FX Retreat

For those of you who don’t know, I belong to something called Fellowship X, which is a bunch of Gen Xers (we really do exist, no matter what you may have heard in the media) who belong to UUCA (Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington). FX does a retreat on Presidents’ Day weekend every year at Deep Creek Lake, MD. DCL is not close to my home.

I have something I’ve been toying with, but I don’t know if I can swing it. I’d like to bike most of the way to the retreat. We’re talking about 200 miles down the C&O Canal Towpath. This is not wise. There are a bunch of reasons for the stupidity of the thing.

  1. It would burn a full day. Like 16 hours.
  2. I would need someone to pick me up in Cumberland, MD or Frostburg, a potentially big inconvenience for them.
  3. I might need to have them pick me up even further away, depending on whether 200mi is even doable for me.
  4. There’s a good chance 200mi isn’t doable. Come on, I’ve never done anything close to that.
  5. It would be cold during that whole 16 hours.
  6. It would be on a dirt path.
  7. It would be with a relatively heavy bike.
  8. There would be limited exits if I needed to bale out early.
  9. It’s only 37 days away

But I really want to do it. At least I hope and I pray that I will, but today I am still just a….

It’s worth mentioning at this point that I’m not the only one who’s ever tried this. According to the C&O Canal Bicycling Guide, the unsuported record to traverse the whole route is 12 hours 36 minutes in September of ’91. Is that the actual record? Nobody has beaten it for a few decades? Who knows. But it does give me an idea of the approximate minimum time it should expect. Under ideal conditions. Just the C&O, not counting the time it takes to reach there from home. So for me it woudl be 16 hours plus.


Step 1 Accept failure. I love this step. Most people hate it, but I love it. Accepting the likelihood that I will not succeed helps me focus on the steps I need to succeed rather than waste time considering that I won’t. Does it mean I’ll be ok with failure? No, it does not. I might well not like failure at all. But I at least acknowledge the improbability of things all coming together, and that helps me focus. (FYI, I accepted failure with the Great Divide before I ever started training and getting gear together. It was an important part of my process.)

Step 2 Get the bike together. I’ve been making changes to Shirley to transform her into a light adventure/gravel bike (in addition to being a commuter). I want to do rides like this, and some other tough ones, and I think she’s the one to make it happen. I have a plan for her, but that’s for another post.

Step 3 Train. A little more than a month is a tight timeframe. I think it’s doable, but it’ll take a lot of work. Today I need to step it up. And tomorrow. And all but a very small number of days between now and then

Step 4 Go to Harpers Ferry and back in one day on the C&O. Harpers Ferry is about 73mi away, or 146mi there and back in one day. It would be the longest ride I’ve ever done. If I can do that as a training ride, then I’ve got a shot at doing 200 for the retreat. More to the point, if I can’t make HF, there’s no way in hell I’ll make it to the retreat, so it’ll be time to shelve this plan until next year.

Step 5 talk a friend or loved one into picking me up. To me, the hardest part of convincing them to do it is asking them to make an effort while also convincing them of Step 1, that I will likely fail. This is harder than it might seem. People don’t want to be bothered with stuff that’s not going to happen. They expect you to be disapointed if it doesn’t happen. They’ll often try to convince you to not do it, because why try if it is unlikely to happen? So you have to convince them both that it’s very possible, and that it’s unlikely. In my mind, there is no contradiction here, but most people feel that they must buy into one or the other.

T9 call this a “plan” is generous. More like a loose grouping of ideas. For my part, I’ll continue moving forward until I know that it’s no longer an option.