Count Your Blessings, Not Your Chickens (USA Day 13)
Even though we were awoken at half four by the cockerel, and every ten minutes thenceforth, it was fully midday before we left the farmhouse. Blueberry pancakes in the wooden-beamed kitchen, strokes with Isabelle the waggy Labrador and overdue calls home took the place of our morning riding. We were weary and bleary, and daunted by the Appalachian hills that blocked us from the rest of the day’s progress. Nevertheless, once we did hobble onto the bikes, our legs took control and the riding felt easy. We’re hitting form now. Our bodies are starting to understand what’s being asked of them, and doing the rest themselves. It’s an odd feeling.
Our first real hill, a steep 1,000 ft lane to Blue Ridge Summit that wound its wooded way up and across the Appalachian trail, sat ahead of us, blue and smoky like a Jazz Smurf.
Near the bottom, a construction worker had looked up from his shovel and cryptically called, “Watch our for little kids with rice rockets. They fly right up yer back.”
“Thanks!” I smiled, without the foggiest what he could mean.
Amy panicked a little. “Should we go back and ask what he means?”
But we were already a good hundred metres away and going back even a single pedal feels impossible on a bike. I don’t know why. So we twiddled on up the hill, anxious. What is a rice rocket? Would tiny feral children burst from a bush and launch fireworks at us? Round the next corner our questions were answered as a posse of half a dozen teenagers on obnoxiously-loud mopeds screamed past us, leaving centimetres of space. This was clearly a sport.
The hill was a sweaty challenge, sure, but not even close to as hard as we’d expected, then the downhill was pure pleasure – miles of undulations on newly-laid surface that cannoned us all the way into Maryland. By the time we stopped for a late lunch we’d travelled twenty-five miles without hardly turning a pedal.
As a novelty, we pretended to be a car and got a drive-thru, waiting in our ‘parking’ space for cheeseburgers and milkshakes to be brought out by the slightly bewildered servers. After such a protein-dump, the afternoon was harder even though the profile was flatter, and I was reminded once again not to count one’s chickens. It’s hard enough to work out what the rest of the day/week/month will be like, let alone how our bodies and heads will respond to it, so looking after the right now, and appreciating whatever it brings, is the only important thing. Tough miles covered, we found ourselves descending into Williamsport, and with it the C&O trail and very much the second chapter of this journey.
For the next 200 miles or so, we’ll be off-road, whispering along little gravel towpaths that run beside the old Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (long dried-up) and its locks, tunnels and outhouses. To our left is the expansive Potomac river, utterly untamed but reassuringly calm, while on the right is dense woodland or sheer cliffs. This was, at one point, a crucial trade-route inland from the east, carrying goods from Washington DC to Pittsburgh, but the advent of trains killed that off in the 19th Century. Now the C&O trail is a hiking route and fishing spot and not much else. We’ve seen more deer than humans (including one that sprang out in front of us, only a metre or so away from Amy’s front wheel. What a shock!) and the big challenge, what with there being no hills, is avoiding mosquito bites.
We pitched our tent in a hiker/biker site, utterly free, with a handpump for water that has been handily iodine treated and a little footpath down to the river. As dark fell, we gleefully sat in our tent with headtorches on, eating baby courgettes dunked in spinach dip and sipping chicken and dumpling stew from a can. The height of luxury.
Today: 51 Miles
Total: 319 Miles