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.)

4 comments

  1. patbroom

    So the Wrenwood Inn in Paw Paw is no longer? Or just closed for the season? Carol, who had recently bought it when I passed through, was fixing it up bit by bit and had such high hope. We had by far one of our most entertaining nights of the trip there. I hope she did ok. Loving your blog!

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    • Sam

      Thanks! It’s still there, right next door to where I stayed! It looked nice but none of the lights were on so they might have closed for the season. I was also looking for a less expensive option since I wasn’t planning on getting lodging that night (though it was well worth it). It looks like she may have an inexpensive bunkhouse option too, though: at any rate I probably would have given her a call if Dan hadn’t answered or been available!

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  2. moxiemann

    Hi, Sam. It’s Dan in Paw Paw. I like the pics, especially the one from the overlook, like the twilight colors of it. The Canal is now frozen solid, and I’m the only rider out there, though it will hit 40 this weekend. I’m enjoying your blog here, thanks for the invite, looking to see how the big savage detour went. Merry Christmas

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