A summer adventure for local Boy Scouts
RICHMOND — Nine Boy Scouts and three adults from Troop 20 in Richmond took a recent trip from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., only it wasn’t by train, plane or automobile. Or without adventure and discoveries.
It was via a bicycle ride taken by members of the troop sponsored by the Richmond United Methodist Church.
“The troop wanted to do something challenging, something not everyone has done before,” explained Michelle Linscott, a Troop leader along with her husband, James, and Dawn Cable. Scouts participating were Ben Linscott, William Corder, Gage Cable, Max McConnell, Tristin Arnold, Caden Rudy, Zac Evans, Luke Linscott and J.J. Riley.
The Scouts had heard about the Great Allegheny Passage Trail, nicknamed the GAP, from previous Boy Scout white water rafting trips on the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle, Pa., and had ridden short sections of the GAP trail through Ohiopyle.
“After they started researching the GAP trail, they realized that you could ride all the way to D.C.,” she said.
The trip was accomplished in three parts. The first two sections were on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail from Frostburg, Md., to Ohiopyle and then Ohiopyle to Pittsburgh, which were completed on May 18-19 and June 1-2.
“These two weekend trips were used as practices for the 200-mile trip on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath from Frostburg, Md., to Washington, D.C., that was completed June 17-23,” Michelle noted. The troop also practiced together a few times a month, starting in March on the Panhandle Trail just outside of Weirton.
To support the trip, the troop’s Scout trailer was outfitted with bicycle racks able to hold 16 bicycles — a mix of Trek, Schwinn and Giant (hybrid) bikes. To make the journey, the Scouts were able to keep their gear in the trailer and only ride with water, snacks and repair kits.
“While on the trail, the Scouts really embraced some of the points of the Scout law — helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, brave and tried to keep clean,” she added.
The GAP trail goes through Youghiogheny State Forest where the Scouts witnessed beautiful vistas and many waterfalls. “Most famous is the red falls, which is stained bright red from iron runoff from mining and the white waterfall which has water so rich in calcium that the calcium has built up around the falls and looks like snow and ice,” Michelle explained.
On the C&O Canal Path, a National Historic Park, the Scouts were immersed in history and nature. The canal path roughly follows the Potomac River starting in Cumberland, Md., and ends in Washington, D.C. Its construction was started in 1828, and the canal was used until 1924.
“Even though the National Road had reached Ohio Territory, it was much, much cheaper to move cargo by flatbottom boat than across roads,” she said. “A team of horses could move 1 ton 12 miles a day over the road. On the canal, a team could move 115 tons 40 miles a day.”
The Scouts were able to see and climb over the remnants of the canal, locks and tunnels that made up the canal system. “It was an impressive sight to see, especially knowing everything was done by hand. There are 74 locks along the canal. Some were dry and overgrown with grass and wildflowers, while other locks and sections of the canal were full of water used by fisherman, kayakers and paddleboards,” Michelle said. “Most of the locks had lock-keeper houses still intact, and there were even a few you could rent to stay in; however, the troop opted for tents.”
The group ended up using the tents only two of the seven days.
The first day was a 45-mile ride from Frostburg to PawPaw, Md. “The first 15 miles spoiled the boys as it was downhill into Cumberland, Md., and the trail was hard-packed and dry,” Michelle said. “The last 30 miles was through mud. It was like pedaling through peanut butter. The boys kept their spirits up as they soon realized there was no getting around the mud puddles so they turned it into a game of who would be the muddiest before they got to camp in PawPaw,” she continued.
“PawPaw was a very primitive camp with no facilities, so the boys rinsed the mud off by taking a dip in the Potomac. It is very wide, clear and shallow this far from D.C. We were very lucky that that first night ended up being dry for us while everyone at home was getting dumped on,” she said of back-home rainy weather conditions.
Day two proved to be another muddy day. “Twenty miles of day two found us on an adjacent rails-to-trails trail in Western Maryland. It was a relief to be on asphalt after another morning of mud,” she said. “That night we stayed in an open-sided shelter at the Potomac Fish and Game Club where everyone enjoyed running water and showers. The boys still pre-rinsed in the Potomac before their showers. That night it poured and poured, but we enjoyed the storm from under a roof. Most of us slept on picnic tabletops, a few on the ground and one or two might have hung hammocks from the rafters,” Michelle explained.
Day three brought much of the same wooded trails, locks and bridges.
“We stopped at Harpers Ferry and enjoyed a brief walk through the town, talked about John Brown and his slave revolt and had ice cream. We stopped at a primitive camp called Edwards Ferry. After another rinse in the Potomac, the boys ‘enjoyed’ Meals Ready to Eat (MREs),” Michelle said of the field rations that brought mixed reviews.
On day four, the group made it to Canal Lock 0, which is half a mile from the Lincoln Memorial. “We had a time navigating the D.C. traffic with the support trailer and vehicle trying to get to our pre-established pick-up point,” Michelle said. “The roads to our loading areas had been closed and blocked, so we ended up blocking a lane of traffic in front of the Watergate hotel after they refused to let us use their parking lot to load bikes and told us to just ‘block the road.'”
The bikes and supplies were taken to Andrews Air Force Base, and Michelle and Dawn Cable headed off for their first experience on the DC Metro.
The troop spent three nights and three days in the nation’s Capitol, time that included a 35-minute sit-down with U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Marietta; a tour of the Capitol building, Lincoln Monument, Air and Space Museum and Library of Congress; and stops at the World War I, WWII Korean and Vietnam memorials as well as the National Boy Scouts memorial. Two of the Scouts searched for the name of their grandfather’s good friend, Larry Waddell, who was killed in Vietnam.
The group returned home on a nine-hour train ride, boarding the Amtrac Capital Express. “Many of the boys were as excited about the train ride as anything else,” Michelle said.
The three trips brought opportunities for the Scouts to explore a 250-year-old cemetery, ruins and caves and make their way through the Big Savage Tunnel, at three-fourths mile the longest biking tunnel, and the Paw Paw Tunnel, which also is close to three-fourths of a mile and is the longest canal tunnel. Add to that crossing 100-foot viaducts, swimming in the Potomac and playing in waterfalls.
In total, they biked more than 310 miles — all 150 miles of the GAP trail and more than 160 miles of the C&O Trail. There were some closures on the C&O trail because of the wet weather, with areas of the trail washed out.
Michelle said Dawn Cable best described on their way home what was an adventure of a lifetime.
“Something has changed in the last week. In me. In each of them. For a week, they’ve been in the open air, sleeping in tents only twice. For a week, they have been explorers, adventuring through the countryside along some of the most hidden treasures of our world proving something. Proving they could do it. Proving their faith in themselves. In us. In God. In each other. And in the power it is to be a kid and to grow up all at the same time. They have sealed lifelong friendships. Told each other stories and jokes. Shared MRE dinners. Showered in the rain and lived off the rations in the trailer without a complaint — only dreamed of future pizza and cheeseburgers. They have not fought nor separated,” Cable noted.
“These boys have simply sealed a brotherhood obvious to strangers in D.C., employees at the BX and the lifeguards at the pool on base who sat back and grinned while they allowed them to rough house and carry on,” Cable continued.
“I felt like I got to be part of something special as much as I got to witness something almost omnisciently. Nature has the magic to make life grand and innocent, challenging and arduous, calming and complete. We are just minutes from home and though they each want a good night’s sleep, I feel they will all be a little bit lost without each other tomorrow. They are already making plans for a return trip. Life is in the adventure. Our journey is never over.”
The troop already is planning another adventure, this one for the summer of 2020, heading to Florida National High Adventure Sea Base. It will involve living on two 40-foot sailboats for a week and snorkeling, sea kayaking, deep sea fishing and learning to sail and night navigation.
The troop meets at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday at Island Creek Sporting Clays for the rest of the summer. For general information on troops to join in the area, visit www.beascout.org for contact info.