Friday, July 9, 2010

Day 5: The Great Ride to Georgetown

Very early start at dawn packing it up.  On the trail by 7 am and didn't even divert into Harper's Ferry and its many distractions.  Nothing much would be open at 7:30 anyways.   Tuesday morning 7:45?!?!  Holy bejeezus!!   The trip's cutting into the post-Memorial Day workweek now, so I call out of work.

The Appalachian Trail went along the C&O Towpath for a few miles during which we saw some huge, ugly snapping turtles.  Brunswick, Maryland was a good stopping point for breakfast.  We dropped into a small diner called "Mommer's".  Mommer is an old lady who got the name years ago when her son didn't like using the names Mom, Ma-ma, or Mommy.  There were lots of old photos of civil war camps and steam trains on the walls.  We waved Ludik into Mommer's Diner and Chrissy explained the menu to him.  "What is this French toast?"  

Around the corner, and old church had been converted into a cafe.  "Beans in the Belfrey" was  not officially open for business until 10:00 but we were allowed to go in to use the bathroom and admire its unique interior space.   Chrissy was dissappointed that there were no bean dishes on the menu.  We later realized the beans of which they speak are coffee beans!  The place was proud of its past history as a church and thrift store, and had much evidence on display.  They have a bit of a blues and bluegrass music scene here.   The town even hosts a music festival in June that I'd like to get down for.

We were not on the trail for long before getting to the next town, Point-of-Rocks.  This place was very small... even too small for a downtown.   We stopped for an early 11:00 lunch as stops along the Towpath are scattered far and wide.  At the mini-mart, Julia got a soft-serve cone, Willow ate a yogurt, Chrissy managed to swallow down some mediocre fried chicken, and Soren had the most awesome crabcake sandwich.  Ludik showed up at the minimart deli shortly and I talked up the crabcake as a Maryland specialty and showed off the huge lump meat.  Later when he overtook us on the Towpath, he yelled "THE CRABCAKE IS AWESOME!"

We saw the large number of miles to go and my lack of leave available from work, so we called Gordon to come relieve us of the kids and gear so that we could zip through the last 35 miles at top speed.  We made this transfer at White's Ferry which seems like it is the only ferry on the Potomac that is still in operation.  Chrissy had Gordon drive her to get fast food for dinner while I collapsed the bike trailers and chilled in the shade with Willow.  Around 5:00 we resumed our trek with our greatly reduced load, now just 1 spare innertube,  2 water bottles and 2 pockets of energy bars.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Day 4: Opequon Junction to Huckleberry Hill

We woke up just after dawn with high hopes that this would finally be the day we got a lot of miles in.  Chrissy now had no problem sitting on the bike and keeping up a steady 10 miles per hour for long periods of time.  We ate some Clif bars for breakfast and packed up camp.  

Chrissy was ready to go so she did her stretches and started peddling out.   I said I would be right behind her and would catch up right after nature's call.  However, soon after I started peddling I soon realized something wasn't right; I had to resolve the problem of a flat tire.  A patch job would be impossible because the valve stem had ripped off.  

I called the nearest C and O visitor center to see if any volunteers were about.  They were not out this Memorial Monday morning.  First a runner came by and he volunteered to run home and get a tube and return.  However, we were in the middle of nowhere and it would be a while.

Chrissy eventually returned and was irritated about having to backtrack three miles and that she had told me to buy extra tubes at the bike store before we began the trip.  (I thought my 24 patches in my repair kit would have been plenty.)  Another biker eventually came by and donated a tube.  We rode on to the beginning of the detour and Chrissy hears hissing from the tire.  She decides the problem is more systematic than a new tube but I start working on patching this leak.  

A park ranger shows up as a response to my earlier call for help.  He talks to Chrissy first and offers to give me a ride to a bike shop.  Chrissy says I could do whatever and she and the kids will meet up with me in Shepardstown and she rides ahead.  With her new found bike riding ability I know she'll make it there in no time. 

I complete the patch job and decide to ride on.  The ranger drives ahead on the detour to tell my wife that I'll be right behind.  The sun is getting high in the sky and the detour is six miles on hilly open country streets.  It all seemed good until the patch failed again.  
This was probably due to the undersized tube being over-inflated to fit on my tire.  I peeled off the failed patch and was bout to double up on new patches when a mama biker showed up pulling her kid in a trailer.  

She donated a presto-style tube suitable for my mountain bike, but she had to inflate it because my pump was not presto.  We chatted and she said she goes to music festivals and used to be a professional biker.  I suggested she check out Musefest which we found was kid friendly and the Rainbow Gathering of course.  She suggested Deadfest in Ohio which would conflict with the gathering because it is on July 4th.

I finally was on my way with a good tube but the scenery was so pretty I stopped to take many pictures.  The last 1/4 mile was very curvy and steep.  Chrissy had called to warn me to be careful on it since her breaks gave out on her way down.  Mine felt okay so I decided to take it for a ride.  Chrissy was waiting for us at a beach she found on the tow path.  I waded in the Potomac to cool off from this very hot and difficult detour.  Then, we were back on the tow path.
Lynnis met us at lock 38 (mile 72.7) to drive us into Shepherdstown for lunch.  It sure beat riding a ways up hill.  We gave her a birthday present from the gift shop we visited in Williamsport.  We walked down main street in search of a restaurant we could agree on.  We agreed on Maria's Tacos.  Of course we were starving after biking about 30 miles that morning because of back tracking and the detour.  

Getting huge burritos in our bellies was just what we all needed to put us all in high spirits.  Brian won a free burrito since he ate the Burrito Challenge ($15).  Chrissy wondered why she was not served the burrito challenge when she was so clear that she wanted the biggest burrito on the menu?  We bought supplies at the bike shop and bakery.  Then, we filled our Nalgene bottles at Sheetz with ice water.

We continued another ten miles to Huckleberry H/B Campground.  Willow was tired of this very long day of biking.  We camped with a family from Tennessee that was biking with their two pre-teen sons and a man from the Czech named Ludik.  Surprisingly Chrissy and Ludik had a lot in common with their Czech heritage.  He was especially excited when she told him about her family recipe for bread dumplings, something he hadn't had since he was back in the Czech.  Our campsite was beautiful, with an unobstructed view of the Potomac.  We slept with the rain fly down.  We were ready for a good nights sleep but it was interrupted by Willow many times which helped us get an early start in the morning.

Day 3: Hancock to Opequon Junction

I made the coffee this morning and Chrissy made the eggs (a little runnier than Josh's but still very good nutrition to have at the start of another day on the Trail).  Lion took us to town around 8:40 but we didn't start riding bikes until 9:30 as we had to wait on our subs from Sheetz and get ourselves together in other ways (sunscreen for Soren and goodbye hugs to Lion).

We took the rail trail again until it had run its course, about another 5 miles.  We then had to backtrack a 3/4 mile to rejoin the C&O Towpath which really irritated Chrissy.  Soren got super hungry alongside Big Pool around 11:00 and we broke out the submarine sandwiches onto our picnic blanket spread out right into the middle of the trail, as we sometimes do.

We were feeling good about our abilities and wanted to travel many miles today, perhaps gaining enough miles to get back on schedule (the 4-day plan).  In the afternoon, we locked up our bikes at the Williamsport C&O Canal NHP Visitor Center and strolled into town in search of a hot meal.  We could not find a restaurant that was open at first but we did get some neat trinkets at a fairy-themed gift shop.  We then found a Sheetz and got an icy co
ld Pepsi slushy, along with the directions to Tony's Pizza which was expected to be open this Sunday afternoon.

Tony's was indeed open, but it was no hole-in-the-wall pizza joint.  It had a real Olive Garden vibe going on in the dining room.  We ordered salads after having too much pizza and fried food already this adventure.  The garlic knots on the side were great by themselves or dipped in marenara sauce.  We had a big screen television on the wall near our booth and we got a great view of a women's college softball game on ESPN.  The ice water tasted so sweet so of course we filled our Nalgene water bottles with it.

Our daily river-wading break was at McCoy's Ferry prior to Williamsport.  Unfortunately, it was only an asphalt boat launch--not a real beach.  The campground there had a hand pump but the water in its vault was so over-chlorinated that we didn't want to drink it.  Back up on the trail we learned from a trail volunteer that a detour was coming up around Mile 88
and we should camp prior to there so we don't get stuck out on the road at dusk or after dark.  

We had our photos taken at Mile 100, a real psychological milestone.   Right at that mile marker we saw 2 huge turds of mystery scat, each about the size of a beer can.  I later told my dad this information and he reported it to the Bigfootologist community.   There have actually been Bigfoot sightings in this area, but the scat could have also been from a bear. 

We decided to camp at Opequon Junction (Mile 91), the last hiker/biker campground before we had to take the 6-mile road detour around a washed out section.  Our neighbor at this camp was a man on a solo trek after his biking partner bailed on him only 20 miles or so into the trail.   He was a good neighbor, and I felt bad that my kids were making a racket into the night and did not fall asleep until 11:00 pm.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Day 2: Paw Paw to Hancock

In the morning we had a small breakfast of fruit and then packed up camp.  Thankfully, Chrissy had recovered from the leg cramps she was feeling on day one and she was ready to ride for another day.  

We were on the trail about 9:30.  The Paw Paw tunnel began about a mile down which was an exciting beginning to the day.  It was very moist and dark, just like a cave.  It was required that we walk our bikes through and rightly so because we could barely see a thing and it was a narrow path along a 6+ foot drop into a dark canal.  We had only one head light on Chrissy's bike so we took it slow and created a small traffic jam doing this.  At the far end of the tunnel it was very scenic with moss and ferns growing from the exposed rock.

We also passed thru narrows of rock formations.  Slate slivers slide down from the rock face in piles next to the trail, which is also made from crushed slate slivers at that point.

Our short term goal for the mid morning was Bill's Place in Little Orleans (mile 140.4).  Chrissy kept up a moderate pace and we arrived there at 1:30 for a late lunch.  Bill's Place is about the only thing for miles and it is just a bar that serves greasy food, and in the corner there is a "general store."  (The general store is really just a couple of old dusty shelves with a very small selection of canned food and boxed pasta.)  The ceiling is decorated with vandalized dollar bills that create a wall paper on the individual ceiling tiles.  Bill is an old man that wears a T-shirt that says he is the one and only Bill.  

I'm not sure if Bill's place is always this crowded but the place was hopping.  As I was putting in the order I remembered that Bill did not take credit cards.  I went to look for cash which is a rare commodity in our family.  Of course there was no ATM's for miles either.  Luckily Bill agreed to take a check from us dirty hippies, because we were starving.  Chrissy complained that there was nothing healthy on the menu and did not know what to order and just told me to get whatever and she'll probably eat it, being that she just burned 1,000 calories.    I ordered a crab cake sandwich with french fries, a mushroom pizza for the family and an appetizer of breaded mushrooms.

While our order was getting prepared, I indulged in a Sam Adams while
the girls got ice cream cones  Chrissy ate but was feeling sick of deep fried food.  Willow befriended some bikers at the next table over.  She has a thing for strange men.  It seemed that everything took a while so we enjoyed the A/C and relaxation.  We also stocked up on the good water from the spicket outside their basement door.

Before hitting the trail we jumped in the Potomac just down the hill at 15 Mile Creek.  This was a big canoe spot today.  There were ten canoes beached when we got there and about ten more showed up before we left.  The water was chilly but it was soothing on our legs.  

Willow got all the way in and wanted to stay cool and so we let her strip down for the rest of the afternoon.  A big uphill push to the trail and then we were back on it at 3:30.

Hancock was our next goal at Mile 124 and we had told Lion that we might see him again so we pushed to get there before dark.  Chrissy was praying for a miracle because our butts were not feeling another 15 miles on a bike.  At Lock 55 Chrissy got that miracle.  There was a path up to the Western Maryland Rail Trail which is paved.  Chrissy pondered that this would be cheating but was easily convinced of the wisdom of such a detour.

We doubled our speed on the paved 
rail-trail and made it to Hancock in no time and treated ourselves to some snowballs.  We hooked up with Lion around 7:00 PM when he picked us up in his pickup truck, bikes/gear and all.  

At Lion's, Chrissy made mac and cheese from our food supply.  Josh had a friend over and a bonfire going.  They were stocked up with some beer and bluegrass on compact disc and ready to have a chill evening.  Josh's girlfriend Jenny loved Butterfly so she adopted her for the night.  Josh told Jenny not to get any ideas though.  We all learned the unfortunate story of how Jenny just got a DUI or DWI on her way to work Friday (the morning we left their house) after 15 people reported her erratic driving.  She was also fired because she missed her shift at work, being that she was detained until Lion could come rescue her.  She was in good spirits though.  

We hit the bed around 10:00 pm, earlier for Willow.  My eye was pussing from the insect collision yesterday.  I dosed it with plenty of colloidal silver before bed.

Day 1: Cumberland to Paw Paw

We woke soon after dawn at our friend Lion's house when his enormous dog Rocco jumped into the guest bed we were borrowing. Lion had already left for work but his unemployed roommate Josh was up and accompanied me (Soren) on a stroll of the grounds. Chrissy and Willow slept a little longer and when they woke up Josh got started on breakfast. We had gourmet fried eggs, toast, and sausage for the meat eaters. Chrissy learned about proper black iron skillet care (no soap!).

We left Lion's around 8:45 and arrived in Cumberland an hour later. Then it took us most of another hour to get the bikes and trailers set up with all our of our camping gear rigged up. Soren and Butterfly applied plenty of sunscreen (SPF 80, oh yeah!) Around 10:40 am we got our photo taken at the C&O Canal Towpath trail head and began our journey. (The boy scouts we had asked were hesitant to do the photo at first as they needed scoutmaster approval, but eventually a free-thinking one stepped forward.)

The first 200 yards is smooth patio stones leaving the city's downtown district. It then turns to a smooth crushed gravel. At this point a local outdoors expert cautioned we could expect muddy conditions ahead ("Cover up your gear now, before you hit the mud"), but we continued on for about 15 miles before we got to our first section that was too muddy to avoid the potholes. We rode on dispite the occational mud, appreciating the natural world within our right-of-way: Canadian geese with their babies, pond turtles, black snake, butterflies, cave crickets, beaver, squirrel, and a Baltimore oriole that flirted with Chrissy as she rode down a section of trail.

We stopped for lunch at 12:30 at the first lock (Lock 75 at Mile 175.6) we came to. It is notable for the log cabin construction of its lock house, indicating that this area was the frontier when the C&O originally arrived here. We ate from our big food bag: baba ganish, pita, orzo, carrots, ranch dressing, PB&J, and a turkey sandwich for Chrissy.

Chrissy seemed to have a burst of energy after lunch but unfortunately this lead to her overexerting herself such that she had to break every 2 miles to walk off the leg pain that had set in. We heard thunder in the distance and it stated to drizzle then rain lightly, which felt good so we kept the pace. Eventually the leg-pain breaks became every 1 mile and it included laying down on a blanket.
We stopped into a lock house that was open with a history exhibit (interesting that this area was once Shawnee territory). When we returned to our bikes we met another bicycle traveller who was coming all the way from Florida. He told us the story of how he had his bike stolen but was given a new bike from a bike shop owner in exchange for planting a flowerbed--about a half hour of labor! "The universe provides" I keep telling Chrissy.

As dusk neared we realized we had to camp far short of our 60-mile goal. We set up camp at Purslane Run campground at mile 157. The facilities were sparse: 1 picnic table, brownish water from the hand pump, fire ring, clean port-o-john, but a finely mowed grass that was to be our private camping site. We pushed our cargo trailer into the tent once it was set up and we rode with everyone else into the town of Paw Paw, W.V. about 2 miles away.

We had a small selection of restaurants in town. Chrissy liked the sound of a place called Country Kitchen so we went in to find that their grill was down and only fried food items of the menu were available. Hot dog and fries for Butterfly, fried chicken with slaw and baked potato for Chrissy, and fried shrimp platter with fries for Soren. Willow ate mommy milk. We filled a water bottle from their kitchen and paid with credit card.

On our return to camp we had our first opportunity to use the head and tail lights on Chrissy's bike. The tail light was hidden by the kiddy trailer but I could see its red flashes hitting roadsigns and other reflective surfaces. As soon as we got back to the C&O Towpath, Soren got hit in the eye by a stinging insect getting past his eyeglasses. He had immediate pain and yelled for help. Chrissy dismounted after making sure there was no boogieman had grabbed Soren. She had Soren lay down as she poured some of the clean water into his eye. That helped dull the pain butit still did not feel right.

Throughout the night Chrissy's leg pain intensified and she laid out in the dewy grass to try to cool them off. She ended up sleeping outside for several hours after having real doubts about her ability to even continue on the trail.


Dear friends and family,
I hope you enjoy this recount of my family's 5-day bike trip down the C&O Canal Towpath. A logbook was maintained throughout our trip and thus blogposts will be based upon these actual logbook entries. I will include as many photographs as are appropriate to illustrate the adventure. The trip with my wife Chrissy, and our kids Butterfly (3) and Willow (1) was actually done a month ago, beginning the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend 2010, and ended late on the Tuesday night following Memorial Day. Of course, it is still very fresh in our minds and we are still telling people about it. If we can do it, anyone can!