Sweet Onion Cyclists trip on the W&OD & the C&O Canal Trails

On Saturday, May 24, Tom Hutcheson, David Cheney and I drove up to Arlington, Virginia. Sunday morning was overcast and lightly raining but we didnít let that dampen our spirits as we got on our bikes and hit the Washington & Old Dominion Regional Park (rail trail), and headed west. We were awed by the beauty of this 45 mile long linear park. It was busy with people out for a stroll, roller bladers, runners, bicyclists and others, but was not over-crowded. For the first few miles both sides of the trail was like a giant playground with tennis and basketball courts, football, soccer and baseball fields, picnic areas, nature trails, swings, slides, and of course people enjoying it all. The scenery changed to beautifully landscaped homes along the trail. Other than intersections, we rode quietly with no cars to worry about.

We stopped at a McDonalds near the trail for lunch and watched a tremendous downpour of rain as we ate. We unanimously thanked God for the timing. The hard rain passed and we continued on the W&OD as far as Ashburn (about 30 miles out) where we turned around and headed back to our hotel.

We rode at our separate paces on the way back. David was more than an hour behind when he came in telling what Tom & I thought were greatly exaggerated tales of wind, rain water up to his bikeís bottom bracket, and almost getting hit by tree limbs and stuff. Tom and I busted out laughing when the next morningís TV and newspaper headlines were all about this very rare tornado touching down in Arlington at the time David was out on the trail! We apologized for not believing him.

Monday we rode the W&OD and Four Mile Run Trail to the Mt. Vernon Trail, and then left the trails for some sightseeing in Washington DC. We rode home a different route, going up the Mt. Vernon Trail to the Custis Trail, back to the W&OD. We got lost once and found ourselves on a busy interstate highway clover leaf, riding against the traffic, and walking our bikes down steep embankments to get on the trail. I really enjoyed riding the Custis Trail, with its many hills and curves, very unlike the rail trails.

Tuesday, Tom and I drove to Cumberland, MD, the terminus of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. I dropped Tom and our bikes off and drove to Harpers Ferry, WV and took Amtrak back to Cumberland. Wednesday morning Tom and I rode the towpath along the canal, to Paw Paw, WV (28 miles), Thursday to Williamsport, MD (58 miles) and Friday to Harpers Ferry (40 miles plus a 4 mile detour). It was a beautiful 126-mile ride in the forest, on hard packed dirt and fine gravel surfaces. The canal was usually on our left, and the Potomac River was often within view on our right. At some points the towpath was on a mere strip of land about 30 feet wide, with water on both sides. Some of the canal was dry and had almost disappeared into the forest, but much of it had natural water in it, and some of it had been dammed by beavers forming ponds and lakes. Since the canal has not been used since 1924, the trees between the towpath and the canal are fully grown, as are the trees on the river side of the towpath, thus keeping the trail in near total shade, with only streaks of warm sunlight reaching the ground. The sunny spots were welcomed because the temperature for our 3-day journey was in the low 50's early in the morning, with highs near 70.

Tom on the towpath at the entrance of the Paw Paw Tunnel

The C&O Canal is a National Historic Park, 184.5 miles long, along the Potomoc River, from Georgetown in Washington DC, to Cumberland, Maryland. 

One of the most striking architectural aspects of the canal were the numerous streams the canal crossed over. It was a water way crossing over water! 

And then there was the Paw Paw Tunnel, shown at left, where for 3,100 feet the canal and the towpath go through a mountain. We tried to ride through, but with no headlights on our bikes, it was simply too dark to ride the dirt towpath with a handrail on one side and the brick lined tunnel wall about 36 inches away. 

More info: C&O Canal