We didn’t get far today. Only 39 miles. Yet this was one of the most interesting of our days on the road.
The day began on another of those suburban Maryland highways. You know the type.
Then we got on a small road, the Old Baltimore Turnpike, and followed it for many miles. It has steep hills, no shoulders and the pavement is rough, but traffic was light.
Soon we found out why there was so little traffic.
No, your eyes do not deceive you. The hilly road, which had turned from pavement to fine gravel and bridged many bodies of water, was bisected by a creek. In some places, that much water would constitute a river.
I stayed wrapped in plastic. Jeffrey took off his shoes and socks and waded into the rocky freshet on his tender feet, pushing the Lightning. The water was deeper than he expected; the clarity had fooled him. It came up to his mid-calf and covered the Lightning’s hubs. Once across, he dried his feet, dried the Lightning’s brakes, and we got ready to roll.
A pickup truck approached from the other direction. The driver asked about us, and expressed support for our mission. “Human rights!”, he said. He’s all for that. He was worried about fording the stream. Jeffrey told him how deep the water was where we crossed. The driver made it.
Jeffrey picked up a foot-long turkey feather from the grass, stuck it under a bungee cord, and we took off.
The scenery began to get hillier.
But the road, which was hilly enough for us to have hit 37 mph today before Jeffrey applied the brakes, flattened as we approached the Potomac River and the abandoned C & O Canal, now a National Park. We got on the canal towpath at the Monocacy Aqueduct. Acqueducts were used to carry water, and river traffic, above existing bodies of water, so the canal water would not drain away.
After crossing the acqueduct – the first of several on this 16-mile section of the abandoned canal – we got on the graveled towpath, with the Potomac to our left and the canal ditch (hardly wet, and filled with trees) to our right. For the most part, the path is in better condition than the Delaware & Raritan Canal path in NJ. And like any canal towpath, the route is flat. But even a good gravel surface is harder than pavement to bike on. We rode at only about 8 mph and Jeffrey had to pedal constantly – no coasting. This is what the path looked like most of the way.
You see one of the few bikers we encountered.
At Point of Rocks, Jeffrey took Creed’s photo, and he took Jeffrey’s. (That’s Virginia across the Potomac.) Creed gave us valuable route advice, and told us about local American Indian tribes that had moved here from NC, hiking trails, terrain, and local history. He told us of the huge 1830s legal battle between canal advocates and railroad boosters vying for the same bit of land at Point of Rocks. The canal won in court, but legal fees nearly bankrupted it and the railroad had made the canal obsolete anyway.
We learned a lot from trail markers. One refers to a ferry that carried British and German POWs being shipped south after the Battle of Saratoga. We had no idea that before the invention of the steam locomotive, such large numbers of people were transported so far – 400 miles! – within the U.S.
Here are some rapids on the Potomac. At this point, we were no longer across from Virginia. That’s West Virginia on the far side.
At last we reached the bridge to West Virginia. On the Maryland side, the only access is via steep stairs. Josiah, an RN who was visiting from Charlottesville, VA, with his family (his wife grew up in Harpers Ferry), kindly helped Jeffrey carry the Lightning up the winding steel steps.
Mini snapped a photo of Jeffrey.
While Jeffrey was on the bridge, a train roared out of the tunnel. Here’s the hand of Lee, a local gentleman who was advising Jeffrey on the best route for tomorrow, pointing out which track the train was taking.
This evening, we biked around Harpers Ferry a bit. Famous for the pre-Civil War federal arsenal that John Brown tried to seize so he could arm slaves for a rebellion, it has wonderful old buildings and historic sites.
While biking past the Canal House restaurant, Jeffrey was invited to join a “green” group of entrepreneurs who meet for networking and discussion. The kind people offered Jeffrey wine, bread, and cake. A fine country (bluegrass?) band, The Speakeasy Boys (they are on Facebook), was playing.
One band member is a lawyer who specializes in asylum appeals. He and Jeffrey have some mutual friends in the profession. Jeffrey had a nice chat about HRF with a former Peace Corps member who gave him a donation for the Ride. And these entrepreneurs, two of whom are from Missouri (show them!), said they or their Internet-savvy children will follow the Ride.
Hard to believe, but this long post spares you the details! A lot of adventure was packed into 39 miles. Sometimes a slower journey is a richer one. That’s what bicycling into the Heartland is about.
Tomorrow we enter the South.