Trip Report Ė Great Allegheny Passage/C&O Trail
05/13/2010 to 05/15/2010
I thought I would write a short trip report in case some people were interested. This was my first trip from Pittsburgh to DC on the trails. I did this a quick three day trip by myself to prove to myself that I could do such a strenuous trip because I have been trying to get healthy as I approach 50 (I have lost close to 100 pounds in the past 20 months cycling).
I live in Arlington, VA and I wanted to travel from Pittsburgh to DC so I could roll right back to my front door. So I rented a SUV from Hertz in Crystal City the night before, loaded everything up and left at 3:30 AM. I went with the one way rental car because I didnít want to arrive in Pittsburgh at midnight on the train, pay too much for a hotel and try to get to McKeesport the next morning. I figured that the cost of a one way rental was less than one night in a downtown Pittsburgh hotel. I learned that Hertz had an office at the Allegheny County Airport, which is in West Mifflin, next door to McKeesport and seemed like the easiest way to start. If you use google maps and select directions for bicycling to Boston, PA from the Allegheny County Airport it will show you the route to cycle. I was on the path by 8:30 AM.
My first day I traveled to Myersdale, PA. It was about 108 miles from the Allegheny County Airport. Towards the end of the ride I got a bit tired of the slow uphill ride, but it was manageable. The trail is maintained beautifully. Kudosís to the volunteers who maintain the Allegheny Trail. Many of the towns are marked well and give great information on services. Cell service is limited and helpful signs such as no cell service for 30 miles were helpful. I stayed at Donges Drive-in & Motel. It was ok, not great. It was older and in need of a cleaning. They gave a trail user discount rate of $50. What attracted me to this place was that they had ground floor rooms that I could roll my bike in. They were also very friendly. My T-mobile phone did not get a signal in this town and a lady that worked the grill and ran the motel lent me her personal cell to call my wife and tell her I was ok. I ate Take 6 Pizza and Subs. It was ok.
The next day I woke up at 4:30 AM thanks to the people staying in the room above me (very thin floors). I traveled about 126 miles this day to Williamsport MD. I hit the road at 5:45 AM to make it to Frostburg for breakfast. This was the last of the uphill pedaling until the eastern continental divide. It rained pretty hard for about an hour but I didnít let it ruin my day. At Frostburg they have a great information area with all of the amenities available in town. Unfortunately it is a very long uphill to get to town and everything was closed when I arrived early in the morning. I did find a McDonalds in town and I ate three breakfastís and I was still hungry. Itís amazing how hungry you get pedaling all day. Next I stopped in Cumberland and I found a Subway restaurant so I could carry a sub and eat it when I chose to. It seems like a nice town with many things available. It was nice to start the C&O too. The trail was a bit muddy in spots from the rain. The day was fine, but long. Hancock has a great bike shop and seems like a nice town..I was able to replace my hand pump that was rattled off my bike at some point. Everything was going well until I reached near lock 47 and there was a detour. I didnít remember anything about a detour here but I followed the sign to the road and peddled away. After quite a while I saw someone in their yard and I asked them if this was the way of the C&O detour and he just pointed in the direction I was going. So I peddled. After a while I came across a small market and went inside to inquire about the detour and everyone looked puzzled. No one knew anything about a detour. I told them I was trying to reach Williamsport and everyone started talking and hashing out the best way to get there and the consensus was that it was a very dangerous road that I had to peddle on to get to Williamsport (no shoulder, fast traffic, hills). I had traveled about 126 miles at this point and was exhausted and covered with mud. I was in Spring Hill, MD and I canít say enough about how kind these people were. I wasnít sure if I had enough left to peddle back and maybe find out the trail was still closed. I asked if there are any taxis around and they kind of chuckled. A gentleman who lived almost across the street said he would give me a ride to Williamsport. Very kind especially since my bike and I were covered with mud. I stayed at the Red Roof Inn in Williamsport. There is a Waffle House in front which was great for breakfast. $56 a night. I didnít get to explore the town and called the Dominos number on my key card and ate a whole pizza.
My last day from Williamsport to Arlington VA was 108 miles. The trail was drier, but still a bit muddy in spots. I started out at 6:00 AM after fueling up at the Waffle House. A fairly uneventful day. I was able to navigate the detour near lock 41 without as much drama. I stopped in Brunswick MD for lunch at Mommers Diner. Good basic food at reasonable prices. Very near the towpath. I stopped again at Whiteís Ferry and had some snacks at the snack bar beside where you catch the ferry. It looks like they also cook some basic meals too. Once I hit Great Falls on the towpath it seemed that the mood changed. Getting close to DC I guess. I no longer received eye contact or greetings from other towpath users. But I was getting close to home. May of the tourists around the Falls are not used to being around bicycles and you really need to take it slower and give more than one warning. Even if they find it annoying.
A few additional observations:
I felt that doing a 100 miles on crushed limestone/dirt is the equivalent of doing 125 on pavement, maybe more after a hard rain. There is not as much relief off road such as the ability to glide for a bit. Tires sink in and the level of effort is far greater when the trail is wet.
Animals donít pose for pictures. I must have seen 20 wild turkeys (they all flew away before I could take a photo, except for one at the very end of the trip). Snakes slithered away by the time I pulled my cell/camera out and turned it on. Even turtles jumped off logs seconds before I pushed the shutter button. But I enjoyed seeing the wildlife.
Beware of Canadian geese near the C&O canal in the spring. Many of them have young and will try to attack you when you pass them. I found that if I saw some upcoming, I would speed up as fast as possible and try to get past them before they had time to react.