Day 1: Washington DC to Calico Rocks camp area, Maryland – 43 miles
Finding myself having a few days free in a row, I decided to make the most of the opportunity and head out for a little adventure. I strapped the tent to the back of my bike and pedalled out of Washington DC into the evening sunshine.
I didn’t end up departing until 4pm – work to do, then it took a while to get ready, hey it’s been a long time since I’ve been bike camping! – which left me about four and a half hours to reach camp. The light was gorgeous, the roads were relatively empty as people were getting in place for the fireworks, but damn, it was hot as hell out there. I had planned to do the climb up and down Sugarloaf Mountain en route, but didn’t have the time on this occasion.
The C & O Canal is 185 mile National Park stretching from Washington DC to Cumberland, West Virginia, running along the Potomac River. There are camp areas every 8 – 10 miles so I aimed for Calico Rocks camping area, near to Point of Rocks, for my overnight stop.
All I could think about in those final few miles was the prospect of cold, fresh water. With bottles almost depleted, it would have been a thirsty night if the well was dry. It took many pumps to draw up the first water, as the old-fashioned hand pump creaked, groaned and gurgled into life. There’s nothing quite like a drink of cool, fresh water when you’re baking hot and dehydrated.
The sultry temps in the high 80s (around 30 degrees C) persisted well into the evening. The mosquitoes had a plentiful 4th July feast. Sleep was not easy until it cooled off, even after I left the flysheet off in a bid to increase the airflow.
Day 2: Return to Washington DC via Purcellville, Virginia and the W&OD trail – 75 miles
My original plan was to stay out for another night and head down to Shenandoah National Park, but with another hot, hot day in prospect I decided against a second oppressive night in the tent. Plan B was to ride south for 30 miles through the Virginian countryside, pick up the W & OD trail and then follow it 45 miles to home.
Leaving camp I crossed from Maryland over the Potomac river into Virginia by the Point of Rocks bridge. Immediately afterwards I turned off onto quiet side roads, through rolling farmland along the base of big hills. This was the most enjoyable and scenic stretch of the tour.
There were plenty of other cyclists about at the start (or end) of the W & OD trail at Purcellville. I stopped to top up my water bottles and take a break from the sun.
I was really struggling with the heat by the early afternoon; the hottest part of the day and no shade to hide. I rode at a leisurely pace, within myself, to ensure I’d make it home. Big grin on my face of course, I was thoroughly enjoying being out bike touring again.
Half the fun of these sorts of trips is the return and being able to feast on whatever you’ve spent the past few hours dreaming about. A cold beer and pizza on this occasion!