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  1. #1
    Senior Member alan s's Avatar
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    C&O Towpath August 2011 solo trip planning advice

    Iím planning a solo weekend ride in August along the C&O Canal Towpath from Cumberland to home in the DC area. Iíve been wanting to do this ride for many years, and finally have the bike, equipment and time to do it. This is my first multiple-day ride, so Iím looking for your advice on trip planning. I ride about 150 miles a week, so conditioning is not a concern. I have ridden on the C&O Towpath hundreds of times as far as Harperís Ferry to DC. Part of my daily commute is along the close-in towpath.

    Logistics are to drive to Cumberland, ride the first day to Williamsport (85 miles), overnight in a hotel, then home the next day (85 miles). Sunday evening, Iíll take the train back to Cumberland to pick up the car and drive home. I knows this is not really a big ride, but since itís my first, I want to be prepared, and build on this experience for more substantial touring.

    Here is a picture of the bike in touring configuration.



    My packing list is as follows, with everything in the trunk bag, seat bag, stuff sack (bungeed on top of trunk bag) jersey pockets, or mounted to the bike:

    Food - gels, powerbars, two water bottles on frame, two extra water bottles in trunk bag, all meals and water bottle refills at stops along the way
    Equipment - light, trunk bag (w/rain cover), stuff sack
    Repairs - 2 tubes, patch kit, multitool, pump, CO2 inflator, 2 spare cartridges, nitrile gloves, tyvek boot, tire gauge, lube, tire levers, spare link, zip ties
    Clothing - cycling shoes, socks, lycra jersey, padded shorts, rain jacket, change of clothes for evening (t-shirt shorts, underwear, socks), gloves, headband, helmet
    Supplies - insect repellant; bandaids; sunscreen; wipes, plastic bags
    Other items - iPhone, glasses, contact lens case, sunglasses, cash, credit card, drivers license, route info printout

    Iím trying to travel as light as possible. The big question is: am I missing any crucial items? Any advice would be welcome.

  2. #2
    Older than dirt CCrew's Avatar
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    91.5 miles a day is going to be a tough slog. Towpath is 183. Then you have to get from Georgetown to Union Station. I'm not saying it's not doable because we've bombed the whole thing in a day on a bet, but you've set an itinerary that's pretty optimistic and doesn't leave much margin for error. Rain and you're going to be stopping every so often just to scrape the mud out between the fenders and wheels.

    August though? LOTS of high strength bug spray.

  3. #3
    Must... ride... more... Phil_gretz's Avatar
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    Two Days... Or Three Days ?

    I've ridden the DC to Cumberland route over three days. With rain on the first day and muddy conditions, it was good to be finished in about 63 miles, not 85+. This will also give you more time to stop and take breaks when you'd like, instead of slogging on for another 2.5 hours a day.

    Would you consider adding a day just for sanity's sake? Your stops could be in Hancock and Harper's Ferry. A bit more costly, but you'll not be killing yourself if there are breakdowns or unforeseen weather issues.

    Your list looks fine. If you want to keep to the 85+ distance per day, and if the trail and forecast are dry, you'd benefit from a less-knobby tire on your bike. Decrease the rolling resistance a bit...

  4. #4
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    It does appear that's a very aggressive schedule, at least at first look. Are you looking to explore the C&O or just to check it off a bucket list? If you've ridden the C&O already to Harper's Ferry, why not just ride the section from there to Cumberland? That's 60 miles/day, which will leave lots of time to explore or deal with day weather. Hancock is the mid point with lodging and food readily available. Been on the C&O in the rain/aftermath of rain, and 60 miles of riding it was more then enough for a day.

    Nice bike, is that the new Surly Troll? How do you like it?
    1965 Moulton Speed 4, 1974 Fuji 12 speed, 1987 DB Ascent EX, 2006 Dahon Speed TR, 2009 Salsa Fargo, 2011 Gravity 29.4, 2011 Salsa Casseroll, 2012 Surly Moonlander

  5. #5
    Senior Member alan s's Avatar
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    Thanks for the replies so far. I plan to ride home from Pennyfield Lock (Mile 20), so the total distance will be about 170 miles. I'll catch the train in Rockville, rather than Union Station, after a quick shower and change of clothes at home. No need or desire to ride the last 20 miles, which is well-traveled terrain for me.

    I can always scrap the entire trip if the weather forecast is bad, but I'm expecting to encounter afternoon thunderstorms, and figure with an early start, riding will be done by mid-afternoon before they hit.

    Unless the ground is pretty saturated, the Big Apples (26x2.35) at 40 psi are great on the towpath. So far, the Surly Troll has exceded my expectations for commuting and weekend rides.

    I'd like to add an extra day to explore more, but just don't have the time. Other than Harper's Ferry, which I recently visited, any "must see" stops on the way?

  6. #6
    afoot and lighthearted Boondock's Avatar
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    some of the bike shops on the trail offer shuttle services. I know Trail Connection and C&O Bikes will pick you up and bring you to the trail. Trail Connection is in Cumberland. I toured the C&O a month ago and I had a blast. Lot's of video of it on my youtube channel

  7. #7
    Older than dirt CCrew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alan s View Post
    Other than Harper's Ferry, which I recently visited, any "must see" stops on the way?
    Honestly, not really. Paw Paw Tunnel and the NPS exhibit at Wiliamsport. The Restaurant at Lil Orleans. Indigo Tunnel is cool but you blink and you miss it. Other than that it's pretty much a tunnel of trees where you go around a bend and it looks like it looked when you went around the last one. Much of the north end is two track, one step above cowpath.

    Diverting off on the WMRT just past Sideling Creek and jumping back onto the C&O at Fort Frederick will give you 24 miles of flat asphalt trail - good for making up time. Hancock is right in the middle of that 24 miles. Harpers Ferry is pretty much the highlight of the C&O.

  8. #8
    train safe buelito's Avatar
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    I've done it twice-- the first time in 3 days, with overnights in Hancock & Harpers Ferry. More relaxed, there were ten o fus. It was very enjoyable. The second time was with one buddy-- we decided to try and do it in one day. Drove to Cumberland, left the car there. Early in the morning we started (on mountain bikes). 13 1/2 hours later we were in Georgetown-- averaged about 15 miles an hour. We got rattled. My arms were sore from the jarring. I had no suspension on my bike. Tony had suspension and was a little better off than I was. At any rate, it was a great ride-- we had good weather, which helps, and dry conditions throughout.

    On your list, why a pump and CO2 cartridges. Leave the CO2 at home. The pump is all you need. I would also add a light jacket-- goretex if you have it, as it could rain on you, or it could get cold. (I know, August it is unlikely--but it is better to be prepared... or if you don't want to take a jacket, bring arm warmers).

    Regardless, it should be alot of fun-

    enjoy-

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  9. #9
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CCrew View Post
    91.5 miles a day is going to be a tough slog. Towpath is 183. Then you have to get from Georgetown to Union Station. I'm not saying it's not doable because we've bombed the whole thing in a day on a bet, but you've set an itinerary that's pretty optimistic and doesn't leave much margin for error. Rain and you're going to be stopping every so often just to scrape the mud out between the fenders and wheels.

    August though? LOTS of high strength bug spray.
    And this comes from CCRew the Iron Man. 100 miles is no sweat fro him.

    I agree 91 miles is a lot of miles for the towpath. If it rains it will be horrible.

    Why not just take the train to Cunberland and ride back home? What is the deal with the car?
    "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

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  10. #10
    Senior Member alan s's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
    And this comes from CCRew the Iron Man. 100 miles is no sweat fro him.

    I agree 91 miles is a lot of miles for the towpath. If it rains it will be horrible.

    Why not just take the train to Cunberland and ride back home? What is the deal with the car?
    I've read you can't unload a bike from the train in Cumberland, only carry on bags, plus I want to arrive at 6 a.m. to get an early start without having to overnight in Cumberland. If this is incorrect, please let me know.

    Looking at the map, perhaps a fun side trip would be through Sharpsburg/Antietam and returning to the towpath a little further down the canal. Don't really know whether it's worth seeing.

    I could probably do without the CO2, but it's almost no extra weight, and pumping up the huge volume tires would be a little faster in a pinch. A light rain jacket is on the list, but arm warmers are good suggestion if the early hours are a little cool.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by alan s View Post
    Looking at the map, perhaps a fun side trip would be through Sharpsburg/Antietam and returning to the towpath a little further down the canal. Don't really know whether it's worth seeing.
    After 90 miles or so on the towpath it's a good break. Jump off at Williamsport, ride by Antietam and Sharpsburg, take Harpers Ferry Road down to the river and get back on the towpath. I don't know if its' really worth seeing (unless you're a big Civil War buff) but getting back on pavement is a huge relief.

  12. #12
    Older than dirt CCrew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
    And this comes from CCRew the Iron Man. 100 miles is no sweat fro him.
    LOL. Yeah.. I"m still of the mindset that it's a bit aggressive.

    It's not that that mileage can't be ridden. It's just that it's all you're going to do. In order to lay down that many miles in a day you're focused on the miles and don't really "smell the roses" so to speak. Add a bit of weather or a breakdown and you're rushing that much more trying to make the distance. It really does have the potential to suck the fun out of the trip. Yeah, I can lay down 100 + miles in a day - heck I ride 50-60 most every day (Thanks Spinnaker for the vote of confidence) but I'm of the mindset anymore that the 60mi range seems to be the sweet spot. You don't have to rush, you can stop if you want, the pressure is just less and the enjoyment more. What you're planning is more about the distance and less about the tour it seems, although the recent posts give me hope

  13. #13
    Senior Member alan s's Avatar
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    I appreciate everyone's input. I'd definitely add a day to the trip if I had the time.

    Honestly, it's more about covering the entire route in two days vs. touring and checking out the sights. Also, it's about getting in a somewhat substantial tour (at least for me) to see how I like it. I don't want to invest in camping gear, bags, stove and everything else needed for longer tours without first getting my feet wet.

    Little Orleans looks like a good lunch stop for the first day, and Sharpsburg or Harper's Ferry for the second day. I'm really looking forward to the trip, and hope the weather cooperates.

  14. #14
    Older than dirt CCrew's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alan s View Post
    Honestly, it's more about covering the entire route in two days vs. touring and checking out the sights. Also, it's about getting in a somewhat substantial tour (at least for me) to see how I like it. I don't want to invest in camping gear, bags, stove and everything else needed for longer tours without first getting my feet wet.
    I wish you luck. And hope you don't need it and have a great trip.

  15. #15
    Because I thought I could ks1g's Avatar
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    If you are a Civil War buff, exit C&O a bit north/west of the Shepardstown bridge, climb out of the Potomac gorge, and visit the Antietam battlefield. Or the Visitor's Center to enjoy free indoor plumbing and air conditioning! The bikewashington.org website has a loop from the Antietam H&B that covers much of the battlefield, including the auto road thru the battlefield's northern half, the "Bloody Lane", and the area by Stone (Burnside's) Bridge and the Reno monument (steeper than it looks). It will be a nice change of pace from the C&O. If you are an ice cream fanatic (show me a cyclist who isn't), Nutter's in downtown Sharpsburg is a must-stop and is at the intersection of what becomes Harpers Ferry Rd. Visiting Harpers Ferry requires getting your bike up a spiral staircase and walking it over the RR bridge (there's a planked path for cyclists and AT hikers), or locking bike at a rack on the MD side.

  16. #16
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    You might also consider doing a one-way car rental from Hertz and dropping it off in Cumberland at the start, then just riding directly home. Would probably be more convenient and not a whole lot more $$ than taking the train (and certainly less hassle). The Hertz agent in Cumberland is two blocks from the start of the trail. Just rented a car from them yesterday to go back and pick up our van in Ohiopyle after riding to Cumberland on a short tour this weekend. One note: they are still listed as "Wayne's Citgo" in the Hertz system, but have changed hands and the station is now a "Gulf" station. Nice people there. We rented a car for the day (out and back to Cumberland, not one way) and it only cost us $41, tax included.

    Next time I ride the C&O I'd definitely go lighter than I did the first time. Your list sounds fine for credit-card touring. Here's my write-up of my three-day tour in 2008: http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/cando-tour

    From Williamsport, you might consider taking a road detour over toward Antietam/Sharpsburg, as there is a detour on the canal path anyway. I've mapped it out on this page on my trip journal: http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/p...id=178344&v=37

    I'd skip Harper's Ferry for lunch, too much hassle to get over to the town just to eat (and overpriced tourist restaurants there, anyway).
    Last edited by briwasson; 06-21-11 at 02:50 PM.

  17. #17
    Senior Member alan s's Avatar
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    I made the trip last weekend, despite hurricane Irene. Started out at 8:15 on Saturday in Cumberland (Mile 184), stopped for a nice lunch in Little Orleans (Mile 142), and there was even a few minutes of sun here and there. Made it as far as Hancock (Mile 125), when torrential rain started coming down. The last couple hours to Williamsport (Mile 99) was very wet and muddy, but thanks to fenders, most of the muck was on the bike and my lower legs. Up to that point, my average speed was 14.7 mph, but ended up at 13.2 mph for the day with the wet conditions. I arrived in Williamsport at 4 pm, and from that time until 10 am Sunday, the rain was constant from the hurricane.

    My backup plan was to ride the roads home, which was mapped out in advance. This took me through Sharpsburg/Antietam (really nice), past Harpers Ferry, Brunswick, Point of Rocks and Dickerson. I couldnít find a safe road approaching Brunswick, so I hopped on the Towpath for a couple miles. It was like riding through a dark tunnel of trees and very wet and muddy, in contrast to the sunny, dry roads. The road route is 20 miles shorter than the Towpath, but is so hilly that the average speed was only 13.3 mph for Sunday. On a downhill outside Point of Rocks, I topped out at 47 mph, but then was doing 4 mph up the next hill. The tailwind definitely made a difference, particularly for the last two hours of open farmland of Montgomery County.

    The distances were 91 miles Saturday and 69 miles Sunday for a total of 160 miles. The only hitch in the plans is Amtrak cancelled service on Sunday, so my car is stuck in Cumberland until next weekend. For planning purposes, 13 mph plus about an hour for stops is a good rough estimate.

    All in all, it was a great trip, and although I wasnít able to ride on the Towpath the second day, it gives me an excuse to do it again. Also, there is a great iPhone app from the Bike Washington folks that is well worth getting. It gives all of the information from their website, and even tells you exactly where you are on the ride.

    Here are a couple pictures at the Paw Paw tunnel. You can just make out the light at the end of the tunnel.




  18. #18
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    Cool, pictures ... Sounds like quite the adventure.

    This question coming from somebody planning his first tour (me), are you ready to invest in camping gear now? I'm planning first tour a 4 day 3 night credit card tour within in a few hrs drive of my house (just in case). In the midst of planning I stared talking tents & sleeping bag and gear (on here). Until another user brought me back down to earth suggesting I should go try what I had planned first.... See If its something I want to pursue before buying a bunch of stuff and only use it one time...

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  19. #19
    Senior Member JimF22003's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alan s View Post
    I couldn’t find a safe road approaching Brunswick, so I hopped on the Towpath for a couple miles.
    Here's a ride I did recently that shows a way to get from Harpers Ferry to Brunswick on the roads:

    http://connect.garmin.com/activity/98287137

    It's basically Sandy Hook, Keep Tryst, a TINY section of Rt 340 that is rideable (share the road signs and everything), and then Jefferson Pike/Potomac street right into Brunswick.
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  20. #20
    Senior Member alan s's Avatar
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    I followed Keep Tryst, and then crossed over the RR tracks to the Towpath, thinking 340 was not rideable, but good to know for future reference. It was actually great to ride the Towpath for a couple miles to see what I was missing, which made riding the roads/hills a little easier. I noticed your max speed was 46.9 mph . . . probably the same hill I hit 47 mph.

    zzOtherlandzz, I'm still on the fence whether I would want to camp out, particularly in bad weather after riding all day. There is a certain appeal to being outdoors overnight, but staying indoors has its definite advantages like a shower and comfortable bed. Maybe I'll try an out and back overnight trip this fall and see how it goes.
    Last edited by alan s; 08-30-11 at 09:23 AM.

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