That Time I Almost Froze to Death on Mount Savage

Lesson learned; always double check the weather. When I left my house at 8am, the weather for Cumberland said 80 degrees with a 20% chance of rain. Six hours later I was standing shivering, soaking wet in a dark tunnel at the top of a mountain 20+ miles from my car.

I set out around 10:30am, planning on riding the C&O as far I could stand, then turning around and heading up Mount Savage, though the Big Savage Tunnel, and beyond - with the end goal of riding 100 miles.

Family of geese on the C&O

The C&O Towpath was an absolute mess, as per usual this time of year. I kept telling myself to turn around, but hoping that maybe just up ahead it would settle down. So many giant sticky mud puddles, my tires are not made for this... Turned around after 10 miles and headed back to Cumberland. 

That's when the weather started to go downhill. Grey skies out of nowhere. Continued on back through Cumberland started the long climb to the Big Savage tunnel.

New bicycle lane crossing in Cumberland

It started raining lightly as I neared Frostburg, but after riding through all the rain during my Washington, D.C. trip I was feeling confident and thought it would be a no big deal. Stopped to hang out with this cool turtle for bit. Soon it began to rain heavily.

By the time I reached the Big Savage Tunnel I was drenched, wearing only a thin jersey and bike shorts. The temperature had dropped 15 degrees down into the 60's. I was barely getting any reception on my phone, but enough that I could see on my weather app that it wasn't going to stop raining anytime soon.

I decided to brave the elements and headed back down mountain. I was so incredibly cold, a deep wet cold. The nerves in my hands felt wound tight - if felt like pinging electricity up my arm every time I moved a finger, braking was difficult and clumsy. I just kind of locked my body into one position and drifted downhill barely pedaling, hoping I could just endure the cold rain in my face until I made it back to Cumberland. 

I made it as far as the Borden Tunnel and had to stop at the southern portal. Standing there alone in the quiet tunnel, shivering, I wasn't sure what to do, so I just stood there. I guess I was thinking maybe the wind passing through the tunnel would help dry me off? But it was just making me colder. I felt sick like I was going to throw up, but at the same time I was starving so I ate a granola bar and some beef jerky but it didn't really make me feel any better. 

Luckily, a woman eventually came through the tunnel and stopped near me. I can't really remember what we chatted about at first but she asked if I was cold, and told me that you can get hypothermia in 60 degree weather if you are wet. I did not know this! She told me I should keep pedaling to get my body temperature up, and she even offered to give me a ride back to Cumberland from Frostburg. I declined, but realized she was right. I needed to start pedaling to get warmed up. While we were chatting I felt very weird and was having a hard time speaking correctly. When I got home I googled 'hypothermia symptoms' and I definitely had more than a few of the symptoms... In retrospect, she may have saved my life! Thank you kind stranger!

I set off again into the rain, this time pedaling steadily, flying down the mountain. I got pretty well covered in limestone mud but I definitely warmed up. About 5 miles beyond Frostburg it stopped raining as heavily and I started feeling normal again. 

This was definitely my worst ride of 2016, between the slop on the C&O and the troublesome Mount Savage descent there was not much fun to be had. Dammit, even European Desserts was closed for Memorial Day!