Maryland & Virginia & West Virginia, June 2015, part 2

Lockhouse 49

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We could not believe it when we saw the place, in fact, we biked past it.  Unlike the wooden lockhouse buildings we had been passing- white with green shutters- this place was brick. It was on the other side of the locks we had passed, the opposite side from most other lockhouses we had passed.  Circling back for a better look, yes, wow!  This was Lockhouse 49 in what used to be the Four Locks community – our home for the next two nights.  It was magical to stay here!  As a lovingly restored historic home, it was a little like a museum or fancy B&B.  It also was a bit like camping (no plumbing), and like a youth hostel (4 beds per room).  We explored the house and the area and got settled in. There were books and old photos inside the house, outside we could walk around the bottom of the canal where the boats used to float back in the day.

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Day 4

We walked around the lock structures around us again this morning.  It was a beautiful day, and the stone structures were interesting and lovely in the light.

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Fort Frederick

The kids were reluctant to go after two days of biking, but this place surpassed our expectations and turned out to be a highlight of the trip.  It was about 3 miles from the lockhouse, back the way we had came, so we biked over to mile 112.4 to check it out.  From the entrance to the park, we could tell this place was really cool.  There was a rustic wooden fence, the kind with rough-cut wood leaning at angles against the parallel ones.  Beyond was a massive stone wall as far as we could see.  To the left was a parking lot with plenty of bike parking, which we rapidly monopolized.  There was a log cabin-type buiding next to the parking area, and several smaller buildings behind that.

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Fort (L) and visitor center (R)

We were looking around when L. Wonderful started trying to gather us to let us know “There are costumed reenactors!  They’ll give us a tour!”  We all headed for the fort entrance, which we learned until recently had a massive wooden door.  Standing by the entrance were indeed two men in costume, one of whom was speaking about the history of the fort in a strong English accent.

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The guide with the accent turned out to actually be from England and both guides were happy to discuss history of the Fort.  We had them talking for a long time after they did their usual tour since there were not a lot of visitors that day.  The fort was built for the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years War, in the 1750’s.  It was later used during the Revolutionary War as a prison for British soldiers, and during the Civil War for Union soldiers to protect the C&O Canal from attack. Later, it was forgotten, fell into disrepair, and was even used to house livestock until the 1920’s when it became owned by the State of Maryland and was rebuilt as a Civil Conservation Corps project in the 1930’s.  Meanwhile, here in 2015, the kids ran around and tried on costumes and generally explored the place and played all they wanted.

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Above: start of tour inside soldier barracks (outside is shown in last picture) Below: our kids running around and playing in costume

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It was so unexpected and so much fun.  L Wonderful and I loved hearing the English version of the Boston Tea Party and details of the soldier’s lives in Fort Frederick.  It is also interesting to know that Fort Duquesne, currently known as Pittsburgh, had a similar design, ironically a French design, of a large square with diamond-shaped corners, shown below.

below: L and me trying to make straight faces so we can be proper soldiers!

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After the fort, we went back to the lockhouse.  Happily, we were indoors during the big rainstorm that happened that evening.  We played cards, looked at the books and other reading material about the history of the area, and enjoyed the old-fashioned kids’ games that were there for our use in the house.  That night, it might have happened that I had to get up and use the facilities, and it is also possible I started thinking a lot about ghosts there in that house for a moment in the quiet dark night in that old, old house…

Day 5

This was to be a light day of biking with time to relax and explore a canal town.  We packed up the bikes and cleaned the lockhouse after breakfast.  Our next stop was only 10 miles away and we were to stay in a hotel this night.  We passed some nice rock faces, a dam area where the canal boats used to ride on the river on the flat area upstream of the dam, and wonderful views of the Potomac.  A large group of young men on a group trip passed us energetically.

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Williamsport, MD

We arrived, biked to the hotel, then explored this cute town for the day.  We found a swimming pool, an ice cream shop, an historic farm, and an antique car show.  Getting off the trail at mile 99.4 there was an aqueduct (the one where a boat fell off in the 1920’s!  You can still see the damage.) and a nice museum about the canal. The Conococheague – which I am proud I learned to pronounce as “KAHN-eh-ka-jig” – River meets the Potomac here, thus the aqueduct.

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above: Williamsport, the affected side of the aqueduct(with grassy hill in foreground), the intact side

below: things we found in Williamsport, in no particular order.  The town park was very nice – green, large, included a swimming pool open to the public for just $3! We had it almost to ourselves.  Antique cars, ice cream parlor, Springfield farm.

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We had a swim, some ice cream, and a walk around the town before calling it a day.  We went to sleep in a modern building for the first time in 4 nights, and waited for the rain everyone said would come over night.

Day 6

We awoke to the sound of rain.  A steady, relentless rain that had been predicted the day before.  The Park Service people even said the rain might threaten the towpath; parts had washed out from rain in the past.  We decided to give up our last day of biking and drive the rest of the way to Harper’s Ferry.  R. Wonderful and I were to drive him there to pick up his car, bring both cars back to the hotel, then we would all pack the cars and head out.  We headed in the rain for my car in the parking lot, a few yards from the hotel room.  In that short space of time, we realized that a few people wanted to bike in the rain.  Heck, I wanted to bike in the rain.  So did RW.  And Mr. Fantastic didn’t really want to bike; he might be happy to take non-bikers to a museum or something… and so hatched the plan to bike 40 miles in the pouring rain!  What happened?  Stay tuned, tripsters!!

 

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Maryland &Virginia& West Virginia, June, 2015 part 1

This was an eight-day extravaganza!! We have now done seven bike/camp trips with the Wonderful family in the past eight years and I think this one is the best yet.  It was a fitting send-off in a way, since we are planning to be RTW tripping this time next year and don’t know when our next joint adventure will be. So this trip was special in more ways than one. First a major shout-out to R. Wonderful for extensive planning during the winter and spring. He researched everything and even made spreadsheets! Not my skill set! I am humbled and grateful.  It takes a lot of planning to handle 12 people (including 8 kids!), meals, accomodations, vehicles, and all those miles.  Thank you!!

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We started by biking some of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath starting in Cumberland, MD. This trail skirts the borders of MD, VA, WV, and PA.  It connects with the Great Allegheny Passage to form a 335 mile bike path between Pittsburgh, PA and Washington, DC. We biked about 70 miles of the GAP three years ago with the Wonderfuls through the beautiful Ohiopyle State Park. Now we were tackling part of the C&O.

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Western end of the towpath, around mile 184 (L), our first campsite (R)

C&O Canal

This amazing piece of history was a jewel to discover, both as a bicycler who appreciates the scenery and campsites, and also for the canal structures and culture which has disappeared as a way of life. The C&O canal was built in the 1820s as an efficient way to move goods across difficult terrain and parallel to the Potomac River, which was considered unnavigable. Canal freight boats were about 90 feet in length, were towed by mules on the towpath, and were homes for some canal families. Children lived on the boats, sometimes tethered to them for safety!  The boats were wooden and not only included kitchen, food storage and bedrooms, but also had stables for the mules, who worked and rested in six-hour shifts, and space for about 15 tons of coal. They carried other cargo such as milled grains, sometimes loaded directly from canalside mills. This transport system involved mule drivers (often kids) who walked with the mules, boatmen using poles to steer the boats away from the stone walls of the canals, and lock keepers who maintained the canals and operated locks to raise and lower the boats to the changing water levels. The canal itself is just under 185 miles in length. It is now a national park and includes structures such as lock houses where the lock workers lived, aqueducts that carried the canal over rivers that would otherwise obstruct its flow, and elaborate locks with gates to control water levels.

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towpath with lockhouse to the right and remains of lock to left

As you may guess, I became obsessed with the canal history and the ruins around us as I biked along. Some of the biking was tough since there were muddy patches, bad gravel, and I was towing our heavy gear in a bike trailer. I could identify with the mules at times!

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a muddy patch – it was to get much worse!  Me towing the “Joyrider” trailer

We found some books about the canal life with actual interviews done in the late 1970s with people who had grown up in that life. Home on the Canal by Elizabeth Kytle was my favorite. We went to a museum that had a silent film done in 1917 by Thomas Edison’s film crew which they filmed while boating down the canal and through locks. About eight years after that, the canals had a terrible flood and by then were also becoming obsolete due to the railroads and they never recovered. By then, though, the canals had a ninety year history and structures that would remain today and hopefully for a long time to come.

As a bike path, the C&O is wonderful in many respects. It is quite level, it has stunning scenery including massive rock faces and views of the Potomac River, it provides port-a-johns and drinking water every five miles or so, it is dotted with historical sites and lovely towns, and there are free camp sites all along the path. Two things to note are that the path is not paved, so wider tires are helpful as it can be bumpy and muddy, and drinking water from the pumps (not available in winter, BTW) is treated with iodine, which didn’t bother us too much but it is noticeable.  The canal structures such as lock houses, aqueducts, and the locks themselves are fascinating.

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remains of lock (L), aqueduct (R)

Day 1

We arrived in Cumberland, MD, the Western end of the towpath and biked 4 miles to a campsite. Two adults drove cars to Williamsport, MD, and Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and then took the train back to Cumberland and biked to camp with us. This took about five hours. Our campsite was called Evitt’s Creek (mile 180.1) and was between the towpath and the Potomac. Just past the towpath was the canal which at this stretch had water and many turtles and algae, unfortunately many bugs as well.

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Parallel to the canal, towpath and river were several active train tracks with trains passing by at least once an hour. I was delighted to be camping and starting the journey, I also love the sound of nearby trains, but other campsites proved to be further from the tracks so others may choose to go a few more miles to avoid them.  It is interesting to note that at times we on the towpath were moving parallel to trains that replaced the canal system, which were running parallel to highways with semi trucks that have largely replaced the trains! Three transport systems side by side, one gone, one partly used, and one going strong.

Day 2

We awoke, packed our gear, and headed out on our first long day. The trail was bumpy on my narrow tires, but the twins’ little bikes had fatter tires and they did well.  The teens carried little gear and got ahead, so we had a policy of stopping every three miles to meet up before heading out again. There are mile markers every mile, which made it easy to know where to meet. There are also maps and guidebooks to show campsites, towns, structures, and other points of interest, all using mile numbers to identify location.  The canal was to our left and continued to be full of croaking frogs, turtles lounging on logs, and seaweed. The kids saw a large black snake. There were groundhogs and deer. We mostly biked under a green canopy of trees on a double trail with grass in the center. I often heard “on you left” as bikers from our group and others passed me as I trundled along. We saw our first lockhouse and we also filled our water bottles at trailside water pumps.

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We went through Paw Paw Tunnel, hand carved, lined with six million bricks, and over 3,000 feet long.   There is dripping water, uneven footing, and almost complete darkness at times, so we were glad to obey the signs by walking our bikes and using headlights.

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IMG_0144The other side of the tunnel was one of my favorite parts of the trip.  There was a wooden walkway next to a steep rock face with the canal and another sloping rock wall on the other side.  When the wooden path ended, there was a single earth trail still with the canal to the left and tilted rock walls on either side.  Gorgeous!imageimageimage

We stopped and made lunch at a lovely campsite, which I’m pretty sure was Purselane Run at mile 157.4. We biked to Devil’s Alley at mile 144.5 and set up our camp. As soon as our tents were up there was a thunderstorm so we hid out in our tents until it was over. Luckily, it lasted under an hour and we were able to enjoy the evening at the campsite. We cooked dinner, played cards, and the kids swam in the river. There was a beautiful sunset.

 

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selfie in tent during storm

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Day 3

Oh the misery of a sore butt! Thirty-six miles in a day are not much in comparison to other bikers on this trail, but most of them are not carrying all their camping/cooking gear and stopping every three miles to gather the kids.  I was sore in numerous places but there was nothing to do but get back on the trail. I got onto a groove and kept going. At one point, I was lagging behind as usual when a bunch of our group started coming towards me. Why were they going the wrong way? It turned out there was a paved path we could use for about twenty miles. And so we turned around and headed uphill to the Western Maryland Rail Trail. And we were in awe of the wonder of asphalt! The ride became smooth like buttah! I didn’t realize how difficult the bumpy, muddy path was until I sailed on the silky black WMRT. We all enjoyed it immensely. We stopped in the tiny town of Hancock for lunch.

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the smoooooth WMRT (top L), coming into Hancock, relaxing and having lunch in Hancock’s town park

After Hancock, we were back on the asphalt, but only for a few miles.  We returned to the C&O towpath and got excited about stopping for the night, as well as where we would be stopping.  You see, R. Wonderful had found unusual accomodations for the next 2 nights – an historic lockhouse!  Check out part 2…