Well that was an enjoyable week! 88 geocaches in 6 states (DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, WV) with 375 miles of biking (and some Ubering) over 9 days. Highlights were the guided tours of Gettysburg, PA (by a professional guide) and Washington, DC monuments (local, at night).
Pre-trip: This was about as bad shape as I could be in for the ride. In June, shortly after signing up for the ride, I sprained my ankle on a hike. Then in August, I caught some sweet bronchitis for 4 weeks: I was in not-so-great shape for the ride.
Day -1: Fly to Philadelphia. A 6-hour non-stop + 3 hour time zone change + meeting two fellow riders at the airport to share a shuttle (that I ended up having to book) consumed the day. The hostel was pretty far from public transportation or places to eat, but we found one that would deliver a tasty, greasy Philly cheesesteak:
Day 0: Get my bike, ride around in Philadelphia.
The stories of aggressive Sports Fans and a recent viewing of Twelve Monkeys made me super leery about spending a lot of time in Philadelphia proper but, convinced by a fellow rider from Canada who wanted to explore, we biked from the hostel into downtown.
Ben Franklin is popular.
There are lots of row houses, something I vaguely remember from early childhood. They must be pretty small, because people sometimes leave their pets outside.
Day 1: French Creek State Park: Rain. Valley Forge
I didn’t sleep well due to the First Day Of Tour jitters. Also, the cheesesteak didn’t agree with me. (Note to self: you are no longer 19.) I was rearranging stuff for a while before going with the Showers Pass jacket. I’d need it, as it rained moderately hard for the first thirty miles.
A few miles in, I had achieved wet rider equilibrium: soaked to the bone, but warm as long as I was moving. I really don’t remember much except stopping to try to help out other riders with various repairs. At one point, someone’s derailleur crapped out (new bike, too) and I stuck around until one of the ride leaders came. I felt kind of bad, but it was really wet outside and this was kind of my only vacation.
While stopping at the restroom at Valley Forge National Park, I discovered to my glee I could shunt the hot air from the hand dryer into my jacket. After about twenty minutes of this, I was feeling better and decided to tour around the park, getting virtual geocaches. I thought I’d be clever and make my own route back onto course before coming to a bride that was out of service for the indefinite future. Denied, I trekked back. The rain stopped, but it was pretty gusty.
An hour later, the sun was starting to peek out. I actually had to apply sunscreen, which was kind of nice.
About this point in the day, I started having a lot of shifting problems due to a stiff link. Each third pedal would skip gears. Really annoying, too. I plugged forward, albeit slowly. One of the last riders caught up and, with his map wet, wanted help with directions, but didn’t want to ride at my extra super slow speed. Cat and mouse ensued.
In camp, I got some help finagling the link free so the bike was ridable. Two other folks with $6000 Co-Motion bikes were having minor issues and the guy with the derailleur was going to look for bike shop options. The ride leaders told us that Pennsylvania bike shops are generally closed on Mondays, so we would probably be SOL, but we could try Hanover.
I had good cell coverage (and a backup power supply) and found a shop in Intercourse (snicker) Pennsylvania, located near Blue Ball (snicker), that purported to be open on Mondays.
Day 2: Get a replacement chain. Buy groceries.
This was a pretty area with rolling hills and, of course, Amish minding their own business. As fascinated as I was, I respected that as best I could. The cows, however…
I did find this gentleman rather majestic on his horse-drawn plow.
Intercourse Cycles was pretty awesome in getting me in and doing the spot repair (replacement chain; and while we’re at it, let’s put new pads on the front). While they worked, I went next door for espresso. Yes, even in small towns, you have multiple caffeinated options!
Back on the road, and with a decent amount of time before I had to head back to camp, I enjoyed the rolling hills of Amish country. I came upon a buggy and, not really knowing the etiquette, waited until it was safe to pass with a wide berth.
A mile later, I was dragging on an uphill and heard him clop-clop-clopping behind me, providing me some motivation to keep pedaling until I hit the flat roads again.
Day 3: Get to camp waaaaaay early. Buy food. Cook for 15.
One facet of these tours that I’m not super crazy about was the shared cooking. In it, you and someone else are obliged to buy food (with shared funds) then cook a meal for 15 (13 riders + 2 ride leaders), clean and then have some kind of dessert. I drew the longest day (in miles) of the tour, also somewhat tardy by my wanting to indulge in the Utz potato chip factory tour:
Very disappointingly, Snyder’s of Hanover, makers of awesome sourdough hard pretzels, does not appear to have a tour for hungry, pretzel-loving cyclists.
And finally, I made it to the grocery store where we bought three meals’ worth of food for fifteen people. Two carts, just under $400 worth because we over estimated the pasta consumption:
We got into camp and found the van with all the cooking equipment hadn’t arrived yet. (!!) So we got started on dinner late through no fault of our own. We made garlic bread (with real garlic & butter), spaghetti with meatballs, and a spinach salad with roadside heirloom tomatoes. In retrospect, we overcooked. I had intended for the garlic bread and salad to be consumed while we cooked the other stuff, but people didn’t quite follow and the garlic bread got cold. (But, oh my, was it good.)
I ate, then slept, well.
Day 4: Camp Misty Mount.
On these tours, I’m usually pretty excited to eat and get out on the road as soon as I can to enjoy my day at a snail’s pace. However, the obligation of cooking requires one to unpack, set up, make coffee, cook breakfast, put out lunch stuff, wait for people to finish, clean, box up. Fortunately, I had gone with Snacks I Like — candied ginger, mango, various nuts and salty pretzels — and had a relatively short ride.
I rewarded myself with picking up a bunch of puzzle caches I pre-solved.
This was a nice facility, apparently a Christian social camp during other times. Although we camped in the field, they were nice enough to leave all of the dorms and common areas unlocked. I got to do laundry, charge all of my devices, have a long, hot shower. One of the other campers slept inside the common area to avoid the cold.
Day 5 & 6: Gettysburg.
Gettysburg and the Civil War were events that I was super oblivious to (thank you, Texas schooling) until I stopped on a business trip in 2008. The magnitude is overwhelming. I was looking forward to coming back and spending more time, up close.
The tour included the interpretive film narrated by Morgan Freeman, whose marvelous voice would be fine for even reading cereal boxes. The organizers made the next day short to accommodate an optional (yeah, right, as if I’m going to not do it) guided bike tour of monuments.
The tour concluded around lunch time, but could have easily been two days. The guide was awesome and I have a better appreciation of the significance of Gettysburg and the sheer carnage (something I’d see even more of in Antietam).
Because this was in Union territory, most of the Confederate monuments were erected relatively recently. Above is Louisiana’s.
The ride to camp had significant elevation gain. We had been repeatedly warned that Camp David was near the top of the hill and, under no circumstances, should we stop here and take photos. Camp David, formerly Shangri La, is a retreat used by presidents. It is, as they say, a poorly kept secret. There are no signs beyond a couple of discreet “no stopping” and “no photography” icons. The larger sign simply says this particular campground is closed. More than one person knew someone who knew someone who didn’t adhere to the guidelines and found themselves enjoying some quality time with the US Secret Service.
Tonight, we had the luxury of cabins.
Day 7:Slave Auction Block, Harper’s Ferry, Brunswick, MD
Leaving camp required us to go right back up the hill, past Camp David, before plunging down. My Canadian counterpart thought it would be amusing to take my photo while struggling up the hill… as he was right in front of Camp David. As I crested it, I saw a van full of burly men, buzzed haircuts, zooming up. Kind of feared the worst, but was too chickenshit to stick around and watch it unfold.
I’d later find out that the van’s occupants were late for work and waved at my friend before going past the gate. My friend, wisely, chose not to press his good luck further.
Unencumbered by needing to buy food or cook, I enjoyed the slower pace to geocache. (Hint: under the sign)
There was a nice cluster of puzzles in Antietam explaining how much the undulating terrain played into completely unnecessary carnage of the battle.
The most unexpected thing I saw was in Sharpsburg (a geocaching called my attention to it), was this:
Our route then joined the Chesapeake + Ohio (C+O) towpath. On the way to Brunswick, I crossed the bridge into Harpers Ferry for some more geocaches and to revisit the town on foot.
There is an interesting viewpoint where you can see the confluence of the Shenandoah River joins up with the Potomac River which continues south past Washington DC into the Chesapeake Bay.
In town, you can see markers showing the flooding over the years. According to the earthcache, 1996 saw two floods of 29′ or more.
The C+O towpath looks like this for a long time. The canals (left) have gone unused, leaving stagnant water and algae pools. It’s dirt and generally fine on slightly-deflated 28C tires. (However, I would have preferred wider, especially later.)
Every few miles, the path opens up to a picnic area or local access. There are a series of towpath houses for the former operators of said towpath (when it was a thing). They have been preserved and are, apparently, rentable for overnight stays.
Continuing south, closer to Great Falls, MD, the locks are also in better shape, though not typically used for the original purpose. The park also gets very crowded and extremely difficult to ride on.
Inside Great Falls Park:
The most jarring experience was emerging from the C+O Towpath onto random Washington, DC, streets. The directions were hard to follow and I was soon relying on Garmin auto-route to get to the Washington Monument.
I was glad to get to the Hostel when I did because a presidential motorcade had occurred an hour later, severely delaying the rest of the group. Meanwhile, I enjoyed a good hosing off and pizza.
One of the local ride leaders offered to give us a nighttime tour of the Washington, DC monuments, something I could not pass up. This was the closest I’ve ever been to President Obama! There were some locals who apparently set up a kiosk on the street and extol their unique interpretation of Biblical Apocalypse.
Among the highlights were the Korean War Monument, with its subdued lighting. The facial expressions communicate a lot:
The size of the Vietnam Memorial was stunning. The names are ordered by year of death. The full moon reflecting on the bricks added a somber note.
What trip to DC would be complete without visiting Giant Abe?
Last stop before heading back to the Hostel was the Capitol Building. We had unencumbered access to bike around it.
Day 9: All good things…
The trip description originally suggested we’d be taking Amtrack back to DC, but nope, pile into the van, bikes on top, and drive. I think we were all pretty tired from being up so late, but the tour was totally worth it.
I hung out in Philadelphia airport watching the Washington – Philadelphia game in a sports bar with a local fan who seemed like an okay guy.