I dropped off my car at Noé’s before cycling into DC to the head of the C&O Canal Towpath. Noé lives in a lovely neighborhood; I wended my way towards DC via small, neighborhood streets until encountering dedicated bike path into the heart of DC. I was in DC only a few weeks ago for the Red Cross and played tourist then, but took a detour for obligatory pictures.
The 184.5 mile C&O Canal was built along the north bank of the Potomac before the Civil War to transport cargo, with a series of locks to permit traffic up and down the canal. Now the canal has mostly fallen to ruin, but the old mule towpath serves as a 184.5 mile path ending in Cumberland, MD, with basic hiker/biker campsites every 5-10 miles. In Cumberland the C&O connects to the Great Allegheny Passage running over the mountains to Pittsburgh.
As promised, the C&O led me out of DC on dedicated bicycle path. Foot (and bike) traffic remained high until I left the outskirts of DC.
The C&O towpath consists of packed gravel. When another path, paved, paralleled my path, I switched over. When that path veered away from the canal I stayed on it. It wasn’t until I crossed over a highway that I wondered where I going? Some checking on OSMAnd showed I had switched to a different trail headed north towards Baltimore—not the intended direction! I looked forward to find a reasonable crossing point back to the C&O.
That’s when I first realized the C&O is remote. The towpath runs between the Potomac and the canal itself. There are few bridges across the Potomac, and no reason to build frequent access to the C&O. Some (further) questionable navigation (which included pushing my bike up a footpath over a ridge) eventually permitted my return to the towpath.
The only other excitement of the day was visiting Great Falls, which lived up to their name. I locked up my bike near the (closed) Visitor’s Center and hiked in. I spent a while looking at the various forks, but never did find a line I would be willing to paddle my kayak through!
At the 60 km point of my personal cycling day I stopped at one of the hiker/biker campsites (Swain’s Lock), only to find all of the five spaces occupied. I was about to ask someone to share their spot when I noticed two women at one of the sites didn’t look settled in. Upon asked they said they’d be leaving in a while. I left my bike there and wandered about the lock until they left. That was also my first lesson on the mosquitoes of the C&O.
I set up camp and settled in. A “trail monitor” stopped by to check on me. I learned from him the water on site wasn’t potable. Water also broken at the next campsite down the trail left me with somewhat of a problem. I had enough for the evening, but not enough to cycle far the next day.
Someone set up camp in the non-camping site next to me, introducing himself as Afon. He lives locally, but his team had just won some sportsball event, and he’d come to camp, cook steaks, and celebrate. I spent the evening talking with him (and his friend Adam, who dropped by for a while). Afon is first-generation Pakistani American, whose family often came to this spot when he was growing up, with his end of the conversation being slightly recreationally-enhanced. Our conversation wandered all over the place for the rest of the evening. He offered me steak, which I gladly accepted. Along with his many other talents, he’s also a dedicated campfire chef! One of my favorite parts of touring is the people I meet along the way, and meeting him made my day.
Potable or not, I rinsed off the bug spray and sunscreen in that water pump late at night before going to sleep.
60 km today.