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Paw Paw Tunnel, Cumberland, MD and the end of the C&O: Cracking a county, solving the pedal slog dilemma and slogging anyway

Paw Paw Tunnel, Cumberland, MD and the end of the C&O: Cracking a county, solving the pedal slog dilemma and slogging anyway

48 miles (77 km) – Total so far: 207 miles (333 km)

Another day of glorious weather and fantastic trail conditions. We started off with another oatmeal granola breakfast, wished Walt and Mike a fond adieu and were off. Walt and Mike, if you’re reading this, we really loved meeting you both and sharing campsites. You were one of the highlights of our trip. Keep in touch!!

There was only one diversion on our trail itinerary today, the Paw Paw tunnel at around mile 160. The brick lined tunnel took years to hand dig and blast out of the side of the mountain back in the 1800s and it is truly a marvel. The canal runs through the middle and the trail continues as a narrow ledge along one side of the tunnel. It is a long tunnel and not lighted so it is pitch black in the middle. Headlamps required. A railing along the side of the trail keeps you from plunging down into the canal in the darkness.

A lot of people have written about the tunnel, how it is scarey and drippy and dark. I can see how it would be kinda creepy to walk through it alone but we had the grand luck of reaching the tunnel smack dab in the middle of rush hour traffic. There were tons of people milling around either side of the tunnel, riding through the tunnel (you’re supposed to walk through) and even standing in the middle of the tunnel (they wouldn’t move out of our way). It was a bit aggravating and I’m sorry to say it somewhat blemished my Paw Paw Tunnel experience.

We still did feel the disorientation that so many have described about their walk through the tunnel. You can always see the light shining at the far end of the tunnel so it doesn’t appear to be very far away. However once you start walking through it, you keep walking, and walking, and walking and walking and walking and the light never appears to get any closer. In the pitch black center of the tunnel, both ends appear to be the same size and you get the sensation that you are not going anywhere although you continue to walk. It is a bit eerie.

Most of the cyclists we passed today weren’t very friendly at all, barely grunting out a hello in response to mine and completely ignoring my ‘how are you?’ After the exuberant friendliness of yesterday’s cyclists, we found this quite surprising and wondered about it. Maybe we’re in a different county, Craig suggested. What a rude county this must be. So I experimented with different sorts of hellos to see if there might be a crack in the rude exterior of this dastardly county. I started off with my usual goofy grin high-pitched hello, then tried a countrified ‘Well HELLO there!’ for a while. Next I dabbled with louder and even surprised sounding HELLOs. Not even the slightest fissure. This is one tough county! Then I stumbled upon a loud, authoritative HELLOOOO! accompanied by the slightest smile and voila! HELLOs all around thereafter. I cracked the county!

We enjoyed a nice lunch of Club crackers, sweet n’ spicy tuna, raisins and peanut butter while sitting on the porch of a lockhouse. These lockhouses are so fascinating. The lock keepers and their families lived in these while the canal was in business. When the barge neared the lock, the barge captain would blow his horn to alert the lock keeper. He would come out and operate the lock to raise the water to the level of the next section so that the barge could continue on down the canal. In exchange for this service, the lock keeper was given the lockhouse, a plot of land, and $600 a year. An interesting if perhaps often boring way to make a living. Many of the lockhouses are still standing and some have been renovated and can be rented for a night. They are still primitive though with no electricity or running water. I didn’t want to pay the price to stay in one when we can camp for free but it would have been fun I think.

We knew today would be a pedal slog as we cranked out the last 41 miles to get to Cumberland. Craig and I both get into what we call ‘slog mode’ when we near the end of a tour. We put our heads down and just crank out the miles as fast as we can. The problem is that we get exhausted and it’s not much fun. It’s a psychological thing. This happens to during the last section no matter how long or short the tour. So today I suggested that we keep our speed between 8 and 9 mph for the entire day. That’s exactly what we did. I think it drove Craig crazy but I enjoyed it tremendously. We were able to really experience the sights and sounds of the last section of the trail just as we usually enjoy the beginnings of our tours. And it was another beautiful day and a very pretty section of the trail.

The final quarter mile of the C&O has been bricked and is surrounded by new shops and restaurants. Canal Place appears to be a bustling little area of town. We had a terrific lunch at the Crabby Pig and toasted our Bud Light Limes to our successful completion of the trail. Then we climbed back on our bikes to ride the final six miles through town to our hotel where we’ll stay for the next two nights. We are meeting our St. Louis friend, Gerry, who will be biking the Great Allegheny Passage with us and we’re taking a needed rest day tomorrow.

We felt like celebrities as we continued down the grey brick road that designates the trail through Canal Place on our loaded bikes. Everyone stopped and gawked, pointed and waved. An older couple stopped us to ask us about our adventure and took our picture.

We rode on the smooth paved beginning of the GAP trail which took us to the other side of Cumberland. Then we left the trail and joined the cars for a four mile uphill slog to the Slumberland Hotel. And a slog it was. Lots of noisy traffic. And did I mention that it was all uphill? So we got in our pedal slog today afterall and it was exhausting, the worst part of our entire trip. We weren’t celebrities here; we were just slow bicyclists in the way. To be fair, all of the drivers gave us plenty of space and they’ve even added a bicycle lane since the Google street views of this area were photographed. It’s just not very much fun cycling in traffic after four days on the car free trail.

But all is well now. We are sitting in our comfy hotel room. It isn’t fancy but it is clean and the room is large enough to hold our bikes without feeling crowded. Our panniers are unloaded and cleaned. My electronics are charging. We’ve showered. And tonight we sleep on a BED!

My beautiful bike just hanging out by the river.

My beautiful bike just hanging out by the river.

Isn't this a remarkable spot for breakfast?!

Isn’t this a remarkable spot for breakfast?!

Walt and Mike, our campsite companions. You guys are top-notch!

Walt and Mike, our campsite companions. You guys are top-notch!

Just another beautiful section along the trail

Just another beautiful section along the trail

The jackets came off early today. It's going to be in the low 80s!

The jackets came off early today. It’s going to be in the low 80s!

I just love the trail in the morning.

I just love the trail in the morning.

Heading toward the Paw Paw Tunnel

Heading toward the Paw Paw Tunnel

The southern route to the Paw Paw Tunnel is very narrow. We met several cyclists coming the other way and we all had to stop and inch by each other.

The southern route to the Paw Paw Tunnel is very narrow. We met several cyclists coming the other way and we all had to stop and inch by each other.

The Paw Paw Tunnel is terribly deceptive. The light at the end of the tunnel is MUCH further away than it appears.

The Paw Paw Tunnel is terribly deceptive. The light at the end of the tunnel is MUCH further away than it appears.

Hanging out around the south side of the tunnel. Do you see Craig standing at the top of the tunnel? Always on the edge, that guy.

Hanging out around the south side of the tunnel. Do you see Craig standing at the top of the tunnel? Always on the edge, that guy.

Walking into the darkness.

Walking into the darkness.

In the center of the tunnel.

In the center of the tunnel.

Go to the light! Go to the light!

Go to the light! Go to the light!

Finally through the tunnel.

Finally through the tunnel.

The north side of the tunnel.

The north side of the tunnel.

The view looking north from the top of the tunnel.

The view looking north from the top of the tunnel.

Blue and the bikes.

Blue and the bikes.

Break time.

Break time.

Lunch on the porch of the lockhouse.

Lunch on the porch of the lockhouse.

Another abandoned lockhouse.

Another abandoned lockhouse.

I had a magic moment here. Craig was riding on ahead so that I could get a picture of him in the distance. As I stood there by myself, a fish jumped out of the water and I could see other fish and turtles underneath the crystal clear water. I heard something in the woods on the bluff above me. I looked up to see a deer right across the canal.

I had a magic moment here. Craig was riding on ahead so that I could get a picture of him in the distance. As I stood there by myself, a fish jumped out of the water and I could see other fish and turtles underneath the crystal clear water. I heard something in the woods on the bluff above me. I looked up to see a deer right across the canal.

So lovely.

So lovely.

Lockhouse and Surlys

Lockhouse and Surlys

Self portrait. Craig, Blue, bikes and a lockhouse.

Self portrait. Craig, Blue, bikes and a lockhouse.

Look! After two days of brilliantly clear skies, we finally have a cloud and it's the weirdest cloud I've ever seen. It looks like a smudge.

Look! After two days of brilliantly clear skies, we finally have a cloud and it’s the weirdest cloud I’ve ever seen. It looks like a smudge.

Sawtooth mountain ridge

Sawtooth mountain ridge

Trail ducks

Trail geese

More prettiness

More prettiness

Signs of civilization in the distance. We are nearing Cumberland.

Signs of civilization in the distance. We are nearing Cumberland.

Look! More smudge clouds! I thought that after 43 years I would have seen all the different kinds of clouds there are to see. But these are the oddest looking clouds.

Look! More smudge clouds! I thought that after 43 years I would have seen all the different kinds of clouds there are to see. But these are the oddest looking clouds.

Cumberland!

Cumberland!

Toasting our successful completion of the C&O Canal Path!

Toasting our successful completion of the C&O Canal Path!

The end of the C&O at Canal Place. Follow the grey brick road.

The end of the C&O at Canal Place. Follow the grey brick road.

WE DID IT!!!

WE DID IT!!!

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