It was supposed to be a beautiful, sunny, warm weekend. My good friend Dave had made the arrangements, and Melanie and I and Dave and his wife Mary Kate were all set to bike from Cumberland, Maryland to Rockwood, Pennsylvania on Saturday, and then stay the night and ride back the next day.
In biking terms it isn’t a long trip I guess, 44 miles one way. I have never taken a bike trip so it seemed long enough to me. Anyway, I have only ridden a bike any appreciable distance one time in over 20 years, so it was a new experience for me. Melanie took care of getting the trail bikes for us and Saturday morning we packed up in the sunshine in Westminster and headed up the road the two hours by car to Cumberland.
As we drove north, the weather, and the weather forecast, seemed to change by the moment. By the time we got to Cumberland, the weather was now to be cool (mid-50s) and rain every now and then. Not what we had planned on, but we were going to go regardless, unless of course there was a hurricane. The trip is along a mountain trail (the entire trail stretches from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC) and the first 20-25 or so miles are slightly uphill.
The first lesson I learned, is that you never realize how heavy a back-pack can be until it is on your back for several hours and you are riding uphill on a bike:-) I chuckled when Dave joked the he cut his toothbrush in half to save weight….I wasn’t chuckling an hour into the trip. Needless to say on the way back, there were some things I decided it would be better to buy a new one than bring home. It is always best to travel light in life, the more burdens you carry the harder the journey.
Melanie, an experienced bicycler, bought me a pair of bike shorts last week. The kind with the padded seat that look like you pooped in your pants. I took one look at them and told her to take them back. I would never wear them…ever. She told me that was a mistake, that a bicycle seat, even a padded one, makes your butt pretty sore if you don’t have a calloused bike butt. I, of course, didn’t listen and told her my derriere would be fine. By the first five miles into the trip…my butt was starting to hurt. What a shocker:-) At this point, Melanie told me that she saved the shorts and brought them anyway because she knew I would need them. So she offered them up and I told her I would wait until Frostburg to put them on. That was 11 miles later. Dumb me became dumber me. By the time we got to Frostburg, my butt was not my friend. I put the shorts on but the damage had been done. My butt still hurts now, a full two days after I got off the bike. The lesson here is simple: listen to your wife or suffer through a sore butt. Men, you will find this applies in all corners of life and that a sore butt can be just that or something worse that will be a pain in the ___.
The weather got worse as we moved forward in the first leg of the journey. It rained on us and got colder, and the wind picked up and regardless of which way we were turning on the trails, it felt like it was directly in our face. The first leg is 16 miles to Frostburg, and I have to say, it seemed endless. We were happy to finally make it there after about two and a half hours (should have taken maybe an hour and a half tops) and get some lunch and dry off and warm up a little. I had no idea how far we had come, but I was certain we had gone a significant portion of the trip. As we got back on the bikes for the rest of the journey, I discovered my sore butt had only traveled about a third of the way! By now, it had gotten colder, windier, and rainier. We were about a mile into the next leg and it was obvious it was not getting any easier and that we were biting off more than we originally had anticipated chewing. At this point, Dave turns to us and asks if we want to go back. There would be no shame. It wasn’t what we bargained for and conditions were getting worse. What we had all framed as a pleasant ride up a beautiful trail on sunny Fall day with the abounding colors feasting our eyes, was in fact, a grueling test of will instead. We all said, no way we are turning back. We were in for the adventure…even though at this point it felt as if we would never make it. Most worthy journeys towards a goal will not be what we expect and there will always be points in the middle that appear hopeless. It is at that point when commitment will get you through and lead to success.
Seven hours after we left Cumberland, we arrived in Rockwood. This was about two and a half hours later than expected. We were soaked and cold and exhausted. But we all had the exact same feeling. We did it. We had accomplished it. Yeah, for people who do marathons or iron mans or ultras, or other extreme sports, this would have been a cake walk. But we are not those people (well…Dave does do some major rides). It felt really really good to be able to look back and know that we pushed through difficult conditions for six hours (lunch was an hour). You cannot have the exhiliration that comes from completeing a difficult journey without the difficult journey. This feeling and sense of accomplishment stays with you indefinitely and becomes a new part of your strength you can call on any time in life.
The following morning we woke up and got back on the trail by ten or so. It was very cold and overcast, but it wasn’t raining. We were refreshed, well except for my butt which felt like an angry hobbit had kicked it repeatedly. We had a slight uphill for a several miles, but it wasn’t noticeable so we went at a good clip. Within an hour the sun started to come out and the vivid colors of the trees exploded all around us. Burnt orange, bright yellow, deep red, filled the landscape. After we crossed the Continental Divide, the rest was downhill. The sun was bright and high in the sky. At several points we could stop and look out on a vista that that stretched for 20 or 30 miles and see all the amazing colors through the mountains. The only way to get that view was to have made the climb. You cannot drive to where we were. Only hiking or biking earned this prize. The best views in life in all arenas are saved for those who do the work, who take the risks, who climb and endure what others are not willing to climb and endure. If you want the best fruit, you must go out on the limb.
What an awesome experience. Thank you Dave for making that possible for us. I can’t wait for the next ride. I am hooked:-)