Saturday, September 27, 2014

C&O Canal Bike Ride - Paw Paw to Little Orleans

This weekend I went for an excellent bike ride on the C&O Canal tow path from Paw Paw down to Little Orleans and back.  The weather was excellent - mid 60s and sunny.  Most of the path was under the shade of trees.  It was just under a 2 hour drive from Ashburn out to Paw Paw, WV.  We stopped there at the Liberty Gas station just before the bridge over the Potomac River to use the facilities and get a few bottles of water.  Then we headed across the bridge to park at the camping area parking lot just south of the Paw Paw Tunnel.

The Paw Paw Tunnel was simply amazing.  Digging this tunnel saved them from having to follow 5 miles of winding turns on the Potomac River.  The tunnel was finished in 1850, and I am in awe of the guys who dug this 3,100 foot tunnel with the technology they had back then.  They hand-laid brick through the entire tunnel.  The canal through the tunnel is still full of water, and there is a narrow walkway on the side where the donkeys used to walk, pulling the barges alongside them. 

The trail is a little bumpy and had puddles in spots.  Plus it was absolutely pitch black in the middle of the tunnel and the headlight on my bike didn't reach very far in front of us, so we walked our bikes through the tunnel.

There are disks like this that mark every 100 feet along the inside of the tunnel.  This was the last marker at the north end of the tunnel marking 3,116.67 feet.

After coming out of the tunnel, the canal and tow path go down a gully with pretty steep walls on either side and down a rapid series of 3 locks to get down to the level of the river again.  Most of the path along the river was a very gradual slope and not at all difficult to ride in the "uphill" direction.  The only time on this ride I felt was a little strenuous was when we had to ride back up this gully along the rapid series of locks leading to the tunnel.

The path out here was a little bumpier than the previous sections I've ridden closer to DC, and there were much fewer people along the trail, too.  Oh, and there was ZERO cell phone coverage for our entire ride.  Yes, yes, that can be a good thing, but if you want to be able to give your family an update where you are or what time you'll be home, don't plan on using your cell phone to do it.  Better bring a courier pigeon or light a fire to send a smoke signal.

The scenery along this portion of the C&O Canal tow path was similar to the other sections I've ridden.  We saw deer, turtles, toads, ducks, geese, butterflies, along with the remnants of the canal locks.  Out here there are only the stone foundations of the lock houses unlike closer in where you can see the lock houses between Point of Rocks and DC.

We stopped in Little Orleans, MD for lunch.  There is one place in town - Bill's Place.  It's a restaurant, wait... no... it's THE restaurant, the General Store, the city hall, the mayor's office, the post office, the chamber of commerce, the arcade, and the only place of just about any type of business for miles around.  It was originally built alongside the C&O Canal in the 1800's and had a crane for loading and unloading materials from the barges on the canal.  I love finding local, unique, hole-in-the-wall type places like this to eat and experience the local flavors and atmosphere.  I asked the guy behind the counter what on the menu was a local favorite.  He laughed and said, "EVERYTHING on the menu is a local favorite on account of this being the ONLY place in town or for MILES around!"  We enjoyed our lunch there and then headed back up the trail to Paw Paw.

All in all, we rode about 31 miles with only about 150 feet of elevation gain.  It took us 2 hour 30 minutes to ride from Paw Paw down to Little Orleans.  Riding back from lunch only took us 2 hours 18 minutes.  I suspect the reason it was quicker coming back was because we spent more time stopping to look at the tunnel and the locks and scenery. 

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