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

Colorado 14ers – Wednesday, flight home

Greg and I had a great trip, including a bonus day, complements of high winds at the Aspen airport which delayed our departure until this morning. Our stay at the Limelight was restful and we’re back at the airport by 7am for a second shot at departing.  Everybody on the plane has checked the weather and knows the winds are around 5kts, so we’ll be out and going.

On the climb out a nice view of the Roaring Fork Valley and some possible future hikes

We love stats, so here’s what we captured for our eight day stay:

27 hours of trail time, 21.6 miles hiked, 10,000 ft elevation gain, 29 miles biking.

Greg converted the climb up Grays and Torreys: that’s 1,291 flights of stairs on the StairMaster, in thin air.  If that’s not enough already, you need to hike 1,291 flights back down (I’m keeping all this in mind for next year!)

So, our Colorado triathlon was 5 ft of swimming, 29 miles bike, and 21 miles on foot (a bit lopsided on the swim, but hey… the hot springs river pool was only so wide and we weren’t venturing out into the freezing main current…).

Total steps: 180,216 (averaging over 22,000 steps/day… hooray for the 10k steps/day crowd).

Thank you:
…  Greg for inviting me and doing all the mountain research and hiking!
…Lizzy and Ted for your wonderful hospitality.
…Janie for making all the travel arrangements, and
…Patti for holding down the fort!

Well, there are some future Colorado mountains to explore…  Princeton, Yale, Elbert…

I had a blast climbing these mountains, and of course, hindsight makes it feel so much easier.  I’m more than ready to tackle another 14er.

However, I am also humbled and inspired by those that have done so much more of this… my brother-in-law Greg has already hiked eight of these mountains and is on his way to ten, twelve or more.  Hats off Greg, I’m a rookie.

And then there are those beyond the mere mortals, those rare birds cut from entirely different stock. Meet Joe Grant and his amazing accomplishment just a few weeks ago, completing all 57 of the 14ers. In 31 days, 8 hours, 33 minutes. That’s 1.8 mountain peaks per day! He did this by leaving his driveway on bicycle, and peddled his way from trailhead to trailhead, no support crew, living on Snickers, Clif bars, and frozen gas station bean burritos. Should change his last name to Granite.

There are some peaks I’ll never attempt. If you have the nerve to watch, here’s a terrifying YouTube video crossing the Knife Edge to reach Capitol Peak. I wonder what time of day it was that Joe went across this…

Colorado 14ers – Monday, Maroon Bells and Marble

Today we are up and out by 6:30am for a morning hike in the 181,000 acre Maroon Bells Snowmass Wilderness, part of the White River National Forest.

The trailhead begins near Maroon Lake and our destination today is Crater Lake, a nice 5.75 mile round trip with less than 1000ft of elevation gain.

We had just started when we were brought up short by a park employee warning us about a female moose on the trail ahead.  She diverted us down and around… (we never saw the moose, neither did the other hikers).

Maroon Lake has a nature walk, and this is where most of the park visitors stay. We shot up into the aspen forest.

Past my shoulder is Maroon Lake, our starting spot. Continuing down the trail we arrived at Crater Lake.  Greg commented that the lake is the lowest he’s seen.

In the picture below you see the route into the mountains… through that stand of trees, then left and into the shadow all the way down the valley.  The climb begins on the other side of the prominent rocky ledge.

Pulling back to a wider view, the summits come into view… twin 14,000 peaks.

The required photo op

Here are the two Maroon Bell 14ers… South Maroon Peak on the left, and the North peak on the right.

The peaks in this valley are outside my skill range… loose rock, steep slopes and exposure have made them the deadliest mountains in these parts.

We hiked past Crater Lake, checked out the camp sites, then back out of the wilderness and into progessively thicker clumps of casual hikers and non-stop talkers.  Although I expected it, I didn’t spot one selfie stick.

We stopped at Buttermilk to see the site for Lizzy and Ted’s wedding next June – what a nice venue for their mountaintop ceremony!

Back to the hotel to clean up and pack.  I was in the lobby for a bit, marveling at the mix of folks checking in, and received a quick education about the 2016 National Sheep Dog Finals happening this week, bringing the country’s top 150 dogs into the valley to show their skills in fetching, herding and managing sheep.  Some of the judges and a number of the teams are staying here, and Greg and I have watched them working these beautiful dogs in the hotel’s back yard grass. Here’s a YouTube from last year to get a sense of it.

Tonight’s dinner destination takes us 20 miles the other way around Mt Sopris to Marble… and killer BBQ at Slow Groovin’…

Mable is a tiny town, the last before the main road rises through the pass and drops into what becomes the Crested Butte side of the range.  The unique Yule marble in this region is quarried from within the mountain and shipped all over the world (the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC is one example).
The patrons in Slow Groovin’ were a great mix… locals, hunters, fly fishermen, couple of ranchers, and us! The food was fantastic, and the aroma from the huge smoker outside wafted through the room every time the front door swung open.

Today’s Highlights:

Most dangerous creature: Park Employee

Best meal: Slow Groovin beef brisket, beans, slaw and skillet cornbread