My bicycle tour from DC to Pittsburgh is in the books and it was a very successful trip. I’ll be using this trip as a template for future trips. After each trip, I like to reflect and identify what worked well and what did not work so well so that I might review this next year as I’m preparing for future trips.
What didn’t work so well
Despite having three dang lists to work from, I managed to forget my chamois cream. Rashes on the booty is a lot like pain management in that you really have to stay ahead of it. Once you’re in pain, well it’s already too late. A kind stranger gave me some stuff to use – although it wasn’t chamois cream. It would have been much worse otherwise but it would have been much better if I was slathering on the button hole straight from the get go. Lesson learned: DON’T FORGET THE DANG CHAMOIS CREAM
I also had some difficulties keeping my phone charged. I was using a non-Apple charging cable and the thing failed on the evening of day 2. I managed to find a gas station and get another little cheapy but that one started to fail a few days later. Additionally, I over estimated how bad ass my new external battery charger was so by the 5th night, it was drained. I should have taken more care to charge the external battery. Lessons learned: Go ahead and invest in the dyno hub so that I can charge while pedaling. Additionally, stick with official Apple charging cables and maybe even pack a spare; they’re small and light.
I want to reduce my kit. I had a whole bag full of stuff that I barely even broke into – GoPro mounts and odds and ends. I think I can probably fit my kit into the two rear bags if I strapped my tent to the top of the rear rack. I also carried too much food. I ended up eating a fair amount along the way. There’s something really nice about pulling up to a diner or pub at the end of a long day of pedaling. In the future, I’ll probably carry less food while planning to eat along the way.
Trip template going forward
Ship bike ahead to a bike shop near starting point using bikeflights.com. $49 for shipping plus whatever the bike shops charge ya to box and reassemble. Probably close to $200 total.
Fly to the destination. I was able to get a ticket to DC for under $150. More than the bus ticket I purchased last year but way more convenient.
Use my new North Face base camp duffle to check all my gear on the flight. Last year I shipped my gear ahead to the motel. Checking my stuff was way easier and less stressful.
Give myself at least one whole day in the starting city/town to get things together. Plus it’ll be nice to have a little extra time visiting a new place.
Since Pittsburgh is relatively close to Nashville, I was able to use hotwire to rent a car to drive myself and all my gear back to Nashville. After fees and such, it was only $38 from Thrifty. Tank bicycle fit perfectly into the trunk after the laying the seats down on the Chevy Cruz.
Finally, I wanted to give a huge shoutout to our friend Eve in Pittsburgh. She let me couch surf while in Pittsburgh so I saved a lot of money on motel costs. She was an excellent tour guide and showed me around the city Saturday.
Today’s Distance: 41 miles
Total Distance: 347.2 miles
Day 6 – The big finish
I made it. I rode my bike all the way from Washington DC to Pittsburgh PA. That’s a pretty nice feeling.
The ride itself was pretty easy – only 41 miles so I took my time breaking camp and getting on the road. During the night, my external battery and phone battery both died so I felt kind of discombobulated not being connected to friends or family or having a way to really navigate. Additionally, I woke up to the second flat of my trip. This time I actually found the tiny metal splinter and removed it.
I had breakfast at a diner in West Newton and I tried to charge up my devices.
The rest of the ride was uneventful. I spent most of the time in silence (dead phone) and that was actually pretty nice in retrospect.
Todays Distance: 69.6 miles
Total Distance: 306.2 miles
Day 5 – CODE NAME: Animal
Today was really a great day. I can’t really explain how nice the GAP is after riding on the C&O. Silky, smooth as butter… so nice. I even aired my tires up to road levels at lunch time and boy did the miles just click by.
Today at lunch time, I figured out my trail name: Animal. I was standing near the path in Ohiopyle (Ohiowhat??!?), about ready to set off on the rest of my day when a lady said “your legend precedes you. It’s nice to meet you”. I’m like “what??” Let me back up. The past few days, I’ve been passing these guys that were heading in the same direction. They’d pass me, I’d pass them, we’d have a nice friendly chat while doing so, etc. It turns out, they actually left DC on Saturday while I left on Sunday. Most of the time with these guys was spent yesterday, on the ascent up from Cumberland to the contentitnal divide. I’m a bad climber in cycling terms because I’m big but I just keep turning over the pedals, complaining and grumbling but just click, click, click… one pedal stroke closer every second. So we kept passing each other on the climb. I’d pass, then they’d pass. I’m running a fully loaded touring bicycle while these guys were credit card touring (i.e., staying in motels and eating out most meals). So imagine, here is a big burly, tattooed, bearded dude with fully loading touring rig climbin up the mountain with you while you have a couple bags only. I dunno… I don’t think I’m some sort of monster cyclist but they apparently thought so because they were talking to this lady who spoke to me in Ohiopyle. They’d told her “you can’t miss him, he’s a big guy with a beard and a fully loaded touring bike. The guy’s an animal.
I got a big kick out of it. 😉
The other interesting thing that happened to me today was that I ran across this guy pulling the cart pictured below. Like, imagine you’re riding your bicycle in the woods and it’s been a while since you’ve seen another living soul then this. At first, I thought it was some guy trying to run a pot stand in the woods. Turns out, he’s pulling the thing to Washington DC to protest pot being illegal or whatever. If you notice in the rest of the photos at the bottom, his cart is just a few inches too wide to fit through the baracades and he was so mad. He was talking about overthrowing the government for violating his rights of freedom of movement and he was starting a revolution right there; I suppose he was using Twitter. At this point, I asked if I could take photos of his trailer then promptly set off. So strange.
38 miles to Pittsburgh so that means I don’t have to feel rushed to get going in the morning. I might actually sleep in a little bit later than I have been on my trip. Yay!
Todays Distance: 45.7 miles
Total Distance 238.6 miles
Day 4 – Fuck hills. I knew today was going to be a lot of climbing but seriously, fuck hills. The first part of the day turned out to be about 22 miles of steady climbing. I think I was averaging between 6-8 mph during that section.
I did probably see some of the prettiest scenery of the trip though so that was cool. Additionally, the GAP trail is much better than the C&O… it’s just much nicer to pedal on. It’s this compact, fine gravel stuff; not mud like the C&O.
Tonight’s camp ground is husky haven in Rockwood, PA. The camp ground itself isn’t so bad – I just wish the shower houses were closer. You have to basically bike 3/4th of a mile, across the river to use the shower house; not ideal IMO.
Todays Distance: 65.2 miles
Total Distance 192.9 miles
Day 3 – I dominated myself. Well, I’ve now gone further than I did last year. It feels pretty good to just go over that mental hump. According to Strava, I’m way faster than last year too.
Today was mostly uneventful. Saw some deer, squirrels, rabbits, turkeys, turtles, snakes and lots of cyclists.
At one point later in the afternoon, I was feeling really tired. I was really struggling to turn the pedals over, even in the lowest gear. For a while, I just thought I was just getitng super tired… until I took my headphones out so that I could hear the rubbing come from the front. It turns out, that mud from the muddy trail had built up in the front fender and was really compacted in there. I pulled over, used my little screwdriver things from my multitool and got it all cleared out. The rest of the miles sailed right along… I mean other than a tender booty and hands. Owie.
Tonight’s camp is at the YMCA in Cumberland. $12 to camp in the field across the street and to use the showers. Sweet deal IMO.
Tomorrow is a relatively short day of 44 miles but it’s also the hardest climbing day of the trip. Wish me luck as I’m not very good at going up.. I’m much better at going down. B)
Todays Distance – 72 miles
Total Distance – 127.7 miles
Day 2 – Butt rope and technical problems.
I usually start my days off by FaceTiming with Jen for the first bit of my ride; today was no different. The problem with being the first rider out of camp is that you get to be the person clearing the spider webs from the trail. Anybody who knows me knows that spiders kind of freak me out. So, I’m riding along and hit the first web… I do that flailing thing that people do when they run into spider webs, trying desperately to knock the spider off my head. Jen of course thinks this is very funny and is laughing hysterically over FaceTime. 😀
So anyhoo quick summary because I’m exhausted – will flesh this out more when I have time.
Today was a much harder day than yesterday. Not just the longer distance but the riding part seemed harder. I went 40 miles before breaking for lunch in Williamsburg.
After lunch, it was 30 more miles to the camp site which was supposed to be the camp shelter thing that C&O Bicycle Shop has. Unfortunately, I arrived late so ended up getting a room. Finally, my stupid iphone cable stopped working so my phone died about 5 miles short of finishing. I picked up a cheapie from an Exxon that’s working fine so far.
Today’s Distance – 55.7 miles
Total Distance 55.7 miles
Day 1 – No butt stuff. That is, I forgot to pack my chamois cream. For those who are uninitiated in the ways of cyclists who ride their bicycles for long periods of time at once, the cream helps to prevent saddle sores and abrasions in general down in the nether regions. As you can imagine it’s NOT GOOD to forget this piece of gear. I’m pretty stunned that I forgot it if I’m honest as I had 3 dang lists to keep me straight. I was planning to call ahead to a bike shop near my camp site to find a replacement but at lunch, I ran into a couple cycle tourists who were finishing their tour today and they offered to give me theirs after hearing my tale of woe and need to find a bicycle shop. Yay kindness of strangers!!
The trail was as muddy as I was expecting honestly and the conditions were close to what they were last year. I knew fully what to expect though so having the appropriate expectations set helps.
Really, the only other notable thing that happened today was that I finished the ride 1.5 hours faster than last years. Part of it was that I wasn’t stopping as often to look at things (been there, done that last year). I feel like most of it was that I’m in better shape this year than last – the ride certainly felt easier today than I remember from last year.
The plan for tomorrow is 70 miles – it’ll be the longest ride of this trip.
The camp site tonight is near a train transfer area so there’s lots of train noises and stuff happening. I brought ear plugs.
Editors Note: This post was written on Saturday Oct 1st but post Sunday Oct 2nd.
Day 0. I’m sitting in my room in Washington DC. I’ve shipped my traveling bags ahead, secured Tank Bicycle and I’m about ready to get things packed up.
I used a Lyft to get over to BicycleSPACE to pick up Tank Bicycle then I just rode the short ride back to the hotel. The route takes you right through a lot of the big sites in DC like the Washington monument and the Whitehouse etc… it’s pretty nice.
After that my brother and his wife came to take me to lunch and shuttle me around to Target and Dicks to pick up a few odds and ends that I needed. It was super nice being able to visit with them for a bit.
Flying is much better than riding the bus and the plane ticket was only $113 to get myself here 1 way. That’s a solid win in my book. The North Face basecamp duffle held all my camping and biking gear just fine. I checked it and everything showed up on the other side in perfect condition.
I gave myself a whole day of being in DC, to get things gathered up and ready and it’s been real nice not having to rush around.
I think I’ll be using this basic template for all future bicycle trips. Fly, use my duffle to carry my stuff, ship the bike ahead and give myself plenty of time in the starting city to not feel rushed.
It’s been raining the last 3-4 days in DC so I’m expecting the C&O Trail to be muddy again this year. Such is life but I’m ready for it.
As I type this, I leave out on my trip tomorrow night. I’ve heard from BicycleSPACE in DC that my bike has arrived and is ready for me to pick it up on Saturday. I have plane ticket in hand. I have a motel reservation in DC. I’ve test packed my new duffle like 5 times. I have 3 lists I’m using to try to keep myself straight: Pre-Trip To-DO, Important things not to forget and DC To-Do. The lists help my brain be at ease.
At this point I’m re-reading my own journal entries from my previous trips, especially last years entries so I can be better prepared. I think I’ve done everything I can do to be prepared and to feel prepared.
Maybe I should just test pack my bag one more time and go over my lists again to make sure I’m not forgetting anything though….
Last year I attempted to ride the C&O and GAP trails from DC to Pittsburgh. I ended up straining/pulling a quad muscle on day 3 and had to abandon my ride. I’ve decided to attempt the ride again this fall because I’m not going out like no punk.
You can read about the trip last year here. I’ll be making these changes.
Instead of doing the Greyhound thing, I’m going to fly up. I’ve been looking at tickets already and they’re $233; so worth it.
Instead of shipping my gear up ahead, I’m going to purchase a packable duffle. I’ll use the duffle to carry all my gear up on the plane with me. Once I’ve arrived in DC, I’ll then ship the duffle ahead to where I’m staying in Pittsburgh.