At 7:30 AM I was packing up at Brunswick Family Campground when the last of the tour’s “day riders” rolled in. Scrap Metal, a regular poster to the Clydesdale Forum, joined me for the trip from Brunswick to White’s Ferry. His screen name comes from his beater bike, a ride he salvaged from a dumpster. 

If the bike looks muddy in the photo above, it’s because the towpath was still saturated from the rain the day before. In addition to mud patches, there were large puddles of standing water. My bike and trailer had little choice at times other than plowing straight through them. At times I was pushing my smallest gears simply to maintain any forward motion. 

Scrap was a delightful conversationalist, and a good distraction from the horrible trail conditions. Born and raised in what is now the Czech Republic, he recently became a US citizen. I have a strong interest in Czech history and culture, and Scrap is still trying to figure out the US, so it seemed every time I had a question on the Velvet Revolution he had one on, say, Jefferson or Madison and the Constitution. I can’t imagine what it seemed to passers-by, my riding along talking about US history with a fellow who sounded like Boris Badenov. 

We took a couple of short breaks, including one for a flat on Scrap’s bike just north of White’s Ferry:

At White’s Ferry I said goodbye to Scrap, and he headed back north to his car. I had lunch at the general store at the ferry. Four of my fellow group riders came in as I was eating with their own tales of the towpath. I had been spared a broken spoke and falls they suffered. 

In fact, other than the fact my drybag hadn’t been sealed properly and water had gotten in, I’d not had any major troubles on the towpath. Even the leak didn’t cause major damage. Aside from throwing out my oatmeal and not having any socks to wear, I was OK.

The general store at White’s Ferry doesn’t have potable water, so I set off for the next hiker/biker site to fill up. I was soon passed by the four riders I’d seen at lunch. Trail conditions had been improving, so I expected them to continue to do so to DC. 

I was wrong.

The trail was in even worse shape than before. From White’s Ferry to milepost 20, a stretch of about 15 miles, took me three hours to cover. I had to stop repeatedly to clear mud from the brakes. At one point I dragged the bike up under a cistern pump at one of the hiker/biker sites and pumped water onto the brakes, wheels, and drivetrain to clear them. And every time I stopped I was set upon by flies and other bloodsucking bugs. And every time I rode I’d have mudpuddles to ride through. 

The slog continued. I fell twice. Both times there was a small embankment to stop me, and I never came off the bike, but that rattled me, in every sense of the word. 

Finally I reached milepost 20. The surface began to improve here, and I was leaving the wooded area and entering the ‘tourist’ section. I sat on the grass, took off my shoes, and ate trail mix and drank water from the pump. I noticed the blisters forming on my feet and regretted my decision to not wear socks wet with trail water. And I calculated the miles remaining. 

Food and water gone, feet rested, I saddled up. I had a job to finish. My experience on the trail last August paid off, for I knew there were many locks in the remaining 20 miles, which meant the trail had a good downward slope into DC. I also knew where the stopping points were, and how fast I could ride on the surface. And off I went. For the first time this trip I matched my speed from August 2008 – 11 MPH. I buzzed by Great Falls, and in less than two hours I was at the Capital Crescent Trail. 

I followed the CCT to the Key Bridge. I was tired, sunburnt, blistered, and showing signs of bonking, and I walked the heavy bike up the hill to the bridge. As I drew stares from elegantly dressed Georgetown natives, I noticed my rear wheel was wobbling. I decided the wobble had been there for a while, so I could ride across the bridge and address the problem in Arlington. 

I wobbled into rush hour traffic and pulled up at a light next to a cyclist on a hybrid. He wore the uniform of a commuter escaping ‘casual Friday’ at work – jeans, sport shirt, helmet, and a dorky reflective strap around his right ankle. I instantly felt at home.

“I’m glad to see you. I’ve spent a week on the trail and I’m lost. Can you help me get across the bridge?”

“Follow me” he said as the light changed. Off we went with three lanes of traffic, and I was over the river. He wished me well as I took off the trailer to get to the rear wheel. 

As soon as I looked at the quick release I discovered the problem. The QR had become loosened. It could have happened anywhere, but one of my two falls that afternoon was the probable source of the trouble. I put the wheel back on, tightened the QR, and spun. I held my breath. The wheel was true.

The rest of the group, including my host ALHanson, was waiting for me uphill at the Hyatt Regency. I walked up and was greeted by my fellow tour riders. As they set off for a raw fish place I went to a Quiznos across the street. I couldn’t wait to get served food and fluid, and sushi wouldn’t fill me. I may have appeared uncivil to some folks, but bonking makes me not only hungry and thirsty, but irritable and paranoid. 

Later, I sat at the entrance to the Hyatt waiting for ALHanson to retrieve his car so my bike, trailer, and I could get to his place, drink, wash, drink again, and sleep. Having food in me my paranoid thoughts of spending the night on the streets of Arlington faded. And soon enough AL and his car were here.