A little over a week ago, we finished up our tour from DC to Washington on the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage. I’m just adding a few parting thoughts about our adventure.
- 372.61 Miles, mostly off-road
- Total Time on the bike (moving time): 32 hours, 15 Minutes, 44 Seconds
- 155,083 complete pedal rotations, give or take a few. (310,166 left/right pedal steps)
- Meals with french fries: 2. Meals with bacon: 3.
This is the fifth trip that Joe and I have made together. Usually we’ve found a new route to try, but this time we decided to go back and do the C&O/GAP again. We rode it together 3 years ago going from west to east (Pittsburgh to DC). That time, we did it in 6 days, which didn’t leave much time for sight seeing or side trips. It also made for three very long days on the C&O.
When we picked our trip for this year, we considered a few different bike routes. There are some on our bucket list that would take longer to ride, or are farther from home. We narrowed the list down to trips we could get to/from in a day and complete in a week or less. Looking back, we both really enjoyed the 2015 trip, but we wanted to see a little more of the history along the C&O. Given that we were very familiar with the course, it also made the planning easy. So… we chose to do this course again, but start from the DC end.
Every time we do one of these trips, people ask me some common questions. Here are some answers:
- How much did you train? I recommend at least 500+ miles of training, with at least 2 or 3 back-to-back 50 mile rides. Build up slowly if you’re not already a cyclist. I had about 700 miles under me this season, and I stayed in shape over the winter using a spin bike. Last year, I had about 1,000 miles before our trip and it really helped.
- What do you do if it rains? We put on raincoats and keep going. We’ve never been caught in a torrential storm. I suppose it could happen, and we carry enough clothing to keep us safe in the event that we need to seek temporary shelter.
- Why do you like this? It doesn’t sound fun to me! Some people like to run, camp, hike, lay on a beach, or take a cruise. I really enjoy seeing the outdoors and I enjoy cycling. When we are riding, there is a lot of time just to let the mind and spirit unwind. It is like a rolling retreat for me.
- What kind of bike is that you’re riding? I use a converted cyclocross bike because it is a bit more heavy duty than a road bike. I strongly suggest 34mm or wider tires and fenders. When dealing with mud, you’ll want them. The GAP is more forgiving, but the C&O definitely requires at least some decent tread on the tires. This is certainly not a trail for a road bike. You might get away with it on the GAP, but definitely not on the C&O.
My thoughts on the overall trip: I enjoyed this trip very much. We had a great time together, and we saw some neat places. I enjoy the people we meet the most. We had a few people we crossed paths with several times throughout the trip. It was fun to compare notes.
The C&O is not high on my list of good trails. The surface is very muddy and bumpy. There are some neat places along the trail: Harpers Ferry, Shepherdstown, and so on. But it is pretty sparse. The Potomac is a beautiful complement to the trip since you’re next to it for almost the entire ride. This year the conditions were very muddy, especially the area between Hancock MD and Cumberland MD. That 60 miles was really rough. That made for a very long day with not much to break up the hours in the saddle.
We also saw that the National Parks District had several shutdowns on the C&O just one day after we went through. The rains caused a lot of damage on the path and washouts. Back when the C&O was in operation, some flooding is what ultimately brought it to a halt by breaching the canal. I can see how that would happen.
The GAP was in great shape, though. We had more rain on that section, but the trail surface drains well. We didn’t see much of any mud and our equipment stayed relatively clean. The GAP trail town alliance does a very good job of building up the micro economies in the towns, providing food and shelter along the GAP.
I don’t know if I’ll ride the C&O again any time soon. If you like trail riding, it should be on your bucket list. After riding it 3 times now, I can say it doesn’t rate in my top 5 trails I’ve been on by itself. Combined with the GAP, it does make for a very nice week-long bike trip.
If you’re interested in learning more about either the C&O or GAP, feel free to drop me a note and I’d be happy to talk you about it. You can also find more information here:
Great Allegheny Passage trail: Web Site
C&O Canal from the National Parks: Web Site
We’re not sure where we’ll go in 2019. If you have any good suggestions, let me know!