Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Day 10: The Paw Paw Bends

July 14: It was still remarkably warm by the time sunrise hit, and the bugs never completely went away, but things had improved by morning. I ate breakfast quickly and hit the trail before the bugs came out in force again. It was going to be another miserable hot and humid day!

The day's hike was largely uneventful. I was two hours into my hike before I even remembered that it was my birthday today. Happy birthday to me! =) I thought about what I could do to celebrate, but my options were limited on the trail. Nor did I expect to pass through any towns where I could celebrate in an air-conditioned room or some sort of delicious meal that I didn't have to carry on my back or prepare myself. The best idea I could think of to celebrate might be another skinny dipping session in the Potomac, but I'd probably have done that anyhow even if it wasn't my birthday. It was starting to become a regular evening habit! =)

One interesting area was passing by lock 63 1/3 and lock 64 2/3.

The locks themselves weren't particularly interesting--just their names. 63 and 1/3? 64 and 2/3? What the heck? In the original designs for the canal, they planned to build three locks to raise boats along this section, but later determined that only two would be necessary. However contracts had already been assigned for the rest of the locks to the end of the canal, and apparently renaming all of the locks was too much paperwork or something, so instead they gave the locks fractional numbers.

There was no lock 65, fractional or otherwise. The lock numbering system goes 61, 62, 63 1/3, 64 2/3, 66, 67, etc. My historical book about the C&O Canal said that one prank that canal employees like to play on new hires is to send them to lock 65 to do some task and wait around to see how long it takes them to figure out that there is no lock 65. Sounds like something I would do, in fact. =) So if you ever get a job working on the C&O Canal and they send you to lock 65 to do some task, do what I'd do: Go home and take the rest of the day off. =)

Near the end of the day, I reached the Paw Paw Tunnel. Normally the canal follows near the shoreline of the Potomac River, but this section of the river had a series of tight, horseshoe-shaped bends called the Paw Paw bends, and rather than digging the canal directly alongside these bends, the canal company decided to cut through one of the mountain ranges between the bends to shorten the canal. This required digging a 3,118-foot (950 m) tunnel.

A large group of young people had canoed to the
Cacapon Junction Campsite. They were the first (and only)
people I saw camped who hadn't come in by bicycle.
Construction began in 1836. Tensions between Irish workers and, well, everyone else, led to riots and all sorts of trouble that slowed construction of the tunnel and financial difficulties led to the canal company not paying their employees promptly, which of course led to said employees not wanting to work very hard....

By 1841, work on the tunnel had stopped completely and didn't begin again until 1848 and wasn't completed until 1850. The final cost of the tunnel was much higher than budgeted and nearly bankrupted the canal company.

The tunnel is an engineering marvel, though, considering the era when it was built. They dug that over half-mile long tunnel with nothing more than picks, shovels, wheelbarrows, black powder, mules and backbreaking labor. The inside of the tunnel was lined with bricks 7 to 11 layers deep, approximately 5,800,000 bricks in all. It was really quite an amazing feat back in the day, and the tunnel is absolutely beautiful to walk through even today. =)

The best part about the tunnel was that it was so wonderfully cool and chilly inside. A place to escape the outside heat! I briefly wondered if I could somehow set up camp tonight inside the tunnel, but realistically, it wasn't an option. The towpath was a very narrow section that people used to walk through and stepping over my camp probably would have annoyed them. Even worse, it was right along the edge of the canal and gear might fall into the water during the night. Not to mention that it was dark and wet in the tunnel. No, I didn't spend too much time contemplating setting up camp in it, but I did take a rest near the entrance where the cool air was blowing out of the tunnel and thought about it. =)

I put on my headlamp while walking through the tunnel. A part of me wanted to hike through in the dark, but I really needed to see the ground clearly to push my stroller around muddy areas and make sure I didn't hit a bump that might dump my backpack or any of my gear into the water. There was a guardrail to prevent people from falling into the water, but it wasn't enough to stop smaller things from falling into the water.

I set up camp not far behind the Paw Paw Tunnel at the Purslane Run hiker/biker camp, which I calculated was very close to the halfway mark of the hike for me. Woo-who! As dusk came and darkness descended, nobody else arrived at the campsite. It looked like I'd get the entire camp to myself this time.

After sunset, I wandered down to the shoreline of the Potomac River and soaked in the water for over an hour. The clouds looked angry, but I didn't see any lightning this time until just before I was about to leave the water anyhow.

The evening temperatures were still warm and I again threw my sleeping bag over me like a blanket rather than getting into it, but at least tonight the bugs weren't bad, no nearby trains rumbled through regularly, and I had absolutely no trouble getting to sleep.

Lockhouse 56
Hey, look at that.... the door of the basement level is cracked open? Do we dare poke our heads inside to take a look?
YES! We dare! But it was just an empty room....
Rabbit on the trail! There were a LOT of rabbits on the trail, but they're small and fast and rarely let me get close enough to get a decent photo of them. This is one of the best rabbit photos I've ever gotten!

Western Maryland Railroad bridge
I picked up another hitchhiker on my pack!
I was a little envious at the Stickpile Hill campsite--someone had left a bunch of pre-cut wood for the firepit! I took a rest here, but it was still too early in the day for me to stop. Nope, I'd keep going....

Lock 63 1/3
Just in case you think my story about lock 63 1/3 is totally preposterous, here's proof that it really is called lock 63 1/3! =)
And this is lock 64 2/3.
No joke! It really is lock 64 2/3! And there is no lock 65, fractional or otherwise.
The Paw Paw Tunnel
The inside of the tunnel was lined with 7 to 11 layers of bricks using approximately 5,800,000 bricks in all. And it was so wonderfully cool and pleasant in the tunnel!
Western Maryland Railroad.... we meet again! The railroad has crossed the Potomac six times in the last 13 miles on its way through the Paw Paw Bends.
I took this image of the Paw Paw Bends from Walking 4 Fun which illustrates nicely the bends in the Potomac, along with why the railroad crossed the Potomac 6 times in the last 13 miles and why the Paw Paw Tunnel was built.

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