Ah, the towpath – where for the first 5 to 10 miles you think, “wow, this is great; it’s scenic, shaded and inviting. I should do this more often especially as there’s no one out here.” And then, pretty much independent of how far you’re going, by the last 5 to 10 miles, you’re sullen and cursing and desperately wishing there was some way to end the torment but you still have miles and miles to go and your hands are numb, your neck and shoulders ache and your butt registers every bump with a new twang of your mangled muscle fibers and all you can think is “where is that mileage marker?” as you hope that maybe somehow you’ve missed it and you’re actually a mile closer to the end.
Happily for me, my months-long journey so conditioned me that I was largely spared from these horrors; Rachael, not so much. Still after all we learned in Cumberland about the canal, we started off well.
I do like the old locks and the serene environs of the ruined throughway:
About halfway along the first day’s ride (from Cumberland to Hancock) we came up to the 3000+ ft Paw Paw tunnel built in 1850 to create a more direct route past the meandering Potomac.
The surface is fairly uneven and full of potholes so we walked the length of the tunnel.
As the miles wore on:
“our” spirits dampened:
until we saw this happy sign indicating a paved escape:
Our delight in finishing a 62-mile day was somewhat diminished by my bargain-hunting choice of a sadly decrepit rundown motel that Rachael declared was the third-worst place we had ever stayed. As I later emailed Roger, after a few of the places he and I stayed in, I was quite comfortable.
The next day we again started out in high spirits as we were headed to Shepherdstown to see and stay with our friends Will and Kathy. The scenery was mostly pretty good:
But the other side of Williamsport, some serious eutrophication had set in:
However, the Potomac itself was looking pretty good
and we were soon in Shepherdstown, which was a milestone for me because it meant that I was now back within the radius of where I have biked from Washington before. As a training ride, I had come out to see Will and Kathy a few weeks before flying out to the west coast. Coming across the bridge over the Potomac past the Bavarian Inn was all familiar territory to me, and it brought home how quickly my bike odyssey of awesome was coming to an end.
Will and Kathy are great people whom we don’t see enough of, and we were fated not to see as much of them as we would have liked. Rachael’s cat allergy kicked in with alarming ferocity as a casual touch to her eye triggered an impressive and fearsome reddening and swelling that had us beating a hasty retreat to a nearby motel. But the four of us had a delightful dinner (Thai food!) and sat outside their house for a bit playing with their new dog Towpath.
He is so named because that is where Will found him. The incredible tale of this dog’s dire situation and the dogged efforts of so many to save and heal him can be found on Facebook if you go to his fan page; it is grim stuff, but Towpath is now a happy excited bounding bundle of pure canine energy.
The next morning – today in fact, so I’m caught up! – we were again treated to a fine morning’s ride along the Potomac:
But the harsh mistress of stony surface would not be denied, and the third day along the towpath brought Rachael, by now long bereft of song, close to the breaking point. Happily this small bright sign popped into view and we were at White’s Ferry, where I would take my fourth and final vessel across a body of water – this time into Virginia and onto paved roads.
We are now about 40 miles from home and settled into our motel room for a simple self-catered dinner. This trip, which above all else has been of such phenomenological intensity, is now virtually over. My gratitude to Rachael and my friend Roger is boundless and eternal.