The last 25 miles into Cumberland were so glorious, I think I wanted to stay there longer. But the truth is, we have little time after we arrive somewhere, and unpack, take showers, figure out dinner, wash clothes every few days, and, hopefully, work on the account of the day. We have been sleeping pretty well, generally, and then it is not long till it is time to get up and do it again.
The weather was nice when we left Cumberland after making a quick run to a grocery store for the evening meal – our plan was to stay in an old Lockhouse – number 49, down by Fort Frederick State Park. The Lockhouse is very basic – it was the residence of the Lockmaster who managed the water levels for boats traveling in the canals, now with an outside well and porta potty, but with beds and electricity and a good roof. We were looking forward to it.
At Cumberland, the Great Allegheny Passage ends and the C&O towpath trail picks up, taking southeast travelers right into Washington. But the two trails (even if kind of married – “GAPCO”) are really different. The GAP is newer and very scenic, paved for much of its length. As we left on the C&O, we realized that it is a lot more rustic – basically two parallel ruts. Also, the path was muddy, on account of all the rain. The mud was sticky and started to cake up our fenders, especially Lisa’s.
We came upon numerous downed trees, which are a challenge for our loaded bikes. Once we had to take the panniers off and lower the bikes to get under the tree.
In addition to mud, we had the Paw Paw Tunnel to get through. We’ve been through many tunnels on this trip – from dark and wet to well lit – but this one was the scariest. We had the canal on our left, a six foot drop into skanky water and had to walk on a four foot wide walkway with a rail on our left and the tunnel wall on our right. With our packed bikes, there was no way that an oncoming bike and ours could meet and pass. It was very dark. Fortunately, the only people we met were hikers and we could squeeze around each other.
Out of the tunnel, we joined a narrow rocky path and had to keep walking for a while. Between the mud and the tunnel, we really had trouble keeping up our pace and it was supposed to be a 70 mile day.
When we finally finished the first thirty five miles of the day – only half way – with us both frustrated with our mud caked bikes and discouraged by our pace, we arrived at the little town (a bar owned by Bill, basically) called Little Orleans. We walked out bikes up to the bar, and as usual, found one patron and a middle aged barkeep. I’d noticed a sign noting shuttle services. The Potomac here is a good canoeing and kayaking river and that is the kind of shuttle it was referring to. But I immediately asked about a ride and was told that a call would be made to see what could be arranged. Meanwhile, we shared a ham sandwich on white bread (was delicious, by the way) and several bottles of water.
We did arrange a ride with Michael, an effusive and kind red haired fellow with a small ponytail who drove us 18 miles down the road to Hancock. He told us he’d needed a break anyway – retired, he’d been detangling his Golden Retriever’s coat. We resupplied our water and took off for Lockhouse 49, about 14 miles down the towpath, which was now blacktop for seven miles and then a much better surface than we’d had earlier.
We found the Lockhouse – which is now being rented to bikers and hikers – and which is rustic, but dry, warm, and kind of cozy. I washed the bikes, including taking Lisa’s wheel off and scraping the mud off the inside of her fender. The water came from a cold well outside, where we also washed off our mud caked and sweaty bodies. Two young men rode by and asked about a hiker/biker campsite up ahead. As we chatted, we learned that they were headed to St. Paul, that one had grown up in Crocus Hill and that they would be spending some weeks in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan before heading across Wisconsin to the Twin Cities. It cheered us immensely to meet them.
Lisa made a lovely rice, salmon and peas concoction which we ate with gusto and then sat in the porch listening to jazz and the cicadas, and waited for the rain.