It’s now a week since I completed my trip from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C., cycling the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Towpath. Here is a recap on my ride and a few random thoughts about the route
Mileage and averages
|Section||Distance in Miles||Hours||Average Speed|
|Pittsburgh to Connellsville||60.2||5:01||11.9|
|Connellsville to Meyersdale||58.1||5:16||10.9|
|Meyersdale to Cumberland||33.14||2:42||12.1|
|Cumberland to Little Orleans||45.66||4:27||10.1|
|Little Orleans to Williamsport||45.7||4:13||10.8|
|Williamsport to Harpers Ferry||42.8||4:17||10.8|
|Harpers Ferry to Mile 0||62.5||5:18||11.4|
Any extra miles are from pedaling around my destination each day, or from exploring some of the towns along the way. The official mileage, Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. is 334. I stopped to take lots of photos, so my average speed was about 1-2 mph slower than usual for this trail.
Leaving Pittsburgh. I was glad to see that there is now a clear, dedicated and off-road route from the Point to the Eliza Furnace Trail, with signage, ramps and dedicated crossings. The last time I came into the Point, in 2016, I had to pick my way the last few blocks along city streets to the Point Park, but now it is much easier and safer. I was following a friend out of the city, so I wasn’t following signage that closely, but it seemed as if the route was well-marked. The route is asphalt all the way to McKeesport.
The C&O Towpath is essentially flat. This is true, except for the occasional drops in elevation (going east) at the locks. This is because the canal waters had to be kept level for the boats. If you are going west you have to do an occasional, small climb. The average lock raised/lowered the canal about 8.1 ft. There are 74 of them and some are remarkably well-preserved and worth stopping to see.
Finding milepost 0 was a challenge. The last few miles into Georgetown were starting to wear on me and I jumped off the Towpath for a few miles and rode the Capital Crescent Trail, which parallels it. I got back on the Towpath just before the end and I was mystified when the pathway abruptly ended in a small plaza. I knew that milepost 0 was at the entrance of Rock Creek, and that Rock Creek had a bike path, so I found it with google maps on my phone. Eventually I got to the Thompson Boathouse and found the milepost behind it. It’s really an out-of-the-way spot. Perhaps I’ll go back up and find it again and write-up some more clear instructions on how to get there.
Fenders. I was wishing that I had fenders on my bike. I actually own some, and even have another detachable rear mud guard, but took a chance that I wouldn’t need them because of the weather. It was a gamble that mostly paid off, but the C&O Towpath can be very muddy, and puddly, and even in decent weather. Fenders would have helped. In order not to get too muddy, I slowed down as I went through puddles and mud and that really slowed me down at points, particularly after it had briefly rained one day. Bike fenders next time!
Coke ovens in Adelaide. Years ago there was a sign near Adelaide that pointed the way to the Coke Ovens on the slope about 25 or so yards from the trail. Either I missed it, or that sign is gone. I think I read that since it’s on private property they no longer want people tramping up through the woods to find them. It’s a shame–there used to be 40,000 coke ovens in the region and it was fun to show people what they looked like and help them imagine the industry of the past.
Pinkerton Tunnel. This is a great addition to the GAP. I first got to use it in 2016. In previous years, riders had to go around it, adding a mile or so to the journey. What a lot of people don’t know is that there used to be a tunnel along the CSX tracks, across the Casselman River. At some point, they decided to do away with the tunnel altogether and blasted away the top of the mountain. They dumped the debris over the Pinkerton tunnel and along the ridge that makes up the Pinkerton Neck. You can see the resulting cut in the photo below.
I will put up another wrap-up post on my bike and gear, to give someone an idea of what kind of stuff you may need for a ride like this, including my packing list.