We cooked bacon and pancakes (I found a nifty plastic pint jug in Walmart or somewhere that you simply pour water into the jug, shake it up, and pour it on the griddle) for breakfast, and then packed up and planned to meet for lunch at Great Falls, 15 miles away.

Heather went back to the store for bread and bandaids (I cut myself doing something, and Heather thought we might run out of bandaids) and also to a McDonalds to sit in the air conditioning while she looked up directions to the Fitzkee's house where we were going to stay for the next couple days.  Heather bought smoothies for Faith and herself since they were pretty hot.

There was construction around Great Falls and Heather had some trouble getting there, but we eventually met up and had lunch.  I went to the car to fill up on Gatorade and water and everyone else went to the museum, though I didn't hear Heather when she said that, so I thought they might have gone to the other overlook, so biked down there, but they weren't there.  Jonathan wanted to buy a "hidden creatures" book - it had some dark lines drawn that showed a tree or or nature scene, and then had a white spot in the middle, and you could only see the creature if you turned the book in certain angles, or if you rub it with a pencil.

We finished up the last 9 miles to our stopping point pretty quickly - the towpath is in better shape closer to DC, though there was a big storm the night before (fortunately, not where we were, we only saw a bit of rain), but the trail was much wetter - we hadn't seen any mud the entire trip until the last day, but we did slip a little, and had to go through some pretty big puddles, so the bike was covered in mud by the time we finished. Also, we were much more refreshed after a day of resting, and so biked along pretty quickly.

We started a game of calling out creatures as we saw them, and Jonathan developed an elaborate naming and numbering scheme.  I think the naming scheme was based off of Prudence's idea of never saying, "I saw a crab in the creek", but would always say, "Oh look, a golf ball", in order to keep anyone else from thinking that the creek would be a good place to go crabbing.  We started by calling out "one fish", "two fish", etc. and that led any good read of Dr. Seuss to exclaim, "red fish", "blue fish".  That led to Jonathan's complicated numbering scheme, by which you wouldn't say "one fish", but instead "orange fish".  And he had colors for ever number up to six or so.  And then we started naming every animal that we saw with a code name:

"blue": dragonfly
"yellow wing": Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterfly
"brown": turtle
"brown tail": squirrel

And then mixing the coding schemes, you might get "blue brown" or "red blue", which would of course mean: "two turles" and "three dragonflies", respectively.

That did slow our speed down somewhat, and I had to remind the boys of our twelve mile an hour rule, which I instituted at some point on our tandem biking trips.  The rule is, if we are going less than 12 mph, the boys can't talk.  That rule pretty much means that we never go slower than 12mph, and Jonathan talks constantly the entire day.  But, sometimes he forgets and the chattering takes over the biking, but I can refer Jonathan to the speedometer (I wired up a speedometer for him in parallel to mine) and he tries to keep an eye on it.

We beat Heather to the stop - though we weren't exactly sure where the stop was, since I had found it on google maps, and not on the trail maps, so in this case (unlike most of the other stops), it was easy to find by car, but not by bike.  Heather texted to say that lock 8 was the right stop, so we turned around and biked back to the previous stop.  But, it turned out that was after the lock 8 stop, and there was a previous stop right at lock 8, that I hadn't really noticed.  The stop we took was haflway between lock 7 and lock 8 and it required climbing a gigantic hill to get out to the street.  It was pretty hard work carrying the tandem up the hill.  And when we arrived at the top, Heather wasn't there, and I didn't know which way to go to get to the co-op that we were supposed to meet at.  I asked directions from a biker, who was impressed that we had biked so far, but couldn't understand why we would possibly bike all that way and not bike to the end of the trail, and she looked pretty blank when I talked about the hassles of traffic in DC.  I suppose if you live there, you get used to it.  But, I showed her my map and she directed us to the right street.  Heather wasn't at the co-op either, so I texted her, and then we went to get ice cream and a smoothie that I thought was going to be made with actual fruit, but I think was just crushed ice and some syrup. 

Heather says: Because Jon wasn't exactly sure where the access point was, I thought I'd drive as far as I could and then walk (our map wasn't clear what was driveable.)  It wasn't a far walk and when I got there there was a nice little lock house at lock 8, so that's when I texted him.   When he said they were turning around, I waited there for them.  It seemed to be taking a long time and there was thunder approaching.  I didn't relish the thought of putting the tandem on the car in a rainstorm.  It did start raining, but only lightly.  Faith and I sat on the porch of the lockhouse (which is only open weekends.)  Then all of a sudden I got Jon's message that they were at the co-op!  For some reason, this was frustrating to me (this is one of those times when you look back on it you cannot find any reason, but it was truly upsetting at the time.  A combination of heat and lack of naps and pregnancy hormones?)   When I got to the parking lot (really there were three lots, separated by buildings and hills) I did not see them.   I parked in front of the co-op and still they were not there, so I texted Jon asking where he was and his reply was too cryptic for me.  He finally called and I was in tears when I answered the phone.  But he said they weren't upset that they had to ride that much further so it was ok.  I drove around and found them (the tandem was parked behind some pillars so that is why I hadn't seen them before) and shared their chips and cooled off in the buiilding (which was actually a different store and not the co-op itself.)

(This is still Heather writing as these posts have taken all afternoon and dear Jon is making us dinner right now.) We got the tandem on the car with minimal trouble and drove to the Fitzkees' place.  Or at least to their street.  All the condo buildings look the same and the street numbers are partially hidden by landscaping flowers.  We ended up calling Jen and having her come outside to direct us.  We actually found the building before she came out and then she was at the back door, but we eventually made it!  It was great to be in air conditioning again.  We were all hot and sweaty and dusty and tired, but it had been fun overall.  E (three years old) was very happy to have visitors and B (fifteen months) was rather timid at first, but she warmed up to us pretty quickly.  We had a yummy dinner of quesadillas.

Statistics for the fourth day:
25 miles (144 miles total for the entire trip)
Not really sure about the time, maybe 3 hours total
$25.59 ($5 smoothies, $5 bread and bandaids, $16 ice cream, drink, chips)
(and no flat tires the entire trip)

Summary Thoughts

The trip was a lot of fun, and we're glad we did it.  And I think we made the right decision in taking a day off in the middle.  I think that made the next day much more enjoyable than it would have been if we had biked a lot the day before.  I think we'll do it again - maybe an every other year sort of thing.  Once the kids are bigger, they'll be able to pull more of their own weight, and I we'll be able to do more of it, and travel more quickly, etc.  And I'd like to do a self-supported (no van) trip at some point too.

We should have stopped at Paw Paw that first night, or else started earlier, or not waded in the river, etc. because it is hard setting up camp in the dark.  And even harder biking in the dark without a good light - the light (LED) I bought for Heather is good for lasting a long time - I feel like my regular light wears out the batteries every time I turn it on.  But, Heather's light is great for other people seeing you, but not very useful for shining your own path.  My regular light is better for that.

Because of the late nights, we did bike the majority of what we set out to do, and then is pyschologically good, at least for me.  I asked the boys what their favorite parts of the trip were and Jonathan said he wasn't sure about his favorites, but his least favorites were biking in the dark and walking through the Paw Paw tunnel.  Noah said his favorite parts were walking through the Paw Paw tunnel and biking in the dark.  Jonathan then admitted that biking in the dark would have been more fun if he hadn't been so tired.  They agreed that the stops for ice cream and wading in the river and seeing all the wildlife were really good parts of the trip.

The freeze-dried food was better than I thought, and if you buy it at Walmart instead of REI, the price isn't totally crazy.  We probably should have skipped bringing our stove and just bought one of those cool boil-in-a-minute stoves, and had more freeze-dried food.  We also brought our gas lantern, and while it is really bright and a full tank of gas will last a really long time, it is heavy, has glass in it and generally harder to deal with than an electric flashlight.

We brought camp chairs, but never took them out of the car.  Mostly because we weren't in the campsites all that long, but also, when you are only camping each place for one night, it isn't worth setting up as much stuff as we would if we were camping like "regular".

Heather didn't get to rest anywhere near as much as we thought she would.  We imagined she would drive along, maybe do some grocery shopping or whatever, and then sit in the campground for hours, reading or taking a nap, etc.  That might happen a little better if we didn't meet for lunch, at least not every day.

I am not sure if the mapping could have been done any better - I did some research on the internet, and we had good lists of places to stay near the trail, etc. but most writers assume you don't have a van, so the bikes can go wherever they'd like.

Water: the water was good everywhere except at our last night of camping, where the water was similarly colored to our home water.  We used it for wash water, but didn't drink any of it.  I'm not sure if Gatorade would be strong enough to cover up that much bad taste.  We brought a Gatorade powder that was listed as making 5 gallons of liquid.  We drank plain water some of the time, and had 1/2 or 2/3 concentrated Gatorade and then some full strength.  It only lasted two days for the three of us.  Both boys had a camel back and they drank a ton (and we stopped probably twice an hour for bathroom breaks).  It would have been nicer to have more than one flavor.  The blueberry and fruit punch flavors are gross.  The "artic freeze" or whatever it is called isn't too bad, though the lemon-lime is the best.  We bought some more powder, but we could only find the lemon-lime powder, so it probably takes a little more planning to find other flavors.  We tried some Gatorade knock-offs, but didn't find any that you would want to drink any significant quantities of, particularly if they weren't cold.  The Western Maryland Rail Trail didn't have any water, and while there were some access points to connect back to the towpath, the water points aren't marked on the maps, so it would be hit or miss whether you would find water.  Most bikers seemed to not use the WMRT at all, and just stay on the towpath. The van carried a five gallon container of cold water (22 pounds of ice fits perfectly, and keeps the water icy cold for two days, and pretty cold for three) and that was very nice to get cold water at our stops, as opposed to the luke warm water from the pumps.

We were the latest starters on the trail, and it would be good to get going earlier, and try to not bike too much in the hot hours of the afternoon.  We only saw a couple bikers that were doing the whole trip.  We never got passed by anyone while we were biking, which that was nice to think about - that we were traveling at a decent speed.  We did get passed two or three times by bikers while we were stopped for a bathroom break.  And we saw a couple people a couple times, like at lunch and then at the next campground, if they were stopping earlier than us, etc.  We never saw the same person more than one day in a row, presumably because they were traveling longer distances than us.

Because we met Heather for lunch each day, we only carried a little bit of beef jerky and trail mix with us, and that worked out well.   We had some bike tools and extra gatorade powder in our bag, and we could have easily carried more stuff on the bike.

Noah's pillow fell off a couple of times, once while he was using it and once or twice while we were riding along.  We need to figure out a way to tape or otherwise attach it to the board.  We are planning on replacing the board with a higher quality piece of wood, and varnishing it or something.  The whole contraption came together a couple days before our trip, and we didn't have much time to get many parts other than what we had in the house.

Heather says that if you had told her eight years ago that she ever would put something other than water or milk in one of her children's sippy cups, she would have been horrified.  But Faith received Gatorade and smoothie in hers this trip.

Posted by Jon Daley on August 20, 2010, 5:26 pm | Read 4283 times
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Thanks to Porter being late getting to this (and quoting to me parts that weren't familiar), I've now read your Summary Thoughts. :) It sounds like a wonderful learning trip.

I have to wonder about the Gatorade, though. Why? Why not plain water, especially in a camelback? I can't imagine it ever coming properly clean again after having Gatorade in it. Certainly you don't need good flavor to induce a child to drink after he's been biking for miles! I know I'm prejudiced by the fact that Gatorade makes me gag in any flavor, and can't imagine it satisfying my thirst except under desperate circumstances -- but how is it an improvement over chugging soda? [shudder]

Posted by SursumCorda on September 5, 2010, 2:03 pm

We drank lots of water too, but from my experience with a trips of a couple days or more, you get pretty tired of drinking water (or any one flavor) after a while.

After the trip, I couldn't really think about drinking water for a couple days.

Posted by jondaley on September 5, 2010, 3:23 pm

I forgot to say that I LOVE the 12 mph rule! I'd probably only be able to talk on the downhills, though.

Posted by SursumCorda on September 5, 2010, 4:41 pm

Regarding Gatorade from another person who dislikes it nearly as much as you do, Mom: It's "supposed" to have good stuff that replenishes what you sweat out, though even Jon wonders if that's all marketing hype. But even I was glad to drink a few gulps of cold gatorade on the hottest of days. I think Jon's main reason for getting it in the first place was because some of the water you can get on the trail tastes bad and the gatorade was for coverup. There's debate among camelbak users about whether to only ever put water in it or not. I don't think the boys will mind a little residual taste.

Posted by joyful on September 6, 2010, 7:44 am
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