Last night, after dinner in Cumberland, it stormed. It really stormed. It rained a lot. The good news is that we were safely in the Fairfield Inn watching the chaos from the window. The bad news is all that rain was soaking the C&O Canal Path that we were going to be riding in a few short hours.
We woke up early and got our first breakfast downstairs at the Fairfield. I ate a couple bowls of cereal and some fruit to get started. We were on the trail by 7:15AM. The first 10 miles of the C&O were muddy – real muddy. Puddles everywhere, and thick mud. Fenders were definitely helpful, but my legs were still completely covered with mud, and our bikes were coated in mud. I hit one puddle that perfectly hit my leg, ran down, and into my shoe, then out the vents in the front. By that time, I was so wet, it no longer mattered… from there forward, embrace the puddles!
This part of the canal is a little sparse for services, so we carefully looked over internet maps for places to get food and water. There are really only two good spots to stop for food: The Schoolhouse Kitchen in Oldtown, and Bill’s Place in Little Orleans. We decided to stop at both because of the distance we were covering today.
Our first stop was at The Schoolhouse Kitchen in Oldtown for our second breakfast. We were both hungry already, and this was pretty much the only choice for another 20 miles. This is an old high school which is now a vocational school. At one end is an automobile shop and the other end is a kitchen. We went in and enjoyed some local company. The people there were super friendly. The food was very basic, but reasonably priced. I had a couple of eggs and Joe had some pancakes. Nothing super great, but it filled us up for the next stretch.
This part of the C&O is very rural. The canal has patches that still hold water, but most of it is an empty ditch with trees growing in it. The path is not maintained, it is packed mud with a little gravel here and there. There was a lot of debris on the path from small twigs to some 2-3″ branches. And of course, the puddles of doom. The towpath is also very bumpy. My arms were pretty sore, my hands were numb, and I think I probably rattled a filling loose somewhere along the way. I would also say this is a mentally taxing area to ride because you need to be ever vigilant to avoid hazards.
The next major landmark on the canal is the Paw Paw Tunnel. This 3,118 foot tunnel was carved out without the use of power equipment, to allow the canal to pass through a hill. It took the team nearly 14 years to blast and chip their way through. It is lined with 6 million bricks. There is no lighting in the tunnel, so you have to dismount your bike and walk through on the very uneven surface of the old towpath.
After exiting the tunnel, we kept up a decent pace. A while later, we finally arrived at Bill’s. I’ve been to Bill’s once before in 2012 on the Rails To Trails’ Greenway Sojourn tour. Joe had not. Two very good reasons to stop at Bill’s: there isn’t anywhere else for another 20 miles to get water, and Joe had never been there. We walked in and ordered our lunch – a fish fry that was not too shabby.
Describing Bill’s place can’t do it justice in words, nor pictures. But I’ll give it a shot. Imagine a small bar, small restaurant, small grocery store, and jukebox joint wrapped in one. Then place it in the middle of nowhere. That’s Bill’s in Little Orleans MD. Without Bill’s, I think Little Orleans would probably lose at least half of its population. According to 2010 census, the population of Little Orleans is 42 (Wikipedia link).
At Bill’s place, one thing you can do is examine the dollar bills stuck to the ceiling. Back in 2012 when I came through Bill’s place, I gave him a dollar bill with my name and date on it. I was quickly able to find my 2012 dollar bill in the entertainment corner over the not-working pinball machine. Joe also gave them a dollar to put up, so if I come through here again, we’ll have to look to see where they put it.
With the obligatory stop at Bill’s out of the way, we turned our attention to arriving at Hancock, MD, our stay for the night. There is a converted rail-trail, the Western Maryland Rail Trail that parallels the C&O for 22 miles of glorious, mud-free, puddle-free, butter-smooth pavement. After the rattling of the C&O, we gladly jumped on and rode this into Hancock. It was spectacular to have a nice paved path for a while. It is so much easier pedaling, and your body seems to forget what it is like to be able to coast a little. Joe and I were comparing and decided that our century 100-mile ride earlier this season was probably easier than the 65 miles on the C&O today.
After about another hour on the rail-trail, we arrived at Hancock MD. We stopped in the C&O Bicycle shop at the edge of town. In there we ran into Ben – a guy we met at our first night’s stay in Connellsville. We swapped some recent stories about our travels and discussed possible dinner plans. He’s staying at the same B&B tonight with us.
Our home for the night is the Riverrun B&B in Hancock. I really like this place. Nothing fancy, but very well laid out and very clean. Certainly check it out if you need to stay in Hancock! We pulled in and got our keys. We also got something equally as critical: a hose. We were covered in mud from the waist down, and our bikes were so caked that the gears weren’t quite shifting properly. We hosed off ourselves, our bikes, and our panniers before stepping foot into this nice lady’s immaculate B&B. We set our shoes out to dry and went about getting settled in.
After a hot shower with lots of soap, we went in search of dinner. One pre-requisite for dinner: it must NOT come with fries! It has been a little challenging to eat as healthy as I’d like along the way. You sort of have to take what you can find in a lot of cases. Tonight, we decided to strike out in search of pasta. First we walked back to the bike shop and bought a T-Shirt, then walked about a mile the other way to the Park and Dine restaurant. Although the interior looks like a time-warp to the 70’s, the food was very good and the service was also good. I had spaghetti and Joe had linguini.
On the way back we stopped in at “Buddylou’s Eats Drinks & Antiques” for a beer. We ran into a guy named Mike that we met at the hostel in Rockwood. One of the things I’m really enjoying about this particular tour is that we keep intersecting our journeys with other people’s journeys. I didn’t think I’d ever see Mike again, but here he was. We gathered at the bar, ordered our brewskies and talked for about an hour. Mike is heading to DC for his daughter’s wedding. He told us about the 4,200 mile trans-america tour that he and a friend did in 1982. It was a lot of fun getting to know him a bit. I dropped him my email and told him to give me a shout if he ends up in Lexington some day.
When we arrived back at the B&B, we ran into yet another acquaintance: Chris and Sarah, the man and his daughter we’d talked with in Rockwood, and again at the Continental Divide. We chatted with them in the kitchen. Again, it is really neat to know others are on a similar journey, and to intersect lives a little for a few days.
So tomorrow is another day of riding. 60-ish miles to Harpers Ferry WV. We will start with a few more miles on the paved rail-trail, then back to the C&O for the duration of the trip into DC. The weather is supposed to be good in the morning and chances of storms later in the afternoon. Our objective is to get to Harpers Ferry before any storms hit. Keep the prayers coming, we’ve had super riding weather (ok, add some prayers for mud to dry up overnight, please).