The training for the bike ride in August continues. This time I decided that I would do a focused ride where the objective would be to complete the distance I had set out to cover as efficiently and quickly as possible. I traveled light. I did not take a camera. Instead of sandwiches, I just took some breakfast bars and a couple of apples for sustenance in a backpack, along with a few bottles of water. The day was promising to be hot and humid. So I got an early start heading north from Pennyfield Lock.
The section between Riley’s Lock and White’s Ferry is considered by some to be the worst section of the C&O Canal to ride through after it has rained. The problem lies in the numerous puddles that form on the trail. These are so frequent that you have to be continuously on your toes navigating from one to the other. The puddles are formed and remain long after the rain has passed because the water does not dissipate through the clayey soil, and because there are depressions in the trail caused by its layout and by park vehicles that sometimes drive over it.
When you encounter an obstacle like this, you have to decide how best to try to tackle it. Each puddle is unique. If there is water all across the trail, you might just have to ride through it. Sometimes you see bicycle tracks on the sides of the trail that are above the water because that section is a little elevated, and you head for them. But you do need to be careful because there could be drop-offs on the side, and you are also leaning on your bike to make turns while doing this maneuver. You have to recognize and respect that laws of physics.
If you see a path in the middle of the trail between the puddles where the water has either been absorbed into the soil or has evaporated to some extent, you head for it. The problem you might encounter is that the soil is quite sticky and grabs at your wheels slowing you down significantly.
In any case, regardless of what strategy you employ, you end up with splattered mud all over the bike and on your legs, shoes, socks, and pants.
Anyway, I made it past the puddles up to Whites Ferry without any significant issues and slowdowns using a bunch of different strategies.
My incident happened closer to Point of Rocks, where I unexpectedly encountered a significant puddle of water across the trail. I had some good momentum going riding towards this obstacle, and was quickly trying to evaluate the situation and figure out what strategy to apply to get across it. I saw what looked like a track towards the right of the trail that was above water and headed in that direction. I did not make it!
Next to the mud track I was headed for was a puddle of water. I did not realize how deep it was (probably caused by the tires of vehicles digging into the trail). My tires lost traction coming across the section on the edge of the mud track that was above water and slid into the puddle. I lost control and the bike slid sideways out from under me before I could get my feet back on the trail and regain my balance. I was going too fast. I decided to go with momentum of the fall rather than attempting to resist it. I landed on my left thigh with the bike still under me. My water bottles went flying. There was mud all over my backpack and even on my helmet.
The bicycle was on its side but nothing seemed to have happened to it other than its gaining another layer of mud. Even the handlebars remained aligned. The muscles in my left thigh hurt where it had been in contact with the key chain and smart phone which were in my pocket. I had landed on it. I got to my feet and checked myself out. I realized that everything was still intact and that I had come out of my first fall on the trail unscathed. I could continue my ride, and I did just that. I got back on the bike and kept riding to the point on the trail where I had intended to turn back, and then headed back for home.
The ride back was uneventful, but my strategy for dealing with the puddles had also changed because of my experience. I was going to make it very simple when I got to these puddles and simply ride right through them, even if it meant that I would have to slow down significantly to limit the splattered mud. Momentum and mud be damned!
My lower extremities, and even other parts of my body and clothing were caked in mud when I got back. The bicycle got a thorough washing using the hose in the backyard. My thigh is still a little sore, but it is not something that will stop me from riding!
Considering the amount of riding that I have been doing recently, it is inevitable that the probabilities are going to catch up with me, and that there will be some mishap or the other at some time. I have had my first fall from a bike on the trail. I would be surprised if it is my last. But I cannot afford to be a scaredy-cat. All I can do is hope that the experience will help reduce the chances of having similar incidents going forward.
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