Thursday, October 2, 2014

Pittsburgh to DC, Part 2: the C&O Towpath

I left off in my last post with us finishing the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail in Cumberland Maryland. After lunch and a visit to the local bike shop for fuel and new tires for Michael, we continued on our way, starting the C&O Towpath at milepost 184.5. We had a better idea of what to expect on this section since Michael and I had biked the next 105 miles last year over Memorial Day weekend. By the time we left Cumberland, it was nearly 4 p.m. We only had 23 miles to go, so we managed to get to our campsite just before dark.
Looking back on Cumberland, Maryland.
Farm fields southeast of Cumberland.
We originally planned to camp at Potomac Forks campsite. When we got there, the water pump wasn't working, so we continued on to Town Creek Aqueduct campsite. It turned out to be a much, much prettier site. The picture above was taken as the sun was going down.
Day 5: This is the same view in the morning at sunrise. We couldn't have asked for a prettier spot to spend the night.
Five miles into our ride on day 5, we arrived at the Paw Paw Tunnel. At a half-mile, it is nearly as long as the Big Savage Tunnel on the GAP Trail, but unlike the Big Savage Tunnel, it is not lit. Last year, armed with a headlamp and a flashlight, I thought I would be able to ride through it. It got exactly three feet into it and realized that it was a horrible idea. The towpath through the tunnel is really uneven and there are puddles of indeterminate depth. Did I mention the canal, which I swear, harbors monsters as yet unknown to science? This year, I didn't even try. I just walked from the beginning.
The east end of the Paw Paw Tunnel.
One of the many lockhouses along the Towpath.
Remains of a cement plant outside of Hancock, Maryland and a nice example of an anticline below it.
We had gotten a weather forecast in Cumberland and heard that it was supposed to rain overnight. We had the option of camping or staying in the "bunk house" (above) behind C&O Bicycles in CumberlandHancock. I have to say, it reminded me of at least a couple of developing world hostels that I've stayed in, complete with outdoor showers (which were hot, at least). The price was right, though, and it was dry.
 Inside the bunk house.
Dam 5 on the Potomac River on day 6. It did rain overnight, so we battled soft mud all day long. I, not being a mountain biker, completely underestimated the energy and concentration it takes to muscle a bike, let alone a fully loaded one, through all of that.
One of my favorite places on the Towpath is Big Slackwater. I love how the path is perched along the edge of the river against the cliffs. It is also paved, which was a really, really nice break from the soft mud.
On day 6, we were headed for our friend's house, which turned out to be a good thing, given how dirty we all were at the end of the day. I think I carried as much mud on my bike, bags, and me as I left on the path. I got so much mud in my rear derailleur that I lost the ability to shift to different gears until I sprayed it off with my water bottle. We hosed everything off at our friend's house.
Day 7 was blissfully dry and the path had dried out quite a bit overnight. We made Harpers Ferry by lunchtime. This is the view from the bridge over the Potomac in Harper's Ferry.
 Monocacy Aqueduct, which is the longest of many aqueducts on the Towpath.
We camped that night at Chisel Branch campsite, which was right on the river. We had a spectacular sunset. The campsite is in Montgomery County, near White's Ferry, close to where we occasionally go out for road rides. It felt a little odd to camp so close to home, but it set us up for a great last day on the trip.
We got up early on the last day to get past Great Falls before the crowds arrived. We mostly accomplished that with time for a quick walk out to the overlook on Olmstead Island.
 Milepost 0 on the Towpath in Georgetown, tucked in between Rock Creek and Thompson's Boathouse.
 After finding Milepost 0, we rode over to the White House, had lunch in a coffee shop, rode up the National Mall and then to our house. Our original plan was to get on the Metro and get home that way, but a suggestion was made to finish the trip by riding home. It turned out to be a great idea and it was really cool to ride all the way to our house from Pittsburgh!

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