PGH to DC solo trip. will i live to see next week?

This topic contains 83 replies, has 35 voices, and was last updated by  Ohiojeff 2 yrs, 11 mos.

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Jul 12 2012 at 12:22am #

Heyo. I know the GAP and C&O ride has been discussed on here plenty but I’m getting butterflies in my tum-tum about doing the ride this weekend on my own. I think I’m pretty well ready to go, just wondering if anybody had some valuable nuggets of advice to see me on my way?

I’ve done a good bit of planning as far as where to camp on the GAP (just gonna wing it on the C&O, since there seem to be campsites all over the place) and how much food to bring along. How easy is it to find water? I’ve got three bottles and my camelbak but I don’t want to underestimate my.. powerthirst.

Any other no-so-obvious tidbits about the ride would be greatly appreciated. I’m mostly winging it.


Private Message

Jul 12 2012 at 2:09am #

I did a solo GAP-C&O trip (DC to Pittsburgh) in August 2010. As you can imagine, there are advantages and disadvantages of going alone. I wrote up a brief summary at which you may find useful.

I’m happy to discuss it if you’d like to send me a personal message with email/other contact information.


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Jul 12 2012 at 2:17am #

It’s been a while since I did this ride but my recollection is that water shouldn’t be a problem. The GAP goes through or near enough towns that you should have plenty of places to keep filled up. The longest stretch without anything is the 17 miles or so between Connellsville and Ohiopyle.

On the C&O you’ve got the three big towns of Cumberland, Hancock and Harpers Ferry each 60 miles apart, and plenty of places in the last 20 miles into DC. A lot of the campsites on the C&O have hand pumps for water. Since you are in a national park, I assume the keep them tested for purity.

I think you should be able to keep your powerthrist quenched and happy.


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Jul 12 2012 at 2:24am #

The C&O water pumps are great in my experience. The NPS tests the water and removes the pump handle if it fails.

Paved parallel WMRT around Hancock MD, starts at MP136 ends at MP117 IIRC. Bliss.

Gotta have a light for the PawPaw Tunnel.

There are alternatives to the published-detour south of Williamsport. I like the 63/632 route, it shaves 8 miles off the total distance:

I hope you have a great adventure.


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Jul 12 2012 at 1:29pm #

thanks for the tips and links, you guys! today i’m picking up a shiny new set of front panniers and finally getting everything packed and ready to go. suuuper psyched. i’ll have pictures and stories to share when i get back next week. yee!


Private Message

Jul 12 2012 at 2:35pm #

before getting on the C and O i would buy

tang or gatoraid or something cause the

well water tastes somewhat sulfuric, but is



Private Message

Jul 12 2012 at 2:50pm #

I just did the GAP and a good part of the C&O (to Cushwa). The surface quality (of the C&O, not the GAP) is really crap and I don’t recommend doing it on anything without suspension.

If you do have the right bike, the water pumps are fine. They’ve modified them to do iodine disinfection so aren’t removing the pump handles when the water tests bad. And it’s easy to get a bath/swim in the Potomac.

You won’t ever really be alone, there are people walking/biking all the time through there, as well as National Park sites.

Cellphone coverage is bad. Don’t count on being able to make a phone call.

Stop in at Bill’s Place in Little Orleans and meet the man, the legend, before he’s gone.

Watch out for theft. I know somebody who had their stove stolen while camped next to the C&O. Lock/pack things up before going to sleep.

You should connect to the Western Maryland Rail Trail for as much of the ride as you can. The parts of the C&O that are also served by the WMRT are in even worse condition (overgrown) since people aren’t using them as much.

One more thing — if you have bike problems and can make it to Hancock, that’s the place to get things fixed. There is a good bike shop there (C&O bicycle) right between both trails. You can get a hot shower too, then go eat at the Park & Dine.


Private Message

Jul 12 2012 at 3:06pm #

This was posted on the GAP list today:

While not having ridden on the canal since the storm, I have heard from many of my biking friends that there is still a lot of damage on the canal from White’s Ferry down to Georgetown and in some places has left the canal impassible.

Someone else suggested calling the National Park Service’s C&O Canal info line at 301-739-4200 to check current conditions. Their web site shows an alert too, but it’s not very specific.

If the damage is only in that area, you could always take White’s Ferry to Leesburg and follow the W&OD bike trail into Washington.

Can’t wait to do this myself. Have fun!


Private Message

Jul 12 2012 at 4:58pm #

parvipica-you’ll do great. Below is an excerpt of what I give to each of my clients when preparing for the GAP. Sorry if it’s a bit long. Note the emergency numbers/locations for shops on the GAP sections if you get in trouble or need to bail out.


An important part of a great bike tour is preparation.

Nutrition: Be sure to hydrate while riding and eat properly on your trip. You may be surprised by the amount of energy you will be expending, even on the relatively flat stages. Energy bars and a daily ice cream are great to enjoy and boost your energy levels, but more importantly, be sure to eat a full breakfast and take less sugary snacks to eat during the ride. Nuts, pretzels, fruit, and even peanut butter are good, portable sources of consistent energy that last throughout the day.

Suggested Basic Bicycle Equipment:


Bike lock

Spare tube, patch kit



Bell or whistle

Comfortable saddle

Basic Safety Equipment:

First aid kit



Emergency blanket




If you run into problems on the trail both of the bike shops below can send out help to assist you.

West Newton Bicycle Shop (Pittsburgh sections)

110 W Main St

West Newton, PA 15089-1152


Wilderness Voyageurs (Ohiopyle sections)

103 Garrett Street

Ohiopyle, PA


Cumberland Trail Connection (Cumberland sections)

14 Howard Street #A-2

Cumberland, MD

301-777-TRAIL (8724)


Private Message

Jul 12 2012 at 8:55pm #

+1 for Vannevar’s avoidance of the detour.

I did something simlar only stayed on 63/ Speilman Rd untl Bakerville rod and went through the Anteitam Battlefireld, then took Harper’s Ferry Rd south of Sharpsburg.,+Pittsburgh,+PA+15213&daddr=39.50889,-77.74682+to:Washington,+DC&hl=en&ll=39.541911,-77.797966&spn=0.131054,0.220757&sll=39.547471,-77.68158&sspn=0.239849,0.412674&geocode=FWP8aAId5wU8-ykVAV5Rj_E0iDErZTRAkR5tJg%3BFZrbWgIdfK1d-ykHZM8zHPDJiTHAb3U9wnU2aQ%3BFQh-UQIdsoRo-ylb5PZa3sa3iTEqXYjUIkVSwg&dirflg=b&mra=dpe&mrsp=1&sz=11&via=1&t=m&z=12&lci=bike

It was pleasant.

Note: Google directions for bikes recommends something similar to Vannevar’s rt over the official detour.


Private Message

Jul 13 2012 at 2:30am #

FYI, the section by Georgetown is now open again, per further postings. There were 200+ trees down across the trail two weeks ago, but the park rangers have moved them all. Go NPS!


Private Message

Jul 13 2012 at 2:18pm #

Here’s my trip report from Pgh to 50 miles short of DC in March 2009.

that guy

Private Message

Jul 17 2012 at 3:26am #

GAP > Lots of services, less camping

C&O > Lots of camping, less services

And don’t forget to bring a camera!


Private Message

Jul 17 2012 at 12:04pm #

I’ve soloed the Passage/C&O half a dozen times.


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Jul 17 2012 at 3:32pm #

Did this thread title remind anybody else of some lyrics from Gangsta’s Paradise


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Jul 18 2012 at 4:42pm #

Just did the GAPCANDO, trails were mostly open, and as good a condition as the C+O can be. Wish I had known about the shorter detour after Williamsport! We hit a few downed trees close to Great Falls, but from what I understood those were recent.

NPS did a great job of clearing the trail from what we heard the trail was like after the storms.


Private Message

Jul 21 2012 at 8:18pm #

hey, woohoo, i did it! managed to do the whole trip in six days. my biggest accomplishment to date! getting a ride back tomorrow morning. i miss you, pittsburgh! i learned a few things for next time. namely that my salsa casseroll is an amazing bike, but i would probably be way better off with a mountain bike on the c&o. i’m writing salsa a thank-you email, though. that bike kicks ass. i took note of all the best and worst campsites, what the detours are like, and which of my dehydrated meals were actually quite tasty. im going to put together a thingy on later this week. thanks again to everybody for advice on this trip. i am a happy camper.


Private Message

Jul 21 2012 at 8:20pm #

also, NPS did do a great job clearing trees for the most part. the storm i was stuck in my last night was really scary. a tree fell right between my tent and a hiker’s tent. i climbed over about seven or eight that day, but crews were out there working all day.


Private Message

Jul 21 2012 at 9:02pm #

Good Job. Someday I’ll do it. Glad you’re okay with the storms and all.


Private Message

Jul 21 2012 at 9:53pm #

Nice… I still hope to make it this year, I’ll look forward to your writeup.


Private Message

Jul 21 2012 at 11:42pm #

please let us know what the CGOAB url is. Congrats.

Ken Kaminski

Private Message

Jul 22 2012 at 11:10am #

Yes, sounds like useful info.


Private Message

Jul 23 2012 at 2:35pm #

can’t wait for the write up!! We’re leaving in a few weeks!


Private Message

Jul 25 2012 at 11:30pm # So far I have the first three days of the ride transcribed. I’m posting the journal that I wrote while camping word for word, which turns out is very wordy indeed. Hope yinz like!


Private Message

Jul 26 2012 at 1:56am #

Great write up, you should be proud of yourself. Type 2 fun is the best!


Private Message

Jul 26 2012 at 2:36am #

“When people say the C&O towpath is rustic and primitive, what they mean to say is that it is a shitshow squirrel path tour of hell.”

You write with an excellent voice and I’ve really enjoyed reading it. Nicely done.


Private Message

Jul 26 2012 at 3:09am #

Nice writeup! Made me relive what my friends and I just did the week before. Sorry you seem to have had worse weather than us.

I see that you are using the Topeak trunk bag with panniers. That bag annoyed the crap out of me on the first attempt I made on the GAP last year as I couldn’t get into the bag when I needed it, especially after bungying (sic) a tent and sleeping pad over top. Switched to Ortliebs and couldn’t be happier.


Private Message

Jul 26 2012 at 9:06am #

Hmm. I’m not a fan of bugs and especially bees. Maybe I won’t be doing this someday. You didn’t mention bees though. Still, if I did it, I’d seek real shelter every night. You are tough.


Private Message

Jul 26 2012 at 3:16pm #

@ryan- i’ve had the topeak bags for a long time and they’ve served me well. i made a point to only pack things in the topeak that i didn’t need to get to until the tent was set up. the ortleibs in front had all the stuff i would want to access anytime.

@italianblen- i love bugs. bees leave you alone. in fact, at roundbottom camp i had all kinds of wasps landing on me, enjoying my sweat. but bees and stuff are nice if you’re nice to them.


Private Message

Jul 26 2012 at 3:42pm #

yellowjackets, on the other hand, will sting the shit out of you if they think you’re a threat. which means if you’re close enough to their home, basically. they are very territorial and quite aggressive.

bees, on the other hand, i think you have to actually put forth some effort to get stung by.


Private Message

Jul 26 2012 at 3:47pm #

After reading that, I’ve just realized that maybe long distance riding and camping isn’t for me, since I’m terrified of all bugs and bug-like creatures. Especially bees and bee-like creatures.


Private Message

Jul 26 2012 at 3:59pm #

I stepped in a hive when I was little…I still have a slightly irrational fear of bees.


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Jul 26 2012 at 4:32pm #

I was stung on the neck by a wasp when I was 7. They built a nest in my swingset, and I was swinging, and it got me.


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Jul 26 2012 at 4:41pm #


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Jul 26 2012 at 4:44pm #

That guy looks like he should’ve appeared on Space Ghost Coast to Coast


Private Message

Jul 26 2012 at 4:48pm #

or The Venture Brothers


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Jul 26 2012 at 5:02pm #

Or Pittsburgh circa 1987


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Jul 26 2012 at 5:29pm #

parvipica – great log of your travels. It is really fun to read. Sounds like you had a great trip. Bugs and camping are unfortunately outside of my comfort zone, but it is cool to read about the experience.


Private Message

Jul 26 2012 at 6:12pm #

ohhh man, it sounds like i’m talking people out of doing this in a way i had not expected! it’s bugs, they’re everywhere, it’s okay! did nobody notice how much i complained of crotch pain? it’s funny and awesome the rainbow of ways people suffer. i was all about being surrounded by nature and having nature just nestle into my belly button and snuggle me, and that isn’t cool to most people at all. but nobody seems to mind the prospect of EXTREME crotch agony. i love bike people.


Private Message

Jul 26 2012 at 6:43pm #

I really enjoyed reading your travel logs – it was also nice to hear from a female making this kind of trip. Ouch, yes I did notice about the crotch and wrist pain and feeling weird about one of the towns. I’m always surprised to hear and see about the monotony of the GAP. I think that would be part of the preparations for me: I’d have to think of it as a solitary meditation.

Thanks for sharing your experience and the photos were great!

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