In 2013 I rode the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) from Pittsburgh, PA, to Cumberland, MD, on my bicycle for the first time. It was a wonderful experience and at the time I resolved to return to do the entire route from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. Cumberland, MD, to Washington DC adds the C&O Canal Towpath trail. The GAP and the C&O share a trailhead in Cumberland, so continuing the trip after riding the GAP is easy. In 2014 I rode the entire route.
The GAP web site has great resources for planning the first part of the tour. The C&O Canal Association has a web site, but it doesn’t have the information that is needed to plan a bicycle tour. The best resource that I found for the C&O is the BikeCandO web site. BikeCandO covers both the GAP and C&O trails very well.
My bicycle for this trip was my Surly Long Haul Trucker with 700 x 35 tires. I carry about 50 pounds of gear on this kind of trip. Tubus racks on the front and rear carry the panniers low to keep my center of gravity as low as possible. My tent is strapped to the top of the rear rack. I have a detachable handlebar bag for valuables such as camera, phone, and hand held GPS so that I can carry it into stores and restaurants. A small bag under my saddle carries tire repair tools, adjustable wrench, multi-tool, and saddle cover.
For this trip I packed both front and rear panniers. I use a checklist to be sure that I haven’t forgotten to pack anything. My checklist includes items suggested by other checklists that I have found on the Web and refinements that I have made based on my bicycle touring. The checklist includes some items that may be optional, depending on the trip and the route to be taken. I decided to leave the stove behind because I was confident that I would be able to find places to eat. There is a caveat to that statement. On the C&O I bought sandwiches for lunch twice. Those were the days that I departed from Cumberland, MD, and from Hancock, MD. That was a good decision. Trailheads with nearby towns are few although the BikeCandO data shows that the trail passes through towns with restaurants and stores that carry groceries. That may be, but the towns are not on the trail and I didn’t feel comfortable exploring too far off the trail for food.
Except for a portion of the first 20 miles near Pittsburgh, the ride was off the road and on a trail. The exceptions were two or three very short stretches where the trail shared the road with campground service roads. The trail conditions on both trails were very good for me. The C&O is criticized for the sometimes muddy conditions. When you take off for a trip, the weather doesn’t always cooperate. When it rains the C&O can become very muddy. When I rode through it had been about three days since the last drenching rain. The C&O was mostly dry with a few mud holes that were easy to avoid and ride around.
The scenery along the way made this ride very enjoyable. As always with bicycle touring, there are pain, problems, and occasional trail fatigue. Trail fatigue happens when the passing scenery gets boring and looks the same for miles. When that happened to me on this ride, a geographic or historic feature would appear along the trail to make the trip worthwhile and that happened again and again.
The mileage that I logged includes excursions from the trails along the way. My mileage varies from other published distances. My total tour distance was 356.1 miles logged using my Garmin Oregon 450.