Sunday, August 22, 2010

114 miles of the C&O canal

Well, that was an adventure. Saturday morning I went and grabbed Eric from his parents house at about 630am and headed up to Cumberland, MD, which is where the C&O Canal officially "ends". Of course, we would be using that as a starting point. The drive to Cumberland is amazing. Rolling across mountains with spectacular views and through the sides of mountains that were blasted in half to make the road.

Anyways, we arrived in Cumberland and found a parking deck which was free for the weekend. We had to park on the top level, the only "public" parking level and we set ourselves to prepping our bikes and getting our gear in order. The first thing was stripping and putting on our bike shorts and chamois cream... something neither of us have used before. We had a good laugh at eachother rubbing that shit all over....
And then we headed out to find the canal. It started right on the edge of town.

And then we started off. Our original goal of 124 miles to harper's ferry meant the half way point would be in a small town called Hancock which promised a bike shop (if we needed any more tubes) and a good lunch. The quarter way point was a rather long tunnel built for the canal called the Paw Paw Tunnel. We decided it would be best to take short breaks every 15 miles or so, and since we started off at a good clip, this was great. Unfortunately, by the end of the ride, these 15 mile breaks would cease and we would stop at every water pump we came across.

So, 30 miles in we reached the paw paw tunnel. A few years ago Eric and I did a bit of a crazy hike around these parts and we were looking forward to doing this tunnel again. We stopped there and ate a power bar and had some water before riding through the pitch black tunnel.

And the other side of the tunnel is spectacular. There is a wooden boardwalk that cuts through the mountain with the canal on one side.

With another 30 miles to go until lunch, we took off. During this next stretch we saw many deer and, even cooler, a single black bear running along the drained canal.  By the time I could come to a stop to take out the camera, he was already in the trees on the other side.  About 20 miles later we hopped off the C&O canal and onto the Western Maryland Rail Trail, a 22 mile paved course similar to the B&A I ride all the time. Unfortunately, this trail was uphill all the way to Hancock and there was no water, at all, on the route. I was dumb and skipped a previous water stop, so I had to push through 11 miles with absolutely no water. It was terrible.  Fortunately, this rail trail does shave 5 miles off the canal.

Eventually we made it to Hancock. The pleasant town I was expecting was... not so pleasant. In fact, it was hardly a town at all. More like a few gas stations and that was it. We grabbed a sandwich from Sheetz, a bottle of gatorade, and some bananas and snacked down.

 There was a bum passed out where we wanted to go eat.  We didn't see him until we sat down and thought he was dead.  We checked him breathing then left him alone.  From the bottle of vodka in that blue bag... I think he was sleeping off a rather heavy drinking night.

After we left Hancock, we continued on the Western Maryland Rail Trail until it connected back to the C&O around 70 miles in.  Surprisingly, I didn't even notice we had done a metric century... wish I would have taken a picture.  Oh well.

And then we hit a wall.  Both of us were fatigued.  We slowed our pace down considerably.  I got a stitch in my side and had to pull off for a few minutes to get it out.  When we jumped back on the bike we caught a second wind and upped our pace.  By mile 80-ish we knew, due to daylight, our goal of 124 miles was out of the question.  We called our parents to figure out where to get picked up sooner.  We knew we wanted to get a full 100 miles in and the next closest town after that was Shepherdstown, West Virginia at mile 73 on the canal.  Unfortunately... somewhere along the way, we hit a detour.  Apparently the canal towpath had washed out and we had to head across mountainous side roads.  Up and down hills for 10 miles is not something we looked forward to. 

Eventually the detour reconnected with the C&O and we pushed out the remaining 12 miles or so.  As we hit the 73 mile signpost we saw an opening ahead that would lead to a parking lot where we expected to meet Eric's parents.

And then... after 114 miles of biking over the course of 11 hours.  After dodging potholes and limbs.  After accidently rolling off the side of the towpath and having to bunny hop over a log.  After all that... I freaking fell.  I was drafting Eric as we got to the parking lot and he made a sharp turn to get around a signpost.  I saw it at the last second and slammed on my breaks.  I missed the sign, but with no speed and starting up a hill, and absolutely no power left in my legs, I just fell over.  Feet still clipped in.  Damn.

We went home, I took a bath, ate as much as I could consume and swiftly fell asleep.

Some other random pictures from the trip:

So... the August 150 is officially cleared and done.  my goal of 400 miles for August is nowhere near complete, but I don't think I will be biking much this week.  114 miles on a mountain bike... not bad, not bad at all.


  1. That looks awesome Dude great post great pics

    Congrats on completing the August 150 I know I wont this month mate.

  2. Sorry mate meant to say u mite be interested in looking at this

    My trip through London

  3. Wow, sounds like a great adventure. Wonderful pics of the canal and the area. I'll have to look in to doing a ride there sometime, maybe while fall leaves are in color.