Thursday, January 9, 2014

Riding the Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal (Part 4 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 4 of Seven-Day 4 Harpers Ferry to Bethesda/D.C.

The alarm went off at 5am.  I laid for an hour before getting up.  The Econolodge breakfast was typical: biscuits and gravy, waffles, sausage and eggs.  I snuck some bagels and cream cheese in my bag for a late morning snack. 

By 9am we were back to that bridge and the steps.  At the bottom, a train screamed by and was swallowed up by the mountain.  As the the final car entered the Harper’s Ferry tunnel, the noise almost instantly disappeared.

The day was going to be a long one, 120 miles to D.C.  Like the days before, we continued using the markers as reference points to stop and refuel, every 15 or so.

About 45 miles in, we decided to break out the bagels. This was AK's first meal, as his stomach had been upset after eating Econo-sausage.  

The closer we got to D.C. the more picturesque the Potomac River grew, with large rocks and rapids.  The animal life was abundant, and we were literally surrounded by beauty.

Maybe it was the waffles.  It felt as if we were fueled on adrenalin all day.  We made it to the outskirts of D.C. in no time.  With 25 miles to go, we stopped for water at a campground.  While filling our bottles, a hiker strolled in.  He said he met a group touring that had shared their whiskey with him, then passed out during a rainstorm and got soaked through.  It showed in his water logged pack.  We wished him best and moved on.

I mentioned to AK that I wanted to stop at Great Falls along the way. I’d been to Great Falls many times as a teenager, but never on the Maryland side. As we got closer to the Falls, it brought back memories of climbing the rocks and going for hikes.  The area gets a lot of tourists as the locks were very well kept.  A few have been restored and were offering boat rides. The employees wear historic attire and use a large mule to pull the boat.  At Great Falls overlook, you can see the VA on the other side.  I smiled.  With abounding vistas, it was a great part of the trail to ride. 

5 miles from the White House, we rolled into Bethesda at about 4 p.m and stopped at a bridge crossing the trail.  AK made contact with his sister whom was going to put us up for the night.  We were trying to put together the last piece of the trail to connect to her neighborhood. This is where it got fun.  We should have just rolled down to marker 1 where the Capital Crescent Trail intersects the C&O (I did not know this at the time). AK and I both thought she lived off the C&O trail.

We asked a few people for directions.  Only a few miles from her home, but it didn’t seem simple.  We spoke to a young lady who said that the bridge behind us went up into Bethesda.  With a ridiculous slope, the bridge offered a plank to roll your bicycle up.  I struggled.  It was so archaic, but considering bridges I’ve ridden in the past with missing planks or lengthwise cracks, it could’ve been worse.

After the bridge, we hit a dirt trail cut into the hillside, with switchbacks. More hike-a -bike.  We asked a guy on the climb for directions who obviously wasn’t the right guy to ask for directions.  He said to follow this path to a spiral of concrete going up to a bridge that crossed George Washington Parkway, turn right at a road, ride to a stop sign and turn left, look for a gap in the trees and you should see the Capital Crescent trail below. 

Figures he was right.  Once on the Capital trail, we rolled into the heart of Bethesda. The place had grown a bit since I'd been there last.

We rolled into AK’s sister’s driveway. It was good timing as the family rolled up behind us.  This was my first time meeting his sister Rachael, Sean, her husband and his two nieces: Claire, and Ila. They also had a newborn Patrick.  Almost immediately I picked up on Uncle Aaron's very fitting nickname: Inappropriate Uncle Aaron.  Sean offered me a beer from his beer of the month club.  I said yes and he produced two bottles of beer that had little round skulls on it.  It was very tasty!

As I cleaned the bikes, Inappropriate Uncle Aaron had a soccer match going with his niece Claire.  I went to the fridge for a 2nd beer and realized Sean had set out six beers, all different.  Fat Tire Amber would be next. As I closed the fridge, I began to read a set of House Rules they had hand written and all signed, sort of a Washington D.C. household constitution.  

At dinner, Sean and Rachael fixed little calzones. Each was filled with different things and had three different dipping sauces.  We helped clean up after dinner and went to bed.  We're halfway there.

(to be continued)

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