If you are a cyclist, there are certain rides that are a “must” do. Rides such as Trans Am (America), the Continental Divide (west) and the East Coast. There is also the another big one, the GAP and C&O Towpath. It was the latter that made up the B.A.R.R. 2018 and that is where I met Larry Hill.
The Greater Allegheny Passage (GAP) and the C&O canal connect Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. or vice versa depending on the direction you go. The canal actually starts in D.C. with mile 0 marker somewhere in Georgetown. That is where we ended our ride. And it was a good ending to the ride as we were able to find our way down to the mall in D.C. that evening and see the monuments and Washington at night. A good way to cap the B.A.R.R.
But it was what happened earlier that day that makes this story. But before I get to that, I have to do some back story. You see, the GAP ride is actually 2 rides in one. There is the GAP and there is the canal. The GAP portion runs from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland. The Canal runs from Cumberland to D.C. The Gap is mainly crushed limestone path that runs beside a railroad with a uphill grade that averages about 1 to 1 1/2% grade. Not to bad but still uphill until you get to the Continental Divide. Then you are blessed with a very nice downhill into Cumberland.
The canal, by contrast, is the towpath used to haul the canal boats up and down the canal. The week before we did the ride, a hurricane had passed over the area. As a result, the towpath was basically a mud-path which was at times barely wider than a foot. As we traveled the path, we always had the canal on our left and the Potomac River to our right. This made the path basically a sliver of a land mass that divided the canal from the swiftness of the river. A precarious ride at time to be sure as one wrong move traversing the mud and you could find yourself in the river or the canal. I am happy to report that none of us suffered that fate, but the danger was real.
It was during our first full day on the canal that I first met Larry Hill. We had started the day in Little Orleans, Maryland. We planned to stop in Hancock, Maryland for lunch. I was riding ahead of the others for most of the morning leading into Hancock. I pulled off the trail when I arrived in the town covered in mud and dirt. There was a bike shop that was located right of the trail so I naturally headed straight for the shop.
I put my bike along a rail and started to walk into the shop to ask where there was a place to eat. Sitting on a bench outside the shop was Larry Hill although I wouldn’t learn his name until that last day on the canal. He looked at me with bug out eyes and asked, “Are you riding the canal?” to which I replied in the affirmative. It was then that I noticed he was clean. And the bike beside him was clean as well. I also noticed that the bike was stacked high with stuff. I immediately knew that the bike was overloaded. You see, Larry Hill is a very big man. And his bike was very heavily loaded. There was no way he was going to make it through the mud. And I proceeded to tell him that. I described my day to him so far and what the trail was like. And I basically wished him luck, but in my opinion, he wasn’t going to make it. I then walked into the shop for directions to the restaurants.
As I walked backed out of the shop, I noticed that my riding companions were working their way to the shop from the trail. I also noticed that Larry was off to the side on his phone. I waved goodbye to him and joined my friends and rode on to lunch. I never thought I would see Larry again.
But I did. Now we are back to the last day of the ride.
We had spent the night near Brunswick, Maryland and rode our bikes into Virginia to get some breakfast at a gas station, then back on canal for the last day. We were rolling along when Tedd had his first flat. We were all together at the moment so we all stopped as Tedd fixed his flat.
At that moment, a rider came upon us and who was it? None other than Larry Hill. He was now muddy, as we all were, but his bike was much less packed. When he saw me and recognized me from the bike shop, his face lit up.
“Thank you so much!” was his first remark. It took me a second to realize he was talking to me. “Hmmn, you’re welcome.” I responded.
“You saved me, thank you!” He went on to tell us that after meeting me in Hancock, he had called a family member who was local and got rid of some of his equipment. He then told us of how he was on a bucket list ride (the GAP) and he didn’t think he would have made it without my warning. He thanked me profusely.
He introduced himself to us (Hence, Larry Hill) and that this ride was a part of his finding God. I have his story in a pamphlet if you ever want to read it. So, inspired by God, I asked him to say a prayer for our safe passage, since Tedd was changing a flat, which he gladly did. I now know a prayer for the fixing of a flat tire!!
So imagine this. We are in the middle of a muddy trail, changing a flat tire, among our friends and newly acquainted, praying. You really have to love the cycling community. You just never know who you are going to meet or what is going to happen.
After Larry left us, I looked at Tedd and Sandy and commented that you just never know how you are going to effect someone you meet. When I met Larry in Hancock, he was just another cyclist on a ride. But I changed his entire ride and according to him, saved his ride.
That really was the last I saw of Larry although Tedd would spend some more time with him after suffering another flat. But meeting him, praying with him, I will now always remember him.