Monday, October 24, 2011
When he turned 50, one of my oldest friends--we were roommates freshman year in college--jumped out of an airplane. For my 60th--I can't say I planned it, but it's as good a reason as any for doing it--I biked the C&O Canal towpath, nearly 185 miles from Cumberland, Md., to Washington, D.C.*
Writing this a few days afterwards, I feel better than I'd imagined I would when I was planning the trip this summer. I'd gotten a great new bike last year, a Cannondale Quick CX Ultra, but back problems and bronchitis kept me from doing much riding that summer. And though I went into the winter with the best intentions, once it got cold the bike stayed in my office. In April, when I finally got back on it, I went two-and-a-half miles before I had to turn back, completely winded.
Once I'd talked my friend Bob into doing the C&O Canal with me, I started to train. Early in the summer, I rode 35 miles one morning, the longest I'd ever gone. A few weeks later, I developed knee problems, which meant cutting back how much I rode. But at least the two orthopedists I consulted didn't tell me to give up riding completely.
I wasn't entirely convinced I'd be able to finish the trip, but my wife drove Bob and me to Cumberland on a recent Thursday morning anyway. After a few unseen delays--the purchase of a commemorative jersey at a bike shop; adjustment of the new grips on Bob's bike--we waved goodbye and took off. We rode about 45 miles to Little Orleans that first day and another 45 to Williamsport the second. From there, it was about 40 miles to Harpers Ferry.
The end of that third day was the worst of the trip. Not because I was tired or my legs hurt or I was thinking about the 60 miles we had to ride the next day. I was, they did, and I was. But what was truly awful was that the only way to get across the Potomac River to the hot shower and soft bed I so desperately craved was to climb a narrow set of twisting stairs with my fully loaded bike.
But I made it up the stairs (and back down again the next morning) and Bob and I made it to Washington. I feel pretty proud of myself for doing something I never thought I'd be able to. That is, until I think about the avid cyclist the innkeeper at Little Orleans told us about. He rode from Washington to Cumberland and back to Little Orleans--about 225 miles--all in one day.
It's something to aspire to.
*Now, the full disclosure implied by the asterisk above. I didn't really ride the entire 184.5 miles of the C&O Canal towpath from Cumberland to Washington. About a half-mile from the end, I got a flat near 31st Street in Georgetown. Since my wife was only 10 minutes away, I decided not to be a purist. But it wouldn't have mattered anyway: A few tenths of a mile ahead, the towpath was blocked by a chain-link fence.