Day 11: Out of Washington and into misery on the C&O Towpath

After Chuck and I said our (bittersweet) goodbyes it was time for me to head down to the C&O mile zero marker to start making my way Northeast to Cumberlnd, MD. But I was in for a couple surprises first.

The Metropolitan Branch Trail spit me out at Union Station, and I started making my way to the National Mall. It turns out I wasn’t the only cyclist out on the road:

I was tickled to see this all happening. I don’t know what it all was, but I’m guessing the DC Bike Ride from the sign (ba dum ching). I saw a sign saying “water bottles” but they wouldn’t give me one despite my story. Oh well.

This sighting on my way past the Mall made me scared.

I’m really going to miss DC’s bicycle infrastructure. It’s among the most developed I’ve ever ridden in, and the terrain of the city is perfect for riding with just enough elevation changes to keep things interesting without being overwhelming. I mean, just check out these lanes:

After passing the Mall I made a slight, obligatory detour to the White House. I couldn’t resist; it was close enough:

And then it was off to Georgetown to start the C&O. I got a quick look at Watergate:

And some dragon boat racers on the Potomac:

Before making it to the zero mile marker of the towpath.

It felt like a big moment for me with all the nerves I’ve been having about the mud and rain. But I started riding and things were fine on the Capital Crescent Trail for a bit until I made it to Fletcher’s Cove where I got on the towpath itself. 

And here was my first view of the towpath:

That picture was the beginning of hours of misery on the bike, and I enjoyed exactly none of it. Zip. Not even a little bit. I knew the trail was rougher, but I didn’t expect it to be as rough as it is. It’s little more than a gravel road on the best patches and a swamp for most of it. And I knew it would be wet and muddy, but I didn’t anticipate how much. I’d say I was riding through standing water on the trail itself for 15%-20% of the day probably. 

All this did a number on the bike as well:

At a water break I noticed something very, very unfortunate. The charger that connects to my Dynamo hub has split somehow, and right when I need it most. It may be able to be wired together but I doubt it. There’s $120 blown. I’ll wait till I get to a bike shop or electrician or something and go from there, but I don’t think the answer is going to be good.

I myself wasn’t immune from the cold, sloppy mud either. Not at all. 

My clothes are soaked through. My shoes are drenched. I’m covered in mud. I’m cold. And I’m really, really not happy about it.

I like pavement. I like riding on roads. The C&O is basically mountain biking, and I started it in pretty horrible conditions. I tried my best to lock into a zone and just soldier on but it only lasted me so long. My willpower began to break down as the day wore on. I guess there were pretty moments:

But they don’t come close to matching the drudgery of this trail. I don’t think I can say I regret taking this trail system; it’s been built up quite a bit and I guess I’ll be happy I can say I did it. But I will never, under any circumstances, ride this again. I hate it, frankly, and am going to do everything I can to get past it into Pittsburgh as quickly as possible. Chuck told me the GAP is much nicer and can be completed in two days, and I very much hope he’s right.

I stopped last night 14 miles further down river than I wanted to at the hiker/biker campsite at Calico Rocks with a useless fire pit because of the rain and well water treated with “tasty” iodine. The outright mud slowed me down quite a bit, making Harper’s Ferry elusive. I’ll either make it all up today or split the seven miles up into today and tomorrow. 

Sorry about the negativity. It was a very difficult day and I don’t think it’ll get easier for a few more. I wouldn’t be mad if you emailed me some positive words of encouragement, because frankly, I need it.


One thought on “Day 11: Out of Washington and into misery on the C&O Towpath

  1. Hang in there! You have more guts doing this than a lot of people I know! I love following your pictures and stories. You have a book in the making. Keep pedalling!


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