GAP/C&O Canal Towpath Day 4

Today was probably my favorite riding day ever, in addition to being a wonderful day in general.

We weren’t really in a hurry so we picked up breakfast from the Donges Drive-In to eat at our hotel. The $7.95 special was two eggs, two pancakes, bacon, potatoes, and two pieces of toast. The pancakes were both the size of dinner plates and I could only eat half of one in addition to the rest of the food. Jeremiah ate the rest.

It was only 36F when we left the hotel but the sun was shining and it was a steep uphill back to the trail so I warmed up immediately. We only had about 8 more miles to go uphill once back on the trail and that part wasn’t steep at all.

The Eastern Continental Divide marks the high point of the trail at 2392′. It’s where we left the Gulf of Mexico watershed and entered the Chesapeake Bay watershed. And it’s where we started descending almost 1800′ in only 23.5 miles.

I suspect I could have not pedaled the whole way and made it just fine. With some cursory pedaling, we were passing mile markers every four minutes. It was glorious!

We soon came to the Big Savage Tunnel, 3294′ long. The lights come on in front of you as you move through it, but another biker had just gone through so the lights were already on for us. It was still really cool to ride through since the lights aren’t brightening up the whole tunnel by any means. One of the guys pouring cider yesterday said it didn’t used to have lights so you’d go through with only your own bike light, and a wild pack of dogs lived in it too. No dogs now, luckily for us.

We popped out of the tunnel into gorgeous sunshine and a wonderful view, then rode past the Mason-Dixon Line into Maryland. There were a few more tunnels throughout the day, but none as long or fun as Big Savage.

At Frostburg, the trail started running directly next to the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. It would have been so cool to have the train come by while we were riding, but I doubt it’s running today if it’s a tourist train.

The trail crossed back and forth over the train tracks a few times. We saw two turkey vultures take off from the ground carrying a snake right as we rounded one of the bends. It was just such a fun ride, and I felt bad for anyone going uphill in the other direction.

We rode into Cumberland, the end of the Great Allegheny Passage and the beginning of the C&O Canal Towpath to DC. The Cumberland Trail Connection bike shop was right there so we stopped to pick up a few things. They had a cute young puppy I played with for a bit, as well as a larger dog sleeping on the floor and a cat wandering around. They also gave us a lunch recommendation for the European sandwich shop next door. It was a delicious meal, followed by ice cream.

Right as we mounted our bikes to go, Jon’s rear tire tube blew again. No big deal, we went back to the bike shop so he could do the repair and get another spare tube.

On the trail again, we were mostly riding between the canal and the North Branch Potomac River. Another biker had told us to look out for turtles in the canal and we did see tons of them. There was even a really big snapper crossing the trail in front of us at one point. I feel like Buddy the Elf listing all the cool things I saw today, but it was really that great! And then I saw some blooming mayapples! And then I saw multiple historic lockhouses! (The C&O Canal is a National Historical Park.) We also passed the half way point of the trip.

There are a lot of free hiker-biker campsites on the towpath, maybe every five to ten miles. The GAP only had a few and they were all close to each other and not convenient for us. They did look really nice, with shelters and vault toilets. The Towpath campsites seem to all have portopots, picnic tables, charcoal grills, and water pumps to access iodine-treated wells.

We passed several campsites before stopping at Potomac Forks after 52.6 miles. It has a lockhouse too and is just a beautiful site. We made sure the water pump worked and we were set to stay. Supposedly all of the water pumps should be turned on in mid-April but I’ve seen online that may not be the case yet. A biker we saw going the opposite direction earlier mentioned that some were on and some not.

After setting up camp, we cooked dinner and played some dice games. Suddenly, we heard and saw two bald eagles flying through the trees across from us. We were able to see one land in a tree over the lockhouse and start eating something. Maybe they had been fighting over a fish? We watched for a few minutes until it flew away. Too bad I didn’t bring my binoculars!

As we started getting ready for bed and cleaning up the campsite, the spring peepers started singing and we heard an owl hooting nearby. Jeremiah noticed a giant yellow moon coming up, so we walked down the trail a bit to get a better look.

What a wonderful day!

3 Comments

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  1. Wow! That sounds amazing! I relived some of our towpath rides and your words made me feel like I was right there with you! Adventure on!

  2. I want that puppy!

  3. I just finished the GAP and part of the C&O yesterday. I stayed and ate at Donges, too! And took pretty much all the pictures you took. I was solo and didn’t want to camp but had a wonderful trip.

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