Operation Second Chance – The Whole Loaf – October 8, 2011
I think I saw the Blair Witch.
Dense fog and moss covered dead trees and still water lined the canal path south of Cumberland. Wayne left me, or should I say I let him go faster, 3 miles outside of Cumberland – and I was on my own at 7:30AM heading southeast 90 miles towards Hagerstown, MD. The morning’s moisture condensed on my helmet and dripped down on my face as I headed towards the Paw Paw canal/tunnel some 12 miles south of Hagerstown. Just then I heard noises in the swampy wooded area along the canal. I was fresh with strong legs and decided that I needed to quickly locate anyone in front of me with a bright fluorescent yellow/green riding jersey – and fast. Only problem was that the best I could make in time was about 10 mph because the path was still stressed by the September rains – aka mud and water and rutted tracks. Great terrain for mountain bikers – I however, as I discovered today prefer tarred roads.
I was lead to believe that the Paw Paw tunnel was within shouting distance of Cumberland and at every turn of the path I expected to see this 3/4 mile long dark tunnel appear. I was the last “newbie” rider out of the Fairfield INN and on this October morn – I was spooked.
Just about 7 miles out I saw the bright green jacket of a rider – and I closed upon Gordon who had stopped along the right side (south) of the canal path. This is the preferred side of the path to add your contribution(s) to the Chesapeake Watershed. I would pass Gordon multiple times during the morning until we last would meet up at the Woodmont Gun and Rod Club for lunch some 50 miles southeast of Cumberland. It was there that I then learned that Gordon, a very strong rider, was suffering from the flu and would have to SAG to Hagerstown.
Now reassured that I was on the path to Paw Paw with someone alternating behind me I was able to relax and enjoy the surroundings.
Paw Paw is a relic. The C&O constructed a canal through a mountain 3/4ths of a mile long. It is dark, damp and spooky. You need a light to see the rutted 4 foot path, the brick walls of the tunnel and the dripping and standing water on the path and in the canal. I wondered how many mules got disoriented pulling canal boats through the tunnel and ended up in the canal.
I tried to bike through the tunnel only to bump into the brick wall some 10 yards from the entrance. It reminded me of the Memorial Bridge underpass in DC until they recently repaired it – there as in Paw Paw my flat handle bars and the disorientation cause me to sideswipe the bricks. I got off and walked the length of the tunnel. My commuter light was great – got me and 2 other riders to the other side and down the road.
Fast forward to 4:30 PM at the end of the ride. What awaited all riders at this terminus was a contingent of the NAM KNIGHTS AMERICA, armed service veterans who would give us an escort to our hotel in Hagerstown. They along with a contingent of the Hagerstown Police department would create a slow moving blockade of Harley’s and 10 speeds – as they escorted the Ride Allegheny contingent to the Ramada Inn.
This evening ended with Jerry Bremer providing an emotion laden video of the World Team Sports movie, Two Shinning Seas – a soon to be released 1 hour compendium on how this Non-Profit group works with disabled and wounded veterans to overcome their special challenges and bike some 4,000 miles across the US from sea to sea.
Thus by default, or possibly by design, the Ride Allegheny group reaffirmed it’s place as an accomplice in this effort to heal.
As this night ends I asked my self who could possibly be spooked of a make believe witch.
Dave Parish also contributed photos on this page