A Detour

I mean, so how bad can a washed out culvert be?

That bad. That is a chasm across the Towpath about 20 to 25 feet/6 to 7.5 meters deep, with vertical sides. It is probably about 30 feet/9 meters across.

The National Park Service’s Towpath closure page [link] only indicates an option to call for local assistance in getting past the washout via a shuttle. It states

There is no detour in place at this time due to unsafe conditions on adjacent roadways.

In a previous post on this blog I posted a map of the area immediately adjacent to the closure.

I noted that there were about 6.7 miles/10.8 kilometers of local roads to navigate in making your own detour, which is presumably the route a local shuttle provider would take. Reportedly these roads are narrow and very hilly, which are apparently the reasons the Park Service deems them to be not safe for you to chance on your own.

Reportedly the shuttle providers are charging between 50 and 75 dollars to carry a rider, bike and stuff around the washout. Nice for them, eh?

So people who are not necessarily flush with cash or are perhaps a bit more self-reliant than the Park Service would consider wise are either riding around the local roads on their own or are, err… otherwise making do.  In the previous post I noted an anonymous friend who let me know that he rode up to the washed out culvert, unpacked his bike, carried it across the ankle-deep stream that caused the washout, went back for his gear, loaded back up and rode on. Sounds pretty straightforward.

So I went to check it out for myself.

The washout, as the photo that leads off this post shows, is scary. One can only imagine the force of water that could rip a culvert apart that had presumably stood for somewhere north of 150 years. The roiling water went so far as to carve additional chunks out of the Towpath further up

which may be why the NPS has spent most of this past summer in scratching, so to speak, its collective head trying to figure out what to do.

So I immediately rejected the option of backing up, getting up a good head of steam by pedaling as hard as I could, and doing an Evel Kneival-style jump. Actually I never really considered doing that at all, but one can dream.

That left going down the bank off to the side of the Towpath to the stream and crossing to the other side as described above. I’ll mention that I had encountered a couple back a ways up the Towpath who said that they had just done this. They also looked like they had been participants in a mud wrestling contest, appeared exhausted and somewhat fraught, and one of the woman’s rear panniers looked pretty mangled and about ready to come off the bike. They readily admitted that it had not been easy. But there they were.

The banks down to the stream where people had been crossing were 30 foot/nine meter stretches of slippery looking mud and gravel. They slope down to the creek at about a 60 degree angle. There was no way I was going to get my bike and gear, much less me, down and then back up to the Towpath on the other side.

I could see to the Canal side of the Towpath a railroad line crossing a culvert about 200 feet/60 meters away. It had a very long freight train crossing at the time.

Could that be a way to get around the washout? Well, you know what your mother told you about playing on the tracks when you were a kid, right?

This is such a bad choice, in fact, that I’ll take a moment and go over in detail why you shouldn’t do it. First, you certainly shouldn’t go back up the Towpath about 10 yards/meters or so and look for where some ballast from the railroad line had spilled down into the old canal bed. There could be snakes down there or you could badly scratch the paint on your bike on a dead tree limb.

You shouldn’t even think about crossing over to the railroad line, as there are large stones mixed in with the small ones that could easily caused you to turn your ankle or worse.

Don’t even think about taking off your panniers before you would make some foolish attempt to climb the railroad embankment. You might misplace them.

You shouldn’t even think about walking your bike or carrying your gear down the railroad tracks, as getting hit by a train will almost certainly result in delay and possible interruption of the rest of your trip,

Don’t even try to descend the loose and slippery ballast back down the railway embankment, as it will take a great deal of time to do so carefully, especially while wheeling a heavy bicycle.

Don’t even attempt this, because you will just have to make a second trip back for your panniers and gear, which could cause you to lose heart and just give up.


You know you should never ignore a “No Treapassing” sign, so you won’t even consider doing any of this, will you?

Good!  I didn’t think so.

Just don’t forget to put your panniers back on your bike.



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