Day 6: Harper’s Ferry, WV (45 miles)
I had decided to sleep in again a bit today, partly out of a reluctance to leave Berkeley Springs any earlier than I had to. When I woke up, it turned out that that decision made sense for a number of reasons, the most obvious of which was that it was thunder storming out at the moment.
And so, I packed up my things, had another wonderful breakfast, and once the rain had let up, I set out on the road. The road out of Berkeley Springs was a gradual incline that turned into a couple of long, steep ascents. From there, the ride turned into some lovely rolling terrain that occasionally went through some beautiful forested areas. At times the roads were curvy and the descents felt like riding a roller coaster. This, combined with the fact that the weather was overcast and not as hot as it had been on other legs of the trip, though, due to the rain, it was more humid than it had been.
After one last, long incline into the town of Hedgesville, built for some reason at the top of a large hill (I mean, what is this Edoras?), the route turned into a long downhill and then turned into relatively flat going after that with some uphills, but much easier and shorter. After crossing I-81 the terrain eventually turned into broad farmland that at times looked like an Andrew Wyeth painting. Or maybe it was N.C. Wyeth. Who was it who painted that painting of the woman lying in the field with the barn in the background? I am pretty sure I biked past that barn.
The rest of the road was pretty easy and enjoyable, but suddenly it began to rain. At first it was light and enjoyable, especially considering the heat and the wind of previous days. But then suddenly, the skies opened up and I got soaked. That, in itself is not a big deal, but the road becomes a whole lot more difficult to bike when it rains and your bike is laden with an extra 30-40 pounds in gear. There was a some kind of building next to me that had an overhang near the parking lot. So, I turned into the parking lot and wound up standing under the awning of the Fellowship Bible Church. A woman working in the office came out and invited me in to stay dry and wash up in the rest room. A few minutes later, a church volunteer came by and wound up talking with me for a few minutes about my trip before taking me to the kitchen to get me some ice and water for my water bottles. Finally the rain let up and I got underway again, grateful to my hosts. I guess I was hoping to have had that kind of experience at one of the United Methodist Churches I’d stopped at on the other legs of my journey, but I’d never found anyone at them. Oh well, next bike trip perhaps.
As I turned onto US-340 headed toward Harpers Ferry, the rain let up completely and I was making good time. There was one last, large hill that I had to climb and I was getting psyched up to make the ascent, when suddenly I heard that whhit-whitt-whitt sound and looked down and saw another flat tire. About 500 feet behind me was a farm stand and flea market grounds so I turned and walked back down the shoulder to the farm stand to effect repairs.
I’d like to pause here for a moment to talk about shoulders on roadways. When I tell people that I’m making a trip like this they’ll ask how I can ride on country roads with no shoulder, etc. But, I have to say, that between the two-lane country roads with 6-inch gap between the white line and the edge of the road and the four-lane road with wide shoulders, I’ll take the country lane. People are already driving more slowly, on the lookout for sudden turns in the roadway, the surface is smooth and easy to bike, and in my experience, the motorists are generous and thoughtful when it comes to passing. But on the larger roads with wide shoulders, there is nothing slowing down the drivers and the shoulders themselves are full of gravel and other debris. In fact, I am convinced that the two flat tires I’ve had have been the result of something I rode over in just such a shoulder. So, unless the states are going to start spending resources on clearing out the shoulders, I’ll take the country lanes. Oh, and while we’re on the subject, there’s a awful lot of roadkill on the roads in Virginia and West Virginia, and much of it has been there a while—some were down to skeletons. And a fair number of snakes, which seemed unusual to me. Anyway, back to our story…
So, I asked the farm stand proprietors if I could use one of the empty flea market tables to fix my bike and they said that would be fine. So, I went back and performed a tire patching job on my back tire. I checked the inside of the tire near where the hole in the tube had been and there was nothing, only a small hole. So, I placed a patch on the tube but was having trouble getting it to inflate. That’s when I noticed the second, larger hole in the tube. So I just threw the tube away and broke out one of the spares I had with me. I put that tube on and got back underway and headed back up that hill. On the other side of that hill was a nice 7% downgrade, but I wasn’t really able to enjoy it because I kept hearing the same whitt-whitt-whitt sound. I couldn’t believe it. But fortunately, the hotel was at the bottom of the hill, so I turned into the lot, and as I did, I noticed that whenever the tire would go through a puddle, little bubbles would come out.
So, after I got my room, I took the tire off again. I realized right away that while I had checked the tire where the first hole in the tube had been, I never checked the tire at the point where the second larger hole had been found. While there was nothing in the hole sticking out (nail, staple, piece of glass, etc.) the tire had been significantly damaged such that the whole itself was probably what caused the puncture in the tube. So, this time I patched both the tube and the tire and they seem to be holding. They just have to get me home to DC tomorrow down the towpath.
After I fixed the tire, I took a much needed shower and walked the mile into town to have dinner at the Secret Six Tavern in Harper’s Ferry, a favorite dinning destination of the AU Methodists whenever we’re on retreat at Camp Manidokan in Maryland across the river. While there I met a cyclist couple who were on a trip from Pittsburgh to the Atlantic. They’ve done trips like this all across the country and flew to Pittsburgh to make the trip. They’re the first cyclists besides myself that I’ve seen this entire trip. They’re on the way to D.C. for the next leg of their journey. I have no idea what time they’re leaving tomorrow but already the competitive streak in me has been triggered and I want to pass them on the trail at some point tomorrow. We’ll see. Given that tomorrow is along a familiar, flat (hopefully not too rain-soaked and muddy) tree-shaded trail that ends at my apartment, I don’t have to leave too early and can sleep in as late as I want to on Friday to rest up.
It’s hard to believe that I am one day away from finishing this 340 mile trek. Only 66 miles and my second summer bike trip will be at an end. Alright, off to relax before my final leg.