Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bike Camping on the C&O

Last Labor Day, we went bike camping on the C&O canal.  It was pretty fun, so we decided we would try it again this year.  I really wanted to ride to Harper's Ferry, but it's a pretty long trip.  We got lucky when my cousin asked us if she could come camping with us sometime, and then offered to be vehicle support for us and drive us home from Harper's Ferry.  So we left on Saturday, rode up partway, camped Saturday night, and then on Sunday we met in Harper's Ferry, camped there Sunday night, and she drove us home on Monday.

If you are even thinking about bike camping on the C&O, please check this guide out.  It's awesome.  The only thing I couldn't quite figure out was why Google was telling me to take MacArthur boulevard all the way from my cousin's house in Glen Echo for 5 miles when the canal towpath was RIGHT THERE.  I was especially concerned because MacArthur is a really busy road.  It turns out Google knows more than I do, and there is a nice paved bike path that runs right alongside MacArthur and was perfectly pleasant.  It turns out that the reason you should ride to the end of MacArthur it is because if you try to get on the canal towpath from MacArthur at Lock 7, you have to carry your bike down a LOT of steps.  However, we did get to enjoy the section coming into Great Falls, which is my favorite part of the trail.

(Monocacy Aquaduct, near Mile 42)

We stayed for the night at the Mile 42 mile marker - the guide warned that the later mile markers were close to the railroad, so we opted not push past Mile 42, and it turned out that after 35 miles, we were pretty worn out anyway.  We were treated with some pretty nice views at our campsite.

A lot of people ask about gear for bike camping and how you haul all of your gear.  This time, we took the tent, two sleeping bags, two inflatable sleeping pads, a change of clothes each and food.  We have taken to camping stoveless, which is fine for an overnight camping trip - I enjoy the TastyBite Indian meals which are vegetarian, pretty good cold, and really easy to stuff in a pita.  For lunch, we knew we'd be eating shortly after getting on the trail, so we opted for prepackaged sandwiches from WholeFoods.  Everything we have fits in 4 panniers (2 each) and a hydration pack each - I carry all of the first aid stuff and M. has most of the bike repair stuff, like a pump and other necessities.  
My bike, all ready to go.

Our campsite
 There were a few obstacles on the trail - we had to carry our bikes over two downed trees, which is really challenging with my bike.  There were also a bunch of puddles and then there was the tall tall grasses that kept whipping at us.
The second day, we rode the remaining 17 miles to Harper's Ferry and went to our second campsite - the Harper's Ferry Hostel - this place was great for camping.  It's not a big commercial type campsite, and we were there on the less-busy night, so I don't know what it's like when it's packed, but it has a great view and the people are pretty friendly.  Technically they charge you per person for the campsite and for showers, if you want to use them, but they let me sneak into the bathroom to wash my hands and put in/take out my contacts.  They did a big group dinner but it took awhile to get everything on the table, so we kind of wished we had just ended up grilling on our own - but it was nice to hang out in the hostel where it was warm, instead of spending the whole night outside.  The only complaint I have about the hostel? It was uphill.  The directions warned us to be prepared for hills, but after two days of flat cycling, I was not ready for a mile hill climb.  I had a total meltdown and it was horrible.  Then we had to walk down and back up the same hill to get to town.  However, otherwise the walk to town was great - pleasant and scenic.  

I've talked to a lot of people who really want to bike the whole C&O, or who say that bike camping sounds fun, but worry that they are not in very good shape.  I'm not in particularly good shape, nor am I a particularly avid cyclist (I ride my bike to work .9 miles each way a few times a week), nor do I really like nature.  There were a LOT of spiders at our camp.  So if you are being held back by a lack of fitness or fear of spiders, please just go for it.  Your body is capable of awesome things, and it's worth it to take the leap.

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