“If you’re not here for the stories,” my fellow cyclist and adventurer explained, “you might as well turn around and go back right now. . . If you don’t have adversity, it’s not gonna make an imprint on your mind.”
We mounted our heavily loaded mountain bikes, in a small parking lot in Parkersburg, WV. The start of the trail ran along white fences, and horses in the fields and barns, along the old B&O Railroad bed. The plan was to ride North Bend Rail Trail for 50 of its 72 miles, camp for the night, and make the return trip the next day. Tents, sleeping pads, and blankets filled saddle bags, along with food, cooking equipment, and plenty of water, adding extra weight.
We’d be spending the night at a small campsite along the trail. A sheltered picnic table and cooking area was the main structure, with plenty of grassy area for the footprint of our seven 1-2 man tents. There was a hole in the ground that served as the bathroom, but we were glad for the outhouse and its 2 rolls of toilet paper on hand.
The trail is designed for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. It’s spring, early in the riding season, and opening day of the trail. As someone new to riding anything but city streets and paved trails on my hybrid, I would soon learn exactly that that meant. I gave another small, silent “thank you” for the borrowed Salsa Fargo I’d be riding, with its wide tires, disc brakes and sturdy frame.
We were never alone on the trail! There were tadpoles and a salamander in the stream along the trail, a stunning, all white albino peacock in a large chain-link enclosure, with chickens and ducks as “roommates”, and there was no shortage of goats, cows, horses and miniature ponies watching us roll by on two wheels. We weren’t always rolling past with much speed, and the brightest among the animals may have been puzzled by the grunts and groans we emitted from time to time.
I recalled a piece of advice given to me by a fellow rider when I was a new cyclist, attempting my first 100 mile ride. Eat! Every time we stopped to take a rest or water break, I was instructed to eat something, just to get some calories in, even if I didn’t feel hungry. The one time I had ignored that advice (we had just stopped for a pretty big lunch, only 10 – 15 miles back!) I suffered. I hit a wall, and had no energy left to pedal. Since then, I eat – trail mix, PB&J sandwiches, salted nuts, fruit and PowerBars – every chance I get.
Our midday stop, to eat a more substantial lunch, was in the town of Cairo, WV. I sought out the local market to see what I could find. What I first came across, the Rail Trail Market, was closed for business, and so were 75% of the shops, restaurants and offices in town. We ended up in Country Trails Bikes aka Cairo Supply Company, which seemed to specialize in an eclectic mix of items with a long shelf life.
This trail is famous for its tunnels, long enough that you need a bike light, head lamp, or trusted friend to get to the other end. The shop is 3 miles from Tunnel #13, and 3 miles from the legendary haunted Tunnel #19, by trail, according to their Facebook page. At 2:50 pm on April 8th, the day we rode, the shop shared on its social media page: “Trails Opening Day and the trail is bustling with bikers!” I suspect that was us.
In the shop, some shelves were bare, while others teemed with merchandise, possibly based on the economic laws of supply and demand. It was hard to tell – there didn’t seem to be a lot of competition in town, but the supply company did supply a lot of donuts, a variety of baking goods, and I did find a single bunch of bananas, on an otherwise empty fruit stand. A couple of fellow shoppers were very pleased to uncover a dusty set of playing cards – they would have entertainment at their campsite that night! The attendant turned on her scale, to weigh my banana, and was kind enough not to charge me for using a credit card to pay, just this once, since it was my first time there.
She encouraged us to help ourselves to the literature available near the front of the store, including brochures and local newspapers, with advertisements for local attractions. Cairo was far more populated than some of the other areas we passed through, so I imagine there was more to do there than ride bikes. I’ll have to read up, and perhaps we’ll return one day to explore.
We used the restrooms at the shop before we left, because we weren’t always guaranteed to find facilities, other than mother nature, for some time. Earlier in the day we’d sweet-talked our way into a government building, at closing time, just as the American flag was being lowered. (The location of this stop will remain undisclosed, to protect the government worker who put his job on the line to accommodate a desperate group of cyclists.
I’m thinking, for my summer trip to Glacier National Park I need to think seriously about visiting the Go-girl website, manufacturers of a feminine urination device that lets you go anywhere, because “Life’s greatest adventure shouldn’t be finding a bathroom.” There’s even a camouflage / khaki model, which sells for the same price as the pink version. The company’s slogan: “Don’t take life sitting down.”
Further along the trail, we were met by Cole, just when we needed him. He was a local resident, working at the edge of his property. His sweet, energetic (and very strong) Pit-bull mix, Ruby, ran circles around us, sitting at our feet, begging for our attention, and playfully assuming the “Down Dog” pose, just hoping we’d stick around and play. I’d forgotten to mention the dogs we encountered along the trail, big & small, chained up & running free, in the dog house & threatening to end up in our spokes.
Cole chatted with us for a while, about the trail, his trailer that he said was in deperate need of replacing. He told us a bit about his life in WV, letting it slip that just that morning he and his wife had learned that they were pregnant with their first child, after years of trying. With a shy grin, a slight blush, and his dimple prominent, he realized: “You’re the first people I’ve told!”
At this point in the ride, about 6 – 7 miles from camp, some of us were losing our momentum, crashing from not putting enough calories into our bodies, despite the frequent stops for snacks. Cole recognized this, and ran inside to grab small containers of Jell-O and fruit cups. He offered to let us rest there, but it was getting late in the day, and we worried we might not make it to camp before dark.
Sometimes you must calmly assess your situation, consider your options, and make a choice about what your body can handle. For a beginner, it’s best not to put yourself in situations that don’t leave you an exit plan of some kind. My aim had been to get in a practice bikecamping trip, prior to Glacier National Park. I got more than that!
I got a wakeup call! I got an education in everything from packing my bags to how to repack a lightweight sleeping blanket, into a compression sac that seems two sizes too small for what you are trying to squeeze into it. I learned the importance of keeping food, and other items you might need on short notice, in easially accessible packs. I also gained some real motivation to get out there and ride, to push myself on longer and more difficult rides, and to ride even when I don’t much feel like it.
Finally at camp, aware that I was out of my league with this unfamiliar terrain, I knew, even before we climbed into our tents that night, that I’d need to make alternate plans in the morning. We slept to the sounds of nature, some relaxing, and others a bit disturbing. Brought awake by the cold of early morning and the daylight hitting our tents, the group gathered over hot coffee or oatmeal. I could have one at a time, since I’d brought just one camp mug, to conserve weight and space. We shared stories from the day before, and projected ideas about what Day 2 would bring, taking on the return trip of 50 miles.
Though I chose not to ride the 50 miles back the next day, I did not take a day off. I waited for others in the group to finish the ride, and return to pick me up. Locally, I rode 25 miles, on dry portions of the path, on the pavement of quiet, rural & small town West Virginia, and on backcountry gravel roads that wound through the hills. I created my own ride, my own gravel grind!
I also hiked the woods, jumped a creek, and scrambled over fallen trees, enjoying nature and breathing in the musty, wooded air. I climbed through the forest, to the top of a hill, across the bike path from our camp shelter. It was a climb, especially on tired legs!
At the top was a winding dirt road, leading to an old house with boarded windows; it looked abandoned, but was home to the dog that had been howling all night. He must not have liked the smell of “weekend warriors”, asleep in our tents, a little too close to his territory.
Outside of the local Shop & Save, I leaned my bike against the front of the building while I resupplied my daily fuel and water. The locals were friendly, asking where we’d ridden in from, checking out our heavily laden bikes, and curious as to why we’d attempt such a challenging ride. It was clear from snippets of conversation that just about everyone knew just about everyone else.
“Hey Jimbo! Where was you? You wasn’t at church this morning.”
“I didn’t have nothing to eat!”
“You got nothing to eat? Well you come to the right place!”
Outside of the grocery was the local community board, with postings for housekeeping assistance, lawnmower parts for sale, and church services. There was also a full color flyer, with photo headshot included, offering male companionship, and a handwritten sign announcing Friday night karaoke at the local bar, Back When.
It took a minute for my eyes to adjust to the smoky darkness of the bar. A sort hallway led from the door, propped open in welcome, to the local handout. My fellow cyclist, who’d also stayed back on day 2, and I dragged our bikes in behind us, asking to leave them leaning against a tall stack of flattened beer cases, while we had a drink .There was NASCAR on the TV, and I spotted Elvis, Budweiser, and the American flag on the walls.
Smoking at the bar, the bartender had at least a dozen short braids sticking out from under a Honda ball cap and her American flag bandana, folded and wrapped around her forehead. Her oversized, black, West Coast Choppers hoodie was pushed up to her elbows, to reveal a dozen tattoos, and her baggy jeans hung a bit low, with her pocket knife clipped to the outside of her pocket. She walked around the bar with authority, and a sense of comfort and familiarity, in her black combat boots.
“I got all sucky drivers!” she said, gesturing towards the TV with the hand her cigarette was in, “I’m not gonna get any points.” Blaney, in 1st, must not have been on her Fantasy NASCAR team.
John, who seemed to be the local mechanic, was asking about setting his tab. The look we’d received, puzzled but not hostile, suggested that we’d taken his regular seat at the bar. The bar tender went straight to the fridge, without asking, bringing him a cold bottle of Bud. “That one’s on Frank”, she said. Frank was sitting at the far corner of the bar, drinking a tall vodka and pineapple. It took a while to decipher how much John’s tab was; the bartender squinted, to make out the meaning of her notes, scribbled on a ragged strip of register tape. It was $17, in the end, and he settled before we left.
The bartender was telling stories of her own adventures the previous night, bemoaning “Too much Tequila Rose and beer!” Cashing us out, she was already inviting us back: “Come back and see us on your way back through town sometime. We’re the only little bar in town, so you can’t miss us!” We might just have to do that on our next trip. There is karaoke on Fri. nights, after all, along with a jukebox and 2 pool tables.
Reminders for 5-Day Glacier Bikepacking Trip:
Bring sunblock!! (Really! I’m Irish, and now I have a patch of sunburn from halfway up my forearm, where my ¾ length sleeves ended, to my wrist, where my cycling gloves started. My lower calves, between the end of my leggings and the start of my socks, are also a little pink.)
Add “feed bags” up front, on my handle bars. (So I don’t have to store my cell phone in my sports bra.)
Pack light weight, warm, but easily compactible layers. (These features don’t always go together.) Take warm layers into tent before bed (Yeah. . . enough said.)
Pack “better” sunglasses (Excuse the way my bike helmet cocks mine upward.)
Keep moving, even when you don’t want to. . . especially then.
I have a lot of training to do over the next 2 months, but I got on my bike at 7 am Monday morning, before work, to do 7 miles in and around my Clintonville neighborhood, and fulfill my #30DaysOfBiking commitment. By comparison to what I conquered over the weekend, it was the easiest 7 miles I’ve ever ridden.
Join me on my next Adventure!
(Final photo credit, of me, goes to Tim Christy)
Country Trails Bikes (aka The Cairo Supply Co.) Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pg/Country-Trails-Bikes-The-Cairo-Supply-Co-102471656513083/about/
Salsa Cycles: http://salsacycles.com/bikes
Tequila Rose: http://www.liquor.com/brands/tequila-rose/#gs.8mE_Huo