Spontaneity on the C&O Canal

As some of our surprised friends and family now know, as we approached Harpers Ferry, we found ourselves tempted by an intriguing opportunity. The AT follows the C&O canal for several miles as it leaves town northbound. We realized that we could possibly go AWOL from the trail and hike sixty miles on the neatly maintained and perfectly level towpath directly to DC and arrive a few days early for our midway break. With a little research we learned that the Park Service has built campsites with tables, porta-potties and water pumps about every five miles. We convinced ourselves that it would be a memorable and unique addendum to our thruhike, and so found ourselves ignoring the white blazes for the first time in months. Our first camp was just ten miles out of town, where the canal is adjacent to what turned out to be a very busy set of railroad tracks. We hardly got an hour of quiet all night as we suffered the incredible din of aged and poorly lubricated freight trains passing.

The next day we pushed for thirty-four miles, almost ten more than we have managed on the AT in a single day. The towpath gets pretty monotonous compared to the views and lively company of the trail, however we did enjoy perfect weather and a good deal of interesting wildlife. We saw muskrats, owls, geese, dozens of turtles, herons, colorful skinks, hordes of mosquitos, abundant wildflowers and honeysuckle and some impressively old and thick sycamore trees. When we stopped for the night just fifteen miles shy of Georgetown we were completely spent. We still managed an early start and were able to surprise my sister on the front steps of my mom’s house in Arlington by mid-afternoon. We are now relaxing and planning the second half of our journey, which will resume after the weekend and it’s festivities.

Here is the highlight reel from the canal marathon:


The journey began here.


Fungus the size of platters.


Anne spotted this silver dollar sized snapping turtle struggling on a bridge. We helped it to find some water.


Almost every mile looked like this.


We finally reached a place near Great Falls that we recognized.


I found a four leaf clover near the Dam!


The Key Bridge at last. Sixty miles in forty-eight hours is not something we will likely attempt again, but it was really rewarding when we arrived.

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About real.pretty.food

After five months of Snickers Bars and couscous, eating all the meat and vegetables I can get my hands on...
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7 Responses to Spontaneity on the C&O Canal

  1. Dave says:

    I bet Georgetown doesn’t see many through-hikers coming in on foot!

  2. Helen says:

    Have you seen any bears lately?

  3. Alison says:

    wow that’s a lot of miles!! i know it was flat, but STILL.

    enjoy your R&R!

  4. Misti says:

    Did a google search for y’all after seeing your photos on the ATC Flickr site. Love your blog and the cool extra journey you did. That flat trail was so nice! But, don’t worry, Maryland through Mass is nice and smooth (mostly!). And PA isn’t as bad as you will think at the time—wait until NH!

    Ridley ’10

    • We discovered the Flickr site after your comment and now check it constantly–such a fun way to see who’s coming our way! Glad to hear you’re reading along. And yes, we’re a week into PA and are only now seeing the long stretches of boulders.

      Happy Memorial Day!

  5. Douglas James says:

    From Grandpa in Arkansas–I once ran the whole distance of the C&0 Canal from its beginning in Maryland to the Watergate in DC.

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