Our day started with a modest breakfast at the B&B before heading out. We finished out a few more miles on the Western Maryland Rail Trail. I didn’t realize this, but the WMRT is being extended many more miles. It’s too bad that the C&O can’t be paved like the WMRT.
Between Hancock and Cumberland is pretty sparse. It is about 60 miles with no food choices and only water from the C&O campsite pumps. The only real place to stop is a place called “Bill’s Place” in Little Orleans. Little Orleans is a very tiny little town and Bill’s is the only place there. One fun tradition is to go to Bill’s place and sign a dollar bill. They then put them up on the ceiling and you can try to find your dollar bill next time you come through.
Last time Joe and I did the C&O we gave them dollars. Unfortunately, Bill’s was closed until 11AM and we didn’t have the time to wait. So we couldn’t take the time to find them today.
One of the neatest things on the entire C&O canal is the Paw Paw tunnel. It is a mile-long tunnel that was carved through the mountain over 14 years. The National Parks had closed the access to the tunnel last year to clear the rock walls of falling rock and repair some of the decking on the approach. The alternate route involves hiking your bike about 2 miles I’ve an old logging route with 11-14% grade (yikes!).
I had called the project office and they said that it would not be open for a while longer. I talked to some riders who have come through in the last few days and they indicated that you could squeeze past the fences and go through. I like to follow the rules, so I was pretty excited to hear that they opened the tunnel TODAY! As we approached the tunnel, I thought the news was too good to be true, so we were going to check things out. For sure, we were allowed to ride up to the tunnel and walk through, saving us about 2 hours of hiking with our bikes. Yay!
The approach to the tunnel was really beautiful this time. I’ve never seen water falls here in my previous two trips here. There has been enough rainfall to feed some amazing water falls around the entrance to the tunnel.
Approaching the tunnel there was a nice lady taking pictures. She was a photographer and offered to take our picture. You can see the waterfalls on the right and left (next to the steps).
You have to walk your bike through and you really need to have a good headlight because it is pitch dark in there. (Please do not try to ride it, the surface inside is very very rough and choppy!). This is what it looks like about 100 feet from the exit.
The next 20 miles from Paw Paw to Cumberland were just a plain ‘ol slog. Lots of mud and puddles. It was very slow going and made for very tired legs. Joe explained it best: it was like when you are driving your car in a snowstorm or rain storm. You have to be always be alert and your muscles are tense waiting for any unexpected movement of the bike. The mud makes the rear tire lose traction very easily and the bike gets out of control easily.
A few miles away from Cumberland there was a large tree down across the path. It was far too big to move and we couldn’t get around.
There were several cyclists gathered around and there was a team of people helping to lift bikes through the large branches and across to the other side. Many hands made for light work.
A few more miles of slugging through brought us into Cumberland. Tradition is that you kiss the mule’s behind when you arrive. So we did.
Cumberland is the end of the C&O canal path. This is also the start of the Great Allegheny Passage, which we will start riding tomorrow. Over the next 3 days we will climb over the continental divide and then cycle our way to Pittsburgh.
It is good to leave the C&O behind. The Potomac is a beautiful backdrop for the trail, but the surface is bumpy and muddy. After 4 days, I’m ready to move on. The GAP is a much better trail surface.
The C&O is a national park, which means it takes an act of congress (literally) to make any changes or improvements. It is too bad, because if they would resurface with crushed limestone like the GAP or even, gasp, pave it like other high-use trails, it would be a fantastic path. But as it stands, the surface makes an otherwise great trail, less than ideal.
When we arrived at the Fairfield, first business was to rinse the C&O off of our bikes and gear. My bike was so caked with mud and muck that my lowest gear didn’t work anymore and shifting wasn’t reliable. I rinsed down my legs, shoes, socks, and panniers, too. Here is the before and after:
After washing up and showering, it was time for dinner. Some steamed clams and a rack of ribs, plus the obligatory blue moon rounded out the dinner. Yum.
Time for sleep soon. I’m exhausted.
We start tomorrow morning by climbing for about 2 hours up to the continental divide. We have about 60-65 miles ahead of us tomorrow on the GAP.
Weather forecast is looking like rain all day from sunrise to sunset. I’d appreciate some prayers for weather again – they’ve been working so far!