Confluent-Élysée: West Mifflin to Pittsburgh

Saturday had another chilly forecast, but there was not much riding left until Point State Park in Pittsburgh, the endpoint of the GAP trail. After everything the days before, I considered these last sixteen miles or so the ceremonial final stage of the trip. But they still needed to be completed without incident, so I couldn’t let my guard down just yet.

I had a big breakfast and packed everything up for a descent down back to the trail on roads that were mostly empty on the weekend morning. I crossed over the tracks back onto the trail and noticed a coal train slowly rounding its way towards me. The gates at the crossing lowered and I watched the train approach and took a photo of the lead locomotive. Then I gave chase: why not be escorted into the city by a coal train?

I started to catch back up to the front of the train. There were a few bridges I had to take up and over the tracks back and forth, and sometimes the trail diverged up into the adjacent hills a bit. It also became clear that the train had very gradually picked up more speed than I could match, so I took the time to photograph it while perched atop the crossings or on the hills. One photo looks across at smoke rising over Braddock, PA. Another shows the sheer length of these coal trains: even with its higher speed and my slower pace, there were still dozens of cars stretching back towards the rising sun. To my left I passed the back of the Kennywood amusement park, steel and wooden coasters swooping about. I also passed a water park that, from my vantage point, seemed to consist mostly of hectares of parking lots. The trail went by a vast shopping center and some multistory housing, the trail serving as the backyard for people and their dogs.

At some point I was within the city limits, passing by the Steelers’ and Pitt’s football practice facilities before crossing over the Hot Metal Bridge. From there I headed downtown next to and underneath the highways along the river. I made it to the entrance of park, which juts out into the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers where they form the Ohio.

I pedaled into the park and through an underpass. Several joggers and a few tourists this morning but mostly empty. Stairs led down to the point so I sought out a ramp off to the side and rolled to the tip of the point. It was below freezing but sunny and windless. The rivers spilled calmly, lake-like around the point. I’d made it.

 

 

C&O/GAP Epilogue: Pittsburgh to D.C. to Baltimore to New York

Setting aside my bike for the time being on Saturday, I headed to the Lawrenceville neighborhood and slowly walked back to my hotel near the train station with a few stops for food and drink along the way. The train on Sunday was scheduled for 5:20 a.m., but I ended up falling asleep before 8 so the early hour was not a problem. Pittsburgh has an impressive-looking train station but it’s largely been converted to apartments and rail customers now access the tracks through a grim entrance on the side past a dumpster. I rolled my bike onto the baggage compartment and hung it up before finding a seat.

For anyone considering the C&O/GAP ride I would highly recommend taking the return trip by train. For one, it’s probably the nicest Amtrak train I’ve ever been on: the ticket was the least expensive, the seat reclined quite a bit and had a leg and foot rest, bike accommodations were straightforward, and there was an “observation car” with swiveled chairs and curved windows above allowing expansive views of the train’s path.

Once the darkness outside receded I spent most of my time in the observation car: much of the route is on the opposite side of the river from the GAP and then, after Cumberland, from the canal and you can usually see the trail from the train. It was a peaceful and moving way to reflect back upon the trip and to get another perspective on the ground I had covered: free from the burden of mostly concentrating straight ahead on the bike, I could now fully take in all the mountains and rapids along the way (in a heated setting while sipping tea, no less).

On tour in February and March a lot of my reflection concerned borders and similar constructs and the general idea of freedom of movement. Again I hesitate to say much about my thoughts on what’s mainly a glib travel blog, but on this trip a lot of my thoughts centered on the history of violence that runs through the country. It is inescapable on the route: that inflicted upon the workers who dug the ditches and built the routes, for one, and the surrounding societal conditions throughout history. The lockhouse I stayed in had several examples of local newspaper ads regarding the return of escaped slaves. Harpers Ferry remains a potent metonym for uprising against the violence and subjugation of slaveholding. The Potomac was a major point of conflict during the Civil War and the canal itself was subject to multiple Confederate raids. It passes near the fields of Antietam. There is also, of course, the sense of a violence against nature, inseparable from the canal and railway projects: the unfettered mining and transport of minerals that wreaked havoc on the rivers. There has been progress regarding all of these fronts, but also many reminders of its always fragile and sometimes illusory nature. The trails make this history less remote and offer a framework for learning new details and perspectives, a starting point for further exploration.

On arrival in D.C. I made my way to a regional MARC train, which had a bicycle car that made boarding easy. There was not a convenient way to go from Pittsburgh to New York in one day with the bicycle, so I stayed with friends in Baltimore for the night, stopping to watch the sun set from Druid Park en route. The next morning I took an Amtrak Vermonter train, with its awkward bike storage system requiring removing the bike’s front wheel and hanging it from a converted luggage rack. Still better than removing the handlebars and pedals and putting it in a box, though.

There was news about an explosion in the Port Authority tunnel that morning but the train ran normally. A K-9 boarded at Newark and made a sweep through the cars as we headed into the city. At Penn Station I put the bike back together on the platform and headed up. Moments after I started riding I let out a “Yo!” at an Uber driver drifting into the bike lane towards the curb to keep him from cutting me off: home again, home again.

Because of all the roadblocks near Port Authority I headed due west for the Hudson River Greenway. Periodic sets of parallel jersey barriers, ends painted bright orange, served as reminders of the violence that happened further downtown on the path not long ago. As I rode uptown towards home the George Washington Bridge grew slightly closer in the distance. Crossing it could take a bicycle rider up Bicycle Route 9 past the Palisades and then on to Albany, where a rider could begin following the Erie Canal.

Out of the Woods: Ohiopyle to West Mifflin

Friday was cold enough that most of the people I ran into remarked about the weather. I had been able to clean off the bike, which had been covered in some of the falling snow, overnight and get the chain and cables ready for another cold day. Even with my tempered expectations about potential downhill speeds the mileage ahead did not seem especially daunting; I was mostly worried about my brake or shifter cables freezing stuck.

I headed back down the trail from the campground to the GAP and made a right, heading back into Ohiopyle proper and seeing the falls. A bakery was open so I grabbed some iced tea and a muffin to go and then it was back over the two bridges away from the town and on my way alongside the river bends. In Connellsville, PA the trail turned into a protected bike path on the roads. Having regained cell reception I checked in with my aunt’s parents, who would be hosting me that night. I ducked into one of the few open places in town, a pizzeria, to thaw a bit: the descent to Connellsville from Ohiopyle was what I had originally been hoping for after crossing the divide, so I had some time to linger and wait for the sun to come up a bit more. They mentioned the weather and “wondering what I was doing out there in this cold on a pedal-bike.” (Wouldn’t it have been sillier/colder to be on a motorbike, though?)

After Connellsville the descent became a bit more gradual and there were some more stretches of the slower trail conditions, but for shorter durations. At times the riverbank would widen and the trail ran down the middle of what must have been old company towns or vacation developments: small towns of silently occupied houses but seemingly nowhere providing goods or services. Some of them did have shops catering to trail riders but they were inevitably closed for the season. With most of the denizens wisely staying inside from the cold it did feel eerie rolling through among the silent streets.

More structures, often abandoned, started appearing near the trail and across the river. I stopped briefly next to some old buildings next to mile marker 100. 49 more until the end. I also stopped next to the serene sounds of a waterfall coming down orange rocks. A park sign explained it was all due to acid mine drainage.

The map showed a fair amount of food options in West Newton. The visitor’s center was of course closed. Right across the trail from it was another franchise of the place I went to with the cursed hoagie, so that was out as well. I decided to just grab some snacks and a sports drink at the nearby Rite-Aid. A few of the customers had questions about the bike: though they may have been a bit jaded to GAP trail riders due to their proximity through the trail (similar to how those who live by the Adventure Cycling routes are just used to coming across cross-country cyclists all the time), my making the run in December was a bit of a novelty. One man offered very heartfelt congratulations and wished me Merry Christmas with an enthusiastic handshake.

Nearing the end of my ride for the day I decided to top off my water bottles one last time in Boston, PA. I had wanted to stop in at a bar at one of the trailside or canalside towns so I walked in with all my cycling layers. The bar was pretty busy for an early afternoon: the looks I got suggested I was nothing special. A bit dumber than the other cyclists who came through in warmer times of the year, maybe, but otherwise not worth a second look. I had a soft drink and headed out.

Coming in towards McKeesport development was denser. The trail meandered through a neglected-looking riverside promenade and through industrial parks, up and over the train tracks and rivers alongside overpasses and bridges. I crossed an old metal bridge into Duquesne, following the river and active train tracks to a grade crossing where I turned off the trail and up the steep roads into West Mifflin where I would stay the night, having good food and company with family and setting the stage for a final push to Pittsburgh the next day.

Where did I wander / Where’d ya think I wandered to? : Frostburg to Ohiopyle

The matter of the Big Savage Tunnel loomed over my preparations for the trip from the beginning. While I climbed up to Frostburg the wind turbines over the tunnel were plainly visible. Thursday I would finally confront the tunnel and its environs. It was quite the day, so this is a long post.

Frostburg is named after a family named Frost, but they did not exactly settle there to be ironic about the climate: it was a cold morning descent back to the trail, but then the rest of the climb began. I passed through a tunnel and then arrived at the Mason Dixon Line, where they have a monument and a paved line. (This was another echo of my Maryland section hike of the Appalachian Trail, since we began the hike further east on the same line).

It was announced that it would close for the season, as it does every year to prevent ice buildup, on December 1. The announcement headline said December 10, so I sent an email for clarification with fingers crossed, but the 1st it was. I did some research. Some say the GAP, as a through-route, is effectively closed with the closure of the tunnel: unlike the Paw Paw Tunnel, there was no alternate route given; the announcement simply said there was no detour. The map says there is “no easy detour.” Before the tunnel reopened the GAP would detour on ordinary roads, but they were apparently steep and relatively high-trafficked. Some bike shops offer shuttles from Frostburg to Deal, the closest vehicle-accessible trailheads, but they are not cheap. But some say it’s possible to just head over: a National Park Service site mentions a trail over the tunnel, as did some trail volunteer on a mountain biking forum years ago. On Flickr someone came over from the Pittsburgh side and snapped a few pictures along the way.

Based on my research and experience, the best way to take a loaded bike over is probably to take the trail that starts on the left by the helipad just uphill of the Mason-Dixon line. This seems to connect to the service road that runs up the ridgeline of the mountain. Between the 9th and 10th wind turbine there is a path on the left heading downhill which will then intersect with a path to the right that puts you right at the other end of the tunnel.

The way described above is not, of course, the way that I went. (Or at least, not the way I went uphill.)

I first went straight to the tunnel entrance and propped my bike against the closed doors, took off my wind/waterproof shoe cover things, and stretched some traction cleats over my shoes. I then started up the steep path that follows the utility poles next to the entrance and up the rest of the hill. It was usually about as steep as the steepest parts of the trail over the Paw Paw, so I kept a slow pace, taking brief breaks every few steps. When it got steeper the steps between breaks became fewer.

I made steady progress. Piles of rocks required sure footing and some planned maneuvering. I (very) stubbornly kept all the panniers on the bike throughout, finding gaps where needed as the path had more growth. At times a rock or a dead limb caused my front fender stays to break off (it’s a safety feature designed to keep you from flying over your handlebars if something gets caught while you’re riding…not particularly useful when pushing the bike up a mountain but good to know it works!).

As I got closer it flattened a bit, but then became steeper than before (or at least it felt that way). The steady “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh” of the closest wind turbine, seemingly so close, taunted my slow progress. Gradually I gained the last several feet I needed and emerged on the ridge among the turbines. As I reward I finished the last of the dried mango pieces I had packed along at the start of the trip.

Just across the service road the path loped down. It was softer and better-defined on this side. Despite a brief rocky stretch I made good progress while working the brakes to keep the bike from getting ahead of me. A few muddy roads beckoned off to the side: the utility poles continued straight down but then started up another adjacent steep hill. I knew that however many steps too far downhill I took would have to slowly be regained going up. I looked over my maps, along Google Maps satellite and relief screenshots and my GPS position on the phone, before deciding which one to take. The first one started bending up the mountain: wrong one. Backtracked and looked back at the maps: the downhill slope must have meant I’d already made it further downhill than I thought, so I tried the next path that seemed logical. In moments I reached the far entrance of the tunnel. Success! I could ride a bike again!

From there the trail sloped down a bit then the upgrade resumed, leading to a small tunnel. This one marked the Eastern Continental Divide, a milestone because up until now my path up the canal and the GAP consisted of a gradual uphill, and henceforth the trend would be a downslope. I picked up speed and went into Meyersdale, PA, the first chance for food and water after Frostburg. There was a market right by the trail but it was closed for the season, so I headed downhill to a pizza chain open in town and ate a large hoagie (the sandwich’s name being another (obviously trivial) tipoff that I had made it north of the Mason-Dixon line) and warmed up a bit before climbing back up to the trail. I hoped for a steady, easy descent all the way to the campsite in Ohiopyle: maybe I would even have time to get a ride to Fallingwater?

Nope! Instead I got a mild case of food poisoning from the hoagie, which is of course not great in the main but also took away from daylight hours I could have spent riding and meant I would need to get even more water, which also takes time. I would have expected as much from a lowly sub but from a hoagie it felt like a betrayal and I will have a difficult time ever forgiving that sandwich.

And now, as the hours continued to dwindle away, it began to snow.

I had planned to use the bivy at the campsite in Ohiopyle if possible, though they had yurts and cabins available too: even if it were cold they had heated bathrooms and showers at the site. As such and in case the Big Savage climb would be longer than I thought and I’d need to stay at a closer town, I hadn’t made a reservation at the site. The night before, snow appeared in the forecast, coupled with a low in the teens. I considered making a reservation but the website said it needed to be done three days in advance, though walk-ins to available cabins/yurts could be an option. I figured there was a good shot at a walk-in, but due to the hoagie and now the snow I decided to call the campsite and see if they could still reserve one for me. They could. The ranger told me the heater could take a bit to kick in. I’d never stayed in a yurt before and replied that I did not expect it to have heat at all so I was glad to hear it. She asked when I expected to get in, and I replied with what I thought was a very padded estimate.

Soon after, the snow temporarily let up. But soft trail conditions and a headwind slowed me down considerably despite the subtle downhill (though I guess declines always feel subtler than inclines). On the towpath it was generally easiest to follow the beaten path, but now on the gravel things were different: sometimes the existing bike tracks were signs of softer ground and my tires sank in. Sometimes they meant harder-packed trail and it was faster. I couldn’t really discern a visual difference to signify which was which. Often the best option was skirting the far edge of the trail on the leaves that collected there and at least gave some traction. I lowered my tire pressure to within a few PSI of the minimum but it did not seem to have much effect. The wind had not been much of a factor earlier in the day or indeed earlier in the trip, but after I emerged from the shelter of the mountain it would assert itself from time to time. For several miles the going was slower than it was on the towpath: not what I expected.

On the positive side, the parade of ‘ducts continued: having dispatched with the canal, it was now time for some viaducts! Rad. Also on the positive side, I went through a short tunnel that had only been reopened in 2015, avoiding another (smaller) detour.

The snow started coming down harder and began to stick, which actually helped with my traction issues. By the time I reached Confluence, PA, it was starting to blanket the ground. The map indicated that Confluence had the last options for lodging or camping before Ohiopyle, another ten miles away. Knowing that a heated shelter was at the end of it (and that I had a bivy and the zero-degree sleeping bag if things went really south) I decided to push on.

The cloudy twilight receded into night and I put all my lights on. Visibility was good, though I had to manage my glasses fogging on occasion, as was traction. I rode towards what turned out to be a small cat on the trail who ran off away from me; I hope it made it through the snowy night. The lights and enormous noise of a coal train rounded a bend on the other side of the river. The miles to Ohiopyle continued to tick down and soon, finally, I made it into town. There was some sort of meeting going on at a community center but the food stores all seemed shut (in hindsight down towards the river the general store was probably open) but I had some food with me and could get water at the camp so I went over a couple long bridges past town towards the camp, a few minutes after my earlier upper-bound arrival estimate.

On the second bridge I briefly stopped, turned off all the lights, and gazed up at the stars above while listening to the unseen falls nearby below. Almost there.

Switching the lights back on I found the trail to the camp. A quarter-mile uphill. One last trudge alongside my bike for the day. But then I was at the top. And so was my yurt.

Canal non plus: Paw Paw to Frostburg

Wednesday’s ride would not be long, but it would involve a climb at the end, so I left Paw Paw relatively early after a big breakfast prepared by my host. I snapped a photo of my lodging on the way out. I crossed the river back onto the towpath and turned west, the weather and visibility a marked improvement over the previous day’s rain. With the moon still visible in the morning sky I hit a long section where the canal is spring-fed, allowing for serene riding with even more flora and fauna than usual: with the locks long out of commission there are very long stretches where the canal bed is just a dry ditch. I found myself at Lock 75, the last one on my map. There I spoke to a man walking his dog and asked if he could take a picture of me at the lock; he obliged but covered the lens with his fingers each time and I ended up tempting fate and setting my phone on the opposite bridge railing. A bit further on and I reached the final aqueduct as well, and then the towpath began its emergence into a valley, passing through some small neighborhoods and then opening up with a view towards the terminus at Cumberland, MD. There was a bar, open but empty, at the terminus. I stopped in for a quick celebratory lunch and Natty Bo. I had made it end-to-end of the C & O Canal.

After lunch I still had about 16 miles to go: a bit ago I had arranged a Couchsurfing stay in Frostburg so I could tackle the small matter of getting over the Big Savage Tunnel first thing the next day. I followed the signs from the canal to the start of the Great Allegheny Passage, which from Cumberland begins with a long but gradual climb. The GAP is a rail trail so the surface was generally pavement or fine gravel and much more consistent than the bumpy, rutted towpath. From Cumberland to Frostburg one line of the old Western Maryland railway is still in place for historic train rides and cyclists have been known to try to pace themselves alongside the steam locomotive. No historic trains were running on weekdays, though, so I made the ascent alone. I did pass by an idling Mack trackwork vehicle, both its windshields covered in spiderweb cracks, but my hopes of trying my luck against its pace were dashed when the nearby trackworker climbed inside and shut off the engine rather than sending it up the hill.

When the trail hit Frostburg it was clear that my climbing was not over for the day and that the way up to town would be much steeper than the trail. I considered making a run straight up an aggressively-inclined road but was dissuaded when I saw a schoolbus head downhill, engine braking deliriously down the embankment. I opted for the set of switchbacks that meander up a sculpture garden towards town. They made things easier but I still had to take my time on the roads going up beyond. My accommodations were very well-appointed: apparently in addition to hosting spots on Couchsurfing the owner, Wesley, also operates the space as a paid guesthouse, and it showed.

After two days of riding that ended with detours and darkness it was refreshing to have a bit of daylight with which to walk around town. Frostburg has a state university branch so there were a few places to choose from (including, yes, something called Frostburgers). At Wesley’s recommendation I had tacos and a burrito at the inspiringly-named A Place to Eat. When I got back I sipped some tea and talked to Wesley for a bit and then settled in for another early night, glad to have had a relatively easy ride knowing that the next day would be an adventure and probably the most physically demanding part of the trip.

I know dark clouds will gather ’round me / I know my way is hard and steep : Jordan Junction to Paw Paw

Tuesday would feature my first detour over a closed tunnel. I took down camp as the sun rose. The forecast had called for rain most of the day and luckily I had everything packed before it started. As the trail ran closer to I-70 I was glad to have avoided the noise that reached the adjacent campsites.

Since I had not showered after Sunday I had planned to stop at the C & O Bike Shop in Hancock, MD which offers cyclist lodging or just a shower during the day. I now needed a derailleur adjustment as well so the stop had become more a necessity than a luxury in case I ran into any steep routes near the towpath. Their lodging had been closed for the season but they fixed the bike and I was able to shower and resupply before going back out in the rain.

At some point I came to a detour sign I was not expecting and followed it up a short, steep path. Though I could shift to the little ring again following the repair, I had to hop off my bike towards the top when the tires couldn’t hold traction on a slick, flat rock. At the top was the Western Maryland Rail Trail, a paved bike route that parallels the towpath for a while. A sign clarified that the detour pertained to the rail trail, so the climb was for naught and I headed back to the canal.

The ride from there was fairly straightforward, but I knew another detour was waiting at the end of my day: rockslides had required closure of the path by the Paw Paw tunnel, an engineering feat that I would have to miss out on during this trip. The detour involved walking bikes over the Tunnel Hill Trail that runs above it. At the trailhead a large sign warned that the towpath was closed 1.5 miles ahead. Looking at my maps I gathered that the trail would intersect the path again at some point during the closure but I was not sure. The rain clouds meant it was starting to get dark already so I pedaled on quickly to make sure. An old man with a blaze orange hunting cap and binoculars was walking on the rainy trail and I asked him if he knew about the detour, though he was going the same direction I did and had no idea. I thanked him and continued on. I noticed a rifle on the ground a few feet past him and hoped just a little bit more that I wouldn’t have to turn back his way. (Hunting is prohibited on and near the towpath so you see lots of deer on a ride. Presumably he could have walked to or from somewhere that permitted hunting, but I did not stick around to ask). Fortunately my read of the maps was correct, though: the trail crossed then towpath at the closure and I started my way up. Pushing the loaded bike up the steep trail covered in wet leaves meant frequent breaks to catch my breath but soon the highest point of the trail came and went and the descent was more gradual. Paw Paw, WV shone in the distance across the river. When I reached the bottom I could have doubled back and seen the tunnel (all of which was apparently open and accessible from the one side, with the rockslide repairs beginning on the other) but light was getting scarce.

The rain continued. I had figured I would stay at one of the campsites located soon after the tunnel. The first one was technically closed for the season and proved to be under a loud road bridge and to have a solitary parked car that may or may not have been occupied. I decided to keep riding to the next one, but realized it was going to be farther than the mileage indicated on my list of camp sites. There was also the knowledge that tomorrow would be cold and there was no way my clothes would dry overnight in the humidity. Lacking cell service, I decided to cross the bridge to Paw Paw where it looked like there might be some cyclist lodging.

The only things open in town were a Dollar General and a gas station. I pulled into the latter and asked if there was a phone I could use; they gave me a wifi password and I called one of the lodging options. This turned out to be a fellow named Dan who had just gotten back from a fishing trip in upstate NY and PA that very day. I had a place to stay. It turned out to be just a few paces away and there was a dachshund named Moxie. After we got everything inside I grabbed some food from the restaurant at the gas station and was glad to be able to have (another) shower and to be able to wash and dry my clothes after the rain. Despite my extreme short notice Dan was a very generous host and good conversationalist. The lodging rate turned out not to be much more than the campsite fee so I definitely lucked out overall and would be well-rested for the last set of miles on the towpath and the climb up to Frostburg, MD the next day.

(Not many pictures from the day due to all the rain! Rest assured there were several aqueducts and locks.)

More canal than an episode of “Knightboat”: Edwards Ferry to Jordan Junction, just past Williamsport

Monday morning I set about barricading the windows and doors of the lockmaster’s house planning to ride at least 70 miles but knowing the trail would be less maintained as I continued farther from D.C. The towpath was still very much rideable but I had to make peace with leaves getting caught in my fenders and spokes, the sound of which resembled an overworked electric motor until the leaves were ground away (only to be replaced all too soon by more). Also, have I mentioned the aqueducts?

Every five miles or so on the towpath are hiker-biker campsites with water pumps, all of which had their handles removed and were shut off a couple weeks before I started. There are some large gaps between towns near the canal so I had lots of extra water on board (and a Sawyer filter in a pinch) but I was running low around Brunswick, MD (about mile 55). I decided to pull into town. I first had to wait for the passage of the cold-blooded killer of so many canals:

Once it finally moved aside I found sanctuary, warmth, water, and espresso.

Soon afterward I found myself on somewhat familiar ground: in May I hiked the Maryland portion of the Appalachian Trail, ending up in Harpers Ferry, WV. Several of our last miles were on the towpath, so I have now bicycled on two parts of the AT (the other being the Bear Mountain Bridge in New York). Harpers is beautiful and full of history but crossing the bridge there was cumbersome with a pack so I was not inclined to try it with a bicycle (stairs are involved), especially having been there so soon before. Instead I took a look from afar and recalled, among other things, the wild-eyed wax-figure John Brown who looks out from inside the wax museum and the hipsterish-looking John Brown on the mural by the ice cream store.

Making good time but again hoping for more water I later crossed into Shepherdstown, WV, near Antietam. The approach to the bridge and up into town were steep, though, and I realized I had lost a lot of time so I filled up extra water at another cafe before heading back down and over to the towpath. For long stretches the trail can be a bit repetitive but the monotony is interrupted by recent structures, like the paths added where the river’s route slowly changed over time, or the remnants of older buildings. And the aqueducts. Speaking of which (as we must), aqueduct restoration at around mile 100 meant detouring through Williamsport, MD, which involved a short climb made a bit more difficult by my bike’s not shifting to the little front gear ring. Since the sun was starting to go down I decided to use the detour to grab a bit more water and something for breakfast the next morning. There was a hiker-biker campsite a short distance out of town; the next few after that looked pretty close to I-70, so this one seemed like the best bet. I leaned the bike on a picnic table next to the Potomac and set up tarp and the bivy. There was no highway noise but the occasional train went by and for a while I could see lights from a line of construction vehicles far off in the distance, all of which were apparently operating in reverse (based on the beeping noises), but as the night settled in things got more peaceful and I had a good night’s rest: 70 miles had been on the lower end of my daily range touring on the roads, but covering that distance on a towpath in December is a lot more tiring!

(Pictured: a poor attempt at flash photography before sleeping.)

Georgetown to Edwards Ferry

As promised, here are the photos from the first parts of the trip:

Mile 0 with some extra cargo:Lots of aqueducts. Here’s one:Also lots of locks (75 are counted on the map). Here’s the lockmaster’s quarters where I stayed:

Ramble On

The bike left the barn in Marianna and made its way back to where I first bought it. Metal and plastic were bent, repaired, and replaced and it made its way back to the family home. When that house sold it was kept in a garage at a friend’s elsewhere in town. I rode it to the RiverLine after Thanksgiving and it transferred at Trenton en route to Penn Station, where I rode it in New York for the first time. Then, after adding winter tires and such, I brought it through Times Square and back to Penn, where it hung on the side of a baggage car down to D.C. At Union Station I met a relative who generously gave me some all-weather sleeping gear, then made my way across the Mall and found Mile Marker 0 of the C & O Canal. I joined up with and veered away from the canal up the Capitol Crescent Trail to Bethesda, where I stayed with similarly generous family until Sunday, when I doubled back to the canal and headed west on Sunday. The first day I took a relatively short ride and stayed at one of the houses for the canal lockmaster, a position that meant being at the ready for boat crossings at all times of the day. Boat traffic is mostly not an issue on the canal these days. The house had no electric, heat, hot water or cold water but firewood was outside and battery-powered lanterns were available inside. On the main floor there was a guestbook and the previous visitors mentioned “ghostlike noises but no ghosts!” The bike went into the basement. Beds were on the second floor: linens are not provided either so I used my sleeping bag on top of the comforter. The closest to ghosts I heard were the thumps of two NPS police cruisers going over the adjacent bridge at 2 a.m., the drivers chatting in the parking lot before resuming their patrol, white LED roof lights blazing into my windows.

[pictures to come when I have a better connection]