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C&O Canal from Cumberland to DC (184 miles)

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C&O Canal from Cumberland to DC (184 miles)

Old 10-15-18, 02:17 PM
  #26  
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I didn’t realize how awful the C&O is. Guess I’ll have to cancel the annual trip I’ve been doing for the past 12 years or so. Is the GAP a better option? Maybe the Montour Trail?
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Old 10-15-18, 03:20 PM
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Originally Posted by alan s
I didnít realize how awful the C&O is. Guess Iíll have to cancel the annual trip Iíve been doing for the past 12 years or so. Is the GAP a better option? Maybe the Montour Trail?
Gap is much prettier and more varied. That said, I'll be doing the C&O for the third time in the spring. Montour is supposed to be nice but have not done it.
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Old 10-15-18, 03:32 PM
  #28  
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Originally Posted by alan s
I didnít realize how awful the C&O is. Guess Iíll have to cancel the annual trip Iíve been doing for the past 12 years or so. Is the GAP a better option? Maybe the Montour Trail?
Who said it was awful? Exactly where are you getting that? It is different that is all. And pretty much the same a good deal of the way that can't be denied.

But tt has Great Falls, the paw paw and the lock house to break things up.
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Old 10-15-18, 03:36 PM
  #29  
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I would strongly suggest to take three 60-mile days to do the C&O. A mile on the C&O trail is far more taxing on one's legs/body than a mile on the road (assuming normal terrain). And I will disagree with Spin on Harpers Ferry and Antietam as I think they are both very worthwhile, loaded with history if you're into that kind of thing. We're doing it again next September (Montour-GAP-C&O-DC) and plan on hitting up those highlights and who knows, might even take in the Ghost Tour this time around.
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Old 10-15-18, 03:52 PM
  #30  
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Originally Posted by alan s
I didnít realize how awful the C&O is. Guess Iíll have to cancel the annual trip Iíve been doing for the past 12 years or so. Is the GAP a better option? Maybe the Montour Trail?
I didn't mean that, I do a complete one way of C&O and GAP once a year solo and do DC to Whites Ferry more frequently (I do a C&O/W&OD century loop). I do it for the for the unique experience and acomplishment, not for the view. I'm not a road guy though. I'd do the trail 50 times to Pittsburgh before once on the road.

Last edited by u235; 10-15-18 at 03:57 PM.
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Old 10-16-18, 04:53 AM
  #31  
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The C&O is definitely not awful, which is why I spend so much biking and hiking time on it, but it does have 2 major negatives and one minor one:
  1. Many sections take a long time to dry out after rain. If you don't like riding in mud, not going to be fun after or during heavy rains.
  2. It is run by the National Park Service, whose budget seems to constantly be in flux and rarely focuses on maintenance. A volunteer group I'm in (C&O Canal Association) provides funding and volunteer support but washouts and other issues on the C&O Canal Towpath often take years to get fixed or even temporarily bypassed.
  3. Minor one to me, bigger one to my wife: like the Appalachian Trail, the C&O Canal Towpath is mostly a long green tunnel. I like that, my wife said it got boring after the first 30 miles south from Cumberland.
The GAP doesn't have any of those problems, or at least much lower level of those problems:
  1. The surface drains better and was engineered better for biking - but there are areas that flood and stay wet for a long time.
  2. Problems on the GAP seem to get fixed much faster. This summer a small tornado moved through the Ohiopyle/Confluence section and dozens of trees came down - they were cleared within a day or so. Ditto a huge boulder that came down east of there - a workaround was in place almost immediately.
  3. Some sections of green tunnel, but much more variation.
I live closer to the C&O but do the GAP once a year. If I dropped into Cumberland MD with my bike and a credit card during a rainy summer like this one, and could only do one, I'd do the GAP. In a normal or dry year, it would be more of a toss-up - luckily, each year I get to do both...

Last edited by jpescatore; 10-17-18 at 04:20 AM.
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Old 10-16-18, 11:50 AM
  #32  
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Personally, I find the C&O much more interesting to ride than the GAP. I haven't ridden it for many years though. I ride the GAP often since I live near it. Based on stories, I was prepared for the C&O to be a pain. I was riding a LHT with Continental Contact City tires, in 1.5". I was riding to DC, into Hurricane Irene. Needless to say, it was a bit wet. I had no issues, and truly enjoyed the trail. There is much more to see on the C&O, as compared to the GAP. Yes, the surface on the GAP is "nicer," but the C&O is great.
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Old 10-16-18, 03:37 PM
  #33  
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One final question guys,

I'm not even really ready. I need to buy some things (paniers, fenders etc) and I need to physically test myself out. Just how late would be to late to even began this. It's obviously getting cold and I imagine there's a point where it wouldn't be advisable.
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Old 10-16-18, 03:51 PM
  #34  
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Originally Posted by djb
good luck stepp with sorting yourself out, all the best with your project.
Thanks,

I'm going to need all the help I can get....

I will try to post pictures/video if I'm successful.
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Old 10-16-18, 04:58 PM
  #35  
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Originally Posted by steppinthrax
One final question guys,

I'm not even really ready. I need to buy some things (paniers, fenders etc) and I need to physically test myself out. Just how late would be to late to even began this. It's obviously getting cold and I imagine there's a point where it wouldn't be advisable.
Well advisable is pretty much up to you. I think you are still good as far as snow goes. It will just be cold. The big advantage of going now is NO MOSQUITOES! The downside of going now would be shorter daylight hours and with your planned long mileage days you will want all of the daylight that you can get.
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Old 10-16-18, 05:54 PM
  #36  
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If you are camping, be prepared for 10 degrees colder than predicted. If staying indoors, you should be comfortable riding all day at around 50 F. Below that, it’s not great riding all day. I rode it once in November with nighttime temps around 30 F, and it was fine, but I can’t say I really enjoyed it. Made a nice campfire to warm up, but that only lasts so long. There is no difference in temperature inside the tent and outside.
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Old 10-17-18, 07:39 AM
  #37  
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Originally Posted by steppinthrax
One final question guys,

I'm not even really ready. I need to buy some things (paniers, fenders etc) and I need to physically test myself out. Just how late would be to late to even began this. It's obviously getting cold and I imagine there's a point where it wouldn't be advisable.
I don't know where you are based and how mild your winters are. For me, I can bike all year, but I don't generally consider camping trips from November to March. But that's me. There are folks who camp in much colder temps than we ever see in the Raleigh area. So when it's too cold is very personal thing based on your comfort levels and experience camping in colder weather.

If it were me, I'd spend the winter riding, amassing gear, building the dynamo wheel, testing the charging system, testing your legs, and go in the spring. That's not to say it's too late to go this year, but given the amount of stuff that still needs purchased and installed on the bike, and given that you haven't actually attempted these kinds of miles before, I'd be concerned about jumping into this trip half prepared.

Alternatively, skip the camping (I'm assuming you were going to camp. Not sure if you explicitly said that). Get a hotel around the 90 mile mark and a couple of battery packs to keep your camera going. Put a change of clothes in a backpack and go. Racks and panniers are great, and I swear by them, but if you're sleeping indoors and only for one night, then it's probably not worthwhile given that you don't already have the gear. It's not projected to drop below freezing (in Cumberland anyway) any time this month. As long as you're comfortable being outdoors, it's rideable. At this point, I'd say the earlier you leave, the better the riding weather. But knowing you can actually handle a 90 mile day would be an important step, possibly the most important unless you have someone lined up to retrieve you part way if it proves too much.
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Old 10-17-18, 07:59 AM
  #38  
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Originally Posted by alan s
If you are camping, be prepared for 10 degrees colder than predicted. If staying indoors, you should be comfortable riding all day at around 50 F. Below that, itís not great riding all day. I rode it once in November with nighttime temps around 30 F, and it was fine, but I canít say I really enjoyed it. Made a nice campfire to warm up, but that only lasts so long. There is no difference in temperature inside the tent and outside.
Temperature depends on rain too or even just plan damp days, 50F is OK for me as long as it is dry and sunny but it is miserable if damp let alone out right rain.
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Old 10-19-18, 02:57 PM
  #39  
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Originally Posted by steppinthrax
One final question guys,

I'm not even really ready. I need to buy some things (paniers, fenders etc) and I need to physically test myself out. Just how late would be to late to even began this. It's obviously getting cold and I imagine there's a point where it wouldn't be advisable.
All the weather predictions have shown a colder than normal fall and winter this year in that area. So make sure to watch the extended forecast.
If you are planning on 90 mile days, just credit card tour and sleep warm and carry minimal gear.
If you want to test yourself, go ride 90 miles on a day off. I would count on closer to 40-50/day.

The Katy trail in MO is really nice also. Some of the stations shut down in the winter, which may also be an issue on the C&O. I have never been on the GAP or C&O. Planning on it this spring.
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Old 10-19-18, 03:56 PM
  #40  
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Originally Posted by steppinthrax
One final question guys,

I'm not even really ready. I need to buy some things (paniers, fenders etc) and I need to physically test myself out. Just how late would be to late to even began this. It's obviously getting cold and I imagine there's a point where it wouldn't be advisable.
How far away is the C&O or the GAP trail? Go do a day ride, just out and back. If it's close enough, you can wait for a dry and reasonably warm day.

For me, crushed stone trails seem to be maybe 1.5 times the effort of road riding. So a 40 mile trail ride, 20 out and back, could be similar to riding 60 miles on the road. I've even done rides where I go one direction from the trailhead, return, and do a second leg in the other direction. That way, I can shorten the second part if it's too much that day.

On the GAP trail, it's nice to start at a trailhead near the bottom of the grade, ride the slight uphills to the turn around, then it's an easier return. (The grades aren't steep at all, but it's noticeably easier going downhill.)

Last edited by rm -rf; 10-19-18 at 04:16 PM.
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Old 10-22-18, 04:35 AM
  #41  
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My wife and I did the C&O full length years ago in November, the major downside of doing it later than October is the towpath is covered with leaves in many/most places and you can't see the bumps as well in advance. Many mornings we woke up to frost, but temps were usually in the high 40s and mid 50s by midday.

The other downside is shorter days - we did it in 3 60 mile days, and it wasn't really a problem. Doing it in two days with short daylight is probably not a good idea - even with 60 mile days we were limited on how much exploring we could do and still not ride in the dark.

The good news it is usually drier. Temperature-wise, with the warmer temperatures we now have, I'm still doing section rides in December most years!

A friend and I hiked 6 miles on the towpath around Harper's Ferry yesterday - while there is still a road closure, the towpath is in very good shape there at least.
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Old 10-22-18, 08:27 AM
  #42  
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I did most of the C&O Canal last spring. Finally got washed out at Brunswick, which is still closed, see here.

I was doing 30 - 40 miles days but that was also in rain and mud, not great riding conditions. I do love the C&O, one of my favorite trails and I do intend to do it in its entirety next fall, after repairs have been completed.
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Old 10-22-18, 10:50 AM
  #43  
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Originally Posted by spinsheet
I did most of the C&O Canal last spring. Finally got washed out at Brunswick, which is still closed, see here.

I was doing 30 - 40 miles days but that was also in rain and mud, not great riding conditions. I do love the C&O, one of my favorite trails and I do intend to do it in its entirety next fall, after repairs have been completed.
It's never fully "repaired", there is always something somewhere it seems
I did a section a few weeks ago and finally stopped and turned around when the flooding got over my hubs. Here is a picture the next week when I did it again after the waters went down. Imagine that whole area with water 12-15 inches high on the trail with nothing but tree trunks visible. The trail recovered good but this area is usually lush and green with thick annual growth but it all got washed away. A little further down and it was still pure mud with a lot of washout. This was about 3 miles south of Edwards Ferry.


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Old 10-22-18, 12:45 PM
  #44  
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I guess that is one advantage of keeping the original dirt path. I would imagine a crushed limestone surface would have been washed away. Amazing the trail came back as good as it did.
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Old 10-24-18, 07:03 AM
  #45  
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I’ve ridden the entire GAP-C&O three times, most recently in June of this year. The first two trips were great with minor difficulties from mud on parts of the C&O, but this year was very challenging. Extensive sections of the C&O were closed, damaged, muddy, blocked by fallen trees, and virtually unrideable. We hired shuttles twice to carry us around sections that were closed or nearly impassable. As others mentioned, the entire area has had record amounts of rainfall this year, much of it after we completed our trip. It’s possible that the NPS has repaired and reopened some of the closed sections but there is little or nothing they can do about the mud, particularly if the rainy weather continues.

Personally, I will not ride the entire C&O again if the weather has been wet or rain is expected. There is nothing fun about pushing a bike through thick slimy mud for miles. If you do decide to go, I would plan to take at least three days. Two days is ridiculous considering the condition of the trail, shorter days this time of year and your apparent lack of experience. Do not plan to ride in the dark, which is a virtual certainty if you attempt to ride the entire trail in two days. The C&O has many steep dropoffs, ruts, potholes, bridges, etc. that could be dangerous if riding in the dark or poor lighting.

The GAP is a much better trail in nearly every respect, particularly if the weather has been wet. The trail surface is infinitely better, it doesn’t get muddy, it passes by many more towns with food, camping, lodging and other services. It would be colder than the C&O, however. The most appealing part of the C&O is the history and it’s a very worthwhile trip under the right conditions.
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Old 10-24-18, 08:22 PM
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The good news about the C&O when it is slimy and muddy is there are a lot of great raods in that area. Very pretty riding be it very hilly ridding.
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Old 10-24-18, 09:11 PM
  #47  
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Originally Posted by tarwheel
but this year was very challenging. Extensive sections of the C&O were closed, damaged, muddy, blocked by fallen trees, and virtually unrideable. We hired shuttles twice to carry us around sections that were closed or nearly impassable. As others mentioned, the entire area has had record amounts of rainfall this year, much of it after we completed our trip....

Personally, I will not ride the entire C&O again if the weather has been wet or rain is expected. There is nothing fun about pushing a bike through thick slimy mud for miles...

The GAP is a much better trail in nearly every respect, particularly if the weather has been wet. The trail surface is infinitely better, it doesnít get muddy, it passes by many more towns with food, camping, lodging and other services. It would be colder than the C&O, however. The most appealing part of the C&O is the history and itís a very worthwhile trip under the right conditions.
Wow, 2018 C&O conditions even worse than I've previously read. C&O cycling record AFAIK is 'only' ~15 mph average which shows how tough it is even in good weather.

I'm looking at an early November GAP ride if weather is halfway reasonable.
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