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  1. #1
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    Great Allegheny Passage/C&O Canal trip report

    A friend & I recently rode from the Pittsburgh area to Washington, DC, on the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal towpath. We both rode Bike Friday New World Tourists. We each used Primo Comet 20 x 1.5 tires with Kevlar, and they worked well on these two unpaved trails. We rode the trails in early July and completed it in 6 days (we rode a total of 346 miles--about 554 km). We stayed in motels & B&Bs. Everything worked out quite well. We had near-perfect weather the first 4 days, dry & unseasonably cool with low humidity, The last 2 days were extremely humid and much hotter, with a big thunderstorm about 20 miles from Harpers Ferry, our destination our 5th day. The C&O towpath was fairly muddy following the storm but much better the next day.

    We both loved the Great Allegheny Passage, and both got a little bored with the scenery along the C&O Canal, which changes little from Cumberland to DC. The towpath surface is not nearly as smooth riding as the GAP Trail, though we knew that beforehand. We happily took advantage of the well-paved Western Maryland Rail-Trail which runs parallel to the towpath in the vicinity of Hancock, Maryland, for about 22 miles at present.

    We had both previously visited Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater near Ohiopyle, but neither of us had visited the lesser-known Wright house, Kentuck Knob, about 2 miles from Ohiopyle in the other direction. The first of those 2 miles was one of the steepest hills I’ve ever seen. The 2nd mile was merely moderately hilly. The house, however, was well worth visiting, though expensive at $16 per person.

    We had both hiked through the Pawpaw tunnel in prior years, and I was surprised that we were able to pedal through the tunnel fairly easily with just one not-very-powerful headlight on the lead bike. It's a little bumpy in the western part of the tunnel, however, and our light wasn't strong enough for us to see the bumps.

    One thing that surprised us was that most of the other cyclists we saw who were touring like us were even older than we are--and we're not spring chickens. There were practically no young riders. (I'm defining young as under 30 in this context)

  2. #2
    Car free since 1995 pm124's Avatar
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    We did the Cumberland-DC portion in 2 1/2 days on our Birdys. I agree that the Cumberland-Harpers Ferry portion is a bit mundane in spots, but the Harpers Ferry-DC portion is spectacular. Our portion was 210 on the odometer.

    We had a bit of difficulty with the locals. Being a mixed race couple in West Virginia leads to a lot of beer can thrown and shouting. But we were on the path most of the time, and there is a nice hostel in Harpers Ferry.

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    axolotl... how many flats? Any mechanicals?

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    Eschew Obfuscation SesameCrunch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by axolotl
    One thing that surprised us was that most of the other cyclists we saw who were touring like us were even older than we are--and we're not spring chickens. There were practically no young riders. (I'm defining young as under 30 in this context)
    LOL!

    I think most of the younger crowd would prefer to fly, drive or motorcycle to get from point A to point B. It takes a longer to develop the ability to slow down and smell the roses .

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    Quote Originally Posted by maunakea
    axolotl... how many flats? Any mechanicals?
    No flats at all. No mechanical problems with the bikes, though my friend's computer started to sporadically crap out early in the trip. A new battery for the transmitter didn't fix the mysterious problem, and the main unit's battery was fine.

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    Senior Member JeremyZ's Avatar
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    Got any photos? Still processing?

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    Senior Member Zonker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pm124
    We did the Cumberland-DC portion in 2 1/2 days on our Birdys. I agree that the Cumberland-Harpers Ferry portion is a bit mundane in spots, but the Harpers Ferry-DC portion is spectacular. Our portion was 210 on the odometer.

    We had a bit of difficulty with the locals. Being a mixed race couple in West Virginia leads to a lot of beer can thrown and shouting. But we were on the path most of the time, and there is a nice hostel in Harpers Ferry.
    When my Gal and I do Pitt to D.C in Sep, we'll be a mixed race couple. I'll be on a new BF NWT and she'll be on a Swift!
    waiting for a (Bike) Friday!

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    Senior Member Zonker's Avatar
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    Trailer or panniers?

    Thanks for sharing, me and my Gal are planning a similar trip for September. Did you use the BF trailer/case or opt for panniers? I'm a little worried about pulling the trailer on the C & O. We are contacting B & B's now, any good recommendations there?
    waiting for a (Bike) Friday!

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    multimodal commuter rhm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by SesameCrunch
    LOL!

    I think most of the younger crowd would prefer to fly, drive or motorcycle to get from point A to point B. It takes a longer to develop the ability to slow down and smell the roses .
    Yeah. But you know, even on a bicycle you can go too fast. When I was 21 I rode from Portland OR to Omaha NE in 18 days... averaging 100 miles per day. Looking back on it, what was I thinking? Seriously, what's the point? The most fun I had was with the people I met, and if I'd slowed down, I would have met more of them. My bad.

  10. #10
    Car free since 1995 pm124's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zonker
    When my Gal and I do Pitt to D.C in Sep, we'll be a mixed race couple. I'll be on a new BF NWT and she'll be on a Swift!
    Hi Zonker,

    You know, just smoke the good stuff and let it blow by. I didn't feel as though we were in danger at any point. The Hostel option is just south of Harpers Ferry on the WV side of the water. There is a turn off that you'll need to ask someone how to find. It's approximately 1 mile south of the bridge over to Harpers Ferry. There is a hill to the right and to the left. Go up the left sided hill. You will come accross a large house with a POW/MIA flag and an American flag in the yard. At the next intersection, turn left, and you'll find the hostel. It's run by a nice woman from Wisconsin, and there is free food, washer/dryer and a kitchen.

    The BF trailer probably won't do well on the trail, but it is relatively smooth. A proper trailer might work. I'll post pics.

  11. #11
    Car free since 1995 pm124's Avatar
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    This is pretty representative of the trail, though it gets rougher in spots: We were so covered in mud at one point that you couldn't discern the color of the bikes.

    This is some stuffed animal action:

    With a folder, you can take the train from DC to Cumberland without the trailer. Just cover them. Ours fit in the suitcase storage, but the Swift can probably go in the wheelchair section if there aren't any disabled folks.

    You can also just do the trip from Pittsburgh, which will be logistically easier.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Zonker View Post
    Thanks for sharing, me and my Gal are planning a similar trip for September. Did you use the BF trailer/case or opt for panniers? I'm a little worried about pulling the trailer on the C & O. We are contacting B & B's now, any good recommendations there?
    We used only rear panniers, which were only partially full. I've only pulled my trailer-suitcase once, and coincidentally, part of that was on an unpaved trail, the Confederation Trail on Prince Edward Island, Canada. It performed much better than I expected. The Confederation Trail, like the C&O towpath, didn't have as good a surface as the GAP trail. Still, I'd opt for panniers on these trails, if I were you.

    As for B&Bs, we stayed one night at the the Rockwood (PA) Trail House B&B. It was a nice place adjacent to the trail. The owner also operates a bike shop next to the trail which was amazingly well-stocked. The owner told us that there has been a significant increase in the number of cyclists this year. We both presumed that's due to the completion of the trail. We didn't make a reservation, as we weren't sure where we'd end up that night. He's got the phone numbers on the entrance (he doesn't live there) with instructions to go to a nearby store and use the pay phone to call him. That reminds me, our cell phones didn't work most of the time we were in Pennsylvania once we left the Pittsburgh area. Coverage was better in MD.

    In Harpers Ferry, we crossed the pedestrian bridge over the Potomac (we took our panniers off to carry the bikes up the staircase) and climbed the steep hill to stay at Hilltop House. Hilltop House has spectacular views of the river. I would describe the hotel at gently decaying. It's not seedy, though. It certainly has character compared to the average chain hotel/motel. Lots of Appalachian Trail hikers stay there. It's considered a mid-point splurge.

    Getting back across the Potomac from Harpers Ferry was not fun. We decided to go by road instead of the foot bridge with the need to carry the bikes down the staircase. Big mistake. Leaving Harpers Ferry, they try to send you a few miles away from the Potomac to get onto 340 (we ignored the signs). Route 340 itself is awful, absolutely awful for cycling. And dangerous. On the bridge itself, cyclists are expected to ride on the very narrow path between the barriers and the bridge guardrail. There was lots of broken glass, and at the MD end when we went to get back on the road shoulder, I had to carry my bike over poison ivy where I had to fit thru a narrow passage. That's another thing: There is truly a remarkable amount of poison ivy growing along the towpath. It wasn't a problem on the GAP trail.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Zonker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by pm124 View Post
    Hi Zonker,

    You know, just smoke the good stuff and let it blow by. I didn't feel as though we were in danger at any point. The Hostel option is just south of Harpers Ferry on the WV side of the water. There is a turn off that you'll need to ask someone how to find. It's approximately 1 mile south of the bridge over to Harpers Ferry. There is a hill to the right and to the left. Go up the left sided hill. You will come accross a large house with a POW/MIA flag and an American flag in the yard. At the next intersection, turn left, and you'll find the hostel. It's run by a nice woman from Wisconsin, and there is free food, washer/dryer and a kitchen.

    The BF trailer probably won't do well on the trail, but it is relatively smooth. A proper trailer might work. I'll post pics.
    LOL, we're both Caucasoids...was referring to the bikes! (Mixed race couple= BF NWT and Swift) By the way, are you still enjoying the Birdy mono?
    waiting for a (Bike) Friday!

  14. #14
    Car free since 1995 pm124's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Zonker View Post
    LOL, we're both Caucasoids...was referring to the bikes! (Mixed race couple= BF NWT and Swift) By the way, are you still enjoying the Birdy mono?
    Ha! I'm a bit slow on the uptake.

    I wish I were. I've barely gotten to ride it. I just ordered MKS pedals that can be swapped between standard and cleat, so I'll sneak it out for a 50 mile test ride with proper shoes. My GF raves about the bike ("Gertrude Stein") on a daily basis.

    There are a few additional downsides: 1) these bikes have a little derailleur attachment that catches the chain when the rear wheel folds (but otherwise makes no contact). The tensioner on the monocoque is inexplicably open on one side, so it's more difficult to fold than my bike. 2) Everything in black annodized. This doesn't make sense to me on a folder; there are a lot of little scratches that otherwise wouldn't be noticed.

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