Riding the C&O Canal towpath

Editor’s note: Read about our ride from Pittsburgh to Washington here.

By Stephen Haynes, photos by Stephen Haynes and Jon Pratt

Several months back Bicycle Times editor Karen Brooks asked if anyone was interested in riding the C&O Towpath and GAP trails that link Washington, D.C., and Pittsburgh to and from the National Bike Summit. Having ridden portions of the GAP trail on a few occasions, I was eager to try and link the two trails and test myself it what would be my longest bike-packing excursion to date.

I chose to ride in the return leg, which was designated the more casual of the two. I’m not the fastest guy on the best of days, but certainly not with a fully loaded touring bike. Plus, I didn’t want to be in a hurry, there is a lot of history along those two trails and lots of things to look at as well.

As the departure day grew closer and the gear to be reviewed started to roll in, my confidence began to wane. I hadn’t done any significant training rides over 15 or 20 miles in longer than I cared to remember and the very real threat of rain (or worse) weighed heavy on my mind.

Nevertheless the day came and I found myself on an east-bound train at 4:30 a.m. following the trail I’d be riding back over the next five days…

As is often the case when ones eyes are bigger than their stomach, I did not make it the entire distance. I called in for reinforcements and departed the group in Cumberland, Maryland, leaving Karen and Jon to carry on over the GAP trail, back to Pittsburgh.

While I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to complete the whole length of the two trails, I was happy with my accomplishment of successfully navigating the C&O Towpath. It also gave me a better sense of bike packing and the pace at which I am comfortable. I saw a great abundance of wildlife from fish to frogs, turtles, snakes, beavers and eagles but I feel like I could have seen more.

Next time, and there will certainly be a next time, I’ll do the trip on a rig that doesn’t weight nearly 90 lbs., I’ll plan for a lot for less miles over more days, I’ll bring an empty sketchbook and plan to fill it (as was my secret hope for this journey) and I’ll train (at least a little bit more) before beginning.

Thanks to Karen and Jon for their encouragement and guidance and also to Chris, Libby, and Family for being so hospitable to us before the trip.

For more: Read about our southbound trip here.


 

 

 
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