Monday, September 7, 2009

C&O Tow Path Part One: Paw Paws and Coyotes

It has been a busy week since I returned from my round trip up the C&O Canal Tow Path and I finally am getting to blog about it.

It was a great trip and I was blessed with great weather for most of it. I left Saturday morning at 7:45am. It was humid as hell but bearable. I sped down the Capital Crescent Trail from Silver Spring to meet up with the Tow Path in Georgetown. My mind was clear as I had 5 days of biking ahead of me. Something this father and husband wasn't going to take for granted.

It took me a few hours to acclimate to the LHT(yeah you know me) with a full load on it. The ride was very smooth but I had to remind myself not to get out of the saddle because the back end would sway from side to side. A couple of readers commented last week wondering about the unbalanced load on the LHT. I have no front racks so all of the weight was in the rear. Having never toured with a balanced load I don't have anything to compare it to. In the muddier sections of the trail the back end did slide out a few times but I'm not sure having the weight more evenly distributed would have made a difference.

So Saturday was pretty steamy and as I made my way up stream the forest thickened with broad leafed Paw Paw trees and it resembled more of a Costa Rican jungle than the C&O. I kept hydrated and plugged onward. Somewhere between Brunswick and Harper's Ferry I lucked upon a couple of freshly fallen Paw Paws in the middle of the trail.

The meat inside is juicy with large black seeds interspersed throughout. If you've never had one they closely resemble a mango but not as sweet.

For lunch I stopped at Beans in the Belfry, one of my favorite 'must stop' places, just off the trail in Brunswick MD. It's a cool coffee shop/cafe that has taken shape in a old church complete with stained glass and balcony.

That first day I managed 85 miles which landed me at the Killiansburg Cave hiker/biker campsite, mile 75. The designated site was right off the trail but there was plenty of space down by the water so I walked my bike down a slope to the water. This was one of two things I did that night for which I am thankful.

After setting up camp I set my dirty clothes on a branch to air out and went skinny dipping. I had a perfect bend of the Potomac to myself and I took full advantage. The water was warm and clear and deep enough to swim in. Skinny dipping is one of those 'good for the soul' activities that happen far too rarely in my life, especially after 85 miles in the saddle.

One of the problems with solo camping is that there is no one to split the workload with. Usually one person gets dinner going while the other gets the tent set upor looks for firewood. After cooking dinner and cleaning up I was ready to call it a night at around 8:30. Before hitting the sack, I took the pannier that had all my food in it, dropped it in a trash bag and hoisted it up a tree. This is the second thing I did that I am thankful for. I wasn't sure if there were black bear in the area and wanted to be safe.

Soon after my head hit the pillow a coyote let loose a wicked howl which sounded like it was in the tent with me. It turns out he was up on the trail about 75 feet away. I stayed awake for a little while listening to him/her howl and inspect before I drifted off. I guess because there was only one I wasn't too concerned. Sometime around 3am the coyote returned with a friend and they howled and chittered back and forth for a few minutes before I fell back to sleep. I had heard many times about coyotes moving south and east after being reintroduced to the Appalachians but had never encountered one personally. It was a pretty cool interaction, mainly because it didn't involve coyotes tearing through my gear or me running into the river at 3 am.

The morning was clear with a mist slowly drifting on the water. As the sun inched it's way down stream I packed up and continued west.

Click here for part two.
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Rat Trap Press said...

Awesome report and great pictures! I hope to be able to do a trip like that sometime soon.

Dad said...

Nice diary. I feel like I was there with you!

Gunnar Berg said...

Just great pictures and commentary.

I had a similar experience years ago solo backpacking in the BWCA...except it was timber wolves. Now THAT will get your attention!

Cycle Jerk said...

Thank is no joke! I have always wanted to do a trip up there. Timber wolves be damned.

camojack said...

The C&O is great!!! I've done the whole thing, some (most) sections more than once.

I wrote about finishing here...