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She Wanted an Adventure...

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Phoebe has a hunger for new places and adventures. There's little she loves more than seeking those in the company of her little family (me and Liam). With Liam now employed full-time in graphic design in Marietta (yay!!), we'd had a hard time blocking out time for a good, strenuous family bike ride. And Phoebe's days at home are coming to an end; she's moving on to her next phase in work and life.

Saturday was the day--cool and partly cloudy. We were ready. The plan was to head east to Ellenboro, WV, and ride on the rail-to-trail to Cairo, a round trip of about 16 miles. We started late, because Liam was planning a late-night rendezvous with his beloved Hailey in Maryland, and he'd be an hour along his way when we finished an evening ride. Well. 

Phoebe had never been on the North Bend trail, and what a delight it was to show her around. Liam and I were excited to see her through the three railroad tunnels, two of which are fairly short and moderately spooky; one of which is way too long and downright freaky.

There were so many wonderful vistas along the way--rock walls and shining creeks and steep slopes. Here's an inspired planting of Naked Ladies, an amaryllis that pops up in late July.

We had the trail practically to ourselves, as you can tell from this tunnel ride-through. Liam is a little too good at lunatic laughter! As a borderline claustrophobic, these sounds sum up how I feel about riding through pitch-dark tunnels. I'm OK as soon as I can see the light at the other end. Until then, I'm muttering and yodeling and just forcing myself forward into the unknown. 

We made it into Cairo around 7:20 pm, and couldn't resist poking around a bit, even though we still had 8 miles to ride back to the cars.

This completely untouched Italianate bank building now houses the "headquarters" of the North Bend Rails to Trails. 

This woozy shot shows the street outside, plus the perfect marble counters and teller cages, each with its own vintage typewriter! The bank operated until 1974, and is now a sort of standing museum of what it was like around the turn of the 20th century. 

Just look at that work station! Not a screen in sight. Oh man. It was enchanting, leaving noseprints on the windows of this elegantly narrow building. 

A peek around the corner of the bank building showed the Hughes River making its way through the community. No culverts for it! It looks a bit wild and floody to me, like it could make trouble if it wanted to. Cairo flooded a lot before the Hughes was dammed, creating North Bend's squiggly lake (one of my happy places for canoeing and birding). But the damage had been done, over and over and over, and Cairo now redefines "sleepy little town."

Another interior downtown. That's a sort of Mothman suit hanging on the left. There were masks, too. There's an interesting, funky energy about Cairo that I like.

I believe I saw Mr. Mullenix jingling his keys outside the meat market. The cartoon pharoahs got me!

A little street art. You're apt to find such things throughout this little town.

Too soon, we mounted our bikes and started the long ride back. This is the first of three tunnels we had to navigate to get back. We stopped to rest. The kids climbed up above the tunnel entrance (see them in the greenery?)

I took my pack off, leaned back on a bench, and gazed out at the dying light on Husher's Run.
Just the name, Husher's Run, slows my heart and gives me peace. It wouldn't have to be this beautiful.

Oh boy, was it getting dark! We pedaled as fast as we could, complaining about our sore butts--that part of a long bike ride I always conveniently forget until it happens. I was wearing my padded bike shorts, but they could only do so much for a fair-weather biker like me.

We rolled back into Ellenboro at 8:56 pm, as the sun painted the western sky an incredible coral color. What a feeling of accomplishment! 

We high-fived around the parking lot and I reached up to take my pack off to grab my car keys and...

I was not wearing a pack any more. And the car keys were in it, and I was sure it was lying on a bench, back at the picnic shelter by the first tunnel. 

Which meant that my car keys were five miles and two scary tunnels away, on an unlit bike trail in deep forest that is inaccessible by car. 

It took Phoebe approximately 40 seconds to assess the situation, take her bike back down off the rack, and announce that she was going to ride back to get that backpack. "What else are we going to do? Spend the night in the parking lot?"

She had 20% battery left on her ancient iPhone 10, 2018 vintage, that had been Bill's. She'd need its light for the tunnels, for sure, and to watch for the deadly bar gates that cross the path perhaps ten times along the way. They have reflectors on them, but without light to bounce off the reflectors, they're invisible in the dark. The first picture my mind conjured was Phoebe crashing, full speed, into a steel bar gate. It was not a good picture. Before I could object, she hugged me and then Liam, told him to hit the road and have fun, and she was gone, pedaling full-speed into inky darkness. 

It's hard to describe the anguish of seeing her take off, so resolute, so swift. My phone battery was dying, too. I borrowed a charger from Liam, who was already very late for his rendezvous, hugged him goodbye, and watched his taillights disappear, headed for Maryland. 

I walked over to a McDonald's, looking for an outside outlet, and found one, miraculously, at a nearby car wash. I plugged in my iPhone and commenced tracking my girl. Reception was terrible, but I found her little blue dot, inching deeper and deeper into the forest on that dark, dark trail. (I am in Ellenboro; she's at the square icon). 

The first thing I could think to do was call the Harrisville Police Department to ask if they by chance had a motorcycle that could navigate the bike trail, to escort Phoebe. They were as helpful as they could be, but they have no motorcycle, and they don't have keys to the bar gates so they could get a cruiser through. They promised to call North Bend State Park to see if they could get someone to meet Phoebe at the shelter. I told them to ask whoever might show up not to take the pack, because heaven knows what Phoebs would do if she got all the way to the shelter and didn't find the pack! 

After an eternity, which was about 25 minutes, I got a very brief call from Phoebe. "I got the pack. I'm starting back." She couldn't talk because each second she was using it, the battery on her phone was dwindling. She was at 10%. 

She rode as she'd never ridden in her life. Her FitBit clocked her heart rate. The blue and yellow is our ride together; the red and yellow is her nighttime rescue mission. 

Back at the car wash in Ellenboro, I watched her little gray dot get closer and closer to my blue dot.

I can't tell you what a comfort that was, as I fought to quell my primal panic at sending her into the dark. Here I have to give a shoutout to iPhones, because without them, none of this key recovery would have been possible. They have great flashlights, and the Find My function has saved my sanity more times than I care to admit. I'm grateful for that, and grateful that my kids don't mind my being connected and tracking them as they go on their way. At least, they haven't turned off the feature for me yet.

Almost an hour had elapsed. I headed back to the parking lot to keep watch over the car, realizing that someone could take my bike right off the back of my car if I didn't. A police SUV rolled up with a very nice young officer who had decided to make sure Phoebe made it back. Thank you so much, Harrisville Police Dept! He hung out with me until that blessed moment when her silhouette topped an overpass on the bike trail. I could see her, etched in black against the modestly lit Ellenboro skyline. I whooped in joy!

Here, she describes the ride. We thought she'd only have to ride through one tunnel. Nope. The gazebo where I'd left my pack was at the far end of the longest tunnel. In the end, she had to ride the two longest ones, including the freaky long one--and she had to do them both twice, in a ten-mile round trip! As she was describing the ordeal for me and the officer, her phone winked out, its job finally done. Had that happened on the trail, she'd have been forced to walk her bike, as she couldn't see her hand in front of her face. Imagine navigating the tunnels then.

This screenshot puts it all into perspective. At the right end is the parking lot in Ellenboro. At the left end is Cairo. The point in the middle is where Phoebe had to get my pack. So she rode 26 miles, 10 of them in the dark. This is not the first time, and won't be the last, that my kids humble, thrill and amaze me. More and more, they do things I know I couldn't.

We got home around 11:30 pm. I ran a hot Epsom bath for Phoebe; her hands were aching from holding the handlebars and the phone/flashlight so tightly. Well, her whole body was aching. She got her core temperature so high in the bath she couldn't go to sleep. Which is probably OK, for what was about to happen. Our night was about to get even weirder. I had fought myself to sleep around 12:30, and she was just turning off her light at 2:25 AM, when someone pounded hard on our front door. Silence. Then pounded again, nine times. Terrified, we both arrived at the front door together to find a police officer on the porch. You never, ever want to see that. He said he'd had a 911 hangup that traced to our address, for  William Thompson. Phoebe and I both gasped--had something happened to Liam? I thought fast. "What number did it come from?" 

The number he named had been Bill's old cellphone number. It wasn't Liam's. Phoebe called Liam just to make sure; he was fine (still up!) and as mystified as we were. We could only assume Bill's number had been reassigned by now, and whoever has it had made the call...but why does it still trace to our address?  Needless to say, neither of us slept much after that, much as we needed to. 

Well, Phoebe, you wanted an adventure. Be careful what you wish for!

I could not be prouder of you, my lion-hearted girl. I want you on my team come the Zombie Apocalypse!



That is such a wild heart-pounding story. Phoebe is truly amazing to have accomplished what she did in the dark on that bike, following info on her iPhone. Wow! Please tell her she has an admiring fan club. Wow!

You have such an amazing family!

That is quite the story. I'm not really surprised that Phoebe dashed off to the rescue; that's the kind of kids you raised. Which means that I AM a bit surprised that Liam DIDN'T. He must have really been jonesing for Hailey, but still. 😉 But that last part.... Cue the creepy music, for sure!

An amazing family of brave and resolute people.
You’re all very fortunate, Julie.

What a fantastic story, and beautiful family!

Holy. Crap.

Resolute Phoebe! I agree with Gary O'Brien's comment above.
Wonderful and satisfying to have your children grow into such admirable and capable adults. My son has similarly been of tremendous assistance to me, truly rising in the occasion of crisis. 🙌

What an adventure!

I picked up a couple of these awhile back:
There's currently a $10 off coupon offer as well (just check the box). They fold up and can easily be stowed in a pack or glovebox. Just make sure it isn't in the glovebox of the locked car!

@Thomas, I just bought a pair! Didn't get a coupon, but didn't care. Oh, how LED lighting has changed and improved my life. These will go with us on our next bike ride in the evening to anywhere! Thank you so much. I didn't even know they existed.

Oh my word! As a cyclist myself, I could completely imagine what you two went through, and the panic you were feeling. If you ride long enough, you'll have an experience kind of like this (ours was my husband losing his wallet on a Santa Fe mountain bike trail), and the fear and adrenaline that ensue are something you will never forget. Thank heavens it all ended okay. You have a brilliant daughter!

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