Category Archives: Biking

Hancock Bike Tour on the C&O Canal

12 – 13 May 2023

Chuck invited me to join him on an overnight bike trip on the C&O canal, starting from Hancock, MD, heading up the river to Indigo Neck campground.

I haven’t visited this area since the 2014 tour with my brother, so I jumped at the chance to see an unfamiliar part of the C&O national park.

Day 1: Hancock, MD, to Indigo Neck Campground, 15 miles

It was blazing hot as we got ready in Hancock (around 85 F perhaps) so it was a welcome relief to start cycling and get into the shade of the woods.

It felt more remote and wild than sections of the towpath near Harpers Ferry. We only saw one other person the entire time.

With Chuck at the parking lot in Hancock, about to set off
Enjoying the shade along the C&O canal
Round Top Cement Mill
Sideling Hill Creek flowing into the Potomac river

It was hot and dry when we got to camp and thankfully the bugs were minimal.

With the long hours of daylight at this time of year, it was a leisurely afternoon setting up the tent and having dinner.

Indigo Neck hiker biker site
First job after getting the tent up: collect and filter water from the pump

Chuck brought a folding saw, which we put to good use cutting firewood for the campfire. (Pro tip: A squirt of lighter fluid helps get damp wood going!)

View from my tent towards the rest of the campsite

As the evening wore on, the birds became more vocal with the whippoorwills dominating the song.

The campfire was our focal point as we shared tales and watched the flames turn wood to ash as day gave way to night.

There’s something mesmerizing about a good campfire

Day 2: Indigo Neck Campground to home, 82 miles

I woke to light rain on the fly. I headed to the picnic bench and made hot granola and coffee for breakfast. The rain continued through the morning, necessitating a waterproof jacket but never heavy enough to be unpleasant.

Brenda, another bike tourer, was away first that morning at 8.30. Chuck and I were away a bit after 9.

Since we’d ridden the canal towpath into Indigo Neck campground the day before, we decided to ride the parallel Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) on the return to Hancock. The WMRT is paved, which was a benefit as the rain steadily increased.

Chuck on the Western Maryland Rail Trail

It’s a beautiful ride through mountainous western Maryland. Being an old rail line, there is virtually no ascent or descent, so it’s an easy ride.

It was much cooler than the day before with low mist clinging to the mountain sides, which made the whole place look like the set of Jurassic Park.

Crossing over Sideling Hill Creek
Looking out from the rail trail at the Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct and Potomac River
Me and Chuck
An Eastern Tent Caterpillar (I think!)
Chuck riding past a giant rockfall on the Western Maryland Rail Trail

I said goodbye to Chuck in Hancock, where he stopped at his truck.

I continued, planning to ride all the way home, which would be about 80 miles total for the day, the furthest I’ve ridden since 2014!

Signs every few miles along the WMRT
Typical scenery on the southern end of the WMRT. I didn’t see a single other cyclist or walker outside of Hancock.
Smiling during a lull in the rain

I rode to the terminus of the WMRT, having missed the connection to the C&O canal about a mile earlier. I was loathe to backtrack so I rode through Fort Frederick State Park to regain the canal at the far end of Big Pool.

From there I rode the towpath along the river’s edge and in and out of the woods.

Aside from one large group, the trail was mostly empty and I enjoyed miles of solitude. The rain fell heavily at times, and the trail was muddy, but I love these kinds of conditions as they remind me of home.

Cliffs along the side of the Potomac
The impressive Dam 5
Beautiful riding along the newly restored section of the towpath near to McMahon’s Mill

The riding was super fun until around mile 70, once I was on familiar ground past Shepherdstown. Then my legs began to ache. And ache.

The last few miles into Harpers Ferry were hard. It doesn’t seem to matter how long a ride is — 50 miles, 80 miles, 100+ miles — the last 10 miles always feel hard.

The trails were rather muddy with the rain!
One filthy bike, sign of a good adventure!
Snake sighting! An eastern ratsnake close to Lock 37

Overall, this was an excellent mini bike tour with friends.

I explored a local area that I’ve only visited once before, many years ago, so it felt like new terrain. Plus, 80 miles in the rain on mostly muddy gravel was a solid challenge that had me digging deep, which is exactly the sensation I’m searching for.

March mid-week bikepacking overnighter to Big Woods hiker biker campsite

28 – 29 March 2023

At Big Woods Hiker Biker campsite, along the C&O Canal

One of my goals this year is to camp out for at least one night every month. I managed it in January (see January bikepacking overnighter) but missed February (life and work were busy).

It looked like March was going to be another miss, but right at the end of the month, after launching a big work project, I was able to sneak out for another sub-24 hour overnighter.

Day 1: Home to Big Woods, via dam 4, 27.5 miles

Like the January trip, I rode from home along the C&O Canal towpath to one of the backcountry campsites: Big Woods hiker biker site.

I got away at 3.30 pm, headed upriver on the canal towpath. I’ve ridden this section countless times, but I always enjoy the meditative experience of riding in solitude alongside the river. There were only a handful of dog walkers out on the trail on a mid-week afternoon and I enjoyed the quietness.

Enjoying easy miles along the canal towpath
Loving the comfy ride of the Surly Grappler
It won’t be long until the towpath is a green tunnel again

Although Big Woods is before dam 4, I decided to prolong the riding into the early evening and ride on to see dam 4. It’s an impressive low-head dam that I stopped at with my brother on our north east tour in 2014. A great place to enjoy the river and appreciate its power.

Dam 4 on the Potomac River

Big Woods campsite is set back from the towpath, down by the river. It’s one of the more secluded, smaller hiker biker campsites. There was no-one else here, so I had the campsite to myself.

I had enough light to pitch the tent and have dinner. It was cool, but not cold. The river was flowing fast, specked with foam.

Across the river, on the West Virginia side, I could see the lights of one house, but they might as well have been on the moon, for the mighty Potomac stood between us. Otherwise, it was just me and the woods.

Nemo Hornet 1P tent setup at Big Woods campsite
Cooking dinner
MSR Pocket Rocket still going strong after 10 years

It was a pleasant night and I slept well. The only drama was the camp pillow deflating on me but I survived somehow, haha.

What a strange pastime this bikepacking is. Riding to the middle of nowhere to lie in a tiny fabric coffin and read the same book I would have read from the comfort of home. But somehow it’s amazing and hard to beat!

Day 2: Big Woods to home, 24.2 miles

I awoke to birdsong at first light, around 6.30 am. I made breakfast outside — a weird boil-in-the-bag biscuits dish that had the consistency and texture of one of my son’s slime creations — and enjoyed it from the warmth of my sleeping bag.

Breakfast in the tent on morning of day 2

I watched the sun creep down from the tops of the tall sycamore trees, painting them gold, until finally hitting my tent and announcing the beginning of the day.

It was time to strike camp and get going!

The tent catching the first rays of sunshine.

My return route was a reversal of yesterday’s, minus the few extra miles up to dam 4.

It was a cool morning, so my extremities took a little while to warm up. There were only a few dog walkers out, so it was another couple of hours of tranquil riding alongside the bubbling river.

Departing Big Woods campsite on the morning of day 2.
It was cold in the shadows along the canal towpath.
Beautiful, easy miles along the C&O canal.

With every ride along the canal, one learns or notices something new. This time, I saw the cliffs along the Maryland shore in a new light. Of course, I’ve seen them many times before, but I’d never really appreciated their size and how remarkable it is that the canal company could build the canal between the cliffs and the river.

Cliffs next to the C&O canal. It’s impressive that they could fit a canal between the river and cliffs.

I was home by mid-morning and back at work by noon. It was another successful S24O (sub 24-hour adventure) by bike.

I’m already looking forward to the next one, perhaps I’ll head downstream this time, and stay at Marble Quarry campsite. There’s also 50+ miles of singletrack near Seneca that’s on my radar, but I probably need 2-3 full days to get there and enjoy that. One for the future though!

Winter Season 2022/23

Winter? What winter?

After many fantastic winter hikes in the 2021/22 season and 2020/21 season, I was psyched for more of the same.

But it was not to be this year.

Apart from a very cold week in late December, and two snowy-ish days (around 1 inch each time), winter was non-existent this year.

I believe we had a relatively normal amount of precipitation for this time of year but it all fell as rain because of the mild temperatures.

The silver lining was that I was able to get out on my bike more often this winter, which was a huge positive.

Some highlights from this season:

8 December 2022: Winter SUP Session

A few hours of cold-weather paddling on the Potomac River with my friend Chuck. Great fun! We put in at the River Riders campground boat ramp and explored a few miles upstream before returning.

More photos on Instagram.

22 December 2022: Loudoun Heights in the snow

One of only two snowy hikes this winter! There was about an inch of slushy, wet snow on the ground.

I took one of my favorite winter photos up on the ridgeline of Loudoun Heights:

More photos on Instagram.

January overnighter on the bike

One of my goals this year is to camp at least one night each month. I managed an overnighter in January and March, but was too busy in February.

In January, I did a sub-24hr overnighter (an “S24O”) and rode from home to Killiansburg hiker biker campsite along the C&O canal. It was a super little trip!

Long winter rides on the C&O Canal

I’m prioritising the bike this year, so I’ve been making an effort to get out for long rides along the canal and neighbouring roads solo and with friends.

1 Jan: 50 miles along the canal upstream from home to dam 4 and return. Cold!

7 Jan: 44 miles, climb of Mar Lu ridge, behind Point of Rocks.

18 Jan: 36 miles downstream along the C&O canal with Paul.

25 Feb: 60 miles along the canal upstream. Cold! Snow flurries on the return journey. Rode with the only 2 other cyclists I saw that day – Eddie and Hannah – for 10 miles or so, in the middle.

3 March 2022: Raven Rocks in the snow

The only other snowy hike this winter, a really enjoyable climb up to the Raven Rocks lookout on the A.T. with Lexi.

More photos on Instagram.

Otherwise, there were plenty of great hikes and bike rides on my local trails, with family, with friends, and solo. But none with snow 😦

Hopefully, this isn’t the new normal for this area and next season we’ll get a decent showing of snow.

January mid-week bikepacking overnighter to Killiansburg Cave Campsite

10th – 11th January 2023

Taking inspiration from Alistair Humphreys with his microadventures, Beau Miles with his backyard adventures, and, my own brother, who has been a strong advocate for mid-week getaways, I headed out for a little overnight adventure of my own this week.

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.

Day 1: Home to Killiansburg Cave Campsite, 16.8 miles

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.

Cannondale cyclocross bike loaded up, at the steps to Harpers Ferry
The ride was a straight shot ~17 smooth(ish) miles along the C&O canal
A typical hiker biker campsite along the C&O canal – this one is Killiansburg Cave campsite.
Home from home – a Nemo Hornet 1p. Very comfortable and very light weight. I’m looking forward to more field testing soon.
Had just enough daylight left to squeeze in my dinner before it got dark…
…but not enough daylight to also make my hot chocolate. That was enjoyed in the dark!
Plenty of time in the tent — there was 14 hours of darkness — to write in the journal and read on my kindle.

Day 2: Killiansburg Cave Campsite to home, 16.8 miles

I slept ok, but not as well as those nights on the A.T. last year. 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.

The campsite at dawn, around 6.30am.
Breakfast with a view, even if it was a tad chilly (the temperature, not the breakfast).
Miles of quiet gravel trail – buenisimo!
The C&O canal and towpath at Antietam Campground
Reflection in the Potomac River, from Antietam Aqueduct
Back at Harpers Ferry, beneath the Maryland Heights cliffs, just before crossing the pedestrian bridge back into town.

C&O Bike Tour 2 with the boys (Shepherdstown to Horseshoe Bend campsite, return)

9 – 10 October 2022

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.

Setting off from Shepherdstown

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.

The C&O Canal trail is ideal for riding with kids since there is only one way to go and no traffic

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.

Lots of caves to explore along this section of the trail

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.

Watching the minnows at Snyder’s Landing boat ramp

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.

Brothers on the trail together

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.

Our tent at Horseshoe Bend campsite

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!

Beautiful fall colors along the Potomac River

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).

Full view of the campsite

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.

Enjoying the warmth of a campfire and hot chocolate (wishing we’d brought s’mores stuff!)

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.

Mist on the Potomac River at daybreak
Waking up in the tent after a cold night. The boys slept as well as they do at home! 🙂

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.

Packed up and ready to ride, morning of day 2

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.

Rough area ahead (but it wasn’t bad at all)
Dominic and Owen on the trail
Me bringing up the rear

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.

Beach combing along the Potomac

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 😉

I just need to mention “spider!” if I want to get them out the cave quickly

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.

The Great Outdoors. Best playground in the world.

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.

Snake on the trail! A water snake (I think)

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.