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Old 06-01-06, 06:58 AM   #1
Grasschopper
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Doing my first tour...Pittsburgh, PA to Washington DC...any tips?

Hi Gang...I don't usually post in this forums because...well I have never done a tour before. I am a roadie and a bicycle commuter and have decided to do my first tour with my father (I am starting June 11th). I am not too worried about the distance, though being on rail trails I am sure the body takes a bit more of a beating than if this were going to be done on the road.

I will be riding my commuter which is a Main Mill Valley (photo below) outfitted with Salsa DelgadoX/105 wheels and I am switching from my standard 700x28 slicks to a set of 700x32 Specialized Borough CX tires which are pretty smooth in the middle but have some tread out toward the edge. I am packing 3 spare tubes, pump, patch kit (in case it REALLY gets bad), multi tool, some extra chain, pins, and lube along with my clothes etc. This will be a credit card tour so no camping provisions needed. I am thinking 2 days worth of cycling cloths plus something for off bike wear will be enough. Of course a camera to document this journey. I am also going to put an adjustable stem on it this week to raise the bars a little more and a set of the Nashbar Trekking bars (on sale right now for $10 BTW) with Specialized Barphat to get some additional cushin and a couple more hand positions. Last but not least I picked up a pair of Specialized Gel gloves (don't normally wear gloves) for the padding and safety in case I lay the bike down for some reason. Also going to get one of those reflective, bright green safety vests for the couple of miles we will be doing on the road.

Our route will be similar to the one in this report, though we will be starting at the trail head in Pittsburgh rather than out in McKeesport and after a photo op in DC we will head down to Lorton VA where my car is waiting for us (dropped it off this past weekend at my brother in law's house).

Anything I am missing here? Any tips from the expierenced crowd...or even someone who has done this specific ride?

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Old 06-01-06, 07:13 AM   #2
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I haven"t ridden the whole route you"re following but I hope to one day, it looks like a great trip.

You might want to throw in some raingear -- its probably going to be warm enough to deal with getting wet, but a full day of cool rain could be unpleasant. You didn't mention it, but I assume you're bringing snacks/food for the ride even though you plan to eat real meals elsewhere. From what I've seen in other threads and places there are not that many easily accessible food sources on large stretches of the route.

I think you'll like the trekking bars. I just put a set on my bike and did an 80 mile trip over the weekend. They are more comfortable and in the forward position shift you into a little bit more aero position, which seemed to allow me to pedal more strongly and quickly. There is some increase in the dork factor, but comfort and speed makes up for it.

Have a great trip and tell us how it went so we can live vicariously.
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Old 06-01-06, 07:19 AM   #3
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Yea rain gear will be included for sure and I am sure we will be packing some food as well though I am not sure exactly what yet (being a roadie I have plenty of bars and gels but I assume for 4 days that will get old). Probably some fruit and some sammies, cookies, chips whatever.

Oh I also got a larger set of panniers...might be overkill (I got the Transit Epics) but the Nashbar Daytrekers are fairly small.
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Old 06-01-06, 07:54 AM   #4
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water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink! There are some questionable drinking pumps along the C&O canal. Some have high bacterial counts during really dry periods, some just taste nasty, some are missing handles. You might want to take a water filter(katadyn) and powder drink flavoring(Gatorade or such). Here's a link to the C&O towpath forum to ask more Q's.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/coTowp...guid=100727184
Your tires should be fine but might become problamatic if rains should fall. Skinny tires on a wet/muddy towpath tend to slip. Have fun, Charlie
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Old 06-01-06, 08:59 AM   #5
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Thanks for the tip on the water...that is pretty critical right there. I am thinking of doing 4 large water bottles or maybe 2 + 2 32oz bottles of Gatoraide. Should that be enough to get from good water to good water?

BTW here is how we plan to break it out:
June 11th Pitt -> Connellsville ~53 miles
June 12th Connellsville -> Frostburg, MD ~74 miles
June 13th Frostburg -> Williamsport, MD ~95 miles This is the big day and I assume the one with the greatest concern in regards to water
June 14th Milliamsport -> Harpers Ferry ~ 40 miles Short day, my father wants to spend some time in Harpers Ferry
June 15th Harpers Ferry -> DC ~61 miles then another 30 or so to Lorton VA after a photo OP at the Capital
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Old 06-01-06, 02:33 PM   #6
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You've probably already been to this site http://bikewashington.org/canal/index.htm

+1 on the water. The pump water can be nasty.
Many of the porta-john's don't get pumped out often. Might not be too bad this early in the season, but you might want to note likely locations of real toilets ahead of time and plan accordingly.

Biting bugs haven't been too bad yet, but with the hot weather arriving this past week that may have changed.

Western Maryland Rail Trail is a nice change of pace. Well paved. Stop at the bike shop in Hancock and say hi to the owner. Ask him how he got the shop (good story)

If you plan to stop at Sharpsburg / Antietam, be prepared for a climb. Easier is to go a couple more miles and cross the bridge to Shepherdstown (if they've finished fixing the connector trail.) Or if you relly want to see Antietam (and it is an interesting place to ride thru) don't take the bypass back to the river. Detour off onto the back roads to route 65 and into town.

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Old 06-01-06, 09:36 PM   #7
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Here's my few comments (the link in the original post is my trip report, that was kind of cool to see)

1, I am very concerned about riding on Route 837 between the Hot Metal Bridge and McKeesport. I don't think it's safe. (and there's not much I don't think is safe)
2. I have at times carried 4 water bottles and run dry; when I go again later this month I'm carrying 6 water bottles.
3. When you pass a store, it's probably a good idea to do logistics and buy snacks, etc.
4. ATAtrail.org does a great job of the Pgh - Cumberland section. Maps, stores, etc.
5. If time permits, post your itinerary in the Yahoo groups for the G-A-P and the C&O and ask for advice
about the towns your stopping in.
6. Gotta have a flashlight for the PawPaw Tunnel. I've always thought the south end of the tunnel was a bit dicey, you could end up in the water pretty easy.

7. Returning to my biggest concern, there's a discussion going on right now in the G-A-P Yahoo group about the wisdom of riding route 837. I can't recommend riding on it. People real familiar with the area don't ride that section. Alternatives: start in McKeesport, start in Boston, use the Montour Trail.

7B Please do post your detailed trip report somewhere, then come back to this thread and give us the link. Have a great adventure.
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Old 06-02-06, 07:59 AM   #8
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Walk your bikes through the Paw-Paw tunnel. The surface is simply not safe to ride on, even if you have plenty of light.

Take a camelbak (or equivalent). Even one of the small ones ought to be enough of a supplement. The water is not tasty, but nobody in our group 2 years ago got ill from it - mixing Gatorade with the water in your bottles is a really good idea.

If it rains even once in the week before you go, there will be long strectches where you'll be riding through mud.

The gift shop at Sharpsburg has some humongous freeze ice tubes. Two of those make riding up the hill more than worthwhile (the ride back down is pretty sweet too).

There's a stretch of trail on the C & O that's just past a power plant on the other side of the river (can't remember where exactly though - but definitely in the 2nd half of the C & O section). For some reason it is paved with stones that are way larger than what's used anywhere else on the trail. This covers about 2 miles - which seem to last forever. They're a serious threat to cause flats.

Expect to hit lots of roots and downed branches on some sections of the trail. More branches right after any storm blows through. Definitely take spare tubes. Odds are you'll have 2-3 flats along the way.

Enjoy the ride.
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Old 06-02-06, 10:29 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by USAZorro
If it rains even once in the week before you go, there will be long strectches where you'll be riding through mud.
I cycled the canal last week and did a thread on the 50+ board Pictures of C&O Canal (some bikes involved) . It rained a lot the previous week and even a bit the day before we started, so I was worried about mud. The trail had dried a lot and we had no mud. Your concern is still valid, but they appear to have added enough granular in recent years that it dries in a day or two.

You might want to shorten your longest day by stopping in Hancock rather than Williamsport. Hancock to Harper's Ferry should be do-able by early afternoon, and that should be enough time to see the town.

Remember, speeds are slower on granular, and it is more effort. 95 miles would be like 120 miles on asphalt.
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Old 06-02-06, 09:43 PM   #10
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Skip 837, it is very, very, very, bad in parts. Find alternative routes to Mckeesport, maybe through Squirrel Hill, etc. You can ride the South Side Trail until it ends just before the Homewood bridge, walk the railroad bed for about 100 yards, ride back towards 837, walk up some stairs and ride the area beside 837 for a few blocks until it gets a bit safer to ride on the road again. Watch for glass.

I just rode part of this trail from Rockwood to Pittsburgh. My biggest complaint was boredom and a sore rear. No hills, no turns, no reason to more around on the bike. I had just done about 300 miles in the last 2 days, but once I hit the trail my formerly pain free hands and rear end started to becoming big problems.

If you don't have a copy of the ATA Trail book and Map, stop at REI in Pittsburgh. They have a few free 2005 copies left.

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Old 06-02-06, 10:09 PM   #11
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Hello, thought of something else to mention.
800 mg Ibuprofins, padded shorts, Assos chamois creme.

Ed
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Old 06-03-06, 06:11 AM   #12
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Thanks for all the input guys...I have talked it over with my father and it looks like we will be starting in McKeesport rather than at the trail head.
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Old 06-03-06, 05:07 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grasschopper
Thanks for all the input guys...I have talked it over with my father and it looks like we will be starting in McKeesport rather than at the trail head.
May I say, you are a wise Grasshopper. (sorry, had to). MCkeesport is a smart place to start,
lots of Pittsburghers who know the situation will only start there. It's a good move.

Does the change in start location change your itinerary? Staying in different towns?
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Old 06-03-06, 05:32 PM   #14
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Another question about getting from Pitt to McKeesport, is there public transportation between there such as buses with bike racks?

When I was planning my trip I found there was a bus(#21) with a bike rack from downtown Pitt to the Montour trail.

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Old 06-04-06, 09:50 AM   #15
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Originally Posted by velonomad
Another question about getting from Pitt to McKeesport, is there public transportation between there such as buses with bike racks?

When I was planning my trip I found there was a bus(#21) with a bike rack from downtown Pitt to the Montour trail.
I don't have an answer for this, but can I make an offer?
If you (or the OP) needs a lift from downtown to either Montour or McKeesport, PM me.
If I'm not working (I do rotating shifts) maybe I can offer you a lift.

I'm not going to miss my anniversary etc over it, but if I can help out, I will.
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Old 06-05-06, 10:48 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ken Brown
You might want to shorten your longest day by stopping in Hancock rather than Williamsport. Hancock to Harper's Ferry should be do-able by early afternoon, and that should be enough time to see the town.
Ken - Ok I ran this past my father and he was all for it...is there are reasonable place to stay in Hancock? Talking hotel/motel that isn't a total dive but is reasonable in price. Thoughts?

Quote:
May I say, you are a wise Grasshopper. (sorry, had to). MCkeesport is a smart place to start,
lots of Pittsburghers who know the situation will only start there. It's a good move.

Does the change in start location change your itinerary? Staying in different towns?
Ed
Ed - that is half the joke with my screen name to begin with...but since I am a golfer we went with chopper.

I do not believe we will change the first day but maybe...how many miles did we just pull out of this ride?
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Old 06-05-06, 02:53 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grasschopper
Ken - Ok I ran this past my father and he was all for it...is there are reasonable place to stay in Hancock? Talking hotel/motel that isn't a total dive but is reasonable in price.
Looks like there's a Super 8 near the Interstate. Not too far from the middle of town.
For a "different" experience, the bike shop on the trail had a bunkhouse last year. probably still has it this year. A step between tent camping and the motel.
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Old 06-06-06, 06:22 AM   #18
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Looks like there's a Super 8 near the Interstate. Not too far from the middle of town.
For a "different" experience, the bike shop on the trail had a bunkhouse last year. probably still has it this year. A step between tent camping and the motel.
Yup I found that Super 8 yesterday and I believe we will be staying there for the night...makes the 95 mile day 70 and the 40 mile day 65. Much better split of the miles IMO...95 on crushed limestone was going to be interesing.
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Old 06-08-06, 02:26 PM   #19
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I did McKeesport to DC last year, it's alot of fun. You might bring a light for the tunnel, although you can walk it thru too. There's enough food stops, though a couple legs it's tricky to get lunch.

I'd stop in Ohiopyle and raft the Lower Yough if I were going right past it and had an extra 1/2 day! Ohiopyle's the closest thing to a surf town in between the Atlantic and Pacific.

It was pretty muddy on my trip-I'd say 60 miles = 100 pavement if it's wet at all.

Have a great time!
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Old 06-08-06, 10:50 PM   #20
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I did McKeesport to DC last year, it's alot of fun. You might bring a light for the tunnel, although you can walk it thru too. There's enough food stops, though a couple legs it's tricky to get lunch.

I'd stop in Ohiopyle and raft the Lower Yough if I were going right past it and had an extra 1/2 day! Ohiopyle's the closest thing to a surf town in between the Atlantic and Pacific.

It was pretty muddy on my trip-I'd say 60 miles = 100 pavement if it's wet at all.

Have a great time!
I've been through Ohiopyle hundreds of times because my grandma has a cabin near there, but I've never went rafting. I've always wanted to though.


If you eat in Connelsville, try some pizza from Bud Murphys. It's not too far off of the trail. There's also a bike shop right on the trail. It's where I got my Hardrock.
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Old 06-09-06, 03:53 AM   #21
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I changed the stem on my bike to an adjustable one just before a tour. Make sure you use Locktite, or something else to stop the bolts undoing themselves. My handle bars kept coming undone. It drove me nuts, I ended up jamming electical tape down the threads.
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Old 06-09-06, 07:09 AM   #22
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I've ridden the C&O Canal section of this trip, in it's entirety, 3 times. I do the 4 day option starting in Cumberland and love the feeling of solitude. In my estimation the single most critical factor in the enjoyment of this trip is the condition of the trail, ie, wet or dry. Fortunately for you we've been pretty dry and the trail should be in great shape (smooth and dusty as opposed to muddy and slow), although you may find some puddles. Last July I averaged about 20 mph on a nearly pavement-smooth trail (carrying only my Camelback for gear, food, etc-no panniers to slow me down). Water won't be a problem. Bring a couple of bottles and maybe your Camelback. There are many places to exit the trail and refill. Be advised that the pumps along the way are hit or miss and the water is often muddy but perfectly drinkable, you may want to add an electrolyte mix to help with the taste. You'll be largely riding on shaded trail and bugs may be a problem when you stop-bring bug spray. Also, I've ridden the Paw Paw Tunnel every time, simply bring a light source and a sense of balance and you'll be fine-it's surprisingly dark and cool inside with an undulating and potholed trail surface. Pack a rain jacket for afternoon/evening T' storms and start out early to avoid them all together. I think your tire choice is fine and the adjustable stem is a great idea. I ride this trail with 700x45's on my rigid cyclo-cross to help with shock apsorbtion-the bigger the better as you'll run over roots and rocks. 3 tubes should be plenty (I've only suffered 1 flat in 3 trips) and a small patch kit is a good idea. You're doing this trip at a good time of year, but watch for a crowded trail the closer you get to DC. This should be a great trip, have fun. Give us all an update.
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Old 06-09-06, 07:34 AM   #23
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mjw16 - thanks for your input. I think I am about ready. When I get home I will put the photos together and put up a report on how it went. The weather looks favorable looking at the 10 day forcast for each town along the route...I just wish my legs felt a bit stronger right now.
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Old 06-09-06, 08:26 AM   #24
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My only comment is that I didn't see you mention lights. Even if you won't need them during the day its nice to be able to get around town at night, and lights are needed for that. I guess I'm assuming that's a given, but I figured I'd throw it out there.
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Old 06-09-06, 08:40 AM   #25
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Yea I have a cygolight dual beem halogen...so I guess I should bring that as well.
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