c&o canal

“END OF THE PATH” (Sunday, December 5, 2010)

Up with the sun and early start today for the final 17 miles. First rode a couple miles down the trail to Great Falls, which was a sight to behold, particularly after all the recent rains.

As the mile markers ticked down, a flood of thoughts that have been accumulating over the past 10 weeks ached for expression, so did a few short videos to share them. Here’s one.

Seconds after finishing this video, was approached by some hikers on the trail asking about the trike. One of their voices sounded vaguely familiar, but it wasn’t until I looked at his face, then looked again, that I recognized who it was. I said, “Bruce?” Former Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt seemed surprised when I told him who I was, not recognizing me in this foreign context, and proceeded to ask about my ride. What I didn’t think to tell him, but should have, was how he helped germinate the idea for this ride 13 years ago through an impassioned speech he gave on the global warming threat at the University of Colorado at Boulder. To this day, I rank it as one of the best speeches ever given on the topic. Yet Bruce and I had locked horns pretty severely years earlier over how to best protect the Everglades. The Universe works in mysterious ways. Below is another video I did a short while later, on overcoming the forces of greed.

This final video takes us to near the end of the towpath, which ended shortly thereafter. It’s been a wonderful 320 miles on nothing but bike trails from just south of Pittsburgh all the way to DC.

From there, pedaled up the road to a hotel for a much-needed shower, shave and some rest.

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“FINAL NIGHT ON THE TRAIL” (Saturday, December 4, 2010)

Lows in the mid 20s last night made for a cold morning packing up. These sled dogs passing me as I left the campsite were a poignant reminder that it’s time to dock this rocket.

A mile or two down the trail, came upon the ugly sight of the Dickerson coal-fired power plant belching out emissions. This 853 MW coal plant has been the target of legal challenges by the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and other planetary protection groups.

Thanks to Kelly & Tom at the “Great Falls Tavern” Visitor Center for helping finding me an affordable hotel room in town tomorrow to make final preparations for my arrival into DC. Including the 4 mile round trip from my campsite at Swain’s Lock to the visitor center to refill my water bladders, pedaled 30 miles today. Here’s a shot of the swollen Potomac River.

Trail conditions made for some tough sledding today, but speed is no longer an issue. Only 17 more miles to DC.

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“THE SPIRIT OF THOMAS JEFFERSON” (Friday, December 3, 2010)

As I was packing up my campsite this morning, Bill Moore and Patti Miller from nearby Dargan, MD walked up to say hello, telling me they had seen me on the news (really appreciate the “lunch money,” guys). Was really taken with Bill’s incisive description of what ails our political system today.

Made it to Harper’s Ferry, where I locked up the trike and walked across the bridge to pay tribute to anti-slavery insurgent John Brown. The National Park Service describes this historic site as where “John Brown and his men struck their blow against slavery, heralding new birth for the nation and new freedom for all its people.”

Then headed up the hill to Jefferson Rock, where Thomas Jefferson once stood and praised the view as “perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature.” I’ve always felt a special bond with Thomas Jefferson. Other than making the point that it’s time for America to get back to the ideals that birthed our nation, I’ll let the video speak for itself.

Made it 24 more miles down the C&O Canal bike trail today before setting up camp at Indian Flats Campsite.

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Saw an ugly coal plant in the town of Williamsport, so decided to pedal down Main Street. Stopping into River City Bicycles, ran into City Council Member Larry Jessop (thanks for the mocha, Larry), who told me he’s very eager to see that “eyesore” of a coal plant go away.

Including side trips and a 6-mile, circular, hilly detour that felt like it would never end, traversed 58 miles today before setting up camp on the banks of the Potomac. Biggest challenge of the day was avoiding being impaled by branches littering the towpath that seemed to gravitate to the “Fred Flintstone” holes in the bottom of the trike. Kept me on my toes all day. Also had to maneuver this tricky aqueduct crossing.

At another aqueduct, rolled under this small archway just for fun.

Near the end of the day, discovered a cave right off the trail that some say was used to hide runaway slaves seeking freedom. Seems likely, given that the Underground Railroad ran through this part of the country.

Today was the day I rode past the Antietam National Battlefield, site of the first major battle in the American Civil War and the bloodiest one-day battle in American history. About 23,000 soldiers were killed, wounded or missing after 12 hours of fighting on September 17, 1862. Although the battle proved tactically inconclusive, it was enough of a victory to give President Lincoln the confidence to announce his Emancipation Proclamation. I wonder what will give President Obama the confidence to fight for the future of civilization.

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“NEWS VAN VISITS 4 LOCKS ROAD” (Wednesday, December 1, 2010)

Woke up this morning to a driving rain, which later turned to sleet. Was grateful to be warm and dry in Lockhouse 49 updating my blog and website. Will be interesting to see how muddy the trail is tomorrow. Called local NBC affiliate WGAH late morning, which was interested in doing a story on the ride. Just a few blocks from the lockhouse, the news van encountered a tunnel it couldn’t clear with the satellite dish on top, then got stuck in the mud backing up to turn around. So I triked down 4 Locks Road to do the interview there.


Skies started clearing in the late afternoon, so it’s back on the trail tomorrow. I’ll sure miss this place. Will also miss all the home cooking I’ve been enjoying (Bob & Sue brought up dinner again tonight – thanks, guys!). Tomorrow it’s back to freeze dried dinners and sleeping in a cold tent. Tonight I’m enjoying Bob’s homemade blueberry wine.

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“RIDING OUT THE RAIN IN LOCKHOUSE 49” (Tuesday, November 30, 2010)

Rained all day today, but was cozily holed up in Lockhouse 49, catching up on emails and drafting the DC arrival press release. When the rain slowed, did a little exploring of some of the historic buildings and structures at Four Locks.

Bob came out and picked me up again around dinnertime, swinging me by Fort Frederick to see this historic site from the French and Indian War, where Union troops were also stationed to guard the C&O Canal during the Civil War. Have always been fascinated by forts.

Were later joined at dinner by their friends, Kenny and Barbara, two other Lockhouse 49 Quartermasters. Really appreciated the great food and company tonight. Flash flood watches and warnings are in effect for tonight and tomorrow, so expect I’ll be spending another day at Four Locks, which, in its heyday was a thriving little community big enough to support a post office, two warehouses, two stores and a one-room schoolhouse. Today, it’s just little ‘ol me.

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“DESTINATION: LOCKHOUSE 49” (Monday, November 29, 2010)

Woke up this morning to frozen water bottles and frost covered gear, meaning no drinking water until Hancock seven miles down the trail.

A few miles later, came across these historic limestone kilns, used to make cement for construction of the canal.

Had heard about a bakery in Hancock, so rolled down the path to Weaver’s Restaurant & Bakery, despite having been told it wasn’t open. Picked up the aroma of home cooking as I rolled past and pulled up to the curb to check for myself. Just then, the owner (Penny Pittman) happened to walk out the door and told me they weren’t open for another 30 minutes. But she not only proceeded to invite me in to warm up with a hot cup of coffee, she also called the local newspaper to let them know I was in town. Five minutes later, I was sitting in her restaurant doing an interview with The Hancock News.

The food, and company (thanks for the wonderful service, Diane) was so good there, I ended up staying a full 3 hours, using the opportunity to recharge my laptop and phone and catch up on some emails. Enjoyed turkey, potatoes and gravy as a late Thanksgiving meal. When I tried to pay my bill, I was told it was “on the house.” Thanks, Penny! If you love homemade pies, and appreciate down home cooking, do yourself a favor and check out Weaver’s in Hancock, MD.

With heavy, steady rains forecast for the next two days, and being as I hadn’t yet passed Lock 49, decided to call Bob Steine and check on availability there for the night. Good news: it was not only available tonight, but the next several nights, if I needed it. Better news: Bob called the staff at the C&O Canal Trust (www.canaltrust.org), who manage the property, to explain the purpose of my ride and they very generously offered to waive their standard accommodation charges. Thanks so much, guys!

So rolled 15 more miles down the trail to 4 Locks, where I couldn’t believe my eyes. Built in 1839, historic Lockhouse 49 is a beautiful, old brick home with historic age furnishings. There’s no running water, but it has heat and electricity, making it the perfect base to ride out the rain, before making the final push to DC. Bob came out and opened up the place for me, then kindly invited me to his home in Clear Spring for a spaghetti dinner with his family, along with a much-needed hot shower and chance to do my laundry. Thanks, Bob and Sue for your warm and generous hospitality! Their sons, Sam and Joe, rode back out with us later that night to check out the trike.

Before drifting off to sleep in the comfortable bed upstairs, I read about some of the fascinating history of working and living on the C&O Canal locks. What a unique opportunity these restored lockhouses provide travelers to step back into history.

Rode 25 miles today. Counting a short detour, only 115 more to go.

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“TAKING IT SLOW ON THE C&O” (Sunday, November 28, 2010)

Only pedaled 27 miles today. Partly needed to slow down to navigate the narrowing path and dodge the branches that are increasing in number the further I go, but partly I just don’t want the adventure to end.

Soon came upon the 3,100–foot long Paw Paw Tunnel. Approximately 6 million bricks were used to build this tunnel, which was completed in 1850 at a tremendous human and financial cost.

Later came across this unusual shale rock slag. To me, it kind of resembled ice crystals, or bark peeling off a tree.

Later pulled off the trail to buy some food supplies and get a cold beer (thanks, Randy Roby) at Bill’s Place, a very colorful bar/diner/general store in the tiny town of Little Orleans. If you’re willing to part with a dollar, the owner, Mr. Bill, will let you write your name on it and affix it to the ceiling. A Renewable Rider $1 bill is now up there, along with the thousands of others. Later down the trail, came across someone sitting in a canoe on the side of the path, waiting for her ride. The scene just struck me as funny. Gina and I talked for a few minutes, long enough to learn that she, like me, has lost all faith in the Democratic and Republican parties.

Saw 2 deer, a flock of geese on the river, a flock of wild turkeys, the back end of a fox and more beaver handiwork along the trail today.

Didn’t see another biker on the trail again today. Had another campsite to myself, which I warmed up with a fire. With the cold, really need to start thinking about getting on down the trail.

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“SNOW FLURRIES & MUD PUDDLES” (Saturday, November 27, 2010)

Woke up in my tent across from the YMCA to the sound of cars and people headed in for their morning workouts. Packed up and pedaled into town to grab a quick breakfast. Then stopped by the Cumberland Trail Connection bike shop before hitting the C&O Canal trail. The bike shop’s owner told me if the trike had a breakdown along the trail to give him a call him and he would retrieve me. Appreciate that, Hutch. Always nice to know someone has your back. Before leaving, saw this humorous Uncle Sam wind spinner outside the shop, which cracked me up. As I was planning my trip, a friend had actually suggested I traverse the country in this very same Uncle Sam outfit, complete with top hat. The funniest part is he was serious.

Made it through the first gate two miles down the path without incident. Only 182 miles left to DC, but embracing the old Japanese maxim sent from my friend, Clifford: ‘When in the face of victory, tighten your helmet strap.’ Good advice, particularly given all of yesterday’s incidents.

Some light snow flurries were coming down when I hit the trail, which I had pretty much to myself, save one biker I saw camped out during the first couple of miles. Lots of mud puddles to negotiate, but otherwise good trail conditions.

As the mile makers to the end of the trail started ticking down one by one (184, 183, 182…), I felt the urge to slow down, as part of me doesn’t want this journey to end. Saw nine deer, one wild turkey and lots of evidence of beaver during the ride today. Frankly surprised I saw any wildlife at all, given how much noise the trike makes vibrating on the rough gravel path.

Was a cold (highs in the mid 30s), but beautiful, day for riding. Ran into locals Bob & Sue Steine on the trail, who were camping. Told me if I hadn’t already passed Lock 49 by the time they got home on Monday, I might be able to stay in the Lockhouse. They’re Quartermasters there, and were fairly confident it would be available for a night or two. Logged that away as a possibility.

Settled on one of the many designated campsites near the banks of the Potomac River.

Pitched my tent and built a fire to keep warm. Calling for a low of 28 tonight. Sat out for a couple of hours until it started burning low, then retired to the tent for some blogging and sleep.

Including side trips, pedaled a modest 35 miles today.

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Pedaled about 8 miles up the trail this morning to the Eastern Continental Divide, which divides the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay watersheds.

A couple miles later, was relieved to see the doors to the Big Savage Tunnel still open after the ice storm. Rode through the 3,100’ tunnel with no lights to get the full effect. Had to have a little fun with the video.

Shortly after coming out the other side of the tunnel, I crossed the Mason Dixon line and it was literally all downhill to Cumberland, MD. Really enjoyed being able to coast downhill for miles the first time this trip.

Awhile later, ran into Cumberland-based Adventure Cycling Association guide, Larry Brock, and rode with him into town. Was good to have some company for a change. Pedaled through the Brush tunnel (this one actually shared by trains), built in 1911.

Then Larry turned me onto the Cumberland Bone Cave, an ancient cave with fossilized bones from over 200,000 years ago. Skeletons discovered in the cave include those of the “Cumberland” Cave Bear, a Saber-toothed cat, even a crocodile.

Asked Larry’s advice on whether the trike had the clearance to make it down the C&O Canal bike path (had been getting conflicting views on this) and he wasn’t sure, so he took me to the C&O Canal Visitor Center. They were equally unsure, but said I would know within two miles when I hit the first gate. Good enough for me.

Said goodbye to Larry and rolled up to the Cumberland Times-News for a quick interview and shot of the trike. As Ken was conducting the interview on the sidewalk, a car accident unfolded in front of us on the street. No one was hurt, but I watched the front bumper of the rear car explode upon impact, little pieces flying through the air. Then I turned to my left and watched a large man attempt to jump onto a moving steam train that was backing into the station, and almost fall under its wheels. Two accidents in as many minutes was enough for me. For the newspaper shot, decided to walk the trike down the sidewalk to a side road with very little traffic. No sooner did I get in than a car came barreling toward me, pulling to a stop a little too close for my personal comfort. A panicked-looking young woman on her cell phone jumped out and ran past me to the scene of the accident, without giving me a second’s notice. Thanks, Ken, for yelling at her to slow down. Very happy to be taking bike trails the rest of the way into DC.

With 40 miles on the day, rolled down the street to the YMCA, where I pitched my tent ($10/night) and went inside for a sauna. Then walked down the road to a local bar for dinner and a few cold beers (thanks, Brian!). Walking back down the dark, deserted road to where my tent was pitched, talking to my friend Paul on the phone, I was surprised to see the tarp I’d placed over my trike was on the ground, and my tent gone. Upon closer examination, found the tent sitting upright about 40 feet across the lawn. The swirling wind had blown the staked tent end over end across the lawn and blew the tarp off. Could have made for a very cold night, and long walk to Washington, DC!

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