This morning we left the Shenks in Gaithersburg and headed towards the C&O Canal Towpath. The towpath runs all the way to Pittsburgh and is a popular route for touring cyclists. The previous night’s rain had dropped inches of precipitation onto the region which flowed downhill towards the Potomac River. This was made further evident when we reached the canal to see it nearly merged with the Potomac River.
The river moved swiftly, carrying remainders of trees, brush and other detritus. Its swollen waters resembled a poorly maintained port-a-potty, and the brown water poured over the banks washing away anything not firmly fettered or rooted in place.
A couple on the trail suggested we take a photo at the Overlook bridge which was 2 miles further down the towpath, and we continued along. Stopping at the turn-off, we spotted a park ranger truck erecting barricades at the entrance to the bridge.
“The water is still rising, this bridge is closing now. Get your pictures fast; you can’t stay here.”
We quickly snapped some photos of the raging waters at the falls which had been overtaken and replaced by a frothing muddy cauldron threatening to wash over the bridge in short time.
Back on the trail we struggled to keep decent speed as we negotiated a gravel towpath rife with downed branches and pond-sized puddles. Our rolling speed was reduced to a meager 10 miles per hour as we did our best to keep the bikes upright and on the trail.
The towpath eventually connected with the Crescent Trail--a paved path for runners and cyclists alike--and we eagerly abandoned the Towpath in favor of a smoother surface. The bikes in turn responded to the appearance of asphalt with alacrity. Merrily, we rolled down the Crescent Trail commenting on how much easier it was than pushing through mud and gravel. Our celebration, however, was short-lived as we approached a sign announcing the closure of the Crescent Trail due to a sewage spill. The pavement had lasted less than 4 miles before we were once again relegated to the flooded and bumpy Towpath. We lugged our bikes up the hill to resume plodding through puddles.
Ahead, a parks department officer stood in a body harness tethered to a cable moving a lock on the canal. He told us that the whole canal was liable to be flooded at the rate the water was continuing to rise.
Grateful that we were headed away from the flooding, we continued down the path past hikers, bikers, runners and even a paddle-boarder.
The trail once again split and picnic benches presented themselves. I asked Gen for a break to call florists in the Danbury, Connecticut area. Today is my mom’s birthday, and I had hoped to get flowers delivered to her at work. Her full name is Karen Rose Ifert, and like my sister, she inherited her middle name from my great-grandmother. Coincidentally, roses are among her favorite flowers; the name-thing makes this easy to remember which is good because I’d be lost otherwise. The florist took my order and said they would get there before the end of the workday. Satisfied, I told Gen we could resume biking and we hopped on our trusty steeds.
Gen and I pedaled down the remaining Towpath, occasionally stealing glances at the perfectly paved Crescent Trail which had been forbidden thanks to septic waste. The canal waters cleared and changed from a diarrhea-brown to a more natural dark blue. Gen took the clean water as a challenge and marched down a trail to contribute some of her own liquids.
Pee-breaks finished, we emerged from the foliage as the towpath cut across city streets. Gen and I were headed different directions today, each of us to see old friends. Nomi, her neighbor and childhood friend, lives on the north side in D.C., and we parted ways as I continued towards the Mount Vernon Bike Trail.
The trail wound past the airport, where I, learning from my prior mistakes, abstained from setting up my tripod and pedaled lawfully past. I passed other cyclists on their daily commutes and silently cheered for myself each time I advanced a place in the imaginary race and likewise sulked when unburdened riders overtook me. After miles of easy riding, the Garmin decided I was better suited for exciting city biking and dumped me back onto paved roads. This included putting me on an overpass that contained a 3” inch gap in the pavement.
While preparing to turn left, I managed to slot my front tire directly into the crevasse and dump my bike and self headlong, crushing my nethers and my pride. Cursing my stupidity and that of the engineers who envisioned such a stupid roadway, I extricated my bike and prayed that the damage was minimal. It was an incredibly stupid and small mistake, but it had left me pinned in a busy intersection, which is how bad things happen. Thankfully, the cars patiently waited, rather than running down an easy target.
I pedaled, listening intently and gripping the bike looking for any aberration to the patterns, sounds and feel that I had grown accustomed to these last two weeks. Like someone who falls down a flight of stairs and then examines his body afterwards, I was waiting for the endorphins to wear off and the broken things to emerge. A slight clicking every revolution of my crank caused me concern.
Was that there earlier today? Is it grit from the muddy towpath? Does my fork feel bent?
I resolved to hunt down a bike shop when I got to Jason’s, just to confirm that I hadn’t done any irreparable damage that would affect the timeline of our trip.
Luckily, I was only a few miles from his house at this point, and I knew I would be done biking soon. I reached King Street, and the Garmin blooped and beeped and pointed me off right. Used to driving to Jason’s house, I assumed I must have come in some different direction and the Garmin knew better.
I assumed incorrectly. Up a hill I trudged farther and farther in the direction opposite where I knew Jason’s house to be. After 300’ of climbing and 2.5 miles of distance I knew something was wrong. The GPS giddily chirped that I had arrived at my destination--an intersection I had never seen of two roads, neither of which is Jason's. I dismounted at a sidewalk and evaluated the route the GPS had plotted.
Somehow, the destination had changed and it had taken me 2.5 miles the wrong way. Frustrated, I turned around and biked back to Jason, which meant another 300’ of climbing back over the two hills and a total of 5 miles of unnecessary detour. The ride is never really over until you finish I guess.
I rode back to Jason’s where he and Amy greeted me in the front yard. Eager to shower but concerned about the questionable state of my bike I asked if we might go to a local bike shop and see if the wheel was still in true and if something funky was going on with my crank. In moments the bike was in a rack on the back of the car and we were on our way to a Trek dealer down the road.
The mechanic at the shop took a careful eye to the bike and gave it the A-Okay and I breathed a great sigh of relief, knowing I wouldn’t add a substantial delay to the trip. We returned to the apartment, dropped the bike off, and I cleaned up ready for dinner.
Having avoided seafood in the interests of remaining not toilet-bound, I was eager to take advantage of the coming rest days by bingeing. We went to a local oyster bar where Jason and I shared 18 raw oysters and I had Maryland lump crab cakes.
Afterwards the festivities continued as we went out for ice cream and I had a large vanilla shake.
Now it is almost 1 in the morning, and Amy and Jason are struggling to stay awake while we watch Jim Carrey in The Majestic. Jason swears he is awake, but his lids blink in increasing duration as he begins to doze.
Tomorrow will be rest day number one in Alexandria, the city I was born in. It will likely amount to Amy watching Jason and me sit in silence, a couch length apart, staring intently at laptop screens as we attempt to get the blog more functional. Only time will tell!