What is a bike overnight? It’s a mini bike tour, where you bike to a destination, stay overnight, and then bike back the next day. Many people will head to a campsite for the night, but we did something better– we stayed at a lockhouse.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, once a viable way of transporting people and goods from Cumberland, MD to Washington, DC, is now a National Historic Park, the towpath a favorite of many cyclists. Throughout the canal were locks that controlled the water level so that boats could go smoothly from one area to the next. During the time the C&O Canal was in use, in the early part of the 19th century, people were employed as lock-keepers to maneuver the locks. These lock-keepers lived alongside the canal, in lockhouses.
The C&O Canal Trust has refurbished several of the houses, and for a fee, you can stay at a house and experience what it was like way back when. My friends J and N, N’s brother Jake, R, and I chose to ride to Lockhouse 28 at Point of Rocks, MD, nearly 50 miles from the trail start, as a preparation for our longer Great Allegheny Passage to C&O Canal tour that we’ll be doing in the fall.
Somehow, we all thought that 50 miles would be easy to zip up and back. We forgot to take into account the slight incline going away from DC, and the rough terrain. The combination of gravel, many patches of mud, and fallen trees from a recent storm made riding a challenge.
We successfully met that challenge, although it did beat us up a bit. The milder weather made it easier for the first day. We took breaks, often at campgrounds and next to fallen trees. We got to the lockhouse several minutes before sunset, and we quickly dropped off our bags and headed out to the town of Point of Rocks to chow down on pizza. We brought back a few beers to sip around the fire pit next to the lockhouse before quickly becoming tired and heading to bed.
Historically, this part of the canal was a point of conflict between the C&O and the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad– the two companies had fought over rights to the land. In the end, the railroads proved to be a faster means of transport, and the canals died out. The victor made itself known to us throughout the night– we kept waking up to the sound of freight trains clacking on the rails. I didn’t sleep too well that night.
The next day, we headed out in the morning. It was pretty muggy and overcast. I made the mistake of not eating breakfast or lunch (I could’ve had breakfast at White’s Ferry, but was worried that the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich would wreak havoc on my stomach, so I opted for a banana and a granola bar that I had packed instead), so by the time we were back at Great Falls, I was feeling rather light-headed and slightly nauseous. The gravelly road seemed to be more jarring this time around, and my arms were becoming fatigued by the vibrations. Still, I was determined to make it back home and have a huge meal then. And then, it happened. I got a flat about 8 miles before the end of the trail.
R helped me get the tire off the rear wheel, and I successfully put a new tube in and mounted it back onto the bike. But when I went to pump the tire, I realized I brought an old pump that was for a Schrader valve, and I didn’t have an adapter for a Presta valve. And then I managed to break the trigger to the CO2 cartridge.
I admit, I was cranky and not thinking clearly at this point. I told R to go on ahead home and get the car, and I would walk the bike and meet him at the first parking lot I saw. I didn’t know at the time that I was at least 3 miles away from the nearest parking lot. That would take a lot of time walking with an encumbered bike.
Fortunately, a friendly cyclist named John stopped and had an adaptable hand pump, and pumped my tire for me. I was so, so grateful! I was able to bike the rest of the way home, with a quick stop at CycleLife, where Matt saw me pathetically looking in the window, and even though they had closed, he offered to refill my Camelbak with lots of ice water that I desperately needed. Life savers, both!
According to my calculations, I did 111 miles over two days. Despite the last ten miles, it was a great trip, and a good introduction to bike touring. I promise to be better prepared next time!
Information about staying at a lockhouse is on the C&O Canal Trust site.