Biking the GapC&O, Thursday, to Confluence, PA

We had a great breakfast this morning at the Allegheny Trail House… Jess is a chef and also runs Shift, our dinner choice last night.
The rains caught up with us today (hurricanes in the Caribbean, flooding in the Carolinas and Washington DC, 1-3 inches expected locally), so full rain gear and a steady 8 mile climb to top out on the Eastern Continental Divide.

Euekra! ITS ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE.  We’re headed to the right on that diagram… staying in Confluence tonight.

(Three weeks ago to the day, I was standing with my brother-in-law Greg on top of the Western Continental Divide which runs through the Rockies… and over Grays Peak – see Sept 8 blog).

We immediately picked up speed on the exit from the tunnel… wow, did that feel great!
Six miles later we stopped at the Meyersdale teain depot/history museum to shake out our rain jackets, knock off some mud and dry out a bit.  The station master told us some of the story making rhe GAP – 40 years in the making

Even in the rain, this section of the trail is gorgeous… maples, oaks, just starting to change color.

Into Confluence and the Loft… our home-away-from-home above the Antique Store.  

Keep in mind this a town of a few hundred… one gas station, one fruit market, one grocery store… 

…sporting Bruce’s seal of acceptable quality:

This is maple syrup and Amish country

The Confluence FoodMart doesn’t sell alcohol, but pointed us to the other side of the square to find the beverage of our choice at Dodd’s Hotel, Tavern, Pool Hall, and Beer Store.  Here’s Bruce escaping with the loot…

It’s Gourmet Night… not to be outdone by our Frostburg experience, we’re dining in this evening… tortellini in sauce, garlic bread accompanied with a fresh salad

Highlights:

Riding in the rain, and finding out we’d planned well enough to stay mostly dry. We weren’t cold, and the air was fresh.

Finding other cyclers along the wet trail to talk to (mostly in tunnels) – a couple from Australia, for instance.

Climbing over the Continental Divide on a bike, and the joy of gliding downhill for the first time in days.

Watching another set of riders who are happy to see their support wagon pull into town (with their bags and dry clothes)… and knowing we have ours with us.

Enjoying a hot shower and a home meal, dry shoes and a few beers.
Stats: 1 deer, 5 trains, 1 turtle (sleeping on the trail, no less), no flats.  49.6 trail miles, 278 miles thus far.

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Biking the GapC&O, Wednesday, to Frostburg, MD

Breakfast was spent with an eastbound cyclist and centered on weather discussions

We are sitting between those two nasty storms, and they’re predicting flash floods with up to 3″ of rain – a sure way to turn the tow path into a mud pit.  We are planning to race northwest and finish the C&O in 30 miles at Cumberland.

Our mid-morning companion

Thankfully, the rain held off and we made it to Cumberland and the end of the canal tow path for lunch

Waiting at mile zero is this replica canal boat

Lunch is hearty and somewhat healthy.

Time for the afternoon entertainment.  We now switch to the Great Allegheny Passage (the GAP) for another 15 miles to Frostburg.  What the sign doesn’t mention is the 1,200 foot elevation gain that’s thrown in for free.

Welcome to the GAP

The GAP is a rails-to-trail conversion that still has a running steam train that covers the first 15 miles.

Frostburg

Highlights:

Best meal: Chicken couscous with an arugula/quinoa/beet salad, Switch, Frostburg, MD

Best adult beverage: Apothic Red, California

Stats: 41.7 trail miles, 1,711 ft elevation gain, with no walking (Strava prove it).

Biking the GapC&O, Tuesday, to Paw Paw, WV

Today was just a Scenic Day on the trail, starting at 100, ending past 150.

Along the way:

Dam #5

Pretty trail… and most important… the rain has held off

Hancock, MD (where I got my front tire trued up after some stump encounter)

Healthy lunch on the trail

After 10 miles of isolated trail I pulled into a nice campground area along the Potomac, and Bruce rode out of the woods 5 min later, working against a slow leak in his back tire.

You have to believe in Providence when our only flat thus far presents itself a half mile from a beautiful campground with a picnic table to work on…  and an adventure biking tour company van pulls into the parking lot 15 min later – with a full assortment of tools and tire pumps!

The canal company decided to drill 3000 feet through the mountain at this point, creating the Paw Paw Tunnel

There’s Bruce and David on top

Almost out.  The tunnel proved to be a poor bet for the canal company. They were losing the race of time against the railway which was also following a similar route and bidding to win their customers. The estimate of 2 years to construct turned into 14 years, costing the C&O a lot of revenue for this section of the river.

Pulling into PawPaw

We arrived in Paw Paw WV, met Scott and Carol who own the Wrenwood Inn, bought a six-pack, and sat on the porch, listening to  Scott’s stories about the town, the apple orchard business that  (literally) went under with a flood in the 1930s, and his grandfather’s childhood memories of the circus coming to town on the train, including a bear that could be wrestled with.  The same circus used to come to Paw Paw on canal boats.

This may be a small town, but they’re well represented in the beer department at the Liberty gas station/ convenience store:

(Carolyn – the worldwide popularity of Goose Island continues!).  Tonight’s selection after balancing many factors for front porch harmony:

Before dinner we went across the street and harvested paw paws in front of the post office.  Banana-avocado is close to describing the flavor.

Highlights: 4 deer, 3 turtles, 1 woodchuck,  no snakes

Beer of the day: Yuengling Black and Tan, in Paw Paw, WV

Stats: 59.9 trail miles, one tunnel, 1 flat tire.

Biking the GapC&O, Monday, to Williamsport, MD

The day started with a great breakfast at the Shepherdstown B&B and nice conversation with fellow bikers who made up all guests of the folks last evening. 

We hit the trail at 10 a.m., a leisurely start and made it to the Antietam Battleground about a half-hour later. 
After watching the brief video we slowly biked around the different tour sites and read about the battle.

This was a sobering morning… so many lives were lost.  I had not learned, or more likely didn’t remember, the significance of this battle that occurred 18 months into the Civil War.  From the Union’s perspective it was an opportunity to reverse a string of military setbacks, and more critically, President Lincoln was seeking a Union battle success to press for emancipation; from the Confederate side it was a bold opportunity to gain victory on Union soil and convince Europeans, notably Great Britain and France, to recognize the Confederacy diplomatically and likely deliver critically-needed supplies.

The cornfield stunned me. It’s here that several regiments of Union and Confederate forces clashed, coming from different angles, unable to see more than perhaps a dozen feet (Bruce is in the last picture, in a bright yellow jacket, maybe three rows deep).  By the end of that single day, over 8,000 men laid dead in that field, almost equal losses on each side.

In this area of rolling hills over 100,000 troups opposed each other, with 22,000 casualties at the end if the day.

We departed the National Battleground and started back toward the C&O. In less than a mile we stopped for lunch at the Battleground Deli, Bait Shop, and Liquor store – who could pass this up?

Bruce’s favorite lunch spot today, and it was tasty (part of the selection criteria is based on the establishment’s availability of live bait).  We recommended the deli to fellow cyclists later in the day.

We rode along the Potomac all afternoon.

Corn fields along the way

We pulled into historic Williamsport and our B&B, had a great italian meal followed by local ice cream, and watched an hour of the presidential debate before we passed out.

The Candlelight B&B is the yellow three story mid-block

 Highlights

No snakes, 1 deer.

Self-policing: if you’ve done wrong in Williamsport, just pay up and put it in the box

Stats: 38.6 trail miles. Max speed 28.6mph, Woo-hoo!

Biking the GapC&O, Sunday, 38mi to Shepherdstown

We start our day jumping back across the river and onto the trail

Note the flood stages marked on the ferry building.  From where I stand it looks like high water would reach into the treetops

On the trail

Near Brunswick, I’m starting to notice the C&O canal fading here and there.  At one point, we had the Potomac River about 20 foot below us, we’re riding on the towpath, with the canal to our right forming a dry 20 foot wide swale, then up another 30 foot embankment to railroad tracks and a roadway before hitting a sharp granite cliff. With another hundred years I think many sections of the C&O will disappeared completely.

The Appalachian Trail (AT) crosses the C&O, so we take out stop at the trail blazes, ditch the bikes and do a bit of hiking

As you can see, the AT isn’t very wide, and could get a bit LONG.  Back to bikes!

A few miles down our trail we came to Harpers Ferry, where we pulled our bikes up a steel set of stairs, across the bridge and into the historic town. 

Harpers Ferry sits at the point where three states – West Virginia, Maryland  and Virginia all touch at the  touch at the confluence of the Shenandoah  and  Potomac Rivers, forming and important trade route.

The Potomac does not look too powerful here, but we’ve been seeing warning signs all along the way about powerful currents.

The AT has been walking along with us the last few miles… here they turn south and head toward Georgia

Lunch by 2pm at the Harpers Ferry Cannonball Deli (gotta love the name)

Tasty – I was getting hungry, and then I needed a nap (sorry to say, the nap was nixed)

The Confederates took this city early in the war causing great consternation, with Washington DC only 50 miles away. 
The Union troops under McCellen pulled back and formed at Sharpsburg  and that draws the battle lines we’re visiting tomorrow.
We arrived in Shepherdstown just after 4pm, and checked into a quaint B&B.

Academic pursuits and lifelong learning never stops, so I’m getting a more formal education about the battle at Antietam in the Civil War

Well, mostly academic…

Shepherdstown is a nice town, and Sunday evening provides us a number of dinner choices… top of which for Bruce is Domestic, and it proved to be a great choice. 

Home of Shepherd University

Highlights:

Stats: 41.9 bike miles, 500ft of the Appalachian Trail.

Beer of the day: Big Timber Dry Sluice Stout @Domestic, Shepherdstown

Biking the GapC&O, Saturday, 37mi to Leesburg

We lived a pampered life last night and this morning… concierge level, fluffy beds, and a nice breakfast. We looked the part, like any two business types, checked into this 12 story Marriott.

Twenty minutes later one of the breakfast servers paused in the hallway when we passed, now transformed into 100% cycling dudes… helmets, bright shirts, and the highly fashionable “Look, Ma, I forgot my pants” biker short look.

Here we go!

The start of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal is hidden on the grounds of the local boating club

Built in the early 1800s, with George Washington playing an early role, this canal and adjacent tow path runs 180+ miles from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD, passing through 74 wooden locks along the way.  Although the C&O went out of business in 1924, we’ll see a number of locks that are still working, and several of the lockkeeper houses along the way.
The canal and towpath run on a ridge 20-40 feet above the Potomac – I’m not sure how they pulled that off… a lot of laborers I suspect.

The above shot is looking downstream (toward Washington DC), the gate is closed, holding back the stream.

We stopped at Great Falls for lunch, and looked at the challenge the settlers found when foating down the Potomac – you run into the treacherous Mather Falls

George Washington’s role in all this comes here, at Great Falls.  His firm, the Potomac Company, succeeded in creating a canal that bypassed Mather Falls, making the downstream river accessible.  The bypass canal was eventually sold to the newly formed C&O Company, which went on to develop the 180 mile canal.

Late in the afternoon, we crossed the Potomac by ferry, and caught a shuttle into Leesburg VA for our hotel and dinner.

Highlights:

Stats: 41.3 bike miles

National Parks day today… all the parks were free, and a lot of folks visiting.

Best meal: Coho salmon with roasted brussel sprout and romaine salad (… be proud… that’s as close to Mediterranean as I’m likely to achieve this week… burgers and BBQ coming next baby!)

Biking the GapC&O – Friday, prep for the Washington DC departure

Here we go!  Bruce and I fly to Pittsburgh, rent bikes, drive to DC and get ready for the trip…

Here’s the trip in a nutshell, according to Google (which thinks we should be done in a day…)

Looks easy on the map… just ride from DC, up 4,350ft and over the Eastern Continental Divide, and down into Pittsburgh. What’s that little yellow flag on elevation all about?

Pretty small living accommodations for the week!

Bike rental in Pittsburgh-  great staff, helped Bruce and I get set for the road.

The trailhead we’re returning to is just down the way… I think we’re spending the next week riding back to reunite with this sign, only 332 miles

The Dodge Caravan Bruce rented is perfect for the bikes, and we’re off to DC, 4 hours away.

Here’s the profile of the route, and we’re coming right to left on this diagram:

Unlike sensible people that gently climb up going east, then zoom down the hill, we’re going west so we can climb steeply up that gradient on our two 50 mile days.  No pressure… I’m sure that little hill near Frostburg will take pity on us…what could go wrong?

The weather looks great for our start tomorrow.

Highlights:

The travel was uneventful, the bikes seem fine, and we found our hotel.

Meal of the day: Steak&Shake