As we left Cumberland last week, we had a pretty good idea what we were getting ourselves into: sixty miles of dusty trail as we made our way to Hancock! In spite of thirty pounds of clothing, food, and biking gear in each pannier, we knew that we would need a little help from our friends to reach our motel in Hancock. The temperatures were in the mid-nineties, and there are only so many places to stuff multiple bottles of water in a saddlebag, and while prunes, nuts, and crackers are great snacks, it’s nice to have a plate of food or a sandwich at some point.
As food goes, the School House Kitchen in Oldtown (17 miles from Cumberland) offers good home cookin’ all day long and is a great spot for a late breakfast or brunch. They also have a drink cooler for replenishing one’s water supply. True, there are water pumps along the way, and I’ll get to that later, but for those who don’t like the taste of sulfur, a few extra bottles of water is always a plus.
Heading out of Oldtown (mm 167), there aren’t any watering holes (other than the pumps) on the Maryland side of the river until one reaches Bill’s Place in Little Orleans (mm 140). For the unprepared, that can make for a 27 mile dry spell! The one possible exception is to cross the Potomac River into Paw Paw near mile marker 156 (Maryland Route 51). There will be a small restaurant and a convenience store about a quarter-mile past the West Virginia side of the bridge. For those who dare to drink from the pumps, they’re available at the hiker/biker campsites along the way–just be sure to bring a bottle of Mio or a box of Crystal Lite packets! Overnight campsites, pay sites, and picnic areas between Cumberland and Hancock are as follows: Evitts Creek (180.1), North Branch (175.5), Iron Mountain (175.4), Spring Gap (173.3), Pigmans Ferry (169.1). Oldtown (166.7), Potomac Forks (164.8), Town Creek (162.1), Purslane Run (157.4), Paw Paw Tunnel (156.0), Sorrel Ridge (154.1), Stickpile Hill (149.4), Devils Alley (146.8), Fifteen Mile Creek (140.9), Indigo Neck (139.2), Cacapon Junction (133.6), and Leopards Mill (129.9).
Bill’s Place in Little Orleans is a great place to stock up on water, and they also offer a nice variety of food and snacks, including Maryland crab soup, breaded cauliflower, steaks, and sandwiches. I would also encourage hikers and bikers to ask if they can get rid of empty water bottles and other garbage at any business establishment. The C&O is a trash-free park, and there aren’t going to be any trash cans along the towpath. I’ve rolled into my destination with way too many empty water bottles and granola bar wrappers more than once, and the idea is to slowly empty the pannier as the trip progresses–not fill it up with garbage.
Near mile marker 136 (Pearre Station), many riders will be faced with a dilemma. A left at Lock House 56 leads to the terminus of the Western Maryland Rail Trail. Before my first through-ride, I met a pair of riders at Great Falls who regretted the fact that they “cheated” by taking the WMRT into Hancock instead of staying on the towpath. Personally, I don’t think anybody can cheat on a 184.5 mile bike ride, so the choice is yours. It’s about eleven miles into Hancock either way.
For those riding the C&O Canal towpath in three days, Hancock is a place that has many options. If there are any equipment problems, C&O Bicycle offers repair services. I’ve been lucky so far, but people I’ve ridden with have had four tires replaced to date. The bike shop also offers lodging in its bunkhouse and drinks and snacks. However, Hancock isn’t lacking in good places to eat. In a previous post, I’ve had nothing but good things to say about the Potomac River Grill (near the Rt. 522 bridge) , but Weaver’s and Park-n-Dine are also very good. Both are located along the main drag, which eventually turns into an entrance ramp for I-70. Immediately before hitting the interstate, Blue Goose Fruit Market and Bakery has a wide variety of pies to choose from. After eating, it will be time to relax and prepare for another day on the trail, and Hancock has two motels to choose from. America’s Best Value Inn and Super-8 Motel are both right off of Route 522, and each is a short distance from the towpath In all, it should be a fun day on the trail!
I’ll leave you with a few possible essentials:
Deep Woods Off: Parts of the canal are swampy, and the mosquitoes can be pretty bad.
Gold Bond Friction Defense: Jimmy Bond isn’t lying–this stuff works!
184 Miles of Adventure: Hikers Guide to the C&O Canal: This Boy Scout pamphlet is available at all of the visitors centers along the way and lists camp sites and other points of interest. It also breaks the C&O Canal down into a series of easy-to-read ten mile maps.
I welcome any comments from those who have ridden the length of the C&O or have done a lot of riding in general. Any ideas that make the journey easier of more enjoyable are a plus!