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2006 Pittsburgh - DC Bicycle Trip

Four Day Bike Trip via Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal

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In 2004 we rode this in three days, but in 2006 we scheduled a four day ride. One of our goals was to improve the quality of our eating/lodging, shifting from days of great bicycling supported by nondescript meals, into days of great eating travelled on a bike, sort of a two-wheeled progressive dinner.

Our planning relies on : Great Allegheny Passage, BikeWashington, the Passage - Yahoo Group, and C&O - Yahoo Group.
Our GPS preparation relies on: Kordite's Waypoints of the GAP, and Michael Shanafelt's C&O GPS Coordinates.

Day   /   Segment dist. (mi) avg. moving
speed (mph)
total ascent (ft)
Day One: 6/29/06 Pittsburgh - Confluence90.6511.61113
Day Two: 6/30/06 Confluence - PawPaw 92.7311.61041
Day Three: 7/01/06 PawPaw - Harper's Ferry 101.011.71021
Day Four: 7/02/06 Harper's Ferry - DC 68.7510.7591
New in 2006
Comparison, 2006 vs 2004
Our Trusty Bikes
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Day One: Pittsburgh - Confluence

  Today's theme:
Mind The Gap
Left my house at 0430, picked up Mike at 0500, met Mark in front of the Hilton at 0600. Rode/walked out to the Point, which seems the most symbolic starting point in Pittsburgh. Used Mary Shaw's excellent egress route - blockhouse ramp, Ft. Pitt Bridge, Station Square Trail to exit downtown. The trail through to Hot Metal Street was most excellent. Our primary concern is the trail gap / road detour between the Hot Metal Bridge and McKeesport.

Entering Duquesne on the roads we had a gift from above - the center lanes of the road were closed for constuction, so we rode in the closed lane without any car traffic and zipped throught there pretty fast. Through McKeesport and we were on the trail in Boston in no time.


  Stopped in Buena Vista at a trailside convenience store. As we rode we met Betsy (famous cyclist and YahooGroup advocate) who rode with us to West Newton. We were proudly riding along at about 12.5 mph until Betsy joined us and started leading us out at a 16mph pace. We strove to keep up and made some good progress. Snacks at the West Newton Cafe, then Betsy departed and we were left to our own, riding somewhat slowly to recover from the effort.  

We took a meal break in Connellsville, which is a great trail town - Sheetz for lunch, a bike shop, segregated bike lanes.

  Rain started about twenty minutes outside of Ohiopyle, so we rode hard to get under shelter, then waited as the storm blew through. We bought sufficient supplies for the next morning at the general store, since we'd be leaving early; we also made our last cell-phone calls for a while. The rain started again approaching Confluence, and we managed to pull into the B&B before the skies opened. We stayed at the River's Edge B&B, and dined at the River's Edge Cafe.

We were very fortunate to be joined at dinner by Pam and Bill Metzger, they're both riders and trail advocates; Bill is an author and the cartographer for the Great Allegheny Passage and the WMRT. The food was excellent (pasta, shrimp, steak, crabcake, cheesecake) but the company was even better. Bill rides a hand-crank recumbent trike, and we each got a chance to try it; it was a cool ride, very nimble and accelerated quite quickly.

It was really a treat to meet the Metzger's, they've got the history, the geography, and the spirit of the trail down, and they're fascinating people. They told us about their upcoming tour on Canada's Route Verte.

The River's Edge B&B was very nice, cool breezes and close to the river. We left our bikes in the adjacent garage. Confluence is a very nice town. There's no cellphone coverage and no high-speed web (sigh!) but somehow we survived.

Day1 stats: We started at 0610, ended at 1610. Total mileage 90.65, total ascent 1113 feet. Time riding was 7:49, time stopped 2:31. Average moving speed 11.6 mph. Start-Stop average speed 8.1mph.
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Day Two: Confluence - PawPaw

  Today's theme:
Eastern Continental Divide.
We started early, with a small continental breakfast offered by the B&B. After 19 miles we got snacks at Rockwood. Then we rode east to Meyersdale for breakfast at the GI Dayroom, which is my absolute favorite breakfast shop along the trail. This was an experiment which seemed to work well; rather than a big breakfast before riding, we ate lightly and rode a significant first segment to breakfast. This worked well for us.

After breakfast in Meyersdale, back up the hill to the trail, and we rode the new section from Meyersdale to Frostburg. It was remarkable in both the quality of the trail and the dramatic vistas. We could see the train going from Cumberland to Frostburg, it was very cool.

We exited the trail at Woodcock Hollow, and followed Route36 (which is one of the nicest roads we've ever ridden). We took a supply stop at the Route36 Sheetz. In Cumberland, we checked in with the National Park Service who said the trail was clear but muddy, and obtained C&O tags for our bike bags. Then we had lunch at the Queen City Creamery, sandwiches and ice cream, very good and biker friendly.

About 15 miles short of PawPaw we started having some mechanicals, I was losing air in my rear tire and Mark had some issues with his pannier mounts. I stopped twice to pump up the tire, and was able to make the destination without fixing the flat on the trail.

When we arrived in PawPaw we were very happy to see our B&B, GrandMa's County Kitchen and Inn. The rooms were great, private bathrooms, air conditioning and cable TV. There was a garage labelled the "bike barn" for our bikes, and a convenience store with Gatorade and an air pump across the street.

Gail Hall of Mountainside Bike Tours arranged to have a catered meal prepared and delivered by Cumberland's The Crabby Pig, and about twenty minures after we arrived a pickup appeared with dinner. Wow! Salad, cornbread, iced tea, Maryland Crabcakes, Chicken Chesapeake, ribs, and cheesecake. They really delivered on the promise.

After dinner we tended to the bikes. Mark was able to kludge a workaround. I found a hole in my tire and tube, so I booted the tire and replaced the tube. I was surprised to find a broken spoke, which I removed (no spares).

In the evening we spent a bit of time looking for news of the Tour de France, Mike had heard that Ullrich and Basso were out, but there wasn't much coverage. Day2 stats: We started at 0610, ended at 1720. Total mileage 92.73, total ascent 1041 feet. Time riding was 7:57, time stopped 3:29. Average moving speed 11.6 mph. Start-Stop average speed 8.1mph.

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Day Three: PawPaw - Harper's Ferry

  Today's theme:
Fully Loaded Century.

After starting we easily made it back onto the trail, and at 0630 we were clearly the first people on that section of the trail that morning. No other tracks, no other noise, and if there was a bear sleeping in the PawPaw tunnel we'd have been the ones to wake it. We saw several deer today, and a blue heron gave us a great show as he flew over the canal, staying just in front of us.

At MP156 we transferred to the paved WMRT, and we used the paved trail to great advantage. We were mostly off the handlebars and on the aero bars, which was a welcome respite for our hands.

Midway on the WMRT we stopped in Hancock at C&O Bicycles, where I asked about my spoke and the shop owner suggested we have breakfast at Weaver's while he replaced it. Weaver's was excellent but I think we arrived at a busy time. It was interesting to see the shop and the rider's bunkhouse out back. The spoke-and-restaurant caused us to move a bit behind schedule.

Our next stop was Williamsport MD, we bought sandwiches and drinks at Sheetz and ate in the adjacent park. The bike shop isn't there anymore. Loaded up with supplies we set out on the 38 mile stretch to the destination. On the road detour between MP88 and MP84 I had run out of fluids in my three bottles (leaving my dire-straits stash bottles in my panniers) so I stopped at a small yard party and the people were kind enough to fill my bottles up.

The remaining trip to Harper's Ferry was beautiful, the Potomoc is wide and close at hand. You have to carry your bike up a spiral staircase to access the bridge to Harper's Ferry, which was a bit difficult with the throng of walkers.
On the Harper's Ferry side, there's a killer hill up to the Hilltop House Hotel. They're used to bikers and hikers. The hotel was classic "Old Hotel", big lobby, open porch space, great view, rambling hallways. The restaurant buffet was excellent, another good meal. The bikes slept in a locked garage.
Day3 stats: We started at 0620, ended at 1800. Toyal mileage 101, total ascent 1021 feet. Time riding was 8:34, time stopped 3:14. Average moving speed 11.7 mph. Start-Stop average speed 8.5 mph. The ascent figure includes the road detours between MP88.5 and MP84, the lunch trip up the hill in Williamsport, and our ride to the suitably named Hilltop House Hotel in Harper's Ferry.
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Day Four: Harper's Ferry - DC


We started without a good breakfast again due to the early start, but at Point of Rocks (MP48.2) the B&S Minimart beckoned. We were very pleasantly surprised to find hot sandwiches (ham & eggs) which was a lot more than we expected. At MP41.6 you can see the US Olympic kayak training course. At MP35.5, we stopped at the Whites Ferry convenience store.

 We encountered one area with several trees down across the trail, we had to carry our bikes through the wreckage. This was the exception that pointed out the remarkably good condition of the trail, especially in view of the record rains the week before. Trail conditions were excellent, and there were a lot of places where you could see evidence of recent clearing and improvements.  

At MP14.3, we stopped to see the Great Falls. We saw new trail between MP13.7 and MP 12.3, which used to be the Widewater Bicycle Detour. The trail in the DC area was more crowded, but people seemed to know what they're doing and responded well to a quick bell-ring.

We met Mark's brother Patrick at around MP13, and rode together for a while. After a bit of reconaissance we found the mythic MP0 at Thompson's Boat Center, where Mike's wife was waiting; we were quickly joined by Mark's Dad for a brief visit.


Finding MP0 at Thompson's Boat Center

Mile Post 0, located at Thompson's Boat Center, seems very hard to find, even with directions. We were very close to it and still had difficulty finding it. In the first picture above, follow the walkways to Thompson's. Walk the bike across the dock area (note the Kennedy Center landmark in the middle photo). Then walk around the far side of the building, where you're sure you shouldn't be, and you'll see the MP0 stone marker. Click the Map below for Thompson's Boat Center website, Directions page.

Riding to DCA Airport

We spent some time near MP0; Mike's long-suffering wife picked him up there, and Patrick made photo CDs of the trip. Mark and I weren't finished at MP0; we still needed to get home to Pittsburgh, so we rode our bikes to the Reagan/National Airport (DCA) to pick up a rental SUV.

The ride from MP0 to DCA was all bike trail; there's a bike path that leads you right into the airport complex (you have to walk your bike inside!). The route was stunning, along the water with views of the Lincoln and Washington Memorials, the bridges, etc. I was speechless at the way the airport accomodated bicycles; the Pittsburgh airport is the exact opposite.

We entered one end of the terminal and schlepped our bikes the length of the building to find the rental car desk, and although I was expected somebody to challenge us (we were quite a sight) nobody said anything. The Hertz people were very nice and we were driving away in the SUV by 1800. I was home at 2215.

Returning home is a logistical problem of this trip, and I like the rental-SUV approach. It was flexible as to my schedule, it seemed a reasonable cost ($180, all fees and fuel), and we could stop for Starbucks whenever we wanted on the way home.

Day4 stats: We started at 0640, ended at 1500. Toyal mileage 68.75, total ascent 591 feet. Time riding was 6:24, time stopped 2:21. Average moving speed 10.7 mph. Start-Stop average speed 7.9 mph.

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New in 2006

  • I carried Starbucks honey packets for riding snacks in my Bento box.
  • We each carried aero bars for an alternative hand position and they made a significant difference. There are places where you can't use them, and you shouldn't use them while riding in close proximity, but it was wonderful to open up the spacing and take your hands off the bars when conditions allowed.
  • We had clean riding clothes for each day, which let us avoid laundry etc.
  • We used Assos chamois creme which was a signficant improvement
  • I carried a GPS unit, which we didn't use too much for navigation, but it was gee-whiz nice to have.
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2006 vs 2004 Comparison

  • The daily mileages in 2004 were: 102/115/104 and then we drove home, arriving at 0330 the next day.
    The daily mileages in 2006 were: 91/93/101/69 and then we drive home, arrived at 2215 that night.
  • Four days was so much saner than three days, and had several impacts - the reduced daily distances were much more enjoyable, the earlier arrivals gave us relaxed evenings, and the drive home on the last day was much more reasonable.
  • Our 2004 average daily speeds were 11.1 / 10.7 / 10.7, and our 2006 average daily speeds were 11.6 / 11.6 / 11.7 / 10.7, so we did a little bit better.
  • The trail is open from Meyersdale to Woodcock Hollow - absolutely wonderful.
  • Trail conditions were so much better in 2006
  • The food and lodging were much better in 2006
  • Riding bikes over to DCA is much nicer than leaving one rider with the bikes in Georgetown while another picks up the rental car.
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Our Trusty Bikes


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