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Thread: C&O Trail

  1. #1
    I am not that witty tnkr111's Avatar
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    C&O Trail

    I am sorry if this has been beaten apart ad nauseum, I tried the search and it told me it was disabled.

    I am in grad school (on sabbatical from my day job as an Army officer) and living in the DC Metro Area decided to really get into biking more. It has gone from something I did on Saturday morning for an hour to something I do 5-6 days a week for upwards of 2 hours or more. Today I was chewing the fat with another student in my program and he mentioned riding the C&O Trail, I guess it is the towpath of the old C&O Canal located on the north side of the Potomac. the start to finish ride is 184.5 miles in length, and is unpaved. I am contemplating using my mountain bike (full suspension) rather than my roadie...either way I have to get tires suitable for the surface- road and nobbies just don't seem to be it.

    So beyond that, what other planning considerations do I need to consider? What equipment must we absolutely have to complete a multi-day ride (probably 3 days, though I think 2 is doable!)?

    Any advice and suggestions are welcome. If you've done this yourself, I'd love to hear your impressions and capitalize on your lessons learned. Thanks for your time.

    Note: Mods, please move this to touring if you think it is more germane there.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Jed19's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tnkr111
    I am sorry if this has been beaten apart ad nauseum, I tried the search and it told me it was disabled.

    I am in grad school (on sabbatical from my day job as an Army officer) and living in the DC Metro Area decided to really get into biking more. It has gone from something I did on Saturday morning for an hour to something I do 5-6 days a week for upwards of 2 hours or more. Today I was chewing the fat with another student in my program and he mentioned riding the C&O Trail, I guess it is the towpath of the old C&O Canal located on the north side of the Potomac. the start to finish ride is 184.5 miles in length, and is unpaved. I am contemplating using my mountain bike (full suspension) rather than my roadie...either way I have to get tires suitable for the surface- road and nobbies just don't seem to be it.

    So beyond that, what other planning considerations do I need to consider? What equipment must we absolutely have to complete a multi-day ride (probably 3 days, though I think 2 is doable!)?

    Any advice and suggestions are welcome. If you've done this yourself, I'd love to hear your impressions and capitalize on your lessons learned. Thanks for your time.

    Note: Mods, please move this to touring if you think it is more germane there.
    Yes, I think the post should be moved to Touring. A lot of people in Touring have experience with the C&O Trail, and they'll be able to help with your questions and other essentials for doing the C&O.

    Regards,
    Regards,

    Jed

  3. #3
    train safe buelito's Avatar
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    check the posts by baltocharlie about the C&O in a day-- it is located about 20 posts down from this one

    It is a great ride-- I have done it twice-- once in three days and once in one day. Both enjoyable for different rreasons-

    train safe

  4. #4
    Because I thought I could ks1g's Avatar
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    Also check the Yahoo C&O Towpath group

    Check the C&O Towpath group on Yahoo as well. I believe the url is http://groups.yahoo.com/group/coTowpath You'll find trail reports, trip reports, and lots of info for planning a trip. Think of it as 184 miles of flat fire road. A F/S MTB is overkill, and you won't need knobbies unless it is VERY muddy. There are park service-maintained hiker/biker campsites approx every 10 miles with hand-pumped water (pumps are shut off for the winter), chemical toilets, and unimproved campsites. You can find food & more civilized lodging in some of the towns along the towpath. We did a 4-day trip with a group of Scouts in '05 and had a blast.

    And when you get really ambitious, the Great Allegheny Passage trail connects from Cumberland almost up to Pittsburgh. A coworker plans to do the C&O and GAP later this fall.

  5. #5
    I am not that witty tnkr111's Avatar
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    ks, as I figured the F/S MTB was overkill...but alas all I own, and I have no desire to buy a hard-tail, nor do I have any desire to purchase a cyclo-cross bike. My knobbies are 1.95's, I was at the bike shop today and the tech recommended 1.5's...emphasizing that the weather in mid-October (the planned timeframe for the ride) could be a bit sketchy.

    I'll check the thread mentioned. Thanks for the heads up on the yahoo group, and the GAP. Keep the advice coming.
    Last edited by tnkr111; 08-30-06 at 09:11 PM.

  6. #6
    Walmart bike rider gpsblake's Avatar
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    I've ridden it.

    Road tires will be asking for trouble on the C&O. Any mountain bike tire or tire greater than 1.5 will work. Your mountain bike would be best. It's not only dirt & mud but a lot of rocks you will be riding over. I also recommend fenders on your bike, you will get muddy and the fenders will help keep you a little bit cleaner. Bring a headlight or flashlight for the Paw Paw tunnel. And some on the citizens bike patrol will mention that you are required to have a working bell on your bicycle.

    You'll need a rear rack at a minimum to carry your clothes and other items. If you are camping, count on carrying much more gear. There can be long stretches without good water to drink so carry a few bottles of water with you. I don't trust drinking the water from the taps at the hiker-biker campsites. Camping is free along the C&O at hiker-biker campsites. If you are bothered by loud trains, you'll hear plenty of them on your ride.

    The distance you will cover is not the same as traveling on a paved road. Riding 60 miles on the C&O is like riding 100 on a paved road. There are going to be stretches where you won't see a person for miles, then there will be sections where you will dodging walkers and joggers every 100 feet.

    It's a good ride overall. Plenty of side trips you can take while on the canal like Harpers Ferry, Fort Frederick, Antietam, Shepardstown, Little Orleans. Some good scenery and history but a lot of your ride will look the same.

    This is a great site for the C&O canal.

    http://www.bikewashington.org

    It gives a section by section report on the trail.

    Happy trails

  7. #7
    I am not that witty tnkr111's Avatar
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    GP,

    My buddy and I (no solo ride here) are well dialed in on that website, and are using it as our base of planning. Since my bike is Full Suspension, and is a XC MTB, it will be a plusher ride than say a cyclocross- our issue will be fatigue and spreading the load. I am towing my kid's Burley to carry our gear, so there will be room for extra water. We plan on going sparse, but not minimalist, and shooting for 2 days total riding, camping along the way.

    I have the bell covered- and thanks for the tip. No one leaves that out when discussing the C&O, so I get the hint, don't get caught without it!

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    Senior Member orcanova's Avatar
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    Good replies. I will add this as a counter point. If you are plannig a multi day ride on MTB...consider Skyline Drive with slicks and minimal panniers in November as a two day ride. Autumn leaves are georgeous, you have the road to yourselves. It is a National park so all the facilities are shut down except Big Meadows and Skyland, the two full service Inns at about the halfway point of the full 110 miles. You finish up right near Charlottesville which is a great town, with lots of restaurants and bars to celebrate and have a good meal and sleep. And the one way rental for a car (van) to get back to your original car that you parked on the Drive, and back into DC, is very reasonable.

    All you need for the panniers is one change of cycling clothes, ane pair of civies, breakfast and lunch, and fluids for the day, which should be 6 water bottles. And your wallet.

  9. #9
    Because I thought I could ks1g's Avatar
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    tnkr111, I'd recommend against pulling the Burley. While the towpath is usually double-track and you certainly can use one (and I saw double and single-wheel trailers), there are sections where it could get dodgey, especially if was wet recently and there's mud. Or if there is a tree fall (we had to work through one on our trip). In 2005, there was one detour east of Great Falls Tavern requiring wrestling the bikes up a board running alongside a long staircase and over a pedestrian bridge. Double-check on the yahoo groups forum; you'll get some well-informed opinions. I'd look at racks that can be mounted on a F/S MTB instead. Also consider fenders (mud). The Park Service doesn't cut off the pumps until sometime in mid November and the info should be posted on the C&O Park website.

    You've got the right idea about travelling light. Speaking of light, have one (a camping LED headlight works fine) for navigating the PawPaw tunnel. Have fun!

  10. #10
    Senior Member balto charlie's Avatar
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    Here's a link for all the amenities along the trail. It's the only info I carried on my recent trip.
    http://www.nps.gov/archive/choh/Recr.../Milepost.html
    It list all the important facilities one may need on a trip. I think on a 3 day trip any bike with any tires will be fine. I've pulled trailers before and they worked out well. (remember an extra tube as they are different than your bike). Some trailers might not fit through some of the 'post blocks' . Might have to walk around, no big deal. There is only one detour(before Ernesto that is) and it is easily followed but does have some big hills. It's around mile 84-88.

    bug spray
    water taste bad so bring some powder flavoring
    Irish whiskey(in case times get bad or celebrate when times are good)
    The weather should be ideal at that time of year. Have fun. Charlie

  11. #11
    I am not that witty tnkr111's Avatar
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    !

    Quote Originally Posted by balto charlie
    Here's a link for all the amenities along the trail. It's the only info I carried on my recent trip.
    http://www.nps.gov/archive/choh/Recr.../Milepost.html
    It list all the important facilities one may need on a trip. I think on a 3 day trip any bike with any tires will be fine. I've pulled trailers before and they worked out well. (remember an extra tube as they are different than your bike). Some trailers might not fit through some of the 'post blocks' . Might have to walk around, no big deal. There is only one detour(before Ernesto that is) and it is easily followed but does have some big hills. It's around mile 84-88.

    bug spray
    water taste bad so bring some powder flavoring
    Irish whiskey(in case times get bad or celebrate when times are good)
    The weather should be ideal at that time of year. Have fun. Charlie

    Thanks for the link, and thanks for the gentle reminder. My first aid kit just got lighter- antiseptic and anesthetic all in one!

    Does anyone have recommendations for panniers that fit F/S MTBs?

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    Here is another useful link.

    http://bikewashington.org/canal/

    My wife and I did the trip in August, we had a blast.

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    Senior Member balto charlie's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tnkr111
    Thanks for the link, and thanks for the gentle reminder. My first aid kit just got lighter- antiseptic and anesthetic all in one!

    Does anyone have recommendations for panniers that fit F/S MTBs?
    the important thing to remeber about mnt panniers is heal strike. Shorter chainstays. There are adjustable racks that fit many mnt bikes..Old Man mnt racks?? I think, maybe Tubus. You might want to pose this Q on commuter or touring. They will have the answer for sure. With FS you might need to go with a trailer. Most trailers are strong enough to carry the load for 2. That way you can swap the load when 1 person gets tired. I use a Burly flatbed with kayaking dry bags for gear. I would NOT usa a set post rack. They are too weak to handle loaded panniers(IMO) Charlie

  14. #14
    I am not that witty tnkr111's Avatar
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    Yeah, I am thinking trailer it is. The Burley is more than sufficient for what we need, and it is easy to swap between bikes. Panniers for my F/S ride may be a "bridge too far."

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