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Bike Camp 2011

posted May 31, 2011, 5:16 PM by Christine Merrill   [ updated May 31, 2011, 6:30 PM ]
Two years ago, we went on our first bike campout in southern Indiana.  This year I wanted to do it again, but with a new job and not so much time off...that becomes tricky.  So, Memorial Day weekend it was.  Still early in the year, before it gets too hot, and we could do our campout with only a half day off work.  Well, it turns out to have worked almost as planned...except for the "not so hot" part.  Yeah, highs of 95 both days, and typical summer humidity...I openly admit that we left our house in complete and utter fear that we were in for the most horrible two days of our lives.  But, it wasn't.  Phew!

We biked on the C&O canal from Edwards Ferry in Potomac MD to...well, we'll get to that part later.  We biked 15 miles on Monday, to Swains Lock, which has a free campground.  The C&O canal has lots of free campgrounds, but this is the closest one to DC.  When we set out, it was early and not-quite-sweltering yet, but the trail was pleasantly shaded, so we weren't so worried about the heat, at least as long as we were moving.  But by our first water break, morale was very low - more mosquitoes  We were really tempted to turn around and go home.  After about 6 miles of pleasant-if-not-for-the-bugs riding, Lillian declared her need to use the facilities, and Marriner (who was pulling the kids) took off to find a facility, or at least a good log.  Lige and I caught up 15 minutes later to find that the nearest restroom was actually in paradise - a grassy park with people tubing and canoeing, picnic tables, and no mosquitoes!  Yea!  We were grateful to find that this marked the end of wilderness and the beginning of mosquito-free zone.  So, we ate lunch, explored the aquaduct nearby and hit the trail.  We actually made it our 15 miles to the campsite by about 1:30.  We pitched a tent, let the kids have some bug-free quiet time (no mosquitoes, but plenty of gnats...) and decided to bike 3.5 miles down the trail to Great Falls.  Lige was beginning to show signs of wear, so we let him ride  in the bike trailer (we were using two), which let Marriner and I spend some time together - and ride a little faster than before :)  We'd planned to go get ice cream, but the snack shop was closed, to my surprise.  I mean, it was Memorial Day... so we settled for a hike to see the so-called Great Falls.  I mean, I come from the mountains, how great can a water fall on the Potomac be, anyway?  Answer: amazing.  But it's not really a water fall, per se, more like rapids like you've never seen before.  It was so noisy that Lill covered her ears the whole time.  And sitting down in any calm space in the rapids were blue heron, acting like they weren't in the middle of gazillions of gallons of water pounding past them at a gazillion miles an hour.  Really quite an impressive sight.  At this point, the kids were wearing out (though still cheerful, amazingly - remember, it's 95*F and muggy...) so we went back and roasted marshmallows before putting the kids to bed.  Though, I'm not sure why we put kids to bed while camping, it never works.  They always stay up until at least an hour past dark and drive their parents crazy, knowing how grumpy they're going to be the next day.

And, speaking of the next day, it was again surprisingly fun.  We sent Marriner back toward the car - we sorta needed it to get home - and the rest of us headed south toward town.  We'd talked about biking all the way into DC, which was only 17 more miles - doable, but the weather had sorta sapped our ambition for greatness.  So we decided to meet at Carderock, which was 10 miles out of town, 7 miles from our campsite.  The scenery was lovely.  The rocks that make Great Falls defined the landscape, and it almost seemed like we were in the mountains.  Lots of wildlife to see (millions of turtles!) and the weather wasn't too hot yet.  (By "not too hot" I mean, below 85*F...overnight low of 75*F.)  Unfortunately, when we got to Carderock, we found out that it was more of a region than a place, and we had a tricky time meeting up with Marriner (who did not have a cell phone.)  The upshot is that we put a few extra miles on, and Lige can now proudly announce that he rode 24-25 miles over the course of two days.  Yea Lige!  Christine got somewhere close to 31 (Yea Mom!) and Marriner got...a lot more.  He rode the same 4 mile stretch looking for us more times than he remembers.  We'll just say 50 miles for him :)  (He says it's probably closer to 40.  I say, what's a trip without a fish story?)  And, like most trips, the immediate highlight (before a little time and nostalgia can give you a better perspective) was the milkshakes on the way home and the shower.  We were soooo disgustingly dirty and sweaty.  Lillian could have been on a commercial featuring disadvantaged children.  Now that we're feeling human again, the highlight was the scenery around the falls and the glory of knowing that my 6-yr old biked almost 25 miles under the harshest of summer conditions. 

For Lige, this trip will go down in history as the trip where he became a Junior Ranger.  He is more proud of being a Junior Ranger than of biking 25 miles!  He will proudly show anyone his badge and certificate.  (The C&O Canal trail is a National Park - a very long and skinny one.)

So we did it.  Ironically, I am going to drive Lige to school tomorrow in the car.  Our bottoms are sore :)