GAP and C&O Canal Bicycle Tour 2014 Harpers Ferry to Potomac

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

48.0 Miles

This day was a short day before the final sprint into Georgetown. I was riding to Swain’s Lock to camp and make the short ride to Georgetown the next day. I decided on this approach because the hotel prices in and around Georgetown are very high.

As usual, I got up at about 6:30. I decided to take advantage of the free pancake breakfast. The pancakes were good and I purchased a carton of milk to wash it down. Coffee is also essential for me. I walked up to the counter and began to pour. The attendant said, “The coffee is not free. You need to pay.”

I said, “This campground is killing me.”

I said that with a smile on my face, but with the internal sting that the KOA was grabbing for more of my money.

The ride into Harpers Ferry was mostly downhill. The walk across the bridge was no problem. When I reached the stairway down to the C&O, a nice lady offered to help carry my panniers down. I gave her the light ones, of course. I was able to get the bike and gear down in two trips instead of three. The day was looking brighter. It was 8:30 and I was back on the trail.

All through my ride on the C&O I was noticing the old growth black walnut trees. There are not many and when you see them they are impressive. I would guess that trees three to four feet in diameter are 75 to 100 years old. One tree captured my immediate attention as I rode past lock 26. That tree may have been a sapling when the canal was built over 150 years ago.

Around noon I was looking for some food and saw a small diner near White’s Ferry. Before going into the diner I watched the ferry. There are little ferry services like this in out of the way places all over the country. This one is privately owned as many of them probably are. The ferry boat was busy floating cars and pickup trucks across the Potomac, loading up on each side without pause for the each round trip.

The lady in the diner had bad news for me. The diner would not be back in the business of serving hot meals for several more months. In June it was flooded when the Potomac River jumped its banks and the damage repairs would take that long. She did have a working freezer with popsicles and a cooler with soft drinks. I had some of both before returning to the trail.

A little further down the trail I came to another canal aqueduct, the Seneca Creek Aqueduct. There is a little path down to a picnic spot on the Potomac where there is a good view of the aqueduct and the Potomac. There were three young men fishing from the top of the aqueduct. As I passed them I asked what kind of fish they catch there.

“Bass, carp, and catfish. No luck today, though.”

I arrived at Swain’s Lock at about 4:30. The campground is supposed to be primitive. It did not disappoint. There are five overnight camp sites there that are all very close to the Potomac River. Each site had a smooth patch of dirt that appeared to be the place where you are supposed to pitch a tent. I noticed that one of the campers had moved the picnic table. The picnic table was placed over a bed of packed stone dust and the camper moved it to be able to pitch a tent on the stone dust. The stone dust provides a much cleaner area for a tent. You avoid getting dirt all over yourself when you crawl in and out of the tent.

I noticed that my picnic table was on a bed of stone dust. I moved it. That was a good decision and it wasn’t difficult.

After pitching my tent I realized that I had a lot of time before going to bed. My original plan was to ride into the town of Potomac to eat at Five Guys Burgers. I was a little intimidated because someone at the campground told me that it was 20 minutes by car. I checked using Google Maps on my iPhone and found that it would be 20 minutes by bicycle.

My ride took me down River Road, which is lined with multi-million dollar homes most of the way in to Potomac. Many were fenced with access controls such as power gates. My guess is these are owned by lobbyists and federal public “servants” who commute to nearby Washington DC, homes of the ruling class.

After I had my hamburger, which was excellent, I went to the local grocery store. It was small and appeared to be high end based on the number of Mercedes, Audis, and BMWs in the parking lot. I was way out of place in the store, being dressed in my riding clothes. I picked up some flatbread and milk to go with my peanut butter for breakfast. There was precut watermelon that I could not resist. I also stocked up on water and bought some ice. I kept the ice in a pannier overnight with the milk and water.

Back at the campsite I realized that the squirrels might be a problem overnight. I was concerned that if I left my food out, it would be ravaged by the squirrels. I put everything under the rainfly of my tent.

I got into my tent to blow up my air mattress. I was still a little sweaty from the ride to town. After blowing up the mattress I began to sweat uncontrollably. In a slight panic, I got out of the tent and took my shirt off to cool off. There was a light breeze and the air felt dry and cool. My first thought was that I had food poisoning or that I was otherwise sick. As I cooled, that turned out to be a false conclusion. I felt much better by the time I went to bed.

I slept well, but when I got up to go to the toilet during the night I noticed that two young 20-something couples camped in separate adjoining sites were still awake and chatting quietly. They were up all night.

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