As I mentioned in a post a couple of months ago, I completed a trip from Pittsburgh to Washington DC via the Montour Trail, Great Allegheny Passage, and C & O Canal Towpath. On Saturday August 16th, with two companions for the first 30 miles, I set off from McKees Rocks, near the Pittsburgh Airport.
The Montour Trail, at least the finished portions, is like an improved Perkiomen Trail, a rail trail outside Philadelphia. More of a grade, fewer compromises - no detour around a plumber's house, for instance. Also there are two tunnels, and a spectacular high bridge. Once we reached the end of current construction at Hendersonville, someone I'd met online met me to shuttle me around the unfinished stretchs of the 47 mile long trail. (One of those unfinished sections, with two high bridges and a tunnel, is opening to trail users this weekend. )After a late lunch, I was dropped near Clairton, and rode the Steel Valley Trail to McKeesport. The high-speed traffic on one stretch of road was a little unnerving, but I got through it OK. I camped at Dravo Landing Cemetery on the GAP, six miles south of Boston, along with a Boy Scout troop. 47 miles for the day.
Sunday I rode to River's Edge Campground outside Connellsville, after spending the morning with the Boy Scouts. It was only a 32 mile day, but I planned on taking it easy at first because I was off the bike so long this summer. I stopped frequently to take photos, and to talk to the local residents. I had an extended lunch at West Newton, and a long water stop 12 miles further on. I bought a baseball cap at Cedar Creek Park; here's the park store, in a restored train station.
Monday it was to Confluence through Ohiopyle State Park and the 'green tunnel' of 17 miles of woodland. In Ohiopyle I had my only accident of the tour; while crossing the high bridge, I brushed my arm against the railing while avoiding spectators gathered to watch kayakers on the river below. After scrubbing out the splinters in the visitor center's bathroom I rode into town and down to the falls. After lunch, I met another bike tourist headed towards Confluence, and we rode together. He's never been to town, and I knew where the campsite was, so we camped together. After a couple of miles of conversation, it emerged he was a Bike Forums poster, and he knew my posts from the Touring forum. He obviously hadn't read some posts here describing what a horrible person I am.
Here are the falls in Ohiopyle:
When I reached Confluence, I was alarmed to discover I had two broken spokes and an out of true rear wheel. Confluence doesn't have an open bike shop, nor does it have cell phone service. I spent a restless night figuring out my plans.
Next morning, in town, I searched the downtown for a cellular signal. I found hot spots next to the town's gazebo and in the drive through of a local bank. I was trying to reach a shop so I could get the wheel repaired. A fellow out painting his building asked what I was doing, and I explained my dilemma. He pointed to the sign on the window next to him - "Confluence Cyclery." While he wouldn't be open till next year, he did have some of his tools in the basement, and an old wheel he could strip for spokes. Soon enough I was on my way to Meyersdale. I stopped at Rockwood's bike shop, 20 miles out, to have them double check the wheel. I spent the night at the trail hostel in Meyersdale along with a couple of other bike tourists.
Wednesday morning I rode from Meyersdale over the Eastern Continental Divide, over the Mason-Dixon line, through three tunnels and down a 1.75 per cent grade for 23 miles to Cumberland, MD. The trail in Meyersdale is so high it's above the fog layer:
I spent a day and a night in Cumberland, arguably too long, before camping near Paw-Paw on Thursday. I spent the night considering ending my tour and spending the rest of my vacation enjoying the city, both to give my knees a rest and because I felt I'd done enough. Here I am with Daisy the Mule in Cumberland:
However, in Cumberland Thursday afternoon, I figured I should ride a little on the C & O, if only to find a place to camp. One mile became two, became five, and before I knew it I couldn't stop myself from doing the whole thing.
Friday I put in the longest day of the tour, 66 miles, from Paw Paw to Williamsport, MD, and then Saturday 63 miles to a campsite 42 miles from DC. Saturday's mileage includes a side trip to Shephardstown to replace my worn chain. I didn't discover that the campsite I stayed at on Saturday didn't have a working water pump - the National Park Service didn't know it wasn't working, and because I'd set up after dark, I spent a dry night. Sunday I blew two more spokes at Great Falls, and rode the final 14 miles to Milepost 0 in Georgetown without a rear brake. After posing for my victory photo, now on Flickr along with 1000 others from my trip:
I rode to Union Station for my rental car. Had I had more time available, I wouldn't have slighted Washington DC, since I spent all of an hour in the nation's capitol. But I was proud I'd completed 384 miles over 9 days, and despite some minor problems, the time of my life.
What I would do differently:
- bring spare spokes and learn to replace them. The rear wheel was new, and its being replaced under warranty, but still, now I know this is a problem I should be able to fix.
- bring a stove and use it. Eating out is expensive, and not just in terms of money - I lost a lot of time waiting for meals along the way.
- ride with friends. I chose badly a companion on a previous trip, but I had a great time riding with folks at the beginning of the tour, and with the Bike Forums poster I met at Ohiopyle.
- replace the latching mechanism on the trailer. The Yakima latch pins were constantly bending.
- have the confidence in myself that I can complete whatever tour I plan.
- get a kickstand for the bike and trailer.