C&O Family Bike Tour

Inaugural C&O Family Bike Tour, 2016

By Laurie Ashley | Guest Authors: Chad Dear, Pete Epanchin, and Becky Epanchin-Neill

On the hot Saturday morning of Memorial Day weekend, we loaded up and headed out to Point of Rocks, Maryland, our designated start point at mile 48.5 of the C&O Canal. Our crew of four adults, two kids, and two toddlers had two road bikes, one hybrid bike, two kids bikes, one cargo bike, and two trailers. We were hard to miss. Our loose plan was to bike the canal path back towards DC for three days going as far as the 4 and 5 year old group members were interested in pedaling. 

The C&O Canal path was the perfect place for this inaugural full-family bike tour. The biker/hiker campsites every 4-5 miles, easy grade, and no cars made it possible (and safe) for still somewhat wobbly new bikers and trailers loaded with napping babes to cruise along. The river, natural wonders, and biking community along the path were big bonuses. 

At the Point of Rocks parking lot, we stuffed the contents of the three-page packing list into the nooks and crannies of panniers and trailers, fed everyone lunch, and started off at the crack of 1pm. Within ten minutes we had our first of a few wrecks when the 5 year old (Colby) stopped abruptly to look at something, causing the 4 year old (Zoe) to crash right into him. Back on the path, we kept the kids going with skittle and peanut M&M treats at every milepost—this had the added convenience of doubling as a bribe. The first day we made it 5 miles to the Indian Flats campsite and we deemed it a great success, well deserving of celebratory toasts with the finest boxed wine a bicycle can carry. 

In camp, the kids got a second wind and played with the neighbor campers until the light started to fade and the tents cooled down a bit. Becky curled up with Colby and Zoe for story time and the others washed dishes with water pumped from the well. 

The next morning we explored the Monocacy Aqueduct on our way out of camp. Along the eight miles to the Turtle Run campsite, we spotted turtles, a snake with a bulging belly (frog breakfast? egg breakfast?), herons, barred owls, and more. We stopped for lunch under the enormous maple tree at Woods Lock (Lock 26) where there was lots of exploring to be had. At White’s Ferry the kids were happy to eat ice cream and watch the ferry shuttle the long line of cars back and forth across the Potomac, from Maryland to Virginia. Counterbalancing the four well-behaved kids, we had a near-miss on an adult tantrum or two when it was learned that in spite of the little store’s prominent outdoor sign, they in fact did not sell cold beer (not even warm beer). There was consolation in knowing that some of the boxed wine remained for an epicurean pairing with our camp stove pesto pasta dinner. That evening after dinner we shared s’mores over the fire with the other bike campers while the occasional passing rain cooled us off. 

On our final day, the kids rallied for another 8 miles. The forecasts had warned us to expect continuous rain. Our gear may have had us physically prepared to face the elements, but our visions of young, cold, and complaining cyclists had us doubting all of our best efforts. Amazingly, though, the actual weather was dry and gorgeously below the previous two days of high temperatures and humidity. Spirits were high and there was plenty of singing while pedaling along. We stopped at Edward’s Ferry to play in the river and finished at the McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area. 

While we only went 21 miles over three days, we went 21 miles! As in, our four and five year olds pedaled their own selves over this epic distance! Both of our one-year-olds happily tolerated riding in the trailers for 21 miles! And conveniently, this epic distance was an easy ride for Pete and Chad to bike back up the path and retrieve the cars -- a bicycle shuttle for a bicycle trip. 

Biking and camping with kids has challenging moments, at one painful point, there may have been a group member who claimed she would not take her 1 year old camping again until the babe learned to fall asleep more easily. We sure weren’t the fastest bikers on the canal-- at this rate, it’s going to take us another 18 days or so to complete the full path, but who can argue with long summer days playing outside, biking with friends, and exploring the C&O Canal in Washington DC’s backyard.