Friday, October 28, 2011

Another trip down the C&O: Lock House 10

The Boy and I had so much fun on our last trip to Lock House 6, that we immediately booked another one. We decided to try Lock House 10 since it also had electricity/running water & wasn't that much further out (in fact, we ended up accidentally riding to it while looking for a local store while we were staying in 6).

Lock House 10 has been restored to a 1930's feel in order to celebrate the Civilian Conservation Corps. I highly suggest reading about the CCC because its quite fascinating. In a nutshell, the CCC was part of the New Deal plan by FDR to employ people to restore/upkeep federal & state lands. It included African Americans & Native Americans (segregated from whites, but they did earn equal pay) & war veterans. There were quite a few CCC camps along the C&O Canal; they were used to help restore parts of the canal after it was destroyed by major flooding in 1924.

I wasn't sure what to expect, since the Canal Trust website doesn't have very good photos of Lock House 10. I was willing to find out, though!

This time we put a bit more thought into our packing. Since we knew there was a shopping center nearby, we didn't worry about stocking up on food/beer. We decided just to bring something to eat for lunch, and then we would go grocery shopping when we got there.

This is a general idea of our packing list:

Linens (2 pillows, one sheet & 2 towels)
Clothes for 2 days, extra undies & socks.
Coats, gloves & hats in case it got chilly
Rain gear
Trash bags
Phone charger
National Parks Passport
DVD player & fun movies
Bike tools: patch kit, tire levers, pump, multi-tool, screw-driver, wrench, scissors, knife, zip-ties.

Unfortunately, despite the best planning, things can still go wrong. *sigh* I will get to that in a minute....

We packed everything up and were excited to head out. I used these wonderful panniers that I purchased from Basil and some creative cargo-netting (plus my basket). I felt like I was riding a tortoise ;-)

Betty, ready to go. I really need to buy a camping pillow ;-)
The Boy was using a "grocery pannier" that I bought a few weeks ago. It sucked. When we placed it on the bike, I could tell that it wasn't going to be very good. The hooks were the wrong size for either of our racks. I'm pretty sure they are the wrong size for *any* rack. As soon as he started riding, the damn thing came off. Grrrr. A few zip-ties later, and we were ready to go for real. (I'll be doing a review of that pannier, plus my new Basil panniers soon. Hint: the grocery pannier is not going to get a favorable one).

The ride was pretty good, if uneventful. We took the Rock Creek trail to Georgetown, then the CCT to Fletcher's Cove, then switched to the C&O towpath. We took it slow and easy, and the weather was gorgeous. Not too hot, not too cold & fall foliage everywhere you looked.

View Larger Map

I did find two things annoying: there were too many cyclists riding abreast. No. Biking is not a conversational sport. Not on a multi-use trail, anyway.  If you MUST ride next to each other, please respect other users and MOVE OVER when being passed. When you hear a DING DING, that means move over! go single file for a moment! I can't tell you how many cyclists simply ignored my warning that I was about to pass them, and almost forced me off the towpath. The second annoyance was unleashed dogs. If you are on a MUP, and you let your dog roam leash-free: YOU ARE A TERRIBLE DOG OWNER. Seriously, its irresponsible. I'm quite sure your furry "child" is well-behaved. I'M NOT. There are plenty of areas to let your doggie dog run wild. THIS IS NOT IT. (I love dogs. It's irresponsible owners that peeve me)

The red blur on the bottom is my handlebar-mounted airplane's propellor. Note annoying cyclists ahead.

More CCT.

Fletches' cove. I think I took this picture by accident.


Anyway, we passed Lock House 6 and waved. Then continued on until 10. Suddenly, we were there.

Approaching the Lock House. They were re-seeding the lawn.

Screened porch. Also an excellent place to store bikes.

Front door.

Another view from drive-way.

There was a man (a Quarter Master, I assumed) there trimming some weeds. He greeted us as we rode in and introduced himself as Bill. It was a good thing he was there, because we had a little trouble with the key lockbox. He was able to fix it though, and get us in.

He also showed us the basement and told us we could store our bikes down there. Unlike Lock House 6, though, I didn't find the basement area to be very inviting or useful. First, it was one of the old-fashioned "barn door" types (you can see it in the photo above) with steps leading down into it. Carrying a regular bike down them wouldn't be much of a problem, but I certainly wasn't looking forward to hauling Betty up and down those steps. Also, it's dark & creepy. The ceiling is really low, and I would not be surprised if there are bodies buried down there ;-/

Instead, we found that the screened porch was a perfect place to stash the bikes. I'm sure this probably violates some sort of rule, but the basement just wasn't gonna work for Betty.

The interior was just as beautiful as Lock House 6.

Sweet Kitchen. 
Living Room.

No fires in the fireplace!

Bathroom (upstairs! clawfoot tub!)

Double bed.

Real U.S. Army blankets! (and our pillows)


Game shelf. No deck of cards tho. Darn it.

I couldn't figure out how to work the oven. The Boy magically did it for me.

Pretty kitchen table.

The layout is basically the same as Lock House 6, with the exception that the bathroom is located upstairs (yay! No trudging downstairs to the basement). There are two bedrooms. One bedroom contains a double bed (with trundle bed underneath), as well as a closet containing a couple of foldable cots. The other bedroom contains 3 single beds. Blankets are provided, but you will need to bring your own linens & pillows.

The living room is nice, but there isn't a couch/sofa. Just individual chairs (which I found comfy enough). There are scrap books with information/articles on the CCC which were fascinating. And of course, a stamp for your National Parks Passport (which I remembered this time!) & guest books. They must have only very recently opened this lock house for rent, because the guest book doesn't go very far back. Also, the entries were not nearly as creative as Lock House 6 (no poems or drawings).

The kitchen was gorgeous. It contained a mini-fridge, stovetop with 3 burners & an oven. The oven took a little figuring out, since it was from the 1930's/40's. Also, the temperature dial was broken on the oven knob, so you kinda had to guess (there is a thermometer in the oven itself so you can adjust as you go). Be advised: the oven knob is backwards--Low is High and High is Low. Also, you need to flip the "switch" on the rear/top of the oven to get it to work. There was a decent amount of cookware to work with too. But be forewarned: much of it is 1930's era stuff. You might want to bring your own can-opener. There is a coffee pot, but no grinder. Salt & pepper is stocked, but nothing else. Bring olive oil, condiments or other spices you might need.

Also, the kitchen has the most sensitive fire alarm in the world :-/ I strongly advise you to turn the stove fan on 'high' and keep the porch door open. That alarm goes off for everything! Even just heating a pan on the stove with nothing in it. (Fire alarm: OH MY GOD GUYS SOMETHING IS HOT AND IT COULD POSSIBLY CATCH FIRE EVENTUALLY EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE. HEY GUYS? THE BURNER IS ON. JUST THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW. EEEEEEEEEEEEE. OH? YOU'RE MAKING SPAGHETTI? I LOVE SPAGHETTI! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE).

The screened porch is lovely. There are two rocking chairs and plenty of space. The Boy and I were debating whether we liked the screened porch or the open porch of lock house 6 better. Personally, judging by how many stink bugs I saw sticking to the outside of the screen, I prefer the screened-in version.

Like lock house 6, this house is right off of the Effing Parkway. However, it's on a slightly lower elevation, so you can't actually see the Effing Parkway or the cars zooming on it. It even hides the headlights at night pretty well too. There is a parking lot, and even a "private parking space". You can drive down from the parking lot off of the parkway to a "driveway" in front of the lock house. I'm not sure if its supposed to be used for that, but oh well. A Park Police officer did stop to hassle a friend of ours that had stopped to visit when he pulled into the parking lot. You're not supposed to park there after dark (unless you have a parking permit), but no matter how much The Boy tried to explain to him about the lock house & parking permits, it became painfully obvious that he had no clue what he was talking about and it was just easier to nod his head and have the friend simply circle back around until USSP was gone. Even though we are police officers ourselves, we know when to pick our battles. Sometimes its simply easier to nod your head.....and then just do what you were gonna do once they leave. (P.S. I do not officially endorse this method.) (P.P.S Park Police need to be educated about Canal Lock House policies).

Our plan once we arrived was to relax for a little bit, have lunch, then ride to the local store to pick up provisions. The exit off the towpath to the Cabin John shopping center (Lock house 8) is literally a two-minute ride away. Unfortunately, as soon as we set off we encountered a problem: Betty had a rear flat. And that was just the beginning...

Luckily, we hadn't gone very far at all, so I simply walked Betty back to the lock house. Since it was starting to get dark, The Boy went on ahead to go shopping while I stayed behind to fix the flat.

Thank goodness we brought a tool-kit this time. I can fix a flat on Betty. I've done it before. It's easy!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! <-----that's what the biking gods said.

I brought Betty onto the porch and turned her over so I could remove the rear wheel. I bent over to unbolt the coaster brake and promptly almost died when I brained myself with the damn kickstand. Note to self: remember to put the kickstand UP before working on the bike. I had a nice red bump smack in the middle of my forehead for the rest of the weekend :-/ Seriously, who hits their HEAD with a KICKSTAND?!

Sometimes, I really wish Betty had Quick Release Skewers.

Step 1: unbolt the coaster brake. SHAZAM. done.
Step 2: Unbolt the gearing thingy. PAZOW!  huh, what are those little metal shavings coming out? Hmmm, I will worry about that later. DONE!
Step 3: Unbolt the other side of the wheel. KA---uh, damn. This bolt is on really tight. Super tight. What sort of He-Man screwed this on? Jesus H. Christ.
Step 4: Wait for The Boy to return so he can use his manly muscles to get that bolt off. Also, drink last beer & use the cold can to ice bump on head.
Step 5: Get that last bolt off and remove wheel from bike. ZING! done.
Step 6: Use tire levers to release tire beading and remove inner tube from tire. WHAT WHAT! done.
Step 7: Inspect tire carefully for any objects that may have caused puncture. YEEEAAHH. done. no objects.
Step 8: Find leak in tube. Hmmm....we'll use the bathtub!
Step 9: drink a beer while bathtub fills.
Step 10: Send The Boy up to submerge tube to find leak while you finish your beer.
Step 11: Trudge upstairs to tub because Boy complains that he can't find leak. As soon as you get upstairs hear, "NEVERMIND I FOUND IT"
Step 12: Patch that beotch. Then patch it again because you messed up the first time.
Step 13: Insert tube back into tire and put tire back on rim.
Step 14: Put wheel back on, by doing Steps 1-3 backwards.
Step 15: Discover that bolt on gearing thingy is totally $%^@%@ stripped. Well, crap.
Step 16: Decide that you don't really need gears anyway. The towpath is flat. It's cool until you can get to a bike shop.
Step 17: Inflate tire using mini-pump.
Step 18: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA You really thought it was going to be that easy???
Step 19: Discover that mini-pump is worth f*ck all. It won't lock onto valve & because Betty doesn't have a washer thingy to screw on valve to keep it from slipping through the rim hole, you can't effectively put any air in the tire.
Step 20: Give up for the night and drink beer and make spaghetti (EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE) and have fun with friends.

Photo is blurry because I've just been nearly concussed. 
Wheel successfully removed.

Coping mechanism.

Good friends. (Note, masks added to protect privacy. They are not real. The masks, I mean. My friends are real and definitely not imaginary.) 

Arrrrrr! Things got a little tense. (KIDDING!)

The Boy is not an actual pirate.

The next day, I tried to no avail to use that wretched mini-pump to get air into the tire. No go. It was apparent that we were going to need a better pump. The Boy came to the rescue. He figured there *had* to be some sort of hardware store for the local residents somewhere nearby. I googled & googled, but I couldn't find anything. He decided to simply trust to luck. And he won! He rode around a bit and managed to find Glen Echo Hardware not too far away. They had 3 floor-pumps in stock. YAY!

I used the floor pump and my spirits rose when the tire began to properly inflate. YAY! MAYBE I CAN SALVAGE THIS TRIP!

I knew something was wrong though. I could hear the tube inside the tire as it inflated. It didn't sound right. I didn't care though. Tire! Inflating! Can't Stop Now!

A few minutes later, the tire was inflated! Hooray!

Then a few minutes later my happiness exploded. Literally. KABLAMMO!!! The tube exploded. *sigh* It must have been twisted or caught on the beading--I'm not sure. What I was positive about was that no patch job in the world was going to save that tube and I did not have any extras. This could not be fixed.

I was so frustrated. This was not how I envisioned spending this trip. So far, I only managed to get one ride in, and that was the ride TO the lock house. My plan of riding to the Irish Inn and/or Great Falls began to evaporate.

It was at this point that I remembered that I was a Silver Spokes member of the League of American Bicyclists. This meant I automatically had membership with the Better World Club, which is sort of the equivalent of AAA for bicycles. I could call them, and they would come out and transport me & my bike to any location in a 30 mile radius. I knew there was a bike shop a 10-minute drive away. Unfortunately....I never received my membership materials and was uncertain as to whether I could use the service.

Thankfully, another friend of ours was due to visit later that afternoon. He had a car! One thing was for certain: Betty wasn't going anywhere in her present condition. And since we were leaving tomorrow.....she HAD to be fixed, or I was stuck. Literally.

Our friend agreed to transport Betty to the shop (in return for dinner & beer, of course). Problem is, Betty is a big girl. We ended up having to remove the front wheel so we could fit her in the car. Removing the front wheel is fairly easy. Just undo the bolts and voila. Except the bolts were on soooooo tight. Super tight. Almost impossible to unbolt. But we managed.

We brought Betty to the bike shop (an Electra dealer, no less!) and I was immediately annoyed. First, there were a bunch of kids employees who were just standing around outside talking with each other. Ok, whatever. I wheel my OBVIOUSLY BROKEN bike into the store, right past them (they even held the door for me) at which point we were greeted with......nothing. We literally stood around for 15 minutes before one of the kids employees finally came inside and went behind the counter. Then he had the nerve to ask us if we had been helped. BY WHOM?! YOU ARE ALL OUTSIDE NOT WORKING!!! I took a deep breath and explained to him that I needed a flat fix, but more importantly, the bolt on the gearing thingy (note: not the technical term) was stripped and it needed to be fixed. And of course, he simply ignored everything I said and tried to claim that it was "supposed" to be like that. Whatever. I'm used to being ignored. He would figure it out once he tried to put everything back together again. (Pet peeve: mechanics that 'diagnose' a problem without ever looking at the bike. AT LEAST LOOK AT IT FIRST).

So, the kid (seriously, he couldn't have been older than 17) got it up on the stand and put a new tube in (dang it, now that I think of it, I should have simply bought more while I was there. Dunno why I didn't think of that at the time. Silly me.) Then when he went to put the wheel on, discovered what I already told him: the gear bolt was stripped. Ooops.

He went and got (what I assume) was the manager and more experienced mechanic. He made me feel much better about getting Betty fixed. He seemed to know what he was doing ;-)

He managed to tap a larger sized bolt in. Its not a permanent solution, but it works just fine for now. I thanked him profusely. Betty was rideable again. I also purchased another patch kit and some winter gloves for The Boy while I was there.

We put Betty back into the car and did a little food shopping since we were out anyway. Then we went back to the lock house and put the front wheel back on Betty.

Except....we couldn't bolt the dang thing on. Despite bringing a toolkit, we forgot pliers. We didn't have anything to secure the opposite bolt while wrenching the other one, so we couldn't put the front wheel back on. Mother Effer.

At this point, I think I may have muttered some very nasty things. And maybe thrown a temper tantrum.

I gave up for the rest of the evening and decided to make dinner & drink beer & forget. The Boy could go back to the hardware store the next morning before we left to get the tool we needed.

(We had bison burgers, oven fries & I bought a raw cheesecake slice for myself. The fire alarm went EEEEEEEEEEEEEE.).

The next morning came way too soon. I started cleaning & packing while The Boy rode to the hardware store to get the tool. I also made bacon & eggs (EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!) for him to eat before we left. When he returned, we were *finally* able to put the front wheel back on (although, there are two decorative "stays" that we could NOT figure out how to get back on, so we just left them off for now). Betty was ready to go.

I was pretty bummed about leaving. The Boy managed to get in way more biking than I did, and most of my time was spent cursing & feeling sorry for myself. Oh well. At least it was an absolutely picture-perfect day to ride back to DC.

We managed to be all packed up & ready to go by 11am (check-out time) and set off. The trails were fairly empty and we made good time. We had just arrived into Georgetown and were about to get on the Rock Creek trail when one more disaster struck: The Boy hit a curb the wrong way attempting to enter a sidewalk and blew out his front tire.

Yup. Another effing flat. At least this time we were only half a block from a bike-shop (CycleLife). The Boy took it over there while I rode on ahead--I had to be back at work and was risking being late if I stayed. I managed to make it home without further incident.

Jamie's front tire was done. The shop replaced both tube & tire, and The Boy also got some new grips installed since his hands had been hurting. He said he was very happy with the service he got there. Then he made it home without incident too :-)

So that was our trip. Not quite the success as it was the last time, but at least it was a learning experience. Oh, and guess what arrived in the mail two days after we got back?

Mustache edit to protect privacy and prevent fraudulent use.

Yeah. Great timing.

Things I will keep in mind for next trip:

-It's great to have a tool-kit, but make sure ALL the tools you need are included, and that they WORK (stupid mini-pump)
-Get a tune-up before you go to make sure all parts are in good order (cables, housing, bolts, etc).
-Crap happens. Better have a back-up plan, just in case.
-When all else fails, call a friend to bail you out (or BW club if you are a member).
-ALWAYS have extra tubes on hand.
-Bring TWO bottles of whiskey.

Note: If you are ever staying in Lock House 10, we left the floor pump & a patch kit in the kitchen closet where the cleaning supplies are located. Please don't take it from the house---we donated it for other cyclists to use. If we ever make it back to 6, we will probably do the same there.


  1. Great write-up about your adventure -- how frustrating that your tire issues dominated your weekend trip.
    My inexperience with fixing my bike is what's keeping me from biking anywhere that I can't Metro back from/get a friend to pick me up from. I will definitely need to look into the Better World Club.

    Safe riding!

  2. That sucks about the flats, but I really enjoy your story! Excellent writing, in any case. :)
    Thanks for the info links, if I'm ever in the area, I'm excited to look up some of these places!

  3. Hahaaahhhhaaa. I just got yelled at for laughing in roll call while reading ur blog. Frickn flat tires have a way of taking all the air out of ur pun intended.

  4. Great information! Thanks for putting it up there. We'll be at that Lockhouse the weekend after next.

  5. Great writeup... Sorry to hear about the bike mishaps. and the EEEEEEEEEEEEE!, which I must confess made me laugh the way you described it!