Friday, June 2, 2017

Washington, DC to Plowville, PA: Ice Cream, Oreos, and Places to Sleep

Spending the week in DC was a much needed recharge, even aside from the fact that it was wonderful to see my sister and her husband. In fact, since it was Memorial Day weekend, my other sister already happened to be planning a visit. So all the siblings got together! When this happens, we call it the sibling monster.

There was ice cream.

There were bonsai trees.

There was smiling.

There was graffiti.

There was getting in bed with my two favorite things: goldens and bikes.

There were many more things as well, but suffice to say, it was good to have a home for a while. Alas, at some point, it was time to go. I do have a flight to London to catch, after all...

I was sent off with a ride to the Capitol and partway down the national mall. After that, I was on my own again. There were lots of spontaneous interactions while I was in the denser part of the city, and I saw a few cyclists on the mall coming off the C&O, given away by their dirt-covered panniers and sweat-laden long-sleeves (out for the day? Wear spandex. Out for the week? Dress comfortably). In particular, I met a couple from London who was spending about two weeks in the US during a visit to see a relative. They were quite kind and I traded them directions to a museum for advice about cycling in the UK (the advice amounted to this: the most hilly parts are the most beautiful), and then took this picture of just one side of a street lined with food trucks:

DC has, as my sister would say, “serious food truck game.” Madison? Wanna get started on that before I make my return?

The first 20 or 30 miles of the day were on trail, which was nice. It was mostly uphill trail, which makes sense given I was coming out of the Chesepeake Bay. After the trail, there were rolling hills... which makes sense given I was in the foothills of the Appalachians, despite being on the other side from when I last saw hills (for those of you just joining, there is a rail-trail that runs from Pittsburgh to DC, so the word “hill” hadn't been in my vocabulary for a while).

Other than succumbing to hilldom and seeing this sign, the day was mostly uneventful:

(recall that I play the uke. Why put that on a sign on a bike bath on the Adventure Cycling Route from DC to Philly? Was it meant for me? I'll never know, but it made me smile! In any case...) I found a beautiful forest to camp in and had a decision to make: to tent, or not to tent?

I had tented almost every night outside since actually getting my tent in Madison, having had a bad experience using just a bivvy early on in the tour. Now that I was out of the Midwest, too, I had to worry about snakes, poisonous spiders, and who knows what other forms of mischief that lurked in the forest. Mostly my concern was the rain coming in at 7 AM the next morning: pitch my tent and sleep in, or use my (not completely waterproof) bivvy and make a quick escape before the rain came in?

I bivvied it.

Around 4 AM rain started dripping off the trees. It wasn't “raining,” I don't think, just when it was windy, the trees would shed their accumulated moisture. The bivvy did keep me dry until I got up at 5 and went on my way. There was, as always, the urge to spend just a few more minutes inside warm, dry heaven, but at some point a shrieking bird nearby scared the daylights out of me and I was suddenly too awake to sleep any longer.

The next day was mist, clouds, and fog the whole day. That's about all the summary you need (spoiler alert: I'm ready for Europe). Oh, and I think I avoided cities a little too hard, because I never came by anything I'd call a “grocery store.” It was mostly convenience stores (gas stations, tiny food shops), so I was living without Clif bars and buying fruit only when I could summon the gumption to pay $1 for a banana. Tragedy.

That night it was supposed to thunderstorm so I didn't really want to be outside. I decided to start asking people if anyone knew anyone I could stay with; there were no Warmshowers hosts until the next day, and it was a little late to start asking anyways (when I left DC the forecast was sunny, or I would have planned further in advance). One of these interactions happened at a stoplight – I was turning left and the driver of the car to the right of me rolled down his window:

“Hey, where ya comin' from?”


“Awesome! Where ya headed?”

“Around the world. But tonight – Airville. Know anyone who could put a roof over my head?”

The light changed. “Bob H...(engine noise).”

“Bob Hope?” I shouted after him.

“Bob (last name). He's a carpenter. Tell him...”

And he was off.

So, when I got to Airville I started asking around about Bob the carpenter.

Also I made my return to Pennsylvania.

I wish this story had a happy ending. I mean, it does, but it doesn't end with Bob. Nobody knew him. I did find his business on Google Maps about 15 miles out of Airville... too far to bike. Not wanting to give up just yet, I went to the local fire department to ask if they had spare room. Nobody was around, but I did find an innocuous looking storage shed out back:

It was small – just big enough for my bike and sleeping pad – but it was free and weatherproof and therefore awesome.

I felt nervous about sleeping there without permission (note: I would never have done anything like this on private property – only on public or “friendly” property like a church, a park, or a fire station). I didn't know the schedule of the fire department. In small towns in rural areas, there probably aren't many fires, so maybe it doesn't make sense for them to be manned (personned? What's the gender-neutral term here?) at all times. But would someone open the shed at night? I left a note on the door and decided to read until dark, not wanting to make myself at home until either I could ask someone or I didn't think anyone would find me. Around 7, I heard people outside, so I opened the door and looked at them. And they looked at me. And I said...

“Hi! I'm so sorry to startle you, I tried to find someone earlier but no one was here. I'm biking around the world and it's supposed to thunderstorm tonight. Could I please sleep in here?”

“I don't see a problem with that.” It was a little underwhelming – not that I expected fireworks or a birthday cake, just that I did feel I was intruding a bit, and I didn't want them to feel obligated just because I was in need, or was already there. But, they did consent, so that's where I spent the night. I tried to leave it better than I found it. In the future I think I'll try and wait somewhere less presumptuous, like outside the shed, or by the front door... (though it was raining). What would you have done?

I left the next morning dry and bleary-eyed. It was still misting, but the sun came out just as I crested a particularly difficult hill, and I was rewarded with a view:

"America the Beautiful" also started playing in my head. The version from the Coca-Cola commercial spliced with a choir version.

I also realized I had forgotten to fill up with water at the fire station, so I ran out of water and ended up filtering some from a hose next to a church. Despite the filtering it tasted pretty gnarly, so I resolved to find someone I could ask... and about a mile later, saw some guys pointing at me from the side of the road. “Look at this guy!” one said to the other.

I pulled up.

“Hey. Trade you a good story for a fill of water.”

Problem solved. I carried on.

Again, there were no larger grocery stores, so I was still out of Clif Bars; but, I did modify my diet to include generic Oreos ($4 for the real thing, $1 for off-brand... not as good, but when burning 6000 calories a day, almost quite nearly as good), and that's been a boon. Even the smallest convenience stores seem to always have beef jerky or beef sticks, which aren't great because they're expensive but which are great because they contain two of the three food groups every cyclist needs: protein and salt (the third food group is carbs). I splurged.

The rest of the day was hot and humid, and after hunting for Clif bars and pedaling up and down the foothills of the Appalachians, over and over, it was pretty much the best thing ever to come across a local creamery that sold three very large scoops of ice cream, coming out to about a pint, for $4.50 – cheaper than Ben and Jerry's. It was some of the best ice cream I've ever had – well made, local, and just what I needed during a hot day of tough pedaling. I chatted with two locals on the porch, Carol and Mary Ann, who told me they had children who were also well traveled – so Carol and Mary Ann traveled “by plane... and also vicariously.” Hi ladies!

Shortly thereafter, the hunt for a place to stay began again. I passed by a number of campsites, thinking if they were affordable and good looking, I'd stop by – but all were full of RVs, and there is nothing so unsatisfying as trying to sleep with air conditioners and water pumps running all around you, and waking up to doors slamming and engines starting. There is nothing wrong with RVs, of course, it's just that sleeping among them when you're in a tent is a little obnoxious. So, I rode on.

Around 5:30 I passed a racetrack which looked very promising in terms of a place to sleep. It was set up similar to a fairgrounds: a central area where the events happen with huge grass parking lots all around. All empty. One of the lots had a break in the fence along a treeline, and the treeline went back and back... only, there was a father and son fishing back there, and I didn't want to bother them. I rode on, looking over the fenced-in areas, thinking, if I could just get back there.... Aside from the area where the father and son were fishing though, everything was very well fenced.

(in retrospect, I probably could have gone just inside the fence and napped on the grass until the sun went down and they left, then set up my tent. Next time...)

About a mile later, I thought I saw a forested spot on a side road, but upon further investigation, there was a house too close to it for comfort. Another mile and another patch of woods, but I could only get about ten yards in before there was too much brush to go any further. Too visible from the road. I carried on.

I wasn't exactly beginning to panic, but I was definitely cursing myself for not stopping at the race track. There was still two hours of sun left, but I was extremely tired, having started very early that morning and the day before, and having now done two days of hill after hill... I wasn't sure how much farther I could go without needing to stop for the night, but I wasn't seeing anywhere to camp without risk of being seen. Would this be the first time I'd have to start knocking on doors?

I hate doing this but it is, honestly, a really good breaking point: find out next time...

1 comment:

  1. So glad that you got to spend time in DC with Laura, Priyesh & Kavi and Jenna! Lot of ice cream in this blog - yum! Love you, Mom