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.
Today’s Distance: 64 miles
Total Distance: 122 miles
First, let me talk about last night. The camp ground I stayed at last night was right next to a train track. When trains fly by at about 100 yards away from a person in a tent, it wakes you up no matter how tired you are. If it wasn’t the trains going by, I was rolling over or having to adjust temperature every 30-60 minutes. I was able to get some sleep but it wasn’t the most restful sleep in the world. I’m very tired tonight tho and I’m expecting to sleep a lot better.
Breakfast of champions and yes, having french press coffee in the woods (or a camp ground near a train track if you prefer) was pretty damn legit. It tasted great and the french press attachment did pretty ok. There were a few grounds in the 2nd cup but I thought of it more like crunchy peanut butter. 😉 My plan for this morning was to get on the road, logging actual trail miles sooner than I did day 1 and I was successful at that. I was on the trail at 8:04am. I was also going to be mindful of my pace, making sure I wasn’t putzing around at normal Mike Harley effort.
This morning more of the same from yesterday. Wet roads that were equal parts bumpy and muddy and the occasional cool thing to see.
Lunch plans was Captain Benders in Sharpsburg. The app said the place was an “easy ride from the tow path”. Well, I’ll have you know the person who wrote those words never rode a fully loaded touring bicycle up a damn hill. There were a couple steep climbs that I had to gear all the way down in the climbing gear.
I arrived a bit early, parked my bike and waited for them to open at noon. They let me in a little early but they couldn’t serve me. Whatever, thanks for letting me in out of the cold! The burger I had was decent; nothing to write home about. Also, I’m noticing the burgers up here are served with chips and fries are usually extra.
When I came out, I noticed that once the place opened, they put our their sign and flag pictured above. It honestly kind of blew my mind. I’d expect to see such things in the south by why here, near so many Civil War battle fields? These were Union states; it makes no sense. I asked the waitress what the deal with the Confederate flag was and her response was “Well, this is where it all happened and we’re just trying to protect our freedoms” – What lady? Come again? That makes no sense. Anyway, I didn’t want to push it and get any special sauce in my food or drink.
The good thing about having to climb up to get lunch was being able to coast down back to the trail!
I always dread the after lunch part of my days. It usually really sucks and today was no different. I don’t know what the deal is exactly… maybe it’s the fact that I just stuffed my face with meat and beer or maybe it’s a mental thing where I know my count down times have all reset or a combination of both. I call it riding on the pain train because you’re stuck alone in your own head with nothing but the discomfort (ouch, my hands hurt. ouch, my shoulders hurt. ouch, my legs hurt. 35 MORE MILES!?!?! /dies)
I pulled over to send complainy texts to Jen and Jessie, about how much bicycling sucks and I think I want to be a snowboarder instead when Rich and Sissy from South Carolina pulled up along side me riding a dang tandem! It was awesome! I’m trying to talk Jen into going on tours with me if I get us a tandem so this was perfect! We talked shop and compared notes and asked about gear and all that; it was great.
And this is where my afternoon really went downhill as I pulled off first and since I’m a dumb guy, I felt I needed to stay ahead of them. Well, if you know anything about bicycles, you also probably know tandems are faster than normal bikes because you have two dang people pedaling! So after about 20 minutes of me putting out maxium effort to stay head of them, my body blew a fuse and I bonked or something. My body let off the gas on it’s own accord and they passed me and something friendly but I don’t remember what they said. I was feeling jittery and shaky and cold all at the same time. Once they were out of sight, I stopped and took some water but I just couldn’t shake the weird feeling. I took a couple Gu shots and ate a couple handfuls of trailmix but it was 45 minutes or so before I was over the spell.
I limped along for another hour or so hating bicycling, bicycle touring and the C&O Tow Path. As the was getting lower in the sky it occured to me that it might be after dark before I get to my planned campa site. I used my phone to see if there was a motel nearby with every intention of getting a room but the only one was 4 miles behind me and Mike Harley doesn’t go backwards so that was out. The only option was pressing foreward to my original camp ground. And just like that, I had a second wind. I put some techno (dub? do kids still call it dub? maybe edm) on the iPhone and was able to maintain a faster pace for 1.5 hours of the evening than I’d been able to maintain on this trip. Hopefully that was my body finally getting the message that we’re on a dang bicycle tour here; stop slacking.
As I type this, I have camp setup, I’ve ate my ChiliMac and I’m just about done writing this blog post. Next, chit chat with the Jenmeister then scout out tomorrows lunch and camp locations plus check the weather. Good night.
Today’s Distance – 58 miles
Total Distance 58 miles
It feels so good to be back on a bike trip. 🙂
I read a lot about how hard it was to find the mile zero mile post for the start of the C&O path and they weren’t kidding. I even studied the google map in details the night before. The thing that was throwing me off is that it felt like I was going through somebody’s personal property. I wasn’t going to start the trip without taking a photo with the stpuid mile post though so I stuck with it and finally found it.
As you can see from the photo, conditions were pretty wet as it had been raining in the DC area for at least a couple days. More on that in a minute.
The ride out of DC was pretty exciting. I was just so happy to be out on the road again. When I was started my Natchez Trace ride, it took about a half a day to get used to how the heavier bike felt. I never had that issue today as everything felt completely normal from the start. Yay muscle memory!
So the big thing about the C&O Canal Tow Path is that there are lots of locks and all the stuff that goes with said locks. There’s lots of interesting things to see and for the most part, it didn’t seem as monotonous to me as the Natchez Trace trip.
I missed my lunch stop and I was in a somewhat remote section fo the trail. By the time I got to White Ferry, it was nearly 3pm. I was at the point that if Whites Ferry didn’t have something hot to eat, I was about to bust out the JetBoil and a ChiliMac meal from the packs.
After lunch, I tried to pick up my pitiful pace so I could get to camp before night fall. I ended up making it but just barely! I ended up staying at a pay camp ground instead of one of the free hiker/biker camp grouns mostly because Brunswick advertised a camp shower. It wasn’t as scary as the camp shower experience on my Natchez Trace ride but it was still a camp ground camp shower. The hot didn’t seem to be working but I still rinsed the mud off and got cleaned up. It’s going to make a huge different sleeping tonight!
Overall, the ride was pretty good. It was a brisk, wet fall day and while that’s fun at first, it was getting old at the end of the day. I saw lots of wild life: squirrels, ducks, geese, a ground hog and so many deer, I stopped turning on the GoPro to film them.
The biggest thing that stuck out in my head is how much the wet and often muddy path affected my pace. I’m not a fast cyclist anyway but the mud really slowed me down. It’s fun the first few times but after the 200th time of getting caught in a rut and having to do a panic correction, it gets irritating.
So anyhoo, I’m here and I’m setup in camp. Low in the mid 40’s is forecast for tonight and it’s wet feeling and occasionally it’s windy. I’m expecting to sleep great, tucked away in my sleeping bag and tent! Off to read about tomorrows section!
My adventure started in Nashville at the Greyhound bus station. The TL/DR version of the Greyhound leg of my journey is that the bus into Nashville was 2.5 hours late which caused me to miss a connection. I ended up getting into Washington DC at 5:30pm. That left plenty of time to walk over to BicycleSPACE to pickup Tank Bicycle.
It turns out that my bike was damaged in shipping. It wasn’t anything too serious, just bent forks. They normally charge $100 to reassemble a shipped bicycle. The cost to align the rear triangle and the front fork was $75 each but they gave me a break and only charged $75.
The next phase was to get myself over to my motel room in one piece. I wish I had planned this part better because it was getitng dark by the time I set off. I shipped my bicycle lights and my phone mount ahead to my room instead of carrying those parts with me so I could use them on the ride from the bike shop to the motel. My seat post was adjusted a little too high so that, combined with the fact that I was having to navigate by pulling my phone out of my short pockets plus not feeling comfortable because of my lack of good lighting, plus carrying a heavy backpack on my back, made for an anxious and somewhat uncomfortable ride.
I arrived at the Best Western and was relieved that the front desk guy promptly informed me that i had packages waiting for me. I hustled my bike and my boxes to the room and performed a quick inventory to make sure all the important pieces where there and they were. Jen can attest to this but I’ve been stressing about things I might have forgot. I was terrified that I would get here and something really important wasn’t in my boxes… tent, sleeping pad, sleep bag anyone?
As I type this, I’ve had dinner at the restaurant next door, attached the lights and adjusted the seat on Tank Bicycle and I’m now sitting in bed, eating a chocolate brownie that I ordered to go – it’s heavenly.
Before going to sleep, I’ll review the guide book for tomorrow’s section, review the weather for tomorrow and make sure I can find the trail marker at the very begining (it’s hard to find I’ve read).
I just realized that I’m leaving on my bike trip next week. I’ve done very little planning up until today. I went by REI and picked up most of the supplies I needed. Those supplies included some freeze dried food for breakfast and dinner but also a few shirts and a couple pair of socks, gu and trail mix. I just today had Tank Bicycle tuned up.
The original plan was to rent a car one way and just carry my bike myself. This morning I went about reserving my car only to realize that renting a car one way is much more expensive than I was expecting. One way from Nashville to DC was $375. Safe to assume that it would be comparable to rent a car one way from Pittsburgh to Nashville so you’re looking at about $800 after gas. 😐
So now I’m onto plan B. I’m taking Greyhound from Nashville to DC and having my bike shipped to a bike shop in DC. The ticket to DC was $65 and it’s going to cost about $60 to ship the bike and another $100 to have it assembled by the bike shop there so that’s $225 for one leg. If we assume a comparable amount for the return leg, we’re looking at $450 round trip. The real question boils down to this: Is having to deal with a Greyhound bus trip worth $350? I’ll report back my findings.
Either way, I still feel like this is going to be a good, learning experience for future trips because I can’t see myself ever driving out the the west coast for instance. I’ll need to know how to ship my bike, etc and now is a good as time to learn as any.
I spent some time today planning and scheduling everything so I’m feeling better than I was this morning when I was nearly having a panic attack about my lack of planning. Bus tickets purchased. Rooms reserved. Phone calls to the bike shops made. Gear post coming in the next couple days!
I’m a gear head so I wanted to jot down my thoughts on my gear while it’s still relatively fresh in my head.
My Surly Disc Trucker worked great! This is the bike I ride around Nashville nearly every day so I was very familiar with the geometry and gear shifting and all those things. I had two mechanical issues. First, I must have bumped the rear derailer out of whack because about 3/4th through the 2nd day of riding, I only had access to the low range. Trying to shift beyond 4th gear, resulted in the shifter cable going to slack. I was able to use my front chain ring to get into higher ratios when needed. Second, I broke the seat rail on my Selle Anatomica seat! I was able to jerry rig the seat in such a way that it’s still ok. I plan to check out a Brooks seat when I’m ready to for another seat (i.e., when I can no longer jerry rig the seat!)
Prior to my trip, I installed the 3rd water bottle to the bike and I’m really glad I did as I used the 3rd water every single day. In fact, I even ran out on at least one day. I think I’d like to figure out a way to get 4 bottles on the bike for touring.
Ortlieb Front-Roller Plus panniers (front)
Ortlieb Back-Roller Plus panniers (rear)
Ortleib Ultimate 6M Plus handlebar bag with map case
My Ortlieb panniers worked great. I had perfect weather for my trip so I didn’t get to test their weather proofiness. It took me a minute to get used to the map case but by the end of the trip, I was a pro at changing out to the next map panel!
Kelty TrailLogic TN2 tent w/ ground cover and gear loft
Big Agnes Lost Ranger 15 degree sleeping bag
Exped SynMat 7M inflatable pad
Therm-a-Rest Compressible pillow
I’m pretty happy with the sleep system. I don’t have a lot of experience with ultralight camping but my feelings are that this is on the heavy side. Jen purchased a new Big Agnes bag and mat and I was kind of jealous of her ultralight mat. It was lighter, thicker and more insulating than my Exped. I think overall, my system is pretty great for bicycle touring/camping though.
Accell D080B-011K Travel Surge Protector with 612 Joules Dual USB Charging, 3 Outlets, Folding Plug – Black
Mophie Powerstation XL
charging cables for headlight, tail light, iPhone, gopro, mophie, kindle)
head light / tail light
gopro + mounts
I was pretty apprehensive about keeping my iPhone charged for the whole trip because I was trying to run Strava to track my rides. Using a combination of the Mophie Powerstation and using power plugs when available, I was never in the danger zone of my phone going dead. Prior to the ride, I even debated on the battery vs solar charger but now I know the answer is both. Having the little travel surge protector was pretty nice but also having the option of the solar charger would have been a little extra bit of security blanket to make me feel better.
I only used my lights a few times and never for very long so I never had to charge the light batteries.
Cell coverage wasn’t as bad as I was expecting from reading other people’s journals of their trips but it wasn’t 100% either. There were lots of low signal and that caused the battery to drain faster than it does while running Strava riding around Nashville.
I brought my Kindle and even bought a book to read but I never once cracked open the Kindle to read. By the time I rode the long miles of the day, setup camp, ate dinner, got cleaned up and laid down I was just too tired to try to read.
My headlamp was one of the most useful bits of equipment during the evenings/nights. I’d basically just sleep with the thing on my head so I could have quick and easy access to lights in the night.
I brought my GoPro on the trip and got some really good footage. I even bought a handlebar mount with the intention of moving the mount around in order to get lots of different angles during my trip. The handlebar mount spent the whole time on the left side, lower drop and I only used it to record footage a few times. The rest of the time the GoPro was on my head. I didn’t have much trouble keeping it charged as I used it sparingly.
MSR Cook Pot
MSR Pocket Rocket Stove + fuel
Platypus Platy (2 Liter Foldable Water Bladder)
MSR salt/pepper container
My cook system was adequate if kind of hodge podge. I used the Platypus bladder a lot and really loved it. It holds enough water that I was able to make a single trip to the water source for the evening/morning. I could then cook and drink everything I needed. The pot and stuff was a bit bulky and I think I’ll upgrade to a JetBoil Sol system for the next trip. The JetBoil system comes with a french press attachment so that I can cook and make coffee with the same pot. That’s pretty big for me because coffee was the single biggest thing I missed on my trip during breakfast. It’s all a combined system too to save on space/bulk.
The food situation was perfectly adequate. I brought 5 Mountain House Breakfast Skillet meals for breakfast and 6 Backpacker’s Pantry Louisiana Red Beans and Rice meals. I also brought some tortillas to make myself burritos for breakfast and dinner but they were so delicious that that were all gone by the end of day 2. They’re kind of heavy but I wish I would have brought more because eating was one of the more enjoyable things to do on the trips. In retrospect, I think I would have either brought enough tortillas for the whole trip or added some variety to meals, especially for dinner.
I also brought some miscellaneous stuff like ramen noodles (thought of this as emergency food in case I couldn’t find a lunch destination), instant oatmeal (in case I got bored with the Mountain House meals; I didn’t) a big bag of trail mix and Gu energy shots.
Pre-trip, I envisioned taking sink baths when showers weren’t available. It turns out that I only had two showers on the trip. The first one was an extremely sketchy “shower house” at Ratliff Ferry on day 2. The other shower was at the motel in Tupelo on the evening of day 4. The sink bath things didn’t exactly work out as well as I envisioned honestly. I just felt super awkward, standing there at the sink in my undies at the busy camp grounds as I washed all the things. More often than not, I’d retreat to the large bathroom stall with special camp wet wipes that I picked up from the camping section at Wal-mart.
I also envisioned washing clothes in the sinks. I hunted around Nashville until I finally found the flat, sink stopper that would fit nearly all sinks. I purchased these little laundry sheet things from REI to wash with too. I only did laundry one night. Hand washing clothes in a sink isn’t so bad but I struggled to wring out enough water so the clothes seemed pretty wet. The clothes line I bought at REI didn’t really work for shit as it was more designed for motels than stringing between trees I think. I just happened to have another roll of cord that I ended up using to rig up a clothes line but when morning came, the clothes were still very wet. It took most of the day strapped onto my panniers to get fully dry. I brought two full sets of bike clothes, plus some knickers for cooler weather so doing the single wash and switching out between all my clothes, I don’t think I got too ripe though I was very salty. If I were doing a longer trip, the seventh day would have been a down day for rest and laundry at a laundry mat. After changing into my camp clothes, I’d just drape the current days clothes on the bike to air out and that seemed to work fine. I think I’d ditch this whole idea of washing clothes in sinks for trips of 7 days or under.
Speaking of camp clothes, I was very happy with what I brought. I brought a pair of cotton boxer briefs that I normally wear, a white cotton undershirt, a pair of elastic band Nike athletic shorts, my Nashville Zoo hoodie and a pair of water specific flip flops that I planned to use for camp/shower shoes (and they worked great in this role).
I’d like to upgrade from having 3 water bottles to having 4 of them.
Explore option of replacing Kindle & dead paper guidebooks with an iPad mini. This gives the option of having a bigger screen for viewing offline maps and a better platform for blogging in the evenings.
I’ve been home for a week now. Most of my gear has been aired out, hung up, and put away. I’ve reintegrated back into civilian life. I’ve reconfigured Tank Bicycle back into urban assault mode (feels twitchy without all the gear!). I’ve uploaded all my photos and I made a video. Life is good and I’m glad to be home; I missed Jen, our bed and cooked food.
But now I miss the simple life of being on the road. The single minded focus of going from point A to point B and finding lunch in between is a much simpler life than dealing with all the crap we fill our lives with at home. Worrying about bills, cleaning the house, fixing the car plus all the work stresses really seems a lot more complicated when compared to “20 miles on the bike then I’m going to break and eat some of this trail mix. Oh look, turkeys!” Also, there’s just something really satisfying about moving yourself, under your own power over a long distance.
Needless to say, I really enjoyed the trip and I know I’ll be doing more week+ bike trips. I’d probably even ride the trace again if I were going with some friends. I doubt I’d ride the whole thing again solo.
I had lots of people surprised/concerned that I was riding the trace solo. Everybody from co-workers, to my mom, to other cycle tourists expressed reservations about safety etc. I had zero problems from anybody hassling me but I think perhaps, I have large, white, tattooed, guy privilege. Plus, I was going through a part of the country where I was the right race and sex.
I enjoyed the solo aspect of the trip for a couple different reasons. First, I’d never cycle toured before. I’ve ridden my bike all over Nashville and I felt strong and I knew I could do the milage but I’d never fully loaded my bike up and tried to ride it somewhere to camp so there was a learning aspect to this trip. I really appreciated having the freedom to make mistakes without eyes watching me. Second, having the luxury of being on my own time schedule was a great feeling. Being able to do exactly what I wanted, when I wanted and how I wanted, without consideration for other people is refreshing. If you add both points together, I was free to make mistakes exactly how I wanted and without other people watching me. Ha ha.
Having said all that, I think the trip would have been more fun if I was sharing it with friends. Jen is the photographer of our adventure duo so I’m positive I missed about a billion photo opportunities. I only notice the obviously amazing photos opportunities. If I get my way, future bicycle touring trips will be on a tandem with Ms Jen on the back like these people.
So let me wrap this up by giving a few shout outs to the important people of my trip.
Without the support and encouragement of my beautiful wife Jen, this trip wouldn’t have happened, period.
Our morning and evening FaceTime calls were great and helped me to feel connected even though I was sitting in the woods. Her encouragement when I had mechanicals were very helpful. She liked and favorited all my posts in all the places. She came to camp with me on the last night! In short, she was great but next time, she’s coming with. 😉
A big shoutout to Green Fleet Bicycle Shop here in Nashville. They sold me my bike and bags. Richard let’s me be annoyingly type A and picky about stuff without getting visibly frustrated and I like that. I just like hanging out up there; they’re cool people. Austin, Richard, Ben and the other guys… hats off!
A shout out to all my friends and family who sent me special emails, text messages and encouraging comments on my social media posts. Thanks David Byrge, Jessie, Tommy, Mom, Cyndi, Jase, Erin, Ryan, Eleanor, Josh, Richard, Deb, Tim, Jason Harrell, Kelly and everybody else who were supportive. It really helps more than you know probably.
Whew. This was the hardest day of hills of the whole trip, hands down. The Strava track isn’t exactly right as I paused it then rode for a while without restarting it… you can see this section by the straight line if you zoom in on the map.
This morning started off great. Jen camped with me overnight and got to experience tent sleeping and freeze dried chili mac! It took a bit longer to get on the road this morning as my routine was a bit off because of the extra stuff to do. Jen didn’t have to work until late so she decided to tag along and play sag wagon/scout vehicle for a few hours. Before hitting the road, we checked out the Meriwether-Lewis monument.
The single hardest climb of the whole trip for me was at about 8 miles into this mornings ride. Compared to any other hills I’ve ridden – ever – it’s very steep and pretty long. I was legitimately in my lowest granny gear, going along at 4.5 mph and still had to stop twice to let the lactic acid burn subside.
Using a combination of my guide book and Jen in the car, we were able to find a little market/deli store for lunch. I ate a cheeseburger, bbq sandwich, a piece of pizza and a chocolate pastry thing. As we sat there and ate our lunch, every person that came into the store either had Nascar or realtree attire if that tells you anything about our location. After lunch, Jen had to book it home because of work. Booo. It was super nice having a sag wagon and scout car!
I had a weird few hours after lunch, emotionally. I was trying to click my brain into the zone to log the miles but the damned hills kept getting in the way. Plus, I was just kind of ready to be home already so my brain was trying to click over into home mode but I still had 30, hard miles to ride a fully loaded touring bike.
My friend Kelly volunteered to come ride the last section of the trace back to Nashville with me. She’s ridden this section a lot so knows it really well. It was pretty nice having somebody who knew the lay of the land and prep me for the big climbs. A bit later, a friend of hers came out to ride with us… I felt like a fat Lance Armstrong, riding a loaded touring bike; I had my own little team of riders!
It really helped a lot to take my mind off each dang mile post. We talked a lot about pee and laughed a lot and before we knew it, the last official mile marker was here.
(Editors note: Because of poor cell service, I wasn’t able to upload this at the end of day 6 – it was actually uploaded at the end of day 7.)
Distance Today – 64 miles
Total Distance – 421 miles
I never did see the fellow bicycle camper at Colbert Ferry. I got up, fixed breakfast, packed and left and he never left his tent. Weird. I heard lots of owls during the night and it was super cool tho!
Immediately after leaving Colbert Ferry, you cross the Tennessee River and it’s an impressive site.
A few miles of riding down the road with my spare tube/hand towel “fix” in place, I knew that it just wasn’t going to work. I stopped and pulled all that out and tried to see if I could better diagnose the problem. Turns out, the seat rail was broken!
I loosened up the the seat post clamp and moved the seat forward on the rails so that the broken bit was being held by the seat post clamp. BOOM – IT WORKED! My ass, heart and brain was sooooo happy. Riding a bike real far and up big hills is hard enough without having to worry about being stabbed in the nether regions by a damned seat post bolt. It was so nice to just ride my bike and worry about how my legs felt and how my hands hurt and how my shadow looks funny from this angle… anyhoo, you get the picture.
There were a few pretty decent climbs before lunch. One in particular was long and just kept on going and going. I was in my climbing gear on the front for sure.
Lunch was at HazelBee’s Sweets and Treats in Collinwood, TN. This town felt like an outpost in the wilderness after not being able to find a lunch destination the day before then staying at Colbert Ferry where the camping was more primitive than most of these other campsites. I had a sandwich and some chips, a sweet tea and strawberry shortcake. Before getting back on the trace, I picked up some snacks for the road and then I was off!
I knew from reading the guide book that I was due for some more climbing and the book wasn’t wrong on this one. But even with the climbing, this was the best afternoon of my trip. It was just amazing. The weather was great, my ass was happy and it was just me, pedaling up hills. I didn’t care that there were more hills. I also started to realize that my trip was coming to an end. This is the last night I’d camp on my trip. Then it’s just 57 miles to the end of the trace and then it’s over.
Before I knew it, I was pulling into Meriwether-Lewis and it seems pretty nice here, though I think it’s targeted more towards the RV campers. Whatevs, there’s a bathroom/water and a spot to put my tent; I’m happy.
Jen is coming to meet me and I’m so excited! That’s all for now.