Back on the bikes – the beautiful Rail Trail in Hancock, MD
For several months we’ve been hauling our bikes around, waiting for decent weather and a nice trail to hit. Our next stop was going to be a catch-up, a do-nothing-for-a-couple-of-days stop, but instead it became a let’s-ride-the-bikes stop. When we learned about the Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT), Steve immediately took down the bikes and we got ready for a great ride. But before continuing on that story let me show you first what we saw on our way into Maryland. We were cruising along I-68 and look what we saw far ahead in the mountain. It is considered one of the best rock exposures in Maryland.
As we approached it, we noticed that this was no ordinary road cut over a mountain, but a huge excavation called Sideling HIll. Almost 810 feet of strata are exposed in this cut, and as Betsy labored up the mountain I observed various exposed sedimentary rock types and structural features which might interest geologists. We have seen a mountain cut similar to Sideling Hill in the Canadian Yukon territory, but it was not as interesting as these exposed layers.
Going back to the excitement of being able to ride our bikes – no sooner did I hop on when I noticed that something was very wrong with my bike, the cogs were not locking when I pedaled. That could have been the end of our ride, but fortunately the C&O Bicycle store is located right at the trailhead! We went in and found our savior for the day, Jonathan, who figured out the problem and replaced the part in 20 minutes! I think we need to use our bikes more often, and take a little better care of them.
The Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) is a 20+ mile trail that follows the bends and curves of both the historic C&O Canal and the Potomac River. The C&O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Canal is an old towpath used to transport freight from Georgetown to Cumberland, and it runs 184.5 miles along the Potomac River.
The town of Hancock is at the center of the WMRT trail, so one can start there to head east for 10 miles or west for 10 miles. The folks at C&O Bicycle recommended that we ride the western half of the trail from Hancock to Lock 56 taking the C&O towpath going out, and the parallel WMRT on the way back. This route has excellent scenery and is away from road noise. Although the towpath became a battleground during the Civil War where the Potomac River and the canal were frequently crossed by troops from both sides, we did not see any signs or remnants between Milemarkers 124.1 and Milemarker 134.2. We did see remains of Locks 53, 55 and 56 of the canal, and the ruins of the old Round Top Cement Works where the remains of eight kilns once used to burn lime to ash existed.
From Lock 55 where Steve stood with a wide grin,
we continued another 2.5 miles to the western terminus of the WMRT at Pearre (PARE-ree) Station. Nearby is the historic 1930’s stone Woodmont Lodge, which served as a private premier rod and gun club and is now operated by Fort Frederick State Park and Maryland’s Wildlife & Heritage Service. This is where we turned around and picked up the WMRT to head back.
The ride back was easier on the asphalt paved path of the WRMT, but by this time my GPS showed 12.5 miles and we were getting tired and were only half way through. The humidity was taking its toll on us.
We trudged on and along the way saw plaques describing the apple industry that thrived in the area a century ago and is now just a memory. Blooming flowers and some critters were also on hand to greet us.
To our surprise, we saw a sign after about 19 miles that pointed to the Happy Hills Campground about a mile off the path, our current home base! I did not hesitate to quit and call it a day. My GPS showed 19.1 miles, my legs felt like wet noodles, and we were almost out of water. Steve continued the last 5 miles to get the car while I headed off through the woods back home.
The WMRT and C&O Canal can easily be one of our top bike rides this year, but we’d like to ride the eastern section as well – maybe next time!
At this stop we parked at Happy Hills Campground at Hancock, MD and although there were quite a few “perms”, this place was nice and quiet! You can see Steve’s campground review here. Access to the WMRT a mile away from the park is very convenient for walking or riding. And if you don’t have bikes, remember you can always rent one for the day from the good folks at C&O Bicycles!