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Monday, August 21st, 1995:

With my Little Debbie's and Coffee here at the office keyboard, I wanted to write and describe a fun bike ride Steve, Paul and I took yesterday.

We loaded our bikes on my car about 7:30 yesterday (Sunday, 8/20/95) morning under cool blue skies with low Humidity and set off from Arlington,VA driving through traffic free streets along Route 7 west around Leesburg, Va on our journey to Harper's Ferry, WV.

After passing Leesburg, we left behind all Washington area Church-goin' folks and yer run of the mill suburban Sunday Driver traffic and began to encounter the Moonshine running-trained West Virginia muscle car drivers. This made for a much more pleasant driving experience for a child of the rust belt such as myself who cut his teeth doing driving in the outskirts of Appalachia in New Kensington, PA. Since it was starting to feel like driving early morning on the back roads of Western PA, my hand started instinctively reaching for that 1970's cars' portable armrest, the case of Iron City, better known to locals as "Arn", Straub's, or The Rock [or "any other beer to drink because it was hot as Hades out"] scored from the drive-thru distributor that opened at 10:00AM to complete that "skipping school" feeling. It being the nineties, I reached down and found a Sunny D instead.

We soon began to see the Alleghenies (not unlike the mountains of Happy Valley surrounding State College, PA) and could feel we were leaving the piedmont. The air was fresh and now trees, bullet hole-laden stop signs and evidence of M-80s' work on mailboxes replaced urban sprawl. We were close.

Our tour consisted of an approximately 12 mile loop researched by Mr. Jabo. We started about two miles south of Harpers Ferry on the C & O Tow Path, just five months prior to the flooding at Sandy Hook, MD. At Paul's request, we contemplated parking in downtown Harper's Ferry, after observing all the No Parking restrictions there, we got back on US 340 East for about a mile and took the right off US 340 at Sandy Hook Road, just across the river [East] from Harper's Ferry

where we parked
(Click on Interactive Atlas and enter: Sandy Hook, MD)

along the railroad tracks at the bottom of the hill on Sandy Hook Road. From there, we suited up, pumped up and locked up, looked both ways first, then portaged our bikes across the tracks and down the short, steep gravel hill that leads directly to the U.S. National Park Service maintained C & O Canal Tow Path bike trail. After a little breather to set the mood, we started out under a forest covered Tow Path that was hard packed and made for easy riding. At least for someone in reasonable shape. We rolled along through the crisp air, enjoying the song of cicadas. Their song continues to evoke feelings of the end of summer to me, thoughts of going to JC Penney's at the mall with Mom to buy new Jeans and think about the impending terror I felt about a new school year.

The shallow but still broad Potomac was flowing quietly beside us, one could hear the muffled sound of the small rapids and see them through breaks in the tree cover.

The pace picked up as the front man (Paul) legs loosened up. He commented that his foot was bothering him as we were packing up this morning but I knew the rabbit would not rest long. Paul quickly pulled away from us as Steve decided to ride a comfortable pace that allowed me and him to take in the scenery, greenery and peacefulness more. The real beauty here was the lack of people on the trail at this mid-morning hour.

We rode on for about five miles or so together under the shade cover until we came upon a break in the treecover that was one of the Locks. Crossing on its cobblestone path was a test of skill that makes you think instantaneously about the physics of gyroscopic motion, that imaginary one-inch wide track you ride upon, the void of the empty lock's volume, how far away the Harper's Ferry Emergency Room is and how stupid you would look with a trashed bike and no front teeth.

We graciously claimed that little victory of balancing skill and then ran into Paul patiently awaiting us a few miles ahead. We rode on together until we came across a point where the river road paralleled the path about 30 yards away through the trees. We came upon what felt like a Hillbilly version of one of those periodic brushes with the strange variants of civilization tucked deep in the middle of the jungle that the Navy boat carrying Martin Sheen's character up the river in Apocalypse Now experienced. Out of the silence was what sounded and looked like the aftermath a giant party the previous night at a hippie house. A large American Flag adorned the house and good rock and roll (on vinyl, I'm sure) was emanating from every window opened on the house. The surrounding woods hushed it to very pleasant level. One could almost feel the collective grogginess of the party patrons stirring slowly after sleeping on the sheet-covered couches in the paneled basement.

At this point, we dismounted to stoke the coals down next to the river. After taking this break on rocks at the rivers edge, we continued on until Steve's very detailed hand drawn map showed to us that we reached the point on the trail that we to ride up a short, steep hill to the

highway 34 bridge where we crossed the river
(Click on Interactive Atlas and enter: Shepherdstown, WV)

to a small town of Shepherdstown, WV. A plaque stated that this town was named for a B&O railroad employee who apparently was "the first colored employee killed on the job by some of John Brown's raiders."

The town's violent history was not found in its present incarnation. A small town's farmers market in the center of this village was our lunch venue. The market revealed the townspeople to be: yuppies who gave the Urban landscape back to the '80s wannabies, a few hippies that were hanging around with that "He's gone and I have no where to tour to" look, and your run of the mill West Virginia long beards with cute country daughters that you know are young but you still get caught looking at anyway.

We got some wonderful cajun three pepper bread, baguettes, and blackberries the size of quarters and settled in on shady corner of the market next to the hydroponic grower laundering his money with the sale of durable goods that you would normally find at the local Further, Phish or NORML gathering.

After lunching and chatting with a young cyclist who said he was cruising the town on his 20-inch banana seat bike and you knew he knew this town better than the local sheriff, we took off on the road riding half of the day's loop, down the south bank of the river. It proceeded in a generally down river [read: not necessarily downhill !] direction toward Harper Ferry.

We got through the Sunday Church let-out traffic in town quickly by

exiting town along County Route 17.
(Click on Interactive Atlas and enter: Shepherdstown, WV)

The road settled into a steep uphill, short downhilling, flood plain with flat meadows rambling down the river valley. The river bank was about a quarter mile over our left shoulders on the other side of tall blowing grassy meadows.

For about the next six miles this continued: grind up the steep ones contemplating my age by comparing it with the feelings I had on similar climbs in my youth, thinking that I was definitely not as strong as I was 15 years ago but I wasn't that strong then either anyway. So, this weaker, older man would reach the summit then click, click, click to the top gear to fly down to try and catch the two man-machines that are Steve and Paul. Flying down tree-lined roads one's visibility was eclipsed by the bright sun and intermittent shade, I simply stayed in the path cut by Steve hoping no pot holes were waiting to launch me all the while using my girlish intuition to detect any Ford Pickups that were possibly barreling up from behind me.

It all worked out fine as we stayed with County Route 17 as it led down a hill and then came down along the river again. We riding along campsites that now had fishermen and their families having picnics under shady cover. The road now became a bumpy path with ruts from RVs and railroad bed aggregate serving to bring out the technical aspects (read: pretty darn crappy) of the stiff Mountain bike frame that I was being jarred around on. The road became a overgrown railroad access road complete with a bed of partially packed large gravel that shot out every few seconds from under our tires. These rocks shot with the enough momentum that brought the thought of more dental and emergency eye surgery to mind. At one point I kicked a rock up and its parabolic path in free fall brought it level with my chest. I just watched it fall away in between gulps of air and searching out the hardest packed portions of the gravel. We continued on until the treecover broke clear and a railroad crossing came into view. An Amtrak train was passing through slowly and we knew we were close to

Harpers Ferry.
(Click on Interactive Atlas and enter: Harpers Ferry, WV)

After the train passed, we crossed and could see the bustling tourist trap of Harpers Ferry, complete with a tow truck towing a vehicle not far from where we contemplated illegally parking.

We stopped in town and got an Ice Cream cone and watched the slow stroll of that strange but common creature, the American Tourist, in awe with the trite and uninterested in absorbing local culture.

We then walked our bikes across the busy footbridge over the river, enjoying the sounds of tubers floating under in large groups.

After descending back to the C&O Canal's path on the other side we rode a short distance to find an outcrop of rocks that had half shade cover where we proceeded to recreate by watching tubers, canoers, and navigate the ripples. Paul took a dip, I kicked it back a little more and had a nap.

We then stirred after a while and rode the final mile or so

back to the car
(Click on Interactive Atlas and enter: Sandy Hook, MD)

and packed up, finally feeling the heat of the day.

A fun time had by one and all.

I hope to someday do the whole thing.

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