Biking from Pittsburgh to Leesburg | Day 4 and 5
July 29, 2009
On day 4, we awoke in Frostberg and continued on our way, knowing that very soon we would be leaving the Allegheny Passage and getting on the C&O Canal path. The two paths “connect” in Cumberland, Maryland, so it seemed to be the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat and to load up on groceries for the next couple of days.
The C&O Canal path is very different from the Allegheny Passage. Being a tow path, it runs next to the canal, making the trail muggy and mosquito heaven. The canal fluctuates between being completely dry and overgrown and full of water and fish life and even though one would think that the views would be the same the whole way down and be boring, it was quite the opposite. Or maybe I just have a high tolerance for lots of greenery…
Along the path are lock houses, all marked on the map. Some are restored and open to the public, on certain days (not any day we were there, though). I’ve been in locks before but was blown away at the wooden ones that are still on the canal. Can you just imagine what the canal was like, back when it was actually in use?
Of course, the C&O Canal never really had a proper hey day. By the time it was built up to Cumberland, MD, the railroad had already been there for 8 years, making the use of a canal system antiquated. The Canal was originally supposed to continue onwards past Cumberland and into Ohio, but that leg of the plan was scrapped at this point. Learning this broke my heart. I couldn’t help but think of all the back breaking labor that went into building the canal and the tow path, including the tunnels through mountains and locks. The frustration and sadness that must have been felt when these people learned that their efforts were in vain. According to the C&O Canal Association, there was a plan, in the 1950s, to bulldoze the canal to build a highway into the mountains. I am so thankful to the efforts of the Association in stopping that plan from developing, and saving the C&O.
The night of Day 4 we stayed at the campsite at Purslane. A hiker biker site, it was free, but unfortunately mosquito headquarters. Since those little critters love me, after dinner I dove into my tent and didn’t come out until morning.
Frostberg –> Purslane = 45.1 miles
Day 5 we continued on the path, knowing that we would be entering a pretty sweet tunnel later on. The Paw Paw Tunnel is a famed location, and the pride of the area around the C&O in this section. Remember the previous tunnels we went through? Well, the Paw Paw is nothing like it. There are no lights. There is a canal to your right. There is only a thin wooden railing at the edge of the bumpy dirt path. It is scary!
Kasy had his headlights, but also had some trouble. I stayed close behind him so that I could benefit from his LED lights. When we got to the middle of this 3,118 foot tunnel, you really couldn’t see a thing. Nothing like the Paw Paw. If you plan on going to this section of the C&O, I would recommend having some sort of lighting system with you, whether it be a flashlight for walking, or a headlamp, or something.
In hopes of avoiding another mosquito situation, we opted to stay at the McCoy’s Ferry site, since it was better maintained than the hiker biker site nearby (cost $10 for the site, as opposed to the hiker biker site which was free). When we got to camp, we set up and pulled out the tarps, knowing that rain was coming our way.
Little did we know was how much rain that was really going to be…
Purslane –> McCoy’s Ferry = 48.7mi