We left the Great Allegheny Passage on our second day, picked up the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal (C&O) as we rolled out of Cumberland, Md. (home to the city-wide happy hour every Friday night) and headed eventually to Washington, D.C.
We had the odd fortune of bicycling every day with rain predicted but never felt a drop until the seventh. On that day no rain was expected but we rode thru a steady drizzle, sat out one shower and rode through another. Nevertheless, every day of the first week was hot and very humid.
The C&O is built upon the original tow path of the Chesapeake-Ohio Canal, which was constructed along the Potomac River in the early 1800s to send supplies west over the Appalachian Mountains. It was an engineering marvel of the day, employing 35 ,000 men 22 years to carve out a 55-foot wide by 184 mile channel that essentially flows uphill.
Many of the 76 locks, 10 river dams, seven boat-carrying aqueducts, and one awesome 3,000 foot tunnel (the Paw Paw) are still there in varying states of repair. I know because Sabra took at least one photo of each.
For a mile or more at a time the trail is perfectly flat. The water in the canal is sometimes absent but mostly still present in dead quiet pools covered by a thick, soggy carpet of green algae. Old trees have sprouted out of the water and encroached on the not-so-well maintained tow path, which used to carry mules but now us on our bicycles.
In short the trail was a steamy, narrow, bug-filled, pot-holed, tree-encroached tunnel interspersed with the ancient, by American standards, ruins. It would make a great location for an Indiana Jones movie, “The Tunnel of Doom.” However these old structures, as well as the beauty and history of the towns we passed, made it all worthwhile.
On bikes, Sabra and I typically average about 10 miles an hour while on bikes. Note that I used “on bikes” twice in the preceding sentence as Sabra will spend more time off-bike taking photos than on-bike putting miles behind us. There is nothing too mundane for her to get a shot of including– I’m not making this up– interesting manure piles. While I fend off mosquitoes, she’ll climb over fences, scamper down steep ravines and crawl under barb wire to snap pictures. It’s as if she is picking up hundred dollar bills only she can see.
Other times it looks like she’s slow dancing. While studying the viewfinder she’ll waltz one step left then right then forward then back to the rhythm of music only she can hear to perfectly frame something a mile away that hasn’t moved for centuries. I used to try to limit our stops and/or get her to move more quickly but have given up during our dozen years of marriage. Now I stoically wait and donate blood to local insects.
That’s why I always carry a flask of gin and a bottle of tonic with me. The tonic to fend off malaria, and the gin to fortify my stoicism.
Everyone should have it so rough.