Loving Life on the C&O Canal Trail

In the early hours of my overnight, I stopped to watch the family coming my way. The young woman was smiling  with two sleepy toddlers sitting in child bicycle seats somehow attached behind the seat of her bicycle. Trailing behind was a large bicycle trailer that appeared to be filled with everything, maybe even the kitchen sink. We were on the C&O Canal Trail several miles west of Harpers Ferry. She told me that she and her husband started in Pittsburg and had been travelling 11 days. I wished her a good trip and went on my way down the trail. Amazing! I thought. I don't know many women interested in bicycle travel and definitely not with two toddlers in tow. But she appeared to be enjoying life.

I was enjoying life too. I set off from Point of Rocks, Maryland, about 11:30 AM on Saturday of Memorial Day weekend 2010 for an overnight bicycle trip heading west on the C&O Canal Trail. It was a beautiful, sunny weekend with high temperatures in the mid 70s. I stopped ten miles in to enjoy a beer in Harpers Ferry and visit the small Lewis and Clark museum. I rode for miles along the trail in peaceful solitude under the new spring canopy of shady foliage along the Potomac River. Late in the afternoon when I was feeling tired, I entered one of the many primitive camp sites on the trail. I found two hikers asleep on the picnic table benches. One of them stirred after a moment and gladly agreed to share their camp site with me. Later, two more bike travelers arrived both warmly greeted by the others. We had a great evening gathered around the campsite picnic table getting to know each other and sharing stories of our lives and adventures.

After a great night’s sleep I awoke to one biker quietly packing up and heading back out. After he rolled out I got up and packed up. The hikers and other biker were still snoring in their tents. I rolled out going back the way I came munching on a Cliff bar but looking forward to breakfast in a café in Shepherdstown that was recommended the day before when I stopped at a convenience store there.

On my way out, I came upon a trailside camp site bustling with activity, a dog was barking and small children were scampering about. There was the woman I saw the day before and her husband cleaning  and packing up. I slowed down to say hello. As I did, the young woman looked up with that big, bright, loving life smile, and enthusiastically waved across the chaos to me. I smiled and waved back grateful for the nice little trip I was having.

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure: Stop in Harpers Ferry. From the C&O Canal Trail there are bike racks to park and lock your bike. Then take the footbridge over the river which is a great picture spot. There are lots of little restaurants, cafes, bars, and ice cream parlors.  Visit any of the many little museums or just read the historical markers.

3 responses so far ↓

george - Aug 2, 2011 at 4:15 PM

They took their barking dog with them?

Mike Diehm - Aug 20, 2011 at 6:33 AM

Brian. Your trip sounds great! I, and a woman friend of mine, did Pittsburgh to DC last year. What a beautiful ride!! If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend it. Especially the Great Allegheney Passage. We too, stopped in Shepardstown. Cool town (and college campus). We stayed at a Youth Hostel on the "trail" side across from Harpers Ferry, and since we had a long day on the trail, didn't have time to get to Harpers Ferry. (I regret that) We were asleep almost right after our meal from a local pizza place that delivered! (The next day was our last). We met a woman headed toward Pittsburgh who does the trip a few times a year. She had THREE flats getting to the Youth Hostel!! We helped her with some patches and spare tubes. The C&O towpath can be a tad rough on 27"X1 1/4" tires, a common size on a touring bike. Thanks for your post. It brought back memories.

Kevin - Dec 19, 2011 at 5:17 PM

Excellent narrative, Brian. I've started out on the DC Trailhead and was amazed how quickly you can escape the city on this trail (pretending you don't here car sounds speeds things along). I still think so fondly of my short trips that I'm writing a short fiction story about it on my blog (bicyclebug.wordpress.com). I hope to one day be able to take the trails all the way up to Pittsburgh.

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