Almost a year into dating, my husband and I came up with a goal to hike the whole C&O Canal towpath together — 184.5 miles total! For my non-East Coast readers, the canal is near Washington, D.C. We decided that we would take as many years as we needed, but we would definitely do the whole thing. We first were inspired to do this when we were taking a little stroll on the canal near Harper’s Ferry, WV.
That was early in 2009. Most of our hikes were 10 to 15 miles at a time, and the longest one we ever did was 16.5 miles (whew, yes we did that). Since then, we’ve been engaged, married, and had a baby, and the canal photos chronicle all of it, in a sporadic but neat way. I also kept some short journal entries from each hike, which are really fun to look back on and remember sights and happenings, like the time we saw a deer-cyclist collision. Yes, that happened.
The year our son was born, since he was a preemie, we didn’t make it out onto the canal at all — but now we are getting really close to finishing our goal, and we’ve been bringing him along. We have less than 30 miles left, which will probably take two or three more hikes. So close! Wonder what we will do next.
We park our cars like bookends where we will start and end each hike. It does take a lot of planning, but we use Google maps and this website. Of course, we can’t say we’re finished until, well, until we are finished, but I feel like it’s been an accomplishment even this far and a testament to our determination and our relationship. Unless you are a determined person and willing to park your car in some spots with sketchy off-road driving situations, you might prefer to bike the canal if you want to do the whole thing. It’s definitely bike-friendly.
The canal starts in a very urban, high-income area and ends up in some incredibly rural Appalachian areas. The cultural shift is interesting to witness. If you just want to hike a section, the area at Great Falls is excellent. The canal holds a ton of history, from the time when boats transported goods on the man-made route from Georgetown to Cumberland for about 90 years (1831-1924). Coal was the main cargo, but hogs, whiskey, flour, salt, and other goods made their way on the canal too. Mules on the towpath helped guide the boats along the waterway, and boatmen and lock keepers were employed to keep the cargo moving.
Have you ever come up with a big goal with a friend or significant other?
Hope you’re inspired!