Day One: Cumberland to Hancock – 63 miles - Throwback Tour Day: 2004 C&O Canal Anniversary Through Ride - CycleBlaze

November 7, 1997

Day One: Cumberland to Hancock – 63 miles

Following Da Boyz, Paw Paw Tunnel, Hancock on a Friday night

John and Carole at the start
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After a great breakfast at the Inn, we saddled up and were on the trail by about 9am, with about 60 miles to go to reach Hancock. However, since I had never had time to actually test Carole’s panniers on her bike while she was riding it, we found out that her heels would hit the bags at the back of each pedal stroke - out came the tools. I’m not impressed with the mounting/adjusting arrangement on the REI panniers,but I got them moved back far enough to work.

As we were getting restarted, six older guys on mountain bikes with panniers cycled onto the trail from the Western Maryland Railroad parking lot. Turns out they were doing the Towpath as well, and would be staying in Hancock and Harper's Ferry, too. We would see them on and off for the next three days. The weather was beautiful for November: temperatures in the 50’s and crystal clear blue skies.

The Cumberland to Paw Paw section of the Towpath is more like a double-track fire road than the wide dirt Towpath you see near Washington DC, but the surface wasn’t all that rough and there were only a few mud holes. The major problem was leaves – I’m sure it was mostly psychological but it was really tiring pedaling through a foot of leaves, and it made it hard to avoid or even anticipate hitting tree roots and rocks. The sound of a leaf stuck in the spokes or rubbing on a tire was infuriating.  However we made pretty good time, reaching Paw Paw in about 3 hours and left the Towpath to cross the Potomac and eat lunch at the Riverside Café in Paw Paw proper. There we saw "Da Boyz," as we began to call the older cyclists. They have done the Towpath several times as a group and two of them had very expensive, dual suspension bikes – a smart move for riding the Towpath’s bumpy surface.

We had thirty-two miles under our belts, and thirty more to reach Hancock at mile 124 on the Canal. We strapped on our lights to ride through the Paw Paw tunnel but the surface was pretty bumpy, the path is narrow and there were puddles every hundred feet or so – we ended up walking. 

The Paw Paw Tunnel
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Downstream from the tunnel the towpath surface gets pretty rough, and Carole began to feel the effect of all those bumpy miles. During this stretch, we saw two herons (egrets?) skimming the canal, and twenty to thirty deer crossing the Towpath. We saw plenty of evidence of beavers, too.

We really began to drag after the 50-mile mark, right about when the Towpath surface got really bad. Carole began to wonder how we could be heading downstream yet going uphill at the same time, and asked if Hancock was big enough to have any all-night divorce lawyers. We caught up to Da Boyz at Little Orleans, where they took an on-road detour,trading level ground for smooth pavement, while we slogged it out on the Towpath. Finally, we hit Hancock just as the sun was setting. The owner of the Cohill Manor Inn (Debbie) had offered to come into town and carry us and the bikes up the hill to the house, and we gladly took her up on it.

Update:the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail now starts about 13 miles west of Hancock, and is a nice alternative. In 2019, the WMRT should be extended another four miles west to Little Orleans.

The Cohill Manor Inn is no longer in business, unfortunately. It wasn’t fancy but very friendly, and comfortable. Debbie even provided transportation for us to go back into town for dinner at Weavers and pick up supplies at Sheetz. The other lodging choices in Hancock are pretty much no-tell motels, but are much closer to the downtown area – a hopping place on a Friday night if you are into watching pickup trucks rev their engines.

The former Cohill Manor Inn
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Today's ride: 63 miles (101 km)
Total: 63 miles (101 km)

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