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We made Meyersdale by mid-afternoon and rolled 11 miles to our overnight in Rockwood, Pa. While the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) is gravel, it is excellently maintained and we set our sights on covering a hundred miles in two days.
At my insistence, we hit the trail early the next day and it was a mistake. While the temperatures had been in the 70 to 90 degree range, it was below freezing when we rolled out of town near the top of the Appalachian Mountains at about 7 a.m. We had packed for cool weather but nothing like this. After a couple of miles we dug socks out and put them on our hands.
Have I mentioned how much I love riding with Sabra? I kvetch about her taking photos, but she’s a great riding companion. She took the cold in stride and by mid-morning we were enjoying a glorious day.
Top riders in The Race Across America (RAAM) put in 22 hours a day, averaging 15 miles an hour to finish the 3,000-mile route in eight days. Racers eat and even answer nature’s call while on the saddle, and the grueling pace causes some to hallucinate.
In other words, it’s much like how Sabra and I roll when we are on our annual bicycle vacation. Not that we cover as much ground as fast as RAAM, but we add in other elements of difficulty to even things out. None of the ultra-marathon riders, for example, consume 15,000 calories at breakfast before starting the day like me, and none participate in off-saddle steeplechases to get just the right angle for a photo like Sabra. While the elite racers speed along on expensive, ultra-light bikes made of titanium and carry nothing else; we slog along loaded down with a food larder, liquor cabinet, clothes closet, laundry supplies, computer, repair kit, lights, camera, toiletry bag, cable lock, stereo system and, in my case, a back scratcher.
And, like the elite racers, we can lose touch with reality with the best of them.
On a ride through Wisconsin a few years ago, for example, we were 40 miles into a 50-mile, unusually hot, punishing day when we came across a restaurant/bar in the middle of nowhere. (The dairy state seems to have an unofficial rule that where two paved roads intersect there has to be a road house offering cold beer, pickled gizzards from a gallon jar, friendly locals and a shake of the day dice game). The establishment we came across on this particular day advertised “free pool Tuesday,” and it was Tuesday. Imagine the luck, a tavern with a swimming pool and it’s free today.
Luckily, Sabra was on hand or I would have changed into my suit, got out my rubber ducky and marched into the bar looking for the pool.
While we didn’t have any breaks with reality on our most recent trip, we did run into one cyclist who left me wondering if he wasn’t a few spokes short of a full wheel. His name was Larry and he stopped on a cool, crisp fall morning to take in the view from one of the many bridges on the GAP. We were headed northeast and he, southwest. I, as I often do, struck up a conversation with him. He was our age and I pegged him for a car salesman because of the rapid-fire way he spoke. I wasn’t far off; he owned and operated a string of nine futon stores in Ohio.
Business was bad, he offered without my asking, with the economy being the way it is.
“Ten years ago,” he swaggered slightly, “I could throw (four letter word for excrement) on a wall and sell it. Now, because of Obama, I had to close two stores.” I tried arguing with him, saying that the poor economy’s roots were in Republican tax cuts and unfunded wars but he would have none of it. From there the topic segued to a women’s right to control her own body, and Larry maintained that abortion was nothing more than a lazy women’s birth control.
I couldn’t stand it any longer and broke off the conversation thankful that we were heading in opposite directions. As we rolled off I hummed “rubber ducky, you’re the one...”