Wednesday, November 09, 2005

C(haos) & O(rder)...

From the early chaos of a very loosely-knit plan—cobbled together largely from overlapping emails and snippets of pub room conversations—to the order of everything falling together nicely—both on its own and with the help of some hard-working gents who wanted to do something nice for their ladies for putting up with their cycling-related shenanigans over the years—the (first annual?) "Ladies C&O Canal Towpath Ride" was a major success.

First up, special props go out to RickyD for brainstorming the whole gig and putting the wheels in motion. I know it wasn't easy, but you can be sure that all of us very much appreciated it.

Second, the real story here should be told from the perspective of the ladies, who came up with a name for themselves—the Femme Fatales—over the course of 60 miles of hand-numbing terrain, amid falling flecks of red, yellow, and gold like the radiant offspring of some technicolor snowstorm. Hopefully, they'll share their experiences over at Bikecentric. Until then, this limited view will have to suffice.

The plan itself was relatively simple: on Saturday morning, drop off the ladies at the visitor center in Cumberland, Maryland, near the towpath terminus (mile marker 184), drive to the Stickpile Hill campsite (mile marker 150), set up camp and have things in order for when the cyclists arrived, make dinner, drink, eat, drink, hang out, drink, sleep. On Sunday, make breakfast, see the ladies off, pack up camp, and meet them in Hancock (mile marker 125) for the conclusion of their ride.

All of us guys, of course, wanted to get in some riding, but the reality was that someone would have to drive to jockey supplies. In Cumberland, the decision was made to forego sweeps—riders following behind the ladies at a distance in case some disaster befell them—because it was felt that this would pressure them or otherwise cramp their style and intefere with the harmony of an all-female ride. Instead, after dropping off the ladies, four of us rode in two cars to Hancock, parked, and pedaled back to the Stickpile Hill campsite. In the meantime, the remaining guys drove to a spot just off the towpath near Stickpile, and began hauling most of the gear by bike and BOB a half mile or so to the campsite.

Those of us on bikes arrived at the campsite in about two hours. We helped haul the remaining gear from the car to our spot, then started setting up camp. Once everything was more or less in order and a few beers were uncapped, it wasn't long before someone set up a log pile jump on the edge of a dip that separated the campsite from the trail. This bit of daredevilry provided a good 15 minutes of skinny-tire entertainment, replete with endos and handlebar slippage. At some point, there were some porta-jon hijinx when one of us was pinned inside the stink silo by some well-placed fire logs.

Soon the Femme Fatales began rolling in. They had just finished 35 miles of towpath riding, and looked like they could have easily handled another 35. Any doubts we might have had about how much fun they were having quickly faded when we saw the smiles on their faces.

We made dinner (pasta and tomato sauce with sausages) and got a roaring fire going, around which we sat while drinking and joking for several hours. The ladies recounted stories about their passage through the Paw Paw Tunnel and the overly-friendly Ranger stationed at one of the locks. Featured beers for the evening including Clipper City's Loose Cannon Hop³ Ale, Lancaster's Hop Hog IPA, and a couple of big boy offerings from Great Divide (Yeti), Stone (9th Anniversary), and Bear Republic (Red Rocket Ale), along with some Lambics. By 10:00, the first couples had quietly slipped away to their tents to retire for the night. A couple of us holdouts, looking to supplement our stomachfuls of beer with additional foodstuffs, cooked up the remaining sausages on the campfire grill, which proved to be a daunting task as several slipped off and into the coals. Probably a good thing, since the two I managed to wolf down didn't seem to like sharing gut space with the blend of ale and stout roiling therein.

The next morning, the guys lumbered out of their tents to coax the coals into flame and whip up breakfast: pancakes, bacon, eggs, OJ, and, of course, coffee. We ate, then made PB&J sandwiches as a trailside lunch for the ladies, who were busy readying their bikes for the second leg of the ride. A few pics later, they were off to complete the remaining 25 miles to the cars in Hancock. We rounded up the bulk of the gear and hauled it a half mile down the towpath to the cars. Then the same four of us who had pedaled from Hancock to the campsite struck out again behind the ladies to ride the same stretch of trail as we did on Saturday, but in the opposite direction.

We left about an hour and a half after the ladies, but at some point we decided that a beer break was in order. So, around mile marker 140, at the town of Little Orleans, we banged a quick left off the towpath and through a small tunnel onto a road that led to a country tavern called "Bill's Place." This was the joint a group of us stopped at last year on the C&O ride, so we knew there would be some cold bottles of Yuengling Porter awaiting us inside. After parking the bikes, we were disappointed to discover that the place was closed; a sign on the door stated that this would be the case if the fishing was good. Apparently, it was. Just as we were getting ready to leave, the owner—a slight, elderly man with a permanent Pall Mall pinched between his lips—pulled in and quickly opened up.

Inside, surrounded by cozy decorations that included the ubiquitous Dixie flag, various retired hunting paraphernalia, dead-eyed deer heads, and a moldering Osama bin Laden hunting license poster, we polished off a six pack of said porter. The big screen TV was on, tuned to the obligatory football game. At some point, the station cut away to a weather report that informed us that some seriously crappy weather might be heading our way soon.

As we left, the rain was just starting, nothing heavy, but it made us wonder whether we would be pedaling through the thick of a nasty thunderstorm. We mounted the bikes and, as if on cue, the rain more or less subsided.

Back on the trail, the remaining fifteen miles passed quickly as we contemplated the changing cloud patterns in the sky, wondering whether we had outrun the impending storm or were instead heading into it. About a half mile from the cars, Jason kicked in the turbo and sprinted ahead to the group of ladies who were sitting by the canal, casually eating some ice cream treats and likely wondering where the hell we were.

We racked our bikes and headed over to a nearby local restaurant for some more beer and a warm refueling, and to catch up on the day's events. All in all, it was a great experience, with almost perfect weather conditions. No mechanicals to speak of from either group, and the ladies got a good taste of what the towpath is like. As we headed to our respective cars, there was already talk of future such rides and more mileage along the scenic C&O Canal.


Hjalti said...

What a way cool thing for you to do for your ladies. It only adds to it that it was fun for yourselves. Most of my towpath trips are short, becuse my kids don't want to do the distance, but maybe its time for another longer trip. Cheers.

rickyd said...

Good writeup!