Western Maryland Rail Trail – Hancock, MD

When we want to ride somewhere that is peaceful, green and flat, with absolutely no auto traffic and very few other bikers, we make the 90-minute drive from DC to this hidden gem.  On this occasion, we started out at the eastern trailhead of the Western Maryland Rail Trail, conveniently located near a gas station with a mini-mart. After water bottling up, we unloaded everything and headed west on the single-road-width paved trail. The first mile is quiet and passes beneath a pretty stone bridge, but soon it runs parallel to Rt. I- 70. (This is the same I-70 that runs from Baltimore, MD to Denver, CO, and while it’s loud, only a few miles of the trail run within earshot of it.)

The WMRT, which we’ve ridden often, is a Zen trail, enveloped in trees nearly the entire 27.5 miles, although it has several scenic points that make it more interesting (to us). The picturesque C&O Canal, the C&O Canal Trail, and the Potomac River run parallel to it, but you have to slow down to get a good glimpse of them through the foliage.  In fact, only a mile from the trailhead parking lot is a road that leads to all three. We were surprised that the parking lot was full because we only passed about 20 bikers over 30 miles, so we think many people use the parking lot to head down to the Canal.

While the ride is flat, shady and usually pleasant, this time, it was not so much of the latter. The dappling of sunshine through the tree canopy and the carpet of fallen leaves on the trail made it impossible to see the considerable number of root heaves that uncomfortably and dangerously traverse it.   Thus, we were constantly and unexpectedly jolted and had to maintain tight grips on the handlebars the entire ride. (Maryland Department of Natural Resources: thank you for this trail, but could you please maintain it?)

So, until the root heaves are fixed, we’ll only be returning for Spring and Summer rides.    

We rode over two short bridges and past a very old cemetery where a handful of crooked headstones were visible in the tall grass. Ten miles into the trip, we entered the little town of Hancock where the C&O Canal and Trail are both visible and accessible.  A great bike shop – C&O Bicycle – is there to help wayward riders or those who just want to buy water.  And a very popular ice cream shoppe with a large deck and colorful umbrellas always beckons to us, but we’ve managed to resist the temptation to stop… thus far.

Crossing the Hancock intersection, we continued west and before long were in the sunlight where the river and canal veered away and corn fields grew between them and us. In the distance (seen most clearly on the way back), the yellow stone face of a large bluff jutted out dramatically from the hills.  Further along were tall gray bluffs that rose alongside both sides of the trail. Here the canal widened considerably; it had been not much more than creek-size east of this.  

On a previous ride, we had visited GearHouse Brewing Company in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, about 20 miles west.  There we bought beers, of course, but more interestingly, cool bike socks with orange gear heads.

But this time, we discovered Thick-n-Thin Brewing Co., which had just opened three days before. It was about 13 miles east towards D.C., right off of I-270. The large, airy drinking and dining area was enclosed in glass, including a glass garage door that opened onto an outdoor standing-and-drinking area. The staff was very friendly and the free popcorn was particularly appreciated as we made our way down the list of brews.  

Jim had the Super Serious IPA, which he described as crisp with strong hops, and that he preferred to the Robotropic Juicy, which was a completely opaque orange. Kellie had a flight that included the Warrior Hefeweizen (not too banana-tasting, as some are), the Tangelistic gose (a very orange juicy beer) and the Pickler gose (surprisingly good and not too puckery). All three were fairly mild and enjoyable – especially with popcorn!

Hit us up in the comment section below if you have more to add about the Western Maryland Rail Trail.

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