Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bike America Day 64: C&O Canal

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Day's distance: 60.86 miles
Overall distance: 3,381 miles

After marathon blog catch-up sessions at the Cumberland, MD YMCA on Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, my dad and I began riding on the C&O Canal Towpath at quarter to ten. This trail begins right where the GAP trail ends in Cumberland and runs all the way to DC alongside the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. After the canal went out of service in the 1920's, the towpath was acquired by the federal government and converted to a recreational trail in the 1950's. We are very familiar with the other end of it as we've walked, hiked, and biked along it in Georgetown and Maryland but this end was brand new (to us) territory.

At the start, the trail turned out not to be much fun. The first ten miles were filled with mud and puddles so we could never get up any steady speed, slowing often to avoid puddles or avoid wild splashes. Our bikes and our bodies were still pretty covered in mud.

At mile 18, we left the trail to head into Oldtown, MD where we met my mom at a restaurant called Schoolhouse Kitchen. Having read about this place, I thought it was an old schoolhouse turned cafe so I demanded that we go. It turned out to be an actual school building converted into an auto repair shop and restaurant. We sat in the old cafeteria and ate some very inexpensive comfort food served to us by a menonite girl.

From Oldtown, the three of us rode 12 miles south to the Paw Paw Tunnel. This is a long, dark, scary tunnel along the trail that we'd been hearing about since we began our trip on the trail. It is the length of eleven football fields and has no lights. We were relieved to see that there was never a time at which you couldn't see both ends of the tunnel. Still, the views of the ends were misleading because they made you feel closer to the end than you really were. The canal still flows through the tunnel so we were on a narrow path with a guard-rail raised above the water and we were required to walk. My mom walked partway in with us because she wanted to see it and then turned around to ride back to the car. My dad and I proceeded on, making light of the darkness, the drips on our heads, the puddles under our feet, and the bumpy uneven ground.

Picture without flash.

Picture with flash.

On the other side of the tunnel, at mile 32, we remounted our bikes and continued on. Not much else happened all day. We talked about how we were kind of bored and neither of us felt the need to ride this trail again. It wasn't as pretty and felt more monotonous than the GAP trail and was much less fun than road riding. It was definitely something to check off our list but it definitely isn't the most fun terrain of the trip. Though we did ride over aqueducts, canal locks and by the cement processing plant that provided the cement for the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol (pictured below). So that was cool.

A little after six. at mile 60, we arrived in Hancock, MD. where we'd be staying the night. We got some ice cream and then had a short car trip to Happy Hills Campground. We ate turkey, tomato and cheese sandwiches for dinner, drank wine and I blogged in the dark. Only two more days to go.

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