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C&O and GAP Bicycle Tour 2021 Ended Abruptly

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.

show EMTs attending to me after my accident
EMTs checking me out before transporting me out of the trail to the waiting ambulance. (Photo: Jean Bergner)

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.

Cycle The Erie Canal 2021

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.

Shows Cycle The Erie Canal trail conditions near Syracuse
A section of trail east of Syracuse

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.

Now Playing on YouTube

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!

My Bicycle Tour Diet

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
  • Two avocados
  • One orange
  • 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 BreakfastOrange Juice, breakfast sandwich, coffee from the hotel snack bar
12 September  DinnerIced tea beverage, avocado, hard salami/tortilla wrap, Babybel cheese
13 September BreakfastOrange juice, peanut butter/honey/tortilla wrap, Starbucks Doubleshot
13 September DinnerWater, avocado, tuna/mayonnaise/tortilla wrap
14 September BreakfastOrange juice, ham sandwich, Nutter Butter cookies, Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino from the local gas station convenience store in Rockwood
14 September Dinner Salad, crab cakes, and a ginger ale at the Baltimore Street Grill in Cumberland
15 September BreakfastSausage, scrambled eggs, toast, and coffee at the Fairfield Inn in Cumberland
15 September DinnerA can of Hormel chili with beans, tortilla, pitted dates, and a ginger ale
16 September BreakfastOrange juice, peanut butter/honey/tortilla wrap, Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino
16 September Dinner Chicken salad wrap, cheese/apple slice snack package purchased at the Sheetz Store in Williamsport;  – ten chicken wings from the KOA diner
17 September BreakfastOrange juice, leftover chicken wings, Babybel cheese, and a Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino
17 September DinnerPepperoni, onion, green pepper, and mushroom pizza, a salad, and a can of ginger ale
18 September BreakfastLeftover pizza, Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino

20,000 Miles on My LHT

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.

My touring bicycle that has 20,000 miles on it
I continue to surpass milestones together with my Surly Long Haul Trucker, a bicycle that I have enjoyed on many tours and training runs

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.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tire Update

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.

Show the difference between new bicycle tires and tires with 5000 miles of wear
New Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires on the left and those with 5,000 miles of use on the right

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.

GAP and C&O Tour 2020

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.

Fully loaded touring bicycle ready for travel
This is my rig in the portico of the hotel where I stayed in Pittsburgh just before I departed to the trail

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.

A typical site for resting along the Youghiogheny River
There are many places like this one along the Youghiogheny River to stop, snack, and relax

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 South Yard Depot on the GAP is a private home whose owners provide refreshments for travellers on the GAP
The South Yard Depot near Connellsville PA has this refreshment stand and B&B beside the private residence of owners Lisa and Jeff

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.

Confluence PA where the Youghiogheny an Casselman Rivers come together to form the Youghiogheny
This is Confluence PA on a rainy afternoon, showing where the Casselman and Youghiogheny Rivers merge

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.

Husky Haven is a rustic campground on the Casselman River adjacent to the GAP trail
The GAP runs along one edge of the Husky Haven campground, a convenient place to stay the night

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.

The Salisbury Viaduct is a major feature of the GAP
The Salisbury Viaduct is a major feature of the GAP
Historic railroad station in Meyersdale PA
The historic railroad station in Meyersdale PA offers t-shirts, jerseys, and treats and is a convenient place to stop
Cyclists exiting the Big Savage Tunnel toward Cumberland
Two Cyclists exit the Big Savage Tunnel on the Cumberland side
Lookout point near the southern portal of the Big Savage Tunnel on the Great Allegheny Passage
This spot just beyond the Big Savage Tunnel portal gives a nice view from high above the countryside

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.

The Fairfield Inn in Cumberland MD is adjacent to the C&O Canal trail
The C&O towpath trail passes the Fairfield Inn in Cumberland MD, making it a favorite with bicycle tourists

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 northern portal of the Paw Paw Tunnel on the C&O Canal
The Paw Paw Tunnel is a marvel of manual labor completed in 1850 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.

Cold foggy morning after a cold night at Little Orleans Campground
The morning was chilly and foggy after a cold night at Little Orleans Campground
Camping gear sheltered under the pavilion at Little Orleans Campground
The pavilion at Little Orleans Campground was a great place to shelter and organize my gear

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.

Small pond fed by the Potomac River near Fort Frederick
This small pond off the Potomac River near Fort Frederick was my lunch stop for the day

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.

Cushwa Basin showing the C&O trail and remnants of the C&O canal
The C&O runs along the canal at Cushwa Basin where I headed north to camp
Snug Harbor KOA campsite beside the creek
At the Snug Harbor KOA I pitched my tent beside the creek

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.

150-year old dams back up large slackwater areas on the Potomac River that are available for all kinds of recreation
Dams on the Potomac River, built over 150 years ago, back up large bodies of water that are popular for all kinds of 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.

The White's Ferry Grill showing Potomac River high water marks
The White’s Ferry Grill has high water marks high on the second floor

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.

Lincoln Memorial during my arrival in DC on 18 September
My arrival in Washington DC on 18 September

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.

My Strava Heat Map

Heat maps can be a tool for planning tours since they show routes most often traveled by other cyclists. A Strava personal heat map can also display personal data. I just generated one for all of my rides since 2012. You can see my rides in Quebec and upstate New York as well as favorite rides on the Erie Canal, Great Allegheny Passage, and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. The rides that I do the most often are my local training rides shown in red.

Schwalbe Marathon Plus Tire Review

Since 2017 I have been running 700×35 Schwalbe Marathon Plus tires on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. I am a tall person and 225 pounds. I am on my second pair of the tires and I has just ordered my third.

Other tires that I have owned have suffered a number of problems. One is that the compounds deteriorate over time due to decomposition from exposure to air and the tires get brittle, developing cracks in the rubber. That resulted in a sidewall failure on a tour several years ago. Another is that for some reason other tires that I have used were much more susceptible to flats.

I have been getting 4,000 miles from my Schwalbes and have not had a flat since I began using them. The tires could go maybe another thousand miles before the rear tire gets bald, but I like to change them while they still have some tread. I suppose I could run the front another 4,000 miles because the tread is still in good condition after the first 4,000, but I don’t. That’s just a personal choice.

As far as comfort, who knows? I guess I am not as sensitive to that issue. I can say that the tires roll true and they are quiet on pavement. To me, quiet is an indicator that the rolling resistance is low. A tire that generates noise is expending energy to make noise. A good example is the knobby off-road tires used on mountain bikes and fat bikes. Those tires are not efficient on pavement or smooth trails.

The Schwalbe Marathon Plus does not have an aggressive tread, but they work well on pavement and packed trails. I can’t say how well they do on wet pavement because I don’t ride in the rain unless I get caught in an unexpected downpour. I do ride almost the entire year as long as there is no ice on the trail and the temperature is above 30 degrees F.

When I replace the tires I also replace the tubes because the tubes are more likely to fail than the tires. I can’t recommend a good brand of tubes to go along with your tires because they all seem to get brittle after a time, sometimes depending how long they have been on the store shelf. I date and throw away my spare tubes regularly because I feel I can’t rely on them as they age.

My opinion is that the Schwalbe Marathon Plus is a great tire for touring. I have confidence in the reliability of the tires. If I do get a flat, I always carry a spare tube with me. I have not needed my spare tube for the past 8,000 miles.

Bicycle Touring in a Pandemic

I have been riding my bicycle like a mad man this year, especially since my other three activities, part time work, travel, and street photography, have been suspended by COVID-19. Everybody must be going nuts by having their usual activities cut off. Of course, people who work for a living have it the worst. At least I have cycling, which means that I am doing it more often to fill in the voids left by other activities.

In a typical year, I train for about 2000 miles and tour for nearly 800 miles. There are two supported tours that I do every year and they are personal benchmarks for me. I do the Cycle the Erie Canal tour organized by Parks and Trails New York, a 400 mile ride from Buffalo, New York, to Albany. I do the C&O and GAP tour provided by the Adventure Cycling Association, a 380 mile ride from Washington DC to Pittsburgh. The CTEC ride draws up to 700 riders and the C&O and GAP up to 50.

I have registered for the 2020 CTEC since PTNY has committed to refunding the registration fees if the ride is cancelled. They are working with the health authorities in New York to determine whether or not the ride is feasible and it may be a while before that determination is made. The ride is scheduled to begin 12 July, so there is time for things to stabilize.

The C&O and GAP ride is scheduled to begin two months later in September. I have not registered for that one yet, but probably will, provided the ACA gives assurances concerning cancellation and refunds. ACA is very good about those things. They provided a refund for the ride in 2018 when rains and flooding on the Potomac River made the route and potential work-a rounds impossible.

Another factor for the organizers of those rides is that even if procedures are in place to ensure the safety of the riders and staff, people may be reluctant to participate. I will evaluate the risks when the decisions are made to hold the rides, but I will be inclined to ride. I would recommend registering if you have been planning to ride, but it is really dependent on everybody’s personal comfort level.

I have given some thought to going beck to self-supported touring this summer. The risk is that support services will not be open along the way, such as those that provide lodging, food, and water. My backup plan is to do day tours locally, such as Cape Cod and nearby states, including Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Maine. I can get to all of those places for a 50 to 70 mile self-contained day ride and not need lodging.

Those are my thoughts about bicycle touring in the current environment with COVID-19. Personally, I will continue training, especially since I have little else that will make me happy other than a return to normalcy and I believe that the risks are low. The tours are a great tradition for me and for many others, but we will need to wait for decisions to be made. Hopefully my backup plan can keep me sane until things get closer to normal.