Thursday, November 08, 2007

Overnight Success Story (Part 2)...

NOTE: Part 1 is here.

The town of Harpers Ferry remains a perennially drowsy tenant of the South. Steeped unpretentiously in nostalgia, it waits at the door for the return of a vagabond era grown amnesic and effete, a once proud era of sinew and steel, of rebellion and retribution, its contours starkly limned in blue and gray. Peace slips into town between the roar and howl of lumbering locomotives, emerging unnoticed from the idle cars like a savvy tramp bent on secrecy.

This night, an unusually warm Saturday evening, the town is uncharacteristically dark and deserted. And then, pedaling up Potomac Street, we interrupt a procession of tourists on a ghost walk through the otherwise empty streets. They traipse along an invisible route like well-behaved ants, hoping to spy a spectral expatriot from a time when the blood of militiaman and raider alike mingled and flowed over cobblestones. If John Brown's spirit walks, surely it walks here.

We arrive at the Armory Pub, our destination, only to find that it has just closed, a victim of meager patronage and a staff all too willing to call it an early night. A couple appears on foot. Like us, they've found their way into town for a beer and a quick bite. They mention an alternative, a place called The Secret Six Tavern, located on the street behind the Armory Pub, and begin making for it. We continue up Potomac Street, checking to see what's open. But everything is closed. No worries, really. We have food and beer back at the campsite, but a little rustic atmosphere and comfortable (if temporary) accomodations are still in the crosshairs. A quick check of a barbecue joint offers little promise. We decide to try The Secrect Six on the next block.

Bacchus smiles upon us. The Secret Six is open. As we approach, a couple of women call out to us from the hostel across the street. They've noticed our bikes and want us to know that they've traveled two-thirds of the C&O over the past two days, and are resting up tonight for the last push in the morning. Impressed, we congratulate them and wish them luck on tomorrow's ride.

We roll the bikes onto the outdoor deck to leave them while we go inside. Just then, a small child emerges from the doorway, perches on the railing, and informs us that the bar is indeed open, but that the kitchen is closed. He is overweight, underhumored, and only half-full of good news. Satisfied with his public service, he hops from the railing and quickly disappears inside.

So, food is out, but perhaps the taps are worth a look. We wander in and make our way to the bar. They have Wild Goose IPA, among other less desirable offerings, and in the back row, something labeled Mountaineer Brewing Company Stout. We order a round, Donna opting for the Wild Goose sure-thing, me gambling on the local stout. We take the beer out onto the deck to be closer to the bikes and to enjoy the crisp night air. The view from the deck, even at night, is impressive, overlooking the railroad station and offering a panoramic slice of the mountains of Maryland Heights. As we take it in, a tiny kitten strolls out of the darkness, emboldened by hunger. He plays with me, sure that I have some food stashed somewhere, and though it's obvious I don't, he keeps coming back with renewed interest like a carnival rube.

We are suddenly joined by some ghost seekers who have traded in their spectral nets for a couple of cold pints. They fill the air with banter. Our beer is good; the stout is respectable, tasty, nicely emblematic of the style, but not over the top in any one direction. Perfect. A chill invades the evening air, and we move inside to finish the beer in warmth. We pay the 'keep, then mount up and roll down the hill toward the bridge.

The ladies from the hostel have retired for the evening. Overhead, stars puncture the night sky, suggesting pinhole burns in black velvet. We pedal up a ramp and over the bridge, mindful of the sudden drop to the stairs hidden in the darkness at the other end. Once on the trail, we travel quickly, anxious to get back to camp and get food and beer in our bellies. The mini blinker mounted on my bars is all but useless, as the feeble, gray-white light is quickly gobbled up in the inky void. We find the site and roll down to our tent. Our neighbor's tent shows no sign of life, and we wonder if (s)he has abandoned it. Its door and flaps and fly are battoned down tightly as if in preparation for a coming storm.

We break out the freeze-dried dinners and stove and get the grub on. On the menu: Chicken Terriyaki and Spaghetti with Meat Sauce, courtesy of Mountain House. And with it, some Dale's Pale Ale1, a product of the Oskar Blues Cajun Grill & Brewery, Lyons, Colorado. Pound for pound, the world knows no finer on-the-go epicurean ensemble, I assure you.

Night settles deeply into camp, and we talk about the day's ride and the one that will come all to quickly with the dawn. Suddenly, the sound of splashing travels across the Potomac, as two drunken hikers wade across the shrunken river from the other side. They move through our camp, greeting us as they stagger up to the towpath. Neither of them is wearing waders. The sound of their laughter slowly disappears with them as they amble down the trail.

One by one, the beers surrender, and with the last, we do as well.

End, Part 2

1. Proud to call Maverick American a sponsor...says so, right on the can!


Chris said...

Jim Brown the gridiron great? 8-)

Icon O. Classt said...

Corrected, thanks! Damn coffee must've failed me.