the coming days; that gives me hope. Now I must succumb to sleep, my weary body sinking into the sleeping pad.
The alarm went off early. I was already half awake from the suns orange rays shining through the window, not to mention the constant trains passing by. We packed quickly, but not too quickly. Breakfast, we both agreed, for the first time, was to be one of four oatmeal rations that we had packed for the trip. The stove was set up, the water measured, and the bags packed. “Where’s the lighter?” Matt asked. I looked back at him sheepishly, already knowing that we were going out again for breakfast. The result: the finest $2 Pennsylvania gas station sandwiches that I’d ever had. I guess that’s not entire true. I ate 3. Six dollars.
We were both looking forward to this day’s ride: about 20 more miles of a mild uphill gradient until we hit the Eastern Continental Divide, and then a relative plummet into Maryland, losing all of the elevation that we had gained over the last days. In the first 20 miles we met a retired veteran who claimed to be the first Navy S.E.A.L. Interesting. He wanted to tell his story, and had found a captive audience in cyclists on the GAP looking for a break from the gravel grind. We continued on, mindful of time, and the 20 miles of downhill easy pedaling was rewarding. We plunged towards Cumberland.
After Cumberland the plan was to push on about 15 more miles to a primitive hiker-biker campground on the C&O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Canal trail, the second and final trail that we were to take into D.C. That 15 miles never happened, but we did make it to Cumberland, deciding quite nicely on a place called “Queen City Creamery” for lunch. Good call.
Deli sandwich, peanut butter milkshake, cafe au lait, and cinnamon roll. One of the upshots of spending so much time biking is being able to eat four full meals a day, plus snacks, with absolutely no inhibitions and no poor effects. As we were eating lunch, the rain started.
Earlier in the morning, a more optimistic cycling duo had planned to don rain attire, and grin our way through the rain. 44 miles in, the desire had evaporated. Matt was having some mild knee issues, and we were both sore, achy, tired. The decision was made that a shower and bed for the night would be the best course of action. We were fortunate to find a nice AirBnB in Cumberland to lay our heads for the night. Another good call.
The hosts, Daniel and Donae were beyond welcoming. They were travelers too. Europe, Asia, and North America extensively. As interested as we were in talking to them, the siren call of the pillow would have been foolish to ignore. I started with an hour-long nap. Then I decided to bike the mile back into town to pick up some zucchini to compliment our freeze dried dinner. With full stomachs, we headed to bed in preparation for tomorrow’s unshifting miles plus the 15 that we had neglected that day.
Don'As the semester winds down, my eye is placed keenly towards this summer's work. There are many interesting endeavours this summer, but I am going to highlight the second moped, my first motorcycle, and my internship at Skidmark Garage in downtown Cleveland.
Moped #2: a 1980 blue Motobecane, deluxe edition. One year younger than my first, 1981 Motobecane. This one is a group project, me and my friend Matt Dierker are stripping everything down to the frame, cleaning everything, and thinking about some mild performance mods with the engine. It's going to be a lot of fun. It's fantastic that I know a lot about these bikes now, having spent countless hours on my first. Everything seems to be going more efficiently, and with a greater degree of confidence. Don't worry, we will start to mess up at some point.
Bridgestone Motorcycle: a 1971 200cc Bridgestone motorcycle. Somewhat rare. Dierker found this one on Facebook Marketplace, the seller wanted $100. As the price indicates, this bike needs an extensive amount of work. I don't even know where to begin. But that's why we're doing this project at Skidmark garage.
Skidmark garage is a community motorcycle garage in an old Cleveland warehouse, supposedly one out of forty such garages in the world. The concept is simple, members pay a monthly or yearly fee in exchange for access to tools, welders, metal benders, and most importantly, community. Skidmark is a gathering place for people with varying degrees of experience to gather, work on projects, and get their hands dirty.
Skidmark is a gruff, no B.S. work environment. The floors are greasy, and the occasional patches of sawdust indicate past oil / gas spills. It's well lit but dark in the corners. And the smells of degreaser, exhaust, and 20th century warehouse perfuse the air. I couldn't think of a better place to spend the summer. In exchange for about sixteen hours a month or more, I am benefitting from a free membership.
The people are interesting too, and that is the biggest reason to be at the garage. Being in a sea of knowledge instead of dithering about by yourself is really fantastic. Of course there is still room to mess up and fix stuff on your own, but it's really fantastic to know that the safety net exists. Last night my friend Matt and I were tearing down the moped. An older gentleman wearing a scraggly beard, camouflage MAGA hat, and the odor of cigarettes came over to compliment us on the project. He said that his cousin used to race 50cc mopeds in Europe - crazy stuff. It was a great interaction and I am excited to have many more of them!
I've been fortunate enough to have a four day weekend to commemorate the end of the semester and prepare for my intensive (journalism). After an absolute rollercoaster of events the last few weeks, I was looking forward to slowing down, enjoying coffee instead of just drinking it, and spending some quality time in the garage.
Yesterday was my day. Waking up fairly, early, I completed just enough of my homework to smother some of the guilt before I went outside. Today's task was rewiring the moped. Admittedly, I'm not great with electric so I watched a YouTube video to brush up. The journey started with the cliché run to the parts store, AutoZone. Except in this case it wasn't just AutoZone. It was two AutoZone's and a Home Depot stop later that I finally got to work, and the rhythym set in. I wanted to replace every single 40 year old wire. I worked systematically, starting with the ignition wiring and moving onto lights. The system is actually quite simple, just like everything else on that bike - easy to learn on. Every single connection went through a process. Strip the wire, flux, crimp, solder, dielectric grease, and heat shrink tubing. I enjoyed the process, the fine dielectric anti-corrosion and waterproofing electric grease permeating my hands, creating a fine film that I just could not wipe off on my jeans. I maintain that things are going well if your hands are dirty.
I stopped for lunch, driving a few minutes to our favorite neighborhood hamburger bar, Stevenson's. I hadn't been there for a while, and it was abolsutely fantastic. I replaced the dielectric grease on my hands with other grease, and all was well with the world - and yes, I sat at the bar.
With an end in sight, I carried on with the wiring. "I'm stopping at 4:00" I told myself. 4 came around, and I decided to wire the rear light too, reasoning that I should just get it all done. 9:00 rolled around, as it always does, and the bike was done. I wheeled it outside, and the new ignition cables worked quite well. The bike was quite literally - brilliant. Eagerly, I dashed back into the garage and grabbed a helmet, ready to feel the cool night air on my sweaty face. just for a quick spin around the block. I had the throttle pegged, the bike emitting its patent weedwhacker noise. The lights got really bright, then - pop, pop, pop, pop. All 4 bulbs blew. The engine still ran. One more thing to replace.
In bed, I smiled. Success always comes with failure, and now I have something to do this weekend.