A year ago, Dan and I took our first long distance bike tour, traveling on the full Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, heading Northbound. While there were some initial challenges, we had a great time on the trip, and we both wanted to do the full C&O and GAP trail, making the trip from Pittsburgh to Washington (and then onto my house in Virginia). Once we got the scheduling figured out, we set the date and were joined by Dan's girlfriend Trish. We budgeted 9 days to make the journey, ensuring we could have a relatively leisurely pace of no more than 40 miles a day. As it turned out we made the complete trip in 8 days and had a great time. Here is the story of our journey through 4 states and the District of Columbia.
Day 1 - 40 miles
My wife and I celebrated our first year of marriage by visiting Pittsburgh and staying at the Omni hotel. We celebrated the day in style having a great dinner at the Monterrey Bay Fish Grotto on top of Mount Washington and watching some fireworks from high above the city. The next day was to be the first day of the tour and my wife graciously agreed to take us to the trail head in McKeesport, a few miles out of the city center. There is no real bike friendly way to get there, only 55 mph highways with no shoulders.
Day 2 - 50 miles
We woke up in the morning to a very damp camp, with the soaking rains making sure everything got washed off the night before. The forecast was for more rain, and the meteorologists would not be proven wrong. After making breakfast (oatmeal and trail mix for me), taking down our tents, and loading down our trusty steeds we continued our journey South, happy for the dry conditions and hoping they would last. Our legs were feeling good after the nights rest and we made some good distance during the day. As afternoon approached the sun's rays started to bake us and we were happy to see a swimming hole at Ohiopyle where the cool waters of the Youghioheney River. We had lunch and a refreshing dip. A little excitement was had when Dan saw someone messing with my bike, but he was able to scare the guy off and we continued on our way.
Day 3 - 50 miles
After our soggy travels the day before it was not easy rousing us from our comfortable beds, so we hurried to make the 9AM closing time of the hostel, cutting it quite close. Breakfast was to be a rare departure from my usual oatmeal and trail mix -- leftover pizza was the order of the day, and it was almost as delicious the morning after as it was the night before. After loading our bikes we headed back to the now less soggy GAP and continued our Southward journey.
Day 4 - 40 miles (20 net miles)
Although the weather had kept things interesting, we had been relatively lucky on the equipment side of things thus far on the trip. After making breakfast, breaking camp, and loading our bikes it was clear that this streak of good luck had come to an untimely close. Dan had fallen on his front wheel the previous night on the hilly terrain of the campsite and had thought nothing of it, but in the morning it was clear that his wheel had a broken spoke and was significantly out of true. I took out my spoke wrench and got his bike rolling again, but with no bike shop South on the trail for many miles, we made the decision to reverse course and go back the 10 miles into Cumberland to fix his wheel.
Day 5 - 45 miles
Our campsite was very close to Paw Paw Tunnel so after making our breakfast and loading our bikes we headed to the nearly mile long structure. Inside the tunnel the space was definitely optimized for the canal traffic and not the mule -- the towpath here was very narrow and with no internal lighting only a wooden guardrail protects you from a rather steep fall down into the canal. It gets incredibly dark in that tunnel, but thankfully my HID light was up for the task lighting the way.
Day 6 - 35 miles
As we made breakfast and broke camp we were eagerly awaiting our destination for the day -- Killiansburg Cave hiker/biker site. We deliberately made today's mileage shorter than usual so we could spend some quality time at this site. Last year Dan and I had a blast camping down by the water and swimming, and we hoped to do the same this year.
Day 7 - 50 miles
After making breakfast and breaking camp at Killiansburg Cave, we continued South to Harpers Ferry with all due haste. It had become clear that I was going to need to replace the saddle, so when we reached the railroad and pedestrian bridge at Harpers Ferry we crossed in search of a replacement. In the past there was a general store that also was a bike shop, but when we got there we were informed that they had moved their bike operations 2 miles away. They had a very limited set of equipment for sale under a table, mostly tubes. After an in-depth search I finally found one remaining bike saddle in the back of the collection. I happily forked over the $26 for it and we made our way back to the C&O. The heat of the sun was intense, so I decided to continue on the broken saddle for the remaining five miles to Brunswick where I would be able to make the repairs in air conditioned comfort.
Day 8 - 45 miles
On the last day of the journey we woke up and did the morning ritual for the last time, fueling our bodies, and preparing our bikes for the last 45 mile leg of our journey. Our first stop was ten miles down the road at the Great Falls Visitor center where we used their bathrooms to fill up our nearly empty water containers. Here Dan saw some people he had spoken with earlier in the trip from Switzerland, conversing with them in their native tongue, French.
Shortly after my wife and I got back from our honeymoon in the Caribbean, my best man Dan and I set out on a journey up the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. I had excess of leave from work that I needed to use and he was off from school for that week, so we decided to bike tour our way up the Potomac River. The weather could not have been better, and despite early injuries and equipment failures we were able to make it all the way to the trail's terminus at mile 184.5.
Day 1 (9/18/2008): Home to Marble Quarry H/B
We started out early in the morning to get a jump on our journey, but not as early as we would have liked. Our bikes were loaded to the gills with way more camping gear and clothing than we actually needed. We headed into Washington and made our way to the Canal along the Potomac and continued on until we reached Great Falls. We got some hot dogs and Gatorade and took in the falls afterward before heading back on our way.
My knee started to hurt shortly thereafter from all the weight being towed by my bike, so Dan took some of the load off for me and we continued onward. Right before White's Ferry our first equipment failure happened -- my saddle, which had been with me for around 8,000 miles, finally broke one of its rails. Thankfully it was servicable enough to ride, but by no means comfortable.
We took a lengthy rest stop at White's Ferry and ended up talking to a gentleman who was sitting on the bench outside of the convenience store there. He ran in and got us some bottles of water, and later identified himself as the captain of the ferry. We told him about our trip plans and about my equipment failure and one of his co-workers took out his bike and pulled the seat post off, giving me his saddle. I asked him how much he wanted for it, but he would not take money -- instead he asked that I "pay it forward". If the guys at White's Ferry read this, I once again extend my heartfelt thanks. I purchased some Advil -- which slowly started to help my aching knee.
Refueled and re-saddled, we headed out into the quickly darkening evening and set up our camp at Marble Quarry H/B. There were two other tents set up there, and they graciously allowed us to set up there. Night fell quickly, and the heat of the evening made it one of the more unpleasant evenings for sleeping. We had my tent's fly installed, which wasn't a great idea with the heat -- a mistake we would not make again. The mosquitos were out in force but eventually we were able to kill them enough to get a reasonable night's sleep.
Day 2 (9/19/2008): Marble Quarry H/B to Killiansburg Cave H/B
After we got our start the following morning we made our way toward Brunswick, MD where I had been to a wonderful coffee shop called Beans in the Belfry on a previous trip up the canal. My knee started acting up again, so it was fairly slow going. I had another ibuprofen on me, but I made the mistake of not taking it then, which only added to the discomfort. Around the Monocacy Aqueduct we met some members of the Bike Patrol who provided us with a map and some helpful information. We rode with them for a while until just before Brunswick. Eventually we made it to Beans in the Belfry where Dan and I pigged out on a lot of carb and protein heavy delights. We took the opportunity to relax for a bit, reading and enjoying the atmosphere of the shop. Eventually we departed after a couple hours, making our way down to Harpers Ferry, WV.
We locked up our bikes on the Maryland side of Harper's Ferry and did a bit of exploring around town. Eventually we grabbed a burger from a restaurant there and made our way back to the trail. We decided to make our stop at Killiansburg Cave H/B -- the best decision of the entire trip. The camp site was absolutely beautiful. There is a site by the trail, but there is a path that leads to an area down by the riverfront that is incredible. It is protected from the trail and had a nice beach like area on which we set-up our tent. Someone had lovingly created seats out of tree stumps and made a fire pit encircled by stones. We had some daylight left, so we took a swim in the still waters by our campsite and cooled off in tranquil Potomac. Another delight we encountered here: someone left their firewood down by the camp so building a fire was quick and simple. After sitting out by the fire for a while we retired in our tent with the fly removed, staring at the stars through the canopy of trees.
After breaking camp at our beautiful site we continued on our way to Cumberland, and I started using Advil in a preventative manner. About ten miles into our day we came upon the detour on some country roads that constituted the only required break from the towpath. The initial hill was no joke, but once we got to the top it was more or less smooth sailing until we took the hill to go back down. Along the way we met up with Danielle, one of Dan's friends. She had been traveling the other direction and had come all the way from Pittsburgh. She was travelling with a friend but she had been leading her, so we didn't get a chance to say hi. After chatting by the side of the road for a while we parted ways and continued on the detour.
Once we got back on the trail it was about another 15 miles to Williamsport, the next town along the trail. Along the way I had a flat tire that I was able to repair quickly with a spare tube I had in my panniers. There was a visitor's center in Williamsport and we got some maps and information and made our way into town for some lunch. The town itself was very run down and seemed dead, until we found a gem in the rough. We ended up going to a coffee shop called the Desert Rose Cafe that had a very kind owner who made us some tasty food and took care of us while we were there. If you take the trip there, I highly recommend stopping there, she was incredibly cyclist friendly and just all-around good people. We re-filled our water bottles and went across the street to a bike shop (River City Cycles), where I got another tire tube, just in case.
We continued on toward our next stop, Hancock, MD. While taking a break at Dam 5, I picked up my bike by the saddle and the weight of the panniers caused the support rail to come out of its housing. Once again, I had a broken saddle. It was still rideable, but not terribly comfortable. About 15 miles out of Williamsport we took another detour, this time on the Western Maryland Rail Trail. The WMRT parallels the C&O and has the distinct advantage of being smoothly paved, unlike its remarkably bumpy neighbor. On smooth pavement Dan and I flew like the wind and enjoyed the speed. Once in Hancock, we went to Weaver's Restaurant and had a bite to eat -- the food was alright and the pie was pretty good. After dinner we went to C&O Bicycle and picked up a brand new saddle for me. It is a very nice saddle that is serving me well to this day. From there we went to the nearby supermarket and picked up some oatmeal and nuts for breakfast the next day and continued on the trail.
It was starting to get dark, so we made a quick stop at White Rock H/B for the night -- a place that we would soon find out was infested with spiders of every variety and was otherwise uninteresting.
Day 4 (9/21/2008): White Rock H/B to Pigman's Ferry H/B
When we woke up we went out and started making breakfast. When I went to pick up my bib shorts, I realized a spider had woven a cocoon onto the lycra overnight. Also, after using the facilities, I noticed that inches from where I had been sitting, a brown recluse spider darted out from behind the seat. I'm very glad he didn't bite me. After cleaning up the gear a bit (and swiching to my other set of shorts) we set out for day four.
We went about 10 miles until we reached Cacapon Junction where we stopped to view the scenery and met a person travelling from the other direction. We chatted with him for a while and found out that he was largely just trying to check out of the system for a while. He didn't know when he would stop, and didn't have much in the way of money, taking his guitar, a small sack of belongings, and a tent on his way down from up North. He thought he might try to make it down to Florida. After talking for a while we parted ways and continued on to Little Orleans, home of Bill's Place.
Bill's Place is famous along the trail as one of the places you have to go -- and it is the last hint of civilization until Paw Paw Tunnel. We grabbed a bite to eat, and I had copious quantities of a locally brewed birch beer from PA that was simply delicious. As is the custom, Dan and I wrote our names on a dollar bill to be posted on the ceiling there.
Next up we made our way to Paw Paw Tunnel. The tunnel is incredibly long, at nearly a mile. Unfortunately, my light failed on me, so I ended up making the walk in the dark. Once on the other side, we made our way to Paw Paw, WV where we stopped by a gas station to get some Gatorade and then to the Dollar General to get some food for the evening. Since we were so close to camp time, we decided to splurge and got some smoked sausage and jambalaya mix proper dinner at camp. We put up camp at Pigman's Ferry after passing up several campsites with lackluster scenery. It turns out that Pigman's Ferry was also lacking in scenery, but was the last one not directly adjacent to the rail lines, so we settled for spending the night there.
Dinner was delicious, and we attracted the attention of the cows that were pastured directly next to the camp site. The water was incredibly metalic in its taste (iron mostly) and while safe, was so filled with metal content that it was reddish in color, and stained our containers. The night was beautiful, and our location in an adjacent area to a pasture meant we had unobstructed views of the night sky.
Day 5 (8/22/2008): Pigman's Ferry H/B to Cumberland, MD
Our night's sleep was particularly peaceful -- after the 4 previous nights of camping, my body was finally getting used to sleeping in the tent. Today was to be our last day on the trail, and we quickly made our way down to Cumberland, excited to see success in our sights. We made it to Cumberland in good time and took our victory photos at the trail head.
We went to a BBQ place called "When Pigs Fly" to grab a bite to eat for lunch and had some reasonably good BBQ to sate our hunger. The day was particularly hot, so we thought we would head over to the YMCA to take a swim. Unfortunately, that day it was closed for maintenance, so no swimming for us. So we headed back to town and went into a coffee shop to kill time until the evening when my beautiful wife was to pick us up.
Once night fell, we went to a great little bar called Ed's Canal Pub. They had a surprisingly good and inexpensive selection of beers. Dan and I drank quite a few of their Stone Oaked Arrogant Bastard ales and generally enjoyed the feeling of success that came with the completion of our journey. Ann-Marie arrived not too long afterward and we made our way to Baltimore Street
I was featured in an article by David Montgomery in the Style section of today's Washington Post. The article "Cycling Back Around" can be found here. A friend of mine had send me David's contact information saying he was looking for someone who was a "very serious" bike commuter and I had come to mind. I met up with David one afternoon after work and we ended up talking for about an hour and a half, after which he rode with me on my evening commute up to around Gravelly Point. I enjoyed chatting and riding with him, and he seems like a nice guy who also likes to ride himself.
Obviously I'm biased, but I like the article. It is definitely great to see bike commuting getting some positive press these days -- I've included the passage he wrote about me below.
|Posted August 2, 2008|
It has been a while since I have written here, and many things have happened in the interim.
On Sunday, June 8, I successfully completed the 100 km metric century of the 2008 Reston Tour de Cure. It was a particularly hot day, with the heat index reaching around 104°F. The path of the trail mostly followed the Washington and Old Dominion trail, with a few detours up some fairly significant climbs.
Along the way I had two flat tires, including one flat which had a nail go into my tire backwards! Thankfully, everything was able to be fixed and I completed the ride well within the prescribed time.
The ride would have been a lot easier if it had not been so oppressively hot. The heat definitely forced a harder effort than I was expecting. Aside from the two flats, the ride was a lot of fun. I rode with our team for the first two legs of the ride, and catching a draft in a paceline was definitely exhilirating. However, after almost 20 miles of the 20-25mph pace, the heat made me drop off the back and take a slower pace for the rest of the ride. The scenery on that section of the Washington and Old Dominion trail was quite beautiful and I'm sure I'll make my way back up there for more riding in the future.
The ride was definitely a fun time, and between firm, friends, and family I was able to raise $255 for the American Diabetes Association. Hopefully next time will be a bit cooler.
While riding home from Bike To Work Day 2008 (May 16, 2008) I logged mile 1,000 for the year. For some perspective, I hit the landmark 3 days shy of a month earlier than I did last year. I'm definitely pleased with reaching the milestone earlier this year.
Bike to Work Day was a lot of fun, as usual. Unfortunately, I didn't get a chance to take any photos, but many members of the DC Government showed up (not the Mayor this year though) and the free food, t-shirts, and water bottles are always welcome. The turnout wasn't nearly as large as last year due to the rain, but a solid core was out for the event.
Life has been busy of late, so I haven't had much of a chance to get in extra miles, but that is going to be one of my goals -- especially since I'm "in training" for the Tour de Cure coming up in just a few weeks. I've heard some rumors that the route is a bit hilly, so I'll be trying to log a few more miles beyond my normal commute in preparation.