The idea is to leave after a normal work day, head out for your overnight adventure, and then return the following morning, so you can go back to work without missing a beat. Theoretically, it doesn’t eat into work time, and only requires a minimal amount of time away from the family.
I left at 3pm — it gets dark by 5.30pm in January — so I could reach camp in the daylight.
It was fun to load the bike up again in bikepacking mode. It’s been a while! I also had a rucsac with me for camp stuff, since the winter sleeping bag took up the whole seatpack.
Day 2: Killiansburg Cave Campsite to home, 16.8 miles
I slept ok, but not as well as those nights on the A.T. lastyear. The 17 mile ride hadn’t tired me out nearly to the same extent. I sleep best in the tent when I’m completely beat up after a super long day.
I woke naturally as the dawn broke, at around 6.30ish. I popped out the tent and made breakfast in the half-light, then retreated back to the warmth of my sleeping bag to eat the breakfast.
Bizarrely, I managed to tweak my neck during this lying-down breakfast, which made the rest of the day uncomfortable. Curse you, old age!
I got away around 8ish and enjoyed a quiet ride home along the canal, only passing a handful of dog walkers. I was warm and comfortable, despite the temperatures in the low 30’s F (a little above freezing C). It was only my extremities that took a while to warm up.
We had a fabulous three days, starting with a warm shorts and t-shirt weather and ending with below-freezing conditions, a true changing of the seasons.
Here’s a selection of photos from our hike north along the AT. Enjoy!
Route: Ashby Gap to Harpers Ferry
Day 1 (red): 11.1 miles / 2,720 ft ascent / 4 hrs 59 minutes walking time
Day 2 (purple): 15.2 miles / 3,653 ft ascent / 6 hrs 21 minutes walking time
Day 3 (blue): 12.2 miles / 1,564 ft ascent / 4 hrs 13 minutes walking time
Day 1: Ashby Gap to Sam Moore shelter
Lexi and the boys dropped us off at Ashby Gap, and walked with us for the first mile or so, before they turned around back to the car. It was wonderful to share the start of the trip with the family. Hopefully they’ll want to come with me when they’re a little older.
This section of trail is known as the roller coaster, and for good measure. Over 13 miles, it ascends and descends ten ridges! We certainly felt it in our legs.
We were slightly slower than expected, arriving on the summit of Buzzard Hill in the late afternoon. The light was beautiful. I’ve climbed Buzzard Hill a few times before, but never from the south.
We left the summit of Buzzard Hill to walk the final mile and a half to the Sam Moore shelter, where we camped for the night.
We arrived just before dark — around 5pm this time of year — and had just enough light to locate a couple of suitable tent sites and find water in the spring.
I had iodine tablets with me for purification, but we both used Alistair’s Sawyer Mini filter, which was preferable as it didn’t alter the taste of the water.
After the tents were pitched, we cooked and ate dinner with three other hikers at the shelter picnic area. One of the other hikers remarked “I’m surprised to see others out here! I thought I’d be the only one mad enough to camp out at this time of year!”
The warmth of the day continued into the evening, so it was comfortable to sit out, eating and chatting under head torch. The temperature dropped during the night.
After dinner, the final task of the day was to hang our food out of reach of the bears on the metal pole near the shelter.
Day 2: Sam Moore shelter to David Lesser shelter
I slept really well. With darkness from 5.30 pm until nearly 7 am, it gives you a long time to rest in the tent.
I love camping, and living out in the woods, so it was a real treat to wake up surrounded by trees and nature. After retrieving our foods bags, we retreated to our respective tents to cook and enjoy breakfast from sleeping bags, since it was much, much colder than the evening before.
The second day was more of the same: up and down, up and down, on repeat.
It was hard work, with the heavy bags and lack of backpacking specific fitness. We both remarked that it was one of the hardest days we’ve done for a while. Certainly by the end of the day, my back was stiff and aching from carrying the backpack. Thankfully, my knees, which I was worried about before this trip, felt great and gave me no trouble at all.
We enjoyed the wonderful vistas from the Bears Den lookout and an hour or so later, from the Raven Rocks lookout. I’m familiar with both of these lookouts from previous hikes (this one and this one), but I’m more than happy to return and enjoy them again and again. It was neat to arrive at these lookouts during a multi-day trip this time.
There’s one more ridge line to climb up and over before reaching the end of the roller coaster section. We were looking forward to a section of flatter, easier trail!
Since the day had taken longer than we expected, we opted to collect water from the Blackburn Trail Center (which we knew had a reliable, outdoor spigot), rather than have to find the spring at the David Lesser shelter in the dark. This proved to be a good move, as the spring is quite a way down the hill from the shelter.
We arrived at the David Lesser shelter in the dark, but quickly found two tent sites and got situated. We were both exhausted.
It was a really cold night, so we cooked and ate dinner as quickly as we could before retiring to tents to get warm. The David Lesser shelter has a bear box, so we stored our food there for the night.
Day 3: David Lesser shelter to Harpers Ferry, including Loudoun Heights lookout
I had no idea what the view was like from the shelter because we’d pitched in the dark the night before. I woke about 6.30 am and when I saw the orange glow outside the tent walls, I jumped up, camera in hand, and took a bunch of photos. It was beautiful. I was like a kid-in-a-candy shop!
It was another cold morning, so we opted to cook and eat breakfasts from the porches of our tents. It was bliss, sitting in my sleeping bag with a cup of tea, just enjoying the view of the woods and the silence of just being. I felt more content than I have done for a long time. I was in no rush to pack up and start hiking.
We eventually got away at about 9.30 am, after seeing the shelter and signing the logbook.
This third day was much easier than the two previous days. The trail was flat or downhill mostly, so we made much better time, apart from a few sections of very rocky trail that required more care.
As we approached Harpers Ferry, the trail became more familiar to me. Keys Gap, the boardwalks, the power line break, 4-mile camp, the WV/VA state border, and finally into Harpers Ferry National Historical Park.
We had plenty of daylight and both felt great so we opted to take the side trail to Loudoun Heights overlook. I wanted to show Alistair my favorite local walk.
We spent a bit of time exploring the lookout — our final “summit” of the trip — before the final descent into Harpers Ferry and home.
There’s something special about finishing (or starting!) an adventure from your doorstep. You walk through the front door, drop your bag, and make yourself a cup of tea, as if you’ve just got back from an hour’s stroll.
All in all, a fabulous three days with one of my oldest friends. What more could you ask for!
After the success of our first bike tour, I was keen to get the boys out for another adventure before the weather got too cold. With a long weekend coming up, and a stable — but cold — weather forecast, it was perfect time for it.
On the last tour, we rode from the C&O Canal Parking at Shepherdstown to lower town Harpers Ferry, over 3 days and 2 nights. This time, we started from the same place but rode upstream, away from Harpers Ferry.
The plan was to ride for 8 miles to Horseshoe Bend campsite, camp for 1 night, then reverse the route the next day to meet Lexi at the parking spot again.
In some ways, it’s an even better route because there are fewer people and less bike traffic. It’s completely in the woods so the scenery is lovely. The surface is good quality crushed gravel with only a few rough patches.
Day 1: Shepherdstown to Horseshoe Bend campsite (8 miles)
We set off after lunch on Sunday. I remember feeling a bit stressed that morning getting ready. But that soon all melted away once we got underway. The boys were really excited again and all smiles as we set off.
The trail is beautiful, traffic-free, and flat, so it’s ideal for riding with the boys. At points it drops down steeply to the river, so I had to encourage Owen to look forwards and ride in a straight line. He does weave about a bit but he did tremendously well to ride the full distance on his tiny bike.
When I’m out with the boys, my policy is to stop whenever they want to explore. They don’t want to ride non-stop like I do, they want to see things and engage with nature. It’s the best way to keep them happy and break up the day so we can cover the distance and keep it fun.
On this section of the canal, there are tons of caves to explore, so we stopped at just about every one.
We also stopped by the river whenever opportunity presented itself. I’m happy to enjoy the stunning river vista and the boys are happy to hunt for shells, bugs, and fish.
I had to encourage the boys to keep pedaling, to keep some momentum, to ensure we could get to camp before it went dark though.
We pulled into Horseshoe Bend hiker biker campsite around 5.30pm, an hour or so before dark. This gave ample time to set up the tent, make dinner, and, you guessed it, explore the surroundings.
It was a beautiful fall evening and the colors along the river were starting to show. In another week or so, it’ll be sublime!
We shared the campsite with one other bike tourer, a gentleman named Mike, who was riding from Pittsburgh to D.C. (this is the GAP + C&O combined, that Pete and I did as part of our 2014 NE bike tour).
Mike had a fire going already when we arrived, and the boys enjoyed this as much for the spectacle of the fire as for the warmth. It was a cold evening, a portent of things to come.
It was dark by 7.30 so we were in the tent before 8 to read books (Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, fantastic story!).
The boys were asleep by around 9, me shortly afterwards.
It was a cold night! It got down to 34 F. The boys slept right through the night but I woke up a few times rather cold, my old summer sleeping bag not quite cutting it. Not a bad night though, I had plenty of layers to put on.
Day 2: Horseshoe Bend campsite to Shepherdstown (8 miles)
We awoke to a beautiful morning, with mist hanging over the river.
Owen helped me make peanut butter bagels and hot chocolate (for the boys), granola and tea (for me) on the camp stove. Once made, we took the breakfast back to the tent to eat with Dominic, from the warmth of our sleeping bags.
The riding on day 2 was a reverse of day 1’s route. They were a little tired so I bribed them with M&Ms every time we stopped.
Dominic found a great rocky beach to explore mid-morning. We found lots of river clam shells (some really big ones) and hung out for a half hour or so playing games and watching the river rush by.
Again, we explored some of the many caves in the area. The boys wanted to go deeper than I was willing to go. When Dominic said “Dad, we’ll have to crawl through here” I said that was far enough 😉
We had a longer lunch break at Taylor’s landing (incidentally where I met Chuck on a paddle board trip a couple of months ago).
The boys were content to balance on this log and jump back to the shore. Everything is a playground at this age.
We passed a (water) snake on the towpath after lunch. The boys were fascinated. Soon after, we saw a couple of field mice, which would have made a tasty snack for the snake.
Half a mile further on, we crossed paths with Chuck and his buddy, out on a bike ride going the opposite direction, and chatted with them for a while.
Then all that remained was to ride the last couple of miles back to the parking lot at Shepherdstown, where Lexi met us.
Lexi took the boys and their bikes, the trailer, and all the camping gear home. I rode back home on my bike. It was a nice to ride a light bike again.
Overall, it was great fun and another successful trip together. Way more fun that sitting around the house and watching TV. I think the boys enjoyed it as much as I did. My goal is to have them enjoy it so they want to keep doing these adventures for years to come.