Today, I ventured off on my first of two major training rides for my GAP/ C and O through bike.
I tackled the Western Reserve Greenway trail in Ashtabula and Trumbull counties in Ohio. I started at the trailhead in Austinburg. I had wanted to start in Ashtabula but the trailhead there was rather sketchy.
I was packed down with all my camp gear and a simulated load for my food and town clothes, around 20-30 extra pounds on the bike.
I would cover 80 miles round trip, averaging a speed of around 12 miles per hour, right where I wanted to be. Fueling went splendidly and nothing fell off or broke. Only one run in with an unruly dog and it’s oblivious owner.
I saw lots of wildlife, multiple deer, birds, a raccoon, a snapping turtle and a fox.
After my usual toss and turn night, I slept better and was not up by 0400 and almost made it to my alarm at 0500. I was a bit nervous this morning as it hit me, what I was going to accomplish over the next six days.
I got up, showered, shaved and packed the rest of my gear and at 0600, I departed home after kissing all the kiddies and ensuring that I loved them.
Day 1- July 3- Pittsburgh to Connellsville- 60 miles
The ride out of Pittsburgh was chaotic and noisy as I drove past the ghosts of the old town. Lots of urban riding but nothing out of hand. Once out of the city, the trail grew gradually quieter and people sparser. Just as I was thinking it was getting to be a long day, I was at 40 miles with 20 more to go. Once at camp, I got my gear off and sorted and camp set up. A volunteer named Barry watched my bike while I walked over to Martins for water and fruit. I would meet my goal of not setting up my tent
Day 2- July 4- Revenge of the neuroma – Connellsville- Meyersdale Pa- 58.9 miles
Well, it started off well and good but in 2012 I broke a few toes training for a 50k and have had trouble with a neuroma and arthritis ever since( I ran said 50k with said broke toes). My left foot burned and ached like hell after 55 miles yesterday and after about 10 miles this morning, I realized that the toe cages on my pedals placed too much of the ball of my foot in the pedal, causing the problem. I stopped, removed the cages and the problem was fixed, no acheies or burnies for the rest of the ride.
I made it to Ohiopyle for second breakfast, a blueberry muffin and a cup of coffee. Yum. Saw the falls and made my way to Confluence for morning snack and a water fill up. I covered 40 miles and I was lucky enough to have reception for a meeting that I was not sure I would be able to attend. I stopped and had lunch. And just like yesterday, as the miles were getting longer, I only had 10 more miles to go.
Camp tonight is the Maple Festival Grounds in Meyersdale, Pa.
I found beer and ice cream
Day 3- July 5- Meyersdale, Pa to Cumberland, Md- 32.89 miles
Today would be all about trestles and tunnels. This section of trail towards Cumberland had a lot of tunnels today. Up by 0600, out by 0700, I would stop for breakfast at Donges Drive in. There is a real shitty hill climbing out of Myersdale, but I put it into low gear and climbed my way out, breaking my first sweat of the day.
Climbing out of Myersdale and settling in for the ride, I soon made it to the first set of trestles and shortly after that, the Eastern Continental Divide. After this, it was smooth sailing going downhill into Cumberland.
Eastern Continental Divide
There was a lot to see today, the views were gorgeous and the wildflowers were in full bloom. My spiritual practice this week is on joy and I was thinking about the practice of mudita this morning at breakfast.
Mudita is word from Sanskrit and Pali that has no counterpart in English. It means sympathetic or unselfish joy, or joy in the good fortune of others.
Defining mudita, we might consider its opposites. One of those is jealousy. Another is schadenfreude, a word frequently borrowed from German that means taking pleasure in the misfortune of others. Obviously, both of these emotions are marked by selfishness and malice. Cultivating mudita is the antidote to both.
Mudita is described as an inner wellspring of joy that is always available, in all circumstances. It is extended to all beings, not just to those close to you. In the Mettam Sutta (Samyutta Nikaya 46.54) the Buddha said, “I declare that the heart’s release by sympathetic joy has the sphere of infinite consciousness for its excellence.”
Sometimes English-speaking teachers broaden the definition of mudita to include “empathy.”
Soon, I would come to the Mason Dixon Line and the end of the GAP trail in Cumberland. It would start raining but who cares, it is what it is. I found me a cheap set of pedals that should get me to DC and then lunch. This first half of the ride was definitely Type 1 fun.
Day 4- July 6- Cumberland, MD to Hancock, MD- 63.29 miles – “easy like Sunday morning”
Day 1 of the Chesapeake and Ohio canal trail and I did not fully realize that this would be a full on gravel ride requiring all of my gravel riding skills. Also, there is no water along this section of trail, there are water pumps but it appears the potability is questionable.
I made Paw Paw in 30 miles and went through liter of water. I bought 2 liters of water, coffee and a pastry for second breakfast. Nothing says loving like gas station coffee and prepackaged snack pastries. Soon it was time to ascend the famous Paw Paw detour I have been hearing about for months. Going up sucked but descending was spicy and technical, I did not expect to have to use these skills on this trip.
I would make it to Hancock and spend the night at the C and O bunkhouse. Hancock is a sleepy Maryland town with suprisingly nothing going on given it’s proximity to the tow path and the Western Maryland rail trail. I found ice cream and given logistics for day 5, decided to eat at the Potomac River Grille.
Day 5 – July 7- Hancock, MD- Brunswick, VA – 74.34 miles- “my ass hurts”
Day 5 had a lot in store. First off, it was raining for the first couple of hours but cleared by mid morning. Being a sometime insomniac, I was up by 0500 and out of camp by 0700, unfortunately, in trying tonget better tire pressure for the trail conditions, I flatted my tire and could not get it to inflate. Back to C and O till they opened at 0800 and then I hit the trail. Because of a trail closure, my already long day was going to be a bit longer. This detour caused me some consternation as the intel about this closure was a bit sparse. It turned out to not be that bad and soon I was back on my way.
Before I do this kind of trip again, I need to solidify my mechanical skills. Today, everything made noise, breaks, gears and bottom bracket all seemed to say, “what the heck?”
Despite the length, 5 days of riding really showed today, I felt strong and by the time I decided my ass hurts, I had 15 miles to go. The scenery and the history was amazing today, truly a place touched by God.
Day 6- July 8 – Brunswick, VA to Washington, DC- The rest of the miles- 59.47 miles
Last day on the trail. I really tried sleeping in this morning as Beans in the Belfry did not open till 0800. Guess what? I was up by 0530. I took my time and left camp by 0715 and sat and read the news for 30 minutes. Zac Brown’s song, “Knee Deep” really resonated with me as I read the headlines this morning.
I got on the trail at 0845 and it was relatively smooth sailing the entire day. Admittedly, my legs really felt it today and it took me a moment to get the legs warmed up. By 1000 though, I hit my stride. There was so much to see today. I really found the aqueducts and the engineering that went into these very fascinating.
One of the features I have been looking forward to was the Great Falls and they did not disappoint.
Done. It was a bit confusing to figure out the end and to get to mile 0, but after 5 ish hours of riding, the ride was over.
Bike- Raleigh Williard 2 modified with a granny gear and a more flared out drop bar. For tires, I used Maxxis Ravager 40 mils set at 50psi in the front and 60psi in the back. I started with a clipless pedal but it bothered my neuroma so I switched to mountain bike platform pedals in Cumberland and had jo further problems.
Ortlieb panniers, the classic ones, I used a feed bag to keep snacks, my phone and sanitizer close at hand. Camp gear was any standard lightweight backpacking gear, use what works for you.
I kept a Giant frame bag with 2 liters of water with 2 sticks of Tail Wind endurance fuel. I would go through about 4 liters of this a day, adding two sticks of Tailwind per fill up.
I carried a jetscream 100dB whistle to alert walkers, runners and other cyclists. Surprisingly, it made very little difference with this verses a bell. I used both in training and ultimately settled for the whistle.
I trained for about 6 months for this ride. I did single day distances in the 50-80 mile range and did a two day bike pack shake out of 127 miles. Anybody can do this ride. You will need some technical riding skills and your basic into to mountain biking course will be helpful for the more technical C and O towpath.
Finally, expect things to go wrong, anticipating the problems and planning for them will make a more enjoyable ride. Have a Standard Operating Procedure and stick to it.