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C&O Canal Trail & Great Allegheny Passage Comments
680 mile roundtrip - DC to Pitt to DC/lessons

I have posted this to help others who are planning to do any part of either trail. Just do it!!! I always research and found this site to be very helpful so I wanted to give back.

We did a 680-mile, 12-day self-supported, camping round trip from the DC Union train station to Pittsburgh then back. It was a blast! The ride was from Sep 24, 2017 to Oct 5th. This does not included travel time.

It did not rain on us which was unbelievable. We had rain one night but we were at a bar and settled in with more beer until the rain stopped. We were so lucky - I was dreading a wet muddy day(s).

We took the train from South Florida with our bikes roll-on - we did not have to pack them. It worked out great for logistics and ease.

What we learned:

The train is a long ride (21 hrs for me) but not bad. Not bad price either when including bicycle.

DC train Union Station is a zoo - if you go, have plenty of time if you are travelling with your bike. otherwise, not too bad. It was my first train experience.

Bicycle: Surly Long Haul Trucker with front and rear racks. 26 x 1.75 wheels that worked fine on the paths that were dry during our trip. I consolidated and only used the rear racks with panniers, strapped my tent on the front, my sleeping bag and pad strapped on back - all in dry bags. I've experimented and having loaded front panniers pulls me down and really makes me feel like I'm struggling to peddle - especially on hills. It was a great last minute decision NOT to bring front panniers. Brooks saddle. I had issues for the first 430 miles of the trip with my seat comfort. The leather was softened (my fault for applying too much conditioner over the last 5 years) and I did not tighten it. I was so uncomfortable with days over 50 miles so I really cranked down and tightened it up. It was like a miracle! I rode 70 miles without moving around in my seat and no pain. If you find yourself uncomfortable in your seat and you are sure the height , angle, and reach are good, consider tightening it if it is adjustable or find a different seat - softer is not better. I also averaged between 1.5 and 2 mph faster.

Clothes - 5 shirts (mix short and long-sleeve), 2 bike shorts, one cargo shorts with pockets for going to town, etc, one rain jacket - doubles as warm jacket for cool nights, one long warm pants, 5 socks - the thin merlino wool ones worked best. 1 pair of sneakers - I had large pedals for off-rode bicycling, and one pair of camp shoes - I had water-Crocs that were comfortable to walk distance in. That was my list and it worked well. I would add light weight gloves - we had 2 days that our hands suffered in the mornings.

Since we were self -supported we had cooking gear, stove and pot but we ate lunch and dinner mainly in towns. A few times we bought lunch and dinner supplies because we knew we would not hit a town for some meals. We ate breakfast at camp - bought food that day or previous day. We had a good checklist of towns and places to buy food.

Tent: I have a 5.5 lb Kelty but also a 2.2 lb Big Agnes hiking tent. I took the Kelty because it is easier to set up - true free-standing. That was another great idea. I didn't want to mess with extra ropes, stakes, etc when I was tired after a long day.

Sleeping bag and pad: I had a 20-degree down bag which was perfect and a thermarest (non-inflatable folding type) pad - also perfect.

Here is what really helped out and I can't stress enough that you should do this too:
My friend made a checklist for each mile marker where there was food, camping, bars, places to buy stuff. He also made copies of the maps. All was laminated and cut to 2 x 11 inch strips. These were invaluable because they were waterproof and readily available. I had everything marked in the trail guide and figured I would just pull that out when needed. That may have worked but it is damp along the trail (the booked may have got wet/torn) and looking through the book takes time and concentration - not what you want to be doing on a long day. The strips were very handy to pull out at a moment's notice. We made breakfast and coffee each morning at camp. We tried to eat dinner in a town - a few times we couldn't due to location. Lunch same thing. We were very impressed with the quality of the food we ate at all the bars and restaurants. We found eating at the bar was really cool to meet the locals and banter with the staff. Very enjoyable. Lastly, we left ourselves an extra day coming back from Pittsburgh to DC. We had to average 65 miles per day on the way to Pittsburgh - we held up 35 miles outside of Pitt on the GAP and then rode unloaded 70 miles there and back - back to our campground at canoe outfitters. Then we banked some miles on the way back and only had to average 45 miles per day on the last 4 days. I was so much more relaxed not worrying so much about a schedule. Because we had booked train tickets, we did have to be in DC by a certain date. We booked one night in a lockhouse just outside of Washington. It was really cool and worth the $180 for the night. I hope to write up the whole trip with photos and maybe even the trip strips with info. I don't see how to post here so I may post a link. Have fun and if not sure about doing a trip, just do it! We met a lot of neat people and saw a lot of cool things.
posted Nov 18 2017 11:04AM - Dave, South Florida

Forgot to mention we both had 70 liter hydration backpacks and 2 water bottles on each bike. I really loved the hydration backpacks. On the day we left our equipment at the campsite and rode to Pittsburgh and back, that was all we needed to carry our phones, wallets, maps and extra water. They also entice you to drink more often. I did not notice the extra weight on my back. My friend talked me into using it and I was glad he did.

Plenty of water along the trail at campsites with water pumps and towns you pass.
posted Nov 18 2017 11:14AM - Dave, South Florida

Nice to read the report! I just moved to DC in the past 6 months and am itching to do the trail.
posted Nov 21 2017 2:49PM - Simon, Washington, Dc

I finally finished writing the trip report and publishing it to my kayak website. It is a good read and I hope it enthuses you to do a trip

If that link doesn't work go to the main website and navigate to Training, etc and click on link next to "Dave’s ride from
Washington, DC to Pittsburgh"

Hope you enjoy the write up but I really hope it motivates you to go and do a trip. That's why I post trip reports.

posted Mar 10 2018 11:34AM - Dave, South Florida


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