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.)