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: