Final Thoughts – 2015 Great Allegheny Passage / C&O Canal Tour

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It’s been a few days since we completed our ride along the quiet paths of the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal Path.

We finished our journey on Friday evening, but stayed in Washington DC on Saturday to take advantage of the museums and things to see.  Joe’s wife and kids managed to meet us there, which was a lot of fun!  I enjoyed seeing the Air and Space museum with them. IMG_7454

After the day, I said farewell to Joe as he went off with his family to their hotel and to drive home to Lexington.  I went back to St. Peter’s and went to mass in the evening.  It happened to be the final weekend for their pastor, Fr. Bill.  The mass was spectacular – great music, a great homily, and a wonderful cook-out afterwards – served in their hall since it was pouring outside.  I met some wonderful people at the party and it was clear that this parish has loved its pastor.  I was glad to be able to experience this.

The next morning, I got up early and made my way out to begin my multi-step journey home to Lexington.  My bike was still filthy, so I hosed it off and left it to drip dry in the garage.  I then walked my way to the DC Metro, arriving very early as it was just opening.  The kind lady who was opening the station was a very friendly way to start my Sunday morning!  After catching the blue-line to Reagan National Airport, I found my rental car, drove it back to St. Peter’s, and promptly loaded my bike and panniers into it.  I was on the road back to Lexington before 8:30AM.  The interstate tracked past a few of our places we cycled.  In fact, the interstate took me directly through Cumberland and I passed over the GAP and next to the hotel we stayed at.  It was a little fun to realize I’d just been there a few days ago by bike.

With a couple of good audio books, a small bag of Reese’s Pieces, and a tall glass of water, I made it quickly back home.  I was in my driveway before 5:30, which seemed like pretty good timing.  What was even better is that this allowed me to catch dinner with my family.  That was the real highlight of the day.

And, for me, coming home is always the best part of a journey.

Looking back, this was a really fun trip and it went by very quickly.  I have been on the full GAP/C&O once before in 2012, and cycled the GAP last fall with Joe.  This time was a bit faster on the pace – six days means you are packing a lot of miles into each day.  That didn’t leave much time for extra sight seeing.  On the plus side, we never got rained on.  That’s a first for any of my bike trips.  On the other hand, there were plenty of opportunities to become one with the earth, or mud, along the C&O Canal.

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The Great Allegheny Passage is a really great rail trail.  Probably one of the best anywhere.  It isn’t paved, but it is well maintained and the rain doesn’t turn it into mush.  The scenery is beautiful, the little towns are fun, and there are enough services along the way to make for an easy trip.  I can certainly see more trips along this great path some day.IMG_7134 IMG_7250 IMG_7258 IMG_7261 IMG_7267

The C&O Canal path has a very different character.  It feels more historical, more rustic, and definitely a rougher path to ride.  The 60+ mile days on this path felt like 80-100 mile days on pavement, by comparison.  There are not very many services, so you have to prepare carefully for food and water stops.  If you want to camp, there are many places to do that.  But if you want to find accommodations under roof, you’d better plan that out far in advance.  Although the C&O offers a really great ride through the woods, the downside is that it is really better for full-suspension bicycles (with fenders, for sure).  It was pretty rough riding.  I don’t know if I really have a draw to ride this one again any time soon.  Riding it with friends would always be a fun thing to do, but there are many other great paths out there to try that don’t rattle my bones quite so much.

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Here are a few quick stats from last week’s ride, after downloading my GPS data at home:

  • Great Allegheny Passage:
    • Day 1: 60.7 Miles – Pittsburgh PA to Connellsville PA
    • Day 2: 48.4 Miles – Connellsville PA to Rockwood PA
    • Day 3: 46.3 Miles – Rockwood PA to Cumberland MD
  • C&O Canal Path:
    • Day 4: 60.6 Miles – Cumberland MD to Hancock MD
    • Day 5: 66 Miles – Hancock MD to Harpers Ferry WV
    • Day 6: 65.7 Miles – Harpers Ferry WV to Washington DC
  • Total Distance 347.6 Miles
  • Total Calories Burned: 17,391
  • Total Calories Consumed: (uhh.. too many to count?  I did gain a little weight!)

If you’ve never tried bike touring, I definitely recommend it.  Even just an overnighter for a two day ride of 20-40 miles each day to try it out.  This trip was so much more fun than just driving somewhere.  By bicycle, the world passes by much slower.  You notice the wildlife, small waterfalls, and forest.  The river’s sounds fill your ears and the cell phone doesn’t really work all the time.  That’s really a great thing to experience.  It is a sort of retreat on two wheels.

And then there are friends to be made.  I have made several good friends and many acquaintances.  Joe and I discussed that when you meet new people on your bike, you seem less threatening.  Total strangers seem to take keen interest in your journey and conversation flows.  I can truly say that everyone we met turned out to be a friendly face.  I still keep in touch with friends from all over the states that I have met riding my bike.

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One question I’ve been asked: who is this mascot that shows up in my pictures?

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That’s Mr. Hamster.  He was crocheted by my daughter several years ago and whenever I leave town, he comes with me.  I then take pictures of him and send them home.  He’s been to 14 or 15 different countries, he’s an experienced bike traveler, having ridden with me on 4 long distance journeys, and he recently hiked the Camino de Santiago with me.  He’s my buddy when I’m away from home.  He helps remind me of my family.

So, where to next?  I don’t know.  I’ll probably meet up with some cycling buddies some time this fall for a long weekend ride or two.  Maybe a two or three day ride up on the trails in Ohio, or maybe the Greenbriar trail.  In the end, I’m sure another fun adventure will await.

Until then, Peace!

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