Day 5: Hancock MD to Harpers Ferry WV – 65 miles

Today started with a simple breakfast at the B&B. We got out early knowing our longest ride day lay ahead.  We wished Ben good bye, and chatted with Chris and Sarah about the trip to Harpers Ferry since they were heading there, too.


We began the day continuing on the Western Maryland Rail Trail for a few miles. Near its end, you can (should?) jump off and rejoin the C&O canal path.  We decided to go to the end, which takes you to a road that runs to the north side of Fort Frederick.  This was a really nice detour, but involved a pretty long and steady climb.  By the time we got to the top of the climb, we were out of breath.  However, we turned right and this took us on a long descent into the Fort Frederick park.

We didn’t intend to really spend any time in the park, we were just going to pass through on our way back to the C&O which passes by the southern park entrance. We parked our bikes and wandered into the fort to snap a quick picture.  A minute later, a park ranger came around the corner and enthusiastically gave us a quick tour and told us a lot about the fort.  He then asked if we had five minutes, and we said we did. He jogged off and grabbed some keys to open one of the barracks rooms.  He pulled aside the “don’t touch anything” gate and invited us in.  He gave us a really awesome overview of everything from the beds to the weapons.  He clearly enjoys his job and shared that joy with us.  What a nice surprise for us today! 




We jumped back on the bikes and pedaled on. Some beautiful scenery and many locks to see. It is very pretty, with a dash of history added in.  The C&O follows the Potomac river the entire length from Cumberland to DC.  You are never very far from the river, and for most of the trip, you are only a few feet away.




There are several dams along the Potomac.  They create large slack water areas and allow for water-power to be harnessed. In the past the water turned various kinds of mills.  Today, there is some hydro electric power being generated.  The most obvious impact, though, is that these slack water areas create huge recreation areas for boating and water-front parks and homes.

We stopped at dam 5, which was the scene of several attempts by Stonewall Jackson to destroy it during the civil war.  Watching the water spill over the dam, you get a real sense of the power behind the river. 


Our next stop was Williamsport MD for some food. We stopped in the Cushwa Coal building to look around.  Not really much to see.  However just before, I had stopped outside to eat a banana and snap a picture.  As we left, as if by divine intervention, Chris and Sarah showed up and hollered over. They had found my phone that I had set down.  Wow, that would have been a disaster if they had not shown up.  I am so thankful for good people whom God has sent my way.

We pushed up into town and grabbed lunch at The Desert Rose cafe.  It was really good!  Simple sandwiches and really friendly people.  I ordered a grilled cheese and tomato sandwich and Joe got some red beans and rice.  It tasted so good and the wonderful people working there made the meal even better! 

We looked at the weather and decided to push on quickly to try to get to Harpers Ferry before too late in the day to avoid rain.

The trail conditions today were pretty good, mostly. A few squishy spots and puddles, but it was easy to dodge most of the messy parts.  Shortly after passing Shepherdstown, we ran into a crew working on the path.  They had scraped it up and were probably preparing to lay down a little bit of gravel.  It was such a mess.  It was like riding on cookie dough. The tires sunk in and bogged us down terribly.  At one place, there was about 10″ of muddy gravel we had to slug through.  We nearly didn’t make it without falling over.  Next, we caught up to the dump truck for the project that was chugging its way down the path, making huge tire ruts and bumps in its wake.

A few miles later, he departed and we were back to cranking our way towards Harpers Ferry.  Around 2:30PM we arrived at the bridge on the Potomac that crosses over to Harpers Ferry.  There is a trick, though. First you have to take your bikes and gear up 43 steps of a circular metal staircase before getting to the bridge deck. After cycling 65 miles, carrying everything up stairs takes not just physical determination, but some mental determination too.  We survived the staircase and walked the railroad bridge into town.  

I had made arrangements ahead of time to stay at the rectory at St. Peter’s church here in Harpers Ferry.  So we had to get there first. This involved some short, but steep, climbing.  It was a nice exclamation point on today’s great day of cycling.  The view from this little house is really great, looking over the river, train tracks, and local historical architecture. 

       After a shower, we set out in search of dinner. The “no fries” rule is still in effect, so we looked at a couple of menus and decided on a hamburger at a local place, whose name escapes me at the moment.  I had one of the very best hamburgers ever made.  Perfectly cooked, thick, with crumbly blue cheese and a garlic aioli on it.  Some chips, great cole slaw, and a soda finished it up.


Incidentally, in the middle of dinner, who should walk into the restaurant?  Chris and Sarah, of course.  It is becoming kind of interesting to anticipate where we will see them next.

So we are hunkered down tonight at the rectory, washing our clothes and relaxing a bit.  We are ready to finish our journey tomorrow.  We will go find mile marker 0 of the C&O, then take some other bike trails into the National Mall of Washington DC.  We have about 60 miles to the end of the canal, then another 4-5 miles to get to the Capitol. So it will be a long day to finish.  The weather is supposed to rain overnight and hopefully hold off for most of our ride tomorrow.

It’s been a great journey, but I am looking forward to getting home to my family soon.