The weekend with the family was a lot of fun. Not everyone was able to make it, unfortunately, and some were only there for a very short time. One thing that I liked about this trip is that, when I left, I was able to tell people, “See you in a few weeks.”
I got back to the Washington area yesterday. My flight from Dallas was delayed by almost and hour and a half. That meant I didn’t get into Dulles until after 8:00 p.m. By the time I got through the airport and got a taxi, it was already dark. Originally, I had planned to pick up my bike last night, but because it was so late, I picked it up this morning.
For some reason, I did not sleep well last night. I had trouble falling asleep and only slept 3 or 4 hours. I think it was because I was excited to get on the road again. When I thought about this trip before I left, I only pictured it in segments. New England was one segment. Down to DC was a second segment. I knew I would be starting a new segment.
I picked up my bike around 8:30 and Tom gave me directions to the C&O Canal Trail. I had to stop to rearrange things a bit to get them back to the way I like them for traveling and didn’t get to the trail until about 10:30. The trail runs along the tow path of the canal. It is kind of sandy and packed dirt, but easy to ride. Because I didn’t get much sleep last night, I expected it to be a short day so I could take a nap. However, the tow path is mostly flat, so I just kept riding until about 6:00.
Since the canal isn’t in use anymore, the depth varies greatly in the different sections. Some are completely dry and have been taken over by the woods along the Potomac. While it was in use, there were a series of inlets that could bring water from the Potomac to the canal. Some of the locks have been restored or at least maintained a bit. Others have fallen into complete disrepair.
Near Washington and it suburbs, the canal path is heavily used by hikers, joggers and people out for a casual bike ride. Once I got past Swains Lock, about 10 miles outside Washington, the traffic died down. I saw several bicycle tourists riding west to east, but didn’t see any riding east to west until late in the day. That was probably because we were all going the same direction and about the same speed.
Since the canal basically follows the Potomac, I kept wandering why they didn’t just use the river. Turns out, the river would not have been navigable much past Washington. There were some rapids, some areas with cliffs on either side and Great Falls. Even if the boats could get to Great Falls, they would not have been able to get past.
At Great Falls, I had gotten off my bike to check out the falls. While I was getting back on, a German man was coming back from the falls and pointed out the panniers to his friend, saying things like “Kitchen” and some German words I didn’t understand. It turns out he biked from Toronto to Albany then down to Washington. We couldn’t communicate very well, so I don’t know if it was this summer or another time. Since he was with a couple of people who were not bicycle tourists, I assumed it was another time. He pointed to my bear canister and thought it was for beer. It does kind of look like a small keg. I told him it was for food and tried to explain bears, but I don’t think he understood. I tried to explain where I had been, but I don’t think he understood that either. Then I said I was going to San Francisco. He understood that and his face lit up. He said, “Good ride; good ride” and gave me a big thumbs up.
In the afternoon, it started raining. At first it was to the north of me. I could hear thunder and hoped it would stay north. Unfortunately, it didn’t. It was not a bad rain, just spotty thunder showers that hit every so often. They may the path a bit muddy, but not impassable. One benefit of the rain is that it washed the sweat residue off my front panniers.
Starting about five miles west of Swain Lock, there are hiker/biker campsites about every four or five miles along the canal path. They each have one picnic table, a grill, fire pit, portable outhouse and hand pump for water. It is nice because you get to one and decide whether you want to ride a few more miles or not. You don’t have to worry about the next place to stop being 15 or 20 miles away.
I was ready to stop a little after 5:00 and left the trail for a bit to find a place to get some food. While checking out, someone who had seen my bicycle asked about my trip and why. The only response I have right now to why is that it is something that I have dreamt about since junior high. When I said that, the clerk, who had gotten in on the conversation, said, “You win the coolest guy of the day award.”
The campsite I stopped at was just a few miles down the path from the town. No one else was there and, once I set up camp, no one else stopped there. The campsite is kind of muddy and my shoes are covered in mud. Dinner tonight was rice with beef jerky. Pretty tasty.
There is a railroad nearby. I can’t see it, but can hear it. I think it is a commuter train into Washington. I ride all day long, and feel like I’m getting away from the coast, but I’m still within the area served by Washington’s commuter rail.
Looking ahead a bit, the C&O Canal Trail goes all the way to Cumberland, MD. Hopefully, it won’t rain too much for the next few days and the trail will dry out. At Cumberland, the trail meets the Great Allegheny Passage, which is a rail trail that goes on to Pittsburgh. I don’t think I will stay on it all the way to Pittsburgh, but will probably at least try to get through the Appalachians. It crosses the eastern continental divide through the Cumberland Gap, which should have a much lower altitude than some of the other passes. I think I am about 18 miles outside Harper’s Ferry. If I get a good enough start in the morning, I may stop there for a bit of sightseeing.