I will spend the first seven days of my 53 day long ride on the C&O Canal Towpath, plus a tiny fraction of day 8 as I ride from the last Hiker/Biker campground into Cumberland, Maryland to start onto the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail-trail to Pittburgh, Pennsylvania. Here’s what that looks like on a map.
As I have noted previously, the Towpath is 184.5 miles/296.9 miles long. That breaks down nicely into six just about 30 mile/50 kilometer riding days. Once again as noted there are nicely spaced camping and other lodging opportunities along the entire towpath, so it is easy to stay within a few miles/kilometers of that figure every day.
I’ve been asked by several folks, “Why 30 miles/50 km?” I have an easy answer for that.
And what does that mean? Well, that’s how old I’ll turn about two-thirds of the way into the ride. If you live in southern Illinois and want to come celebrate my 66th birthday with me, feel free, but bring your own cake. Back to the point- my last experience cycling any appreciable mileage with a loaded bike on any sort of unpaved surface was… hmmm… well, never, actually. I had a few stretches on my Atlantic Coast ride two years ago and one hellish “road closed” ride on a levee in bright sun and 90 degree (F)/33 degree (C) heat for about 25 miles/40 kilometers last fall in the state of Mississippi riding down the river of the same name, but for 300 miles/500 kilometers at a stretch?
I hate washboarded gravel that makes your panniers feel like they are about ready to tear loose. I detest those big occasional rocks that sneak under the tires every so often regardless of how hard you watch for them and leave you feeling like your front rim is about to taco. I despise those little rocks that get shot out from under the side of the tires with a “Pu-twang!!” noise that has you knowing you are just about to have a catastrophic flat. But most of all I just hate being too old to enjoy the little frisson from engaging in risky behavior that goes with these things. In short, pavement has always been my friend.
So, after a huge leap of faith based on reports from friends that neither the Towpath nor the GAP was that bad, I decided to give the two of them, and the KATY and Rock Island rail-trails later on in the trip, a shot. Out of an abundance of caution, though, I used 30 miles/50 kilometers a day as my planning factor as opposed to the usual 50 miles/80 kilometers for any day I was riding off pavement just in case. This added about seven days to the length of my ride. Will that have been necessary? I guess we’re about to find out.