From May 26-31, a group of Robert Morris University staff members, students, alumni, and friends embarked on a group bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., with stops in Ohio Pyle (Pa.), Cumberland (Md.), Hancock (Md.), and Harpers Ferry (W. Va.). The following is an account of the fifth and final day of the journey as experienced by RMU Senior Writer Valentine J. Brkich.
DAY FIVE – Harpers Ferry (W. Vir.) to Washington, D.C.
Day Five. The final day. Sixty miles to go. Two-hundred and eighty in the bank. What would this final day be like? Would it be like Day Two, dodging hail storms and lightning bolts? Would it be like Day Three with mile after mile of rancid slop? Or would it be a cakewalk like Day Four? No one knew for sure.
The one thing we did know was that there wouldn’t be anywhere to stop for food or water until we hit Great Falls, 45 miles down the trail. So, the night before, I stocked up on Gatorade and ordered a pizza, which I wrapped in aluminum foil to bring along for the ride. No matter what the day might bring, at least I knew I’d have more than Fig Newtons to sustain me.
The forecast was calling for temperatures to rise into the 90s by early afternoon. So we thought it best to hit the trail early. I was up by 5 and on the trail by 6, along with Todd and his dad, Ed.
As we cruised through Harpers Ferry to get back to the trail, we passed professor of economics Dr. Eschenfelder, who was out for a pre-ride run. A PRE-RIDE RUN!?!?
I, on the other hand, chose to warm up with two slices of cold pizza and a Benadryl.
When we hit the C&O, I was happy to find it in premium condition—bone dry and rock hard. That didn’t necessarily mean the ride was going to be easy, but it did mean that we wouldn’t have to struggle through quick-sand like mud, which is always nice.
By 9 a.m., we had put 30 miles behind us. The bus back to RMU wasn’t due to pick us up in D.C. until 3:30 or so, so we had plenty of time to conquer the final 30 miles, whatever obstacles or surprises we should encounter. The only thing that slowed us down that morning was a family of geese crossing the trail. Luckily we got by the hissing daddy goose before he was able to peck us or bite us, or whatever geese do. (Can you get rabies from a goose??)
It was around this time when another group of riders caught up with us: Amanda, a 2011 graduate of RMU’s nuclear medicine technology program; Tom, an elementary education major; Mike, who due to a sore Achilles, had to ride the last 60 miles STANDING UP; and, last but not least, Jamie. Remember Jamie? The girl who had the wreck and nearly passed out on the first day? Yeah, she was still going strong.
This is when we really started making some time.
Amanda, who was a star volleyball player at RMU, led the way as we all got in line behind her, drafting like a team of racers in the Tour de France. She was nice enough to clear all the spider webs for us as she led our train of rubber and spoke down the trail. It was awesome. We tour down the path at 13 mph, each pedal getting us closer to our final destination.
Somewhere around this time I veered off the trail a bit and brushed into some evil plant that made me feel like I'd been stung by a jelly-fish. "Oh yeah," said Todd, "that happened me to me too. Don't worry...it will only burn for an hour or so."
A round 20 miles out, things started to get a little dicey as we encountered more and more hikers and bikers out on the trail for Memorial Day holiday weekend. Tom, however, a.k.a. the Human Snowplow, paid little mind to the other people on the trail, shouting out “On your left!” a millisecond before we went wooshing by in the other lane. OK...maybe his trail etiquette left something to be desired, but I could understand his urgency. We were on a mission. The end was so close we could smell it. Or maybe that was just my grimy, putrid, mud-caked shoes. (Photo: My grimy, putrid, mud-caked shoes)
Finally we hit Great Falls, just 14 miles outside of D.C. Although we were chompin’ at the bit to finish this crazy adventure, we couldn’t pass up a chance to see this natural wonder. (Photo: Our last refueling stop, at the Great Falls concession stand)
After a quick stop off at the Great Falls concession stand, we hopped on our bikes – gently, very gently – for the final time, determined not to stop until we hit D.C. As we slalomed through the throngs of sightseers and casual riders along the trail, we rejoiced every time we passed another mile marker. Then, with just around four miles left, we hit pavement—lovely, wonderful, smooth-as-silk pavement! This was it—the home stretch! Todd rode ahead with the camera to capture the moment as we crossed the finish line.
There are certain moments in my life that I will always remember: graduation day; my wedding day; the birth of my first child; the birth of my second child; and this one—the moment when I reached the end of the trail and completed my bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. I have to admit, it was somewhat anti-climactic. There were no bands or throngs of people waiting to congratulate us. There was no ribbon to ride through. It was just the end of the trail, with Georgetown University up on the hill to our right and the Potomac River off to our left. But it was still a great moment, and it’s one I’ll never forget.
One by one the other riders trickled in as we toasted our accomplishment with champagne and sparkling grape juice, compliments of Mrs. Hamer, who met us at the finish line. I looked over at Todd’s odometer: 342.03 miles. Unbelievable.
And you know who ended up being the first person to complete the ride? Jamie. The girl who I thought would never make it past the first day. She certainly showed me.
During the five-hour bus ride home, I had a chance to think about the experience and what it meant to me. Was it hard? Yes. Way harder than I ever imagined? Yes. Were there times when I wanted to give up? Absolutely. Would my rear-end ever be the same? Probably not. But despite the difficulty, I can sincerely say it was an amazing, life-changing experience.
I rode my bike to D.C.
Thanks to all of you who joined me in this experience. And thank you, the reader, for following along on our adventure. I hope you enjoyed the ride.
By the way...anyone want to buy a bike, slightly used?