Shortly after my wife and I got back from our honeymoon in the Caribbean, my best man Dan and I set out on a journey up the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. I had excess of leave from work that I needed to use and he was off from school for that week, so we decided to bike tour our way up the Potomac River. The weather could not have been better, and despite early injuries and equipment failures we were able to make it all the way to the trail's terminus at mile 184.5.
Day 1 (9/18/2008): Home to Marble Quarry H/B
We started out early in the morning to get a jump on our journey, but not as early as we would have liked. Our bikes were loaded to the gills with way more camping gear and clothing than we actually needed. We headed into Washington and made our way to the Canal along the Potomac and continued on until we reached Great Falls. We got some hot dogs and Gatorade and took in the falls afterward before heading back on our way.
My knee started to hurt shortly thereafter from all the weight being towed by my bike, so Dan took some of the load off for me and we continued onward. Right before White's Ferry our first equipment failure happened -- my saddle, which had been with me for around 8,000 miles, finally broke one of its rails. Thankfully it was servicable enough to ride, but by no means comfortable.
We took a lengthy rest stop at White's Ferry and ended up talking to a gentleman who was sitting on the bench outside of the convenience store there. He ran in and got us some bottles of water, and later identified himself as the captain of the ferry. We told him about our trip plans and about my equipment failure and one of his co-workers took out his bike and pulled the seat post off, giving me his saddle. I asked him how much he wanted for it, but he would not take money -- instead he asked that I "pay it forward". If the guys at White's Ferry read this, I once again extend my heartfelt thanks. I purchased some Advil -- which slowly started to help my aching knee.
Refueled and re-saddled, we headed out into the quickly darkening evening and set up our camp at Marble Quarry H/B. There were two other tents set up there, and they graciously allowed us to set up there. Night fell quickly, and the heat of the evening made it one of the more unpleasant evenings for sleeping. We had my tent's fly installed, which wasn't a great idea with the heat -- a mistake we would not make again. The mosquitos were out in force but eventually we were able to kill them enough to get a reasonable night's sleep.
Day 2 (9/19/2008): Marble Quarry H/B to Killiansburg Cave H/B
After we got our start the following morning we made our way toward Brunswick, MD where I had been to a wonderful coffee shop called Beans in the Belfry on a previous trip up the canal. My knee started acting up again, so it was fairly slow going. I had another ibuprofen on me, but I made the mistake of not taking it then, which only added to the discomfort. Around the Monocacy Aqueduct we met some members of the Bike Patrol who provided us with a map and some helpful information. We rode with them for a while until just before Brunswick. Eventually we made it to Beans in the Belfry where Dan and I pigged out on a lot of carb and protein heavy delights. We took the opportunity to relax for a bit, reading and enjoying the atmosphere of the shop. Eventually we departed after a couple hours, making our way down to Harpers Ferry, WV.
We locked up our bikes on the Maryland side of Harper's Ferry and did a bit of exploring around town. Eventually we grabbed a burger from a restaurant there and made our way back to the trail. We decided to make our stop at Killiansburg Cave H/B -- the best decision of the entire trip. The camp site was absolutely beautiful. There is a site by the trail, but there is a path that leads to an area down by the riverfront that is incredible. It is protected from the trail and had a nice beach like area on which we set-up our tent. Someone had lovingly created seats out of tree stumps and made a fire pit encircled by stones. We had some daylight left, so we took a swim in the still waters by our campsite and cooled off in tranquil Potomac. Another delight we encountered here: someone left their firewood down by the camp so building a fire was quick and simple. After sitting out by the fire for a while we retired in our tent with the fly removed, staring at the stars through the canopy of trees.
After breaking camp at our beautiful site we continued on our way to Cumberland, and I started using Advil in a preventative manner. About ten miles into our day we came upon the detour on some country roads that constituted the only required break from the towpath. The initial hill was no joke, but once we got to the top it was more or less smooth sailing until we took the hill to go back down. Along the way we met up with Danielle, one of Dan's friends. She had been traveling the other direction and had come all the way from Pittsburgh. She was travelling with a friend but she had been leading her, so we didn't get a chance to say hi. After chatting by the side of the road for a while we parted ways and continued on the detour.
Once we got back on the trail it was about another 15 miles to Williamsport, the next town along the trail. Along the way I had a flat tire that I was able to repair quickly with a spare tube I had in my panniers. There was a visitor's center in Williamsport and we got some maps and information and made our way into town for some lunch. The town itself was very run down and seemed dead, until we found a gem in the rough. We ended up going to a coffee shop called the Desert Rose Cafe that had a very kind owner who made us some tasty food and took care of us while we were there. If you take the trip there, I highly recommend stopping there, she was incredibly cyclist friendly and just all-around good people. We re-filled our water bottles and went across the street to a bike shop (River City Cycles), where I got another tire tube, just in case.
We continued on toward our next stop, Hancock, MD. While taking a break at Dam 5, I picked up my bike by the saddle and the weight of the panniers caused the support rail to come out of its housing. Once again, I had a broken saddle. It was still rideable, but not terribly comfortable. About 15 miles out of Williamsport we took another detour, this time on the Western Maryland Rail Trail. The WMRT parallels the C&O and has the distinct advantage of being smoothly paved, unlike its remarkably bumpy neighbor. On smooth pavement Dan and I flew like the wind and enjoyed the speed. Once in Hancock, we went to Weaver's Restaurant and had a bite to eat -- the food was alright and the pie was pretty good. After dinner we went to C&O Bicycle and picked up a brand new saddle for me. It is a very nice saddle that is serving me well to this day. From there we went to the nearby supermarket and picked up some oatmeal and nuts for breakfast the next day and continued on the trail.
It was starting to get dark, so we made a quick stop at White Rock H/B for the night -- a place that we would soon find out was infested with spiders of every variety and was otherwise uninteresting.
Day 4 (9/21/2008): White Rock H/B to Pigman's Ferry H/B
When we woke up we went out and started making breakfast. When I went to pick up my bib shorts, I realized a spider had woven a cocoon onto the lycra overnight. Also, after using the facilities, I noticed that inches from where I had been sitting, a brown recluse spider darted out from behind the seat. I'm very glad he didn't bite me. After cleaning up the gear a bit (and swiching to my other set of shorts) we set out for day four.
We went about 10 miles until we reached Cacapon Junction where we stopped to view the scenery and met a person travelling from the other direction. We chatted with him for a while and found out that he was largely just trying to check out of the system for a while. He didn't know when he would stop, and didn't have much in the way of money, taking his guitar, a small sack of belongings, and a tent on his way down from up North. He thought he might try to make it down to Florida. After talking for a while we parted ways and continued on to Little Orleans, home of Bill's Place.
Bill's Place is famous along the trail as one of the places you have to go -- and it is the last hint of civilization until Paw Paw Tunnel. We grabbed a bite to eat, and I had copious quantities of a locally brewed birch beer from PA that was simply delicious. As is the custom, Dan and I wrote our names on a dollar bill to be posted on the ceiling there.
Next up we made our way to Paw Paw Tunnel. The tunnel is incredibly long, at nearly a mile. Unfortunately, my light failed on me, so I ended up making the walk in the dark. Once on the other side, we made our way to Paw Paw, WV where we stopped by a gas station to get some Gatorade and then to the Dollar General to get some food for the evening. Since we were so close to camp time, we decided to splurge and got some smoked sausage and jambalaya mix proper dinner at camp. We put up camp at Pigman's Ferry after passing up several campsites with lackluster scenery. It turns out that Pigman's Ferry was also lacking in scenery, but was the last one not directly adjacent to the rail lines, so we settled for spending the night there.
Dinner was delicious, and we attracted the attention of the cows that were pastured directly next to the camp site. The water was incredibly metalic in its taste (iron mostly) and while safe, was so filled with metal content that it was reddish in color, and stained our containers. The night was beautiful, and our location in an adjacent area to a pasture meant we had unobstructed views of the night sky.
Day 5 (8/22/2008): Pigman's Ferry H/B to Cumberland, MD
Our night's sleep was particularly peaceful -- after the 4 previous nights of camping, my body was finally getting used to sleeping in the tent. Today was to be our last day on the trail, and we quickly made our way down to Cumberland, excited to see success in our sights. We made it to Cumberland in good time and took our victory photos at the trail head.
We went to a BBQ place called "When Pigs Fly" to grab a bite to eat for lunch and had some reasonably good BBQ to sate our hunger. The day was particularly hot, so we thought we would head over to the YMCA to take a swim. Unfortunately, that day it was closed for maintenance, so no swimming for us. So we headed back to town and went into a coffee shop to kill time until the evening when my beautiful wife was to pick us up.
Once night fell, we went to a great little bar called Ed's Canal Pub. They had a surprisingly good and inexpensive selection of beers. Dan and I drank quite a few of their Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard ales and generally enjoyed the feeling of success that came with the completion of our journey. Ann-Marie arrived not too long afterward and we made our way to Baltimore Street