Matthias McMahon from Washington DC on 03/15/2019 10:24 AM
Ride is complete, and what a journey it was. For those curious, the trail was a challenge this time of year. Keep reading for details.
One thing to consider, spring is cold, but summer has the possibility of extream rain too.
I took off from the Air BnB at 7:30, stopped off at a coffee shop in town, and grabbed 3 shots of espresso with a splash of foam. I was already about an hour behind schedule, and I hadn’t even gone a mile. Once on the trail though, I felt great. Conditions were perfect. Cold, but I had a good amount of layers on. The day before, I ventured to Cycles and Things, and was warned about some sharp rocks that cover the right side of the trail. The gentleman told me that this was just before Oldtown, right as the river disappears and the trail turns left. I found his advice to stay left very helpful. Repairing a flat with tubeless tires was not something I wanted to do.
Other than that, the trail conditions for the first 15 miles or so were great. I was averaging about 10mph, which was my goal. After about 15 miles though, the trail started to show signs of limited use from winter. While dry, there were a ton of little sticks all over. Every mile or so, one would get caught in my wheel, brakes, or worse yet, my fenders. A few times, the sticks would get jammed with such force that they would rip the emergency release off, causing the fenders to rub against the wheel. Either way, these stuck sticks required a quick stop, removal,, and then a push to get the 100 lb steed going again.. For anyone who rides in traffic, you will know that stop signs and traffic lights are a huge momentum killer, and cause a ton of “wasted energy”. These excessive stick stops required me to get the 100lb bike moving again, which drained me to no end.
At about mile 25, a tree branch actually broke my emergency release on my fender. I needed to reattach the fender with a dip tie (or remove the fenders altogether, which I did not want to do).
The Paw Paw tunnel was open (they are planning on closing it soon though for phase 2 repairs), and was a huge moral boost for me. Such an incredible piece of engineering. Once emerging on the other side though, be careful again of sharp rocks that may be stuck in the boardwalk like knife blades. Thankfully my tires were tough enough to not get sliced, but thin road or cross tires might have issues.
3 miles after the tunnel, and 35 miles from Cumberland, a giant tree lay across the trail. This seemed like a good place to stop and have lunch. In order to cross this barrier, I needed to take all my panniers of the bike, lift it over, and then gear back up.
There were about 3 more tree crossings, and plenty more stick issues all the way to Handcock, MD. I was averaging about 6mph for this ride, thanks entirely to the debris all over the trail. I had hoped to camp somewhere near Williamsport, and while I think if the trail were pristine this would be possible, I was 20 miles short, and setting up camp at Licking Creek.
Day 2 trail started out much better. I was able to bike all the way to Williamsport without any issues, making great time too. Spirits were high, and I was considering making it a 120mile day, still finishing in 2 days, I kept this mindset for hours. Once at Williamsport, I filled up all my water bottles, and hit the trail again. Still making good time, and enjoying the trail, I figured I would be home around 10pm. Yes, that’s a long day in the saddle, but I was motivated. This all changed about 12 miles past Williamsport near Big Slackwater. A Detour sign warning of “falling rock” seemed like a recommendation to me. I continued along the trail. This is where the mud began. What’s worse, sticks causing a complete stop and start, or mud with a 100lb bike on 650b 47mm tires. Talk about energy waster. About 1 mile after the detour sign, I could see why. Apparently the trail washout is common here, and it is also completely impassible (unless you are willing to swim). Backtracking time. The detour signs led me up a steep hill, through an abandoned farm, and up and down small county roads. After a few miles and not seeing detour signs anymore, I looked at my map and decided to head down Avery Mill lane to the trail again. Once there, I had lunch in front of McMahon Mill (appropriately named, and no known relation).
The next portion of trail is cement “boardwalk” and is pretty easy going, except for all the mud. Still tons of mud. From the detour sign, there were about 15 miles of clear trail followed by thick mud. Again, slowing me down, and making me doubt I would be able to complete the ride without an additional day. These conditions continued (great to horrible) all the way to Snyder’s Landing, causing me to make about 8mph. Once past Snyder’s Landing though, I picked up the pace to around 11mph. As I approached Harpers Ferry around 6pm, I began to realize that completing another 60 miles would be a tall order. I knew there was a big washout about 10 miles ahead. My goal was to cross the Brunswick washout before dark, and then set up camp at the next campsite.
I got to the washout at about 7pm. For anyone thinking this washout is going to be easy to cross, think again. The washout gap is about 50 feet, below and to the right is rushing water and to the left is a congested portion of train track supporting CSX, MARC, and Amtrak. Crossing to the right through the water would be hard (though doable), and crossing to the left across the track would be illegal. I would never break the law, and also would never encourage anyone else to. I was able to cross the gap though, because where there is a will, there is a way.
I set up camp just after the washout, and had completed 70 miles again. With only 50 miles remaining, Day 3 started off great. I was averaging 13 mph. No sticks or mud. This last section of trail was obviously the best cared for. I even saw construction workers after Whites Ferry laying new gravel down. Biking was smooth, fun, and the finish line was near. I took a nice long lunch break at Swains Lock. The trail was getting congested by day hikers, bird watchers, and everyone else out to enjoy the beautiful spring weather.
Back on the bike, the remaining 17 miles were clear. I opted to stay on the Tow Path when provided the option of joining the paved Capital Crescent trail. Once in Georgetown though, I was forced to ditch the trail for some city streets. Finally though, I found the other end.
Recommendations for anyone doing the ride, bring tons of water because most of the water sources are turned off until May. Bring warm cola thing, weather conditions ranged from 22-68 degrees during my 3 day journey. Be patient, and remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said... “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”. What was supposed to be 2 days turned into 3. I am thankful my job was supportive of my ride, and allowed me the extra time needed.