Tips for biking DC in November?
I’ll have a week off work in mid-November, and I was thinking of biking to DC in 5 days and spending 1.5 days in DC before taking the train back. I’ll probably mostly stay in motels and BnBs but I’m not against camping if it’s a realistic possibility. I had some questions that I was wondering if anyone could provide some insight to:
- Is biking in Mid-November do-able as far as weather? Is camping possible? Will there be running water?
- Are there any major trail closures or detours that I should know about?
- Are shops and restaurants and stores along the way open during this time? Bike shops?
- Will there be other over-night riders on the trail?
- Is 2 nights in DC for some light exploring a good amount of time? 1 night?
- How much of a hassle is getting the bike in the Amtrak train cargo hold? Do people take all their gear off and lock their bike for security? Does anyone on the train have access to the bike? Could anyone walk off with my bike?
- The train is scheduled to arrive in Pittsburgh at midnight, but I assume it can run late. Is there a nearby overnight parking lot that DC riders tend to use? I live in Mt. Washington but don’t want to count on catching the T in time and I’m afraid I’ll be too tired to bike back home at that hour
- Any other advice or insight I should know about?
my best guesses — probably no handles on the pumps for the C&O campgrounds. Also, there may be several detours along the way. There was a section of the C&O washed out earlier this year in a big storm and it hasn’t been fixed yet, and evidently the detour is on dangerous roads. Also, I’m not sure if the paw paw tunnel will be open by then or if it’ll be closed until the spring. The detour is up and over the hill on a trail that will be hard to ford if it’s snowy or wet.
The C&O website has the most up to date info on it, and calling the park is a joy — people answer the phone, and they are EXTREMELY helpful.
GAP-wise the big savage tunnel may be closed. You can find a detour online.
I assume things will still be open in trail towns, but business hours will be curtailed, I’m sure. The best way to go about this is select a few trail towns and do a Google search for restaurants and bike shops and then get on the phone and call them and ask what their november hours are like.
I’m sure there’s always people on the trail, no matter the weather, etc. You’ll find some thru bikers and walkers and homeless people who camp along the C&O and are harmless. But not a ton of poeple. Id bet you could go for hours at a time in November without seeing another person on the trail.
There is a good amtrak video showing how to use the bike racks. you can lock your bike to them too. I’ve never heard of anyone getting their bike stolen from the baggage car.
8. I’ve done the whole trip once, and most of it (West Newton to Harper’s Ferry) a second time. I’ve only done it in dry weather, but have heard that the C&O can become a muddy mess in the rain. The bottom line: if you are on a road or cyclocross bike, I’d install the biggest tires you can fit, which will also help to prevent pinch flats on the many roots on the C&O trail.
On my first trip I expected the C&O to be like the Yough River Trail, with small towns, food stores, etc. every 15 miles or so. That was not the case. When the towns do exist, they are sometimes at the top of a valley, which you may or may not feel like climbing out of to get food, etc. I would look closely at where services are actually available and plan accordingly – and avoid a mistake I will not make twice. Good luck and please post how it goes.
Agreed. You think”oldtown is the first place on the c/o so it must be big” and you get there and there’s a few houses and a closed for the day diner in an old elementary school. Bring 2x the water and foodn you think you’ll need.
Cell reception can be spotty (Verizon is better than AT&T). When I was there in 2010, there was no cell reception in Paw Paw, WV, for example. You might want to get the booklet “Linking Up” which has lists of lodging places and restaurants near the GAP Trail and C&O Canal Towpath. There’s an online version: https://linkup.shaw-weil.com/
As someone who plans these trips for a living, we don’t recommend mid-November trips. However, if you are absolutely set on traveling at that time here are my tips:
1. Be VERY conservative on mileage. If you want to be realistic about this trip, I’d highly recommend choosing to ride either the GAP OR the C&O, but not both. I have a log of stories about riders doing the trail off season and needing emergency rescues.
2. There will be mud. The C&O will be a mud bog. Watch the park alerts link listed above for detours. You will likely take the on-road detour around McMahons Mill, perhaps to Dam 4. The breach after Brunswick can be crossed if you don’t mind getting wet (although that’s a dangerous time of year to get wet). The on-road route there is not recommended by anyone – and we’ve had people try it. They all said it was terrible, no fun, and dangerous. Shuttling was offered but they may be closed by November.
3. The GAP may have snow at the higher elevations. The Big Savage Tunnel may be closed. Watch GAPTrail.org for that date.
4. You will have much shorter days (daylight goes away quickly that time of year). Another reason to plan for shorter miles. Campsites on the C&O are likely to be cold, wet, and water will probably be off.
5. Consider just riding around DC and not doing the whole trail.
I know it’s not the recommendations you want to hear, but it is the reality. Sorry:(
Thank you everyone and sarapgh2 for the advice and insights. I’ve definitely dialed back some of my plans, and have decided against any camping. Like already stated, it looks like water will be shut off by then. I’m still thinking about attempting the whole thing, but staying in hotels and packing light the whole way. My bike (a Surly Disc Trucker) should be fine in pretty muddy conditions with the current tires I have on it, and I’ve got plenty of winter camping experience. With the plan I made, an average of 10 mph would be fine, and I’m sure I could average higher. I’ll decide whether to commit or do the whole trip another time in the next week or so. Failing and bailing on the trip would not be the end of the world. Thank you again to everybody.
the only issue is with the C&O. Again, especially between cumberland and hancock, there ain’t NOTHING for about 60 miles. So if the trail is muddy, and trees are down, and it gets dark early, etc. etc you’re going to be stuck. Sometimes there’s such a tree canopy that I bet on a moonless night you won’t be able to see anything… That’s the stretch I’d most worry about. The closer you get to DC the more suburban it gets.
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