The skies cleared overnight, and as morning dawned in Hancock the Bike Forums riders were preparing to move out. The plan for the group was to follow roads to Harper’s Ferry, bypassing the towpath, and then spend the night at a hotel outside of town. Two of the group were to be shuttled by Judy to the hotel. MY plans were to ride a combination of local roads and the towpath, and camp near Harper’s Ferry. After the series of problems I’d had this tour – reactions to medication, sore joints from trying to keep up with other riders, and the usual matter of my being the last person finishing – I felt the need to strike out on my own. Even if I was the only person who needed convincing that I could do it, I needed that convincing.
However, I didn’t get an early start. I decided to see everyone else off. I spent a minute with Robow and Spinnaker discussing their route:
After the other riders left I had a long talk with Judy. She was leaving that afternoon, and wouldn’t be around for the final day of the ride.
“You aren’t the best cyclist,” she said to me, “and you aren’t the fastest, but you persevere more than most.”
“But you are so pig-headed that you might get yourself into trouble. Be careful out there.”
“I will. No broken rib this time.”
“Thank God. Please, no more epic journeys, Neil! I don’t want to read about you having to redo this trip to prove something.”
I let time slip by, and I didn’t get underway until 9:45. After hitting a gas station for ‘fuel’ I reached the Western Maryland Rail Trail a few minutes after 10:00 AM.
I made good time on the WMRT. I stopped at the small cemetery along the trail and paid my respects.
I passed by the sign for cyclists to turn off the WMRT at Big Pool and instead rode another mile to the end. I turned right onto Rt. 56 and climbed the hill to Fort Frederick State Park.
I’d passed by Fort Frederick on my June 2008 trip on the towpath, but the speed of my companions and my fractured rib prevented me from exploring the fort. I’d skipped the park entirely in August 2008, so seeing it this trip was a goal of mine. I was happy the weather was nice for my visit to the French and Indian War fort, and as it was a weekday I had the fort and guides to myself. A woman in period dress gave me a tour of the fort and answered my questions – how was the fort supplied? How big was the garrison? What was the water source?
From the fort it was about a half mile downhill to the towpath. The trail conditions around Williamsport are usually pretty good – the surface is as much gravel as dirt, and the path is usually high enough above the river the ground dries out quickly. Not so today. Subsequently I’d learned Maryland had a very wet spring, and the towpath was soft and sloppy in parts. The twelve miles to Willamsport took me nearly two hours. And every time I stopped, flies and skeeters thought dinner was served.
That said, the area at Four Locks was dry, and I stopped there for photos. And I visited the dam as well.
Once I reached Williamsport, I abandoned the towpath for streets. I climbed into town and braced myself for serious hill-walking on the local roads.
I needn’t have. The worst climb was the one into Williamsport. Once I got on Rt 35 I found small rollers, but nothing brutal. And the change from the damp, flat, tree-tunnel towpath was a welcome change. This is the farm country of Maryland, and it’s almost as pretty as that in my native Pennsylvania. (Almost.) I followed the road through small towns, by farms and streams, and before I knew it I passed Antietam Battlefield and was in the town of Sharpsburg.
After finding an ATM and visiting Nutter’s for an ice cream cone…
…I headed through town on Rt. 54 towards Shephardstown, West Virginia. After a few miles I saw the bridge into town. I regretted not having the time to see the Princeton of WV, but I had miles to go before I slept. I turned left onto Canal Road, and bombed the hill down from the bridge.
Canal Road parallels the towpath for several miles, and I used this route till the Antietam Creek trailhead. I switched back to the towpath, and the mud, and the bugs, for the remainder of the night. I approached my planned campsite, pulled in, and as soon as I dismounted I was attacked by skeeters. I recalled there was a public campsite run by the city of Brunswick about five miles down the towpath. Betting that the paid site would be better maintained than the free one I was standing it, I remounted and set off, racing against the setting sun. The trail seemed drier than it had earlier today, and I rode so fast the trailer rattled as it bounced over the rocks at Harper’s Ferry. I liked hearing the rattle. And I felt good.
I reached the Brunswick Family Campground at quarter past 8:00. I walked into the registration trailer and settled up. The camp director ran through the list of potential discounts.
“Yes or no?”
“I-, err, I have scoliosis. Yes.”
And I got the discount.
As I rode towards my tent site I analyzed why I’d answered as I did. I normally get annoyed when people apply the “D” word to me. I don’t consider myself ‘differently-abled’, because I do whatever I want to do and I’m far better off than most folks who have challenges in everyday life. Why did I accept it now? Was my honor worth the slight discount on the campground rate?
Then I realized it’s not my honor in question, it’s the perception of others. I’d ridden sixty miles today with a loaded trailer. I’ve ridden centuries and done touring many “able” cyclists wouldn’t dream of attempting. If someone wants to offer me a discount or makes some stupid recommendation that I need an electric bicycle, that’s their problem. I need to do what I need to do. But I’ll do it. That’s all that counts.
I set up my tent, chatted with some other cycle tourists in the tenting area, showered, and went to bed. Tomorrow was the final day on the C & O. And today had been the best day on the tour. I was back.