June 9 and 10 - Days 5 and 6
Day five was what hikers call a Zero Day; no miles. A visit with Đại úy’s family south of Cumberland was a welcome relief from Trail accommodations; real beds and no hastening to repack and move on. Oh . . . and food! It’s pretty difficult to eat too much when you spend hours pedaling, but Aunt Mary got pretty close to topping off the tanks with her culinary offerings while Uncle Ronnie offered his gentle, sage observations.
Back in Cumberland on Day six the journey changed significantly as the Trail traveled along the former towpath of the C & O Canal. Weekend traffic, both foot and wheeled, contrasted with the GAP as did the nature of the Trail’s surface. Where the GAP was primarily hard-packed and wide, C&O which is pretty much flat, varied from packed and rutted to parallel single tracks to muddy to being basically more technical and requiring greater attention to avoid mishaps.
Visually, the C&O was very different. Vistas and mountains were replaced by the ever present Potomac to the right and the canal to the left and for many miles after leaving Cumberland man’s presence was obvious even in the size of trees and depth of forest along with the first of more than seventy locks we’d pass before reaching DC. Unlike the GAP, pumps provide water at frequent intervals, a very good thing, but iodine used to treat the water adds an odd taste and a potential problem for anyone with thyroid problems. Associated with the pumps are Hiker Biker Campsites; primitive, wooded, grassy spaces, fire ring, grill and picnic table.
|Đại úy demonstrating his skill.|
Locks came in various states of repair and many offered appealing Kodak Moments.
|Grooves on aquaduct made walking a better option than riding.|
|Lock with intact gates|
After Big Savage and Brush Tunnels (remember, “Keep Left Of Fence”), Paw Paw Tunnel could have been a disappointment, but it wasn’t! More than 3000 feet of canal and towpath through a mountain? Took almost fifteen years to complete and the result is pretty damn remarkable.
|Paw Paw Tunnel|
|Big tunnel. Small towpath.|
One significant difference between GAP and C&O is the way communities along GAP have embraced it. Locating services after leaving Cumberland can be frustrating even when being told “y’ can’t miss it”. Even when finding “y’ find it” the discovery can be a mixture of odd, interesting and frustrating. Little Orleans was like that. After 47 miles it was time to seek shelter for the night and food. So far C&O had not been the nightmare some people had depicted, nor had it been a walk-in-the-park. Bill’s Place is located in the small settlement a short distance off the Trail and up a hill, as many things are along both GAP and C&O. Reviews and opinions about Bill’s Place varied widely, but most suggested it was a must-visit place.
Bill’s Place is now SOB’s Place, meaning Son-of-Bill, since Bill died in 2013. Clientele was mix of bike riders and locals. A corner of the single large are held typical camp store fare, the central area had adequate seating for twenty or thirty people at assorted tables and an L-shaped bar dominated the area just inside the entrance; just a typical rural gathering place that happened to be close to a hiker biker trail. Đại úy chose a ham and cheese sandwich from the basic menu, but added Maryland Crab Soup. NCOIC opted for a burger. The food was above average and according to Dai uy, the soup which he said was more like a chowder was excellent.
|Posing at Bill's Place|
|Bikers, Hikers, Canoers, Hunters, et cetera|
Directions were given to Little Orleans Campground with the caution that there’s a hill. There was. There were; one steep downhill that would be negotiated uphill the following morning and one serious uphill that kicked both the Đại úy’s and NCOIC’s asses. The directions to the campground had said “.6 miles from trail.” Point five was vertical! Fortunately, the campground was pleasant and quiet and had adequate shower and laundry facilities. The NCOIC’s choice of tent site ran a bit too much downhill, but there was no problem sleeping.
Day 6 was physically demanding because of the nature of the C&O and the need to navigate obstacles and other people, but it was a good start.