GAP and C&O Canal Bcycle Tour 2014 Hancock to Harpers Ferry

Back to Cumberland to Hancock / Forward to Harpers Ferry to Potomac

69.7 Miles

This was going to be a long day. Lam senior, Lam junior, and I were up at 6:30 and we finished breakfast by about 8:00. I think we were all on the trail by 8:15. I noticed that the boys ditched the huge 2.5 gallon water jug in favor of frame-mounted bottles. They were relying on the water pumps on the trail. Their loads seemed much better distributed and they may have upgraded their panniers along the way as well.

We passed each other often during the early morning. They passed me when I stopped for my morning break. They were planning to stop at Williamsport for lunch and I thought that I might see them later in the afternoon. They were also planning to camp at the KOA in Harpers Ferry and I thought that I at least would see them there once again when we all camped there for the night.

Until then, I was concentrating on my ride. There were several interesting features on this stretch of trail. The first was a wide area in the canal. I imagined that this was once a place of commerce with houses, shops, warehouses, and boat yards along the edges of the large lagoon in the canal.

I came to locks 47 through 50, which were built between 1836 and 1838 according to the information sign on the site. They stretched out end-to-end over a distance of a half mile. This was the site of a thriving community until the canal was closed in 1924. It was a green and open, sunny area next to the trail and I stopped there for a while to enjoy it. A cyclist stopped to talk and I learned that he was on a four day trek from Georgetown to Cumberland and back. This is a ride that he takes frequently and I found other people on the trail that were doing the same.

There are several dams on the Potomac River between Hancock and Harpers Ferry. They were built at the time the canal was built to provide water for the canal. In the present day they back up significant wide areas in the Potomac where water sports are popular. The river is deep and wide enough in these areas to support motor boats and jet skis.

What I call the “great wall of the Potomac” runs along the rocky banks of the Potomac in one of those wide areas. This is the section of the canal known as Big Slackwater between mileposts 84 and 89. A concrete wall and trail follows the route of the original towpath that was destroyed by flood in 1996. It was rebuilt in its current form in years 2010 through 2012. The new wall and trail eliminate a significant detour and was built to survive the flood stages of the Potomac. Historically this was an area where canal boats entered the river to take advantage of the slack water created by the dams. The canal builders used this approach to avoid the difficult task of building a canal in the rock cliffs along the Potomac River.

At about 2:00 PM I found another nice camp site along the river for lunch. There was a retired couple there who were happy to share the picnic table with me. They were local people on a day trip. They had experience with most of the trail and we discussed the trail features all the way to Pittsburgh.

I made several short stops after lunch. One of those stops was the campground at Antietam Creek. This was one of at least two nice camp sites where I could have stayed the night comfortably. There was the usual chemical toilet, water pump, and several picnic tables. The tent sites were grassy and clean. The only problem for me was food. I had a full jar of peanut butter remaining, but I didn’t feel that would be enough, especially since my camp at Swain’s Lock on Day 6 would also be a primitive campsite. So, I rode onward.

The Potomac became rocky and fast as I neared Harpers Ferry. There were people tubing in the rapids above Harpers Ferry. It was a good place to ride the river on a tube since it was probably class 1 and 2 rapids. There are outfitters in the area who provide the tubes as well as transportation.

When I got to the bridge leading to Harpers Ferry there were no surprises. I knew that there would be stairs to climb to reach the bridge deck and the segment of the Appalachian Trail over the bridge that leads to Harpers Ferry. I had a plan. I carried my four panniers up the stairs two at a time. I made the third and final trip to carry my bike up. It was not a big deal: the stairway is not long and there are not too many turns.

In Harpers Ferry I had ice cream and dinner in that order. After eating the ice cream I realized that I should have dinner because the KOA campground may be quite a distance from the restaurants. I had excellent pulled pork at Hannah’s Restaurant.

Somebody gave me directions to the KOA, but directions always seem to make more sense if you are driving a car. On a bicycle the distances and landmarks can appear different than described. However, before the wrong turns there was the hill up Washington Street, which was a half mile long. There was no other way to the KOA. It was at the top of the hill where the Union army attempted to defend Harper’s Ferry. The grade approached 9% in places. I gave it a go and tried several times to pedal my load up that hill. I ended up walking my bike up. At the top there is another little village of Bolivar. After a couple of wrong turns in Bolivar, I saw the intersection with U.S. highway 340. After a quick consult with my iPhone, I realized that the campground was on the other side of the intersection.

My tent site was overpriced and kind of rough. I believe that they were designed for pop-up campers and the like, not pitched tents. I hung around the KOA entrance for a while hoping that I would see Lam and Lam ride through. That didn’t happen. I pitched my tent in the dusk, showered, and went to bed. By the way, the showers and men’s room were clean and modern. The price still stung. I paid about $48 for this site and I had a better tent site in Connellsville for $12. The attendants justified the cost by pointing out that I had access to a swimming pool, putt-putt golf, etc., etc. There is also the free pancake breakfast. Anyway, I stopped obsessing and went to sleep.

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