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john426 05-20-14 04:31 PM

GAP and C&O canal question
I am planning to do the GAP and C&O canal this summer. I have a few questions. Last fall I heard that the pump handles were removed from the GAP. Have they been put back on? Secondly how rought is the trail? I heard the GAP is very good with asphault and crushed limestone. What is the status of the C&O? I am thinking of bringing my folding bike and if the trail is rough I may have to rethink my bike choice. Thanks for all your help! John

spinnaker 05-20-14 05:09 PM

I think you mean the pump handles were removed from the C&O. Which from what I understand is still true. The water was not much good except for washing up anyway. Lots and lots of mosquitoes at the campsites on the C&O. That alone might change your find from camping along there.

A folder on the GAP will probably be OK but it is going to be real torture on the C&O. I would advise against it. Last I heard conditions were good along the C&O or at least as good as it gets. Don't get me wrong the C&O is a great trail and worth seeing but it is going to be rough and most likely muddy.

Let me know if you need any thing at the Pittsburgh end, tour guide, sag, whatever you might need.

P.S. There is no asphalt on the GAP except for near Pittsburgh and maybe some very short sections near road crossings etc.

dwmckee 05-20-14 09:12 PM

The National Park System maintains cisterns with manual pumps every 6 - 10 miles on the C&O. The cisterns are treated with Iodine for sanitation. It is perfectly fine to drink but it can have a pretty metallic taste (though very good for your thyroid!). They use Iodine because it does not evaporate like Chlorine does; it does not 'cook out' like chlorine either unfortunately. Iodine tablets are what you would have carried to purify water in the old days before water filters. The park service tests each cistern every 10 - 14 days to ensure the water still meets safe drinking standards. If it goes out of spec they remove the pump handle so the pump cannot be used. Iodine can also give the water an orange color, and you might think it is rust when you see it in a pot. It can also stain clothes and some plastic bottles if the concentration is high enough. Again if there is a handle on the pump then the water has been tested recently and should be safe to drink (even if it tastes a little funny).

The mosquitoes can be really bad of it is a wet summer, but if it has been dry they can be tolerable, though bug spray is still good to have at night.

As Spinnaker said, the GAP is fine for just about any bike with 28MM tires or wider (no asphalt though). The C&O varies a lot and has mud when it has rained. The tow path you ride on is made from mostly clay so it would hold water from seeping out of the canal. The clay has a layer if gravel on top but that layer is worn through to the clay in many places, Where a puddle forms in the clay, the impervious clay makes it like a bath tub, holding the water in it until the puddle finally evaporates. That is why even 5 days after the last rain you still have nasty puddles of muddy water in certain places. If you ride a folder I'd want to have at least 32MM wide tires. You could ride it with narrower (I have) but it gets a lot less enjoyable. Wider than 32MM is even better on both C&O & GAP.

indyfabz 05-21-14 05:38 AM

There is a thread about the pump handles in this subforum. IIRC, it was a temporary part of the government shutdown. Find the thread and read the links.

Greezones appears to be knockoffs of Fridays and/or Bromptons. Assuming you have right tires for the job, don't see why one wouldn't work. One met a guy who was riding to Alaska on his Friday NWT. I have ridden mine on some rough, muddy surfaces.

A recent adventure on the C&O:

Tourist in MSN 05-21-14 06:48 AM

2 Attachment(s)
I think a folder would work fine as long as you had wide enough tires, something like 35mm or wider to give a softer ride. I was pleasantly surprised a year ago when I rode the GAP and C&O at how well maintained the trails were, but I used a bike with 26X2.0 tires. I recall a couple short sections of maybe 100 yards near communities where the trail was paved and the paved portions were worse than the rest of the trail.

I am not familiar with the Greenzone folder. If you plan to camp, would this bike carry all of your camping gear well?

bgraham111 05-21-14 11:25 AM

I biked the GAP and C&O last year. It was a wonderful ride. The GAP is relatively smooth and well groomed. The C&O, is more... rustic. The park service would check the water quality and remove the pump handles if the water wasn't good. I only ran into one missing pump handle last year. The NPS did remove all the handles during the government shutdown, since they couldn't monitor the water quality. I did run into a few pumps that didn't work. So I would say to remain flexible, and carry more water than you need, and fill whenever you can. I also took water purification stuff (tablets) in case I had to go for other water sources. Bring some water flavoring to hide the iodine taste. I must have gone though a disturbing about of lemonaid powder and "red" flavoring.

The camping was good - but it's nothing fancy - just a chunk of ground, and an outhouse.

I actually liked the C&O part more, which I guess isn't common. I liked the locks and the history and the wilderness. I liked the camping. Took a side trip to Antietam and Harper's Ferry. Someone said 35 tires - I'd agree - those would be good. Fenders are also a really really good idea.

Here's my journal:

headloss 05-21-14 02:41 PM

I agree with everything above, especially dwmckee's notes. 28mm's are sufficient for the GAP but I was very uncomfortable on the C&O and wish I would have had 32mm or wider (mostly for the lower tire pressure, my hands took a beating). I relied on the wells going through the first time, but being finicky, I made sure to fill up three bottles of water the next time through and just get through the stretch between Hancock and Cumberland in one shot. Some of the camp sites are nice (generally closer to Hancock where there was easy river access to cool off) while others feel like you are lost in mosquito infested wilderness.

The bike shop in Hancock is a nice stopping point in that it has a $10/day shelter with a fire pit, showers, etc. I'd make it a point to stop there for a night as opposed to camping in the woods. Make sure you have a light to get through the Paw Paw Tunnel (there's a town nearby, across the river, Paw Paw, WV., if you need supplies).

dwmckee 05-21-14 08:55 PM

Do not be thinking you are going to find a nice organic greens salad in Paw Paw. Lessen a cours ya thinks ramps is a salad.

axolotl 05-22-14 05:45 AM

I rode the GAP and C&O on my Bike Friday folder with Schwalbe Marathon 20 x 1.50 tires. No problems.

john426 05-22-14 03:20 PM

Hey Everybody:
The reason I may need to take my folder is because I found a bus that leaves at night and gets to Pittsburgh in the morning for $ 15! However they only accept foldering bicycles as luggage. My concern is that with camping gear I am close to the weight maximum of my bike. If I was on a flat road surface I would not give it a second thought. However with a cheap folder I do not want to push it.

Thanks for all the great advice. Right now I am considering doing the Erie Canal or the GAP C&O. John

ChooseTheWrench 05-29-14 08:38 PM

I've ridden both the Erie Canal and the C&O. Neither is much fun in the rain/mud, but you'll get down the road just the same. The C&O has some interesting water, but if you are thirsty enough, it doesn't really matter. Hancock, Ft. Frederick, Shepherdstown, Harpers Ferry, and Brunswick all have water if the pumps do not. The camping is all good. Any flat dry ground is good for sleeping so long as you have a good tent and ground pad.

If you have smaller tires, I would recommend the Erie Canal. It is also better for Credit Card Touring. There are far more towns along the way and you are less detached from society. The C&O can really be a tunnel and you can bike right past some towns if you are not paying attention. The Erie Canal, conversely, has a drawbridge at every town and goes through some populated areas.

Both are good choices in the end because they have no automobiles.

Boudicca 05-30-14 06:48 AM

Just got back from the GAP, which was a lovely ride -- you could do it on a road bike. But we did a few miles along the C&O at the end, and the quality of the ride went down straight away. The gravel is chunkier, and there were stretches of mud/dirt/dust which could have been horrible in the wrong weather conditions. We met people who had come from Washington along C&O, and they said it was so muddy that the fenders glued themselves to the tires with all the extra mud. Yeek.

I could certainly have done the GAP part of the ride on my folder, which has the widest tires you can fit with road bike brakes (I think they are 1-3/8). But I think it was much more fun and more comfortable on the hybrid I used. I fitted Continental Travel Contact tires, which were absolutely perfect -- they have a slick tread, and knobbies on the rim, and I got no flats. We did not camp, and stayed in hotels and B+Bs along the way (steer clear of Dawson).

If you have time (and are interested), make a detour up to Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater when you get to Ohiopyle. It's worth the climb.

I blogged about it here.

Derailed 05-30-14 07:46 AM

Originally Posted by axolotl (Post 16781214)
I rode the GAP and C&O on my Bike Friday folder with Schwalbe Marathon 20 x 1.50 tires. No problems.

I also used a folder, back in 2012, but mine was a Dahon Mu Uno, modified to use a two-speed kick-shift hub. It happened to be a very muddy time, but I made it without any major problems. That said, all of the wet and mud was hard on the bike, especially the main hinge. I also had to replace the original pedals along the way, as they were not sealed, and the bearings got destroyed. Overall, however, it was a lot of fun... just messy.

If interested, here are some photos:

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