The Metro Washington Association of Blind Athletes (MWABA) had a wonderful time at our skill-share on April 29th and our bike camping overnight on June 24th to 25th, supported by an Adventure Cycling Association mini-grant.
Twenty people rode tandem bikes, and six people drove with our camping gear. Our group ranged from 25 to 71, half were women, and four people had never camped before. The trip was truly a team effort. The organizers applied for the grant in December, then bought camping gear, matched captains, stokers, and tandems, and created a food plan. Other participants shared their camping gear, brought rain canopies when the forecast called for thunderstorms, fixed a broken chain and flat tire, carried the gear between the cars and the campground, worked together to set up and take down tents, built a fire, cooked, and helped each other navigate the campsite.
Saturday morning was gray and damp, but 26 people were bustling at the Bethesda, Maryland metro station, unloading tandem bikes, loading cars with camping gear, and making sure each tandem had panniers and was adjusted for each sighted captain and blind stoker pair.
The sun came out as we biked down the Capital Crescent Trail, a seven-mile paved trail with a gentle downhill. This route from Bethesda to Georgetown in D.C. is our normal Thursday night route.
We stopped for sandwiches at picnic tables at Fletcher’s Cove overlooking the Potomac River. Then we biked on the C&O Canal towpath to the Marsden Tract campground.
The C&O Canal towpath is a 184-mile dirt and stone path from D.C. to Cumberland, Maryland, which then connects to the GAP trail to Pittsburgh. This was originally built for canal mules to tow canal boats. We biked through many puddles and lots of mud and saw herons and turtles in the canal. After biking about 15 miles, we arrived at the campsite. We unloaded the camping gear from the cars and set up our tents – with discussions that tent poles open like folding mobility canes.
While some members of the group relaxed at the campsite and explored the banks of the Potomac River, several campers embarked on an excursion to Great Falls Park, an 800-acre expanse of national park land that extends from Maryland to Virginia and marks a point where the Potomac River picks up speed on its way through the Narrow Mather Gorge. The group hopped on their tandems and rode about three miles on the C&O Canal to reach the park.
They hiked the relatively short distance to the waterfall and enjoyed stunning views of the falling water, bathed in an early evening glow. After a few group photos, everyone got back on their bikes and headed back to camp where they found that the rest of their crew had been doused with a brief (but intense) bout of rain as they sat under a canopy chatting. Miraculously, the people who had biked to Great Falls missed the rain.
We ate spaghetti, burritos, and freeze-dried meals. Some people went swimming in the Potomac River, and then we all enjoyed a campfire. Friends from an All Bodies on Bikes/Swift camping trip stopped by for some s’mores. We sang songs, shared our highlights from the day, told ghost add-on stories, and went to sleep.
In the morning we had coffee, oatmeal, bagels, and muffins for breakfast. We had beautiful weather for our ride back to Bethesda after our camping adventure. The group teamed up and made quick work of packing up the gear and loading it into the cars, and then we were off, riding along the C&O Canal, and then onto the Capital Crescent Trail for the last stretch. We arrived sweaty, stinky, and sore, but proud of our accomplishment and happy to have spent time in nature with old and new friends.
The Adventure Cycling grant paid for our campsite, a pavilion for our camping and bike maintenance skill-share, some of our gear, our food, and maintenance on several of the tandems. We held our camping and bike maintenance skill-share on April 29 at a pavilion in Rock Creek Park in D.C. Ten of us practiced setting up tents and compared different types of sleeping pads and camping stoves. We also learned about brakes, gears, and how to change flat tires. We can’t wait for our next trip!