The Triple Header.

Three heads and a lot of fun.
Three heads and a lot of fun.

Triple-header (n) : three games played one after another on the same day

In the case of two weekends ago, this meant 12 miles of hiking, 14 miles of paddling, and 24 miles of biking, all within 12 hours of daylight. This adventure was to take place around the area of Delaware Water Gap, on the border between Pennsylvania and New Jersey, with a crew of several guys whom I had met through my friend Jeff and had paddled with a number of times in the past.

Jeff had been talking about Triple (and Double) Headers with this group for years, and I had always wanted to go along, but I never seemed to be free and I was a little hesitant to test my physical fitness against these men who I knew to be in excellent shape. But this time, everything lined up—I had no plans for the weekend and I finally felt that my hiking, paddling, and biking would measure up enough for me to tag along.

The weekend began on Friday evening with a flurry of loading boats, bikes, and bags of gear, and quick goodbyes before piling into the truck for the 4-hour drive with Jeff and our friend Jake. We popped a Van Wagner CD into the player, rolled the windows down, and drove east against the setting sun.

Full truck.
Full truck.

I sat squished in a jump seat behind the guys, listening to folk and bluegrass, talking about everything from canoes to wood stoves to Jeff’s uncanny knowledge of all the fast food restaurants between Huntingdon and the Delaware.

There was a brief stop at the grocery store for provisions, another brief stop at Arby’s for jamocha shakes and the most fast food I’ve eaten in the past year, and then finally, we were pulling into Harold’s driveway around 11pm. We snuck onto the screened-in porch overlooking the river, trying to be quiet as to not wake anyone, and laid out sleeping bags on the wood surface. I crawled into the warm down and tried to get some sleep, knowing that only in a few short hours we would be awakened to begin the day.

I felt like I tossed and turned all night, and when 4am came, I wasn’t all that disappointed to crawl out of my bag that had been a little too hot that night. I was anxious to get going. But my excitement soon turned to frustration as I struggled to fix a flat on my bike in the darkness of the wee hours of the morning, my sleepy hands unable to pull the tire off without a lever, tears building in my eyes as I suddenly felt like I had no place being here, doing this. I soon gave up, deciding to take care of it later in the day, at our transition between the boats and the bikes, when there was more light and my head wasn’t so foggy.

The guys came outside, ready to go, and we once again piled into the vehicle. The joking of Jeff and Jake cheered me up and brought me out of my doubt and frustration, replacing those feelings with renewed excitement. I double-fisted coffee and popped donut holes into my mouth as we drove through the darkness towards the boat launch where we were meeting the rest of the triple header crew, Mike and Noel. Bikes were unloaded and stashed in Mike’s trailer, as this was where we would be ditching the boats and grabbing the bikes to take us back to where we would begin the day’s trek.

One more stop to stage boats, pick up one more fellow, and we were pulling into a gravel pull-off with the first gray light of day, donning hiking packs and taking off down the white-blazed Appalachian Trail.

Hiking by dawn's early light.
Hiking by dawn’s early light.

We reached a fire tower at the top of the hill just in time for the sunrise, and several of us threw off our packs and ran up the tower for a magnificent view that promised a beautiful day. The low-angled sun bathed everything in a reddish golden light, accentuating the warm colors of fall.

Sunrise from the tower.
Sunrise from the tower.
7am.
7am.
The beginning of a beautiful day.
The beginning of a beautiful day.
Good view!
Good view!
Fall colors in the forest.
Fall colors in the forest.

The trail took us out on an outcropping of smooth, weathered rock, where we stopped for a group photo and a quick break to enjoy the view of the valley below. Harold pointed out where we’d be riding our bikes later that day, on roads that weaved through farmland and residential areas before climbing back up the mountain. As we loitered, an older gentleman with a large backpack came upon us, and he stopped to chat for a few minutes. He spoke with a smooth southern accent, telling us that he was a retired Baptist preacher who was solo hiking the AT from Georgia to northern New York. We commented on the beauty of the day, and wished him well on the rest of his journey before continuing on ourselves.

Group shot.
Group shot. Photo via Mike Carter.

The sun rose higher and higher in the sky, and layers were shed as the world heated up. We ate lunch on a pile of rocks, basking in the midday rays, chatting with several other hikers—a young couple on a weekend backpacking trip, and a hawk-watcher stationed on top of the ridge to count the birds of prey passing through on their southerly migration for the winter.

Break time.
Break time.

Up ahead on the path, I noticed that those at the front of our group had stopped, and when I caught up, I saw the big black snake stretched out on the edge of the trail. It had to be at least 5 feet long, and it sat quietly as we gawked and took photos before leaving the animal in peace.

The snake.
The snake.

Sunfish Pond, one of the southernmost glacial lakes and a National Natural Landmark, greeted us with the brilliant reds and yellows of the changing leaves surrounding the bright blue reflection of the clear sky on the water. As we took another snack break, a group of young Boy Scouts and their leader also came out onto the vista where we sat and fired up a camp stove. We didn’t stick around long enough to see what they ended up concocting, for we still had a long way to go before dark.

Sunfish Pond.
Sunfish Pond.
Snack time.
Snack time.
Rock sculptures along shore.
Rock sculptures along shore.
Sunfish Pond
Sunfish Pond

By the time we began descending the ridge down to Delaware Water Gap, my feet were sore and I was more than ready to get in a boat and rest my legs a while. We shoved off a sandy beach onto the Delaware River after a quick transition during which we traded backpacks and hiking shoes for PFDs and drybags, and slathered on sunscreen to protect against the beating sun of midday.

Ready to get on the river.
Ready to get on the river. Photo via Mike Carter.
Launch time.
Launch time.
On the river.
On the river.
Hangin' with Jake.
Hangin’ with Jake.

It wasn’t a leisurely paddle, as we had a brisk pace to keep up. Harold was up front, appearing as though he was barely working. His boat quickly sliced through the water, and his paddle strokes looked clean and effortless. Jake and I commented on this matter extensively as the two of us struggled to maintain speed. Our group was soon split into two camps—Harold, Mike, and Noel up front, and Jake, Jeff, and myself taking up the rear.

By now, it was hot, and the thought of jumping in the river was a tempting one. I had opted out of wearing a sprayskirt so that the cool water could splash my legs and cool me off when we paddled through rapids. My plan worked, and my shorts that were soon soaked felt wonderful against my skin.

The group.
The group.
Taking up the rear.
Taking up the rear.

The warm Saturday drew lots of people to the river, and we passed several other groups of canoes and kayaks, as well as people lounging on the bank, basking in the sun. Several speedboats motored back and forth, one of them with a skier in tow. Waterskiing was a bizarre sight on the river, as it wasn’t more than a couple feet deep, and there was a limited distance between rapids.

By the time we neared the take-out, I was ready to be out of the boat and begin using my legs again. Harold’s wife, Bets, was waiting at the boat launch, which was only a couple miles away from their house. She cheered us on as we pulled boats out of the water and prepared bikes. I had to fix the flat on mine, so I rushed around hastily, flustered, attempting to get everything situated properly in the limited amount of time we had. Daylight was fading, and we had only 2 hours until dark, 2 hours to ride 24 miles over hilly terrain.

Last leg! Photo via Mike Carter.
Last leg! Photo via Mike Carter.

We took off, pedaling through the streets of Belvidere, New Jersey. I quickly realized that in my haste, I hadn’t inflated my tire nearly enough, and the bike felt sluggish, adding to the difficulty pedaling for my already-sluggish legs. But I felt like there was no time to stop. I was slightly shocked how far behind I was falling, my several-days-a-week of riding seeming to have no effect. I felt nervous about my ability to complete the ride, at least in a timely manner that would get us off the road before dark. A part of me wanted to turn around, go back to the boat launch or Harold’s house, let the rest of the guys finish out the day without me. Jeff, slightly surprised that I wasn’t up at the front of the pack of bikes, asked how I was doing, and I exasperatedly told him about my tire pressure issues. I pedaled up to the next intersection to find the whole group waiting for me, providing an opportunity to add more air to the tire, which made all the difference, especially on the steep hill we encountered immediately thereafter.

The bike fixed, and my legs finally beginning to get into their groove, I started feeling better, started enjoying the ride again.

The group tried to stay relatively close for the first half of the ride, in order to not lose anyone at one of what seemed like an endless number of intersections and turns. Harold was the only one who actually knew where we were going, and the rest of us just followed along, through little towns and across highways. But then, when we were on the road that would lead us to the vehicles, with no more turns or opportunities to get lost, the group spread out. A few of the guys took off and soon were out of sight. After a while, Jeff began to fall back behind me. And so, I found myself alone, with no one else in sight ahead or behind.

We pedaled past farms and residential areas, up hills and back down. The air was quickly cooling, and the sun was quickly setting. I caught sight of Harold not far ahead of me, and after a brief few words exchanged, he decided to wait for Jeff. I continued on, beginning the long, gradual climb up to the top of the mountain where we had begun the hike that morning. I stopped briefly to attach a light to my helmet, but otherwise kept moving in the impending dusk. It was nearly dark when I finally saw the vehicles ahead, and a group of people I recognized standing beside them, cheering me on as I crested the hill and exhaustedly unclipped my feet from the pedals.

Harold and Jeff weren’t too far behind, and high fives were exchanged all around as we shared celebratory beverages before piling back into the cars to do the reverse of what we did early that morning. Once again in the dark, we loaded bikes and boats, said goodbyes, and the Huntingdon contingent of Jeff, Jake, and myself went back to Harold’s house, where we filled our bellies with Bets’s to-die-for chili before passing out in warm sleeping bags on the porch.

There was no question that I had my ass handed to me, and it was an exhausting day. But it was spent outside, with a great group of people, and, as Harold and the others won’t let me forget, I was the first woman to participate in and complete the Triple Header.

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