Last Tuesday, my daughter and I started an adventure that will take us years to complete, if indeed it is ever completed. The Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath, a designated national historical park, stretches 184.5 miles from Georgetown (in Washington D.C.) all the way to Cumberland, MD. The idea of walking the whole thing appeals to us mightily (especially me, of course). But we have neither time nor requisite experience for a two-week backpacking trip. So we decided to take a little piece at a time, a la Bill Bryson in his Appalachian Trail adventure. On Tuesday, we walked from the trail's beginning in Georgetown proper-- under brick arches and next to slimy concrete culverts-- to the first major landmark, the Fletcher's Cove boat landing at mile 3.1. And back, to the tony lot with the tipped attendant where we paid $20 plus tip to park in Georgetown for three hours. Thankfully, future legs of the trip will not involve parking expenses, beginning our hike by passing a series of expensive clothing stores, or ending the afternoon with fancy perfect cupcakes. Though these things are part of the adventure in themselves, I suppose.
We first encountered the canal towpath when we hiked the Billy Goat Trail section A-- the Billy Goat Trail is only accessible via the towpath. And, frankly, I had almost as much fun on the towpath, because of the terrific wildlife viewing, as I did on the Billy Goat.
The strange thing about "hiking" the towpath is that it is perfectly flat. The canal goes on and on and so does the trail, which was, at least from mile 0-3.1, wide and level and featureless. It was pretty, though: black-green canal water on our right, verged by green grass, and views of the Potomac River slightly farther away on our left, through a narrow band of trees. We had only very modest wildlife sightings: at least three kinds of duck (though none I could identify definitively besides the mallards), another green heron, kingbirds, small fish, a little lizard running across the path which was probably another five-lined skink. We picnicked a bit at Fletcher's Cove on jam sandwiches, pickles (my daughter ate both of the ones I brought!), cherry tomatoes and sugar snap peas, then turned around and went back the way we came. We did divert a bit, for variety, onto the Capital Crescent Trail, which parallels the towpath for a while.
Here are some photos (not by me) that give some sense of the landscape:
And now, we are off to the U.K. for two weeks. I'm bringing my camera.