C & O Canal Bike Trip - 1992
One of the best features of living in Shippensburg, PA is the proximity of the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and its well-maintained tow path. On many Sundays during the late 80s and early 90s we drove one or two cars down to the canal and rode approximately 30 miles either "out and back" or "point to point", depending on the segment we wished to ride. At some time we decided that we'd like to ride the entire 184 mile length of the tow path. We decided that we would try to do the ride in 3 days, covering about 60 miles per day. Because there are mileposts along the tow path, and because of our many exploratory rides, we knew that the best way to divide the trip was to stay overnight at Hancock, MD and Harpers Ferry, WV. Prior to this trip, Cathy's longest ride was about 50 miles, but she was a regular bike rider and was used to riding on hilly terrain, so the flat tow path wasn't expected to be too great a challenge. Bill was used to riding from 55 to 75 miles on routes that often involved one, two, or three mountains. So Bill was elected to carry all of the gear that we'd need for the ride. Cathy decided that we wouldn't be camping, so we wouldn't have to carry much food and no camping equipment. On the other hand, we carried a number of items for Bill: cereal packets, herbal tea, electric pot, popcorn, popcorn popper, and large and small bowls. We decided not to make reservations for lodging at our two stops in order to provide us with more flexibility in dividing up the trip. We enlisted our daughter, Katie (here's a photo from a different river a month prior to our bike trip), to drive us to Cumberland, MD for an overnight stay the night before the trip started and to pick us up in Georgetown (Washington, DC) when the trip was over. We estimated that we could average 10 miles per hour including stops on each day of the ride, so we asked Katie to pick us up in the middle of the afternoon of our last day. So on a Sunday afternoon in July, Katie drove us to Cumberland, MD. We had several big thunderstorms as we drove along and we hoped that we wouldn't have to contend with bad weather during the ride. When we arrived at the Holiday Inn in Cumberland, we found the place full of people in various forms of bike riding garb. We discovered that this was the eve of the "Cycle Across Maryland" that was heading to Hancock, MD the next day, the same destination that we had, but on roads instead of the tow path. We had a satisfactory dinner at the hotel and headed off to bed with our bicycles in our room with us.
Day One (80 miles)
If we had known how the first day of the ride would go, we wouldn't have made the trip. The heavy rain from the prior afternoon left the tow path full of puddles and mud. After a few minutes of riding, we, our bicycles, and our clothing were covered with muck. We had to ride through a very dark Paw-Paw Tunnel on a very narrow path. Cathy got too close to the wall and scraped her arm, mixing blood with the mud. Of course Bill told her to shake it off ... and she did. As the day went on, the tow path dried out and the riding became easier. The Potomac River was swollen from the recent rain and provided interesting views as we rode. The lowlight of the day occurred as we rode into Hancock, MD expecting to be at the end of our day of riding. We found the town filled with Cycle Across Marylanders who had reserved every motel room and church basement within 20 miles. We stopped at some tourist offices and were told that we were out of luck. Someone finally mentioned a Bed and Breakfast place in Clear Spring, MD, but they didn't know the name of the establishment or its phone number. We decided to take a chance and started riding up and down the Maryland hills toward Clear Spring. It was a tortuous extra 20 miles, but we made it and found the Harbine House B&B. We were quite a specter as we rang the doorbell: riding garb, clothes and cycles mud-caked, Cathy's arm blood-caked, and sweat streaks cutting through the dirt on our faces. Unbelievably, we were welcomed by the Innkeeper and given the opportunity to hose off our bicycles. The highlight of the day for each of us was watching our mud flowing down the drain of the antique bathtub. After lots of scrubbing, we changed clothes and walked to the American Legion for a very basic dinner. We slept very well.
Day Two (67 miles)
We enjoyed our Inn's breakfast and conversation with the Innkeeper at the beginning of a beautiful day. We checked our map and found a way back to the tow path and began the ride. We found a pretty stretch of river for a morning break near a dam. At one place, the tow path was washed out and we had to take a detour on some roads (the observant reader will note that Bill wore the same clothing every day, while Cathy had different outfits). We ate lunch near Shepardstown, WV and cruised to the area just up the river from Harper's Ferry, WV. We could see a hotel high on a bluff over the river and decided to try to stay there for the night. There are 3 bridges across the Potomac to Harper's Ferry: the Appalachian Trail pedestrian bridge, the highway bridge, and a railroad bridge. Since the Appalachian Trail bridge links directly to the tow path, we decided to take that one. This was much harder than it sounds because we had to lug Bill's loaded bike up an imposing set of stairs to the bridge. This was quite a struggle; obviously, someone didn't want bicycles on this bridge. We made it across the river and then had to ride all the way up the steep hill to the hotel. Luckily, the hotel had a room for us, and what a room! It was the rustic equivalent of a penthouse suite - huge, with awesome views (pics: 1,2,3). Bill posed for a photo with the railroad tunnel in the background that shows that he had another set of clothing. We ate a good dinner in a cute little restaurant and turned in early for another good night's sleep.
Day Three (60 miles)
We had to search a bit to get an early breakfast in a café, but we enjoyed it. We decided to take the highway bridge back over to the tow path. We had to deal with heavy traffic and some abandoned ramps to get where we wanted to go, but we eventually started the ride. It was another beautiful day. We found a well-preserved lock on a water-filled stretch of the canal; in many places, the canal is dry. We found a nice spot for a lunch stop, where Cathy tended to her sore feet. Near Great Falls, we came to another working lock with a tourist-filled canal boat. After our few days of isolation, we found the crowds a bit disorienting, but as we closed in on the end of the journey, more and more people shared the tow path with us. We saw some families of turtles sunning themselves on rocks and trees as we neared Georgetown. Finally, we arrived at the end of the tow path, right in Georgetown. Katie had to struggle with the one-way roads that change sense during the morning and evening commutes, but she arrived in due time to pick us up.
Note: Bill had a toothache for the entire trip, which explains his somber countenance in his photos; however, he did enjoy the trip.