Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Cumberland and the C&O

I'm not sure how I'll ever get commentary done on 10 days of photos. Whenever we stopped moving on our D.C. vacation (no staycation for us - we have a gas-efficient Focus), it was to wander around someplace new. The pile of photos is daunting. So it may take me 10 days to post them, although I'll show the most pictures for this post because it was my favorite part of the trip (sorry family, but you already knew it was) - the bicycle ride I took from Cumberland, Maryland, to Williamsport. It was supposed to be a two day affair, until I realized I had a slow stem leak around 10 p.m. in the evening, and the tube I'd packed was for my hybrid, not my mountain bike. Pooteewheet was pretty sure I was going to cry. There's just no way to make 100 miles in a day, at least for me, if I can't start until after the bicycle stores open.

The ride was 91.25 miles. Or so. I wasn't as prepared as I should have been, and I don't just mean the bicycle tube. I knew there was water on the ride, but I didn't realize that the first town wouldn't be until about the 60 mile mark. That would have been fine if my only food hadn't been a single Cliff Bar to wash down with some water that tasted like it had tobacco in it.

This is Cumberland, Maryland. Rather than start on the trail, we hoteled on the other side of a mountain. Fortunately, the short side, so the 3 mile ride wasn't all uphill. But it wasn't the best way to start a ride either. George Washington's HQ in Cumberland. At 7:00 a.m., the only one around is a homeless guy on a nearby bench.

The Cumberland train station. It took me a while to realize that there's a cut in the hills for the train that used to run along almost the same path as the canal. So from canal, to train track, to bike path, although never quite in the same space.

I got lost at first. I thought the trail started on the WV side of the river. You know what's on the WV side of the river? Four finger auto. A gun shop. A tattoo shop. A coffee shop to be that's sort of in a big windowless duplex. A drive through liquor store that opens at 7:00 a.m. and actually has someone driving through at 7:00 a.m. And a house with a sign that says "West Virginia, not heaven, but almost." If it were heaven, the drive in liquor store would never close. But then, I showed up just after 7:00, so for all I know it never did close.

Some of the ride. As you can see, it wasn't paved. It varied quite a bit between areas. Two wheel tracks, to single track, to grass. Mud, to stick covered mud, to rock and stick covered mud.

Here's my bike as I take a rest to tell Pooteewheet where I am and Blackberry a few messages to work. Yep, I checked in while I was riding. I think that means they should let me work from my bicycle, but I know that'll never happen.

A lock and associated house. There were dozens of locks on the ride. Some high and dry. Some containing swamps. Some nice little lakes or streams.

I stopped here to eat my sole Cliff Bar for breakfast. I didn't realize until I stepped away to take a picture that there was a grave next to my bike. I couldn't tell whose, it was rather worn. Hopefully not the biker before me who only took one breakfast bar.

Some of the path where the tracks merge. Note all the water. I spent a lot of time hopping back and forth across the center raised grass area to avoid the puddles. Not always possible, but necessary to avoid some of the puddles that had a 1' drop in the middle (almost took a header on one). My arms were aching from all the bouncing around. When I got to lunch, I was covered in mud and made sure to find a place where I could sit at the counter, far away from decent, normal-smelling, family folk.

Important point about the canal, it cuts through the mountains. So you don't have to climb these mist-shrouded monsters that border the trail on both sides.

The Paw Paw Tunnel. Under construction, so sort of anticlimactic when you realize there's a tractor in the canal. But as I rode up, I stayed on my bike the first 50', not realizing it was stone that had been pocked by dripping water. I almost tumbled over the guard rail into the canal I was bouncing so hard. It was pretty creepy in the tunnel without a flashlight and no one else around. All I could hear was a slow drip, and the waist high railing kept disappearing in my peripheral vision.

The far end of the tunnel.

Within the tunnel! A bit of ad hoc commentary.

Outside the tunnel. There was a boardwalk here to bike on. Later in the ride, the path skirted some cliffs and you went out almost over the lake. It was like an oven, and some sunbathers had positioned themselves there to get the most sun, which made it something of an obstacle course as you careened around the path. This is the view that made me want to do the ride.

The front of the tunnel, and the steps everyone gets their picture taken on.

The Potomac River. If your raft can go up stream, it can also go down stream. Almost all the camp grounds are flush against the river. Given that I know it can crest considerably higher, I'd hate to be in the campgrounds during a rain storm.

A funny sign - watch for the falling rocks.

A funnier sign, dismount and walk your bike across the aqueduct.

The funniest sign. Don't be this person.

The four locks area where it slopes downhill and around a corner.

A nice little arch just off the path. Lots of wild strawberries.

One of the mileage markers that make you feel like the ride is going on forever if you haven't eaten enough.

This dam was shelled by Confederate troops who were trying to stop commerce on the river.

Civil War markers were in several places. Here's McCoy's Ferry.

These were probably the rocks that gave me a flat tire. They were sharp as glass and just falling off the cliff side into big drifts. You could have cut your finger on one. A good example of how different the trail was mile by mile.

An old pump area they used to fill the canal using the river.

The train that cut back and forth across the canal and trail. It was no longer in operation as near as I could tell.

The Roundtop Cement Mill. They managed to burn it down three times, and had trouble making a profit. Imagine that.

These are the kilns for cooking limestone to make cement and fertilizer. There were a few abandoned structures on the trail. At one point, I saw a field of stunted corn and thought, "Wow, that doesn't look tended." A few hundred feet further there was an abandoned farm house stuffed into the side of a cliff, firewood still next to it. I wondered whether the field of stunted corn was all that was left of a bachelor farmer who'd either died or been shunted off to the old folks home. It certainly looked like something you'd expect to see in The Blair Witch.

The Devil's Eyebrow. The land crimped, and the soft, nugatty center fell out.

The end of my 90 degree, 90% humdity, 90 mile ride, as I pull into Williamsport.

Eryn helping me celebrate the end of my day.


Sank said...

What a fantastic trip. As a history guy I think I would love doing this.

She says said...

That's quite a ride. Too bad it got cut short.

A former colleague of mine just traced the underground railroad from Mississippi to Canada. I'd love to do that... in a car.

Scooter said...

I think the history would have been even more prevalent in the Williamsport to Georgetown section, Sank.

Oooo...underground railroad ride - that's in my adventure cycling magazine. I may do that some time if it's doable in 2 weeks or less. Of course, Minnesota-proximate Canada isn't too exciting for a Minnesotan.

Mac Noland said...

"You know what's on the WV side of the river? Four finger auto. A gun shop. A tattoo shop. A coffee shop to be that's sort of in a big windowless duplex. A drive through liquor store that opens at 7:00 a.m. and actually has someone driving through at 7:00 a.m. And a house with a sign that says "West Virginia, not heaven, but almost.""

You forgot to mention Christy's family, which I've heard is also in West Virgina.