Monday, April 13, 2009

2009 Canal/GAP Bike Trip Summary

This year, we're doing the usual 3 1/2 day bike trip up the C and O Canal Towpath trail (183 miles) from DC to Cumberland, with an added 150 miles from Cumberland to Pittsburgh for those interested in extending the trip a bit. The plan is to leave DC on Thurs, 23 July afternoon (meet up around 4:30PM), with the Pittsburgh people coming in that day or the night before. Leaving DC after work, we will do about 20 miles on Thursday, about 60 miles (each) on Fri and Sat, and the remaining 40 miles of the Canal on Sunday. From Cumberland, anyone heading back to DC will catch a ride (pre-arranged outfitter) back to DC, so that they will be home at a reasonable time for work the next day. Anyone heading further on towards Pittsburgh will continue for another 2.5 days (60 miles/day average).

I have biked the canal 7 times, and it is a delightful bike trip.... the path is level (except for 10 ft rises at each lock) and is packed dirt/gravel... yes, you are in the woods pretty much the whole time, which is nice, but there are small towns every 30 miles or so where you can eat or restock. The Canal is a National Historical Park, so it is well maintained and there are *free* hiker/biker campsites (clearing with well water pump, porta-potty, picnic table, and fire pit) every 10 miles or so. Additionally, there are many interesting natural/historical sites along the canal that make for a fun break from biking.

I've only done the GAP twice, but this section is also great - the trail is smoother and has more towns than the Canal, but is still in the woods. The GAP also features the "easiest" (note: relative term) 2000 ft climb you will ever do, a number of tunnels, the Mason-Dixon line, and the Eastern Continental Divide.

For this trip, it sounds like there will be a large Pittsburgh contingent and a generally large group. Hopefully, we are looking at a big rolling party - don't miss out!

2009 Bike Trip: Things to Bring

There is not that much equipment that is critical for this trip - just the camping basics, really. Some people (poor Co-ops) like go cheap-and-light. Others (professional engineers) like to travel with fancy, high-tech gear. This trip is a great time to try out experimental camping gear arrangements, if you are so inclined.

Things each person will need (I suggest):
-Bike (mountain or hybrid, not road bike... also, it can be cheap and crappy - my bike cost $120 at Walmart 6 years ago... note that bikes can also be rented pretty easily around here)
-Panniers / storage for your stuff (you can buy/borrow panniers, a trailer, or just put your stuff into bags that you bungee onto your rack - there are many options that will work depending on how fancy you want to get)
-Food (snacks and a few meals, and more if you don't want to do restaurants)
-Tent (or space in someone else's)
-Sleeping bag
-Proper clothes (probably 2 sets of clothes, plus rain and cold gear - this is plenty. You can get "high tech" clothes or just wear old tshirts)
Inner Tube - in case you need it - chances are someone will have a flat

Things you probably want to take (or ensure that someone takes for you):
-Headlight/tailight (in case of night riding)
-sunblock/bug repellent (I don't use it, but I take it anyway)
-personal hygiene stuff
-TP (not everyone needs a whole roll, but you don't want to run out either)
-spare change
-bathing suit

Other things to maybe take:
-duct tape
-short rope
-pad and pen
-"blue" polyethylene tarp
-extra cords/straps

I will be taking a whole bunch of bike maintenance stuff, but everyone should make sure that they have at least 1 inner tube for their bike.

The costs for the trip depend mostly on how fancy you want to get with the equipment. Bike rental is probably about $30 a day (this is a guess) or you can straight up buy a passable bike at Walmart/Target for $125 (make sure it has mounting holes to mount a rack). Buying a bike rack (needed for most people) will cost you about $30. Transportation back to DC will probably be about $85 a person. Campsites are free, and the remaining costs depend on you - you guys already know how much a meal in a restaurant costs if you want to go that way (I highly suggest restaurants), and the equipment above ranges greatly in cost from nothing (if you borrow it or already have it) to big bucks.

Getting in Shape for The Bike Trip

As far as being in shape/getting in shape for this trip: I should start by saying that 60 miles in a day sounds like a lot, but isn't too bad over the course of 14 hours of sunlight. You will need to be in shape, but you don't need to be an athlete (I am not). Anybody in good health who has practiced a bit on a bike should be able to do this trip, but I will say that the more you ride now, the less pain you will be in during the trip.

My suggestions for "training" for this trip are:

1. Ride a bike often - the best way to get in shape for bike riding is to ride a bike (big suprise).

2. Remember that the goal here is distance, not speed - If you drop your speed a little when riding, you greatly extend your endurance (on long rides, I try to maintain the cardiovascular equivalent of a brisk walk)... I have actually found that I have had trouble getting myself to go slow enough on long rides.

3. Practice going long distances - At least once, take a weekend day and do a 50 mile (or more if you want) ride. When you do this, remember to take your time, maintain endurance (not too fast!), and bring food. Remember to eat! Make sure you eat before you go and probably at least once during the ride - your body will thank you...

4. Try your equipment set-up - If you can, put all your gear on your bike as you plan on doing it on the trip and go for a ride. This will give you the feeling for how the load will affect your handling, inertia, and speed.

2009 Canal/GAP Bike Trip Schedule

This is the approximate schedule that we have done a few times (and it worked pretty well). The Canal milemarkers for various stops are given in (parentheses). There are many restaurants, but people will still need to bring some of their own food (dinner the first night and 2 breakfasts). A bunch of granola bars will do the job for these meals, if you can stand eating a bunch of them.

Day 1 - Thurs, 23 July (dinner on trail)
Leave from Key park (or so) around 4:30PM
(15) Great Falls
(21) Camp here

Day 2 - Fri, 24 July (breakfast+ on trail)
(55) Brunswick (lunch)
(60) Harpers Ferry (ice cream, snacks)
(72) Shepardstown (dinner)
(79) Camp here

Day 3 - Sat, 25 July
(84.4) Detour to Williamsport
(100) Williamsport (breakfast)
(112) Ft. Frederick
(~114) Detour onto WMRT
(124) Hancock (lunch)
(141) Little Orleans (dinner)
(144.5) Camp here

Day 4 - Sun, 26 July (breakfast+ on trail)
(156) Paw Paw tunnel
(166.7) Oldtown, MD
(184) Cumberland (lunch) - DC people get a ride back from here
(GAP 16) Frostburg (dinner) - Camp here

Day 5 - Mon, 27 July
(GAP 32) Meyersdale (breakfast)
(GAP 63) Confluence (lunch)
(GAP 74) Ohiopyle (dinner)
Camp at either Ohiopyle (GAP 74) or Connelsville (GAP 91)

Day 6 - Tues, 28 July
(GAP 91) Connelsville (breakfast)
(GAP 116) West Newton (lunch)
(GAP 135) McKeesport (dinner)
(GAP 150) Pittsburgh