Getting the flavor of...A bike trek’s unexpected climax

The scenic towpath runs along the Potomac and the Maryland–West Virginia border to Washington, D.C.

A bike trek’s unexpected climax

Sometimes when a journey is winding down, you reach the most exciting part, said Bruce Weber in The New York Times. On a coast-to-coast bike ride that started in Oregon, “I presumed the great rides were behind me” as I pedaled into Pennsylvania. That’s when I dipped south to ride the rugged Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath, which runs southeast from Cumberland, Md., to Washington, D.C. A stiff wind was “occasionally roaring through the treetops” as I followed the Maryland–West Virginia border. The “gracefully winding Potomac, with the autumn sun angling off the surface, was simply beautiful.” There’s a tunnel near Paw Paw, W.Va., where you’re forced to walk your bike half a mile in darkness. “For reasons I can’t entirely explain, I loved it,” and such challenges made the next, well-paved stretch of road feel like “pure luxury.” Veering north, I “rose and fell with steep, rolling hills.” Better yet, “nature’s museum was on full display.”

A landmark’s conflicting nature

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For a site with such an ugly past, Florida’s Fort Jefferson is a place of great beauty, said Fergus Bordewich in The Washington Post. The 19th-century naval fortress, which occupies its own small island in the Gulf of Mexico, was guarded by brown pelicans when my family and I arrived after a 2½-hour ferry ride from Key West. After docking and crossing a moat once policed by sharks, we passed through an arched gate onto “a vast hexagonal parade ground” lined with buttonwood and gumbo-limbo trees. During the Civil War, prisoners were held at Fort Jefferson in deplorable conditions: Isolation brought on madness, and disease was prevalent. But on this sunny afternoon, “the fort’s strange, dark history seemed remote.” The island is now a national park and “one of the finest sites for snorkeling in the gulf.” The war stories were compelling, but we spent our afternoon enjoying “the cheerier seductions of the polychrome schools of darting fish.”

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