I reached my goal–Mile Zero of the C&O towpath yesterday. It was a fun, but tiring, final 61+ mile ride into the city.

The CSX tracks in Harpers Ferry.

I started the day on the heights in Harpers Ferry. I stayed at the Harpers Ferry Guest House, a place I can recommend, which is a half mile ride steeply uphill from the center of the old town. It was a difficult climb, since it was coming at the end of a hard’s day’s ride. The ride down the hill from my B&B was easy and there is a nice ramp to the footbridge that crosses over the river. The Towpath is across the river from Harpers Ferry

I was very glad to see that the footbridge was open. It had been damaged and then closed earlier in the spring when a railcar derailed and came off the train track that runs alongside the footbridge. The nearest detour is the route 340 bridge, well over a half mile downriver and not a particularly bike-friendly thoroughfare.

Footbridge over the Potomac, from the C&O Towpath to Harpers Ferry, which is on the West Virginia side.

It was quite a job, the day before, hauling my bike and bags up the winding staircase that leads to the top of the footbridge. Now I was going to have to haul it all back down. Just as I had gotten to the stairway, I met two women, Karen and Maria, coming the other way. They had biked from Shepherdstown that morning and wanted to look around Harpers Ferry. One of them noticed my Camino de Santiago cycling jersey and asked if I had walked or biked it.

I told her that I had walked the entire Camino, and that I had even written a book about it. We had a great five-minute conversation about hiking and biking, and then they kindly offered to carry my panniers down the stairway for me.I really appreciated the help! Similar to my experience walking the Camino de Santiago, there is a great community of people on this journey together and I have enjoyed getting to know many new friends.

The Potomac below Harpers Ferry, with the Shenandoah now joining it, becomes very wide and wild, with lots of rocks. This is a kayakers paradise.

The cycling path, paved with crushed limestone, continued on for another 30 miles. It was a delight to ride and I picked up my pace. The old canal is ever-present, as are the locks and lock-keeper’s houses. Often the canal is overgrown with brush or fallen trees, but some stretches are still filled with water, often covered with algae or duckweed.

At one point I came across a great blue heron blocking my way in the path. He stood still long enough for me to get a good photo of him, before he flew into the canal and landed on a log.

About 25 miles into my ride I came to White’s Ferry, the only active ferry operating on this part of the Potomac. Leesburg is just a few miles on the other side of the Ferry, so it would be a good stopping point for through-riders. The Washington and Old Dominion rails-to-trails runs through Leesburg.

I stopped for lunch at White’s Ferry. They have a good grill there and there are no more places to stop for food from here until Washington, so I loaded up with a huge submarine sandwich.

I met my riding friends Liz and Star, who were enjoying a cold drink. They had spent the previous night in an old lock keeper’s house, which can be rented from the Park Service.

I had misunderstood that the excellent paved limestone trail extended the rest of the way into D.C. It doesn’t. Around milepost 30, at Edwards Ferry, it abruptly stopped and I was back to riding on rough gravel, stone and mud. There had been severe rainstorms the night before in the metropolitan area and my progress was slowed considerably by mud and puddles.

There is often a drier spot to get around the puddles, but sometimes you just have to go through them.

Around milepost 15 I came to one of the most popular spots along the entire C&O Canal, Great Falls. This is where the river starts its drop off nearly 200 feet to sea level. Kayakers and tourists abound. There is an old tavern, canal boat and well-preserved lock. I’d been here before and was anxious to finish, so I didn’t stop for long.

The Great Falls of the Potomac

The trail through Great Falls became narrow at points, as the canal widened. The surface also became poorer and I found that the last 10-15 miles into the city were some of the poorest surfaces of the entire route, with lots of mud and rocks. After riding 50+ miles, and the associated fatigue, I was also feeling all those vibrations in my bones. At mile 10 I passed underneath I-495, the Washington Beltway, and the George Washington Freeway parallels the canal at this point. Even so, it did not feel like I was in the city, except that there were a lot more people on the trail.

Cattails in the Canal
A foot bridge under construction in Georgetown.

Within the last two miles, the Capital Crescent Trail parallels the C&O and since it is asphalt, I moved onto it for a mile until I came closer to the end. Moving back over to the Towpath, I discovered that it came to an abrupt end. My map didn’t indicate this, so I was confused. However, I knew that the river was to my left, and the canal to my right, so I meandered down to the point of land where I knew milepost 0 was supposed to be. There were not signs pointing me that way; I got on the Rock Creek trail, knowing that the canal began next to the mouth of Rock Creek. With some persistence and good luck, I managed to find the spot, behind the Thompson Boat house, a launching spot for rowers on the river. Again, no signs, but I had seen picture of the marker and after crossing a small footbridge, found it. I had arrived!

Milepost 0, with the Arlington Memorial Bridge in the background.

I had ridden 345+ miles to get to this point and was elated. I have to admit that it lacks the drama of the Point in Pittsburgh, but it didn’t matter to me then. I had dreamed for years of cycling this, and here I was!

Washington D.C. is not an easy city to drive in and this was a difficult place to meet someone, so I arranged for my wife to meet me at the Vienna Metro station. I biked about five minutes to the Foggy Bottom station, where I was able to enter with my bike. The trains were nearly empty and I had no problem walking mine on. In less than an hour I was in Vienna and happily met my wife.

On the Metro

An end to a long and wonderful journey! I had experienced wonderful weather, beautiful scenery, good companionship and lots of history. I plan on combining it all into a book, which I hope to publish next Spring.

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