In July 2003, I decided to try my hand at a solo bike camping trip down the towpath. This was my first attempt at bike camping, and it really worked out well.

July 11 - Ready to roll from Cumberland, MD

Background: In July 2003, my wife had just started a new job, so she was basically without any leave. At the same time, I had a ton of vacation time (use or lose), so I decided to take a couple of weeks off. I spent the first few days on what I call the Ultimate Geek Tour of Boston. Once I returned, the weather outlook was very favorable for my long planned towpath bike trip. I'd been planning this trip for several years, and so I decided to hit the trail. I spent July 10 collecting the last few camping items. The next morning, my wife kindly drove me up to Cumberland.

Potomac River at the northern trailhead.

Day 1: I started off from Cumberland at 11 am with about 41 pounds of equipment strapped to my bike. As it happens, the Alzheimer Association charity ride was also starting at the exact same time, so I had a lot of company on the trail during the first day (we also picked the same campgrounds for first two nights). My previous two trips down the towpath were both three day affairs, using lodging for overnight stays. For this trip, I would be carrying additional weight for camping, so I decided to spend four days on the trail so that I would keep my daily mileage within reasonable limits.

Passing one of the westernmost locks.

My first observation was that the trail was in absolute excellent shape for the first 30 miles or so. Clearly there had been some significant maintenance since my 1995 trip. My first stop was around Lock 75, where an openhouse was being held at a restored lock house. After touring the house, I chatted with a few of the other riders from the charity ride. One rider was pulling a two wheeled trailer (I often receive emails about these things). The guy reported no problem pulling the trailer (over the first 10 miles or so). However, I knew the trail ahead became dual tracked and muddy in spots, so he probably ran into problems as the ride progressed. If you do wish to pull a trailer, I recommend using an inline, single wheel model.

Deep cut just upstream from Oldtown, MD.

My next stop was Oldtown, MD. This tiny village has served as a wilderness trading post for hundreds of years, and was a key location during the French and Indian War and the Civil War. Several major indian trails intersected here, and just about every famous revolutionary historic figure spent the night in this town. There is also a rickety, privately owned, toll bridge over the Potomac River at this location. If I recall, a few years ago the State of Maryland declared this bridge to be unsafe. They closed the bridge for several months until the owners made repairs (locals kept removing the barricades so they could cross the river).

Oldtown, MD. About a half mile of canal has been re-watered here.

By now it was approaching 1 pm, and I was starting to get hungry. My food plan for the trip was to have a powerbar or trail-mix for breakfast, purchase lunch along the trail, and cook dinner in camp using dehydrated hiker meals. I also carried some snack items for eating along the trail. There is really nothing in Oldtown, so I ate a quick snack and then pressed on toward my planed lunch stop in Paw Paw, WV. The ride into Paw Paw is about ¾ mile ride across the Potomac River along Route 51. The town has a couple of delies and convenience markets. I ended up at the Paw Paw Deli, where several other rides were also dining.

Lunch Stop in Paw Paw, WV.

After lunch, it was time to hit the Paw Paw Tunnel. The tunnel is quite dark, so some type of flashlight is desirable. In the interest of weight, I decided to leave my normal bike lighting gear at home. Instead, I brought along one of those great headband LED units, mainly so that I could do some reading after dark. However, it also provided just enough light for the tunnel passage.

Downstream porthole of the Paw Paw Tunnel.

Upon reaching the other side, I figured I was only about an hour or so from my first night campsite. So, I decided to do some exploring around the downstream tunnel porthole (soon to be regretted). I found a fire road just down stream and start chugging up it. I was hoping to get out toward the river so that I could get a few pictures of the Paw Paw Bends. However, after 20 minutes of serious cranking up steep inclines (I had all my gear with me), common sense prevailed. So I started back to the towpath, stopping along the way to try and get some overhead photos of the tunnel (which did not turn out well). I then proceeded on to my first night campsite in Little Orleans, about 15 miles downstream.

Elsewhere on the website, I suggested that you get an early start each day as this area of the county is prone to afternoon thunderstorms. Of course, I did not take my own advice. So guess what happened next? About two miles from Little Orleans, the sky totally opened up. By the time I reached the "town" of Little Orleans, MD, the heaviest rain had finished but light rain continued off and on for most of the evening. There is a drive-in public campground between the town and the river, however I had decided to use the private Little Orleans Campground located about 1 mile up the "wee" hill (mainly for the showers).

First night campsite at Little Orleans

Before pressing on to the campground, I stopped in briefly at the new Bill's Place to satisfy my caffeine habit. They had a pretty good crowd around the bar. Although a beer was really tempting, I decided to stick with soda for the time being. I then proceeded on to the campground in the light rain. Now, Little Orleans Campground was very nice, but it is one HELL of a climb up the "wee" hill. By the time I got to the registation office, I really could use a beer (which they were able to provide). A brief break in the rain allowed me to get the campsite setup. I then was able to get a warm shower, followed by dinner on the camping stove. I spent the rest of the evening catching up on some reading.

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