Day 16: Strong and Active Faith
29 August 2012

Well I’ve had a relaxing few days in Pittsburgh. I arrived here Sunday evening, after three days on the trail from DC. DC itself was a lot of fun. I stayed with my high-school drama instructor, which was sort of surreal since I hadn’t seen him in 7 years. Apparently I have the same laugh as back then, and the same desire to implement useless solutions.

I did the whole monument tour thing, which I’m normally drawn to only from an architectural context. This time, however, one of the inscriptions stuck with me. It was on the FDR memorial, and it said

The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.

That last phrase, “strong and active faith” got lodged in my brain and I returned to it many times throughout the next few days’ ride. The trail from DC to Pittsburgh is in two parts: the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath extends from DC to Cumberland, MD, and the Great Allegheny Passage continues from there to Pittsburgh. Both trails were very nice for riding, and in different ways. The C&O was a slightly worse surface, but the terrain was more interesting: I passed by quite a few locks and lockhouses on the canal. The GAP is an old converted railbed, so it was a lot better surface, and that means also the grade was never more than a trivial amount.

Anyway, the three days I was on the trail between DC and Pittsburgh I averaged about 110 miles a day, and on the last day I pushed hard so I could get “home” as soon as possible. Both nights camping I got in after dark, and set up my tent in the dark, and had a small but delicious meal before passing out. The middle day in particular was interesting: I crossed the Eastern Continental Divide! Physically, this wasn’t that hard to do. The rail trail was very gradual (I couldn’t even tell by looking that the trail was uphill). But then I looked at a diagram of my elevation, and that made an impression

elevation profile DC-PIT

I rode from left of Paw Paw to Rockwood the middle day.

There was also something that hit me about the Divide: I was passing from the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to the Gulf of Mexico Watershed. Woah. The more immediate response though: “Downhill!”

So I pushed hard to get to Pittsburgh the third day on the trail (Day 13), but when I got here I hit a wall. I suddenly didn’t see the point. Until now I’ve been thinking “just get to the next city, then you’ll see your friends and hang out and it’ll be fun”. But apart from one more stop in Missouri, Pittsburgh is the last city with friends or family in it. And don’t misunderstand: I can’t wait to hang out in Missouri with my friend there, but in my mind that has been lumped into the “Lewis & Clark” chapter of this journey, so for all intents and purposes this is the end of the beginning. This is the wall. From here, the whole trip changes. Even though I’ll still be riding the same number of miles, be just as bored, the tour is no longer about destinations. I hope this means my brain will be more focused on the personal/spiritual journey I’ve been expecting. I also hope this means I can more easily allow myself to stop and be a tourist.

From here I bike for about a week to get to Missouri, where my next rest day(s) are planned. I view this week as a sort of interim period, where I get over the sadness that comes with leaving Pittsburgh. One of my other objectives is to figure out the film I want to take. We’ll see if that pans out though…

pennsylvania windmills as seen from the eastern continental divide

Pennsylvania windmills as seen from the eastern continental divide

Anyway, I should go pack my bags so that I can make it halfway to Columbus tomorrow.

Posted in xc-tour