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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

C&O Canal Thru-Hike


Lock and Lockhouse
I had a premonition before I left for my C&O Canal thru-hike that this trip was going to be tough. 184.5 miles of flat terrain seems like a cake walk but the cold temperatures caused by the strengthening "polar vortex," chilly damp riparian campsites, a lack of clean water sources and the repetitive strain of flat land walking led to an interesting challenge.
Mule Monument at the Cumberland Terminus

The knowledge that we could "bail" to a warm cafe or motel led to an interesting strategy when planing for this hike. I found myself much more willing to experiment and take chances with a minimalist setup. This was a great opportunity to see just how far into the single digits my ultralight setup would take me. 
Part of traveling smart and light is using your surroundings to their fullest. It helps to know that you can pull big miles to make it to the next set of amenities. I started to look at some of the heated restrooms with a whole new appreciation. My hiking partner Jerry Freedenberg (Not Bad) and I joked that we finally understood why the were called "restrooms" and fondly referred to them as "sleeping huts."

My friend Rocks helped us out in a huge way on the coldest night of our journey. He connected us with his friend Johnny who lives along our route. Johnny and his beautiful family reside in an old 1750's farm house. What an amazing gift and enhancement of our already historically rich adventure.


Paw Paw Tunnel

On the snowiest night, Jerry and I were gifted a motel room by Jerry's father. Not exactly "roughing it" but I didn't complain. That same day, Mike Nardolilli, president of the C&O Canal Trust bought us lunch at The Desert Rose Cafe. Mike read about about my 60th Anniversary Hike and was very supportive of the adventure. He shared some wonderful stories and added to our historical perspective.



On the second to last day, we experienced freezing rain that formed dome shaped sheets of ice on top of my umbrella. I was very grateful to have the chrome dome along.

The water along the towpath is not very appetizing. The Potomac River is heavily polluted and the water in the canal is stagnant. Much of our water came from small towns but I did find a couple side streams that seemed to have decent water.

This trip was a good experiment in the world of winter camping. I discovered that I need to hydrate a lot better in the future. Dehydration was very likely the cause of some intense hip flexor/ IT band pain. I used ibuprofen for the the first time in years to alleviate some of the strain and inflammation. I hadn't used a single mg of pain killers on either of the my thru-hikes the last two years and here I was, resorting to medication on a flat walk.

Walking into Harpers Ferry was like going to see an old friend and we had a very nice visit at the the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters. I just love that town so much.

The Great Falls section of the towpath was the most scenic and is definitely a stretch of trail I would like to return to on a day hike.

Overall, this adventure was very beautiful. The views of the river and the small towns were quite nice and the wildlife sighting were certainly a highlight. Foxes, possums, 5 species of woodpeckers, and bald eagles were among the creatures seen. I also really enjoyed reading all the interpretive signs describing life on the canal, westward expansion and stories of the Civil War.




When Jerry and I arrived in Georgetown, we paid our respects to William O. Douglas and took the obligatory finishing photo by The Watergtate Hotel. Who knew that the hotel was named after the first canal lock?

Heading into Georgetown

Canal Barge

From the canal, we walked over to The Whitehouse, across the mall and over to Union Station. It was fun to imagine, Justice Douglas, barges, mules, naturalists and boat captains all making this journey.
Justice William O. Douglas

Mile Post 0

Not Bad and I finished our thru-hike in 6.5 days (December 31- January 6). Slower than expected, but considering the weather conditions, we were very satisfied with our performance. We were especially happy to have finished before the temperatures plummeted even further. Another rewarding and challenging adventure.