Jane got the email from the Canal Trust a few days before we left, saying that the C&O Canal Towpath was closed because of the Federal shutdown. That was not part of our plan. We exchanged messages full of expletives. And then we discussed possible alternate routes.
We knew we didn’t want to ride our bicycles on busy, potentially dangerous highways, and we preferred not to ride as encumbered as we were on steep terrain. We consulted maps. Steve had even brought gazetteers. We had hoped that by the time we reached Cumberland, the government shutdown would be over. We decided to make a decision after we arrived in the city.
In the morning, we set out for my favorite bicycle store in the area, the Cumberland Trail Connection. We would talk to guy and get his take on what was going on with the trail. I knew he wouldn’t steer us wrong. He told us that we wouldn’t get stopped on the trail, that the rangers would let us ride through.
We decided to take the chance. We asked a couple of women sitting nearby to take our photo at the GAP Trail end/C&O Trail start, and then we were on our way.
On the GAP Trail, you ride on crushed limestone, which was fairly smooth to ride on. It felt like swimming– I could get into a groove and pedal while enjoying my surroundings. In contrast, the C&O Trail is gravelly and rutty, with tree roots and rocks jutting out, so more concentration is needed to navigate around these obstacles. There are some parts of the trail that are better than others, but the combination of focused attention and uneven ground does tend to make you tired and ride more slowly than you would expect. I found myself looking for the mile markers, even more often than before.
We got to Oldtown, MD, and had a picnic lunch near one of the locks. Steve had purchased cheese, sausage, and crackers, which he thoughtfully shared with everyone. We ate our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and drank our bottled water. It was a fine time.
We saw the women who had taken our photo back in Cumberland drive up to our area. They were cheering a group of cyclists on the trail. We found out later that they were the support team for the Cycle for STEM ride. We would see them periodically throughout the rest of our trip back to DC. At this stop, we discovered that we could have stopped for a sit-down lunch in Oldtown, as this group did, instead of carrying our provisions, but in the end, we were satisfied with our picnic.
As we rode on, we saw the signs saying that the trail was closed. The port-a-potties were banded shut, although occasionally we saw a few that were forced open. There was graffiti on some of them and on some of the Jersey walls expressing displeasure with the government. For the record, we did not deface or tamper with anything on the trail. We did our best to leave no trace.
The trail was especially bumpy leading up to the Paw Paw Tunnel, but walking through the tunnel was fun. We turned on our lights so that we could see the walkway in the otherwise pitch-dark tunnel. Embedded along the wall were surveyor’s medallions.
Our next stop was Bill’s Place in Little Orleans, MD, which is an institution so well known that it even gets a mention in our trail guide. Bill is unfortunately no longer living, but the bar still remains as a necessary stop on the trail. The guy behind the bar greeted us with “So how does it feel to be breaking the law?” We told him that it felt pretty good. We chatted for a while.
We opted to divert to the Western Maryland Rail Trail before the C&O mile 135. Why? Because it was paved. We all practically groaned with pleasure at riding on the smooth-as-buttah trail after a day’s worth of being jostled around on the rocks. We sped our way into Hancock.
Due to room availability, Jane, Nathan, and I stayed at lovely Riverrun Bed and Breakfast, while David and Steve stayed at a nearby motel. We decided to check in, then meet up at a restaurant in town. Our waitress was a bit surly. I ended up indulging with a big slice of apple pie for dessert.
This was our longest leg of the trip, but it didn’t feel like it to me. I was ready to keep on going.