Letters

Letters 08-03-2015

Real Brownfields Deserve Dollars I read with interest the story on Brownfield development dollars in the July 20 issue. I applaud Dan Lathrop and other county commissioners who voted “No” on the Randolph Street project...

Hopping Mad Carlin Smith is hopping mad (“Will You Get Mad With Me?” 7-20-15). Somebody filed a fraudulent return using his identity, and he’s not alone. The AP estimates the government “pays more than $5 billion annually in fraudulent tax refunds.” Well, many of us have been hopping mad for years. This is because the number one tool Congress has used to fix this problem has been to cut the IRS budget –by $1.2 billion in the last 5 years...

Just Grumbling, No Solutions Mark Pontoni’s grumblings [recent Northern Express column] tell us much about him and virtually nothing about those he chooses to denigrate. We do learn that Pontoni may be the perfect political candidate. He’s arrogant, opinionated and obviously dimwitted...

A Racist Symbol I have to respond to Gordon Lee Dean’s letter claiming that the confederate battle flag is just a symbol of southern heritage and should not be banned from state displays. The heritage it represents was the treasonous effort to continue slavery by seceding from a democratic nation unwilling to maintain such a consummate evil...

Not So Thanks I would like to thank the individual who ran into and knocked over my Triumph motorcycle while it was parked at Lowe’s in TC on Friday the 24th. The $3,000 worth of damage was greatly appreciated. The big dent in the gas tank under the completely destroyed chrome badge was an especially nice touch...

Home · Articles · News · Random Thoughts · A canal runs through it
. . . .

A canal runs through it

Robert Downes - September 27th, 2010
A Canal Runs Through It
Travel is expensive, especially in America. Thus, the arrival of the
so-called “staycation,” the oxymoronic equivalent of a cruel joke
perpetuated on people who are unaware of cheaper options.
There is an exciting alternative with a rock bottom budget, however:
bicycle camping.
The only problem is, only an idiot or a fool would do it; or so you
think the fourth time a bungee cord has snapped you in the face while
strapping a pair of bulging panniers, tent and sleeping bag onto your
bike. It seems unlikely this clumsy load will make it an hour down the
road, much less 185 miles down a trail through a dense forest where
the nearest help is many miles away.
Whatever; cheap thrills are on my mind this week because my wife
Jeannette and I have just completed cycling the C&O Canal Trail from
Cumberland, Maryland to Washington, D.C. If you’re looking for a
vacation idea that costs next to nothing, yet involves a healthful
dose of adventure, this trail, enjoyed by thousands of through-riders,
is well worth checking out.
Riding the C&O Canal Trail takes you 150 years into the past. It’s an
old tow path that runs along the north bank of the Potomac River
through some of the most stirring scenes of American history. Once,
mule teams dragged 90-foot canal boats up this waterway, filled with
120 tons of cargo. In fact, you feel a bit like a mule yourself, with
your bike loaded with canned chili, chicken, rice, pasta, breakfast
bars and three liters of wine. That’s because the second rule of bike
camping is to eat well around the campfire each night -- with the
first rule being to take along everything you could possibly need to
fix a breakdown.
God help you if you have a breakdown out here, because few roads cross
the path and it’s often 25-40 miles between towns, some of which are
rather desolate places.
It’s a deep, wild forest all the way to D.C.
The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal was built between 1828 and 1850 at a time
when canals and rivers served as America’s freight highways. It was
used to transport lumber, coal, wheat and produce through a pass in
the Allegheny Mountains from Pittsburgh and the Ohio River Valley.
During the early 1800s, America was in a canal-building frenzy, with
immigrants from Ireland and other European countries employed at
digging the Erie Canal, Welland Canal, and the C&O Canal, among many
others. Many of you readers probably had ancestors who worked on these
canals in America’s youth, breaking their backs with shovels and picks
or blasting rock with black powder.
The Confederate and Union armies fought back and forth along the canal
and the Potomac River. You pass near the Civil War battleground of
Antietem and Sharpsburg, which hosted the bloodiest day of the war. It
was here on Sept. 17, 1862 that 23,000 men died in a single day as the
forces of Confederate General Robert E. Lee clashed with Union Army
Major Center George McClellan in an attack on the North.
Harper’s Ferry is also a stop along the route: the site of a United
States Armory and Arsenal that was attacked by radical abolitionist
John Brown and 22 raiders on Oct. 16, 1859. Brown hoped to seize
100,000 firearms to arm the slaves for an uprising in the South. But
Brown and his men were bottled up in a small firehouse during an
intense firefight. He was stabbed in the leg with a sword during the
seige, captured, and hung for treason in nearby Charles Town in early
December.
The spread of railroads put an end to the canal boom, and although the
C&O was used until 1924, periodic floods and rail competition put it
out of business.
In 1954, U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, newsmen from
the Washington Post, and a band of supporters staged an eight-day hike
to save the old towpath from destruction. Thanks to the judge, the
towpath and canal were turned into a National Historic Park in 1971.
On our fourth afternoon of riding, we emerged from a jungle of vines
to find the Key Bridge and Washington Monument before us. Within
minutes, we rolled into historic, cobble-bricked Georgetown, the
yuppie section of Washington, D.C.; a place filled with restaurants,
boutiques, lobbyists and lawmakers. And me with an absolutely filthy
tank top (who knew bike camping could be such a dirty business?).
But we’d enjoyed a perfect trip under sunny skies and 80-degree
weather, with no headlong plunges into the canal, sidewall blowouts or
bear collisions to report.
If you’re so inclined (as we were), you can keep on riding south
across the Key Bridge another 18 miles to Mt. Vernon, the farm where
George Washington spent his final years.
Washington, as you may know, enjoyed a daily horseback ride around the
miles of his plantation. Perhaps he too would have enjoyed cycling the
C&O Canal if he were with us today. After all, he tramped and rode
through much of the same ground as a young surveyor, prior to the
American Revolution.
One more thing -- even if you’ve never bike camped before -- as was
the case with Jeannette (she loved it) -- one thing that both
newcomers and old camping veterans agree upon is that your first
shower off the trail sure feels like heaven.

 
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