Trail and Path: A Love Letter to Bike Touring the C&O Canal Towpath


Trail and Path: A Love Letter to Bike Touring the C&O Canal Towpath

When I first started gathering the necessary gear to give bike touring (or “bikepacking” in the parlance of our times) a go, the concept struck me as an opportunity to escape from the predictable, mundane, “rinse-and-repeat” order of everyday life. An opportunity to embrace a new kind of freedom of aimless wandering through paths and tracks out in the near-endless natural landscape. After a couple of trips, though, I found the reality of touring isn’t the carefree meander I had envisioned. It can involve weeks or months of planning, trail markers, GPS tracks, resupply points… Which is not to say that escaping on a multi-day trip isn’t freeing, it is – very much so – but maybe not in the conventional sense of the word. I think author Robert Moor says it best in his written exploration of travel, On Trails:

“But complete freedom, it turned out, is not what the trail offers. Quite the opposite – a trail is a tactful reduction of options. The freedom of the trail is riverine, not oceanic. To put it as simply as possible, a path is a way of making sense of the world. There are infinite ways to cross a landscape; but the options are overwhelming, and pitfalls abound. The function of the path is to reduce this teeming chaos into an intelligible line.”