Biking the GapC&O, Trip Summary

Over our celebration beer at the Pittsburgh Airport we tallied up our week… 372 miles!  Woo-hoo!

What a fun and active trip! I already miss the trains with their rumble and engines and screeching wheels and long whistle blasts; the river with her laughter and burble in the rocks, and the crunch of tires as we rode tree-lined corridors through the woods.  The leaves were just starting to turn and drop onto the trail… in a few weeks Fall will be in full color.

Memories of places stick with us, and perhaps best are the little surprises we didn’t anticipate.  One of my expectations was a week of mostly gas station food and trail mix – not exactly the Mediterranean diet I was just encouraged to take up.  Yet everywhere we visited served amazing meals and hospitality…

… sherry on the balcony reading Civil War history in Shepherdstown…

..actually enjoying roasted Brussels sprouts and wishing there were a few more…

…farm-to-table meals, fresh arugula and beet salads, local produce.  Even at the airport.  Look out Portland…

… homemade chicken pot pie, and a great breakfast to follow in a town whose only businesses were a Dollar General, a gas station and an ice cream store (I know, chicken pot pie is not Mediterranean. Tough! We burned thousands of calories every day).

Part of the fun when staying in B&Bs is getting to know folks, and we enjoyed each of the innkeepers.  Some met us with warm cookies, some met us with a garden hose ready to blast off the trail mud… all were friendly and bike-friendly.  

It was the kind of trip I truly enjoy… something new to see everyday, a built-in challenge that stretches your skills, great company, and time to think and reflect while pedaling along, looking at the scenery.  Nature, in all her inherent beauty, the way it has always been, long before we got ourselves wrapped around the axle with cell phones, high pressure jobs, TV and all the other fixations that pull us into the cocoon rather than Out, out into a world of falling leaves and Mason-Dixon lines and towpaths that were envisioned by George Washington.

I know my European friends might scoff at my interest in such recent history, but I’m calibrated to the American timeline and crossing the path of Founding Father events are rare.  There were many on this trip.

You also learn that some innkeepers like scented things.  Rose and lavender potpourri is a common cliché, but we didn’t find any of that this trip… instead this week I learned the existance of thai dragon fruit dish soap,  peach bodywash, olive oil hand soap, awapuhi (??, sounds like a Hawaiian fish, or a giant sneeze…) ginger shampoo, himilayan pink salt and water lily soap.  Who knew of this world beyond Dial?

Thank you Bruce, for inviting me along.  You did all the research for this trip – scheming out the distances we could travel without collapsing, making the bulk of the arrangements, figuring out historical and cultural excursions, and tolerating the frequent interruptions as I played tourist snapping photos or just general dallying around (a weakly disguised ploy to return circulation).

And thanks especially to our wives Patti and Susan for supporting us and holding down the homestead and all those duties while we’ve been out wandering around.  We hope you shared a bottle of wine and enjoyed not having us underfoot for a bit.

Stats for the trip: 372 trail miles in eight days,  average 46 miles/day, longest day 59.9 miles, followed by three 47+ mile days.  Close to 40 hours on the bike, 2,280 foot vertical rise to cross the Eastern Continental Divide,  and 16,000 calories burned (according to Strava, who I like to wish is on the low side).

Let’s do it again!

Biking the GapC&O, Eureka, Pittsburgh!

We were happy to see the sun peeking over the ridge this morning… hopes  of a dry shoe day!  I needed to deal with a leaky tire first thing, and even a new tube didn’t fix it.  Bruce had checked the local bike shop already so they were ready for me when I rolled in.  Twenty minutes later we rolled out of town, all fixed for our last day on the trail.

It’s bittersweet this morning, even at 30+ miles we know we’re on the home stretch.

We caught up  (again) with Mike. We’ve crossed his path every day since Paw Paw.  He’s the cleanup man of a fivesome – the others blast ahead with the tent, and he brings everything else on a trailer he’s pulling.  They camped just a mile short of West Newton, under lean-to shelters, had a big bonfire, slept dry and comfortable.

As we get closer to Pittsburgh the trail narrows and we get much closer to our friends at CSX.

We’re still a good hour ride from the end, but we needed to stop for lunch… and early celebration.


Starting into Pittsburgh

Hot Metal Bridge 

We’re back – here’s where the trip started for me 8 days ago at the bike shop.

Yet we’re not quite done.  The weather is threating us with a soaking but we’re only a mile from the literal end of the trail

The GAP ends right at the tip of Pittsburgh’s waterfront park

Right past that fountain to the water’s edge is the trail marker

Yeah! What a fun trip!


Mike, the guy we passed this morning, who just had finally pulled into lunch when we pulled out… just passed us at the bike shop as we turned in our gear, on his way to the seal in the park.

Today’s Stats: 37.7 trail miles. 1 continuing flat, finally fixed. No animals, lots of people.

Biking the GapC&O, Friday, to West Newton, PA

We’re up, packed and on our way by 8am. The Antique Store proved to be a nice arrangement for us.

A quick hour’s riding this morning, followed by a short bus ride up a dangerous hill brought Bruce and I to the Kaufmann’s “summer cabin” Falling Water, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The home is all cantilevers, creating the floating sensation and extension-of-the-rocky-outcrop look.  This next picture is an example of Compression, with the narrow main entrance just to the left of the folks in the foreground. That narrow entrance leads into Expansion… a large open livingroom/dining room with a panoramic view and porch thst draws you in and out into the woods and down the stream.  Patty H., I think you’d like this tour.  Everything is horizontal lines, and sourced right from the hillside

Here’s the iconic picture we’ve all seen, taken just downstream from the residence (from the spot the Kaufmann’s suggested as the building site.  Wright said no, we’re going to build it in the stream, on top of the waterfall).

Now I’d like to tour Kentuck Knob.  Ok, back to the trail. We packed our lunch to have a few miles – tasty sandwiches on fresh-made bread from the Ohiopyle Bakery.  It’s a pretty area in here with the river below and large rock and coal deposits beside us.  Some of the coal seams are almost jet black.

At Connellsville I had a slow leak, but had just riden past a bike shop, so we spun around to have them fix it.  We were back on our way in an hour.

Here’s a sight I’ve been waiting to see for several days

Woo-hoo! We’re now well over 300 trail miles.

That hour for the air leak proved almost too much for us… we’d already been in and out of sprinkles all afternoon, but right after the photo above the sky just opened up and we were drenched in a downpour – soggy in 30 seconds.  The trail, although well-drained, turned into a grit, mud and puddle fest.  We still had 13 miles to go, so when we arrived at the B&B we were soaked through except where high tech jackets kept us dry. Bruce has mud in his hair

Hot showers can fix anything, that and a quick load of laundry while we fixed out spirits with two beers and the Trail Burger (big burger, fried egg, ham slice, tomato, lettuce) at the locally famous Trailside Pub and beer locker

It was DJ night and KOOL DJ Dave was blasting out country westerns with acvompanying videos in the flat screens.


Worst food idea I’ve seen yet on the trail

Best meal of the day: toss-up between mulitgrain ham sandwich or the over-the-top beef/egg/ham whamo-burger I just had for dinner

Stats: 56 trail miles, 2 flat tires (I shared about my first one.  I didn’t mention that the same tire was going flat a few mile from a warm shower – ughh, wait till tomorrow to deal with that).  1 woodchuck.

Biking the GapC&O, Thursday, to Confluence, PA

We had a great breakfast this morning at the Allegheny Trail House… Jess is a chef and also runs Shift, our dinner choice last night.
The rains caught up with us today (hurricanes in the Caribbean, flooding in the Carolinas and Washington DC, 1-3 inches expected locally), so full rain gear and a steady 8 mile climb to top out on the Eastern Continental Divide.

Euekra! ITS ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE.  We’re headed to the right on that diagram… staying in Confluence tonight.

(Three weeks ago to the day, I was standing with my brother-in-law Greg on top of the Western Continental Divide which runs through the Rockies… and over Grays Peak – see Sept 8 blog).

We immediately picked up speed on the exit from the tunnel… wow, did that feel great!
Six miles later we stopped at the Meyersdale teain depot/history museum to shake out our rain jackets, knock off some mud and dry out a bit.  The station master told us some of the story making rhe GAP – 40 years in the making

Even in the rain, this section of the trail is gorgeous… maples, oaks, just starting to change color.

Into Confluence and the Loft… our home-away-from-home above the Antique Store.  

Keep in mind this a town of a few hundred… one gas station, one fruit market, one grocery store… 

…sporting Bruce’s seal of acceptable quality:

This is maple syrup and Amish country

The Confluence FoodMart doesn’t sell alcohol, but pointed us to the other side of the square to find the beverage of our choice at Dodd’s Hotel, Tavern, Pool Hall, and Beer Store.  Here’s Bruce escaping with the loot…

It’s Gourmet Night… not to be outdone by our Frostburg experience, we’re dining in this evening… tortellini in sauce, garlic bread accompanied with a fresh salad


Riding in the rain, and finding out we’d planned well enough to stay mostly dry. We weren’t cold, and the air was fresh.

Finding other cyclers along the wet trail to talk to (mostly in tunnels) – a couple from Australia, for instance.

Climbing over the Continental Divide on a bike, and the joy of gliding downhill for the first time in days.

Watching another set of riders who are happy to see their support wagon pull into town (with their bags and dry clothes)… and knowing we have ours with us.

Enjoying a hot shower and a home meal, dry shoes and a few beers.
Stats: 1 deer, 5 trains, 1 turtle (sleeping on the trail, no less), no flats.  49.6 trail miles, 278 miles thus far.

Biking the GapC&O, Wednesday, to Frostburg, MD

Breakfast was spent with an eastbound cyclist and centered on weather discussions

We are sitting between those two nasty storms, and they’re predicting flash floods with up to 3″ of rain – a sure way to turn the tow path into a mud pit.  We are planning to race northwest and finish the C&O in 30 miles at Cumberland.

Our mid-morning companion

Thankfully, the rain held off and we made it to Cumberland and the end of the canal tow path for lunch

Waiting at mile zero is this replica canal boat

Lunch is hearty and somewhat healthy.

Time for the afternoon entertainment.  We now switch to the Great Allegheny Passage (the GAP) for another 15 miles to Frostburg.  What the sign doesn’t mention is the 1,200 foot elevation gain that’s thrown in for free.

Welcome to the GAP

The GAP is a rails-to-trail conversion that still has a running steam train that covers the first 15 miles.



Best meal: Chicken couscous with an arugula/quinoa/beet salad, Switch, Frostburg, MD

Best adult beverage: Apothic Red, California

Stats: 41.7 trail miles, 1,711 ft elevation gain, with no walking (Strava prove it).

Biking the GapC&O, Tuesday, to Paw Paw, WV

Today was just a Scenic Day on the trail, starting at 100, ending past 150.

Along the way:

Dam #5

Pretty trail… and most important… the rain has held off

Hancock, MD (where I got my front tire trued up after some stump encounter)

Healthy lunch on the trail

After 10 miles of isolated trail I pulled into a nice campground area along the Potomac, and Bruce rode out of the woods 5 min later, working against a slow leak in his back tire.

You have to believe in Providence when our only flat thus far presents itself a half mile from a beautiful campground with a picnic table to work on…  and an adventure biking tour company van pulls into the parking lot 15 min later – with a full assortment of tools and tire pumps!

The canal company decided to drill 3000 feet through the mountain at this point, creating the Paw Paw Tunnel

There’s Bruce and David on top

Almost out.  The tunnel proved to be a poor bet for the canal company. They were losing the race of time against the railway which was also following a similar route and bidding to win their customers. The estimate of 2 years to construct turned into 14 years, costing the C&O a lot of revenue for this section of the river.

Pulling into PawPaw

We arrived in Paw Paw WV, met Scott and Carol who own the Wrenwood Inn, bought a six-pack, and sat on the porch, listening to  Scott’s stories about the town, the apple orchard business that  (literally) went under with a flood in the 1930s, and his grandfather’s childhood memories of the circus coming to town on the train, including a bear that could be wrestled with.  The same circus used to come to Paw Paw on canal boats.

This may be a small town, but they’re well represented in the beer department at the Liberty gas station/ convenience store:

(Carolyn – the worldwide popularity of Goose Island continues!).  Tonight’s selection after balancing many factors for front porch harmony:

Before dinner we went across the street and harvested paw paws in front of the post office.  Banana-avocado is close to describing the flavor.

Highlights: 4 deer, 3 turtles, 1 woodchuck,  no snakes

Beer of the day: Yuengling Black and Tan, in Paw Paw, WV

Stats: 59.9 trail miles, one tunnel, 1 flat tire.

Biking the GapC&O, Monday, to Williamsport, MD

The day started with a great breakfast at the Shepherdstown B&B and nice conversation with fellow bikers who made up all guests of the folks last evening. 

We hit the trail at 10 a.m., a leisurely start and made it to the Antietam Battleground about a half-hour later. 
After watching the brief video we slowly biked around the different tour sites and read about the battle.

This was a sobering morning… so many lives were lost.  I had not learned, or more likely didn’t remember, the significance of this battle that occurred 18 months into the Civil War.  From the Union’s perspective it was an opportunity to reverse a string of military setbacks, and more critically, President Lincoln was seeking a Union battle success to press for emancipation; from the Confederate side it was a bold opportunity to gain victory on Union soil and convince Europeans, notably Great Britain and France, to recognize the Confederacy diplomatically and likely deliver critically-needed supplies.

The cornfield stunned me. It’s here that several regiments of Union and Confederate forces clashed, coming from different angles, unable to see more than perhaps a dozen feet (Bruce is in the last picture, in a bright yellow jacket, maybe three rows deep).  By the end of that single day, over 8,000 men laid dead in that field, almost equal losses on each side.

In this area of rolling hills over 100,000 troups opposed each other, with 22,000 casualties at the end if the day.

We departed the National Battleground and started back toward the C&O. In less than a mile we stopped for lunch at the Battleground Deli, Bait Shop, and Liquor store – who could pass this up?

Bruce’s favorite lunch spot today, and it was tasty (part of the selection criteria is based on the establishment’s availability of live bait).  We recommended the deli to fellow cyclists later in the day.

We rode along the Potomac all afternoon.

Corn fields along the way

We pulled into historic Williamsport and our B&B, had a great italian meal followed by local ice cream, and watched an hour of the presidential debate before we passed out.

The Candlelight B&B is the yellow three story mid-block


No snakes, 1 deer.

Self-policing: if you’ve done wrong in Williamsport, just pay up and put it in the box

Stats: 38.6 trail miles. Max speed 28.6mph, Woo-hoo!