Words and photos by 2L
Originally authored June 2016
For three weeks, it rained. Every day, there was rain; the rain, it came daily.
That kind of soaking really does a number on a 200 year old dirt road built by low-bid government contract.
This is how I became, if not The Muckgod, at least the High Priest of Mud. 200 miles of the C&O Towpath, Cumberland to College Park, plastered against my bottom bracket...and, well, everything else.
- Butter pecan ice cream drowned in a doubleshot of espresso totally works as a departurebreakfast.
- When your rack breaks twenty miles in, just as you're really feeling the Flow, don't worry; the carriage bolt you sunk in epoxy as a bodged repair five months back will hold it together until home if you just realign your stays a bit and take someone else's tent for ballast in the other pannier.
- "Little Orleans? You mean Bill's Place? Only thing there. Can't miss it. No, you can't miss it, it's the only thing there. Left side and up the hill, but it's the only thing there. No wrong turns to take, it's the only thing there. Nope, Only Thing There. Only. Thing. There. Really. Only thing." Ten minutes after we pull up at Jim's (ex Bill's) Place: "Oh. This is the only thing here!"
- #unlearnpavement all you want, make what accusations of cheating you will, but the Western Maryland Rail Trail is a smooth and refreshing godsend when you're trying to make up time during a 120-mile day.
- It's one thing to have looked at the map and know that day's end is thirty miles away; while you're at it, it might be a good idea to check that everyone else doesn't think it's ten miles off.
- That funny looking stick you just ran over in the dark? Sticks don't slither. Whoops.
- Shepherdstown might be the best place to stop along the Towpath...and yes, at the end of a long haul, when the only food left in town for the three of you nutjobs is a slice of quiche, a Cornish pasty, and a slice or two of caramel and banana pie, it can work.
- People in Brunswick will give you directions to Beans in the Belfry without you having to ask. They already know what you're looking for.
- Without fail, it always rains for me between the Calico Rocks and White's Ferry. Always.
- It's a pretty stiff competition, but the section of the Towpath between White's Ferry and Seneca Aqueduct may take the prize for C&O's Worst Mud - a thin layer of standing water on top of loose, silicacious slime that sprays into every last cranny that hasn't already been gunked up and crammed with abrasive silt. Any more of it, and I wound have needed a heckling section with beer handups and cowbells.
- When you're the only guy without fenders, it's reeeeaaaalll easy to match you to your bike.
The looks you get from the Beautiful People in Dupont as you roll through, a vision of human and machine merging and emerging with the primal ooze, a wild golem or elemental earth spirit running loose in our civilized, controlled rational city, a vision of defiance in the face of sanity - no wonder they shy away. Mud has no place in this world. It defies reason, resists control, reminds us of our imminence, embodiment, and mortality, grinds down and destroys our infinity of useful devices to master and possess nature. Reason, rationality, and art are pure, clean, solid, eternal, efficient; mud is slow, irrational, primal, transient, protean, and, above all, dirty. It's a reminder that thou art mud, and to mud thou shalt return.
The cyclist returning to the city from the relative wilds, half human, half machine, half geology, chain squealing and what's left of the rack creaking - it's a vision of our technological comforts failing and nature, which we treat so casually as the Reserve for fulfilling our own idle desires, taking back what is her own. The one returning is an embodiment of all our failings and fears, a reminder that we exist in a bounded temporality, thrown into being and entangled with the They, idly drifting inauthentically through average everydayness, only rarely called to awareness, to acknowledge this Anxt and our own immanence as beings, and the ultimate futility of reason and techne to preserve us from the forces of nature and our universal end. Mud pricks the calling of conscience, to confront our selves as they are, to face the messy questions of existence and nature.
Or maybe it's just that I was covered in dirt and might get someone's coat dirty. Eh, probably not. Existential phenomenology and Heideggerese it is!