By Karen Brooks, photos by Jon Pratt
A few months ago, a great idea came to me: to ride from our HQ here in Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, for the National Bike Summit in March. The route would be almost entirely on rail-trails, the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Canal trails. What better way to show our support for publicly funded bicycle projects than by taking advantage of this excellent result – a car-free path all the way to our nation’s capital?
I enthusiastically revealed this idea to my coworkers, and some of them caught the bug and joined up. We came up with a plan for a faster ride out, taking three days, and a more leisurely ride back of five days or so. We’ll be camping along the way, and thus will have a great opportunity to test some bikepacking and camping gear, not to mention a few bikes that are particularly well-suited to the journey. (Look for those reviews in Issue #17, coming out around June 1.)
Of course, it’s not all sunshine and roses… especially not in March in this part of the country. The weather can be temperamental to say the least. (I’m fond of telling transplants that we don’t really have spring so much as a war between winter and summer, starting in March, and eventually summer wins.) One constant is precipitation in one form or another, which is not so terrible in itself – unless feet of snow are covering the trail, a distinct possibility – but it can make the trail surface wheel-suckingly soft. It’s already fairly rough in some areas. A quaint little paved path this is not.
Stephen, our art director, went out on a test run a couple weekends ago and came back shaking his head. “I dunno, man… it was soft. I need different tires or something.” He’s already using 26” mountain bike tires on his Surly Long Haul Trucker. Uh oh.
This past weekend I had the pleasure of meeting Linda McKenna Boxx, President of the Allegheny Trail Alliance, the coalition of organizations that came together to build the Great Allegheny Passage. Even she looked at me like I was crazy when I told her we aimed to get to DC in three days. “You’ll be lucky to be doing 8 mph at times. And it’s flat, and dull. There are no climbs or coasting downhill to break the monotony.” I nodded and smiled as I have at everyone else who expressed doubt about our plan.
But so far, the weather gods seem to be smiling on us. It’s been unseasonably warm and dry, and that trend is set to continue at least through Sunday. Good news for the ride out. That overdue snow will probably fall on our heads on the way back. But – so what. We’re going to demonstrate that rail-trails are worthy additions to our public landscape, and even useful beyond attracting tourism to local economies. After all, we’re essentially commuting to our job – 320 miles away.
We’ll have updates about how the trip went after we get back, so stay tuned. We may even send out some tweets along the way.