Day #3) June 15, 2011. Just south of Williamsport, MD, C&O mile marker 94 to Paw Paw, WVa – 62 miles in 4:20 hrs.
Another spectacular day weather wise – sun and cloudless almost the whole day. Temps cool in the low 50’s to start and then rising to the low 80’s to end.
Left Mary and Ned’s house in Sharpsburg, just across from the Civil War field - Antietam – at about 8am. And I mean the war site is literally right across the street from their house - the National Park. Wish we had a chance to really stop and smell the roses and check it out, but it didn’t open until like 9am, and as I’ve found on my two previous trips – you just have to keep the train moving!
Thanks again to Mary and Ned for a super evening and great hospitality. Threw down a quick breakfast at a little deli just down the road, and then off to the Potomac Rod and Gun club to start the day where we left off yesterday. This morn Judy was first up to bat to ride with me. The trail was in great shape save for the occasional piece of dead fall that we had to climb over. Must have been from the intense wind storms that we had several weeks ago. But by and large we were cruising at a very comfortable 14 mph most of the way. We were both a bit on the chilled side at the start, but after a 30 min stretch or so we warmed up pretty well. Passed what seemed like a gazillion locks, with a lot less in the way of lockkeeper’s houses today as opposed to yesterday and Monday. And the river continued to narrow down as we headed west. By this time it’s about as big as the Allegheny River in Pa. And no more crazy wild water. Today the river was lazy and slow.
Made it to Hancock, MD in about 2.5 hrs to meet up with Bill and switched riders. Now Hancock is a cozy little place and this is where we’re staying tonight, despite the fact that we rode another 32 miles west from there. Bill had some fond memories of this little bike shop in Hancock where you can rent a bunk for the night and sleep down by the Potomac. So he took care of our lodging by the time Judy and I got there and we were to back track to Hancock to camp when we finished in Paw Paw. Done. So Bill took over on the second bike and the pace was again nice and even. The stretch of towpath between Hancock and Paw Paw is really remote – I mean like nothing out there, not even a road crossing but one time in 32 miles. Very cool indeed though, to be riding on gravel and just ticking off the miles.
This was my vision for crossing the nation, on these remote little trails and roads. The feeling was one of total fulfillment as we just breezed along the two strips of single track out along the Potomac River, way the hell out in the middle of nowhere. Once in a blue moon we pass another rider of two. This is now a famous thru route for tour riders going from Pittsburgh to DC, and the distance is app. 400 miles. So damned near every rider we saw was doing it with gear on the bike.
Now the funny thing is that along this trail there is a posted speed limit for bikes – 15 mph. And looks like everyone was obeying the law – except us! I mean we were usually cranking it at 15-18mph, and I don’t mean hammering – just kind of in cruise control. So we’d pass people like they were standing still. Now granted, we were going “naked” compared to the thru people, but even the non-geared folks – no one was doing over 12 mph. So I commented to Bill about the speed limit and we both kind of goofed on it for a bit. Just so long as one of the NPS rangers didn’t see us busting it down the trail!
So Bill and I made some pretty good time on the way to Paw Paw. And then we came to the entry way to the tunnel – the Paw Paw Tunnel. Leading to the tunnel the trail narrowed down into what looked to be a small canyon, and then was on top of a boardwalk that was bolted to slickrock. I mean it was way cool to be riding about 10 feet above the canal up on a boardwalk with slickrock on both sides. This was out of a movie for God’s sake. So we negotiated that and then came to the real deal – the tunnel. Now this was a freaking TUNNEL – 3000+ feel long, and totally dark in the middle. And the amazing thing was that this tunnel was chipped and cut away by the souls who constructed the towpath. Yup, they cut into the granite from nearly a mile to make the towpath run right through the mountain!
We started out riding through the tunnel, despite the fact that a sign TELLS you to walk your bike. About 200 yrds in I dismounted and walked for fear of hitting a pothole and doing an endo into the fence along the canal. The walkway area was only about 4 feet wide. And literally, by the time you got ¼ of the way in, you just could not see. And the ceiling of the tunnel was like about 6 inches from your head. It was a total gas for sure. So it took us like about 10 minutes to walk through this thing. It was dank, dark, and totally creepy, but it was a blast – the highlight of the day for sure.
But for me, once we came out on the other side and read the signage about how this thing was built by hand, that was just crazy to believe. It’s truly amazing what people did back then to make things happen. So we met Judy about a half mile further west and the day was done. By that time the sun was blazing hot. Downed a coke and back to Hancock we went. So I’m sitting here blogging in this primitive little bunkhouse, with like 18 2x4 bunks that are screened into an Adirondack shelter. Needless to say Judy is far from impressed!!!!!! The trashcan is bulging from the mass of trash heaped inside of it, the poopers are nearly bursting at the seams with nastyness, but despite the primitiveness of the scene, it’s kind of a cool little place to spend the night. That’s my rendition anyway.
We pulled out about 200 lbs of gear from the back of my van and put it all in the camp area and Judy commenced to making us dinner 2 coolers and three big plastic containers of cookware + the NASA jet engine burner of Bill’s. As a side note – you just won’t believe how much my van is tilted to the rear what with all the freaking gear we have. I mean it’s down like 6-8 inches for God’s sake. So we pulled all the stuff out and my van’s back to normal again. But nonetheless, had a great dinner on the NASA propane burner and Judy’s baby burner was great!!
Going to bag it now and have a few more brewskies. The first half of tomorrow is the last day on the towpath and then it’s time to hit the backroads of WVa for the second half of tomorrow. That’s where this will get really interesting. I tested out my Garmin 60csx today and it did a great job with all the software I downloaded into it. So I’m hoping we’ll have a non-getting lost day on the gravel.
From way down yonder in the C&O Bicycle Shop in Hancock, MD – until tomorrow……..Pete