It rained all night.

The look on Spinnaker’s face as he emerged from his tent into the cold rain probably summed up the feelings of many ride participants that morning. I wasn’t bothered by it, since I’d toured in the rain before and ridden the C & O when it was muddy. However, I was concerned about trail conditions. Ride members had been hearing reports of horrible surfaces on the towpath since our second day on the GAP, and Judy and I had to work to quash a mood of panic building in the group. With these thoughts I quickly packed alongside everyone else.

I headed out with VT_Speed_TR and Twodeadpoets. At first I rode with them to get back to Canal Place, since I wasn’t familiar with the route, but then as I passed Daisy the Mule I decided I’d try to hang with the faster folks. Perhaps their speed was kept down by trail conditions, or my familiarity with the towpath caused me to ride faster than I should, but I was able to hang with the stronger riders for almost two miles. Once beyond Cumberland the trail surface deteriorates, and I decided to slow down. I had nothing to prove by riding fast, and trying to ride beyond my limits for the sake of others had caused me enough problems on this tour. I slowed, stopped where I needed to, and took photos of the wet trail.

JAGraham was waiting at a road crossing about ten miles out. I advised her that I’d spread word among the group about the Schoolhouse Kitchen in Oldtown, 16 miles from Cumberland, and that probably riders were going to congregate there to warm up. She headed off to there, and I rode on. The rain picked up, and I began to sing to myself to give me courage.

“When you ride through the storm keep your chin up high,
and don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm is a golden sky…..”

I calculated that riding the 60 miles to Hancock at my current rate of speed would mean I’d arrive after dark, barring any mechanical or physical mishaps. I looked at my wet bike, the trail, and rode off the towpath at Oldtown with a decision made. 

The Schoolhouse Kitchen is a little diner in the former high school of Oldtown, known for cheap, good, basic food. It was known for wet and muddy cyclists as our group filtered in. 

I spoke with someone, perhaps Spinnaker, about my plans.

“I’m not going further. Judy said she’d take me to Hancock by car. I have nothing to prove by riding 60 miles in the rain on bad trail surfaces. I’ve done the towpath twice before.” If this had been a solo tour, I’d have cut the mileage for the day and stayed at Paw Paw, 15 miles away, at one of the bed and breakfasts in town, or found another way around the problem. But I felt the need to stay with the group. I spent a few hours drying out in Oldtown as the rest of the group rode off. Spinnaker leads a few folks out in the rain:

Judy wound up transporting three riders that day. I arrived at the motel in Hancock as other riders began to pull in, full of horrible stories about the trail. One fellow nearly fell into the canal. Another crashed into a lockhouse wall. Judy and I worked to calm frazzled nerves and prepare a road route for the next day so folks could avoid the towpath. 

Meanwhile, we all needed food, and so Judy began to take people to Weaver’s in Hancock for dinner. The fit was tight in her car, but by taking folks in shifts and sticking joel2old in the back she made it work.

After dinner Judy, apparently now the group leader, plotted a road route for the riders to get to Harper’s Ferry, the next night stop. I’d already plotted my route, which differed from theirs. I went to bed about 10:00 PM, hoping for better weather tomorrow.