A bicycle tourist since 2010, I enjoy sharing my experiences and advocating for bicycle touring. My bicycle is a Surly Long Haul Trucker that I have owned since 2012. I have done both self-supported and supported tours.
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For several years, I have been using Shimano Pedaling Dynamics (SPD) shoes, pedals, and cleats. After thousands of miles, I was proficient at using them. However, being clipped to my pedals most probably contributed to the outcome of my bicycle accident. The outcome of my bicycle accident on September 15, 2021, was a broken femur that required partial hip replacement and months of physical therapy. Consider the risk of being clipped to your pedals.
The accident happened so fast that I have no memory of the trip to the ground. Since I do not exactly know how I broke my femur, I have developed a theory. Falling as I did, my saddle was in position to exert enough force on the neck of my femur to break it. A complicating factor was that my feet were clipped to the pedals.
During the accident, I fell toward the right. I hit the ground with significant force. The motion of the bike, as it continued the flipping motion, lifted my right foot and my right leg upward. Since my right leg was connected to the right pedal, it was being pulled upward. That same motion pressed the saddle against my femur with the force of impact as my right hip hit the ground. That is almost certainly what broke the ball off of my femur.
Of course, my pedals were not the cause of the accident. The cause of the accident was the unsafe condition of the C&O towpath where the accident occurred. Unfortunately, my SPD pedals affected the severity of my injury.
Personally, I can no longer take the risk of being clipped to my pedals. If you use SPD or some other clip system, be aware of the risk. You have no control of the outcome of an accident because things happen so fast. If you fall and your luck runs out as it did with me, you may have the same result or some other unpredictable bad outcome. Consider the risk of being clipped to your pedals.
This is my personal case for completing C&O towpath resurfacing. An annual case for funding the resurfacing is already being made by the C&O Canal National Historical Park and the C&O Canal Trust. As I discuss later in this article, that funding is not sufficient to complete the resurfacing in a timely way. Yet, there are known safety concerns for the towpath.
The route is very popular among bicycle tourists. Arguably, the route is the longest off-road route in the country. Bicycle tourists often combine the 184 mile C&O towpath with the 150 mile Great Allegheny Passage. That is a total of 334 miles from Washington DC to Pittsburgh.
One reason that the route is desirable is that cyclists do not contend with motor vehicles. In particular, the C&O towpath is entirely within the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The park is well known for its historic sites and for the picturesque Potomac River that parallels the canal towpath.
The accident during my sixth tour on that route from DC to Pittsburgh is my motivation to advocate for completing C&O towpath resurfacing. The tour is an achievement that has always been personally satisfying to me. As I get older, tours such as this become more meaningful and this year I was doing it at seventy five years old.
Early on the fourth day of the tour, I was four miles into the C&O towpath trail when I hit a tree root. This was on the trail between Little Orleans and Cumberland at about milepost 144. The section of trail is well known for hazardous tree roots, rocks, and potholes.
The bicycle and I were flipped to the ground. The accident happened so fast that I have no memory of anything except my head and my helmet hitting the ground. After laying there for a moment and taking inventory, I tried to get up and felt intense pain in my right leg. I was not going to get up. I had a broken femur.
Emergency Medical Technicians arrived about twenty minutes after a fellow rider called 911. They hauled me out of the woods on an All Terrain Vehicle to a waiting ambulance. I was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Western Maryland in Cumberland, Maryland, on September 15, 2021. Partial hip replacement surgery repaired the damage on September 16. The hospital inpatient rehabilitation unit admitted me for physical and occupation therapy on September 18. I was discharged to return home and begin a long road to recovery on September 25.
The number of injuries sustained by cyclists on the C&O towpath each year is significant according to the Spencer article. “In the past six years [based on June 2018], over 200 towpath injuries were reported, 71 percent of which involved towpath defects such as root exposure.” By my calculation, that amounts to about 24 accidents per year caused by tree roots, rocks, and potholes. That translates to one accident every week during a six month peak riding season.
That accident rate is based on reported accidents. I take that to mean that since they are reported they are also the most severe. In my case, a National Park Service person came to me as I lay in the ambulance to collect my information. Emergency services report all of the most severe accidents to the National Park Service. Anecdotally, hospital staff told me of many patients admitted due to C&O towpath accidents.
Long Term Funding for Resurfacing is Needed
More aggressive funding of C&O towpath resurfacing can eliminate the exposed tree roots, rocks, and potholes that cause accidents more quickly. Funding for towpath resurfacing currently comes from three sources: the National Park Service, the State of Maryland Transportation Alternatives Program, and the C&O Canal Trust. Those sources have supported less than twenty miles of resurfacing per year during the past three years. Each of those segments was funded by separate grants with no commitment for continued support. Spencer also points out the shortcomings of this cyclical funding. Each new year and each new resurfacing phase requires that the C&O Canal National Historical Park request new funding.
If the accident rate was that high on a public highway or city street, there would certainly be a call for funding and corrective action. Instead, this is an off road trail with a small constituency and an appeal for added funding is difficult to support. Funding for the National Park Service or for the C&O Canal National Historical Park is not necessarily a priority for our Government. Still, I add my lone voice as a cyclist to those of the C&O Canal National Historical Park and the C&O Canal Trust to appeal for more funding. I do that as one concerned cyclist of thousands who have toured the C&O and one unlucky enough to be seriously injured.
My Lone Voice as a Cyclist
Some day I may return to confront the trail that put me into the hospital and resulted in months of physical therapy. I would like to know that something has been done to fix this trail, one of the most popular in the country, to make it safe for everybody who uses it. What will it take to get needed C&O towpath resurfacing done? It will take more than my lone voice. In the meantime, when you ride the C&O towpath, be careful to avoid being one of the accident statistics.
I’m tracking my physical therapy using STRAVA. The path to recovery from my partial hip replacement is taking some rigorous exercise. For the first four weeks, I used an indoor exercise regimen that I learned when in the hospital inpatient rehabilitation unit. Yesterday I took a chance and tried something to push the envelop a little and used STRAVA to measure the result.
In fact, a lot of therapy involves pushing the envelop. As the pain of the surgery became less each day, I began to extend my range of motion. I advanced from lifting my foot to a stair tread to lifting myself up onto the stair.
Yesterday I walked to the mailbox and realized that I could walk a lot further than earlier in the week. After bringing the mail inside, I took a .8 mile walk. At the halfway point I realized that I was missing the opportunity to record my trek using the STRAVA app on my iPhone. Today when I started I began to record at my front door.
It is going to be fun and challenging to watch my performance week after week. At this time on the second day of walking outdoors I can do .8 mile and do it very slowly. Seeing my performance get better always motivates me and I prefer walking compared with the stationary exercises indoors. Walking is also better since it exercises the core muscles more and is an overall better workout.
Getting outside is an antidote for my depression as well. Being confined indoors has been torture for me and I miss all of the activities that usually keep me on my feet and moving. Today’s walk improved my attitude. My goal is to walk every day to get my right leg back into shape and record every walk to remind myself that I am making progress.
My C&O and GAP bicycle tour 2021 ended abruptly on September 15 when I had a serious bicycle accident. It happened on the fourth day of a seven day Adventure Cycling Association tour from Washington DC to Pittsburgh on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage. The day began with the dawn when most of us in our group of 48 riders emerged from our tents to pack up before breakfast. We were camped at the Little Orleans Campground, one of my favorite overnights on the trip because the tent sites are grassy and soft.
The C&O towpath is a little over a mile from the campground and I was eager to get there. Once I was on the C&O, I felt pretty good. On previous days I think that I started with a low hydration level and didn’t have much energy early in the morning. During those days I caught up on my hydration during the early hours and finished strong each day. This day was different and I started the morning ride cranking with good cadence and speed. I was cruising along at between 10 and 15 miles per hour and felt that I could sustain that for some time.
Almost four miles into the trail my front wheel hit a tree root that was wet with morning dew. It crossed the trail at an angle rather than perpendicular so that when my tire made contact it slid to the left, flipping me and my rig to the ground. The accident happened so fast that I do not remember flipping and falling to the ground. I only remember impact when my helmet hit the ground.
I blacked out for a fraction of a second before opening my eyes to see my bicycle on top of me on the ground. After a quick inventory I felt that everything above my waist was alright. The rider who was behind me to witness the event was talking to me and I think that she was advising me to stay still. My first act was to try to stand up. It was not possible since my right leg was not working and was very painful.
I dragged myself to a comfortable position at the side of the trail. Other riders began to arrive at the scene and one of them was trying to call 911. Cell phone connections on the C&O are very sparse, but she was able to get through. I could hear her state the mile marker and the state of the emergency to the operator. Help was on the way.
As I lay there I don’t think that I experienced shock. I was talking with others around me and even had grabbed my cell phone to end my STRAVA ride. Two physicians who were on the tour stopped to help, which I very much appreciated since they gave me some confidence that everything was going to be alright. One of them made the field diagnosis of a broken femur, which happened to be correct. He explained the potential range of medical alternatives.
The Emergency Medical Technicians arrived with a large All Terrain Vehicle. One on them asked if I wanted something for pain. I told him the very short version of how in my thirties I decided to have dental work done cold turkey. Since then I have never turned down pain medications.
They assembled a two-piece backboard under me. My leg was moved to a position where I felt the least pain. The backboard with me on it was strapped to a stretcher. They strapped the stretcher to the top of the ATV. We took the nearly four mile drive to the place where I entered the trail and where the ambulance was waiting.
In the ambulance as I lay there for a few minutes before we began the trip to the hospital, a National Parks Service person came on board to get my information. I am sure that she plans to send me a “get well” card. Actually, I understand their need to have the information. My thought process went further thinking that they have a lot of data on bicycle accidents on the C&O.
During the trip to the emergency room in the ambulance I was in a kind of fog because the pain medications were doing their thing. In the ER they did an x-ray of my hip. As I lay there I thought about doing a video of my experiences during the entire process. I took a selfie in the ER as a starter. I was admitted to University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Western Maryland hospital and moved to the orthopedic wing to await surgery. The surgeon came in to tell me that I was going to get a partial hip replacement the next day. My hip replacement journey had begun.
It has been more than a week since my son and I completed the Cycle The Erie Canal bicycle ride produced by Parks and Trails New York and directed by April and Al. It was my eighth time on the ride and Eric’s fifth. Every ride has been different and each one full of great memories.
This year, there were several things that were especially memorable. In particular, the Storm at Seneca Falls and the Bike Corral at Fort Stanwix. We noticed one more very significant thing about the trail itself. During the time since our previous ride in 2019 and the hiatus of 2020, there have been significant additions to the trail.
There Are Many Trail Improvements
The ride through Syracuse, the ride into Little Falls, the ride out of Canajoharie, and the ride into Albany in particular featured new sections of trail that make the ride safer and more enjoyable. It takes years to negotiate rights of way and funding for these improvements. That is why I am a member and supporter of Parks and Trails New York, the advocacy organization that makes it happen.
The new riders have missed the transformation. The ride into Syracuse was all on-road as was the ride out of the city. The ride out of Syracuse also challenged riders with steep uphill grades. The same was true of the ride into Little Falls and the ride out of Canajoharie, featuring hills and roads. The trail additions make it much more feasible for less experienced riders to experience the trail and to succeed.
The outfall from the pandemic required some changes in camping venues. At Fairport, Seneca Falls, and Rome, we camped at unfamiliar places, but they were all excellent. The logistics at Rome were complex and well planned.
We Used Some New Campgrounds
Our usual campground in Rome at Fort Stanwix was closed and we were bused to Oneida Lake and Verona Beach State Park. Our bikes were kept safely within the gates of Fort Stanwix. There were shuttles from the camp site to Sylvan Beach where we enjoyed restaurants, ice cream, a car show, and the start of the annual Sylvan Beach Pirate Weekend, all enjoyable.
There was much more going on at the Rome stop. Box breakfasts were provided at Verona Beach so that we could eat during the bus ride back to Rome to fetch our bicycles. Our bicycles were organized into pods with catchy names so that it was easy to find them.
It Was A Memorable Ride
The ride itself was excellent. We were fortunate that we only rode in the rain in the morning on one day. The forecasts were for rain most of the week. Instead we had clouds and cooler weather that was perfect for riding. The sun made several appearances that were too brief, but that did not detract from the personal achievements of most of the riders in completing the nearly 400 mile ride.
Recently I started doing more video because I enjoy photography and video is a natural extension for me. My YouTube channel @EdeksAttic has been there for a few years and has some well-viewed content. My plan is to expand the content from the initial travelogs and product reviews to include other topics that may interest other bicycle tourists, including maintaining a touring bicycle, preparing for tours, and planning tours.
I love bicycle touring and want to share my experiences so that others can launch into the sport with confidence and enjoy it as I do. Please check our my YouTube channel @EdeksAttic and follow. Thank you in advance!
In the age of COVID-19 there are uncertainties in planning a bicycle tour. When planning for my most recent self-supported tour from Pittsburgh to Washington DC on the GAP and C&O trails, I was concerned about the availability of places to eat on the route. It was a seven day trip, beginning on 12 September. I decided to carry enough food to sustain me through one or two days in case I could not find a grocery store or restaurant. I had one pannier dedicated to food.
In that spirit, I carried two spare bottles of water. The water was not enough to go much beyond a day, but I reasoned that water would be more common and that I would find it easier to get. As a hedge I carried an ultraviolet water purifier since I would almost always be close to a river.
My size and the weight of my panniers drove my appetite significantly. I am 6′-4″ tall and weigh 225 pounds. The weight of all of my food and gear was about 55 pounds. My bicycle is a Surly Long Haul Trucker that is geared for touring, but me and my stuff needed to cover a lot of ground each day and burn a lot of calories.
When I started out my food pannier load consisted of
One pound of hard salami
Jar of peanut butter
Squeeze bottle of honey
About six four-packs of Nutter Butter cookies
Package of flour tortillas
Can of Hormel chili
Can of meat spread
Two cans of tuna
One package of pitted dates
Two packages of beef jerky
Ten packages of mayonnaise
Two 10-packs of Babybel cheese.
The hard salami was fine for my first dinner in camp. By the time I got to Williamsport I had enough of the salami and threw it away. It did not spoil, but the taste of it did not appeal to me any longer. I prefer a darker hard salami and if it had been Oscar Mayer salami, I might have kept it. The meat spread was also a bad idea and I threw it out as well. The Hormel corned beef hash would have been a better choice for another canned meat.
There were some food choices that were based on their ability to survive being in a pannier. Avocados are a great source of fats and vitamins. They do well in the pannier as long as they are not too ripe. I was able to eat them just before they turned soft. Oranges are very durable and apples would also work. The tortillas travel better than any kind of bread and provide the same kind of food value. Each piece of Babybel cheese is packaged in wax and lasted very well on the trip.
Along the way I was going to replenish my food supply. That turned out to be not necessary for breakfast and dinner because of other food sources that came up along the way. I did replenish my snack foods. At the end, I had most of my cheese, a can of tuna, a can of Chef Boyardee spaghetti and meatballs that I purchased along the way, and a few tortillas left over.
Planned camp sites were the Uniontown KOA near Connellsville, PA; Husky Haven Campground in Rockwood, PA; Little Orleans Campground, MD; Snug Harbor KOA, Williamsport, MD; and Brunswick Family Campground, MD. I ate both breakfast and dinner at the camp sites.
Two meals happened that were nice surprises. On my way to the KOA near Williamsport, I stopped at the Sheetz gas station in Williamsport. I opted to buy some food there rather than eat the food that I had in my pannier. The KOA also had a little diner that was preparing takeout and I ordered chicken wings. I had too much to eat, but the wings were good for breakfast the next morning.
In Brunswick at my final camp site, I was going to pitch camp, shower, and ride to a grocery store in town for some food. To my delight, the local pizza place delivered to the campground. The leftover pizza also made a good breakfast to start the next day.
I always tried to have both orange juice and a coffee drink in my food pannier for each breakfast. The Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino was great because it gave me my caffeine, it was a nice chaser for peanut butter, and there were some serious calories in each bottle.
On the trail, I stopped every hour for a carbohydrate hit. I liked to carry at least one bottle of chocolate milk for my mid-day stop. I varied my snack stops among Nutter Butter cookies, cheese cracker and peanut butter snacks, dates, Fig Newtons, Famous Amos cookies, and beef jerky.
There were opportunistic stops to replenish water and to have ice cream. I never had a problem finding a source for bottled water and I also used potable water from the camp sites. When I replenished water at a store, I would often find the orange juice and Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino at the same time.
My diet on this tour sustained my energy level better than I have experienced on previous tours. This was the first time that I used this particular daily regimen for nutrition on a tour. The regimen was breakfast, water every ten minutes of so, rest stops with carbo snacks every hour, and dinner at the end of the day.
It seems that I should have found this regimen much earlier in my bicycle touring career, but I did not for some reason. I was satisfied with less frequent rest stops and snacking. In the past I did not hydrate as much as I should. I placed too much emphasis on breakfast and dinner alone as sources for calories.
This time I did some research before I headed out and tried to emulate some of the advice by other bicycle tourists on the Internet. This is my experience and what I did worked well for me. I was able to sustain my energy levels through each day and many times felt that I could ride another ten or twenty miles. Give a lot of attention to your personal dietary needs when you plan your bicycle tours. It pays off.
12 September Breakfast
Orange Juice, breakfast sandwich, coffee from the hotel snack bar
12 September Dinner
Iced tea beverage, avocado, hard salami/tortilla wrap, Babybel cheese
On a recent tour from Pittsburgh to Washington DC I logged my 20,000th mile on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. I have trained and toured on my LHT since 2013. There are a lot of great memories connected with my bicycle.
What remains of the original bike reveals the durability of the stock build. The wheelset lasted until last year at about 17,000 miles. Other things that I consider major components are still on the bike. That includes the bottom bracket and cranks, the brake levers and calipers, the stem and fork, and, of course, the frame. After market equipment has also fared well, including the Tubus racks and Shimano clipless pedals.
At this point I have some bragging rights on my bike. There have been occasions for considering a new bike, but now I can’t possibly do that. People like to admire a new bicycle, but they also can’t help being drawn into a story about a bike with 20,000 miles on it. The bike is a continuing challenge for me to achieve the next milestone: 25,000 miles. There is really no reason for me to change from a bike that fits me very well to an unknown bike that is shiny and new.
Just before I began my latest self-supported tour from Pittsburgh to Washington DC, I decided it was time to replace the Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. After 5000 miles, the tires still had maybe 20% of the tread remaining. However, I did not want to take any chances with tire failure during my tour.
This is my fourth set of Marathon Plus tires and I got about 5000 miles from each pair. I have used tubes from both REI and Adventure Cycling Association and both have served their purpose. When I replace tires I always use new tubes. To me the chances of a flat due to deteriorating rubber are worse than the chance of a puncture. Between the tires and the tubes, I can’t remember the last time I got a flat tire.
This is another strong recommendation in favor of Schwalbe Marathon Plus bicycle tires from nearly 15,000 miles of use.
On Saturday, 19 September, I returned from another enjoyable trip on the Great Allegheny Passage and Chesapeake & Ohio Canal trails from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. It was a seven day adventure that I really needed after two of my annual fully supported tours were cancelled because of COVID-19. I train throughout the year for long tours and needed the satisfaction of a tour after over 2000 miles of training in 2020.
There were uncertainties for travel on my tour route because of state restrictions. That was the rationale for waiting until just two weeks before my departure from home to make arrangements. After some quick research I found that my planned campgrounds were all open for business and the hotels were taking reservations. I made rental car and hotel reservations and I was eager to head out, although with some anxiety.
Since I hadn’t done any self-supported tours for five years I had some anxiety about how I would physically handle the load of the panniers. I am 74 years old and I am always concerned about a decrease in my physical abilities. There is no really good way to test that except to hit the road and give it a try. I reason that I could always bail out of the trip at any time. If I find it impossible to ride any further, I could quit and get transportation to someplace where I could rent a car to drive back home.
The first day on the trail resolved all of that and I was pleased with my performance. I knew that there would be some inclines in several places where I crossed the Monongahela River. There was also a short climb from McKeesport to the trail. After the first incline for the first bridge, I realized that I was fine since I geared down and cranked up with little difficulty.
My bicycle for the trip was my trusty Surly Long Haul Trucker that I have owned since 2012. My first tour on the bike was in 2013 and after this tour I have logged just over 20,000 miles on it. I have Tubus racks front and rear that carried four Ortlieb panniers for this tour. I strapped my tent to the rear rack.
The panniers were packed by function. One of the rear panniers was for clothes and personal gear and the other for camping equipment. One of the front panniers held food and the other miscellaneous maintenance gear and two filled spare water bottles. I had two water bottles on the frame as well.
I am embarrassed to admit that all of stuff that I carried, including the helmet on my head and the riding shoes on my feet, weighed 55 pounds. Some people have the strategy of minimizing weight by minimizing both the amount of stuff that they carry as well as the weight of individual items. My strategy has always been to load things that I think that I will need, eliminating some things along the way that do not have a strong justification for being hauled along, but mostly because they will not fit.
When I purchased many of my travel items I did consider weight and volume. My tent, sleeping bag, and air mattress fall into that category. My bicycle is what it is: a heavy steel frame with fenders and steel pannier racks. I didn’t revisit any of those past decisions since they had worked in the past during several long tours.
After a night in Pittsburgh I was on the road to my first camp at the Uniontown KOA near Connellsville, PA (60 miles). Out of Pittsburgh the trail follows the Monongahela River and in McKeesport the trail joins the Youghiogheny River. The Youghiogheny especially offers many pleasant views and the trail is close to the river.
As I approached Connellsville, I found a small trailside stand that offered refreshments. It had ice cream, frozen confections, and cold drinks. The refreshments were available outdoors beneath what turned out to be a guest house supported by posts. The owner, Jeff, came out and we talked.
The guest house and refreshment stand were built next to his house. The house had been a railroad station on the GAP, later turned into a church, and most recently into a home owned by his parents. He has been there since the mid-1980s. He and his wife Lisa call the place The South Yard Depot. I lingered for about thirty minutes before heading back to the trail.
My first camp tested my eating strategy. Most of my breakfasts and dinners were at camp. The first dinner was typical. I ate an avocado, a wrap made with a flour tortilla and hard salami, and some Babybel cheese. Breakfast was orange juice, a peanut butter and honey flour tortilla wrap, and some kind of Starbucks canned drink for my caffeine hit. I replenished the orange juice and Starbucks drink each day when I had an opportunity to stop at a convenience store.
I drank water on the go every ten minutes or so. Every hour I stopped for carbs and ate between 300 and 400 calories at each of those stops. During those stops I varied my intake among beef jerky, Nutter Butter cookies, Fig Newtons, and dried fruit such as pitted dates. I also tried to have a bottle of chocolate milk with me and sometimes that would be good for as many as two stops. If I happened to be at a location that had a food shop of some kind, I would get an ice cream and replenish my cookie and water supply.
My second day was Connellsville to Rockwood (52 miles). Ohiopyle is a nice stop on that leg. There is a little country store and restaurant just off the trail. The town is a tourist attraction during normal times. I rested a while with a snack at the historic railroad station on the trail.
At the town of Confluence, the trail leaves the Youghiogheny and begins to follow the Casselman River. The trail becomes a little tedious at that point because the Casselman is not as accessible as the Youghiogheny. The trees and the trail all look the same without the visual and audible relief that can be provided by a running river.
The weather was threatening most of the day and a few raindrops fell at times. Closer to Rockwood, however, it began to pour. I anticipated the rain and pulled my rain jacket out of one of my panniers. The rain jacket produced the usual result of causing me to get wet from the inside out from sweat.
When I arrived at the Husky Haven Campground in Rockwood my initial gambit was to try to get into the guest house. I thought that I would have a better chance of drying things out and get the sleeping comfort of a bed. That did not happen because the guest house had been occupied the night before and COVID-19 rules made it necessary to have it empty for a day before allowing another person to stay there. Husband and wife bicycle tourists had another problem: they needed to charge their e-bikes. I stayed at the Husky Haven tent site along with at least five other bicycle tourists. It rained that night, but cleared by morning. I was headed to my hotel in Cumberland and would be able to dry things there.
I headed to Cumberland (44 miles) after having a sandwich at the gas station in Rockwood. The Salisbury Viaduct and the Savage Tunnel are my favorite features on this leg of the trip. The viaduct was built in 1912, decommissioned in 1975, and repurposed as a hiking and biking trail in 1998. Just over the viaduct I like to stop at the historic railroad station in Meyersdale and it happens to be about the right timing for a snack stop. The Savage Tunnel was also built in 1912 and is just over a half mile long. Just past the Savage Tunnel there is an overlook with a beautiful view from high above the countryside and it is another good place for a refreshment stop.
In Cumberland I stayed at the Fairfield Inn. The hotel is a favorite among bicycle tourists because it is right on the trail where the GAP ends and the C&O begins. The hotel also found a way to serve the complimentary breakfast, working with COVID-19 restrictions.
From Cumberland to DC on the C&O, the character and quality of the trail changes significantly. Much of the C&O trail is very rough due to protruding rocks, tree roots, and muddy ruts. I think that those conditions bother me more than others because I have two bad shoulders. The constant jarring, even with the dampening load of the panniers, causes fatigue and some pain for me. The portion of the trail from Shepherdstown to White’s Ferry has been resurfaced and is a joy to ride. My average speed on that segment was much higher than on other sections of the trail and I was much more comfortable in the saddle. Most of the remainder of the trail is badly in need of resurfacing.
The leg of the trip from Cumberland to Little Orleans (47 miles) follows the Potomac closely until you get to the Paw Paw Tunnel. The tunnel famously almost bankrupted the canal company because it took fourteen years to build, opening in 1850. It is a marvel of ingenuity and persistence, nearly a half mile long, build totally using hand labor, and lined with millions of bricks.
The Little Orleans Campground was my first overnight on the C&O. It is reasonably close to the trail, but up a steep incline. It is difficult to ascend even on an unloaded bicycle. I pushed my loaded bike up the hill and sometimes resorted to zig-zagging to reduce the slope.
It was a little expensive at $35 when most other campgrounds charged me $15 for a tent site. The manager allowed me to camp in the grass near the pavilion. I kept all of my stuff under cover of the pavilion. That night the temperature dropped into the low 40s. I carried my down sleeping bag anticipating at least one cold night. I zipped into my cocoon and had the best sleep of the tour so far.
The next stop was Cushwa Basin and Williamsport (48 miles) where I would exit the trail for a ride north to the Snug Harbor KOA. On my way to Williamsport I met a fellow bicycle tourist, Rick Steeves, at Fort Frederick and we chatted for some time. I would classify him as an “expert” bicycle tourist, giving him due credit for significant European bicycle tours. I classify myself as an “advanced” bicycle tourist, not quite expert. He was carrying 22 pounds in four modestly sized panniers. He was riding in the opposite direction toward Cumberland where he would complete his tour. He wrote a very good review of his experiences on the C&O on his website.
I have camped at the Snug harbor KOA in the past, but it was on an Adventure Cycling Association tour and I had no idea what the cost would be. I rolled into the campground and headed to the office to register. The bill would be $55. The justification was that they did not have any tent sites, only RV sites with electric and water hookups. The place was not full and for good will I would have expected a significantly reduced fee for a tent camper on a bicycle who made the trek to the campground. I had a nice site right next to the creek and it is a nice campground, but the price was a bit steep.
Brunswick and the Brunswick Family Campground was my final camp (51 miles). The ride was great because most of that portion of the trail has been resurfaced. The ride along Big Slackwater shows one of the amazing features of the Potomac River. It is a long and wide area of the river where the current is attenuated by the size of the body of water. The water is held back by a dam that was built over 150 years ago. Homes and marinas dot the shoreline and the waters support fishing and other water recreation.
As I checked into my last camp at Brunswick Family Campground, the manager recommended food from a pizza place in town, Rasco NY Pizza, that would deliver to the campground. Pizza immediately struck a chord with me and I quickly developed a strong craving. After setting up camp and a shower, I ordered a 14″ cheese pizza with pepperoni, onions, green peppers, and mushrooms. I also ordered a side salad and that was almost too much food.
The pizza came and it was easily the best meal of the tour. My body must have been craving all of the things that make up a pizza, the fat, carbs, protein, and other stuff from the vegetables and seasonings. I ate three quarters of it and turned to the salad where I concentrated on the onions, cucumbers, carrots, and tomatoes. I guess I was very hungry because I was able to eat most of it.
The next morning I had leftover pizza for breakfast and that gave me enough energy to make it all the way to DC on my longest day in terms of mileage (62 miles). The final leg has some interesting places, but my favorite is White’s Ferry. There is a building there that houses a small restaurant and sandwich shop. Over the years it has survived many floods on the Potomac that have submerged the building. The building has three high water marks on it well up on the second story, showing the depth of the Potomac during three recent flood events. I stopped there, enjoyed ice cream, and replenished some of my trail snacks.
Near DC I merged onto the Capital Crescent Trail to Virginia Avenue, taking a right on 23rd Street NW to the Lincoln Memorial. There I crossed the Arlington Memorial Bridge to the Mt. Vernon Trail into Crystal City and my hotel, the Hilton Crystal City at Washington Reagan National Airport. I like the location of the hotel because it is a quick shuttle ride to the airport to pick up a rental car at Avis.
Completing the trip gave me a lot of satisfaction as bicycle tours always do for me. If I did it again self-supported I might not be so lazy and look for alternatives to Little Orleans and Snug Harbor campgrounds. The things I need most from campgrounds are showers and toilets. There must be other campgrounds that provide those comforts at a tent camping price.
In my opinion, Pittsburgh to DC is the correct direction for a fully loaded tour. The 1700 foot rise in elevation from Pittsburgh to the Eastern Continental Divide is almost negligible over the 130 miles compared with a similar rise from Cumberland to the Divide over 22 miles. The grade is 1% to 1.5%, but it will get to you over the distance of 22 miles when fully loaded. I would probably need a carb break every 15 minutes in that direction.
After a tour such as this one I feel a little letdown. The experiences on a tour are always unique and stimulating, even on routes that I have used before. The challenge of preparing and successfully riding 364 miles in seven days is rewarding. It is fun to meet local people and other bicycle tourists who are always eager to talk. If the country remains in some kind of lockdown state next year, I will do more than one tour on my own. Happily I still have the ability to accomplish a tour.