I instantly fell in love with cycling after biking my first rail-trail five years ago. After completing all the trails in my local area, and especially after my brother and I biked the 67 mile round trip Ghost Town Trail, I searched for another new trail to explore. Through local maps, I spotted the Great Allegheny Passage/ C&O Canal Trail, and made it my goal to finish this route. As early as 2016, I lined up a riding partner, my high school soccer teammate who had spent summers biking the Alps in Europe. For two years, my trip kept getting pushed back, by vacations and athletic injuries. However, upon graduating high school, my vacation the next summer was a hiker-biker trip from Pittsburgh to D.C.
We began on August 2, 2018 in Point State Park in Pittsburgh, with my father driving us and our bikes and dropping us off. In previous summers, I had done extensive bicycle training, but I had only gone biking three times in the twelve months prior (partly because I was still nursing a soccer injury), with mileage totaling 20, 40, and 32, demonstrating how little physical preparation I put into this trip. Beginning at 9 A.M., we set off down the trail. We cruised for the first 34 miles into West Newton, making great time due to the trail being paved for much of this, and only running into an occasional summer shower. We stopped for lunch at the Trailside Diner for an hour, then continued onto Connellsville, and then onto Ohiopyle. The riding was smooth and relatively uneventful, save for being chased for a mile by a stray dog. By the 70th mile, I began to really feel the increase in elevation, especially with all the gear on the back of the bike. We pulled into the Kentuck campgrounds at Ohiopyle around 8:30, finishing our first 77 mile day. As soon as we pulled in and set up our tent, it began to pour, and continued throughout the night (thank goodness we brought a waterproof tent). I still remember lying there with my legs and body just aching after a long day of riding, and wondering if I’d be able to continue the next day.
The following day, we started biking again 9 and went 11 miles before stopping for breakfast in Confluence. This is where we had our best (and cheapest!) meal of the trip, and Mitch’s Fuel and Food, and it allowed us to explore the quaint town of Confluence a bit. The next fifty miles to the Continental Divide were a real grind, but did include a few highlights, including stopping for food in Rockwood and going over the Salisbury Viaduct outside of Meyersdale. I was never so relieved when we actually made it to the Continental Divide; meaning out uphill portion of the journey was complete. After that, we flew down the mountains straight into Cumberland, only stopping to take pictures along the Mason Dixon Line. About halfway down the mountains, it began to really begin storming, turning large portions of the trail surface into complete mush. When we finally pulled into Cumberland at 7:30, it was already turning dark because of the storm, and due to us being soaked and hungry, we didn’t feel like biking further down the C&O Canal Towpath to get to a campsite, so we caved and stayed in a hotel in Cumberland for a night, exhausted after going 73 miles.
The next morning, we were so comfortable in the hotel; we waited until 10 to begin biking. However, this proved to be an issue, as I had to make it to Mass in Hancock by 5:00, giving us seven hours to bike sixty miles. Along with this, due to the rain the previous day, the towpath was in absolutely terrible condition, with every 20 yards featuring a tremendous puddle across the entire path. We set out grinding through these less than optimal conditions. Much of the scenery along the was just wooded area and the Potomac River. After biking hard all day, we pulled into Hancock at 5:15, and I went running up the steps of the church, covered in mud and sweat, only to find out they had moved the Mass time. Sadly, my friend and I just ate dinner instead, before going an additional five miles to the next campsite before bed, to make a 65 mile day. Sleeping along the C&O was fine, as the campsites were nice and spacious, but featured trains running across the Potomac all night long. We began fairly early the next morning and made it to Williamsport by eleven for lunch. Afterwards, the trail turned into complete mud for the next ten miles, making for some very difficult biking, followed by a trail closure, leading us to do some on road biking. However, we made it back on the trail after 45 minutes to an hour, and continued until we made it to Shepherdstown for dinner. After eating, we continued past Antietam and made to the Huckleberry Hill campsite for to stay for our final night on the trail, once again biking close to 60 miles on the day. We got up very early for our final day on the trail (as I was looking forward to a shower at the end of it – I was caked in mud by this point), and began, going right past Harper’s Ferry, missing the bridge into town. Instead, we ate in Brunswick, before there was another trail closure. We had to bike on road again for about 6.5 miles before pulling into Point of Rocks. As we got progressively closer to DC throughout the day, we did appreciate the trail surface gradually start improving. Eventually, we pulled into D.C. around 5:00 after another uneventful day of biking. However, we went to stay with my friend’s family, who lives in Alexandria, causing us to have to bike an additional 10 miles to get there, putting our final mileage at 80 miles.
Overall, we got extremely lucky throughout our trip that it only rained on us while biking for one day (the weather had been terrible right before we hit the trail – the week before it rained for five days straight), and was physically exhausting (I lost seven and a half pounds from my already slim frame over the course of the trip), and everything hurt for the four to five days after the trip. As mentioned at the start though, I had barely prepared for this trip physically at all though, leading me to believe anybody who wanted to could make the same trip. In hindsight, we could have spent more time sightseeing along the trip, as we hardly stopped at any historical places, until we toured D.C. for two days. However, I had already seen most of the items along the trail with my family (Harper’s Ferry and Falling Water), so it wasn’t as if I never got to see these places with historical significance. The most satisfying part of the trip in the end was just biking the sheer distance in a small amount of time, as it will be something I’ll always be proud of. Hopefully, this also won’t be the last long-distance bike trip I ever do (despite me professing that it would be if we ever got over 70 miles), as my friend and I are considering doing the Erie Canal Trail and the Katy Trail in the future. The trip from Pittsburgh to D.C. ended up being fantastic, both for the scenery and physical activity, and will be trip that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.