Monday, December 2, 2013

GAPCO - Hancock to Antietam Creek

Wednesday, September 25, 55 miles.

Day six started cool, once again, and I struggled to rise from a cozy warm sleeping bag. This time, however, I had the impetus to dry out a wet rain fly. Moisture adds weight and since I schlepped the tent, might as well buck up to the elements. Again I was the last one up, though this time I ate breakfast with the crew.

Patty (in yellow jacket) takes advantage of extra picnic table to organize gear.
In the foreground, a clothing bag, toiletries, and shoes are lined up, ready
 to take with me into wash house before stowing items into panniers. 
We were the only campers at Hancock's Municipal Park. Before we roll onto adjacent C&O Trail, I wheel my bicycle to the wash house. Despite primitive camping, bathrooms are spacious and include hot water—a small luxury I take advantage of before setting off.

Aiming for another 50+ mile day we head out early, enjoying sun-kissed views of the Potomac River.

Park employees driving a large tractor-size mower and pickup truck (behind)
 pull over to let us pass. Photo credit: Patty
Again we are dressed for warmth. By now we expect heavily wooded trail; rays of sunshine are minimal, yet we accept the park for what it is: a historical reminder of what once was an amazing engineering feat, preserved for all to enjoy by foot or on two wheels.

It's a well-maintained path, cleared of major debris. We wave to park employees. One drives a monster lawnmower to cut grass. That's a 180 mile lawn mowing job!

Photo credit: Patty
In Williamsport there is a grassy bank in full sun. It just so happens it's also lunchtime. We strip to t-shirts and shorts, grab food bags, and relax near Conococheague Creek Aqueduct. Nothing like eating lunch, letting bare feet breathe.

It's a good vantage to inspect the collapsed wall. A canal boat accidentally hit the wall, sending the barge into the river below. The captain's quick-thinking son released the towline and saved the mules while the captain jumped to an intact abutment wall. A wooden replacement barrier was erected and used until the canal closed in 1924.

Andy fixing his lunch.

I thought our bikes and baggage resembled a Himalayan mule train.
After lunch we replenish our food supply at the local Dollar General. It lacks fresh produce, yet we often can't be picky. One of us usually remains behind to watch the bikes while the others shop. Since I'm the only meat eater I'd rather they choose what fulfills their diet. After one smelly tuna fish can that they both complained about  (we had to pack out all trash from campsites) I was happy to eat boiled eggs for the remainder of our trip.

Overlook at Lock 81 & 82.

Andy and Patty cross knife-edge.

Beginning of Big Slackwater pathway.
Dam #4 pooled the Potomac which allowed the canal builders to use the river channel instead of constructing a canal. Without a towpath, cyclists detoured this slackwater section until 2012 when a raised concrete 2.7 mile pathway was built, drilled into bedrock, integral to completing 180 continuous trail miles.

Photo credit: Patty
It's nearly 20 minutes of unfiltered sun—something we were truly grateful for in late September.

Photo credit: Patty
In Shepherdstown we leave the canal path, cross the river on a segregated access ramp, safely apart from automobile traffic, then pick a route through university campus. We search for a private campground, as the symbol on our map suggests, but do not locate any signs. We pull into a fire station and inquire. The fireman assure us there is no campground though they offer a patch of grass behind the building. We thank them and inspect the spot. It would be okay as last resort. I rather liked the idea of attending bingo in the fire station, offered that evening, yet a picnic table, outhouse, privacy, and readily available water awaits only 3 miles further once we backtrack to the towpath.

While in Shepherdstown Patty and Andy shop for dinner and breakfast. Patty returns, all giddy and excited; wine is sold in the grocery store, a first on our adventure. It's providence. Only half hour later, at Antietam Creek Campsite, at 6 p.m. we are still in shorts. After dinner, in the dark we stroll along the path, using flashlight to avoid any dips that might've collected water from a few days before. Crickets chirp, bird calls, frogs cheep—at least we think they are frogs. What's totally absent are trains—first time on GAPCO. It's such a pleasant evening that Andy, Patty, and I play Yahtzee on the picnic table. Another first.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Due to increased Spam, I am moderating comments. Thank you for your patience.