Great Allegheny Passage and C&O excursion

posted in: Uncategorized | 2

I know there has been little content on this site of late. The main reason is that  climbing season arrived I and figured folks were tired of that same photography. It all looks the same after a minute or two. But we also have been putting this adventure together.

This is our bedraggled group, minus Bill and Stewart and Marina. We finished the C&O towpath on a cold blustery afternoon in downtown Georgetown.  Left to right, Neil Murphy, Martin Hunley, Bugsy Moran, Lee Whitten and yours truly.


This was a bike packing adventure.  The idea came to my head after several discussions with Mark Jones. You may recall he got me involved in this last year with the Katy Trail excursion. So I invited Lee and Neil from Alaska along with Bugsy from Georgia and Martin from New York.

John Davis and Dan were unable to join.  Stewart and Bill are two of Brian’s speed demon friends from Georgia who finished the trail a day and a half ahead of us.

This is me with Neil to the left and Lee on the right. It was the missing man formation at the end of the Great Alleghany Passage section.

Bikepacking involves quite a bit of gear. And the logistics are not simple. And in these days of post-pandemia, sometimes gear is difficult to find along with bicycles. That is why I was forced to make do with my full suspension mountain bike. A gravel bike is the preferred conveyance for this excursion. Using a full suspension mountain bike required some modifications and special racks. But it worked out pretty well for me. I recommend the Thule Pack n Pedal system, it is the only one that will allow mounts for 29 inch full suspension systems.

You see my bike weighs 32 lbs empty. Add the rack system plus fully loaded panniers, and that’s about 70 plus pounds. And we have to carry that weight for 350 miles.

We all got a little bit muddy on the last part of the C&O.

Let’s begin our journey in Union station in the heart of our nation’s capital at the Amtrak terminus. After picking up Lee and Neil at the airport we were accompanied by Stewart and Bill. Boxing our bikes and loading them onto the train was quite the ordeal. So much so it also dissuades me from ever wanting to ride the train up there again. But the train ride was pleasant and followed our path. Through the windows we could see the varying towns and campsites we would be later occupying.

After arriving at Pittsburgh and unloading our boxed bicycles we had a short night’s rest and got up in a monsoon to start our 60 mile first day. We met Martin at the beginning point of the GAP trail as he came down from New York. I haven’t biked that much in constant rain, probably ever.  It quit pouring about 1 hour outside of camp, and I was able to grab this shot. Pedaling in the rain is fun. At least that’s what I kept telling myself.

Our first night camping was behind a grocery store. Not exactly the nature experience we had anticipated, but it was free.  Anxious to resume our journey on the great Allegheny Passage the next morning, we were  treated to these views along the Youghiogheny river. It was also about this time that Neil and I had a little accident. He was on the bridge and I attempted to pass him when he took and spill and knocked me into the bridge railing. Neither of us were significantly injured and our bikes were fine.

The second day had us riding 50 miles into Confluence.

We stayed at a campsite that a ranger told us would be free of charge. After he departed and we were established  camp, a host came in and insisted upon payment .Or perhaps I should say made someone else pay because I refuse to do it. As you could imagine, I had a few words with said camp host over this.

There were a couple of detours that we planned on making along the way and this was an important one. Falling Waters is an architectural icon. It required a shuttle to take us up there but I’m glad we were able to see and experience this oddity. Frank Lloyd Wright apparently stole his ideas from the Chinese. Yes, this is my photo. Fantastic, isn’t it?

That also made for a shorter day. The weather now was very hot; almost 90°. And that’s when Martin had the first of three flat tires. Mechanical issues encountered included Martin’s multiple flat tires, Lee’s broken spokes and then Martin’s broken spokes. I did not have a single flat. Strange but true. On the last day, Martin busted his pannier rack.

We reached the great Continental divide after a day or two of uphill pedaling. It was a gradual ascent.

Shortly thereafter we crossed the Mason-Dixon line.

Frostburg was an interesting stopover for us. Once again, the weather was changing and we decided to stay in a bunkhouse that evening.  I highly recommend the Trail Inn. Steve’s rates were very reasonable and that includes a shower. (He is quite a character to boot.) It rained significantly, so that proved a wise decision. After clearing the next morning , we were off for a big descent and the conclusion of the Great Alleghany Passage trail.

(end of GAP, beginning of C&O towpath, or actually the end of it in Cumberland, Maryland)  The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, abbreviated as the C&O Canal and occasionally called the “Grand Old Ditch,” operated from 1831 until 1924 along the Potomac River between Washington, D.C., and Cumberland, Maryland. The canal’s principal cargo was coal from the Allegheny Mountains.

The fun part is going down the 1200 ft you gained. It was a fast 20 miles. But we had to be at the bike shop when they opened to fix Lee’s broken spoke. Little did we know he would pop another couple of spokes and end up having to purchase a whole new wheel. What I learned is that it is not a good idea to bring older bicycles on this trip. The two older bicycles are the ones that malfunctioned. I think their wheels had a lot of stress history. It’s not Lee or Martin’s fault. None of us knew or anticipated the amount of stress placed on those back wheels with our heavy loads.

in one of our more unusual animal encounters a doe ran across our path with her fawn. The fawn froze place in the middle of the trail. After snatching some photos, we moved on under the watchful eye of the mama deer. I saw about five good size black snakes, unlimited blue heron and sandhill cranes, 3 billion turtles, pileated woodpecker, groundhogs and probably 30 deer.

This was my home for the night along the Potomoc River.  As we settled in, Marina came rolling along to join us for a spell.

We picked up a new friend halfway through the trip, Marina Salnikova. Hailing from Pittsburgh via Smolensk, Russia, she was biking solo from her home to DC.  She quickly realized the amazing allure of our fun group and we gladly had her along for the remainder of the journey. Amazing thing about Marina is that once we finished she just turned around and went back towards her house. As of this writing, she has completed her round trip journey. Kudos to Marina. She’s a tough bird. Here she is seen in front of one of the many lockhouses along the C&O. We camped along the Potomoc when she came pedaling in and it was a very hot day. So hot we considered swimming. This was all about to change.

Lest anyone forget what he does for a living, Neil had to paint it on the side of his helmet. Doc. Neil had a couple of wrecks on this trip. The C&O Towpath proved to be very muddy following all the overnight rains. It rained so much we holed up at a Bed and Breakfast (Bay Farms B&B) in Williamsport and that was a wise decision. We had a lot happen there I will discuss around a campfire sometime, but were able to wash some more clothes and de mud ourselves. Jesse was quite a gracious host to our ragged assemblage.

Our plan to stay in Harper’s Ferry was severly thwarted by Memorial Day crowds. I had really looked forward to re visiting this place but it was cold. Very cold. Temps were In the upper 40s and we were all soaked to the bone from 40 miles of riding. We spent an hour and did not carry our bikes and bags up and over the railroad tresle into town. Marina went up there and did recon while we tried to find lodging. There was no room at the inn. We had to go on down the road in hopes of staying at an RV campground.

. It was time for some coffee and spiced cider.

And a warming fire, our first of the trip. We were sorrounded by RV campers but it worked out just fine. I wore every piece of clothing I owned, as did everyone else. To think I had initially considered bringing a light sleeping bag.

One of the many dams along the C&O canal.

You have to weave through Georgetown when you come out of the canal to find the actual start point. It is strange coming into such a big city after being out in the countryside for almost a week. It’s also sad because that meant our journey was concluding. I can’t remember having had such fun and enjoying  wonderful company. I think we all needed  man time. Marina probably showed up in order to rescue us from ourselves.  I was telling someone about the composition of our group and explained that we have all climbed together before. I’ve spent nights in tents with all these people. Through the years we have foended off snow storms, the Taliban, frostbite, broken limbs and much more. We were used to taking care of each other. That is what these adventures are all about. Very grateful to see these guys and experience such a grand adventure. Martin says his total mileage was about 370, mine was a bit less because he had to pedal in Pittsburgh a little further at the beginning.

Mile zero is hidden. But was the end of 350 miles for me. ONe of the great blessings for me and Brian was having his uncle Steve pick us up in Georgetown and escort us to his home where his wife, Katrina, pampered us like royalty. I will never forget their hospitality.

2 Responses

  1. Richard L Hatten

    I’m glad y’all found some way to involve a girl with this trip.

    • John

      Yes, General. We managed to lure one in with our infinite charm and biting wit.