Monday, February 20, 2012

2012 DC to Pittsburgh Bike Trip Summary

Time for the 6th annual DC to Pittsburgh Bike Trip. This trip consists of the 3 1/2 day bike trip up the C&O Canal Towpath trail (183 miles) from DC to Cumberland, as well as the additional 150 miles from Cumberland to Pittsburgh. Thus, people can do the whole trip, or just the portions that they are interested in. The plan is to leave DC on Thurs, 12 July afternoon (meet up around 3:30PM at Chain Bridge), with the Pittsburgh people coming in by convoy Thursday morning. Leaving DC, we will do about 30 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) 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) and get in on Tuesday night.  The next few posts (scroll down) have more details about the trip.

I have biked the canal 11 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. 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 6 times, 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" 2000 ft climb you will ever do, a number of tunnels, the Mason-Dixon line, and the Eastern Continental Divide.

If you are interested in bike touring, this makes a great introduction. 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!

As much as I hate to say it, I plan to use Facebook to keep track of who is coming, so please find the bike trip event on Facebook (I will be sending a link to everyone I can think to) and join the event.  If you don't get an invite, email me.

Still curious? Here are some awesome pictures from the 2010 trip:

And here is a short summary video of the 2009 trip:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

DC to Pittsburgh: Things to Bring

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

Things each person will need (I strongly suggest):
-Bike (mountain or hybrid, not road bike! Also, it can be cheap and crappy - my bike cost $120 at Walmart 9 years ago... note that bikes can also be rented or borrowed pretty easily)
-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 t-shirts)
Inner Tube - in case you need it - chances are someone will have a flat, and it could be you.  

Things you probably want to take (or ensure that someone takes for you):
-Headlight/tailight (in case of night riding)
-personal hygiene stuff
-TP (not everyone needs a whole roll, but you don't want to run out either)
-money (by which I mean currency: US Dollars!)
-bathing suit

Other things to maybe take:

-sunblock/bug repellent (I don't use it, but I take it anyway) 
-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. You can get a passable bike at Walmart/Target for $125 (make sure it has mounting holes to mount a rack), and a good bike will be hundreds of dollars. Buying a bike rack (needed for most people) will cost you about $30. Transportation from Pittsburgh to DC or from Cumberland to DC will probably be about $100 a person. Campsites are free/cheap, 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.  Frankly, the hardest thing about this trip is usually mental (example: bike all day in the cold rain and go to sleep in a damp tent)

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 (unsurprisingly).  A lot of biking skills are unconscious and are learned mile by mile.

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.  Biking 60 miles is not equivalent to doing a 20 mile ride three times.

4.  Remember to eat - Make sure you eat before you go for a long ride and probably at least once during the ride - your body will thank you. It actually is a little tricky to get yourself to keep eating/drinking, but that is the mindset that you need.  Most of the time, when a person is feeling tired or mopey on a long trip, it is because they need to eat.

5. Try your equipment set-up - 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. This is a good thing to do a week before the trip: you can have everything packed and actually see how much stuff you have and how it handles.

2012 DC to Pittsburgh Schedule

This is the approximate schedule that we have done a few times (and it has worked pretty well) and will try to follow once again. 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, 12 July (dinner on trail)
Leave from Key park (or so) around 3:30PM
(15) Great Falls
(21) Camp here

Day 2 - Fri, 13 July (breakfast+ on trail)
(55) Brunswick (lunch)
(60) Harpers Ferry (ice cream, snacks)
(72) Shepardstown (dinner)
(79) Camp here

Day 3 - Sat, 14 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, 15 July (breakfast+ on trail)
(156) Paw Paw tunnel
(184) Cumberland (lunch) - DC people get a ride back from here
(GAP 16) Frostburg (dinner) - Camp here

Day 5 - Mon, 16 July
(GAP 32) Meyersdale (breakfast)
(GAP 63) Confluence (lunch)
(GAP 74) Ohiopyle (dinner)
(GAP 75) Camp at Ohiopyle

Day 6 - Tues, 17 July
(GAP 91) Connelsville (breakfast)
(GAP 116) West Newton (lunch)
(GAP 135) McKeesport
(GAP 150) Pittsburgh (dinner)

People starting in Pittsburgh can get a ride with us on Thursday morning, and we will probably do the same thing we did last year (rent a one-way car for transporting people and a one-way truck rental for transporting bikes). We will also arrange a ride from Cumberland back to DC on Sun afternoon to take DC people and their bikes back.