Our night at the Lockhouse was my favorite of this trip – it was so quiet, and the cold well water outside was delicious. Sitting out on the porch with Lisa after such a long day was sweet and relaxing. I thought “only 50 miles to ride tomorrow” and that added to my sense of calm.
We knew it would probably be wet – Michael, the kind man who shuttled us a few miles down the road had said “It’s going to rain like heck tomorrow” – but we’ve seen rain in the forecast many times and it didn’t always deliver.
We left in a mist and the trail was good though muddy as we followed the ever larger Potomac, and passed dams, each, it seemed, with a story from the Civil War. It is a beautiful river, with a mix of rocky shores and forests, and lots of creeks and streams flowing in. The C&O towpath is on the Maryland side, so as we rode downstream, the river was to our right, and the old canal was to our left. The path often ran right next to the river, hugging cliffs to our left.
The towpath is almost like a levee, and the adjacent canal was sometimes filled with green, stagnant water, and sometimes just empty and wet, overgrown and green. It was great habitat for deer and birds and turtles.
As we rode down the path, the rain got heavier. The trail surface was better than it had been just out of Cumberland, but the puddles were growing. At one point, the trail hugged the side of a cliff, on a man made concrete walkway, about ten feet wide, with a low curb, then a ten foot drop right into the river. I decided I might have a little fear of heights, and I rode as far from that drop as possible, thankful there was no oncoming bike traffic – but then, who besides us would be out riding in this weather?
There were lots of streams pouring into the river from our left, each with a bridge or, often, an old aqueduct to ride over. As the rain became very heavy, those cute little streams became furious torrents of brown water, running off the steep hill. It was raining so hard now, it truly felt like we were standing in a shower.
The canal started to fill up and then began to overflow and run over the trail. We were actually riding through streams, and it was hard to see the trail. The rain was a downpour, and relentless. At one point, we came to a little wooden pedestrian bridge, recently built, over a stream which was now raging and had come up to the bridge and was pouring over it. We stopped and I thought “that bridge isn’t going to last” and if it went out, we’d be stuck. We could see the trail about 50 yards on the other side of the bridge, rising out of the swirling water. We decided to get over the bridge as soon as possible, ran our bikes across and started wading through water that came above our ankles, trying to find the trail. Between the rain and the rushing streams, we could hardly hear each other. Logs and sticks swirled around us in the muddy water as we pushed on.
We don’t have pictures of this part of our day because, frankly, we were worried about getting washed away in the flood and didn’t take the time to do any sightseeing.
Once we were back on the trail, we only had a few miles to get into Harper’s Ferry and rode as fast as we could through the downpour. We knew there was a big railroad bridge to cross (over the Potomac) and would have to climb a number of stairs with our gear to get there – a portage, sort of – and when we got there, the canal was overflowing. We carried all our gear and bikes up the steps to the bridge and walked over to the town and saw the confluence of the Potomac and the Shenandoah – a sharp line between the two, one tan from the storm runoff and the other a more normal greenish grey.
On the bridge, we met a young man from Mississippi who was hiking the Appalachian Trail, which comes through HF at its midpoint. He’d been hiking since sometime in March and was happily slogging though the puddles on his way to get some food in town. We met several more hikers when we finally arrived at our hotel, soaked from head to foot, our bikes and bags dirty with weeds and twigs. I had a quick thought of Humphrey Bogart after he came out of the lake in The African Queen, covered in leeches, and hoped there were none in the places we’d waded through. Lisa said that she’d worried about snakes, as well, after our conversation with Michael about water moccasins in the area.
We were happy to be dry – though it took me a long time to warm up. We didn’t see a lot of Harper’s Ferry, which I remembered as a neat little town, because of the rain and our hotel’s location away from town on the highway. We did look around a bit the next morning on our way out, before heading off to the Lincoln Memorial.