Day seven C&O

Around six this morning I looked out the window of the bathroom and saw drops of water hanging on the power lines. It pretty much set the tone for the day.
I gave up waiting for it to stop about 8:15 and headed out on the Western Maryland Railroad trail. Since the trail was paved, I hoped that by riding through the puddles I could wash off some of yesterday’s mud. It didn’t work, and in the end it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.
The Western Maryland trail came to an end at a parking lot/trailhead. From there it was necessary to do about a mile of road before coming to the entrance of Fort Fredrick State Park. From there, it was mostly downhill to the visitors center. I would have liked to spend a little more time there, but the combination of soaked clothing and air conditioning made the building uncomfortably cold. After getting directions of how to get back on the C&O I headed out, still wet, but a little bit warmer.
The way back to the C&O went past the stone Fort Fredrick. Every year this is the site of a big 18th Century Trade Fair that draws people for hundreds of miles. I couldn’t just zip past without stopping. From what I saw, the dedication to having things “right” is a step or two above average for similar sites. Even the nails used for construction were hand forged.
After getting back on the C&O, the main memory of the day is rain. Hard rain, and gentle drizzling rain, but always constant rain. The bike gained weight as unavoidable puddles added layers of caked mud to the frame and drivetrain. Shifting became a little iffy in one of the lower gears. The biggest thing, for me anyway, was that there was no way to escape it even for a moment.
It isn’t that there weren’t some interesting sights along the way, there was just no way to enjoy them in an incessant downpour.
At some point during the day I passed the halfway point for the C&O Towpath.
Among the more interesting and memorable parts of the day was a section known as Big Slackwater. In the days of the canal’s operation, for a little less than three miles the C&O canal ceased to exist, and the boats used a section of the Potomac river that was held behind a dam. In the days the canal was still in operation a towpath existed along the river. However, a series of floods in later years eroded the bank in many places and made it impossible to walk along the river due to a series of rock cliffs. Then, between 2010 and 2012 an artificial path that replaced the original was constructed. Built with what appears to be generous amounts of concrete, this artificial towpath is impressive to look at in person. I’m not sure it’s possible to see it all at once.
Late in the day after the rain had pretty much come to an end, I once again heard the all too familiar sound of a broken spoke. At that point, I decided I would stop when I reached Harpers Ferry. A number of things can happen riding with a broken spoke, and none of them are good. At the point where the spoke broke I was about 16 miles from Harpers Ferry, but about 76 from D.C. In a worse case scenario I could push the bike most of the way to Harpers Ferry, but not to D.C.
The campsite I planned on using didn’t look to appealing so I pushed on to the next one about four miles further on giving me a little over 45 miles for the day in wet and miserable conditions.
When I arrived at the second campsite, Horseshoe Bend, I scouted out the best campsite. One area that was probably the flattest was also bare dirt from extensive use. Because getting up at night – an inevitable occurrence – would mean dealing with mud if I set up there, I chose a higher grassy spot instead.
Not long before dark, two other cyclists showed up and started asking questions about what was available a few miles further on. It took some doing to make them understand I didn’t know any more than they did. They finally pedaled on to find out for themselves.
Just before going to sleep the patter on the tent announced the return of the rain. Since the next day would almost certainly be the end of the trip, I hoped it would clear before dawn.


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