As we racked up the miles on the first half of our trek, five days on the Great Allegheny Passage, we heard it again and again from the owner of Confluence Cycles, from B&B hosts, from little old ladies in quaint lunch spots: “The C&O isn’t like the GAP.”
They got that right.
The Great Allegheny Passage was developed by volunteer trail groups that worked hard to get the funding and turn a number of shorter local segments into one long, amazing connection promised for its modern uses. The C&O Canal Towpath, by contrast, is managed by the National Park Service in keeping with its history. That is to say, bumpy.
And on our first day in particular, right after the torrential rain that we slogged through the day before, full of muddy, gluey patches and puddles that grabbed our front tires. Eric reminded me about the trick of easing back on the seat to sort of float the front tire rather than burying it with my weight and that helped a bit, but those vibrations and the slewing of the tire that you have to wrestle under control really add up over a long day.
Day 1 was made longer by the closure of the Paw Paw Tunnel for repairs after a rockslide. We hiked for over a mile and a half, wrestling our bikes up and then down a really steep rocky hill with tree roots everywhere. I struggled and Eric grabbed first one of my bags, then the other, so I just had to get myself and the bike through this bit. My hero!
Our reward at the end of the day was a stay in the Town Hill B&B, really more of a country inn. In a fun twist, the structure was constructed in the earliest days of car travel to cater to this new-fangled automobile thing. Today the hosts see business from weddings and events but 60% of their annual business–75% during the peak months April-September–comes from bike travelers. They pick travelers up with a trailer to haul bikes five miles up a steep, narrow, winding road with no shoulders, then haul them back down to pick up again where they left off pedaling–much appreciated!
I was wiped by our 47 miles but the toughest section was now behind us and it didn’t rain so yay for that too. The heavy fog prevented us from seeing the outstanding views from the mountaintop, which provides a great excuse to come back for more of the baked oatmeal made with grains grown by the Amish neighbors and more Alabama tomato pie, among myriad delicious treats.
Day 2 after a fabulous and justifiably famous breakfast we rode four or five miles before jumping into the parallel PAVED Great Maryland Rail Trail. No trail vibrations for 20 miles–woohoo! That big breakfast fueled us much of the ride, supplemented with yet another Clif Bar, the 45 total miles to Williamsport and a refueling stop at the Waffle Houser next door to our motel. Again no rain, with an improving forecast the last few days of the trip.
You know you’re really on vacation when you only know how many days you’ve been riding, not what day/date it is, and you eat because you’re hungry, not because the clock says to.
Day 6: Cumberland to Little Orleans, 47 miles
Day 7: Little Orleans to Williamsport, 43 miles
Total miles to date: 251
(Total mileage per day includes getting to and from our lodgings so it doesn’t match the trail mileage)