Five days on the bike, 243 miles of riding, all kinds of weather and terrain. Through rain, farmlands, and mountain passes.
Day 5: Harpers Ferry, WV to Washington, DC
Our fifth day of riding was a lovely, mostly sunny day of riding back to DC via the C&O Canal towpath from Harpers Ferry. A night of restful sleep and a great waffle breakfast at the Teahorse Hostel completely refreshed us, so even after four days of riding we were ready for more. We chatted with the hostel owner, Laurel, and two Appalachian Trail hikers who had also stayed the night. They were headed in different directions on the AT with very different hiking styles.
Along the way, I found that bicycle speed is the perfect pace at which to notice flora and fauna, start up conversations with new people, and feel the sun warming up the land. We paused at one of the lockhouses on the canal and met a volunteer named Bud who offered to show us the interior of one of the restored lockhouses further down the trail that he was checking up on. The three of us continued down the trail and had the opportunity to look inside the lockhouse, which would be fun to rent for an overnight stay (it’s $70-100/night for up to eight people). The house was very basic – you have to carry in everything you need, including water – but has two bedrooms that can easily accommodate eight. It does a good job of evoking the feeling of a bygone time.
We talked with Bud for a little while before starting off down the trail again. Soon enough, we were stopped again to chat with an older man who was curious about where we were headed and where we were coming from. He said he had done a lot of bike touring in his day and sent us off with a cyclist creed: “For every uphill there is a downhill, but for every headwind there is another headwind.”
The rest of the ride back into Washington, DC via the C&O was pleasant and had pockets of sunlight to warm us up enough. We were both feeling tired of trail-riding by the last 10 or 15 miles, but soon were back into the city with all its familiar traffic (rush hour on L Street isn’t pretty). Happened to run into Chris on our way in and then stopped to visit a friend at a nearby coffee shop. Nice to see familiar faces!
We had a wonderful trip overall, and it was refreshing to get out of the city for awhile. Bike touring can be very affordable: no rising gas prices to worry about, free lodging if you already have camping equipment (the C&O Canal hiker/biker sites are free), and plenty of time to stop whenever you like. Most of our meals were made on the road, and as cyclists we also had to snack constantly. We had a good idea of what we didn’t need to bring, though we didn’t overpack too badly. If we tent camped more it would have been more worthwhile to haul the camping equipment, but low nighttime temperatures drove us to seek indoors shelter more often on this trip.
A few takeaways if you’re considering a bike touring trip:
- Wear more sunblock. It’s easy to forget on cloudy days.
- If wearing cycling shoes, it’s worth it to take a pair of off-bike shoes. After a long day of riding, throwing on comfy sneakers can be the best feeling in the world.
Never run out of snacks. Salty snacks especially. And eat lots of peanut butter. You can never really eat too much if you’re riding your bike all day. You can drink too much, though: beer hits you harder after a day of riding.
- Talk to everybody you meet, even when you think you don’t have the time. Plans were meant to be changed.