So Dan may have glossed over the fact that our hotel in Harpers Ferry was outside of town on the highway…and getting there was a several mile uphill ride with water cascading down a culvert on a slanted shoulder with trucks going 75 mph just inches away.
We got up early and set off in the drizzle, riding through the middle of town this time instead of on the highway, with its historic churches and cobblestone streets and red brick buildings. The Shenandoah valley was beautiful and lush and green, and we saw lots of hikers setting out and decided we would come back sometime (by car probably!!!) and spend time hiking.
I was moved to see this small building where the abolitionist John Brown was trapped with his small army of 21 men, after their plans to raid the armory in Harpers Ferry in order to secure weapons for a rebellion by enslaved people were thwarted.
We had to go back over the Appalachian Trail bridge and portage our bikes and bags down the stairs to get back to the Chesapeake and Ohio towpath, which was much easier without pouring rain. During the ride we crossed several bridges that clearly had been underwater during the previous day’s downpour.
The conditions were pretty good and we only had 60 miles left in our 1400 mile journey, and we were riding fast for us (10-11 mph was a good pace on this trip given the weight of our gear). The plan was not to stop for lunch or much else, but we did take a break to when we saw this immense maple tree…and sat on the remains of the old lock house there to eat some fruit, and marveled at all that this tree must have witnessed in its hundreds of years.
It was Saturday and not surprisingly we saw increasing numbers of cyclists, hikers, and walkers on the C&O towpath (and some horses) as we approached Washington D.C. The canal hasn’t been used for transportation since the 1940s and we had been riding past the ruins of walls and structures that were part of that system for days, and so it was cool to find a working lock in the midst of Great Falls National Park.
We chatted with a park ranger a bit about our stay at a lock master house (there are several others for rent along the canal, most more rustic than the one we were in), and learned it took about 10 minutes typically for a boat to wait for the water to rise after the gates were dammed so it could continue on their way. The park has a canal boat that they were preparing for tours, which uses mules to pull the boat along the towpath.
It was really lovely in the park, which is only about 15 miles outside of Washington, and we saw lots of herons, ducks and geese. When we said goodbye to the ranger, he said “we’re always looking for good people to volunteer in national parks after they retire” which was very kind. (And also on our bucket list.)
Dan rode with this fellow for a ways, and learned that he built his bike and was a banjo player…and discovered that the bike was pretty fast after he started telling banjo jokes and the guy sped off. (Example: what is perfect pitch? When you throw an accordion in a dumpster and it lands on a banjo.)
Mile zero for the towpath is in Georgetown and the Potomac started to include many more boats and kayakers; it was a little wild to find ourselves in the middle of a typical Washington weekend day, with tons of people out on errands and sightseeing. When we left Minnesota, most places had mask mandates and requested six foot distancing between people. Because of the high rates of vaccination, mask requirements started to shift over the three weeks of our trip and we always checked before entering any building about their requirements, which increasingly suggested no masks were required for anyone who was vaccinated. The crowds in D.C. certainly suggested that most people were returning to before pandemic activities and happily so.
We could see the Washington Monument in the distance as we biked along the Rock Creek Parkway and were delighted to see Dan’s brother Tom on the sidewalk across the street as we were getting closer to the Lincoln Memorial, which was our end point. Tom joined up with us and there were lots of hugs (careful ones because of his shoulder) and we pressed on.
We left our bikes with Tom and ran up the steps to the Lincoln statue, which was not quite the movie ending we expected because there were approximately a zillion other people there. I did get a little teary though…we made it.