I've wanted to bike to DC for a while, but there never seemed like a good opportunity to do so.  Once we purchased the tandem bike, and started thinking about the possibility of biking all over the country, the Washington trip seemed like a good first step.

The trip did get shorter over time, and originally other people were going to come with us, but everyone backed out at the last minute.

I thought it would be best to start at the highest point of the trail, rather than biking all the way from Pittsburgh, in order to avoid the uphill climb, and also shorten the trip from 334 miles to 207 miles.  And to avoid Heather having to drive in downtown DC traffic, I shortened the other end of the trip by 8 miles as well.

We packed the car on Saturday, to avoid having to do last minute packing on Sunday, and Saturday afternoon, I mowed the lawn, and in the process had a stick or something jab me in the eye (yes, the same eye) and I couldn't tell if it was still in there, though Jonathan and Heather couldn't see anything.  We debated a little about going to the emergency room, but I figured they'd just say, "yes, it certainly is scratched, but there isn't anything there now, just rest and take some antibiotics", so I figured I could do most of that on my own. It still hurt pretty badly on Sunday, but we went to church, and I often kept it closed due to it watering and hurting in the light.

We packed up the food and other last minute things that afternoon, and I figured that it would probably be better, but we would decide in the morning.  I did find a better pair of sunglasses to protect my eye from the wind.  I started having a  bit of double-vision in my right eye, though it seemed like mostly it just wasn't focusing properly when close up (like reading on the computer screen, which is where I first noticed it).

When I woke up on Monday morning, it wasn't hurting at all, and the double vision was better, though not quite perfect yet.

We drove to the Eastern Continental Divide, near Deal, PA, and hopped on our bike.  Since the first part of the trip was going to be downhill, we towed Faith in the trailer with us.  But, once we got to Cumberland, MD (2 hours, 23 miles later) I decided that it would be too much work to continue towing Faith on the flat portion of the trail.  We had lunch in Cumberland and some motorcyclists were pretty interested in our tandem.  I stopped by the bike shop to get some zip ties to help keep our pannier from rubbing on the wheel.  But, for the most part, the morning was uneventful.

I wanted to at least get to Paw Paw that day, and hopefully farther; the original plan when other adults were coming was to make that a "century" day, and bike 100 miles to Hancock, but I figured that would be pretty optimistic with the kids.

I sent Heather ahead to see whether she could make it to some "rough access" campsites that were right on the trail, but harder to get to by car.  They were the closest campsites after Paw Paw, and they seemed like a good distance for us to get to on the bike.  

(Heather writing now) I stopped in the town of Paw Paw to get hand sanitizer and baby wipes (how had I managed to overlook that there were only about five wipes in the diaper bag for the whole trip?) and then took the most direct roads I saw on the map to make it to the remote campsites.  Malcolm Road was rocky and dusty and there were some hills that had me nervous if the car would make it up.  I took them very slowly down again so I wouldn't drive off the road.  I was hoping that once I got to an intersection it would be paved, but it was not.  I went to the next intersection and realized that I was only halfway there.  The time was running out for communicating with Jon about the campsite anyway, so I turned around.  I did not take Malcolm Road back, but continued on Thomas Road which did become paved for about the last mile or two before the highway.  They had just reached the Paw Paw campground when I arrived, car covered with dust.

We made it to Paw Paw (~2 hours, 25 miles) and splashed around in the river a little to cool off, and I decided that we should push onto the next campground (15 miles away) in Little Orleans, MD.  I somehow hadn't really noticed what time it was (8:30PM) when we left, so by the time we walked through the 1/2 mile Paw Paw tunnel, it was starting to get dark.  I debated about turning about right then, but didn't really want to turn around, and didn't know where Heather was, and communicating around Paw Paw is difficult (though text messages generally work better than voice calls, but we discovered that even if a phone says it sent a message, the other phone might never receive it, so we got in the habit of acknowledging any important text messages).  We continued biking and it got darker and darker.

This was the first time Noah tried to use his pillow/strap contraption we built for him.  I shaped a board to fit on his handlebars, and then used some U-bolts to tighten it securely to the handlebars.  Because the board was MDF, we taped a plastic bag around it to try to protect it from getting wet.  Heather made a pillow that slid over the top, and we bought a strap that went around the handlebars, around Noah's back (and under the Camelback, which made it impossible for Noah to connect entirely on his own) and he kept it loosely tied around him while he was biking, and then he could tighten it when he was feeling sleepy.  On this night, however, he wasn't able to fall asleep, partly because the trip was a little more exciting than usual, because we could barely see where we were going, and there were lots of deer around - I think we saw a couple dozen that night, some running very close to us.

There are two campgrounds in Little Orleans, and we planned to meet at the one further from the trail, because it had a pool, which we were hoping to use.  It turned out it would have been much better to use the one near the trail, because one, we arrived so late that the pool was closed when we got there, and didn't open until after we left; two, the other campground is on the top of a huge hill, and not one that you want to climb after biking all day, and three, much harder to find.  I asked for directions at the first campground, but we didn't see a road turn off in the dark, and so I stopped at someone's house who had a TV on.  I think it was around 10PM at this point.  He started to give us directions, and then felt bad for us, and so offered to drive us there.  It turns out that house was the best place to stop, because he helps out at the campground, and knew that though there was a motorcycle week going on and there weren't any campsites available, we could put up a tent in a small field behind the bathroom.  Just as we got to the campground, Heather called (using someone else's cell phone, since she hadn't had reception since we last saw her) and she arrived moments later.

Heather's version of the evening:  After seeing them off, I headed once again to the town of Paw Paw to ask for the best way to get to Little Orleans.  I stopped first at the Dollar General where I had bought stuff earlier.  The lady there was quite unsure and thought I'd have to go all the way back up to Cumberland so I could take I-68 back down.  She suggested I go to the gas station.  There, a 16-year-old boy was behind the counter and his friend, I'd guess about 12 was chatting with him.  They looked at my maps and weren't quite sure.  Someone said, "Oh, that's easy, just talke Malcolm."  Nope.  I was not going to drive Malcolm again with my two wheel drive minivan.  The 12 year old kid was very confident in his answers on where I should go, but his older friend said he didn't know what he was talking about.  They suggested I go to the Trading Post and ask the man there who knows everything.  He and his friends were also very helpful, but the conclusion was that all of the side roads that would be shortest distance were of the same kind I did not want to drive on.  He even went so far as to volunteer his son to be my guide and drive ahead of me.  But I concluded that I must go up to Cumberland and back down 68.  By the time I was done with all that asking directions, the sun was setting.  I knew I would not reach Little Orleans until at least 9:30.

I did not get cell reception until Cumberland and the two messages I sent then never reached Jon's phone.   Faith cried for about forty miles but I knew it wouldn't do any good to stop.  It was pitch black when I arrived in Little Orleans and I had no detailed map of the area.  Signs for the campground were big and clear, but there was no sign of my boys and their triple bike when I arrived.  The office was closed so there was no one to ask.  I drove slowly around the loop for tent camping and saw nothing.  So then I wondered if they were still near the trail and I wandered around little roads in the dark for a while unsucessfully.  I finally found a motorcycle rally where the entrance guys were still awake.  One guy let me borrow his cell phone and when I called, Jon and the boys were at the campground!  So I went back and we had a happy and quick reunion as Don showed us where to set up.

(Jon writing) We unpacked, setup the tent and had dinner (cold, since we didn't feel like taking the time to heat up the pasta and tomato sauce).  The campground is mostly a seasonal RV park, and lots of people only come on the weekends, so the campground was fairly deserted, other than the motorcyclists who were camping, but I didn't see them until the next morning.  The night was uneventful.

Statistics for the first day:
70 miles
5.5 hours of biking (includes all stops except for long ones like lunch, playing in the river at Paw Paw, etc)
$74.36 ($3 for hand sanitizier and baby wipes, $46 for gas, and $25 for the campsite)

We boiled water the next morning for our first exposure to the freeze-dried food we had brought.  It was better than I expected, though it would be better if it wasn't so mushy.

The boys and I left before the campground opened, and Heather waited around to finish packing.  We planned to meet at Fort Fredrick State Park for lunch.  We got off the towpath for a 21 mile stretch on the Western Maryland Rail Trail, which is paved, and runs close to the tow path.  The pavement was nice, and we traveled much quicker, but it was closer to the highway (noisy), and hotter, since there was less shade.  We arrived in Hancock and were pretty hot.  The bike/food store right on the trail was not helpful at all.  The owner was on the phone the entire time we were in the store, and the other employee was only a little helpful in not finding any water for us.  We asked some other people in the store if they knew where to buy water, and they directed us off the trail a little ways (when heading east on the trail (both WMRT or the C&O towpath), turn left when you get to Hancock, and then turn left again at the light, and there is a Sheetz a couple blocks away.  There we bought some ice cream milkshakes and slushie (soda/ice mix).  There we learned that 7 pounds of ice is approximately equal to one gallon of water, allowing for some ice to be used for other purposes - sucking on it, putting it on one's head, or spilling it on the ground.

We finished up the rest of the morning's trail without much more excitement and Noah was able to fall asleep during this section, and while I'm not sure how much his pedaling contributes when he is awake, his legs do slow us down a little when he is sleeping (both boys' feet are strapped to the pedals, using standard pedal straps).  We were even able to stop for a bathroom break for Jonathan and Noah didn't wake up.  We biked 27 miles in around 4 hours - went much slower the second day.  Heather biked a couple miles on the towpath here with Faith in the trailer.  It was pretty bumpy, and Faith didn't like it very much.

When we arrived at Fort Fredrick, I was pretty tired and lay on the ground for a while after lunch, and wondered whether we could bike all the way to DC or not.  Everyone else went to see the fort they enjoyed seeing the people in period clothes and learning about the fort's history.  The boys liked the guns the best.

We thought about swimming in the river near the fort, but after resting for a while, and deciding to get a hotel with a pool and air conditioning for the night, we decided to just bike the rest of the way to Williamsport.

As we traveled along the towpath, I wondered why anyone ever thought making the canal was a good idea.  It took a lot of digging and water was not available in all sections, so it would have required a lot of work to keep it going.  If I remember the history correctly, the canal was used for a year or two before the steam engine train made it obsolete.  There were definitely politics involved during the creation, and the train and the canal companies fought for land rights all along the way.  And perhaps there were those who didn't think the steam engine would catch on, or be viable for whatever reason, and so thought the canal would still be useful.  Once you get closer to Washington, the canal's viability is better, as the water can be shunted over from the Potomac River (due to various dams being built) and the canal looks more natural, and either was easier to dig, or else had more support or fresh workers to dig a canal that is still fishable and boatable today (as opposed to the sections closer to Cumberland that are either completely dry, or very shallow, narrow and filled with gross water). In the drier sections, it seems like building the towpath closer to the river would have been a good solution.  Near DC, the rivers are rockier, and maybe it would be too hard to remove the rocks.  It is hard to think about the amount of work to dig a canal that is 184 miles long - seems like there are a lot of solutions that might work with that amount of manpower.

Heather found a hotel in Williamsport ahead of time and was waiting for us when we got there.  I was tired and sweaty, and so had a hard time climbing on top of the van to lift the bike onto the rack (we've found that having me on top of the car is the most reliable way to get the bike safely onto the rack.  It requires less energy and the bike is more stable than trying to lift it from below.  We've debated some on getting a more expensive rack, and currently, I'm looking for a fairly cheap upgrade that will hopefully make the rack easier to use.

Jonathan left his helmet in the parking lot somewhere, so he used Heather's helmet from then on.

We went to the lovely hotel and took showers, visited the cold pool and then ate our freeze-dried dinners courtesy of the hotel coffee machine.  My dinner had some chunks of vegetables, and so was better than I thought it would be.  I was thinking about going out to get some "real" food, like french fries or something to beef it up -- broccoli it up doesn't have the same ring..., but I also ate the previous night's leftover pasta and that was enough to satisfy my non-mushy appetite.  Everyone else ate spaghetti and meatballs and Heather says it tasted just right.

We slept on really soft beds (though our fancy REI sleeping pads are much better than the cheaper ones we normally use) and had a good night of resting.

Statistics for the second day:
47 miles
somewhere around 5.5 hours of biking
$138.20 ($125 for the hotel, $5 for water and ice, $8 for gatorade, ice pop and smoothies and ice cream)


Posted by Jon Daley on August 20, 2010, 4:39 pm | Read 34049 times
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I keep forgetting to post this - I met the president of the Allegheny portion of the bike trail at a party, and she asked why I hadn't mentioned the "Great Allegheny Passage" in my post, (and she knew I hadn't because it hadn't shown up in her Google alerts).

And I guess there are two reasons - one I don't think of the trail with that name, and secondly, I was thinking of this trip as a Chesapeake and Ohio trail trip. She was quick to correct me: "You spent 23 miles on the GAP trail!!"

So - here you go Linda. :)

Posted by Jon Daley on October 2, 2010, 7:50 am
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