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  • Writer's picturetony

Canadian Rescue, eh?

Sharing something originally posted on my NSA blog, one of my non-work adventures with a work (and non-work) friend.


For longer than any of us care to admit, every 5 years a group of us from work bicycle the entire C&O Canal towpath, from Cumberland to DC. We go for the full adventure, rain-or-shine, camping in semi-primitive style. It's a pretty scruffy and diverse group, with gear ranging from hi-tech, feather-weight wilderness tents to Fischer-Price nylon backyard campout gear (really!); from high-end touring bikes to borrowed clunkers. Much hilarity ensues.

In August of 2010, I was turning 55 years old, and to celebrate I decided to do something different fitness-wise. So, a couple of days before the annual C&O ride, my wife dropped Curt D and me off south of Pittsburgh (McKeesport) onto the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail trail. We planned to cycle the 150 miles or so of the GAP in a day and a half, then meet up with the rest of the gang in Cumberland for the usual trip (another 184+ miles).

Curt and I wheeled out of McKeesport about Noon. Our goal was to make camp in Ohiopyle State Park, maybe 65 miles for that first half-day. Being a conscientious sort, I called the Park ahead of time, asking all the usual questions: "Do you have tent camping?" - "Of course"; "Do we need a reservation?" - "Not during the week"; "How do I find the campground?" - "There's a sign right on the GAP trail"; "How far is it off the trail?" - "Oh, just a quarter mile or so"; "Is there a place to grab dinner?" - "Sure, easy walk to the town, half-mile or so."

Well, our ride was uneventful and strong, skies clear and beautiful - until the last 30-40 minutes. We were sitting at a break when the wind picked up, the skies turned deep black, and the clouds just exploded in rain. Ruh Roh, Scooby-Do. We spent the next few miles slogging through a downpour. Our only break was when a stray tree branch hopped up into my rig and jammed my pack against my wheel. So we spent 5 minutes adjusting and refitting assorted bungee straps.

That ride seemed endless. Just when I was ready to give up, a tiny sign appeared in the mist. Campground 1/4 mile. Saved! We started up the trail to the campground, but found it immediately unrideable, with large-sized gravel and a significant stream running right down the middle of it. So now we're in the pouring rain, pushing our heavily loaded bikes straight up a steep hill for about as far as the rain-drenched eye can see. Did I mention that for many many miles, the GAP trail had been closely following the lovely Youghiogheny River? At river level? And that the only possible place to camp had to be straight up the hill?

We pushed on through the rain-created stream for what seemed like forever (and not a 1/4 mile sort of forever), turned the corner, and saw....the trail continue up as far the eye could see. Good grief! Push on. Push on. And on. Eventually, we emerged into what might be described at the far end of the campground, the kind of place to which one might banish noisy Boy Scout Troops, etc. We asked for directions to a Ranger Station and got back on our bikes to look. I was secretly hoping that our sad, drowned rat appearance might evoke an offer to rent us a cabin instead of a campground. We rode on and on and never did find the park entrance or a station.

Finally, I was just about wasted for the day. We entered a car camping area, and I told Curt we'll just camp in the first open spot we see, and work it out with the Ranger in the morning. We wheeled into a nice wooded area, not crowded but with cars and tents visible all around us. Curt and I leaned our bikes against a picnic table and just sat there on the table, soaked and exhausted. I was silently counting the supply of Power Bars and trail mix I had left in the bag, since our wandering had not revealed any dining within "an easy walk". And we were both dreading the thought of trying to set up camp and sleep while still drenched.

We sat there for just a couple of minutes in this pitiful state before a man from the next campsite came strolling down to introduce himself, "Could you guys use a cup of coffee? We just put on some fresh Starbucks...". "Why don't you guys come up to the fire and dry out a bit?" Hallelujah, choirs singing, bells ringing, the rocket's red glare lighting up the night sky!

It was a lovely Canadian couple on an extended car-camping trip to the US. As I recall, he was an elementary school teacher and she was an ophthalmologist. They were both endurance athletes, about our age, and part of their trip involved running in local road races. And they were gracious and kind hosts. We stood by their campfire for hours, our spirits revived by the warmth. And they insisted that we stay for dinner. "Oh, it's our last night in the US, and we're just cooking everything we have left." So we were treated to a feast, to include a bottle of some local beer (shhhh - it's a state park).

The next morning, we packed up early to hit the trail and find breakfast in the next town. Before we could get on the bikes, our Canadian neighbor hurriedly walked down to wish us well, two disposable cups of fresh coffee in hand.

From the prior evening's drenched despair, to renewed faith in the kindness of people - it doesn't get any better than that.

As we pulled away, Curt declared that the Canadians were now his favorite "5-eyes" partners... Hear, hear...!!!

(But as we passed a nice-looking B&B a few miles down the trail, Curt stopped his bike and declared, "See that? That's where we we're staying next time!" No more sleeping in the rain and dirt for him!


That evening, we met up with the rest of our crew for a wonderful hotel stay in Cumberland, MD. And we enjoyed perfect weather all the way down to Milepost 0 - Thompson's Boat House in DC.

At Curt's retirement party some years later, I had the honor of telling this story with the Canadian Liaison Officer in attendance. I think Curt is now a National Hero of some sort up north.


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