The C&O Canal trail is a 185 mile trail that leads from Cumberland, Maryland to Washington D.C. The trail is an old mule towpath along the Canal that runs parallel to the Potomac River.
We went back and forth for a while about taking this trail. People told us it's "rough." The lure of its beauty ultimately made us decide to take it, and we also had to prove we're real bike tourers now and we don't need fancy rails to trails to be happy. We're rough.
It didn't take long on the trail before I felt like I was perpetually catching myself from falling down. Deep mud ruts had hardened in the afternoon sun and seemed to have more control over where our bikes went than we did. We camped at a free hiker/biker site for the night and planned on making tuna melts and tomato soup for dinner. The last time we had that meal was in Montana, and it rained during the meal. Sure enough, the rain came before we could melt anything and we ran to our tents. We were in our tents for 12 hours. It was pouring rain in the morning. From my tent I watched a couple groups of bikers shout sarcastic comments about the weather to us as they passed. "Great day for a ride." Once you're riding the rain is no big deal, but getting out of your tent and packing up when it's raining is harder than making a habit of flossing. Coffee made the morning better and soon enough we were shirtless and ready to face the rain.
The road was full of sticks and puddles. It always amazes me how people, even myself at times, put limitations on the capabilities of bikes. At 15 mph our bikes tore through the wet and the debris. Our day ended in Hancock, MD and a historic Presbyterian church took pity on us and treated us to a motel room. We also got to do laundry for the first time in two weeks.
The third day on the trail was a perfect day to ride your bike through the forest. We cruised along the Potomac and marveled at how fortunate we were. It this trail was a little easier to ride, I'm convinced it'd be one of the top trails in the U.S.
Our last day on the trail left us with around 70 miles to DC and lots of rain. What started with a little morning rain lead to a downpour and a flooded trail. We rode on. After 20 miles we stopped in the town of Brunswick for a coffee with our new trail friend Robin who was riding until the money ran out. She was in her late 50's. We decided to get off the trail and try our luck on the streets but we still had 10-15 miles of trail before we could do that. Those next 10-15 miles were, without exaggeration, some of the most intense riding I will likely ever do. We rode more on water than trail. Inches of water masked the potholes and twigs of the trail. Our tires squirmed and fishtailed in this mud patches. We rode on. At times the rain was so heavy it was like trying to open your eyes under water. We rode on, smashing through branches like they were twigs and managing to stay mostly upright.
We eventually found streets and rode another 35 miles into DC. We hosed ourselves and the bikes off leaving no trace of the morning fun and met up with our dear friends Erica and Matt. They comforted us with food and wine in their new home; our home for the next three days.