I had a strange feeling as I departed from Hancock. The initial excitement of being on my own and pursuing my dream began to fade and I was confronted with the reality of another 60-mile bike ride...by myself. There was really nothing for me to do except to keep peddling.
As I peddled I fantasized about lunch. The appetites that I work up during these rides are unreal. On this day I missed the turn for the last restaurant before the Green Ridge State Forest. That put me in a predicament. I could either ride 8 miles back to the restaurant or have a lunch of beef jerky and dried mangos. There's no way I was turning back so jerky and mangos it was. Needless to say I was in a weird mood as I made my way to Cumberland.
The most interesting site along the final 60 miles of canal had to be the Paw Paw tunnel. It's a half mile long tunnel that was constructed to avoid 6 miles of windy river. The tunnel itself is rugged. Inside it is pitch black and there are portions where the guard fence is broken. You really feel like you are on your own as you creep through the structure. The wonder of this centuries-old engineering feat transported me back in time. My mind wandered.
As I approached Cumberland my excitement grew. Cumberland signified my completion of the C&O Canal! I was eager to achieve the accolade. About two hours before sunset I arrived. I had achieved my first major milestone, riding the 185 mile long C&O Canal from DC to Cumberland.
To celebrate I treated myself to dinner at a Mexican restaurant. A couple things occurred to me as I made my way through Cumberland on this Sunday afternoon. First, it must be a pretty religious town. The skyline is dominated by 4 prominent churches and everything except for the restaurant, El Jinete, was closed. Second, Cumberland was a major transportation hub in its former life. Downtown is the intersection of railroads, interstate highways and the canal. Though not booming anymore, the town certainly retains its character.
El Jinete was great. The food was yummy and inexpensive. The waiter struck up a conversation with me. He began inquiring about my trip. Since I learned Spanish in college, we switched our convo to his native tongue. Among the many questions he asked, he inquired if there were things I was scared of and, in particular, what I would do if un oso came after me. If you didn't figure it out on your own, oso means bear in Spanish. I can't tell you how many people over the past three months have asked me what I'm going to do if I get attacked by a bear. I thought maybe this irrational fear was just among US Americans, but no, Mexicans too are freaked out about bears. Apparently EVERYONE is worrying out about me getting eaten by a bear. I promise I will do my best to NOT get eaten by a bear...
That night I camped out by myself at a small hiker-biker campsite outside of town. It was a great opportunity for me to demonstrate how inexperienced of a camper I was (am). I arrived at the campsite after sunset, affording me the pleasurable experience of setting up a tent in the dark. Then, I neglected to use the rain cover, so I was awaken in the middle of the night by a lovely rainstorm. As challenging as it was, I did enjoy camping out.
The next morning I head back into the city. While I made my way along the canal, a local fellow stopped me to point out a bald eagle on the canal banks. I was thrilled. This was my opportunity for redemption. I grabbed my camera and stealthily made my way down to the canal. As before, the eagle spotted me from (literally) a mile away and took off. Luckily I was expecting it this time. I snapped a couple of zoomed in pics of the bird. I got it! This was the best start to the day I could ask for. I spent the rest of my day with a smile on my face.