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  • C Bracknell

The Biking the C&O Canal Towpath – June 2013

June 3 -7, 2013

Gary Foss, our neighbor who owns and lives in the old Beverly Mill in Cripple Creek, had expressed a desire to bike the C&O Canal so we made our plans and on Monday, June 3rd at a little after 7am, we headed to Cumberland, Maryland. This was to be a five day trip to Georgetown. We had the Pod and our well used tent. We arrive in Cumberland around 2:30, after stopping in a West Virginia rest stop for a picnic lunch south of Morgantown.

Our plans were to bike to Old Town and then drive over to Rocky Gap State Park. We had driven through a rain shower before arriving in Cumberland and now the skies were clearing. It was seventeen miles to Old Town where Rhonda would meet us. The distance was a good introduction to the trail for Gary. At Old Town, we realized that there were two primitive trail camping areas that was vehicle accessible. Even though they did not have showers, it would eliminate a fifty or sixty mile round trip to the state park.

One of the trail camp sites was down the road about ten miles at the Paw Paw tunnel. We decided to investigate it to save the driving miles and time. It was right by the highway, had a good parking area, a water source, and a big tenting area for ten dollars. Before setting up camp, we drove across the river to the little community of Paw Paw to get some gas.

Back at the camping area, I parked the van and pod in a corner of the parking lot that was out of the way. The trail campsite isn't really made for using a camper, but it worked well for us. We put up our tent on a campsite for Gary and set up the cot inside. Rhonda began fixing supper. We soon found out that Gary didn't eat much or didn't care for what was prepared. The next morning Gary informed us that the cot did not fit him and he ended up sleeping on the floor of the tent on the pads I had brought for the cot.

There was one other couple at the camp site. They were a sixty plus couple who were from Johnstown, Pennsylvania outside of Pittsburgh up near the start of the GAP trail. They were fully self contained; traveling with all the equipment and most supplies they needed. Their plans were to go all the way to Georgetown, stay overnight in a hotel and then ride back to Pittsburgh. This was a total of over 650 miles.

The next day, Rhonda took us back to where we had stopped the day before at Old Town. Our destination for the day was the Happy Hills Campground just west of Hancock for a total of 36.7 miles. Within an hour we were back to Paw Paw and I got to experience the tunnel for the second year in a row. We stopped for lunch at a trail campsite where there was a boat ramp was being rebuilt. I had some tuna fish salad, crackers, cheese, and a granola bar. Gary was just have trail mix. I offered to share but he declined. The turn off for the campground was not well marked so we missed it and ended up in Hancock; 5.6 miles further down the trail.

In Hancock, we got on the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail and rode the 5.6 miles back to where we found the side trail to the campground. There were a number of dirt trails in the wooded area between the trail and the campground, with no indication of which one lead to the campground. It appeared that they were more for ATVs. When we got to the camping area, Rhonda had selected a site and sitting and reading. She informed us they had a nice pool, so we got our swim suits and headed out to the pool. We ended up riding forty-eight miles for the day.

I left the pool before Gary, so when I returned to the site I went on and put up the tent and then sat down to read some newspaper comics someone had left at the site. The tent was still damp in spots from the heavy dew we had that morning so it was good to have time to dry out. We enjoyed the hot the showers that evening, particularly since we did not have shower facilities at the Paw Paw campsite. Rhonda deposited us in Hancock on Wednesday morning with our destination of Williamsport for lunch and a rendezvous with Chuck and Christine North, our friends from Raleigh. He and I rode from Pittsburgh last year on the GAP trail, stopping in Harper's Ferry and he was interested in finishing it to Georgetown.

They arrived in the parking lot of a heavily visited part of the canal as we were having lunch. Chuck quickly changed into his riding attire and got his bike ready. I introduced Chuck and Gary and we were off to our day's destination of Taylor's landing at Sharpesburg (Antietam). We all enjoyed the afternoon ride together, stopping along the way to enjoy several features such as a small cave, one of the dam sites and the newly completed Big Slackwater viaduct that eliminated the seven mile detour Chuck and I had to ride the previous year. The viaduct was a beautiful piece of engineering work, requiring a great deal of concrete clinging to the side of a sheer rock wall.

Rhonda and Christine met us at Taylor's Landing and we drove to the Greenbrier State Park to camp through the historic town of Antietam and the surrounding battlefield. We backed the pod in and put up the two tents. We had chips, salsa and cheese dip as an appetizer as Rhonda fixed chilli. We served it with store bought slaw. The next morning Rhonda made muffins in her electric muffin maker and we had them along with coffee and some bacon.

The sky was overcast as we set out from the previous day's end point. We had a goal of forty- one miles for a destination of White's Ferry. At Harper's Ferry, Chuck and Gary went across the pedestrian bridge parallel to the railroad, while I stayed down by the trail with the bikes. We did not have a way to secure them and it was a chore to take them up the steps to the bridge. By the time they returned, it was starting to sprinkle.

It was 25.2 miles to White's Ferry and the rain picked up as we made our way pass the Brunswick Campground. Further down the trail, we stopped at Lockhouse 28 and stood on the porch, hoping for some let up in the rain. After a while we came to the conclusion that the rain had set in and we might as well continue on our way.

Further down the trail, we passed the Manocacy Aqueduct which is the largest aqueduct on the canal. It was restored in 2005. In dryer circumstances, it would have been interesting to see, but our priority was getting to our destination and out of the rain. By the time we reached the rendezvous point, the bikes and our legs were quite muddy. It was only sprinkling as we used paper cups to dip water out of some pot holes in the road where Rhonda and Christine had parked to rinse off our legs and shoes.

We found out that the weather was going to be poor for several more days because of tropical storm Andrea. Everyone decided that we did not want to go to the planned campground and have to set up and try to cook and eat in the rain, so we headed toward Rockville, Md. To find a motel, get cleaned up and have some supper.

We headed home the next morning, having thirty-five miles unfinished. We all had a good time even with afternoon ride in the rain.

*Gary went back later in the summer and rode from Pittsburgh to Georgetown. He dropped his bike off at a bike shop in Pittsburgh, drove to Arlington, stayed overnight in a motel, and left his left his truck at the motel. The next day he took a Mega Bus back to Pittsburgh, picked up his bike and rode to a location along the trail he could camp overnight. He arrives back at the motel in Arlington where he had left his truck after riding 335 miles in six days. I am still in want of completing the last 35 miles.

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