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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Aug 2009

    C&O Canal Towpath Solo Tour Report

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    Got home yesterday evening, so am still going through pictures and unpacking and sleeping and all, but here's a trip report....



    Total mileage: 200.1
    Average speed: 8.3 MPH

    Day 1 mileage: 48.19
    Average speed: 8.4 MPH
    Ride time: 5 hours, 40 minutes
    To/from: Cumberland to Little Orleans, with side trips into Oldtown, MD, and Paw Paw, WV.

    Day 2 mileage: 42.9
    Average speed: 8.8 MPH
    Ride time: 4 hours, 50 minutes
    To/from: Little Orleans to Williamsport, MD.

    Day 3 mileage: 43.58
    Average speed: 8.0 MPH
    Ride time: 5 hours, 23 minutes
    To/from: Williamsport, MD to Harper's Ferry, WV

    Day 4 mileage: 0.
    Sick; no riding. Boy, was I annoyed!!!

    Day 5 mileage: 27.43
    Average speed: 8.2 MPH
    Ride time: 3 hours, 19 minutes
    To/from: Harper's Ferry, WV to White's Ferry, MD

    Day 6 mileage: 37.59
    Average speed: 8.3
    Ride time: 4 hours, 31 minutes
    To/from: White's Ferry, MD to Georgetown, Washington, DC



    DAY 0
    Drove to Cumberland in my car with two friends. Checked into the Fairfield Inn and Suites and then had lunch with my friends at The Crabby Pig. After that, we had frozen custard, walked around a little bit, and then they drove off in my car and left me there. I had no choice then: I had to bike back home. Good thing that was the plan!

    DAY 1
    Had a good breakfast at the hotel, a waffle and a hard-boiled egg. It was sprinkling when I left the hotel for my ride. I first went to the last mile marker, marker 184.5, and then was off.

    A flock of goldfishes rose up from the vegetation near the start of my ride, which I took as an auspicious sign. When it started to rain a bit later, I was already under the canopy of trees.

    Trail mostly deserted, except at Paw Paw Tunnel. Lots of people were going through the tunnel, through which I had to walk my bike. Rain had stopped before I got to the tunnel and the rest of the day was mostly cloudy and not hot, so good for riding.

    The School House Kitchen in Oldtown was closed for Labor Day, as was Grandma's Kitchen in Paw Paw; I got a steak and cheese sub and lemonade at the place across the street from Grandma's for my late lunch.

    Stayed at Little Orleans Lodge, at which I was the only guest for the night.

    DAY 2
    After a fabulous breakfast and interesting conversation with Steve, the owner of the Lodge, I left and rode on the towpath as far as Lock 55, and then picked up the Western Maryland Railway Trail for a little variety. I rode that as far as Hancock, arriving at Weaver's right in time for their opening at 11 AM. I had lunch (chicken Caesar salad and three lemonades), and ordered a slice of chocolate cream pie, which I was too full to finish.

    Back on the C&O from there; met up with Zen at mile marker 109, and we rode together until Williamsport, stopping occasionally to look at things such as Dam 5 and wild turkeys.

    Having forgotten how quickly lemonade goes through me, we also had to stop so I could make a portapotty pit stop. At Williamsport, we visited the Visitor's Center, then loaded our bikes into her van and went to the post office so I could get postcard stamps, after which we parked downtown to eat at the Desert Rose Cafe. Tiny place, excellent food, highly recommended. We also stopped into the bike shop across the street, which was invaded by a group of road bikers who needed directions to Baltimore; they had started biking in Michigan, were covering over 100 miles/day, and were ending their biking in Baltimore.

    Zen gave me a lift to the Red Roof Inn, for which I was, and am, very grateful, because I would NOT have liked the ride up to it! The road bikers who'd been in the bike store were also staying at the Red Roof, so I heard more about their ride when sharing the laundry room with one of them.

    DAY 3
    Had a couple of doughnuts and coffee at the Red Roof the next morning, but knew I needed some protein in me before riding, so packed up, checked out, and rode to the Desert Rose Cafe, thanking Zen in my mind once more for the lift to the Red Roof the previous night as I rode down, down, down toward the center of town. Got cheese on bread there along with decaf, and had Rose pack me a sandwich for lunch on the trail.

    Got back on the trail; took about 6 miles for riding to start feeling good to me, which is pretty normal. Came to the detour (around flood damage to the towpath), which was a bear for me to do, and would have been a total b!tch bear had I been coming the other way.

    Don't like hills, didn't like this, but did it all on my bike, no walking. (That would not have been the case going the other way, I'm certain.)

    Made pretty good time after lunch; slowed way down after Antietam, as the Potomac River is visible from the towpath and is really beautiful in that area. Had to climb these steps up to the bridge across the river.

    Talked with people on the bridge, a German couple and an American woman who was with them; the gentleman helped me up the last steps by picking up the back of my (getting heavier by the moment) bike, which I appreciated! Looked like rain, so they were heading back across the bridge to Harper's Ferry, rather than exploring the Maryland side of the Potomac right then.

    Rode to the Comfort Inn for the night; the heavens opened up and dumped rain almost the second after I got to the hotel. Room was on the second floor -- none were available on the first -- so had to schlep my fully-loaded bike up even more steps. Hadn't finished my lunch sandwich or brownie, so had those and trail mix for dinner, which was enough.

    DAY 4
    Woke up with very bad vertigo, which I've had before and which is really awful. I'd had a bit of it at different times on the trip, positional (when bending over to put my packs on my bike, for example) so it didn't affect my walking or most activities, but this morning, I couldn't even walk straight. Was so dizzy, I vomited, which usually doesn't happen.

    I managed to make it downstairs eventually to get something to eat -- one of the perils of traveling alone is having no one to bring you a muffin! -- which I took back upstairs. Saw a doctor, got a prescription written, went back to hotel, and stayed there the rest of the day. Had lunch and dinner delivered at the same time, since I had a fridge and microwave in my room. Had Rx delivered, too.

    Three different friends offered to provide medevac service, for which I was very grateful. Decided to see whether the medication would work (sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't) and decide in the morning whether to continue.

    Cab service, access to a doctor, fridge and microwave in room, cell and internet service (I had my iPod Touch with me, so had email access), and a pharmacy and numerous restaurants which delivered to the hotel, hotel personnel who checked on me.... I was mightily annoyed to be sick, but if it had to happen, this was the time and place for it.

    DAY 5
    Med working, so though I got a very late start (11 AM), knew this was my shortest day of riding (~ 25 miles), so the late start was okay. Missed the rain-free window of opportunity, alas; it was raining again when I left. Wore my windbreaker; used rain cover on rear trunk.

    It was very beautiful with the clouds obscuring the tops of the mountain around Harpers Ferry.

    Riding was hard for the first six miles, even just going downhill from the hotel to the river; I had to pedal much harder than I expected for such a downward slope, and even then, I felt as though I was barely moving. Riding went better after mile six or so, and my average speed gradually moved up the longer I biked.

    My bike and I were filthy by the time I got to White's Ferry. I called the Best Western for a pickup -- the hotel will send a van to pick up bikers at the ferry upon request -- and wiped some of the muck off my bike while waiting for the ferry across the river. Also wiped some of the muck off myself.

    After taking the ferry across, I rode down the road a ways and then waited for the van. Left my bike outside while I checked in, asked for some paper towels and a freebie toothbrush, and cleaned my bike before bringing it into the hotel. Cleaning it included unpacking it and upending it so I could get to some of the filth more easily. Also oiled the chain.

    Very friendly and very helpful front desk staff here, including one who biked until his Trek was stolen. Though when I'd switched nights only a smoking room was available, one of these staff members was watching out for me and got me a non-smoking room when one became available.

    Did laundry, and then ate dinner at Xian Saigon, which is near the hotel, and walked over to CVS for Epsom salts to soak in. I was physically tired; my muscles hurt, which is unusual for me. (Knees and butt always hurt after riding, but my muscles were sore after the second day and stayed sore.)

    DAY 6
    Had a good breakfast (waffle, hard-boiled egg, mini muffin) at the hotel, then packed up and checked out. Got a ride to White's Ferry, crossed the river, realized my panniers were on the wrong sides, so fixed that once I was off the ferry, and then started out for my last day on the C&O towpath.

    After so many days of riding in solitude, scarcely ever seeing anyone along the way, it was almost weird to see so many people out enjoying the trail. Talked with a birder along the way -- she'd just seen a Ruby-crowned Kinglet -- almost hit a college-aged girl who just would NOT move aside on the trail (walking four abreast and not giving way at all -- I implored the girl on my side of the trail to "MOVE, PLEASE!"), and got generally annoyed at bad trail behavior by others, some bikers included. (HEY! IF YOU'RE GOING TO PASS ME, LET ME KNOW! SIGNAL, CALL OUT, SOMETHING!) I wanted to smack a few people!

    That said, most people had good trail habits and shared nicely.

    Got a view of Great Falls I think I haven't had before; stunningly beautiful! Soon the number of people on the trail dropped, until I got well into DC.

    Getting to mile marker 0 was anticlimactic! I was riding along on the towpath through Georgetown, and suddenly, there is no more towpath... it plows right into a building! I went around the building, thinking I could pick up the towpath on the other side, but NO! Now the towpath is on the other side of the canal! So I rode over a bridge and found steps going down to the towpath-on-the-other-side-of-the-canal, and rode back UP the towpath to the point at which I apparently should have crossed over, then turned around and rode back down....

    ... and then the towpath just stops at Rock Creek. I didn't even see mile marker 1! I rode down to Thompson Boathouse, as that is where my best friend is waiting for me. It also happens that mile marker 0 is down there, right where Rock Creek flows into the Potomac. Lock 1 is there, and I took pictures of it, the anticlimactic mile marker 0, and then suggested we get cheeseburgers.

    So we did.

    Thus endeth my first-ever tour.



    I'll probably neglect to list some of these, either because they are so common they don't bear listing (cardinals and geese, for example), or because I'm old, forgetful, and tired. These are in no particular order.

    Black vultures
    Green heron
    Snowy egret
    Great Blue Herons
    Box turtle
    Belted Kingfisher
    Red-eared sliders
    Red-bellied Woodpecker
    Ruby-throated Hummingbird
    Wood ducks
    Several birds of prey I couldn't identify
    UBBs and CFWs (unidentified brown birds and confusing fall warblers)

    Heard but didn't see Barred Owls and Peewees.



    In no particular order, things that worked and didn't work, things I was glad for, what I learned, and what maybe I'd do differently next time....

    I'm glad I bought and took with me a very small Igloo cooler. This is the six-pack size, and fits in a pannier. I also bought and took with me a wide-mouthed Nalgene bottle. Each morning, I'd fill this bottle with ice, add water, then pour the chilled water into a one-liter bottle that I carry on my bike frame. I'd then refill the Nalgene bottle with ice, put it in the cooler, then put the cooler into a pannier. The ice would eventually melt; about an hour ago, I emptied out the Nalgene bottle, more than 24 hours after putting ice in it, and the water was still cool. (I was too lazy/tired last night to unpack... the cooler was still in the pannier.)

    There was room in the little cooler for my sandwich and brownie from Desert Rose Cafe, or for an apple picked up at one of my hotels.

    I can't think of anything I took that I should not have taken. There were lots of things I had on me that I didn't use -- extra inner tubes, various medications, tools, bandages -- but I was very glad to have no use for these!

    I suppose I could have taken fewer PowerBars and less trail mix, as I didn't use up either, but since it's hard to predict exactly where and when one might get food along the way sometimes, I don't regret taking what I took.

    I should have put the camera and binoculars in the handlebar bag, rather than in a pannier. I reached for the camera far more often than I did for the other items in the handlebar bag. Often by the time I'd stopped the bike, turned to get the camera out of the pannier, and turned back around to take a picture, the animal I'd wanted to take a picture of had disappeared. This could easily happen regardless of where the camera is, but any time lost in grabbing the camera might have made a difference.

    I also should have packed extra batteries. Eight extras would have been enough.

    I could do this trip even more slowly, to have even more time for more things along the way, but I don't regret at all the length of each day. It worked out very well, but there's a lot to see along the canal; I need not fear of running out of things to see if I have even fewer miles to ride each day!

    Taking three pairs of biking shorts worked out well. I could have packed maybe one more pair of underwear, however. Don't plan for sickness, but be able to accommodate it easily.



    I put all things needed at the hotel in my right pannier. I didn't need access to anything in that pannier while riding; I always mount/dismount my bike from the left (just like a horse ), so things I needed access to during a ride went in the left pannier, rear trunk, or handlebar bag. In the top compartment of the right pannier, I put the baggie holding my toiletries, and in main compartment, my clothes. Clean clothes were in a plastic grocery bag which I could lift out if need be; dirty clothes went into a plastic hotel laundry bag (from my first hotel) which was placed on top of the bag of clean clothes. The side pocket was mostly empty; sometimes I'd stuff something in there if I'd forgotten to put it where it belonged and didn't want to bother with it at the moment.

    The main compartment of the left pannier held my folder of travel info (route, planned stops, hotel confirmations and so on), rain poncho, cooler with extra water, the Pocket Guide to the C&O Canal (a very little book), the C&O Companion (a regular-sized paperback), duct tape (because I had room), and at the very bottom, something not in this same category of stuff: a small bag with the rechargers for the cell phone and iPod. The side pocket held maps and my reading glasses, and any cue sheets for the day, if using any. The top pocket held the binoculars, camera, and dead batteries.

    The top pocket of the rear trunk held a bag of useful miscellany -- a couple of bungee cords, chain lubricant, latex gloves, and piece of old inner tube to use as a boot -- in addition to a bungee net and paper towels. The main compartment, split into three areas (one very narrow), held extra inner tubes and the shoulder strap for the trunk in one section, PowerBars, trail mix, mints, and green tea iced tea mix in the largest section along with my windbreaker, and in the weenie narrow section, a little pouch with half my money and one debit card in it. This little pouch came with the trunk and is clipped into it.

    The left side pocket of the trunk had wet wipes in it, the back pocket the headlight and taillight, and the right side pocket medications, a packet of tissues, and my iPod Touch.

    My handlebar bag always has a baggie of emergency stuff in it: bandaids, Bactine wipes, Neosporin, etc., in addition to a couple or four wet wipes. I also put daily trail rations in here: one large and one small PowerBar and two kinds of trail mix replenished as needed from the larger bags of trail mixes in the trunk. My cell phone and pouch-I-use-as-a-wallet (holds ID, credit and debit cards, money, medical insurance card) also go in the handlebar bag.

    Saddle bag carries the usual stuff: one tube, multitool, CO2, tire wrenches.

    I took to putting the trail mix that should have gone in my handlebar bag on top of the trunk, since the trunk top has a bungee web on it. I also put my windbreaker there yesterday after I took it off.

    The idea was to have packed areas I'd almost never or would never need to access while on the trail, and other areas that were readily accessible on the trail as needed. Readily accessible would be all outside pockets of the trunk, top and side pockets of the left pannier, and handlebar bag. Stuff in the interior of the trunk and the right pannier were unlikely to be needed while I was on the trail.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    You sound so organized!
    Are you sure you're not an engineer?
    2008 Trek FX 7.2/Terry Cite X
    2009 Jamis Aurora/Brooks B-68
    2010 Trek FX 7.6 WSD/stock bontrager

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    where the wind comes sweeping down the plain
    Congrats Owlice!!!! Sounds like the trip was AMAZING! I'm envious of your adventure, but I sure loved reading all about it. Looks soooo pretty out there and I hope that one day I get to do that ride myself. I liked that your friends dropped you off and the only way home was to get there by bike.
    I agree about the organization. Impressive!
    Check out my running blog: www.turtlepacing.blogspot.com

    Cervelo P2C (tri bike)
    Bianchi Eros (commuter/touring road bike)

    1983 Motobecane mixte (commuter/errand bike)
    Cannondale F5 mountain bike

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Between the Blue Ridge and the Chesapeake Bay
    I love your detailed write up! Thanks for sharing with us and congratulations on completing your first (of many, I'm sure) tour!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jul 2003
    Traveling Nomad
    Thanks for the tour report! I rode just a small section of it during Bike Virginia in 2004, and I thought it would be such fun to go back and tour on it. I was on a skinny-tired road bike, which did not work well at all, since there had been a lot of rain in days prior, and the towpath was muddy. What kind of bike did you ride?

    2011 Jamis Dakar XC "Toto" - Selle Italia Ldy Gel Flow
    2007 Trek Pilot 5.0 WSD "Gloria" - Selle Italia Diva Gel Flow
    2004 Bike Friday Petite Pocket Crusoe - Selle Italia Diva Gel Flow

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2006
    MD suburb of Washington, DC
    I'm glad you missed most of the rain. Sounds like a great time!

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    The trip was fun! It was great to meet Zen and ride with her. And we had cookies, too!!!!

    Zen, sounding organized is different from being organized. I felt pretty organized for this, though, indeed; doesn't always happen that way!

    divingbiker, I had some rain four out of the five riding days, but only one day, Thursday, when it required I take protection against it, so overall, it was okay. No rain yesterday; it just looked as though it was going to rain all day!!

    The day I was sick, the forecast had been for rain, but it was gorgeous, gorgeous out, of course!!

    It was a great time; I'm very glad I did this!

    emily, I ride a Giant Sedona, tank model. It's a heavy bike, a hybrid (or "comfort bike," as Giant calls it): upright position, fat tires. It's here:

    It's like a Timex -- takes a lickin' and keeps on tickin'. It's done better by me than I have by it, but I'm trying to be a better owner now!

    And you are right about skinny tires on the C&O. I do see road bikes on the towpath sometimes, but that'd be downright dangerous, I should think, in some areas, such as the portion of the trail I rode yesterday. It was very rocky and a rough ride on any bike.

    tulip, thanks! I have my eye on the GAP now -- Pittsburgh to Cumberland. Maybe that will be my next one! There are also a couple of good trails in the area that would work for an overnight on a weekend.

    Tri Girl, the C&O is great for touring. There are free campsites along it for those who want to camp and lodging and food available at convenient intervals along the way. There's a good bit of history along the way, interesting buildings, and all that nature, too!


    I stopped by my next door neighbors' house this evening to give them cookies and a thank you note -- the husband fed the feral cats for me while I was gone -- and his wife told me her husband worried about me the whole time I was gone, especially when I didn't return home on Friday as planned. Had I been another day late, I'd have called them, but didn't for the one day. They were both concerned about the feral beasties, too, who didn't get fed yesterday until I got home. I feel bad now that I didn't call; I never dreamed he'd worry.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Sep 2008
    San Diego, CA
    What a superb report. I love your detailed descriptions of everything in your bags! Congratulations on your first tour. Really, really well done all around, although I'm sorry you got sick. I've had vertigo before, though not in a long time. I'm glad you had a safe place to hang out and that the medication worked.

    I can't wait to hear about your Gap tour.

    Getting in touch with my inner try-athlete.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    Thanks, Roxy! We'll see what the next tour might be, but I have to admit the GAP sounds like a good possibility! And I got to ride a few feet of it, as the hotel in Cumberland backs right up to it and the towpath! (How convenient is that?! It was great!)


    I left out some other stats I meant to post, so....


    Number of bruises resulting from trip: Too many to count
    My legs are covered with bruises. Many many bruises, some little, some big, some painful, some not. Bruises on bruises and bruises running into bruises. Most I do not remember getting.

    Percentage of spider webs at height of my upper lip: at least 98.9%
    Apparently, the average C&O Canal Towpath spider which drapes a web line across the towpath likes a certain height, because 98.9% (or more!) of the spider webs I rode through hit me in the upper lip. It was uncanny. Not the chin, not the lower lip, not across the nose, nor on my bare arms.... nearly every spider web I know I rode through hit me in the space between my upper lip and my nose.

    (We will not think about where the spiders who made those webs might have been when I rode through the webs!!!)

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jul 2008
    Great tour report! I'm glad you made it through and had a good time (in spite of illness--I'm so sorry that happened!). Reading about your trip makes me want to do the same trip even more. Sigh. Thanks for taking the time to write this up!

    The space between your upper lip and your nose is called the philtrum. Don't ask me why I hold on to that bit of trivial knowledge, but now you know where the spiders like to hit you.


  11. #11
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    South Florida
    Very, very nice.....love it! I can hardly wait to do mine.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    I knew you'd love it.

    Thanks for the write-up. It sounds like a fun tour, except for the sick part, but problems are what make stories interesting. I can't wait to read about your next tour.
    Give big space to the festive dog that make sport in the roadway. Avoid entanglement with your wheel spoke.
    (Sign in Japan)

    1978 Raleigh Gran Prix
    2003 EZ Sport AX

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Feb 2010
    Before you start out on your epic journey, I strongly recommend trying some shorter trips to prepare yourself. The towpath is not paved (the surface is typically clay and crushed stone), so it is a bit rough. Therefore, you will need to build up some calluses on your butt before starting out (no joke). The first 20 miles is the most heavily used and is a good place to practice.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    you're new here, aren't you?
    2008 Trek FX 7.2/Terry Cite X
    2009 Jamis Aurora/Brooks B-68
    2010 Trek FX 7.6 WSD/stock bontrager

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Aug 2009
    lol, Zen!

    Jackson, welcome to Team Estrogen!! This is a trip report; I'd already completed my journey when I started this thread. I did, indeed, get in a lot of practice before embarking on my journey; see here, for example. (Oh, the things I learned! Oh, the things I still have to learn!)

    And I'm still thinking of doing the GAP this year, have signed up for a metric century with a couple of friends, and plan to do the 24 Hours of Booty ride again this year.

    Zen, I'd kind of toyed with the idea of doing the GAP AND C&O together, but the pics you've shared of the flooding ... well, maybe I'll stick to just the GAP this year. Poor towpath! I hope it's okay.



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