By Seth Gernot
It was the best of ideas, it was the worst of ideas. Well, at least it was an idea. Pictured above are two people that are having fun, right?
Fun isn’t the right word. It was a combination of fun, pain, and pain. We still can’t figure out who had the idea to ride to DC in 24 hours on a tandem…
The last you may have heard from us, Rebecca and I were poised for our trip. The support crew was ready, the gear was all set, and the weather was looking beautiful. The start was set for 7:30 a.m. at Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh.
I don’t know about you, but I get pretty excited before big events. My inner child gets all wound up. Sometimes sleep is hard to come by when you’re on the precipice of something big. So, I figured drinking a single bottle of beer around 9 p.m. the night before would help usher in a couple of sinking eyelids.
Instead of grabbing a bottle opener I took a shortcut and popped the top off with my multi-tool. I’m not very good at this maneuver. Not very good at all. In fact, in one quick motion the cap flew off, the multi-tool broke the bottle, and the big knuckle on my right index finger drove into the newly shattered bottle. It was bad, quite bad. And the timing was awful. I needed sleep more than stitches. So, gauze and a duct tape was all that was used to stop the bleeding.
The next morning Rebecca inquired about the liberal use of duct tape on my now swollen hand. I admitted that the cut was pretty serious, but the show must go on. I decided then that a full-fingered glove would be placed over the hand and not removed until we reached Washington D.C.
As you can tell from the statements above, I am not a doctor. But, I can ride a bike and I’m kinda stubborn, so let’s continue and see what happened next.
Promptly at 7:30 a.m. we departed from Point State Park. A small crowd of friends and well-wishers had arrived to see us off. Four people were on bikes and were ready to escort us out of the city. The start was a bit slow, as the first mile from Point State Park to the Eliza Furnace Trail is not completed. Traffic lights on the Boulevard of the Allies are too plentiful, so we chose a path through the Mon Wharf and wiggled our way through traffic, catching a light or two at just the right time. Once on the trail our cycling friends turned up the steam. We were breaking the 15mph speed limit all over the place. It was great, and not so great all at the same time. In the back of my mind I knew we didn’t need to go that fast. We needed to save some of this energy for the wee hours of the night.
Not only was my right hand essentially useless, it was also very painful. So much so that it had to be lifted off the bars whenever we traveled over a bump. Hundreds of times my right hand raised as we bounced over roads, empty puddles, culverts, and railroad tracks. The Paw Paw Tunnel, with it’s narrow corridor and chunky surface was a slow grueling slog. Rebecca had to take on double or triple duty. She opened up water bottles and food packaging for me while working to keep tunes in our ears in the middle of the night. But, from the back seat she couldn’t steer, brake, or shift for us. Luckily the trail is quite level, so there wasn’t much shifting or braking necessary, until the deer and antelope came out to play.
Nighttime is play time for our hoofed friends on the C&O Canal Towpath. Having heard about out trip in the local newspapers, many deer brought their kids out to see us in action. On more than one occasion they wanted an up close and personal look at our tandem bike. They’d run across the trail, illuminated only for a short time, and then run back across the trail for a second look. A few times we had to grab all of the brakes to avoid mammalian collisions.
The possum and other animals were a lot smarter and retreated before the situation became dangerous. We even saw an animal in the trail that we could not identify. Was it a coyote? A lost dog? It didn’t move or look like a deer, dog, bear or raccoon.
Our support vehicle was meeting us every 30 miles or so to supply us with fresh food and water. They also changed out the cameras we had, as we’re shooting a documentary about this event. Our crew was great, although it was tough to see them sleepy eyed and cuddled up in blankets at midnight. Rebecca wanted to trade spots with one of them, but she dashed that idea and jumped back onto her saddle. Our rest stops were a bit of a misnomer. There was no resting at the stop. We’d charge in and pedal directly to the bathroom. Once that was taken care of we went directly to the car for more food and water. It was a short respite for our sore butts, only 5-10 minutes at each stop.
Our pace leaving Pittsburgh was very fast. We were ahead of schedule at Confluence. But the next 30 miles up to Meyersdale were excruciatingly slow. A headwind combined with a slight uphill was grinding at our legs so much that we gave up a lot of hard-fought time. But the 24 mile downhill into Cumberland was awesome! We were rolling quite quickly with huge grins on our faces. We reached Cumberland a little ahead of schedule and the sun set on us as we passed through the Paw Paw Tunnel. Our lights came on and we did our best to keep up the 15mph pace, which was tough to maintain on the surface of the C&O. We were slowly losing time, so our plan for longer rest stops later in the ride was revised. With little rest and the temperature dropping to the mid 40s, the last hundred miles were going to be interesting.
We kept an eye on the clock and with 42 miles left to go we decided to skip our final rest stop, as the we needed that time if we hoped to make it in 24 hours. After 22 hours of pedaling I hit a very low point. While riding my eyes were closing. I was tired. Very tired. In my mind I was ready to call the support crew and end it all right there. We had pedaled over 300 miles straight. Wasn’t that enough? Hadn’t we proved our point? But I did not vocalize this and five minutes later my focus and energy returned and we were back at it, pedaling like crazy. We cranked up some Pearl Jam and Michael Jackson and both started singing into the night. Our finely trained voices at full volume did wonders as a DAS. (Deer Alert System).
As we approached DC the sun started to rise. We were tired. Oh so tired. I kept an eye on the time, our pace, and the mile posts. I realized that our pace was a bit too slow for us to make it in 24 Hours. We’d be close, but I had to break this news to Rebecca when we had about seven miles to go. This news took the wind out of our sails. The adrenaline drained away and we had to really push to finish the trip. The sunrise helped. The smiling runners, our for their Saturday morning jog, helped keep our minds focused on something other than the remaining miles.
But we had some relief in sight. The final three miles of the trip would be on pavement. Our sore butts were really looking forward to this final ribbon of asphalt. Ahead on the side of the trail I spotted a milepost marker and was sure it would read MP 4, meaning we had just one more mile until pavement. I was really looking forward to seeing MP 4.
The post read MP 5 and then and there I lost it, unleashing a string of profanities that would make George Carlin blush. Ten seconds into the tirade I caught myself and almost started laughing at the fact that there we were, two people on a tandem that had pedaled 330 miles in a single day, and I was losing it on a mile post marker. I quickly tightened the screws that were holding my sanity in place and we continued to pedal and wave at the runners that passed us by. (Side note: I’d love to know what the runners thought as they saw a zombie-like couple pedal past.)
We rolled into Georgetown to see our friend that lives in DC by the side of the trail. His homemade sign and big smile were a welcome sight. We reached Mile Post Zero at 7:49 a.m. We had done it. We’d pedaled 335 miles in 24 hours and 19 minutes. And we still had a enough energy to take some silly pictures at the end.
Why did we do this? Simply, we wanted to do something that would inspire people to support the movie “Chasing Ice”. We also wanted to bring attention the Great Allegheny Passage. If two people who barely trained can ride to DC in 24 hours, you can take your time and pedal sections or the whole thing at a relaxing pace.
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