We loved the 59 locks we passed last week along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal because we got to go downhill. Woo-hoo! OK, a 0.1-percent grade isn’t much, but after more than 180 flat miles, it’s cause for celebration.
Six cycling friends, ages 10 to 52, headed up by our fearless leader Alice Charkes of Vermont, spent six days bicycling from Frostburg to Great Falls, Maryland. Al’s daughter, Olivia, rode her own bike for the first time on a bike tour (instead of on a tandem with her mom). What a trooper!
This was a “self-contained” trip, where we carried our own gear and stocked up on groceries daily. We camped for three nights and slept indoors the other three.
The “barrels”? Our detour to rifle-ridden Antietam National Battlefield, site of the bloodiest Civil War battle, with about 23,000 casualties.
What we feared most beforehand barely occurred: ticks, mosquitoes, poison ivy, and mud. Heat we had, but the bike trails are mostly shaded, a blessed relief from the stinging sun.
Highlights, you ask?
Day 1: We started on the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail and then jumped onto the C&O towpath in Cumberland, which has a great C&O Visitor Center and historic downtown. The towpath goes between canal and Potomac River, so nice views all week.
Day 2: We passed no towns, but did see many turtles sunning on logs in the canal. We had to conquer major hills to reach our crummy little private campground.
Day 3: Toured the very air-conditioned visitor center at Fort Frederick State Park and stayed in a lockhouse, a lodging treat! The C&O Canal Trust recently renovated and opened three lockhouses for overnight stays. Only one has plumbing and a/c — not ours (No. 49), so it was a bit like glorified camping, but a very neat renovated building.
Day 4: Fueled up at the friendly Desert Rose Cafe in cute little Williamsport, then spent hours at Antietam, a very interesting stop, despite my aversion to war tourism. Had a night of luxury at the Mary Hill House in sleepy Sharpsburg, so sleepy that the kind owners offered to drive us to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, for a stellar dinner at Blue Moon Cafe. Healthy, tasty food, way-friendly servers, and a cool college town to boot.
Day 5: All this time I’d thought Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, was another historic town when it’s actually mostly a National Historic Park that recreates its fascinating past. Don’t miss it. Our Last Supper was a rare treat — Alice’s cousin from Fairfax, Virginia, came with her family and a carload of pizza, salad, and cold beer. Amen! Our most primitive night of camping at the Canal “hiker/biker” campsite included a scenic sunset, cicada orchestra with a special dueling-owl serenade.
Day 6: With Washington DC in range, traffic picked up greatly on our last day. Still, nature abounded, including a busy beaver, patient blue herons, and wading egrets. We had just enough time to view Great Falls before meeting our hired shuttle. Where to next? We’ll let you know. Meanwhile, more C&O pics are here.