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GAP/C&O Tour

Old 03-29-18, 08:57 AM
  #1  
willwebb
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GAP/C&O Tour

Iím planning to ride from Pittsburgh to Washington DC on the Great Allegheny Passage (gaptrail.org) and C&O Canal (bikewashington.org/canal/). I plan to ride it over 5 days beginning in late June. I have a light touring bike (Jamis Bosanova) with 35mm tires (Marathon Plus) and drop bars. Iíll be carrying two small waterproof panniers and (maybe) a ďtrunkĒ bag. I will not be camping, but will be staying in hotels and eating in restaurants or otherwise buying food.

My planned stops are:
Day 1: Pittsburgh to Connellsville (58 miles)
Day 2: Connellsville to Meyersdale (59 miles)
Day 3: Meyersdale to Little Orleans (75 miles)
Day 4: Little Orleans to Shepherdstown (68 miles)
Day 5: Shepherdstown to Washington (74 miles)

In the past, I have done a couple of Backroads tours and have ridden a century, but these were all over ten years ago (Iím now 50). This is the first self-supported bike tour Iíve done. I have begun to commute to work 7 miles each way, and I hope to be commuting 4 or 5 times per week as soon as I can.

I have 3 young children, so it is difficult for me to take the time away on weekends to fit in longer training rides. I should be able to fit in one long ride about 2 weeks before the tour begins to test my bike with bags packed. Otherwise, I may be relying on my commuting miles for training.

Is this a reasonable plan? Iím trying to not spend too many vacation days from work to do this ride. Also, part of me thinks that riding 5 days is less difficult than riding 6, even if the distances need to be longer as a result. But, I would like to know if Iím setting myself up for a miserable experience. If so, Iíll rethink whether I can do it this summer.

Thanks!
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Old 03-29-18, 09:11 AM
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So your plan is to start commuting 14 miles per day, working up to 5 days a week, with no weekend rides, and then ride 67 loaded miles per day for five straight days? I'm afraid you're setting yourself up for failure, or at least for a miserable time.


If you can figure out a way to get a couple 40-mile rides in most weekends, you might have a chance of completing this ride. That's a three hour ride in the morning Saturday and Sunday. It'd help if you moved the date to September or October; that's the "dry" season most years, it'll be a whole lot cooler than late June, and you'll have more time to train.
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Old 03-29-18, 09:22 AM
  #3  
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Message me for details

Originally Posted by willwebb View Post
Iím planning to ride from Pittsburgh to Washington DC on the Great Allegheny Passage (gaptrail.org) and C&O Canal (bikewashington.org/canal/). I plan to ride it over 5 days beginning in late June. I have a light touring bike (Jamis Bosanova) with 35mm tires (Marathon Plus) and drop bars. Iíll be carrying two small waterproof panniers and (maybe) a ďtrunkĒ bag. I will not be camping, but will be staying in hotels and eating in restaurants or otherwise buying food.

My planned stops are:
Day 1: Pittsburgh to Connellsville (58 miles)
Day 2: Connellsville to Meyersdale (59 miles)
Day 3: Meyersdale to Little Orleans (75 miles)
Day 4: Little Orleans to Shepherdstown (68 miles)
Day 5: Shepherdstown to Washington (74 miles)

In the past, I have done a couple of Backroads tours and have ridden a century, but these were all over ten years ago (Iím now 50). This is the first self-supported bike tour Iíve done. I have begun to commute to work 7 miles each way, and I hope to be commuting 4 or 5 times per week as soon as I can.

I have 3 young children, so it is difficult for me to take the time away on weekends to fit in longer training rides. I should be able to fit in one long ride about 2 weeks before the tour begins to test my bike with bags packed. Otherwise, I may be relying on my commuting miles for training.

Is this a reasonable plan? Iím trying to not spend too many vacation days from work to do this ride. Also, part of me thinks that riding 5 days is less difficult than riding 6, even if the distances need to be longer as a result. But, I would like to know if Iím setting myself up for a miserable experience. If so, Iíll rethink whether I can do it this summer.

Thanks!
Feel free to message me through this forum if you'd like to arrange for a phone call. I've ridden that route 6 times, pretty much with your exact itinerary and can offer many insights. Get ready for a fantastic trip. It's a terrific tour.
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Old 03-29-18, 09:26 AM
  #4  
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I think you will be o.k.
And I have 100,000 miles experience.
Plus, I am not as young or as thin as I used to be.

You have kids and a job - not like you can go out there and train 24x7.
And I suspect you also have a lawn to mow, soccer leagues to attend, etc. etc.

You are aware that the Paw Paw tunnel is closed - probably until Aug/Sept.
You should take the road detour rather than the killer trail over the mountain.
Late June is o.k. - it gives the C&O portion a bit of summer weather to dry out.
But be aware that heavy rains can make the C&O a tough slog. (Less so the GAP)

Even if you haven't done a lot of riding beforehand, 3x commutes a week should be o.k.
And it sounds as if you will be traveling light. Your itinerary looks quite reasonable.
Be aware that fixed stops are a bit tougher than a flexible itinerary.

Just plan not to overdo it. 60 miles the first two days = 4 x 15 miles.
Start early - ride for a 1 1/2 hours - then take a long stop - then another 1 1/2 hours to lunch.
Take a long lunch and maybe a nap. Then two more legs in the afternoon.
There is no one who is timing you. If you leave at 7 a.m. and arrive at 7 p.m., who cares?
You can stop often and explore all the interesting places along the way.

If you like to read, take a paperback - you will have 100% reception with a paperback.
No one says you can't sit on the riverbank in the shade and read for an hour.

Will, I am a believer in doing something now rather than later.
Because, quite frequently, "later" never comes.

Wishing you a wonderful tour - Jama
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Old 03-29-18, 09:35 AM
  #5  
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It really comes down to your fitness and your comfort level and possibly the weather. Also it may depend on the amount of time you want to spend riding vs. looking around. I had a similar plan to yours last June, except I was camping. I also had a couple hundred miles of riding leading up to the start of the GAP. By the time I got to Pittsburgh, I had ridden four, 50-90 mile days. Not one of them had been entirely free from rain, and at least one of them had been mostly rain. Like you, I have limited vacation time, so I had a schedule to keep. But after getting to Pittsburgh, later in the day than I wanted, having also ended every other day later than I wanted, I decided to rethink my trip. I bought a train ticket from Cumberland to DC, and I rode a fairly leisurely 4 day trip down the GAP. My longest day was 53 miles. My shortest was 26. Given that the GAP was the easiest riding of the trip, I probably could have kept up my planned mileage, but I wanted to take the pressure off and enjoy my trip more, and that did it. I rode the GAP again as a credit card tour with family that fall: four days and about 40 miles/day. Very pleasant. I absolutely could have done longer mile days without the camping gear, but I found the pace enjoyable.

I've heard that the C & O gets trickier when water is added. The GAP surface seemed fairly forgiving, but I still avoided riding on it much in the rain.

I think your mileage is manageable, for me. Hard for me to say what's manageable for you. But I enjoyed taking a slower approach to the GAP. However, you stick to plan to do whole thing, given what I've heard about C & O trail surfaces, I might front-load your longer mile days. Maybe shoot for Ohiopyle on day 1 and Frostburg on Day 2 so that you can take a slower approach to the C & O if its soggy.
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Old 03-29-18, 10:09 AM
  #6  
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While your itinerary isn't out of line, given your current mileage, you will enjoy the trip more if you add a day to your trip.
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Old 03-29-18, 10:32 AM
  #7  
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As I read the OP, the "worst case scenario" training-wise is maybe eventually commuting 14 miles/day, 4 or 5 days/week with not even one long ride loaded. If that plays out, you might want to re-think things.


Note that you could shorten the trip by using the Amtrak. Start in PGH, ride to Cumberland over how many days and take the train back to PGH. A reservation for one of the limited bike spots on the train would be wise. Not the most appealing this logistically because the train does not arrive in PGH until late at night, but there are a couple of hotels within a block or two of the station.
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Old 03-29-18, 10:50 AM
  #8  
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You have a reasonable plan. Have a great time.
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Old 03-29-18, 11:07 AM
  #9  
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Last summer, I rode the southern Illinois Tunnel Hill Trail (to see the eclipse!) 77 miles round trip that day (with a long stop in the middle). A small section of the trail was paved, the rest was crushed stone, with a few sandy sections.

This ride was a lot more effort than riding on roads. On this flat trail, I was averaging about 11 mph instead of 15 mph on the road. I had 35mm small knob tires with a smooth block center section for pavement. After this ride, I bought some 38mm all smooth tread tires, thinking they would "float" better on crushed rock trail surfaces, and need less power.

Even hard packed trails like the GAP take more power than riding on paved roads.

So, you might consider a 60 mile trail ride to be more like an 80+ mile road ride. It would help if you can do a test ride this spring on an unpaved trail -- to see if you want to cut back the daily mileage on the GAP.
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Old 03-29-18, 12:31 PM
  #10  
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Willwebb, sorted out the logistics of getting to and from the start and finish? Do you have a supportive mate to drop you off and pick you up?
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Old 03-29-18, 12:48 PM
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Thanks for all the replies! I am very, VERY glad I asked this question now. It seems I may have been underestimating the task and I will see if I can make some adjustments.

First, I will see if I can add another day to the trip. It will mean an average of about 56 miles per day rather than 67. I will see how this translates to real world mileage once I plot out which towns with B&Bs fall at the right distance.

Second, I will definitely work on adding some longer rides to my training over the next couple of months. I will also pack my bags with the gear that I will be taking.

I live near Washington DC, so I will be riding home. I will rent an SUV in Washington, put my bike and gear in the back, and drive to Pittsburgh. I will drop off the SUV in Pittsburgh, and then ride home.
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Old 03-29-18, 01:03 PM
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I did it in 7 days, but one of our group was getting pretty tired which is why we did it in 7 instead of 6. But we carried camping gear and cooking gear, etc. Staying indoors and not cooking cuts your weight a lot. We also had about 3 days of rain, which made for a messy trail.

I think if you commute 14 miles a day (total of 14) for four or five times a week, that should be good training. Your last day or two might be tough, those are longer mileage days but you could likely do it.

Your plan to have shorter mileage days for the first two days is a good plan, as those are slightly uphill. Your third day would be both up and down, more down than up. Last two are close to flat. The uphill is very subtle, you hardly notice it, but you will find your speed is slightly slower on those first two days because of it and that can be discouraging.

Watch the forecast, if it is wet you will enjoy it less.

I am well aware that Marathon Plus tires are a touring favorite, but there is not a lot of stuff on the trail that could cause punctures. A faster pair of tires for the trip might be more enjoyable. Then go back to the Marathon Plus afterwards for commuting duties. In our group (again, we had several days of rain) we had 35mm width tires on one bike, 47mm on another and 50 on the third. All three of us were happy with our tire choices. So, your proposed 35mm tires should work fine.

ADDENDUM: I wrote the above when I thought you were planning five days, but six days would likely work a bit better.
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Old 03-29-18, 03:13 PM
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If the C&O is muddy then take the Western Maryland Rail Trail at Pierre,MD that goes past Cumberland, MD which is paved.
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Old 03-29-18, 03:15 PM
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Originally Posted by phughes View Post
While your itinerary isn't out of line, given your current mileage, you will enjoy the trip more if you add a day to your trip.
Agreed. Thereís a lot of nice side trips on this route. If you have to do it in five days though, thatís a lot better than not doing it at all. Enjoy your trip!
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Old 03-29-18, 03:19 PM
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Originally Posted by willwebb View Post
Thanks for all the replies! I am very, VERY glad I asked this question now. It seems I may have been underestimating the task and I will see if I can make some adjustments.

First, I will see if I can add another day to the trip. It will mean an average of about 56 miles per day rather than 67. I will see how this translates to real world mileage once I plot out which towns with B&Bs fall at the right distance.

Second, I will definitely work on adding some longer rides to my training over the next couple of months. I will also pack my bags with the gear that I will be taking.

I live near Washington DC, so I will be riding home. I will rent an SUV in Washington, put my bike and gear in the back, and drive to Pittsburgh. I will drop off the SUV in Pittsburgh, and then ride home.
As an alternative to having to rent an SUV, look into Amtrak. https://www.amtrak.com/bring-your-bicycle-onboard
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Old 03-29-18, 03:26 PM
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I am going to be the contrarian here. I think it is too many miles a day for someone of your limited experience. 14 miles a day id pretty good for 5 days a week but you are talking about bumping that up to 70+ in a day. That is an enormous difference.

Trail ridding is not like road ridding. I would much rather do 60 miles on the roads with hills than 60 miles on a trail like the GAP or C&O. Don't let the fact that it is flat fool you. And if you get some rain, it can be down right miserable ridding on those trails.

Why not do something a bit ambitious like just riding from Pittsburgh to Cumberland for your first time? You can extend that trip by taking the Montour Trail or exploring Pittsburgh a bit. I can show you how you can even do both if you want. You could also take the train back to Pittsburgh.

Or you can just ride to Martinsbug or Harpers Ferry then take the train into DC. That would get you at least part of the C&O.

There are lots of options to not pack so much into your vacation and still have a great time.

Let me know if you need any help at the Pittsburgh end or want information on the Montour Trail. In my opinion the with the exception of the Ohiopyle area, the Montour is every bit as beautiful as the GAP. And certainly a lot prettier than the C&O.
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Old 03-29-18, 07:27 PM
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GAP C@O is awesome you will have fun.
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Old 03-29-18, 07:29 PM
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Old 03-29-18, 09:09 PM
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Try to take a few longer routes to work here and there if you can. I plan on doing similar mileage and have barely put in any miles this year. Hoping to go in May. I have wanted to do this trip for 3 years now and am finally going to go - I can't wait. I agree that putting things off isn't the best option. With the Amtrak service there, I would leverage that. Take the train to the start and then if things don't work out - take the train the last bit home too. Gives you a good bail out option but you likely won't need it. In any case, only you can assess how likely you will be able to do the trip.
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Old 03-29-18, 09:54 PM
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I ride the C&O each year and also live on the DC area. Most efficient use of time is to take the afternoon train on Thursday or Friday to Cumberland and get a room for the night. Air bnb or hotels are plentiful. I ride 20 miles to camp, but since you are not taking a tent, overnighting in Cumberland works well. Then you have three 60 mile days. I usually do it in two days, plus the initial 20 miles, but that makes for long days. Then you end up riding home, which can shorten or lengthen the trip depending on where you live. Nice thing about this is you can pick your weekend with little advance planning depending on the weather forecast and towpath conditions. Just need a bike reservation on Amtrak, but last year they basically stacked around 12 bikes in the bike car.

Note that the road bypass around the Paw Paw Tunnel is a difficult ride. I did it last year and regretted it. Steep hills and unpaved roads make for a slow ride. Not sure whether you are any better off than just using the hiking trail.

As for training, I generally bike commute 150 miles a week and up the mileage to around 200 per week for two weeks prior to riding the canal. My days are 20/90/65.
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Old 03-29-18, 10:31 PM
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Originally Posted by alan s View Post
Note that the road bypass around the Paw Paw Tunnel is a difficult ride. I did it last year and regretted it. Steep hills and unpaved roads make for a slow ride. Not sure whether you are any better off than just using the hiking trail.
Can anyone else comment on these options - and also let me know where the road option starts and ends? Just want to be prepared.

Thanks
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Old 03-29-18, 11:02 PM
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Originally Posted by volvostephen View Post
Can anyone else comment on these options - and also let me know where the road option starts and ends? Just want to be prepared.

Thanks
I took the road from Lock 67 to Little Orleans. Shorter distance than the towpath by 5 miles, but hilly and mostly unpaved.
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Old 03-30-18, 07:37 AM
  #23  
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The OP doesn't need an SUV. I have gotten my 60cm LHT in the back of a Toyota Camry. With the minimal gear he's planning on brining, a sedan of that size should be fine.
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Old 03-30-18, 09:12 AM
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Originally Posted by alan s View Post

Note that the road bypass around the Paw Paw Tunnel is a difficult ride. I did it last year and regretted it. Steep hills and unpaved roads make for a slow ride. Not sure whether you are any better off than just using the hiking trail.
I hiked around the tunnel rolling the bike it is steep but was great to walk and stretch. Has a great view at to top. It wasnít a very long hike I would say about a mile maybe a mile and a half.
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Old 03-30-18, 10:07 AM
  #25  
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Originally Posted by Hondo Gravel View Post
I hiked around the tunnel rolling the bike it is steep but was great to walk and stretch. Has a great view at to top. It wasnít a very long hike I would say about a mile maybe a mile and a half.
I also hiked around the tunnel on the marked foot path in Spetember. It was steep in some sections on the way up, but I thought the effort was worth it. As long as it is dry, I would choose this option again instead of longer climbs on a bike.
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