On Saturday morning, Bill and I drove to Brunswick, Maryland for The Bike Lane Fall C&O Canal Trail Ride and joined about forty other cyclists who showed up for this very casual ride which was hosted by The Bike Lane. We rode along the C&O Canal towpath at our own paces to Shepherdstown, West Virginia where we stopped for a leisurely lunch before heading back to our cars, completing almost forty miles. And yes, of course we rode until we hit an even forty…
The History of the C&O Canal
The C&O Canal, completed in 1850, runs parallel to the Potomac River from DC 185 miles westward to Cumberland, MC with the towpath running between the two bodies of water. The canal was originally built to transport goods in both directions between DC and communities along the way to the Allegheny Mountains.
More modern methods of transporting goods made the need for the canal obsolete and today we are lucky to have a beautifully maintained trail that can be used by runners, hikers, bikers, and horseback riders.
Stalking the Weather Isn’t Just for Runners
During the week leading up to the event, we stalked the weather and it wasn’t until the night before that we made our final decision to go. The weather forecast had hinted all week long that there might be rain hitting the area just in time for the weekend. With limited rain gear for biking, I didn’t want to experience another washout on my bike like we had during the Bike NY Five Boro Bike Tour. Added to that, this ride would be on the C&O Canal Towpath, notorious for being a muddy mess after even the smallest amount of rain.
Saturday morning’s temperature was in the mid-50’s with it expected to rise to the mid-60’s by early afternoon, and more importantly, the most recent forecast showed very little chance of rain before late afternoon. Not bad for late October…
Fine-tuning What to Wear
My biking gear doesn’t even begin to rival the wide variety of my running gear and as a result, I’m not prepared for going out in all types of weather. So far I haven’t ridden in very cold temperatures so I don’t own long pants with a padded bottom. Fortunately, my legs rarely get cold so I could wear my bike shorts without a concern of shivering.
My two options for my top were either a long-sleeved jersey or a short-sleeved jersey under my bike jacket. The jacket seemed a little too heavy so I opted for the long-sleeved jersey.
Finally, my biggest concern was my fingers. Even when running, I need to wear gloves anytime the temperature falls below 50° and mittens over my gloves when it falls into the low 40’s and below. I ended up choosing my fingerless gloves over my new Gore thermo gloves (affiliate link) which are designed for temps under 40°.
I wasn’t 100% confident in my decision, but after the first half mile in both directions I was quite comfortable so I’d say I nailed it!
Marc Train Parking Lot
We arrived at the Marc Train parking lot at about 9:40 with plenty of time to get our bikes and gear together before the 10 AM start. Just before 10 AM, event organizer Russ pulled us all together to explain a little bit about what to expect. This was a ride, not a race, and everyone should ride at their own comfortable pace. His hopes for the group was that we would meet new friends during our ride, enjoy the beautiful scenery, and have lots of fun.
Just as Russ finished up his welcome speech, we heard the distant sound of a train horn just as bells near the track started ringing and the gates closed for the oncoming train. It looked like the start of our ride would be delayed by a few minutes!
Just a year ago, Bill and I attempted to ride on the C&O Canal Towpath, but the multiple sections where we attempted to gain access were blocked by several feet of water standing between the trail parking lots and the towpath. We later heard that the trail was in pretty bad shape as a result of the the flooding and that extensive repairs were in the works. The picture below taken last October is of the road access leading to the towpath.
As a result of the extensive flooding and damage to the towpath, we hadn’t returned to the trail until joining the C&O Canal Trail Ride on Saturday. We were pleasantly surprised at what incredible shape the trail is in now. The trail is packed hard with crushed gravel which feels more like riding on asphalt than on gravel; however, bike tires and the soles of running shoes still make a crunchy sound as they move across it making it feel so natural and peaceful.
Getting Our C&O Canal Trail Ride On
Once the train rolled westward, we crossed the tracks and made our way onto the C&O Canal Towpath. The leaves were mostly a mixture of greens and yellows, perhaps because the orange/red leafed trees hadn’t changed colors yet.
Early on, I dubbed one of the other riders the Hare from the Tortoise and the Hare because we passed him a few times while he was stopped taking pictures only to be overtaken by him shortly thereafter as he sped past. During lunch we chatted – his name is Edgar – and he graciously shared his photos with me.
Shortly after we started our ride, Edgar snapped this picture of the group and that just happens to be me on the right with Bill in front of me. As we rode westward, the Potomac River was on our left and the canal was on our right.
Tiny rapids on the Potomac…
Stone bridge pier remnants from an old bridge…
Looking westward toward a railroad bridge…
Looking back eastward after passing the railroad bridge…
Eventually, Bill pulled out his Go Pro (affiliate link) to capture some pictures as we rode along. We’d just stopped briefly and were riding hard to catch back up with the group we’d been riding with.
When we arrived across the Potomac River from Shepherdstown, WV, we exited the C&O Canal and climbed a steep path to the street above. Just before crossing the Potomac, Bill and I paused for a GoPro selfie.
Bill and I ordered chicken taco salads which were quite yummy. We squeezed eight people into at six-person table and enjoyed getting to know some of the other riders from the group. More riders flowed in during our time there as everyone was riding at their own paces.
After a leisurely lunch, we hopped on our bikes to make the 19.5-mile ride back to where we’d started in Brunswick, MD. After leaving Shepherdstown, we crossed back over the bridge which was the backdrop for our GoPro selfie. From the bridge, we rode the switchback trail down to the towpath which is only a few feet higher than the river level.
We stopped a few times on our return ride to take a few pictures. Here Bill caught Zephyr chillin’ by the Potomac.
He pulled out the GoPro again…
We also stopped to check out a section of the canal which was so green that at first glance it appeared to be overgrown with grass. I assumed it was algae, but based on this article, it is most likely a tiny aquatic plant called duckweed.
Even though we were headed east, I turned to take a picture looking westward because the Potomac River, towpath, and canal are all easily visible in this section making it easier to understand the layout of the C&O Canal.
Final Thoughts on The Bike Lane Fall C&O Canal Trail Ride
Bill and I both had a really enjoyable time and enjoyed meeting other cyclists during our relaxing ride. Thank you Russ and The Bike Lane for organizing the event! Even though this ride only happens in the fall, there’s no reason Bill and I can’t do it any time of the year when the urge to enjoy the scenery along the C&O Canal (or lunch at Maria’s Taqueria) hits us.
- • Have you gone on any organized bike rides?
- • Have you visited the C&O Canal Towpath?
- • If you don’t live in the DMV area, do you have a similar wooded trail near you?
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