We’re on the Cover of Potomac Almanac Magazine!

How cool is that – Canal by Canoe’s in the news. Last week’s cover story in Potomac Almanac magazine is an in-depth account of our Canal by Canoe trip down the Potomac this year!

Reporter Susan Belford interviewed us for a story a few weeks ago, so we knew it was coming out, but it was a surprise to see ourselves on the cover. Thank you Susan for such a nice write-up of our trip, and for giving us our 15 minutes of fame!

Thank You Generous Friends, We EXCEEDED Our Goal! More Kids Outside, Woot!

Thanks to YOUR generosity in helping us get more kids outside, we’ve actually EXCEEDED our fundraising goal for 2017’s Canal by Canoe – we raised $1775! That’s $275 OVER our goal of $1500!

With the generous match of the Live Like Jack Fund, our total donation to the Canal Classrooms bus scholarship fund for outdoor education is $3275. Wow!

That means we just funded over 13 buses at $250 each – which means that 650 kids who can’t afford the cost of a field trip, will now be able to attend an outdoor education program at the C&O Canal National Historical Park.

We’re so proud to support this cause, and deeply honored that you all do too. We clearly have the best friends ever!

Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, Mary and Joe

Day 11, last day, Swain’s lock to Sycamore Island, portage around Great Falls.

This would be our last day on the river/canal. We were sad to think that our trip was almost over but today we would be passing some of the most beautiful and most popular parts of the river and canal.

Like all paddlers, what we dreaded most, was portaging. We have had to endure some pretty tough carries on our past trips but this would be our longest portage ever. I had my little cart and I had a plan to get the boat and all of our gear around the falls, but it was not going to be a picnic. We would paddle in the canal from Swains to the tavern at Great Falls. From there we would have to unload and drag the canoe up to the towpath. Then we would roll down the towpath, with a canoe full of gear, for half a mile and reload it in the canal at Widewater. Then we would paddle to the end of Widewater to Angler’s Inn where we would again have to unload and carry the canoe down to the river. It was going to be a lot of work but the purist in me wanted to prove that we could do it. Thankfully, Mary had a better plan.

After 10 days of loading and unloading our equipment, we had gained an intimate knowledge of just how heavy our stuff was and the thought of spending the day repeatedly moving all of that gear got Mary to thinking of other possibilities. Her final idea, after I rejected the idea of asking someone to bring a car to shuttle us, was so brilliant and perfect that I’m surprised that we didn’t think of it earlier. Mary suggested that we simply leave our campsite set up and keep all of our gear at Swain’s! It would be so easy, we could just come back with the van after we ran the river! Good thinking Mary, way to go!

We said goodbye to Swains and set off down the canal. It was one of the few time when Canal By Canoe was actually canoeing in the canal. It was fun to be the only boat in the canal, except for the canal barge of course, and to wave to all of the walkers and bikers on the towpath. It was a busy day at Great Falls and we tried to keep our Canal By Canoe sticker on the side of the canoe where everyone could see it.

Canoeing through the old river channel at Widewater was special, but sadly the water in the canal ran out before we got all the way to Angler’s. Time to break out the cart again. It took us two hours to portage from Swain’s to Angler’s.

We exited the busy towpath and made our way down the hill to the river where we got the boat ready for the class II rapids ahead. Mary and I have done this section of river many times so we knew what to expect. The river level was a little higher than we were used to but in some ways that was better. We came to our first whitewater drop as we passed Offutt Island. There were some kayakers and paddle boarders there surfing the waves as we barreled through. One of them shouted, “welcome to the neighborhood”, so funny. The river was moving fast so we didn’t have to work hard as we floated past all of the amazing scenery.

Since the river was high enough, we stayed on river left and went past Carderock instead of doing the drop at Yellow Falls. Then it was on to our biggest rapid of the day, Stubblefield Falls. Strangely, I think that the waves at Stubblefield are actually smaller when the river is higher. It was a fun ride as we bounced along the river near the Maryland shore and made our way towards the beltway bridge. We had one more nice little rapid in the channel by Minnie’s Island and then we were home, back at Sycamore Island!

 

 

Day 10 at Swains Lock – Life in All Its Fullness

On Saturday we took a rest day at Swains Lock campground after our 15-mile trip from Edwards Ferry over the Seneca Breaks. We thought sitting around the campground all day might be boring – but wow, were we in for a surprise.

Spending Saturday at Swains was one of the coolest things we’ve done on our whole trip! Since Swains is an easy access point for the river and the canal, it draws people from an incredible variety of cultures and interests.

We saw many familiar towpath scenes – walkers, bikers, birdwatchers, fishermen, scout groups, and through-hikers.

Down by the river, in the campground and picnic area, the action stayed lively all day long. Big families arrived with lavish meals, shouting happily in Spanish, Korean, Hindi, and many other languages we didn’t recognize.

A group of young guys got there early and set up camp, then spent the day boating and fishing. In the evening their girlfriends arrived for a big group campout.

Our next-door neighbor was an activist from Tucson, Arizona, who was camping at Swains to attend 3 big marches in Washington DC: the climate rally, the workers march, and the May Day protests.

A nature photography class from REI set up shop on a picnic table, then wandered around before sunset, taking photos of the wildflowers and the river.

The most amazing thing we saw was at campsite 5, a riverfront site. It had 3 or 4 empty-looking tents. Then around 5 pm, the people started arriving. And arriving. Like, 25 or 30 people! Many were carrying rolled-up mats. They weren’t dressed like campers. We thought, wow, are they going to sleep all night on those thin mats? We wondered if it was an after-party for the People’s Climate March.

But no. It was a yoga class! An entire huge yoga class right there at the campsite, facing the river. It went on for at least 2 hours, through the sunset till after dark. A few people stayed to camp, but most of them went home.

We asked a couple people what it was. They said it was a “Life Time Yoga” class. Many didn’t seem to realize that their class was taking place in a campground. One woman was doing her poses next to a tree, embracing it and leaning on it – maybe not knowing that the tree and the ground beneath it were completely covered in poison ivy!

The strangest part was the next morning. At 7:30 am, we started seeing people with mats walking past our tent, peering curiously inside. They were back! It was another 2-hour morning class at campsite 5.

After being first amused, then annoyed, then amused again by the yoga people, we realized that it’s all part of the ebb and flow of life at Swains. People from everywhere just come to the river. They always have. They always will. And we’re so lucky to have places like Swains, that make it easy for all of us to go down to the river whenever we need renewal.

Day 10, hike from lock 21 down to “six locks” (lock 15 – lock 20)

At Great Falls there are six locks in less than one mile! Further down stream there is “seven locks”, where locks 8-14 are bunched together in just over a mile!

Birds (and other creatures) along the Canal

goslings!

The C&O canal is a great place for bird watching! There is a huge variety of birds coming here to nest in the Spring and many others following the Potomac River as they migrate through.

The timing of our trip meant that we were able to witness the new hatchings of Canada geese, double-crested cormorants and great blue herons. We passed several nesting trees, or rookeries, where the birds built many nest all in one tree. One heron rookery that we passed had over ten nests in it!

There are many warblers that come to the canal to nest as well. We didn’t have any binoculars so it was hard to identify all of the warblers that we saw, but there were two that I could recognize by voice, the northern parula and the prothonotary warbler. We had a prothonotary singing above our tent on Meadow Island for two days but we didn’t get a look at it until just before we left. What a treat it was to have this bright yellow bird hanging around our campsite. We also heard a lot of barred owls and one morning I heard a turkey! Of course, bald eagles and ospreys were an everyday sight.

The birdlife was with us the whole trip and it was so nice, on those mornings when it wasn’t raining, to wake up to the sound of birds singing, including the elusive Baltimore oriole.

Besides all of the birds, we also caught glimpses of ground hogs, red and gray squirrels, and foxes. One night in Brunswick, some of our food was stolen out of our food box. We suspected that it was a raccoon, but our camp host said that it was probably one of the opossums that live there.

We also saw several varieties snakes, including one that was in the beak of a great blue heron, many painted turtles, frogs and toads. There were some evenings in fact, when the sound of the spring peeper frogs and tree toads was almost deafening.

 

Scenes from Day 9: Edwards Ferry to Swains Lock, Plus Class II Rapids!

After bidding a fond farewell to Edwards Ferry and Lockhouse 25, we crossed the river to do a little traveling down the Virginia side.  The river was high and muddy but fast.

We went down the channel behind Selden Island, the first of a chain of LONG islands that hide the Virginia shore from view. We enjoyed seeing the little riverfront neighborhoods over there. Since they are behind these barrier islands, the only way to see them is from a boat. It was cool to explore this remote, little-known part of the riverfront.

After crossing back to the Maryland side and stopping at Seneca Aqueduct, we braced ourselves for the Class II whitewater ahead at Seneca Breaks. It was a wild ride with a full canoe – just really fun and challenging!

After running the rapids, we had a glorious, relaxing float down past Pennyfield to Swains Lock. Sometimes, your day just goes right – and this was one of those days.

 

 

Day 9, Edwards Ferry to Swain’s lock (class II rapids)

It was going to be another long day on the river so we got up early  and started hauling our gear down to the boat ramp. It’s 16 miles from Edwards to Swain’s, so in some ways we were glad that theriver was a little higher and faster than recommended.

Our first five miles on the river were above dam number 2 which ment slogging through the flat water. We passed Seldom island, Van Deventer, Ten foot and Sharpshined island until we finally reached Seneca Creek aquaduct, or aquaduct # 1.

We took a a short lunch break at a picnic table there at the convergence of Seneca Creek and the mighty Po. We needed rest after all of that flat-water paddling but we had to screw up our courage and get ready for the whitewater ahead.

This part of the river below Violettes lock is known as “Seneca Breaks and Blockhouse Point Rapids”. It isn’t quite as challenging as the section of whitewater that we did upstream but on this day the river was higher, and we had a fully loaded canoe! We decided not to follow the “Potomack Canal” route on river-right and opted for a center line, right down the middle of the old rubble dam.

The roar of the rapids muffled everything as we picked up speed and dropped over the first ledge of the old dam. We did our best to keep the canoe upright as we picked our way past the huge expanse of big rocks, islands, and deep ledges. We made it beyond the rubble dam but the river kept dropping so we had to stay focused as we navigated our barge-like canoe through the choppy waves. Every time that we thought we could relax, there was another hole to avoid.

Then it was over. We were breathless and our hearts were thumping, but In less than twenty minutes of continuous whitewater, we had covered almost 4 miles!

Now, finally, it was gravy time. No dams, no whitewater, just free- flowing river, with the wind at our backs for the last five miles down to Swain’s lock and the camp ground there. Life is good!

 

 

 

At Lockhouse 25 Gourmet Restaurant – Luxury Dining Al Fresco

One reason why we travel with so much stuff, is because we really like to eat well! Our 5-day cooler takes up a lot of canoe space, but it holds a ton of fresh food and keeps it cold. A method we like is to freeze a lot of water bottles and layer them with the food. As the water thaws, you can drink it, and the frozen bottles keep the food really fresh.

At Lockhouse 25, our kitchen was a fire ring and picnic table in the backyard. We made the most of it. First, we dug out some filet mignons and thawed them. We’d frozen them in marinade and packed them in the very bottom of the cooler. After 4 days on ice, they were still frozen, so they needed a few minutes to thaw out.

We had a bagged Caesar salad, plus some peppers and onions, and a loaf of garlic bread. We tossed the salad on a paper plate, grilled the peppers and onions with a little olive oil, and warmed up the bread in foil over the fire.

Voila – gourmet meal, and our relaxing day was complete.

Scenes from Day 8: Rest Day at Edwards Ferry

After 3 days of rain and a 14-mile paddle, we really enjoyed our rest day at Edwards Ferry – especially since we got to stay in Lockhouse 25 for 2 nights instead of in the tent. With clear skies, a nice breeze, and a roof over our heads, we were living in luxury!

Day 8, rest day at Edwards ferry

We decided to take an extra day at Edward’s Ferry. We were tired and we wanted the time to dry out. Luckily for us, the Lockhouse was available which made it an easy decision to stay hang out for a day. Plus, the river had gone up to a semi-dangerous level and we thought it would be better to wait for it to recede a bit.

We couldn’t have asked for a better place to spend the day. The old lockhouse is so cool and the old photos on the walls really helped to bring the past alive. This used to be a very busy part of the towpath in the old days, with a store, a tavern, a ferry, and the canal.

The best part of our stay, though, was meeting all of the really nice and interesting people that come to this landing on a regular basis. We met dog walkers, power-boaters, through-bikers, birdwatchers, fishermen and mostly folks that just drove down to the boat ramp to take a quick look at the river.

Since I had a little extra time, I decided to take the one mile hike back up the towpath to the “Aquaduct” over Broad Run. The Aquaduct over Broad Run is an anomaly in that it was originally a two-arch culvert that was converted to a wooden aqueduct.  There are 11 stone aquaducts on the canal but this “Broad Run Trunk” is number 12.

There was a paranormal society using the Lockhouse before us on the 22nd. They reported in the Lockhouse log book that the ghosts upstairs were nice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day 7, Meadow Island to Edwards Ferry.

Finally, the rain quit and we were able to pack up the canoe in dry weather. We had a long day of canoeing ahead of us, 15 miles, which ended up taking us  7 hours.

We passed some interesting islands on our way to our first stop at the  Monocacy River Aquaduct. Sadly, we were short on time and we couldn’t stop at “Paradise Island”.

The Monocacy Aquaduct is amazing and is considered the finest canal structure in in the U.S.! It was severely damaged in 1972 but thanks to some passionate individuals, and groups like The C and O Canal Association, it was restored in 2005.

We had wonderful scenery as we floated past the power plant and the remains of “Spinks Ferry”, on our way to the the Dickerson Conservation Area. That’s where we found the Champion Tree of Mongomery County and where I lost my sunglasses.

We stopped at White’s Ferry to take a break. They have a small store and a grill there. The grill is open for breakfast and lunch but was closed by the time we got there. We settled for some cold drinks and had a nice snack in the shade watching the ferry go back and forth during rush hour.

We set off around 6:30 and we decided to hug the Virginia shore as we paddled past the huge, Harrison Island. The island is some kind of wildlife reserve now, but there was once a large, working farm there. We even passed the remains of what was once known as the “cattle ferry”.

It was crunch now now, the sun was beginning to sink and we still had a lot of flat water to cover. We put our backs into the paddling and did our best to make some time. It’s a big, wide river above Edwards Ferry and our muscles were beginning to ache. Thankfully, there was a beautiful sunset against a great big sky which made it all more bearable.

BIG News: The Live Like Jack Fund Will Match Our Contributions to Canal Classrooms! We’re So Thrilled!

We’re super honored and excited to announce that the Live Like Jack Fund will match the funds we raise to get kids outside, all the way up to our goal of $1500! This means that when we hit our target, we can double AGAIN, the number of buses available to bring underserved kids to the C&O Canal National Historical Park for outdoor education!

Let’s do the math:
A bus costs $250 and carries 50 kids outside. So….
$1500 Canal by Canoe contribution = 6 buses = 300 kids outside.
+ $1500 match from Live Like Jack Fund = 12 buses = 600 kids outside.
+ $3000 match from National Park Service scholarship fund (100% of private contributions) = 24 buses = 1200 kids outside!!!

So every $1 we give, through our Canal by Canoe donation page, will now buy $4 worth of bus transport for kids outside! Thanks to the generosity of Live Like Jack, we can now QUADRUPLE our impact! All donations go directly to the Canal Classrooms fund of the C&O Canal Trust and are 100% tax deductible.

Jack Bauer

So let’s talk about the Live Like Jack Fund, and how cool they are, and why we’re SO stoked to have their support. Live Like Jack honors the life of our dear friend Jack Bauer, an avid outdoorsman and dad who died way too young, by supporting causes that introduce kids to outdoor education and recreation.

Jack lived life to the fullest. He was a big joyful soul, whose passion was fueled by outdoor adventures and by the wonders of nature. His too-short life has inspired many, many people to “Live Like Jack.” Jack’s own plan to share his love of the outdoors with his son, and with other kids he loved, was tragically cut short. So the Live Like Jack Fund seeks to amplify these values as Jack’s legacy, spreading his enthusiasm for the outdoor life with kids everywhere.

You can see why Joe and I are so deeply touched and honored, that our little Canal by Canoe venture might inspire others to “Live Like Jack,” and help introduce hundreds of kids to outdoor education at our favorite National Park. When we’re in the canoe on the Potomac River, we sometimes feel that there’s a friendly spirit or guardian angel guiding us to the right place or the best decision. We’d like to think that it might be Jack riding along with us on occasion (though he’d be saying “go for it,” not “stop here”!).

Thanks to YOUR generosity and support, we’re more than halfway to our goal of $1500. Please help us keep the momentum going by celebrating Jack’s legacy and helping more kids to “Live Like Jack.” Thank you SO much!

Donate Now

Day 5 and 6, camping (in the rain) on meadow island.

We found a great place to camp on Sunday night and we were super glad that we had a chance to go home and dry out beforehand, we would have been pretty miserable otherwise.

We ended up camping at a little place known as Meadow Island and we felt really lucky to have found it. We first heard of this island from some fishermen that we met at the boat ramp in Point of Rocks. They saw our loaded canoe and mentioned taking their kids to Meadow Island. We had no idea where it was at the time but we looked it up later and learned that it was right on our way. Perfect! Sometimes it seems like we have a guardian angel looking out for us.

This island is obviously a popular camping spot in the summer and with good reason. Low-lying islands are rare, the fishing is good and surprisingly, there is actually a meadom here.

We feel really smart for deciding not to travel on the river today and we couldn’t have asked for a better place to wait out the storms. Let’s hope that it’s dry tomorrow morning when we have to pack up and go. We have a long way to go tomorrow, past the Monocacy River, all the way down to The Lockhouse at Edwards Ferry.

 

Scenes From Days 3 and 4, Lockhouse 28 to Nolands Ferry: A Story of Mud

After a Friday night cookout and a lovely stay at Lockhouse 28, we woke up to a rainy Saturday. There were only a few wet hikers and bikers on this normally-busy section of the towpath.

We had a leisurely breakfast on the dry lockhouse porch, then packed up and headed down to the canoe. While there’s a nice short path from the lockhouse to the river, there’s also a very steep bank, and a few hours of rain had turned it into a muddy, slippery, slithery mess.

Luckily Joe had his waterproof boots on, so he got the dirty job of wrestling everything into the canoe as I handed it down from above. He was ankle-deep in squishy mud by the time we were done.

There was no way to keep the mud out of the canoe. At least 5 pounds of mud was riding along with us when we finally pushed off. There was mud everywhere!

Our plan was to paddle the 4+ miles down to the Nolands Ferry boat ramp, then take the gear and the canoe home for a day, so that Joe could be back at work for the Sycamore Island workfest on Sunday. We’d then return to Nolands on Sunday night, and pick up where we left off.

By this time it was raining really hard. You’ve never seen a canoe travel so fast! We paddled over 4 miles in about 45 minutes. By the time we got to Nolands, we were drenched, and our stuff was sloshing around in a couple inches of sludge in the bottom of the canoe.

Not to wimp out or anything, but we were so happy to have a little break! After 24 hours of washing, drying, and airing, plus a couple of hot meals, we were clean and tidy and ready to tackle the elements again.

Our friend George kindly brought us, our gear, and our canoe back to Nolands on Sunday. After marveling at the giant pile of stuff we loaded in his car, he got to be amazed all over again at how tightly we packed it all into our little boat.

We’re getting pretty good at that particular magic trick! And it was a luxury to be setting out from Nolands, all clean, dry, and mud-free.

Scenes From Day 2: Brunswick to Point of Rocks Lockhouse 28

Day 2 took us up beautiful Catoctin Creek, past the Catoctin Aqueduct that carries the Canal over the creek.

We outran a late-afternoon thunderstorm to arrive at historic Lockhouse 28, just above Point of Rocks MD, our lodging for the night. We’re thrilled that we can go back in time to stay overnight in a real lockhouse, circa 1830s, just as the lockkeepers experienced it. Thank you Canal Trust and Canal Quarters!

The story of the Canal is also the story of railroads, which eventually out-competed the Canal for the transport of goods. This drama still plays out every day at Point of Rocks, where the passage is so narrow that the trains run all day and night, just steps from the windows of old Lockhouse 28.

Special Shout-Out: River and Trail Outfitters

Super extra props to River and Trail Outfitters in Knoxville MD, our “trail angels” who really helped us launch Canal by Canoe to a smooth start this year.

We knew of River and Trail as the tubing outfitters, with the big sign on Route 340, above the bridge going to Harpers Ferry.

What we didn’t know, was that they now manage Brunswick Family Campground where we stayed our first 2 nights. The place is looking sharp! They have clean restrooms, lots of fresh paint, tidy new landscaping, and friendly camp hosts.

Our first day, River and Trail shuttled us and our canoe from the Brunswick campground to Harpers Ferry, and we paddled back down to the campground to stay there a second night.

On Day 2, our plan was to carry all our stuff from our campsite to the camp’s boat ramp, then pack the canoe and launch. Just one challenge: our site was a quarter mile away from the ramp. This was a problem. You may have noticed, we don’t exactly travel light.

Lucky for us, our camp host Chuck volunteered to drive all our gear from Point A to Point B in his truck. He even helped us load and unload it!

As always, we managed to cram all our stuff into the canoe. And the River and Trail folks there gave us a great sendoff.

Thanks River and Trail, we’ll be back!

Scenes from Day 1: Harpers Ferry to Brunswick

A relaxing Monday – not raining yet!

Today (Monday 4/24, Day 5 of our trip), we’re camping on an island in the Potomac River near Nolands Ferry. The forecast is rain all day, so we’re settling in to catch up on some photos and stories.

Here are some more scenes from Day 1 of Canal by Canoe, when we ran the whitewater at the canal town of Harpers Ferry, then had a leisurely float back to the canal town of Brunswick to our campsite.

It was an exciting day! We ran the easier upper whitewater, the Needles, with no trouble, then braced ourselves and plunged into the more difficult White Horse rapids. We were doing great until I mistimed a stroke in the bow, and a GIANT wave smacked me right in the face. Bam! It was just like getting rolled in the surf when you were a little kid at the beach, and you got too close to the waves.

When I came up sputtering for air, the boat was full of water, and Joe was yelling “Paddle! Paddle!” Luckily I did still have my paddle, so I stuck it back in the waves, and just in time too. We made it the rest of the way down White Horse with the canoe half full of water, and sloshing like crazy from side to side.

OK, so we don’t have any photos of that part! But here are a few scenes from the more relaxing moments of our Day 1. (Click a photo for slideshow.)

Day Three, Lockhouse 28 to Nolands Ferry

Lockhouse 28

Had a great time last night, cooking dinner and talking to all of the passers by outside our temporary residence at the Lockhouse.

Being so close to the Canal Town of Point of Rocks means that there were always a lot of people passing by. We met scouts, bikers, joggers and even some people taking their senior class pictures at the Lockhouse.

Of course we saw a lot of trains. We have sort of gotten used to having all of the trains around especially after our two days at Brunswick. Here at lock 28 the trains are even more up-close and personal, passing within fifty feet of our bedroom.

View upstream from the top of Point Of Rocks

The weather turned sour over night and we woke this morning to the sound so a soft rain. Surprisingly, there were still a lot of people using the towpath. We slowly packed up and did the muddy job of loading the canoe.

Route 15

Once loaded, we took the short trip down river to the boat ramp at Point of Rock. We wanted to stop for some lunch and we had heard that there was a trail up to the top of the cliffs above the river. The rain stopped long enough for me to climb the steep hill to the overlook and take a few pics. A bald eagle happened to soar by while I was up there!

We took a short break from the elements and had lunch at Deli on the Rocks.

Lunch at Point of Rocks

After lunch the rain kicked in again and we had a cold, wet trip down to our take-out at Nolands Ferry. Sadly, the foul weather kept us from exploring the nearby formations of calico rock or Potomac marble, that was used for the pillars of the U.S. Capitol rotunda. We also passed Heaters island, once inhabited by the Conoy tribe of Native Americans. There is always more for us to explore on our next trip.