Not only did I survive bike camping, I had a blast! The weather was rainy and humid, but not hot, the towpath was lovely and empty of almost anyone else, the miles flew by, and we are still talking to each other.
First, a quick recap of our travels: We unloaded and packed the bikes Saturday evening in Shepherdstown, WV, then biked across the river to the C&O Canal Towpath, and up 2 miles to our first campsite. The next day we biked back into Shepherdstown the next morning to stop at the bakery and farmers’ market, then back again to the towpath. We camped at mile 30, then on Day 3 we made it all the way back to Arlington and home.
The campsites were nothing like I expected. I grew up camping in national and state parks in California, so the narrow spots along the side of the towpath were not what I envisioned as campsites. But each one had a porta-potty, a water pump with iodine-ized water, a picnic table, and a fire pit and/or grill. There was little privacy from the trail, but there were also few people.
Although it was great to have water pumps at each campsite along the way, I was less than thrilled with the water itself. Yes, showing my city girl roots! Sure, all the pump water was treated with iodine, but it also made our water look orange.
The porta-potties, well, the less said about those, the better.
The scenery was gorgeous. It drizzled most of Sunday afternoon, the first full day of biking, and I wore my fluorescent cycling jacket over my pink tee-shirt and skirt. It was really too hot to wear it, but I didn’t want to get that wet, so I suffered, but it beat the giant poncho! The rain drops on the river were pretty though, and I think it kept people off the trail.
It was hard to resist stopping at every lock and every scenic spot on the first day, so I have a ton of photos of locks and lock houses (which can be rented). We therefore didn’t get quite as far as we’d planned the first day.
There were some wildlife spottings, although not as many as I’d hoped.
I was very happy with what I had ended up packing, especially my shoes and skirt. The shoes are GoLite hiking shoes I just bought in Bar Harbor this summer but had yet to wear. The knobby hiking bumps worked great in my pedals, hooked right into them, almost like cleats. They are filthy now, considering all the mud and dirt we rode through, but that’s what they were for! The skirt I wore over my padded bike shorts on the first full day was the most comfortable thing I had. The cargo shorts I wore the second day, although handy with pockets, were too big and baggy and I wasn’t happy or as comfortable. Think it’s time for a new skirt!
We hadn’t really had a chance to compare supplies, and it turns out that we could have taken more gear (mostly kitchen type stuff), and we ate most of our food. The towpath was a trash-free trail, so we had to pack our garbage out, which I hadn’t planned on. Luckily I always pack extra ziplock bags! The second night we had a lovely dinner, complete with wine, as it started raining.
There was only one major problem, and it wasn’t even that major – due to construction around Great Falls, there was a detour – over the canal. A bridge, over the canal. There was a bike rail on the staircase, but it still was not easy to push the bikes up the stairs.
That detour set us back a bit time-wise, as did my decision to head home over Chain Bridge, instead of going all the way into Georgetown and crossing the Key Bridge into Rosslyn. I had no idea that Arlington was sooooo hilly around there – I ended up walking my bike most of the hills because my legs were so tired. It’s funny – the miles flew by on the trail, but once we hit the hills, I realized how spoiled we had been with a flat, ever-so-slight decline trail.
All in all, we learned some lessons (pack more food! Bring a small cutting mat! Nylon sleeping bags are gross in the humidity! Camping under the flight path to Dulles Airport is noisy!), but came out unscathed. I’m already making my list of supplies for the next trip, and trying to figure out where we can go that is as pretty and isolated. Maybe the rest of the towpath, all the way to the western end?