Last fall my wife and I made a big purchase. We bought two Aventon Pace 500 e-bikes from Biketek in Pittsbugh. Since then, we’ve put on about 400 miles. But we’d never taken them somewhere overnight until now. We had also done just about all of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) bike trail from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, but we had never ventured onto the sister trail leading from Cumberland to Washington, DC, the C&O Canal Towpath. So we figured it was high time to tackle both of these tasks.
We looked at the trail and decided that the stretch from Williamsport, MD to Harper’s Ferry would be a good choice. For one thing, it was right at the 40 mile range of our e-bikes. Secondly, it looked like a really nice stretch of trail. We would drive to Williamsport, park our car, then bike to Harper’s Ferry. The next day we would bike back. Put the bikes back on the car, and head home. Easy peasy.
Now it’s about 160 miles from our house to Williamsport, so we left about 3 hours early. We got to Williamsport and parked in the brand, spanking, new C&O trail headquarters. I actually called ahead to make sure it was ok to park there overnight. I got hold of Donnie Stotelmyer who was the King of Williamsport from what I could gather, who assured me that parking there would be ok.
Next, it became important to find a place to stay in Harper’s Ferry. A bunch of searching led me to the Ledgehouse B&B. It is way up on the hill. Of course everything in Harper’s Ferry is way up on the hill. There is a tiny section of town that is along the river, but that is all part of the National Park. People live (and bikers stay) straight up. Still, this place came highly recommended, and was said to have a great breakfast.
So off to Williamsport. On Donnie’s advice, we parked in the “new” lot. And when we pulled in, a helpful neighbor stopped by and assured us that our car would be “observed”. Off we went onto the C&O trail. Now as grizzled veterans of the GAP, we were a bit put off by the shape of the trail. Instead of nice “paved” crushed limestone, we found ourselves on a cart path with a healthy growth of grass between the wheel tracks.
2. Big Slackwater
Little did we know, but we were actually on one of the coolest sections of the C&O. Not long after leaving Williamsport, we were on a paved sidewalk-type path right along the shore of the Potomac. One could only guess that the trail there was so difficult to maintain that the just up and paved it. Denise was a bit concerned about the drop off the side to the river, but we managed through it ok. Also, the paving was intermittent which resulted in mud wallows whenever the trail went from paved to dirt. So beware.
Just after this stretch was the Big Slackwater section right before a dam. Turns out that this is the “heart” of the C&O trail. Lots of cool stuff to see, and a good place to stop for a drink.
Next we came to Antietam Battlefield, site of one of the largest battles of the Civil War. But we were hungry, so we just zipped on by.
We were pretty much starving by now and needed to stop for lunch. A helpful fellow biker told us of a path that switch-backed up to the bridge to Shepherdstown, WV. What a nice little college town this is. We found this wonderful place called the Blue Moon Cafe. Not only did they have a great spread for lunch, but they put us at a table close to an electrical outlet that allowed us to top-off our batteries. So after lunch, it was off to Harper’s Ferry.
All trails tend to place mile markers so that you can gage your progress. As devout Pittsburgh Penguin fans, it is necessary for us to stop and reflect on how the hockey gods have blessed us every time we pass mile marker 66, which of course, is the now-retired jersey number of the best player of all time, Mario Lemieux.
4. Harpers Ferry
The trail from Shepherdtown to Harper’s Ferry was considerably better. Some kind of crushed stone, maybe not up to our GAP standards, but still very nice after a dirt trail. At long last we pulled into Harper’s Ferry. But that was on the other side of a railway bridge. So we had to navigate a winding stairway about 50 ft up to the railway. I took my loaded ebike up first. And it damn near killed me. Then as I was catching my breath at the top and starting down the stairs, up cam a young guy who was carrying my wife’s bike up. I can only guess it was her pretty face (and not the specter of me struggling up with my bike) that turned him into a Good Samaritan. At any rate, the other side of the bridge is a nice sloped ramp with no stairs.
Our bikes have a 40-mile range, and we were at about 42 miles. So the trip up the hill was pretty much a push up the hill. However, we got to the Ledgehouse and it was all it was cracked up to be. It actually had a wonderful housekeeper, Annie, who saw to our every needs, and a nice two-room suite with a bath and a balcony that looked out over the Potomac and Shenandoah. And the breakfast was divine.
Harpers Ferry is super-historic. It’s where John Brown led his insurrection before the Civil War. It was highly strategic during the war, being at the confluence of the Shenandoah and the Potomac.
Now, when you decide to stay in Harper’s Ferry, you have to be aware that they basically roll up the sidewalks at 7:00. As it was 6:30, and we were utterly exhausted, we decided not to run back down the hill to try to find a place for dinner. Instead, our excellent hostess Annie suggested that we walk further UP the hill to a place called The Barn where they were likely to have Irish folk music. So we raided the fridge at the B&B and walked up a serious hill to the Barn. We had a wonderful time. The music was great, and we had free popcorn!
The lack of dinner didn’t hurt us much as we (well I) could probably benefit by missing a few. The breakfast was wonderful. Eggs, bacon, sausage, fruit, and scones. Annie is a wonderful hostess. And the batteries charged just fine overnight.
And now it was time to head back. Across the bridge, and the way down the stairs was not as taxing. Then back on the trail to Williamsport. I worry that jut like where we happen live on the GAP (Boston to Buena Vista), this might be the best part of the C&O trail, but so be it. It was a wonderful time, and we got a chance to put our ebikes through their paces.
I know a lot of you have just buzzed through this section of the trail on your way from Pittsburgh to DC in six days, but I must say it was very nice for us 40-milers. Makes me want to try other sections of the C&O in the future. Any suggestions from you seasoned vets would be appreciated.
And, as I approach my retirement after 40-some years as a nuclear engineer, this looks like a great way for my wife and me to spend time together.
Tips Learned About Long Distance Ebiking
- 40 miles is just as hard on your bottom on an ebike as on a regular bike. Bring the bike pants (I did not)
- Bring both battery chargers incase one doesn’t work. Our bikes charge in about 4 hours, so you can get them both charged easily overnight
- Bring enough water. You see a lot of people on the message boards tell you this, so take heed. There are long stretches with no access
- Stop often and see the sights. I know some of you have to get your miles in, but the two days we were biking we had great weather and really enjoyed the trail
- Have fun. That’s what it’s about.
Day Tripping With Rick
This is absolutely not related to our bike trip. We had the Alexa on while in the pool and the Guess Who just came on with American Woman.
My oldest is about 38 years old, and I remember being in the car with her when she was about 10 and having “American Woman” come on the radio. I would ask her, “Guess Who sings this”. She would respond, “Who?”. I would say, “No, Guess Who”. She would say more insistently, “WHO?”. I’d say, “Nope. Guess Who.” She’d reply, “I DON’T KNOW!!!”. And I’d say, “Third base”.
Every time. Probably pulled this gag off 10 times. Try it with your own kids.