Monday, December 12, 2011


One experience stands above all others from my ride with Eric Durante this fall: riding through the C&O Towpath's PawPaw Tunnel at night.  I tried to capture my exact feelings at the time.  This may come off as overly melodramatic and for that I make no apologies.  Certainly it could be an unnoteworthy portion of the trail under different circumstances.
The passage of time had become irrelevant as we pedalled through the night.  The efforts of our lights only revealed several yards of the C&O Trail ahead of us before being swallowed by the omnipresent darkness.  In this way, the idea of distance was ignored as well save for the occasional passage of a mile marker.  After having already covered over 90 miles by bike that day, all I wanted was to get off of it.  Let my aching legs lie still for a moment.  End the continuous rubbing and prodding my ass was receiving.  Replenish my body with something more appetizing than another handful of scary-orange cheese crackers.

It occurred to me that with each additional pedal stroke made in the inky stillness around us, Eric and I were further breaking the law.  Technically, one is not supposed to travel after dark through this national historic park.  While neither of us get too hung up on rules or regulations, I began to think that there could be some actual reasoning behind this one.  In my beleaguered state, it was all I could do to wind my way around fallen branches lying across the trail or duck to avoid those still attached to their respective trees.  More than once my light exposed pairs of brilliant green eyes or a waggling white flag of a tail as deer bounded across the trail.  My shoulders and arms and eyes grew a little more tense with each additional hindrance.

Making our way through a left hand bend, we were struck by a rushing course of cold air akin to standing in a high mountain pass.  I knew that this was a sign that the tunnel we were expecting was immediately ahead of us despite our lights doing nothing to confirm this.  Our flagging enthusiasm was buoyed as our intended campsite lay directly out the other end of the corridor.  The railroad tunnels that we journeyed through earlier in the day contained electric lights or offered smooth, paved surfaces.  As the pitch black lurking beyond the mouth of the tunnel made the night sky look ablaze by comparison though, my spirits sank.

My bike carried me through the entrance and the path immediately narrowed to a uncomfortable width.  The brick wall of the passageway arched over my head by what seemed only inches.  The icy cold water dripping at random added to the illusion that I was in some sort of medieval crypt.  Off to my left, our lights struggled to reflect off of the murky, pea soup that filled the canal.  The only thing that separated me from a soaking was a handrail of splintering, weathered wood that inspired little confidence.  The situation may have been sufferable were it not for the roller coaster like surface that served as the path.  It was all I could do at that point to maintain any semblance of momentum while avoiding striking either the wall or handrail.

The gauntlet seemed to never end and in reality went on for the better part of a mile.  At long last, the faint echoes of fat water droplets falling from the cave’s exit and splatting on the ground below announced an eventual finish.  As I maneuvered past one more string of potholes, I was greeted by a surge of warm, sticky air that seemed out of place for an autumn night.  Regardless of its incongruity, this tropical embrace was also one of salvation.       

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