Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Thru-Riding the C&O Canal Towpath

The RUR Stevensville Correspondent, Stephen Bardsley, has been at it again. Readers of the Rise Up Runners blog may remember Stephen's Tour de Shore guest blog of a year ago. The Tour de Shore was a more-or-less impromptu adventure, as the rain washed out Stephen's attempt to thru-ride the C&O Canal Towpath. A year later, and better weather, Stephen gave his adventure another shot...

"Let the wild rumpus begin!"

I have to tell you that as far as the scenery, this ride can not be topped. Most of it follows the Potomac river. I wish prior to the ride i had learned more of the history of the canal, and its use. It was hard not to stop every five minutes and take a picture of the rock formations, aqueducts, river, and wildlife.

Sunday morning I left Cumberland, Md., it was clear, but brisk. I took the family pictures at the 184.5 mile marker which marks the end of the canal towpath. I stopped at the 30.0 miles and took some pictures at the Paw Paw tunnel. Across the river from Paw Paw WV., the river winds around at this point, and when the canal was being built, the crew saved themselves 6.5 miles of canal construction by going right through the middle of the mountain. The tunnel itself is .6 of a mile. Pitch black inside.

Bardsley at Paw Paw Tunnel.

I had lunch at 44.6 miles for the day at "famous" Bills Place. This restaurant and general store is frequented by bikers, hikers, fisherman and hunters. I had decided long before the ride, that this stop would be my big meal for the day. The Ravens game was on, and i got a belly full of open faced roast beef and gravy fries.

Feeling good, and the bike working perfectly, my next stop was at one of the primitive camp sites along the river. I was at 65.8 miles for the day, and this seemed like a good resting spot. I set up the one man tent and THIN sleeping bag that were loaded on the bike. I put on every piece of Under Armour clothing that I had with me. It was getting dark by this time, and I was a long way from anything or anyone. Things went down hill quickly for me. The temperature plummeted, and it quickly became evident that with the temps in the low 40's, I had brought the wrong sleeping bag, and was in trouble. By three in the morning, I was extremely cold, and everything was wet being so close the the river.

The morning of day two was rough. I broke camp shivering, and got back on the bike. I rode 22.6 miles before I reached Williamsport. I called my father, and had a bit of a mental breakdown. I hadn't slept, I hadn't eaten since the afternoon of the previous day, my legs didn't have any snap, and my pace was extremely slow. My fear now was that with not being able to make any kind of pace, I would not make it to Harpers Ferry by night fall. I was not going to sleep outside by the river again! I got a belly full of pizza, and got back on the bike. Talking with my father was a boost as was the food. My pace quickened, I crossed the river for a food stop in West Virginia at mile 53.1 for the day. I got some food in Shepardstown. At this point I knew I could make Harpers Ferry by night fall, and my father had since talked to a travelers hostel located there. I crossed back into Maryland and rode the final twelve miles to Harper Ferry. they were expecting me at the hostel when I got there, the girl on duty gave me the house tour. I picked my bunk, got clean linens and settle in. 71.0 miles for day two.

A dry, warm night's sleep at the Harper's Ferry Hostel.

The hostel is a member of Hostelling International. The bedding was clean, the shower was hot, and most of all, I was inside for the night.($18 for the night). I had bought a can of ravioli in Shepardstown and put it in my bike panier. Let it be know that I don't eat canned ravioli, but after three minutes in the microwave, it might be the best meal that I ever ate! I was in by bunk at the Hostel at 7pm. 7:30am the next morning I pulled myself out of the bunk, and made the "you cook" pancake breakfast provided for the travelers that were there.

Stephen marking the Monacacy Aqueduct.

The morning ride was cold, but I took a break at the 17.9 mile mark. I was at the Monacacy Aqueduct, a beautiful spot where the rivers meet. I took a lunch break at Pooles general store in Seneca Md.(mile 39.7 for the day) From this point on I was in the home stretch and the trail was familiar. Because this stretch is so close to Washington, and bikers frequent this part of the trail, it is the most groomed stretch. my legs and shoulders were really sore by this point. Frequent stops were made to apply flex-all, and take an S Cap. I took lots of pictures in the final twenty miles.

Among the views at Great Falls.

Great Falls is spectacular, and there is a restored canal boat in that section of the canal. From here on in, the canal is full of water. Unlike most of the canal which had long been drained and forested over, as you (Valliant and Keene) both know from the 27 mile section of the JFK 50 miler. (I thought of both of you as I rode that section). My seventy-two year old father was waiting for me with two miles to go on the ride. We finished together, and took pictures at the Mile 0 marker in Georgetown. My odometer read 200.9 miles for the three days. Total time in the saddle was 17 hours and 11 minutes. (just over 12 mph pace) All in all this was a great ride!

Two Bardsley's at Mile Marker 0, trip complete. Well done, Stephen!

The bike was flawless, and the tires I chose were perfect. Most of the trail, even the un-groomed sections were dry and easily rideable. I had researched the ride well, and the information downloaded for bikewashington.org was incredibly detailed, and accurate. My only problem was not having the right sleeping bag on the first night. I don't know if I would ever ride the whole canal again, but plan on doing sections of it again for sure. I would like to do the Georgetown to Harpers Ferry 60 mile section next year with 11 year old Joshua (3 days x20 miles). The park service does a great job upkeeping the primitive camp sites that are located every 5-6 miles, with clean porta-pots, potable water well pumps, and most sites even have firewood left at the fire rings by the park service. The scenery is stunning, and the history of this canal is pretty interesting.

In hind sight, I don't know if any one day was marathon or ultra marathon hard, but there is something about the multiple day stage rides that make them just as difficult. Motivating the mind and muscles for the second or third days is a challenge, and finishing a solo and unsupported undertaking like this is very rewarding. I am proud of this ride, and it now ranks up there for me with the JFK 50, and my Tour de Shore, as one of my Epic life adventures!


Michael Valliant said...

Bardsley, you are truly a master of dreaming up, planning, and going after your own adventures. Inspiring stuff. Makes me want to (sort of :) plan a multi-day, thru-adventure of a trail, whether on foot, bike, or longboard! Thanks for sharing and can't wait to hear what you've got coming next.

stephen bardsley said...

Mike, Thanks for posting this! Its nice to stay connected to you folks. These solo adventures are great, and I love doing them that way, but this RUR crew has a special thing that I am envious of frequently. Your relationship with Keene is something not to take for granted as well. I am looking forward to redoing some of this ride with Joshua who will be 11 next summer. He will start being my partner in crime in these wild adventures. I am planning something big for my next solo and unsupported adventure, not sure what yet, but i can assure you it will be really really cold this time! HMMMMM! later, Bards