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We are known as PaWingers or just The Wingers by our Geocaching friends. When we found our first cache we had to come up with a name to log the find. We came up with this name simply because of residing in Pa. and because one of our many passions is cruising this beautiful country on our Honda Goldwing. Aside from geocaching we are passionate about most anything outdoors including hiking, kayaking, snowmobiling and biking. We are blessed beyond words with a wonderful son and daughter in law. We're also blessed with some terriffic family and friends. We consider ourselves very fortunate due to the fact that after being married over 40 years we still enjoy these things together.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Action at Rearguard Falls

Often times I find it rewarding to go back through pictures from a couple years back, not just to re-live great times but so often I see something that I didn't see when I originally loaded the pictures.  Such is the case here and it motivated me to do a new entry in Whoda' Thunk. 

Back in August of 2013, we spent a couple weeks in the Canadian Rockies and British Columbia.  Our furthest destination in the northwest direction on that trip took us to Mount Robson which happens to be the highest point in the Canadian Rockies.  While we did want to see Mt Robson, we also had hoped to visit the Fraser River and more specifically, Rearguard Falls.  On our way to Mt. Robson our spirits were slightly dampened because of rain and fog.  Early in the morning we came upon an Elk feeding on some delicious red berries.  I remember this morning very clearly because I can honestly say this is the first time I was ever chased by an Elk.  He definitely got my attention but fortunately he stopped the chase once he realized I took his warning seriously.  Here is the Elk that almost caused me to soil my under britches.  Don't let his cute face fool you.

So after escaping physical harm from a charging bull Elk, we continued toward Mt Robson.  Here we are entering British Columbia.

After the obligatory photo we headed to Mt. Robson with hopes of some great photo opportunities.  Unfortunately a low cloud ceiling masked the top of the mountain but we could still see it definitely is a tall mountain.  We ate breakfast at a little diner at the base of the mountain and our hope was that the clouds would clear so we could  see the top but that just wasn't going to happen this day. 

As we left the beauty of Mt Robson we headed a bit further west to a spot along the Fraser River called Rearguard Falls.  The story behind Rearguard Falls is quite fascinating.  This falls on the Fraser River is 800 miles from the Pacific Ocean and each year Chinook Salmon will make the three month journey to this spawning ground.  This falls will mark the end of their journey and only the strongest will complete the journey and they will lose one third of their body mass as they swim against the strong current to this location.  This arduous trip to their spawning grounds will also be their last as they will die here and their bodies will provide nutrients to local fish, birds and other mammals.  Sadly, we were a couple weeks too early to see the Chinooks, which also draws lots of Grizzlies to this buffet. 
We may not have seen the Chinooks at Rearguard Falls but we did witness a group of rafters and whitewater kayaks trying to recover a large inflatable raft that was lodged up into the rocks in strong current.  They had to use all kinds of ropes and rigging to rescue that raft.  The water was quite rough but the short whitewater kayaks handled it with ease.


And finally this photo brings me to the reason why I chose my Whoda' Thunk Blog for this post.  Here we are over two years from when we visited Rearguard Falls on the Fraser River and only now did I notice in one of my pictures that there actually was a lone Chinook Salmon swimming alongside this kayaker.  The paddler was concentrating on the whitewater and had no idea that this Chinook was swimming right by him and somehow we never saw this until just lately.  Whoda' Thunk!!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

2014 Meyersdale to Washington DC Bike Trip

Like anyone else, I hate rainy days and especially when it happens on a weekend.  But I suppose one must look at the upside of a rainy day.  It's a day to sit around, relax and maybe catch up on updating one of my Blogs.  I created and maintain two Blogs and it seems that my "Enjoying all that Nature Offers" gets the bulk of my attention and  "Whoda' Thunk" sits on the bench far too much.  With this being said, I have decided to make this Blog the recipient and gatekeeper of my newest post.

I have titled this post "2014 Meyersdale to Washington DC Bike Trip" for a specific reason.  That reason being, in 2014 we pedaled our mountain bikes from Meyersdale Pa. to Washington DC.  This was a trip that was long overdue and in my head for far too long.  I had planned this trip a few years back as a hotel and B&B trip with my wife.  We were putting the plan into place but it never materialized due to the trail suffering some devastating damage from flooding making several sections impassable.  Life went many different directions so I was forced to file the plan in a dark empty spot in my brain.  Fortunately, I have a fair amount of empty spots available so it sat dormant in this cranial cavity until late 2013 when I received a mental note asking if the data should be deleted or if I planned to revisit the plan.  Revisiting the plan was the only logical choice.

Late in 2013 I mentioned the plan to my wife but I told her that I had figured on camping along the trail.  Let's just say that when she heard sleeping in a tent along the trail without a shower, she told me to not figure on her making the trip.  It wasn't the long miles in the saddle, it wasn't the random eateries along the trail, it wasn't the bugs, or the heat or possible rain or mud.  It was pure and simple, if there wasn't a Holiday Inn or similar establishment at the end of each day, she wasn't going, end of discussion.  So my plan was underway as a solo trip.  Late in 2013 I casually mentioned the trip to my good buddy Jim McClelland whom I will refer to by his nickname "Muck".  I briefly told him about it and even asked if he might be interested.  He looked at me like I had one eye in the middle of my forehead, grunted something and that was pretty much it.  Much to my surprise, he called me the next day and said, "count me in".  I was surprised and happy to have a pedaling partner.

Over the next couple months I made plans and anxiously waited for the day of our departure.  I laid out distances and tried to take into consideration places we could eat and get supplies.  I had no idea how the trail would be and how far we could travel each day considering the heavy pack and panniers we would be traveling with.  Despite these unknowns, I planned based on 50-60 miles per day which ended up being a very attainable target.  I also planned so we wouldn't have to do any major backtracking for food or any significant miles off trail to get into trail towns.  This was important because we already had a decent agenda on our plate.  We later on found out that the agenda had constrictions because of a work conflict and the trip had to be completed on a certain day with no flexibility.  This ended up being no problem in the end.

We also used the remaining months to gather gear that we would need.  We would need a small tent, pad and sleeping bag that would pack rather compactly.  I purchased a Mummy Bag, took it home and it was immediately obvious that I don't fit well into a Mummy Bag.  Well, I did fit in the bag but I gave the term Mummy a whole new meaning.  I mean you could literally see my pulse when I was in that bag.  That bag was returned and the second one was a standard bag and this time I fit.  This still wasn't like my bed but I thought it would do.

The months seemed to move so slowly as we waited to get this adventure underway.  The plans were made, our gear was ready and we couldn't wait to get on the trail.  Two days before our departure, Muck threw his back out at work and while I felt so bad for him, I was still determined to go it alone.  Turns out he wasn't giving up and the night before the trip he called and told me he was still definitely going.  He was a trooper and I'm happy to say once he got in the saddle and started down the trail he was good to go and never had a problem the rest of the trip.  I was so happy that he was able to join me.

Our adventure went off without a hitch and it was a trip we will never forget.  We rode roughly 250 miles with 30 plus miles on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail and the balance on the C & O Canal Trail.  The C&O Canal Trail goes from Cumberland Md to Washington DC and is the actual towpath that the mules would walk on as they pulled the loaded barges through the flooded canals.  The trail system is actually National Park Service land and is a very historic trail. 

My initial plan was to really document this trip and take tons of pictures, possibly video with a GoPro and even record notes on a mini recorder.  I wanted to do that so I could write up a detailed story and cross reference mile markers and trail towns.  A couple weeks prior to our departure I tossed those plans to the wind.  I decided that all this detailed documentation was apt to degrade the real purpose of this trip which was to put stress behind, put paperwork behind, and instead embrace nature and the ride.  With that being said, I will just post pictures and note anything worth noting below each picture.  If I can recall where the picture was taken, I will include that.  So here we go!

 This is where our journey began.  We are in Meyersdale Pa at an awesome RR Station / Visitors Center.  We left our truck there.  Can't wait to head down the trail.  We will be pedaling 31 miles from here to Cumberland on the GAP Trail and then pick up the
C & O Canal Trail.

This is an old iron bridge that is now solely used for biking.

 We were pedaling a slight uphill grade since we left Meyersdale and have reached the Eastern Continental Divide.  The water on this side of the line will flow into the Gulf of Mexico and all water on the other side will flow into the Chesapeake Bay.  I squirted a little water onto the trail and it pretty much just sat there like it couldn't decide. 

 Here is an elevation chart on the wall inside the tunnel..It shows elevation changes from Pittsburgh to DC.  We will be enjoying a nice fast downhill grade from here to Cumberland.  After that, it's pretty much flat.  That may sound good but that means there will be no climbs that will reward you with a fast downhill. It also means that you will be pedaling a constant cadence which can tear up the legs if you don't change the pace now and then.  It means also that you will be pedaling non stop for the next 185 miles.  Kinda' puts a different perspective on things, doesn't it.
 This is Muck on the Frostburg side of the Eastern Continental Divide.  The murals are awesome!

 Muck is just entering the first of 5 tunnels that we will be biking through.  This tunnel is one of two that are lighted.  This one is well over 3/4 mile long and the temperature will drop 15 degrees in there which felt great.  We also realized that the tunnel is on a downhill grade as we were cruising over 20 mph through there.  They put a lot of money into restoring this tunnel so there are huge doors that allow them to close it off during the winter months to protect it from ice damage.
 Muck stopped not far from the entrance for a picture.
 At this point the far end appears as just a small bright spot.
 This is what we were treated to immediately after exiting the Big Savage Tunnel.
 We saw literally hundreds of these.
 We stopped here for a break.  What a beautiful view!  We also met a fella here that we ran into a couple day later.  We had lunch with him and we rode together for about 40 miles.  Very nice fella!
 This would be the Mason Dixon Line.  There are a couple interpretive signs here which we really found interesting.

This is my trusty ride loaded down pretty well.  We ran into a few people on the trail that asked where we were headed.  We would say DC and they would comment that we were doing it the hard way with mountain bikes.  Oh well, we rode what we owned.
 Very interesting sign.  Years ago they used these large linked chains for surveying and measuring long distances. That would be unheard of these days.
 The thin bronze strip is actually the border marker of the Mason Dixon Line.
 Hard to see but that far ridge is lined with windmills.
 This is a short tunnel called the Brush Tunnel.
 We are just entering an area called the Narrows.
 At this point we are nearing Cumberland.
 This is the Trail Inn which is along the trail in Frostburg.  We stopped here the first night for a delicious burger.  We pulled our loaded bikes into a bike rack and headed inside to order.  As we waited for our food, Mucks bike tipped over and due to the heavy weight it bent the front rim.  We ended up removing the wheel and taking it over to the railroad tracks and jumped on it to get it straight enough to get to Cumberland.  Actually we got it good enough that Muck said it rode great.  What a way to start the trip.
This is the turntable in Frostburg.  It's used for the tourist steam engine to turn around and head back to Cumberland.  The engine unhooks from the cars, pulls onto the table, it rotates and the engine pulls away onto another rail and gets back in front of the waiting cars.  Very cool to watch!
 Muck taking a break at Canal Place in Cumberland.  We just went to a trailside bike store to true up his bent rim a bit better than we did using our crude methods.  They fixed us right up.

 This is Mile 0 for the Great Allegheny Passage Trail and where we pick up the C & O Canal Trail that we will ride for the next 185 miles.

 Goodbye Cumberland.  We still have 10 or 15 miles to go to get to our campsite.

 This is one of the many Locks and Lockhouses that are scattered frequently along the length of this trail.
 Home sweet home for the night.  The campsites are basically clearing in the trees along the trail.  There may be a fire ring and one picnic table and perhaps a stinky porta potty.  Typically there will be a hand operated water pump.  The water that we pumped here was loaded with iron and as all the water sources, they lace it with iodine which doesn't really make it a tasty drink.  It does make it safe though, so we drank it.
 This is what the canal looks like and where the barges would run.  We saw tons of turtles in this stagnant water and lots of other waterfowl.
This sign was in the village called Oldtown.  We got off the trail near Oldtown and went in search of an eatery called The Schoolhouse.  It's an old school that is no longer used and there is a small eatery in one of the large rooms.  We had a great breakfast there and got to wash up a bit to get off a layer of trail dirt.  We actually washed our hair in the small sink.  Hey, you make do with whatever you got.
 This is the entrance to the Paw Paw  Tunnel.  This is a nasty long tunnel.  Muck walked some of it because his headlamp wasn't giving him enough light to make it safe.  The riding surface is uneven and very narrow.  This tunnel is on a curve and is completely dark in the center.  Two bikes can barely pass each other with loaded panniers.
 I shot this pic of Muck at the start of the tunnel.  The trail looks smooth but trust me, it isn't.  If you crash, you either smash into the wall or end up over the rail and into the water. 
 Here's Muck riding out of the end of the Paw Paw.  Just a little distance inside this tunnel he hit a bad hole and ended up smashing into the wall.
We stopped for a water break after making it through the Paw Paw.  Definitely our least favorite tunnel  of the 5 tunnels that we had to ride through.

 The two pictures above were taken in the little town of Little Orleans at a back country tavern called Bills Place.  This has been an important stop along the canal trail for many years,  Bill passed away a few years back but fortunately his son has kept it running.  We had great burgers there and then headed back to the trail.
 Just stopped for a break along the trail.
 Very cool rock formation.  It's impossible to tell the scale of this but a few people could stand in this.

 Had to get a shot of this since Mucks name is Jim McClelland.
 Very small Lock House.

 The two pics above show a narrow concrete ledge that we had to ride on.  Too much to the right and you end up in the Potomac river.  Just before this section we rode a section that was closed due to flooding.  The Park Service had it barricaded but we went around the barricades because we came to ride the entire distance and that's what we were going to do.  It was only a couple miles of mud and ruts.
This is actually a Visitor Center in Williamsport .  We had to climb a steep hill into town to eat a great breakfast.  It was well worth the climb and they were so gracious as to fill our water bottles with water and ice.  It tasted so good. 
 There were a few places along the trail that we either had to jump a fallen branch or carry our bike around.

Just a couple shots taken at Big Slackwater. 
 This was an awesome section of trail.  Once again, you had to pay attention or you could end up in the Potomac.  Apparently the terrain was too limiting for a normal trail surface so they had to construct this very expensive concrete boardwalk for a couple miles.
 This was one of the few muddy and rutted sections of trail.  The trail varied in width from pretty wide and down to a narrow singletrack.
 We are now arriving at Harpers Ferry and at this point the Shenandoah merges with the Potomac.
 We chose to take a short stroll across this viaduct over to Harpers Ferry.
 At Harpers Ferry the Appalachian Trail parallels the C & O for a short distance.

 There's way too much to say about Harpers Ferry which is a quaint little historic town built into a steep hillside.  There could be a post written on this subject all by itself.
 Very old bridge going across the Potomac but it seems to have aged nicely.
 Even these Pigeons like it.

This is our new friend Mark.  We met him on the trail up by Big Savage Tunnel and we ended up eating lunch together and traveling 40 miles with him.  He was with us when we got dumped on by a torrential downpour and thunder and lightning.  We took refuge in Lock House 22 and Marks wife ended up picking him up there and hauled him back to their home which is below DC.  She was very nice and brought us some Yuengling to have with our pizza.
 You might think this is a Smurf or some kind of alien, but it's Muck running in the rain for our pizza.  We called a local pizza shop and asked if they would deliver to the trailhead.  They said they would but we would have to walk over and get it.  Muck volunteered because he looked the best in the blue poncho.  I'm certain you agree.  I asked if we could bribe the driver to bring us a 6 pack but the owner of the shop said that wasn't going to happen. 
All of the pictures below are from the Lockhouse that we spent the night in to escape the storm.  Yes, it was dry, but that's pretty much everything positive I can say about it.  It smelled dusty and musty and caused my allergies to scream.  The bed's we slept on were stuffed with straw.  The cellar was dark and damp and there were spiders so big that they could have trailer hitches and could pull RV's.  And don't think for a moment that there was electricity or running water.  You would be wrong.  Actually, if there would have been a covered porch, we would have pitched our tents outside.  But hey, I supposed it was good enough for Grover Cleveland so it was good enough for us.

Pretty fancy place, isn't it!!!
 There were many surprises along the canal such as this.
 Beautifully restored building along the canal.
 They have restored this barge and will offer short rides along the canal.
 The water was muddy and roaring at Great Falls.
 The scenery went from the rushing waters at Great Falls to this peaceful trailside lake in a matter of a couple hundred yards.  The early morning fog hadn't lifted yet as we stopped to capture the beauty.
 We arrived at Mile 0 in Georgetown well before noon and we felt great.  Yes, we were a bit grimy and probably didn't smell to great but we finished our journey.  As an added bonus, we were greeted at Mile 0 by our good friend, brother Mark.  He drove down from Maryland to greet us and we were so happy to share this awesome moment with him.. Thanks brother Mark. 

So, the adventure is over and our dream trip was everything we had hoped for and far more.  We will have the memories forever and will hold us over until our next adventure and there will be one.  As far as regrets, yes I have a few.  I wish I would have taken more pictures but we got focused more on the ride than taking pictures.  I wish we would have taken the time to ride through the monuments at the National Mall.  I wish we would have talked to the girl we saw in Meyersdale that was traveling across the US.  All in all, that's very minor regrets.  As far as a traveling partner, I couldn't have asked for a better companion than Muck.  Thanks Muck for an awesome ride!!!  I have one more regret and that is not sharing this amazing time on the trail with my wife.  She supported me through the planning and the time away but it would have been great to have her with us.  If you ever get the chance for bike touring , I can highly recommend this ride.  You will not be disappointed.