1999 C & O Canal Bike Trip
The Best 4 days of the year!
Day one: This year we tried something new. We met at the Lexington Park ward about noon on Wednesday and loaded everything into the vehicles. Ralph Gibson suggested we also have an extra trailer so a small box one was rented from Uhaul. This would haul all the food including a 50-gallon drum for water. Jeff Heath's new truck received the task of towing Marks big flatbed trailer with all the Bikes on it. I followed Jeff on the way to Cumberland in my Van. It would get to tow the food trailer once the extra vehicles left. We arrived in Cumberland later than planned, as usual. Most of us proceeded to get the last bit of fast food we would have for several days. We ended up getting separated from Jeff and thought we had lost him but he ended up going straight to the Northern Terminus.
After food we also went to the terminus and unpacked our trusted two wheeled steeds. The idea behind riding to the Spring Gap the first night was to give everyone the opportunity to work off some excess energy from the drive up. I was the first out and stayed that way all the way to camp. There were times I was doing 25 mph. I really didn't need to work that hard but I thought it would be fun. The trail was dry and hard packed but not real dusty like it has been in some previous years. Travis and I had new tents this year and I was also using an air mattress to sleep on for the first time. Travis ended up letting other kids use his tent and he slept in the one I was using. Beth had bought it for Girls Camp this year. It was supposed to be a 9'x 7' and it was, only if you measured right at the corners. It was too small for 2 people that like to stretch out their stuff. Jeff Heath gave a really good talk before everyone hit the rack that night There was very little talking compared to earlier years. We had only one woman drive up with us on day one this year, Nikki Gibson.
Day two: (first full day of riding) Nikki helped prepare breakfast for everyone before we started riding. We quickly found out that there were some needed utensils missing. No problem, everyone improvised. Soon we were on the trail. As usual we started later than hoped but still were earlier than other years. Everyone started out eager to go as always and this year it was going to be smooth sailing. The trail was dry but not too dusty. Travis's friend Steven Gladu and his Dad Amos Ripple went too. We also had the oldest rider we have ever had on the trip this year. Brother Rice from another ward in the Stake was over 60. Everyone arrived at the Paw Paw tunnel for the hill climb competition. I didn't try it this year and I'm glad. The tunnel hill trail was partially overgrown and the surface was very loose. I think young Mark Henderson and one of his friends won the climbing competition. This was the first long distance ride for Amos Ripple and he decided that the next day he would wear cycling shorts, with padding. Sometimes people don't realize how hard a saddle can be after a couple of hours on a trail. We all headed for lunch after a nice break. Lunch is always one of the best times on a riding day. Today was no different. Everyone was able to get back on their bikes and head toward Fort Frederick. I had planned on stopping for ice cream in Hancock but ended up bypassing it this year and stayed on the towpath. There was a larger group that did stop for ice cream this year this year. Those that took the paved rail trail toward the fort said it does not go all the way there and they had to backtrack some to get back over to the towpath. At the Fort Frederick group campsites we partook of the traditional spaghetti dinner and a long refreshing dip in the Potomac River.
The river was very low and some actually walked to the other side without getting chest deep. Everyone settled in early for a good night's rest. I'm still not used to hearing the trains at night. Each year I remember them after we arrive and settle in. They don't seem to keep me from sleeping though.
Day three: (second full day of riding) The sun was shinning as we had breakfast and broke camp. It stayed out all day too. Nothing like 1998. The ride to lunch, including the required detour, was uneventful and enjoyable. Everyone always stops at the one dam and takes pictures, this year was no different. A new bridge across the canal and a concrete reinforced wall that supported the towpath at that dam were new additions this year. Almost everyone cooled their toes at McMahons mill prior to taking the detour. The descent to lunch at dam 4 is always fun but still dangerous because of the sharp turn at the bottom of the hill. After lunch everyone headed to the Cave and most went exploring. I did not. Once was enough a few years back. When the cave break was over it was a quick trip to Snyders Landing to join up for the trip into Sharpesburg and the Antietam boyscout camping area. This year the rope swing was already up and in operation when we arrived. The boys loved it, and I mean all the Boys, young and old. They even took a picture of me going off the swing. My form has not improved over the years. There was no evening campfire this year and I missed that. I guess it was because we had to ride the next day. We used to get a day off for church and relaxation but we changed our schedule. The entire trip has been great, a cool spell came through right before we started the trip this year and kept the tempatures from getting too high even in the heat of the day. The hottest ride was the one into the boyscout campground on day three. A dip in Antietam creek solved that heat problem though.
Day four: (Last day) Unsure what the weather will bring today. Today we finish at Carderock MD. We will be riding straight through except breaks for lunch or other necessities. Travis and I rode together most of the day. We also paired up with Amos and Steven. For awhile near Harpers Ferry it was raining but the trail was dry enough it soaked it up. Travis and I stopped under the Train Bridge across from Harpers Ferry to put on rain jackets only to have the rain start letting up soon. It rained off and on for a couple hours that morning but never really soaked us. I still don't like riding in the rain, but it did keep the dust down. Even with the rain we had no mud this year at all. The National Park Service and the dry spring did wonders for the towpath. Lunch was at Whites Ferry. Brother Gray and his son would be leaving from there to go back into VA and their home near Ashburn. Brother Gray's wife met us and had prepared sandwiches for us all. This was his second trip, he made one with his older son and now this year with the next in line. I think he said he has one more to go. After lunch Travis, Steven, Amos and I rode together the rest of the way. We stopped at Great Falls just long enough to get some water and watch a canal boat in a lock. We didn't take the detour around the big rocks south of Great Falls near the Billy Goat Trail. Instead we hoofed it over the rocks and then were soon on newly finished towpath. The canal was rewatered and it looked great too. Arrival at Carderock was ahead of schedule and I actually made it into the parking lot without an accident this year. On the way home we stopped for food and also visited an REI store. Arrival at home was now on schedule. Seeing my wife again, taking a long shower and sleeping in a clean bed is a terrific way to end a great trip. The best C & O Canal trip yet or as Mike Kirby would say "THE BEST 4 DAYS OF THE YEAR!"