As a naturalist/educator for Olympic National Park, I’m hyper-conscious of my carbon footprint, even in the travel realm. Jumping on a plane to go explore gives me pause now, so doing some of a trip by bike is appealing.
A serendipitous conversation on the bus in from Forks with some local cyclists planted the seed for this trip. They’d ridden the route and loved it, so I convinced my college (Penn State) roommate, Myrrh Davis, who still lives back east, and has two bikes, to do it!
We’d already ridden the 60-mile Delaware River Canal in a two-day trip a year or two earlier. She was game and we planned it for October 2015 — riding 335 miles in seven or eight days.
She was in the corporate world with limited time to train and limited time off, so we elected to find lodging along the way and not camp or carry a stove and cookware. The upside was light panniers. The downside was less flexibility and having to plan out distances covered each day far in advance so we could get lodging in small towns in rural Pennsylvania, Maryland and even West Virginia and Virginia.
Shuttle logistics were a challenge as well. Fortunately, a friend along the route could store Myrrh’s car and using the Amtrak train from D.C. to Pittsburgh, we pieced it together.
We started at the historic town of Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, at the Potomac and Shenandoah River confluence. It’s a national park site with Civil War significance.
The first two days riding along the towpath of the 184.5-mile-long C&O Canal, protected since 1971 as the C&O Canal National Historical Park, brought us past canal structures from its building between 1828-1850 as well as many Civil War sites.
A highlight was Great Falls Park along a restored section where the National Park Service runs mule-drawn canal boat tours with rangers doing costumed interpretive programs. There’s even a functioning lock that lowers the tour boat.
We rode right into D.C. past the Lincoln Memorial, down the mall, weaving through tourists to get to Union Station to roll our bikes onto the Amtrak train for an eight-hour evening trip back upriver and on to Pittsburgh.
After a good night’s sleep, we started the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage bike trail from Point State Park, where the Ohio River is formed from its tributaries. We spent the next three days in gorgeous fall colors of the deciduous forest, slowly climbing through the Allegheny Mountains in southwestern Pennsylvania.
The first morning we followed the Monongahela River south past industrial areas close to Pittsburgh, signs of its steel city past. But it quickly turned rural then fairly wild up the Youghiogheny River through state park and forest lands, and small coal towns to the trail’s 2,392-foot high point and a 3,392-foot-long lighted bike tunnel at the eastern continental divide near Frostburg, Md.
A quick descent through rural farms tucked between forested ridges brought us to Cumberland, Md., and the start of the C&O Canal. The next three to four days took us through the restored Paw Paw canal/towpath tunnel, past rural areas, along the Potomac, past locks with lock tender houses, Antietam battlefield, historical towns and back to pie and ice cream in Harpers Ferry, where we started!
About the presenter
Janis Burger is a naturalist/educator who has worked at Olympic National Park for more than 30 years. She grew up in Pennsylvania, where her only cycling as a child was a used bike on which she’d clothespin playing cards so the spokes clacked loudly. Ironically as a grown-up, Burger says, it’s the quiet of riding that appeals to her as well as the idea that you can get exercise and get somewhere at a pace that allows you to better hear, see, smell and soak in the surroundings.
Burger went to Penn State where she studied journalism/photojournalism. But after graduation she came west to do an internship at Olympic National Park and more or less stayed. She did freelance photography for years as well as a lot of international travel to learn about and photograph other cultures and ecosystems. But when she finally bought land, built a straw-bale home and started a huge garden, international travel and freelance work faded.
“My back was also tired of carrying a tripod and all the gear,” Burger says. Now she carries a little waterproof Nikon that she can take kayaking, biking or backpacking. “It’s very liberating!” she says.
About the presentations
Traveler’s Journal, a presentation of the Peninsula Trails Coalition, raises funds to buy project supplies and food for volunteers working on Olympic Discovery Trail projects. Shows start at 7 p.m. in the Sequim High School Library at 601 N. Sequim Ave. Suggested donation is $5 for adults; those 18 years old and younger are free. One selected photo enlargement will be given away each week as a door prize. For more, email Arvo Johnson at email@example.com.