Vacation for Sarah and I usually means some sort of insane bike trip. This year came with some career shuffling and schedule uncertainty and we weren't sure we would have the time for an adventure. With less than a month of planning and winter weather impending (or so we thought) we made the last minute call to pack up our bikes, use Amtrak's new roll-on service from Pittsburgh to DC, and ride our bikes back along the C&O Canal Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage.
We arrived in DC on Friday at lunchtime and with the help of some friendly local cyclists we got oriented and headed to our AirBnB which was run by an awesome guy named Joel who up-cycled old bicycles for friends. He also had some adorable puppies. We spent the weekend exploring DC, stumbling into the Halloween DC Bike Party ride, watching planes take off, and eating a ton of great food. On Sunday, the day before we departed on our 350 mile journey we did an 80 mile warm-up ride from DC to Poolsville, MD for french toast, and back with Mary of Chasing Mailboxes (and coffenneuring fame) and her friends (some DC Randonneuring folks, a DC cargo-bicycle messenger who rides more miles a week than anyone I know, and a few other awesome folks). We were a little slow compared to the rest of the group given our big tires and bags but it was an excellent loop ending with a great decent through Rock Creek Park. We finished with a coffee stop, grabbed some pizza and went back to bed to get started for our ride.
We made a point to get to the official Mile 0 market on the C&O. The C&O was beautiful. We had amazing weather (though it did dip below 30 degrees at night while camping, much to Sarah's dismay) and the varied and rough surface and isolation was great. Because it was late in the seasons we rarely ran into other folks touring and when we did they were always headed in the other direction (we were going the 'hard' way, after all). The C&O has campsites almost every 5 miles which helped with our big lack of planning. We just sort of rode until we felt like camping. At the end of our third day on the C&O we were a little fried and possibly didn't eat enough and so Cumberland, MD was a welcome site. I ate ribs, shrimp and oysters for dinner because I could and we chumped out and got a hotel for some fresh showers.
We left in the morning after grabbing a quick, free, breakfast at the hotel. The start of the GAP was the worst part of it (or so I thought), a 20 mile climb up Mt. Savage. It's all rail-grade so it's not so bad but I'm a fast-twitch guy and hate dragging climbs out (I blame single-speed mountain biking). I'd rather them be short and steep and so with a 70lb bicycle I was happy to get to the top. Technically after that it's all downhill. Except on the crushed limestone surface of the GAP it sort of just feels like normal flat ground. We grabbed lunch in Meyersdale and passed through Rockwood (where I made a point to take a shit. Out of spite. The last time I was in Rockwood I needed hospitalized after attempting Crush The Commonwealth with a fever and getting severely dehydrated).
When we arrived in Confluence (where we had roughly planned on camping for the night) I was bonking and so we found a bakery/pizza shop and grabbed food. It was 5pm, we were ~60 miles in for the day and the forecast called for rain. Because we're psychopaths we decided to just head back to Pittsburgh that night, riding the rest of the 110 miles on loaded bikes in the rain. To our brains this sounded like a good idea. We were definitely a little delusional. Now, Sarah and I have both rode non-stop between Pittsburgh and Rockwood, so we knew we could do it. We had just never done it on 70lb bikes. In the rain. On the crushed limestone of the GAP. We stopped for Sheetz in Connellsville and made the call on Facebook for some good vibes.
When we approached Little Boston we saw what looked like a pale man ready to mug us standing in the middle of the trail. Turns out it was our good friend Shane, he rode out to meet us and guide us in on the last leg. He brought beer that neither of us could stomach but tasted great nonetheless. Our friend Jon joined us shortly after and we slogged the last bit back to our house. These guys were angels and I'm curious to know how we would've done if they didn't show up. We weren't doing well mentally and our bodies had long since given up on digesting food.
I loved this trip. It would've been better if we weren't crazy and paced ourselves instead of doing it in 4 days. We definitely had the gear to camp in luxury and be lazy. Doing it in the fall was the right choice though weather will certainly determine if that's a good idea or not. I don't know that the C&O would be as good when crowded. Overall I'm just excited that it took very little planning and we were able to get out and have a great time together.