Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Riding the Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal (Part 3 of 7)

If you’ve ever wondered how far that bike path goes, last year, Cincinnati Cyclists Marty Sanders and Aaron Kent (AK) set out to cover 700 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage and the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal by bike.  Over the past few years, Marty has become a veteran of these rails to trails trips while Aaron, even though a long time cyclist, was new to the idea of a week-long self-supported adventure.  The story is presented in seven parts.

By Marty Sanders

Part 3 of Seven

Day 3 Pigman’s Ferry to Harpers Ferry

The next time I opened my eyes the sun was starting to rise.  It was a very nice morning. I made my way up to the trail which was bone dry and smooth.  Perfect spot to get in my morning stretch.  It was amazing the number of deer and rabbits that we encountered. Almost fearless, as they wouldn’t move out of your way and often stayed within arm’s reach. This happened every morning.

Within a few miles of camp, we reached our first lock of the day.  They are numbered and assuming the numbers would count down to 0, we assumed there are 75 locks.  Some are grown over; others still had water flowing through.

After riding for a while we entered The PawPaw Tunnel.  Used for the canal, it also had water in it.  It was dark with a small walkway and wooden railing on one side.  I turned on the headlight.  It took me a second to get used to the confined riding conditions, all the while spooked by the 2x4 railing and the drop into the darkness that awaited the unwary.

SMASH!  I clipped the wall with my handlebar.  Everything came to a halt only 100 feet into the tunnel. Luckily, just a dab.  Even with the light, peripheral vision was limited at best.  Instead of pedaling across the tunnel’s remaining 2800 feet, I ratcheted my cranks back and forth so I could keep momentum and keep my bicycle more balanced.  It seemed like it took forever to get out and on to a wooden walkway that followed the canal through a rocky man-made path.

Before long it was back to what seemed to be our norm: ride 10-15 miles then take a break.  Campsites dotted the trail seemingly every 5-10 miles making it nice to always have somewhere to sit and lean your bicycle.  At one point AK said something about his bike making a noise.  We thought it might be his pedals.

Soon after, we arrived in Hancock, home of the C&O Bicycle Shop, located right on the trail.  I stood outside for a minute before entering and ran into a couple.  The gentleman rode a Rivendell “Bombadel.”  As a huge Tolkien fan and a lover of steel lugged frames, I commented on his bike and he seemed very pleased I could identify it without seeing the head badge.  We talked about the bike and the route ahead, getting a heads-up on some mud along our route.

I said goodbye and went in the bicycle shop where AK was looking at pedals.  We asked the owner if we could use a 12mm allen wrench to see if a crank bolt cap was tight enough.  He kindly helped; and it was indeed loose.  Noise fixed.  We purchased some bars to eat and took his card. He mentioned there was a shelter for ten dollars a night that had hot showers, but that we should call before 6 p.m. if we couldn’t get there in time.  Now that’s customer service. 

We pushed on out of Hancock.  As we made our way out of town, we started passing small groups of riders heading the opposite direction and the same.  One group was at least 20 deep.  Goofing around, I tried to get creative by saying hello to all of them personally.  It got a few smiles.  At one point, a rider asked as we were passing them, where you going?  I said Washington. DC.  AK was riding away from me at this point. So I told her to have a nice day and then sped off to catch AK.  I teased him about not being very social.

We rolled for a few hours before hitting a major climb leading up into Williamsport.  Our reward for reaching the top was The Desert Rose Cafe.  With large tables outside, it was very inviting.  We hadn’t eaten real food all day.  We both ordered some wraps and coffee and kicked back.

Within a few minutes of being seated, a woman looked around the corner.  All of a sudden AK was Mr. Social.  It was the couple we passed on the trail I had teased him about.  I walked in the deli to pay and order a to-go for us.  When I came back out they were all laughing.  AK invited them to eat with us.

Albert and Kelly had had rode the GAP and C&O before and were telling us about all the cool places along the way we missed.  We could have had pizza in Pawpaw!  After eating our wraps and veggies, it was going on 4 p.m. and we still had some miles to cover.  We said our goodbyes to our new friends and pushed on.

From Williamsport, AK set a great pace, obviously coffee induced.  We came to a concrete section of bicycle path that hung on the edge of the Potomac River shoreline with a literal drop to the water with no railing.  It went on for miles and was absolutely beautiful!  

We continued on into the dark, running headlights for about an hour before we made it to Harpers Ferry.  During this time, it seemed my headlamp was attracting every bug within three miles.  Bats swooped down in front of our faces snatching bugs. It made our night ride a little more exciting.

At the Harpers Ferry Bridge, we had to take our bikes up a 3-story spiral staircase.  Easy for your typical road bikes, but considering our bikes weighed about 75 bulky cumbersome pounds, it was not fun and kind of eerie at night. 

We rolled around in an equally dark town and found nothing, except for a mob of people standing outside a dark building listening to a man speaking.  We steered clear.  Soon we ran into some teenagers and they helped direct us to an Econolodge a mile away.  The kids also told us the pack of people were on a ghost tour of Harpers Ferry.  The eeriness kinda made sense now.

(to be continued)

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