Reader’s Digest review of Tom and Chuck’s GAP and C&O bicycle tour
As you read through the posts and watch the You Tube videos from the past week, you can piece together our eight day bicycle tour on the GAP and C&O Canal Trails. We were pretty happy with how things turned out. We tried to prepare ourselves as best we could as novice bicycle tourists. That worked for many situations while others required us to work out issues on the road. The bottom line was that we had a great time and made it to Washington D.C.
On Saturday morning, we left the Waterfront shopping district in Pittsburgh under cloudy skies and began cycling east. The day was pretty uneventful, as was the trail. After passing through urban factory towns of Homestead, Duquesne and McKeesport, we found ourselves in a pretty solitary setting for the rest of the day. We stopped for lunch at the Trail’s Edge in West Newton. We settled in for a nice night at the River’s Edge Campground just west of Connellsville.
Sunday was our first day of uphill cycling. The trail had spectacular views through Ohiopyle State Park. We arrived in Ohiopyle pretty tired. We had definitely over packed and were feeling the burden of the extra weight. We were carrying 75+ pounds of gear. We made a decision to shorten our day’s ride and set Confluence as the destination. We opted to stay at the River’s Edge Bed & Breakfast in Confluence. It proved to be just the ticket we needed; good food and accommodations. That evening we decided to lighten our load and send some supplies back home the next morning.
Monday morning we were up early and off to downtown Confluence where we both mailed 25 pounds of gear back home. After a nice breakfast at Sister’s Café and some shopping at the Confluence Bike Shop, we were off to our next destination of Meyersdale. It was again another solitary day of constant uphill riding where we gained about 900 feet in elevation. We passed through the Pinkerton Horn and Rockwood where we had a nice lunch at the Rockwood Opera House. As we prepared to enter Meyersdale, we passed through the most scenic view of our journey, the Salisbury Viaduct. It was an amazing experience to pass high over the valley under sunny skies with the surrounding mountains ringed with wind turbines. Meyersdale was another excellent stop for us. We enjoyed the hospitality of Yoder’s Motel.
Tuesday morning began with breakfast at the G. I. Day Room, perhaps my favorite small town diner experience on the ride. We continued our climb to the eastern Continental Divide. Soon after, we passed through the Big Savage Tunnel and into a spectacular mountaintop view of the Narrows and the valley into Cumberland. It was a fast downhill ride into Cumberland. Our pal Aaron met us at the Western Maryland Railroad Station where the C&O and GAP meet. We celebrated our mid-tour at the Crabby Pig. Aaron was our chauffer to the Laundromat and grocery as we prepared for the rest of our tour.
Wednesday morning we enjoyed breakfast at Aaron’s after a nice sleep at his apartment. Since we had spent an extra day crossing the Alleghenies and had to return to Ohio on the coming Sunday, we opted to start the day’s ride at Fort Frederick, 70 miles east of Cumberland. It was the reality of being time boxed and having too many miles ahead to finish the complete length of the C&O on time. Aaron joined us riding into Williamsport where we enjoyed a fun and delicious lunch at the Desert Rose Café, my second favorite diner on the trail. Aaron returned to Fort Frederick and Chuck and I cycled on to the Antietam campground for the evening. It was a long and tiring ride. We rode a 6 mile hilly road detour only to be dropped back onto a less than desirable towpath surface into Antietam.
Thursday was a perfect day in many ways. After a 10 mile morning ride, we crossed the railroad bridge into Harper’s Ferry. We had a nice lunch at the Coffee Mill and took a leisurely tour of the town. It was an enjoyable respite and a much needed off-trail afternoon. In late afternoon we continued our journey to Brunswick. Taking the recommendations of folks on the trail, we ventured to Beans in the Belfry for dinner. I would highly recommend any towpath traveler stop into this coffee shop and restaurant in an old church building. The staff and owner were so gracious. They filled our coolers with ice free of charge and sold us frozen bottles of water. We cycled a few more miles to our evening accommodations, a Canal Quarter’s lockkeeper’s house at Lock 28. It was a memorable experience staying in this restored building that was furnished quite nicely but was still primitive with no electricity and plumbing.
Friday morning we began our 48 mile ride into WashingtonD.C. After about a mile we took a detour into Point of Rocks. We made another great find. Kerrigan’s Deli was just off the towpath and across the railroad tracks. This small deli made a tasty cheap breakfast that hit the spot. We cycled on past the Monocracy Aqueduct and on to White’s Ferry where we took a nice morning break watching the ferry cross the river. We were again in a pretty lonely stretch of the towpath as we headed towards Great Falls. At Great Falls the traffic picked up and so did our speed. We cycled into Georgetownin the midst of a Friday afternoon happy hour crowd, quite a change from the quiet times we had experienced over the week.
Milepost 0 was an elusive animal. We had arranged for my partner Brett to pick us up in Georgetown. We miraculously found Brett at the end of K Street next to a boat marina. We knew the milepost was near but opted to look for it on Saturday. Little did we know that we were maybe 200 feet away from it. Chuck found it easily on Saturday morning.
Saturday was a nice day of sightseeing The Mall via bicycle. We cycled down the Capitol Crescent Trail from Bethesda into Georgetown where we took the Rock Creek Trail to The Mall. It was a typical hot, humid Washington D.C. day. After riding around the monuments and a nice lunch we headed back to Bethesda on the trail.
The trip was everything we had hoped for. We were somewhat disappointed that we were forced to skip some miles. We achieved what were were looking for. We came to understand our abilities and learned how to adapt to ever changing trail conditions and situations. The GAP is a pretty consistently smooth surface that is well maintained. I would recommend a novice travel it from east to west to take advantage of a nice downhill grade. The C&O is a pretty unpredictable animal. Sections of trails were decent. Many sections were rough and strewn with debris. Although it is flat, it was more difficult to travel because of its condition. Both trails are definitely worth the ride!
Sunday morning saw us heading back west via an automobile and the Pennsylvania Turnpike. It was interesting to travel so quickly across lands that took us over a week to traverse on our bikes. It’s amazing how many stories and experiences are hidden off the expressways just waiting to be discovered on a bicycle.