“What was transportation remains transporting,” writes Eliza McGraw in the leisure section of the Wall Street Journal. Those words ring true for those of us who have enjoyed this national treasure right in our backyards.
Now is the time, as the towpath has been in our sight for about 20 years as a bucket list journey, to complete contiguously the 184.5 miles. The three of us have been training on the path for a year. Today, Leslie, Teresa and I were dropped off in Cumberland to begin the journey.
Cumberland is a part of the canal that none of us have biked before, so this leg truly is a trip of discovery. Both of my companions have biked near or through Paw Paw tunnel.
We were hindered at Canal Place in staying moving as there were so many things to see including a replica of a canal boat. The cherry trees were in bloom which made a beautiful backdrop to the steeples and mountains of Cumberland. Once we got beyond the boardwalk we were able to get into a good biking rhythm. We were fired up and ready to roll.
There were so many beautiful sights on our first 43 miles that we would have trouble listing them all. Some of the highlights were: the early spring flowers in Bloom; lots of deer in the meadow, with babies; the stone work in the locks that are still functional; the story of the lock keeper who was responsible for four locks; the Potomac forks where the north and south branches of the Potomac meet; the iron mountain campsite; and of course, the beautiful spring day that God provided.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of this day was the Paw Paw tunnel. What an impressive structure, and we conquered it!
We are tired and have another big day tomorrow, so thanks for your prayers and enjoy the pictures below.
Renee and I met while we were in the Doctorate of Ministry program at Wesley Theological Seminary, Cohort H. I love her call story. Renee had a high power executive job in Atlanta working in the Time-Warner building. Every day she went to the park for lunch where she caught up on her reading for the Disciple 1 Bible class. She started to notice that there were people in the park who seemed to have no place to go. She realized that they were part of the unhoused community in the city. Slowly, over time she earned their trust, and she ultimately had a full fledged Bible study in the park during her lunch break, everyday with unhoused citizens. As they studied together and prayed together, she learned more about them and the social climate of their culture. Renee eventually helped some of them gain access to the personal documents necessary to get identification, apply for jobs and locate social services. Witnessing the fruit of some of this work with them facilitated Renee’s call to ministry,
I met her after she had served for awhile in the Western part of Pennsylvania. For a three year period we would see each other twice a year for two weeks of class. We formed a friendship, and after graduation, Renee and I continued our friendship.
Renee is a deep seated person of prayer. She discovered how seamlessly God allowed her leadership skills to translate from nearly two decades of secular work to leading and nurturing a congregation, even as her preaching and teaching skills were being developed. After we received our doctorate degrees we continued to be in touch monthly to exchange spiritual direction. We were intentional about scheduling time to regularly talk and pray with each other sometimes for two hours (after our church committee meetings) late into the late night. It was a time that I deeply cherished. Something happened during those times of prayer that was sacred and holy. When you pray with someone you are not only sharing your soul, but you are also inviting God in the center of the relationship. They are deeply sacred times.
We always shared from our hearts before praying. We shared of ministry and family, joys and trials. The problem was, much of what I shared were ordinary issues and problems of ministry. Renee had a difficult ministry setting. She confided in me, and was comfortable sharing the trials she had faced while pastoring in a cross-racial appointment. Many members of the congregation were extremely unkind to her. She also used some of those challenges to shape the writing of her dissertation.
In the United Methodist system a pastor is appointed to a congregation by the resident Bishop. This beautiful woman of color was appointed to an all white congregation, and they wanted nothing to do with her. There were a few kind souls, but there was a larger group that was not only mean and nasty to her, but clearly told her, in their meetings that they did not want her to be their pastor. They would even talk about her in the third person while she was with them in the meetings. This was not just once or twice, but rather it was an ongoing, never-ending, situation. It was painful for me to listen to. I am not sure how she survived being there, but she constantly responded with grace and a charitable heart. I often asked her how she continued, and she said it was through much prayer and looking at them with the eyes of Jesus. These were CHURCH people who were unkind!
Three years ago their new Bishop appointed her to extension ministry as assistant to the Bishop. She is healing from the experience in her previous appointment while adapting to her new role in ministry. She is doing a phenomenal job, and enjoying her new role.
I would not have been able to survive the things that Renee had to endure, all because she was African American, and a woman. To say that Renee has gifts and grace for the job of being a pastor would be an understatement. The prejudice and hurt that she had to endure was inhumane. Yet, she loved the congregation she served just the same.
Renee and I are still good friends, but we do not have opportunities to exchange spiritual direction as much anymore because of her crazy, busy position as assistant to the Bishop, which she loves, and for which I am thrilled for her.
This is printed with her permission.
So what can you do? We can stand up against racism! If you observe patterns of behavior that are out of line, speak up. Could there not have been one person in her previous parish to speak out against what was overtly being said and done to her? Would you have supported this gifted woman in ministry if this had been your church? The time is now, this has to change.
As in a previous story, here are some things you can do:
Do not allow racist jokes, or remarks in your presence or from your children or their children. They are really not funny. Stop it!
Teach your children well, that all people are made in the image of God and each and every person has unique stories.
Read stories about the African American culture that highlight some differences that you might not be aware of.
Ask forgiveness when you did not notice an unjust situation taking place. I was shocked to learn the kind of treatment that was being given to Renee, and she was an ordained pastor, with a Doctorate of Ministry degree in church Leadership!
Pay attention to a neighbor who is different than you. Start a relationship with them.
Stand up for justice when you see injustice happening.
Write a story, like this one. Share a story on your social media.
Use your vote for change.
March for justice.
Write to your elected officials.
Write a nice note to someone who is different than you. Ask them how they are doing in these turbulent times.
Watch movies based on real life to include “Just Mercy,” “42,” the story of Jackie Robinson, and “Green Book.”
Each of us can do something. The time is now, choose something today!
Sometimes the New Year feels like an endless staircase that goes into the unknown, and in some ways it is. Yet, we do have things and hope that we can cling to. We do have direction and purpose. I just finished reading an endless series on New Year’s resolutions; while all the ideas were good, none of them had a faith based component. I, too, would love to increase my distance in riding my bike, or ensure my finances are in order, or get rid of my belly-muffin, or get rid of my piles, yes, I am a pile person. But, of all the things that I want to improve upon, there is one that stands out far more than the others: That is to grow closer to Jesus in this New Year. Or, as my friend Pastor Gary put it, to make disciples who grow disciples who live and love like Jesus. Jesus gives that unknown staircase a purpose and a direction, and it all begins with knowing Jesus more intimately. There-in lies our hope.
It has been a hard year for many: Covid continues, lock-downs have busted up plans, seeing family and friends has been limited, we are plagued with unrest, injustices, divided spirits, self-righteousness, sickness of many kinds, and the list goes on and on. In many ways, we do look like the first century with the many forms of little gods who want our undivided attention; they even want us to pay attention to them in the New Year, and to write resolutions around them. While they are important, they are not the most important thing. Jesus tells us there is one thing to seek, “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:32-34)
So this New Year, in spite of all the things I want to do, my main resolution is to grow with Jesus. That was also last year’s resolution, and this year I have a deeper relationship with Jesus than I did the year before.
Again, this is my personal need and desire, to grow even closer to Jesus this year as well. Each morning before I get out of bed I say the words, “Jesus, I belong to you. Where do you want me to be today? to whom do you want me to speak a kind word? Will you give me opportunity today to share hope in you and help me not to miss that opportunity? Jesus, when I am sad, will you fill me with your spirit, knowing that you promise not to leave me or forsake me? In addition, I pray the prayer of the prophet Habakkuk, “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord. Repeat them in our day, in our time make them known; in wrath remember mercy.” (Habakkuk 3:1)
How can we grow with Jesus? To help achieve this goal each day is spent reading the Bible. It is important to hang out with God, to get to know God. Each day I hang out with Jesus. After all, every relationship is deepened by spending time together. It is my desire to spend time with Jesus. Each day is spent in significant prayer; not only praying for others which is extremely important, but also praying for God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven. This is part of the Lord’s Prayer that many of us pray regularly. Do we believe it can become a reality?
Pastor Tony Evans has a 12 minute, impactful, New Year’s message about the disciples when they were on the water and the storm came, and Jesus was asleep in the boat. He reminded his listeners that the disciples were in the will of God, yet the storm came. God had not forgotten them, but sometimes the storm comes, even when we are in the will of God. We can all be assured that even though the storm comes, God has not abandoned us, in fact, it is in times like this when we can lean into the promises of Jesus. These are tough times, should not our one desire for the New Year be to grow closer to Jesus and the will of God for our lives?
What are our expectations for this New Year? My expectation is that God is doing a new thing. The prophet Isaiah promises this new thing to the people of God. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” That promise was not only for the Israelites in exile in Babylon, that promise was not only for the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, whose birth we just celebrated, but that promise is for us now as well in our day and time. God is doing a new thing. Are we ready, can we lean into it?
What if that new thing were another Great Awakening? Great Awakenings have happened historically in the 17th and 18th centuries (and before). They have even happened in our day and time, in 1949 in the Great Awakening in the Hebrides. That began with two sisters in their 80’s who began to pray for revival. They began to pray because they had grown closer to Jesus. Do you see how it all ties together?
How can we all be in tune with what God is doing? We are all in the boat together, some are faring better than others, but the reality is that the only thing that will save us is a closer walk with Jesus, and the Holy Spirit working in our lives doing a new thing. One resource is the course from New Room on The Awakened Life. They will begin a new session here in the New Year. Most of all, as each of us makes a New Year Resolution to walk closer to Jesus, and we begin to grow more and more like Jesus, this possibility of awakening can become a reality. The staircase in front of us might seem endless and hard, yet there is hope in Jesus What is the most important thing on your New Year’s Resolution list?
Miracles still happen, and we were first-hand witnesses of a miracle this past summer. The trauma of the day-and week- is still hard for the parents and grandparents to talk about, but they gave me permission to share their story; from where we were praying.
The text came in around 4 pm on a sunny, summer Sunday afternoon. It was sent to three other people and me: “HELP-Bennett was found in the pool unconscious-on the way to hospital.”
As we began to pray the next text came in, “Can you please ask everyone to pray?” We knew we had a job to do, we had to get the message out, and get folks praying for Bennett.
Bennett is my friend’s two-year old grandson. He had already been through open heart surgery many times, in fact he had a pace maker, but that did not help when he accidentally fell into the pool. The extended family was on vacation in a rental home at the Outer Banks. There was a pool at the house, all had been enjoying the company of family in the midst of this COVID crisis, and then this…..
To say that this little boy was in need of another miracle is an understatement. Each of us on the other end of that text had rallied prayer warriors in our respective circles. Since we are people of prayer, we had many people, in various time zones around the world, to call upon, and we did!
My own time of contending for this little boy was spent on my knees praying scripture over him, and dressing him up in the armor of God. (Ephesians 6) Many of us prayed frequently, relentlessly, and with intensity of purpose.
The next thing we heard was not until 8 pm that evening. “Helicoptered to Norfolk Children’s Hospital-his Dad flew with him, the rest of us drove here and arrived safely.” We did not receive much more news that day, but we kept the prayers going. I was preaching at a chapel that night; The congregation contended for him and others whom we knew were sick or in need of healing. Meanwhile, we knew that Bennett was in the best hands possible, so we prayed not only for Bennett and his family, but for wisdom for the doctors and nurses who were tending to him.
We continued to pray through the night, and through the next morning. Each of us sending texts of encouragement a few times. Our friend said those were really encouraging for her and the family. It wasn’t until the next morning at 11 am when we received the next text. Honestly, we were not sure what to expect, and we breathed a collective sigh of relief when we read the next text. It was good news for hope. “Bennett opened his eyes for his Daddy and cried when he saw him. He closed them and Dad said, ‘do you want to open your eyes?’ Bennett shook his head no! Bennet is also shaking his head to say yes or no to hear his favorite songs! This is positive news. He still has in a breathing tube.”
The day progressed with more good news. “Just turned the ventilator off to check breathing, so far breathing on his own.” The next text came at noon, “drawing blood to see his numbers,” then in the afternoon at 1 pm, “the tube is out!” The good news continued to roll. The next day Bennett was out of bed and playing with toys. On Wednesday the best news of all came, “Bennett came home today.”
As of today, a month later, praise God that Bennett has no bad lasting side effects from his drowning experience. (He did have a few nights of nightmares when he went home, but at age two he did not have a big enough vocabulary to put those into words.) Meanwhile we, his family, friends, and extended friends are grateful for this miracle – it truly is a miracle of God, and we are grateful.
When we heard that Bennett responded to his father’s voice, none of us praying missed that God, whom we often call Father, also hears our voices and responds to our heartfelt needs and requests. We too, when we are still, can also hear the voice of our Heavenly Father. What a gift it is to be able to go to God in prayer, and know that God hears our voices, and responds to our cries of faith.
We also know that there are many cries to God for help, and sometimes those miracles do not happen. In this case, we are grateful. We do not know the answer of why sometimes God responds favorably, and sometimes that does not seem to happen the way we had hoped. We do know that, as people of faith, we are called to pray, and we are called to pray without ceasing. By the power of the Holy Spirit, miracles still happen today! Thank you, Lord!
“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 1 Thessalonians 4:16
I went to bed early on the nation’s birthday, July 4 th. I had an early flight in the morning so I needed to get some rest. As I started to drift off to sleep I heard the neighborhood celebrating with both legal and illegal fireworks. There were huge bangs and pops and loud noises everywhere.
I could go to sleep knowing that, in theory, there was no imminent danger to me or my family. The noises brought to mind, however, those who go to sleep at night with the danger of gunfire all around them; those in war torn places of the world; those with no safety net, even those in our own United States where gun violence is rampent in their cities.
Currently I am taking an on-line class with a group of Christians from around the world. When our classmate from Syria introduced herself she stated that “they are in the midst of civil war in Syria for the last 12 years.” I thought of her as I lay in my bed hearing sounds of fireworks. I prayed for her, and I was grateful that the sounds outside my window were not sounds of war.
We are so blessed with the freedom we have in the United States. Yet we know that freedom came with a huge price tag. Our military heroes sacrificed their lives for our freedom. We are grateful.
But there is more. The Apostle Paul, the once Christian persecutor who became one of the greatest proclaimers of Christ, reminds us that ultimate freedom came from Jesus, the one who died on a cross to set us free from the slavery to sin. Paul uses these words in Galatians 5:13-14,
“For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
In these past years, especially during this pandemic, we have taken this concept of freedom and twisted it to incorrectly portray personal privilege in doing whatever we want, sometimes not even caring about the law or the freedom of others. We have abused our freedom for “opportunity of the flesh.”
This is a perversion of the freedom bought for our land and especially of the freedom purchased by the blood of Christ. Christ set us free to love more fully, so that we would “love our neighbor as ourselves.” How are we doing at that?
We will not be truly free until we can really grasp this concept of love, “agape” love, or servant love for which Christ set us free. What would it look like for us to start another pandemic, one in which love, kindness, patience, and self-control were the leading influences for our freedom? That would be a pandemic worth striving for!
Don’t misunderstand, I am so grateful for those who sacrificed for this country, but I am hoping we can live into the fullness of what those sacrifices were for. They were not merely so each of us can bask in self indulgences, but rather that we can live into the freedom to care for one another as Christ first cared for us. As I laid in my bed, hearing the pop-pop sounds of fireworks, I thought of my new Syrian friend. She lives in a fear that I am blessed to have never known. I am grateful for our relative peace, yet sometimes it seems like we in the USA have moved to the opposite end of the spectrum in refusing to work together towards the next goal of caring for each person as sacred worth, each of us being created in the image of God, and each of us being called to sacrifice self for the love of neighbor. What’s one step you can take toward that kind of freedom today?
Thank you for coming along on our journey. Yes, we are tired, but we are all so very, very happy. We are at our individual homes, moving slowly, doing laundry, washing mud from bikes, sharing a few stories, and taking it slowly. We wanted to take a moment to thank you, the readers and encouragers, and to answer a few questions that have been asked of us.
Some have asked about our training. We are amateurs, but we knew we had to train as best as possible. Leslie really was never a bike rider until a year ago. She trained all this year and had achilles surgery at the end of last summer, which put her out of commission for six weeks. Teresa and I had never ridden a bike more than twenty miles before, and that was rare. Our training consisted of biking weekly when possible, increasing the distance, and ultimately, increasing the frequency. Since we were in a pandemic, it was virtually impossible to go work out in a gym. We biked in the heat of the summer, 100 degrees and major humidity, and we biked when it was 32 degrees and a little snow was still on the towpath. (We walked through those short sections.) Almost all of our training was on the towpath itself, except Teresa did practice some on the farm where she grew up.
We chose 40 miles a day because we were hoping it was doable. Our first day of 43 miles was more than either Teresa or I had EVER biked in one sitting. None of us had biked these distances more than two days in a row. This trip really was a stretch goal for us all. We share this to encourage you, the reader to go for your goals.
Our bucket list was the first week in April, after Easter because some of us have worship responsibilities. We also planned this around my daughters, both of whom are pregnant, and one baby is due to arrive next week. New grand babies meant that training and a season for taking a week away would be more difficult, as I want to be available to assist my growing family.
Biking the towpath in early April also meant we were a little “ahead” fo the normal season for biking in Maryland. The water in the campsites is not yet turned on, which required us to carry more water with us than perhaps is necessary in the warmer months. Obviously, we had no clue what the weather would be, but we were blessed beyond measure with beautiful days, and there was virtually no rain to prevent us from riding. (Heavy rain fell at night, and storms were around two days, but we were blessed to not get wet.)
Early April also meant that some B and B places were not yet open, others were struggling on how to open with COVID, but we planned for that. It also meant that fewer people were on the path, which really was fun for us. We did not need to wear masks in the western part of the canal because we hardly saw anyone. We really only needed our masks when we arrived closer to Washington.
Teresa had with her the old guide that gives a blow by blow rendition of what we were seeing along the way, and at what mile marker you will find certain historic structures or battles. Both of us have been using that guidebook for years. But there are now at least two new apps that we had on our phones: One is by the National Park Service called C&O Companion, the other one is from the Canal Trust called C&O Canal Explorer, I preferred the latter.
As stated in our pre-trip blog, we were not in a rush. We wanted to finish well; Slow and steady wins the race, but we were not racing anyone. We stopped to take pictures, and we stopped to enjoy the scenery. For us it is a metaphor of the journey of life, to include the last day’s find of mile marker 0. (Check out yesterday’s blog.)
We are all three women of faith. We fully believe Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” As such everyday began and ended with prayer. We were honored to be able to witness God’s beauty in the rivers, the flowers, the birds, and the sunrises and the sunsets. We were in awe of watching the newness of life spring forth before our very eyes. Where spring was only in the beginning stages in Cumberland, it was in full bloom in Washington. (My allergies can attest to that!) When the last 5 miles began to get tough each day, we would turn on music by Toby Mac, David Crowder or other contemporary Christian artists to get us pumped up. We would also sing praise songs ourselves as we biked along. We are truly grateful for those who prayed for safety for us on this trip, and encouraged us on the way.
It was not only the beauty of the land, but the beauty of sisters in Christ who shared the journey that made this such an incredible adventure. We laughed until we cried, and we encouraged each other along the way. It truly is a metaphor for life’s journey, so very similar to my walk on the Camino de Santiago. (If you would like to read those stories find them here.)
Once again, we are so grateful to have this National Park treasure in our backyard. If you would like to help the C&O Trust to help with some extra upkeep on the trail feel free to use this link. The Trust supports the effects of the Park’s resurfacing project- adding a layer of crushed gravel to the parts of the towpath that need it most-they do not spearhead the project. That credit all goes to the Park’s leadership and to Maryland for providing the majority of the funds. (Suddenly I feel better about my Maryland taxes.) We are encouraging folks to help with the maintenance of the trail in honor of our adventure.
By the way, we had never known the story of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas who is credited for the towpath becoming a National Park. It seems that when the C&O Canal went back to the government due to bankruptcy, some wanted to build a new highway along the Potomac River. It was Justice Douglas who challenged the Washington Post editors, Merlo Pusey and Robert Esterbrook, to hike with him the entire distance to convince the Post to “…use the power of [the Post’s] editorial page to help keep this sanctuary untouched…” Read the full story here. We are grateful to this visionary for his fortitude and perseverance.
We were able to help a few folks along the trail! One guy was trying to change a flat tire. We asked if we could help and he said, “Not unless you have a fast tire pump.” We did not, but we did have a can of air that blows up tires and we gave that to him. Another young woman was biking by herself from Georgetown to Cumberland. She had just camped and was packing up. We gave her some Nuun tablets to help sustain her electrolytes during the journey. There were so many others with whom we exchanged words of encouragement. We appreciated the camaraderie of fellow towpath explorers.
Special kudos go to our volunteer support friends who brought us to and from the canal for our B and B stays, and transported us to and from the beginning and ending mile markers. Dee and Ron, thanks for the medals, we will wear them with pride!
May you, the reader be encouraged for whatever is on your bucket list: Persevere, train, move forward. Don’t let COVID, or surgeries, or statements like “I’ve never done that before” prevent you from living into the fullness of who God create you to be. If the time is not now, then when? But the time is now. Take the leap out of faith, you can do it!
We have been talking about this adventure for twenty some years, and we have been planning, and training for it for the last year. Now we have finally arrived. We did it! We cycled from Cumberland to Georgetown, in Washington, D.C. in five days, doing around 40 miles per day. As amateurs, we feel very accomplished: Tired and happy!
Last night it rained hard on the tin roof at our Air B and B rental. We knew that this would cause major mud puddles along the part that was not paved, which is from mile marker 22 to 0. We were in for a mud splash bath. We were also hoping that it would not rain on us during our last 35 miles. We were blessed. Not one drop of rain fell on us, even though there were storms around us. We literally got our bikes in Leslie’s husband’s truck, came out of the parking garage, and the rain drops began to fall. We are grateful.
Caroline and Kevin took us back to White’s Ferry where our mutual friend Dee met us to join us for some of today’s journey. She and her husband did the full length of the canal years ago with their scout troops. She travelled with us for part of the way today. Unbeknownst to us, they had a surprise for us: At the end of our celebration dinner, they presented us with the award medals that are given to scouts who complete all 184.5 miles. It felt like the Camino prize all over again. What a nice gift.
The day was very overcast and a little foggy, but that actually made the new spring colors of redbud trees and dogwoods, spring phlox and blue bell colors pop. We saw blue herons at both the beginning and end of the trip, and we even saw a heron rookery, where the adult birds were flying back to their nests to feed the babies. There were probably around ten nests. We also loved seeing the bald eagle stalking the waters.
Some of today’s highlights included: The blue heron rookery; all of the many locks and their history; the colors of spring; Great Falls where we not only saw the rushing waters, but also saw some kayakers doing the rapids; the cliffs over Billy Goat Trail along the canal after Great Falls; The bald eagle; Entering into Georgetown and knowing we were traveling this historic trail; and of course, ARRIVING!
We met some very friendly people along the way, and a few asked about our trip. (Dee had a sign that said “D.C. or bust!”) Perhaps the most interesting person we met was Terrel, a librarian who actually showed us where to find marker number “o.” We went to the end of the trail in Georgetown, which in itself is not easy because of the way they have designed the beautiful waterfront. Leslie’s husband was waiting to take us home. The path stopped at some great signs telling about the trail, but there was no marker for “o.” It was Terrell who told us that the last .4 miles were blocked by the freeway, and we had to walk down another street, by the waterfront, past the boathouse, and we would find the marker there. He even offered to walk us there, an offer we gladly accepted! As he said, this is a symbol of life, finish well, and do not wish later, that you had done that last .4 mile that was difficult to find. Yes, indeed, there is much symbolism here.
As we were walking in front of the boat house, the scull teams were putting away their boats. They washed all the boats prior to putting them away, and we took advantage of their hose to wash the mud off of our bikes. Another gift along the journey, a free mud washing station.
Dee and her husband joined us for a celebration dinner at the Old Angler Inn, which is on the way out of town near the canal. (Yes, we did change out of our muddy clothes prior to eating in a nice place.)
Once again, we hope you enjoyed the virtual trip. We will write a post-script tomorrow, but for now, we are happy, tired, and need to go to bed. Thanks again for all the prayers for safety and well being.
Pro tip: While it is obvious that we are amateur cyclists, we did get some pro-tips from my niece and her husband: drink Nuun! Nuun is a little tablet that you drop in your water bottle that provides all the electrolytes that you need while working your body hard. It is a game changer. Between that and the protein snacks, cliff bars, and beef jerky we have been able to sustain our bodies during our 40 biking mile days. (And, of course the prayers of friends and family.)
Last night we ended at the Shepherdstown Bridge in Sharpsburg, and our wonderful support team brought us to my house, because we are now on the part of the towpath which is “our backyard.” This is where we have been biking regularly for the last 20 years, and dreaming of the day when we would fulfill our bucket list. This morning Teresa’s brother provided transportation back to where we left off, and he rode ahead of us for a short bit.
While we have been describing some of the sights of the river and the canal’s history, we have not yet mentioned the Civil War battles and all the history that transpired here. There are many places along the canal that were fiercely fought for during the Civil War. The Potomac River was a great divide between the north and south. From Cumberland all the way to Washington you can read about the battles and the skirmishes that took place at that very spot. Today we road through Antietam, the place that was a major battle front for those protecting the northern lines. The loss of life was huge here in protecting what is now known as Burnside Bridge. That is located a little off the path over the Antietam River. There is even a tree by the waterside that is said to be the witness tree, as it pre-dates the war. The troops were constantly looking for places to cross the river. This history is documented all along the towpath, but especially in today’s section.
We also rode past Harper’s Ferry, a place where we often bike, where John Brown tried to overtake the arms that were kept here. Harper’s Ferry is a delightful little town, where the iron factory once made it a thriving hub. It is also a visual delight as this is where the Shenandoah River and the Potomac River join together. Along with biking, these are also great places for hiking and kayaking. Teresa and I raised our kids biking here.
While today was a 37 mile bike ride for us, we were pretty excited because we know that this is where the paved crusher stone begins. We noticed about 2 years ago that this paving project was taking place, and it is a game changer! Normally we would have been concerned about last night’s rain leaving big mud puddles along the path. Today we knew that would not make a difference because of the paving project that begins at the Shepherdstown Bridge and goes all the way to mile marker 22. Thank you National Park management, and the C&O Canal Trust who supports the efforts of the Park’s resurfacing project by adding a layer of crushed gravel to the parts of the towpath that need it most. The National Park’s leadership and the state of Maryland have done an outstanding job of prioritizing funds for this improvement. It was Teresa’s brilliant idea to include a donation to the Trust on our blog. This donation goes directly towards C&O Improvements. Click here to donate to them in our honor.
Along with the delight of riding in “our own backyard,” we were delighted to be in one of the most beautiful parts of the towpath. There was a strong breeze blowing all day long, but the paved path made that wind easier.
Among today’s highlights were: the heron at the beginning and end of the day; the cave before Dargen’s Bend; Watching spring unfold before our eyes as the leaves were not out in Cumberland, but were unfurling in Frederick County; The Antietam, Catoctin and Monacacy River aqueducts; Harper’s Ferry and the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers; The redbuds, dogwood, and Bloodwort flowers blooming along with the miles of Virginia Bluebells, and some were pink; and the classic White’s Ferry where we ended the day.
My sister and her husband are our support team for this evening and tomorrow morning. We are staying in a nearby Air B and B.
Once again, thanks again for following our journey. We hope you are enjoying the virtual tour.
Waking up in the Lock Keeper’s house was very cool. It was like sleeping in a museum. We did read that the keeper’s house was built in 1863. While there is electricity inside now, we did not have running water, and we had a port-a-potty outside, which all worked just fine. Perhaps the best part was the morning sunrise and the birds singing. A turkey was gobbling nearby too.
We also learned that the canal boats, that once were the life of the canal itself, took five days to reach end to end. Our journey is also five days. We loved our common denominator.
After enjoying a leisure breakfast of hard boiled eggs and some other breakfast protein, we set out on today’s biking adventure. Our goal today was the Sheperdstown Bridge. Along the journey we would hit the mid-point of both the towpath itself and our day’s travel’s.
Teresa’s rear tire was not spinning freely. We were a little concerned that we might have trouble in the day. In the end, she was able to figure out how to use different muscles to overcome the problem. She had to work smarter, not harder. We were blessed when we got to Shepherdstown and our support team, Wendy and her husband, were able to take us to the bike repair shop. They did a hub adjustment and a derailer adjustment, and we are ready to roll for tomorrow. (Another God story: The bike shop had been closed until today, when it was open for the first time since Easter. We were once again, blessed.)
Some of today’s highlights included: The four locks that included our lock keeper’s house, where a thriving community once lived; the stone ruins of the grain mill called Charles Mill, dam 5 and 4 where we learned about the labor dispute between the northern and southern Irish workers; some beautiful aqueducts; Williamsport visitor’s center, which is currently closed due to COVID; many more locks, some which had the working mechanisms in them; a few caves which were fun to explore; and the Big Slackwater basin and cliffs. The cliffs were particularly spectacular. This area was new to all three of us. One cave reminded us of the empty tomb that we celebrated on Easter.
It was a very hot day, especially for early April. By the time we arrived at Taylor’s Landing, there was a cloud that started rolling in. We were concerned about a thunder storm, but we out-biked it, and only had a few raindrops on us. It did bring out the bugs, which were the first ones that we really encountered that were a little bothersome.
Once again, we have had a wonderful day. We are grateful for all the support. We are signing off and going to bed after having traveled 111 miles on the Canal, and we have 72.8 more miles to go, but who is counting? (By the way, this is the most any of us have ever biked, EVER.)
For all who have been praying for us, we are grateful, and we have felt the hand of God every step of the way. The short version is that Leslie got a flat tire as we were going up the steep, very Stoney hill in Hancock. The good news was that we were a stone’s throw away from a bike shop, and it was fixed in “nothing flat.”
We actually awoke in Hancock. Since Leslie’s husband Jim was on “support duty” the last two days we decided to overnight at The River Run B and B, while they stayed at their permanent camper nearby. (Jim made us a delightful dinner the night after our first ride.)
The B and B was a delightful house and we had a wonderful stay. In its former life it was a distillery warehouse. The host Sinclair made our breakfast and we were able to watch the sunrise over the canal.
Some of the highlights from day two were: the wood ducks which Sinclair told us to watch for, the old cement factory outside of Hancock, learning about the flowering service berry trees (which call us to Easter services), ice cream in Hancock, foil dinners over the outside fire, eating dinner by the sunset, and our current “museum” stay in Lockhouse number 49.
We are grateful on this bike journey remembering that it is a symbolism for our life journey: God provides our every need.
Once again thanks for your prayers. Signing off from Lockhouse 49.
P, S. We appreciate the lock keepers and their hard work. We are grateful to have the modern gift of good cell reception from the Lockhouse which allowed Teresa a FaceTime birthday call to her daughter who is serving in a mission home in Ukraine.
So often in life we are in a rush to get somewhere, to achieve something, or to get to the “next thing.” I know because I have been there! We need to get this done today; we only have so much time; we must beat everyone; we must win the race; and the list goes on and on.
Many have biked the entire canal in two days. Other do it on a long 3-day weekend. Leslie, Teresa and I have a different philosophy. We want to enjoy the journey! We are not setting out to “win” or achieve anything, we are setting out to enjoy the journey and have fun! We have planned a 5-day journey so that we can enjoy the ride. We want to stop and see the sites, and to revel in the majesty of God’s creation of mountains and rivers, cliffs and valleys, flora and fauna.
Enjoying the journey becomes a metaphor for our life’s journey. Once again, so often we set out to achieve a goal, and forget to enjoy the process. The process can be difficult. We are molded and pressed, refined in the fire, and sometimes scarred along the way. But, the path can also lead to renewal, rejuvination, and a kind of new life. Don’t we all need the feeling of newness and hope after having experienced the year of 2020?
It is not by accident that we will set out on this journey right after Easter, right as we celebrate the fullness of hope in the resurrection of Jesus. During our journey spring will continue to spread her glory. We have the privilege of watching spring unfold as we ride our bikes! Perhaps as we remember resurrection, hope and the promise of new life, we too, will be filled with life anew. Who knows what awaits “just around the river bend?”
P.S. We decided that part of our ride would also be dedicated to securing more funds for the Canal Trust, who help to maintain the towpath. They are the ones who are working on the gravel paving on the towpath. If you would like to donate on behalf of our trip, click here.