At the end of our fifth day of riding there is a sense of being tired, but also the sense that something unique and remarkable in our experiences is coming to an end. I am looking forward to getting home, but at the same time I could do this forever!
Our ride from Hancock, MD, to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, was somewhat more mellow than the previous two days’ rides. It might have been due to the fact that we covered a shorter distance, and it was over flatter territory. The experience on the towpath is very different from that on the more challenging and exciting Great Allegheny Passage. We started the ride on a cloudy morning after a nice breakfast at the Riverrun Bed and Breakfast place that we had stayed at overnight. Yes, there was stretching taking place before riding, and icing of sore muscles at the end of the day.
It had rained during the night, but it was not expected to rain while we were riding. The first part of the ride was on the smoother Western Maryland Rail Trail that parallels the towpath.
We stopped at McCoys Ferry for a break.Then it was downhill at Four Locks.
We rode by a slackwater area where the canal disappears for a short while. The boats used to be pulled along the river in this section.
Dam 5, one of the dams used to route water from the river to the canal.Then it was back on the towpath.
Lunchtime was in Williamsport, MD. We crossed over the Conococheague Aqueduct to take the road into town.
We took a short break at Fallingwater.
We had to take shelter during a short rainstorm.
There was another short stop at McMahon’s mill.
We encountered this turtle who must have been surprised by all the attention.
A stop at Dam 4 on the river.
We had to climb from the towpath to the Rumsey bridge to get over to Shepherdstown where we had dinner and then proceeded to our hotel for the night.
We are now in Hancock, MD, after about 60 miles of riding along the C&O Canal on its towpath. I think my fellow riders would agree that this was the toughest day of riding thus far due to the combination of the rough surface of the trail, and the fact that this was the second day of riding such a long distance. But we made it!
We left Cumberland after taking in the sights at the start of the C&O Canal.We started seeing the locks and lock houses for the first time once we started riding.
We stopped for a snack in Oldtown, MD. This was the only restaurant. It was actually located in the schoolhouse. We went in in spite of, or perhaps because of, the sign. The folks were very sweet.
Then it was time for a stop and dip at the Town Creek Aqueduct.
We arrived at the 3118 foot Paw Paw tunnel. It was an engineering marvel at the time it was completed in 1850.
We saw this amusing numbering for the locks. They apparently miscounted when they started numbering from each direction.
Then it was time for a dip in the river and lunch. Nobody loves the water as much as Koushik.
We made another stop at Fifteen Mile Creek.
We were exhausted by the time we got into Hancock. We were ready to crash out after dinner at Buddy Lou’s Eats, Drinks, and Antiques. We returned to our room for icing of sore muscles, liquid refreshments and entertainment.
It is very easy for me to fall prey to laziness. I need to train for my bike ride but I had been finding excuses to put my rides off earlier this week, as I had often done in the past.
The latest excuse that threatened to do the most damage to my training regimen was rain. While I have not been caught outside on my bike in a heavy thunderstorm thus far, we have experienced a few spectacular episodes in the evenings recently because of the extremely warm and muggy weather. (One such storm even sent water into the kitchen and I had to get some emergency work done fixing and cleaning the gutters.) Anyway, I had decided to finally bike on Thursday after the usual excuses earlier on in the week, when heavy thunderstorms struck on Wednesday evening. This was about to be my excuse to skip training on Thursday also. There was going to be mud on the trails, and even though I had tackled mud before, I was not in a mood for this kind of an experience.
When asked about why I could not find a location where I could ride on a surface without mud, I responded that I would have to drive a long way off to get to said location. But the thought stuck. Instead of dropping the whole idea of riding, I motivated myself to wake up early and drive an hour to the start of the WMRT near Hancock. The WMRT, which runs roughly parallel to the towpath, is covered with asphalt and runs about 22 miles to Pearre in Maryland, with Hancock roughly at the mid-point. So off I went!
Not only was the ride on the WMRT clean, but the surface was so smooth that I was zipping along very fast and making good time. Also, all of the reluctance that I had felt earlier on to training that day went out the door the moment I started riding!
I reached Pearre, the other end pf the WMRT, in record time! There was the temptation at that point to turn back and return to where I had started, since my only option to extend the ride was to get on the towpath which would have been impacted by the rain. But what little I had seen of the towpath from the vantage point of the WMRT on which I was riding was a dry trail. So I decided to continue further on the towpath.
The trail in that section was in a terrible condition! I found myself negotiating puddles of mud constantly. The trail for the most past consisted to two tracks with thick grass growing in-between. I tried to avoid the mud by switching tracks to avoid puddles if they were only on one side, or rode between the tracks over the grass where the puddles covered both tracks. All of this tended to slow me down considerably, especially the attempts to ride on the grass. But I was in no hurry. After about 9 or 10 miles of the trail, after crossing the old and unused Western Maryland Railroad bridge over the Potomac, I stopped to eat something and start the return trip.
I stopped occasionally to take more pictures on the way back.
My original thought was to get back to the WMRT at Pearre when returning so that I could avoid the challenges of the towpath. But as I kept riding my outlook began to change. I got more comfortable with the thought of riding through puddles. I should let this riding experience be more in line with the more challenging aspects of what I might experience during the long Pittsburgh to Gaithersburg ride, I thought. At Pearre, I stopped to take the picture below, and then continued on the towpath, with the thought that I would switch back to the WMRT a little later at Hancock.
It was a good decision. The puddles became less of an issue since trail was drier than I had expected. But, in addition to the bumpy surface, I had to deal with limbs from the trees that seemed to have fallen all over the trail. I had to stop a couple of times to remove branches that got caught in the frame of bike. Fortunately, there was no damage to the wheels. But I was also making good time, and there were also more interesting things to see from the towpath.
I switched back from the towpath to the WMRT at Hancock and took a short break, but then also changed my mind after the break about the trail I wanted to continue back on. I decided that I should really put myself to the test with the riding conditions, and got back to the towpath for the rest of the ride! The good thing was that this section of the trail had a surface of freshly compressed crushed stone. It was pretty comfortable, and the surface was dry. I made it back in good shape, but because of my adventures earlier that day, contrary to my original goal of having a clean ride, there was mud all over me and the bike at the end of the ride.
I wonder how much of rain and mud we will experience during the Pittsburgh ride. Since I have not had to ride in the rain so far I do not know how that is going to feel, but I am ready to take on muddy trails after the rains any time. And I am glad I got over my laziness on Thursday!
The practice rides for the Pittsburgh to DC biking event continue. Since it could be quite hot at the time of the ride at the end of August, I thought it appropriate to not try to go out of my way to avoid the heat while training. We were notified of a heat advisory by the National Weather Service last Thursday, with predicted heat index values between 100 and 105 degrees. Since there was work being done in the house in the morning I could only get on the trail around 11:00AM. This was perfect for training! This being the first time I was subjecting myself to such conditions, I decided to be more cautious than usual, carrying extra water, and splitting the ride into two parts, with the ability to shorten the ride easily if I wanted to.
It was not too bad riding under the trees, but the heat did take its toll on me over the long run, and I was struggling towards the end. Even though I was hydrated and had eaten enough, I was tired and dragging. I was glad that I had decided to shorten the ride. The ride did have its interesting moments. I encountered some suicidal Canada geese parked right across the trail who refused to get out the way of the speeding bike. They just stood and stared. I am actually scared of these birds when they are with their young ones, as was the case here. They hiss and chase after you. Fortunately, no goosicide ensued. Then there was the squirrel that decided to take off across the trail as the bike was approaching, misjudged the speed of the vehicle, and unexpectedly made contact with the bike. It was fortunate for all involved that it did not get caught in the spokes. The crazy animal continued its mad dash across the trail. I did not stop to see if it was hurt. I saw an unexpectedly large number of great blue heron in the sections of the canal that were watered. I suspect that they were fishing. I could actually see reasonably sized fish swimming in the waters when I stopped to have a snack.
Friday promised to be less humid and I set out very early in the morning to do a complete ride starting at Williamsport, MD, biking past Hancock, MD. I was going out of my way to ride a new section of the trail. I had covered these sections of the trail on foot previously, but that was a very long time ago.
I had been hesitating to start rides far away from home for a while because I do not have a good bike rack for transporting the bike on the back of the car. The bike rack I am using is very old, designed well before the Prius with its broad spoiler came into existence. (Even today the options for getting a newer and more suitable bike rack that is capable of transporting the woman’s bike (that is another story) on the Prius are limited.) I finally ended up using the simplest solution, something that I should have thought of in the first place, which was to fold the back seats of the car and push the bike all the way into it from the back. This is possible because the Prius is a hatchback with a wide rear opening. The new strategy allowed me to drive further out from home, and on the highway, without having to worry about something untoward happening with the bike and/or the car during transportation. I will have to deal with the dust from the trail that collects in the vehicle later.
It felt especially thrilling to set out out this part of the trail on a still cool morning, remembering how it used to feel in times past, but this time making much better speed and covering more distance than I used to in the past.
In no time I had reached Dam 5 on the Potomac river. This is the point at which the canal ended for a short distance before starting up once again further northwest. Canal boats used to be pulled along the side of the river in this section.
Beyond that I passed McCoy’s Ferry and then Big Pool. Soon after I got to the spot where I could have taken an alternate route using the smoother WMRT that parallels the C&O canal for the next twenty miles or so. Instead, I stayed on the towpath thinking that the ride had not been too bad until that point. But it was about to get worse! A few miles out I came to Little Pool and a section of the towpath where they had just laid a thick layer of crushed stone on the trail. Unfortunately, the stone was new and had not been compressed enough to set into place. Previous riders had not yet created a track clear of loose stones. The ride became much rougher and uncomfortable.
As the trail passed the town of Hancock, I transferred to the WMRT for the rest of the ride. I rode the smooth asphalt into a mountainous section of the trail, passing though the Roundtop State Park. Looking down the hill through the vegetation, I could sometimes see the the towpath running beside the Potomac well below me. The trail itself ran through some very beautiful surroundings. It all felt awesome, but I was missing some of the sights on the towpath like the Round Top Cement mill because the WMRT ran above the ruins.
I turned back after riding for a little while longer, and after having lunch. This time I stayed on the WMRT till its very beginning before shifting back to the towpath. Got back to the start of the ride in good shape.