Slogging to Shepherdstown

Today was a reminder of one of my favorite aspects of bike touring: the immense relief you experience when an arduous ride is complete.

We awoke mid-morning to suggestive grey skies. It was still cold from the night before, so we shivered from task to task; preparing coffee, making breakfast and packing our tents. All that remained from the previous night's fire was a single charred piece of wood, which Niko suggested we inspect for tinders.

"There's no way there's still heat in that pit. It rained last night!" I declared.

I was wrong. Beneath the wood were a few glowing tinders. The three of us threw sticks onto them and soon enough our fire was back. We crouched around the day-old fire like hobos around a drum-barrel. We spent more time than we should have around the fire, especially given the foreboding skies. But the fire was our sole source of comfort, so we were loyal to it.

Just before noon we rode two miles to the bike shop at Hancock. It was there that the skies decided to open up on us. Sam bought a jersey, Niko adjusted his handlebars, and I redeemed my ticket to Sea World.

We left the shop around noon and were soaking in no time. The fingers on my gloveless hands were frigid and water seeped in through my tights. The rain hand no boundaries. The sensation of being miserably wet took me back to my ride into Portland last year with Donut Dan. I remembered that the worst part of riding in the rain was getting started. Once you're soaking wet and caked with mud you stop caring.

Rain Day on the C&O Canal

About ten miles into the ride I got to that comfortable place of discomfort. My black panniers had turned brown, a blob of muck made my derailleur invisible and I had a skunk stripe going down my spine. As I rode two-wide with Sam, we noticed the intense green color of our scenery. I asked him what would be the best way to describe the color. He suggested that "radiating" wasn't quite the right word. We agreed that maybe illuminating was. Everything we saw was either grey or brown, except for the shrubbery whose illuminating green practically caused us to squint as the sun would have were it not shrouded by the precipitation.

We had lunch in Williamsport at this BBQ place. I was in heaven. The place was cozy and warm, causing me to dread getting back on my bike. But Williamsport was not for me. As we returned to our bike and the dreadful rain, a nice local fellow shot up a conversation with us. Sam mentioned that he was from Germantown, to which the man responded, "Oh, is that so? I work at the fire department over there. Yup, place has been changing a lot. Biggest cause of car accidents over there is drivin' while far-n."

I had a blank look on my face. "Driving while what?" I asked.

"Driving while far-eign." He clarified.


It was an awkward comment. Niko was far-n and he can drive just fine. But Niko was Russian, and I don't think that was the kind of far-n this guy was talking about, or maybe it was. I don't know. He was a bit narrow-minded.

We kept riding. About 20 miles South of Williamsport the trail became a concrete riverfront promenade. After 40 dreary miles of puddles and dirt I was elated to ride on something substantial. More than substantial, the stretch was architecturally interesting. Unfortunately, it only lasted three or four minutes because it was no more than a half-mile long.

C&O Canal Concrete Promenade

A bit after 6:00 pm we arrived at the bridge to Sherpherdstown, West Virginia where we assessed our options. We could get groceries and firewood in town, then bike either 4 or 8 miles to campsites outside of Harpers Ferry, or we could get a hotel room in Shepherdstown. Given the fact that we were drenched, we decided to assess the situation in Sherperdstown. We ascended to the bridge, where I found a sad piece of graffiti.

Fuck Herron Death graffiti

As we crossed the picturesque bridge spanning the Potomac, we spotted the Bavarian Inn, a German-styled hotel on a cliff overlooking the river. Though the place looked far out of our league, we decided to investigate. The price was $189 online. When we went to the reception, it turned out the rate was $150. "Sold!" Niko exclaimed when the receptionist told us the price.

As we walked to our room, slivers of blue were revealed above the pink-tinted clouds. The laborious day was nearing its end, the sky mirrored my mood. It's very possible that the highlight of my day was the 12-minute shower I took at the hotel. Oh, how intriguing it was to watch the soot run from my body in little rivulets and then swirl down the drain.

Potomac View from Bavarian Inn, Shepherdstown, WV

That night we ate a bunch of junk food from Sheetz, then I slept like a rock. It was amazing. Bike touring gives me a new feeling about old things.