Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Three Muddy Moms: Biking the C&O Canal

   Biking the C&O Canal has been on my bucket list for many years. 2011 was the year to do it. Little did I know in January that last weekend the Potomac River would flood and create many obstacles for three moms and friends who were seeking adventure away from our kids. Mud was the theme of the weekend.
   A few weeks before the trip, I did my research and organized the logistics: bike from Cumberland, MD to Washington DC, get dropped off in Cumberland on Thursday and sleep in a hotel, set out on the trail Friday morning with a trailer and two paniers, bike 60 miles per day, bring some food but hit the accessible restaurants, and camp in two pre-determined sites along the trail. Reality hit and plans changed. We didn't camp but stayed in the Riverrun B&B and Harper's Ferry Hostel where we could rest our weary muscles and clean the caked mud off our bodies. A shower never felt so good! We ate at every accessible restaurant along the trail because our lunch food became our snacks due to being ravenously hungry. We ditched the trailer Saturday morning because it was too heavy and created more problems on the flooded trail.
   It rained for five days straight before the trip. We were warned by the National Park Service that the trail was muddy but we didn't anticipate the "real" conditions of the trail until we started hearing the stories from bikers heading north - standing water two feet deep, downed trees, and large patches of the trail washed away. Hearing this, we stored the trailer in the basement of the B&B and packed only the essentials, one change of clothes, a little food, and bike tools. This was the best decision. The trail was impassable by trailer from Hancock to Harper's Ferry. On Saturday, we biked 69 miles which took 9.5 hours to complete. We biked through four miles of mud the consistency of chocolate fudge sauce gumming up our gears and brakes. We lifted our bikes over six downed trees and walked many areas where the trail eroded away. We reached Harper's Ferry mentally and physically exhausted with mud caked to our skin and clothes. Many people stared and asked. Even though this section of the trail was the worst, for ninety percent of the 184.5 miles we dodged or biked through mud puddles.
   Are we glad we completed the trip? Yes, definitely!
  • the camaraderie of three friends laughing through the obstacles and physical pain.
  • the natural beauty surrounding the trail. Our favorites being: Paw Paw tunnel, waterfall after the tunnel, slate valley, vegetation covered cliffs, rapids on the Potomac, mature trees growing in the swampy, black water of the canal, white and purple wildflowers lining the trail, and immersed in varied shades of lush green.
  • visits with wildlife - six snakes (black rat, northern water and garter), many turtles (box, snapping, painted and red-ear sliders), a broad-headed skink, alive and dead carp, deer, frogs (carpenter, green and bull), ground hog, adult beaver and the best of all a baby beaver. We stopped to look at a map. My eye caught a baby beaver walking towards us. He squeaked at us hoping we were its mama as he walked around our feet and in between our bike spokes. He pulled at our mama heart-strings as he tried to follow us down the trail.
  • completing a challenge and goal.
Did we learn lessons from the trip? Yes, definitely!
  • don't drag a trailer when biking long distances and in muddy conditions.
  • stay in a hotel, B&B or hostel when biking long distances.
  • be a minimalist.
  • fenders on a bike aren't so great with thick mud and stones on the trail. It gums up and sprays everywhere. Fenders are good for water in puddles and on pavement.
  • pack necessities in easy accessible pockets.
  • don't carry extra water beyond two water bottles.
  • knobby mountain bike tires aren't needed.
  • invest in clip peddles and shoes.
We communicated well with each other to problem solve obstacles, logistics and breaks when our bodies needed them. This is essential for all successful trips. 
We arrived in Georgetown on Sunday afternoon with sore muscles and butts but with smiles on our faces, hugs from our families and the best tasting smoothies from CycleLife. What is our next adventure? We are not sure but we are having withdrawal from our adventure and camaraderie!

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