Adventure Recap: Pittsburgh to Washington, DC

The Excellent Adventure started at the Pacific Ocean at Seaside, Oregon on May 1, and ended at the Atlantic Ocean at Sandbridge Beach, Virginia on August 11, 2019.  I’m posting recaps of the Adventure, now that I have time to write about the experience.

Adventure Ride Day 50 – Pittsburgh to Connellsville, PA

July 19 – I said good-bye to Bob and Rosie, transferred just enough gear to Annie and Jeff’s car to get me through the ride to DC and Richmond, and headed out in the early morning with Jeff for the Great Allegheny Passage.  This bike trail is built along an old railroad line, and runs 150 miles from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, Maryland.  It’s a finely packed, well-maintained gravel trail that makes the trip through the Allegheny Mountains much easier than taking country roads up and down the hills and mountains.  Jeff and I made good time and finished the 60 mile ride in about 4 ½ hours.  We got to our hotel in Connellsville before check-in time, so we hung out in the air-conditioned lobby, rehydrated, and rode our bikes into town to meet Annie and Jules for a snack at the Kickstand Kitchen, a little place that survives on the bicyclists passing through on the trail.  Later we went out for Mexican and had a great time attempting to contain Jules’s food to the general vicinity of our table.

Jeff and I leaving Pittsburgh via the GAP trail

Miles: 60.72
Avg. speed:   13.5 mph
Ascending feet: 748 ft.

Peak elevation:  903 ft.
Ending Elevation:  875 ft.
Net elevation gain:  144 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 51 – Connellsville, PA to Cumberland, Maryland

July 20 – With a long ride ahead of us on the GAP trail, Jeff and I headed out early again.  The route followed the Youghiogheny River for most of the morning.  We stopped at the Falls Market in Ohiopyle for a cold drink, and had lunch at a funky place in Rockport had antiques and oddities for sale that appeared to be collections of people in town.  Just before the Maryland state line, we crossed the Eastern Continental Divide.  You can’t miss it on the GAP Trail.



Much of the GAP Trail follows the Youghiogheny RIver



Jeff enjoying a gourmet lunch in Rockport





It looks like a big hill, but the scale is misleading.  The grade is typically under 2%.



The Mason-Dixon line is also well-marked.  I memorialized the visit with a selfie, which Jeff alertly photobombed.


Jeff making the trek from Pennsylvania to Maryland

The last several miles of the ride were a fast downhill through the Cumberland Gap into Cumberland, where the GAP trail ends and the C&O Canal towpath begins.


Jules having his recovery meal after our ride.

Miles: 92.25
Avg. speed:   13.5 mph
Ascending feet: 3,567 ft.

Peak elevation:  2,587 ft.
Ending Elevation:  617 ft.
Net elevation gain:  -260 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 52 – Cumberland, MD to Clear Spring, MD

July 21 – Annie and Jeff had to get back to work in Washington, so we parted ways in the morning.  I planned to ride on my own for the next 2 or 3 days and meet them again in the DC area.  Jeff had ridden the C&O Canal towpath a few times before, so he cautioned me about the trail, recommending I ride the gravel bike with the wider tires than my road bike.  It turned out to be a very good recommendation.

The towpath is a popular path for cyclists, but most of the riders are recreational riders going short distances.  The National Park Service maintains it, but there are long stretches of the towpath that are bumpy, muddy ruts.  So it was a slow ride.

The C&O canal was built in the 1800’s to facilitate commercial shipping to the developing west.  Eventually, it gave way to land transportation by rail and truck, and the canal became obsolete.  For decades, it sat in a state of decay, disrepair and overgrowth.  Now the towpath used by the horses to pull barges up the canal has been restored into an established trail for hikers and bicyclists.  Old stone locks and lockhouses that could be preserved have been, and signs along the route describe the history of the trail.


A typical section of the towpath. Most of the time it’s like a wagon path, with two of these paths side by side.  It’s not a road bike trail.
One of the old canal locks.
Another canal lock.
A lock-keeper’s house.
The Paw Paw Tunnel.  It’s long and VERY dark.  I walked the bike through.
Throughout the Adventure, I’ve seen species of deer unique to each region. If you look, you’ll a white-tail couple.

I rattled along the trail, until I got to the junction called Little Orleans where there was an establishment with food and drink.  Sign outside said, “welcome, bicyclists”, but there was no place to park the bike.  No credit cards allowed, signs about the Second Amendment, a confederate flag on the wall and a gruff guy taking orders from a chair at the center of the bar.  Lovely ambience.

But I was able to rehydrate and cool off and make my way down the trail to the turnoff to the Western Maryland Rail Trail, which is a much better trail for bicycling and parallels the C&O Canal for several miles.  I then turned off to head to Clear Spring, where I checked into my hotel for the night just before a massive thunderstorm passed through.

Miles: 80.76
Avg. speed:   11.4 mph
Ascending feet: 1,138 ft.

Peak elevation:  562 ft.
Ending Elevation:  516 ft.
Net elevation gain:  -9 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 53 – Clear Spring, MD to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia

July 22 – There was rain in the forecast for today, but the hourly forecast indicated that I could get as far as Harper’s Ferry before the worst of it, so I headed out from the hotel for the short ride to Harper’s Ferry.  The route took me through Sharpsburg, the site of one of the major battles of the Civil War.  Sometimes called the Battle of Antietam, this conflict involved soldiers from Maryland on both sides.  The positions occupied where I passed were Confederate, and were memorialized along the road.





A mortarless stone wall, likely pre-dating the Civil War.

I made it back onto the towpath and sloshed my way through the mud and fallen branches for several miles.  The last 5 miles, though, were on a freshly resurfaced portion of the path. I rode over the old railroad bridge over the Potomac into Harper’s Ferry, and through the town to the hotel, where they gave me a rag and access to a hose to wash the bike.

Improvements to the towpath heading into Harper’s Ferry
The workers allowed me to be the inaugural rider on the new surface.
The Potomac River



Harper’s Ferry, WV
At Harper’s Ferry, the Shenandoah River (on the right) joins the Potomac.


It was early in the day, so I walked back into Harper’s Ferry to explore.  A little drizzle turned into another big thunderstorm, which stranded me in a bus shelter for a while, before I was able to explore the town, much of which has now become a national park memorializing the roles that Harper’s Ferry played as a launching point for westward exploration (Lewis and Clark gathered provisions here), as the site of John Brown’s famous and ill-fated slave rebellion before the Civil War, and as a strategic prize of the competing armies of the North and South during the Civil War.


The Appalachian Trail runs through Harper’s Ferry, and I hiked a short segment on my way back to my hotel.


Miles: 32.74
Avg. speed:   10.9 mph
Ascending feet: 1,509 ft.

Peak elevation:  542 ft.
Ending Elevation:  356 ft.
Net elevation gain:  -183 ft.

Adventure Ride Day 54 – Harper’s Ferry, WV to Washington DC/Silver Spring, MD


July 23 – I started the day riding back through Harper’s Ferry and over the bridge back to the C&O canal towpath.  The trail began as a continuation of the nicely resurfaced path I had experienced at the end of the ride the day before.  But it only lasted 5 miles before I was back on the dirt and gravel towpath.  The thunderstorm from the previous day had downed large tree limbs, in a couple of places completely blocking the trail.  I was able to climb through the branches with my bike and move on.  But it was another muddy ride.

Storm damage on the towpath.
A C&O canal aquaduct. From here, I left the towpath to get on paved roads to Silver Spring.
Time to clean the bike after the ride
It was a muddy day all around.

My intention had been to take the towpath all the way to its end in Georgetown and then ride the Rock Creek Trail north through DC towards Silver Spring, where I would stay with Annie and Jeff.  But the going on the trail was so slow and my skull had been shaken enough.  So I decided to take a more direct route on paved roads through the western and northern suburbs.  In many places, there were excellent bike trails along the sides of the roads and through greenways, which is typical of the DC metro area.  Sometimes this was city cycling.  Everywhere, the traffic was intense.

It was great to pull into Annie and Jeff’s house.  I got to play grandpa with Jules and review the whole experience with Jeff and Annie.  They were great hosts, and I had the next day to rest, do some laundry, and transfer my gear to my Bianchi bike (which they had transported for me and could accept panniers) and which I would use for the ride to Richmond via Fredericksburg and then on to the beach.

Miles: 56.84
Avg. speed:   10.6 mph
Ascending feet: 2,710 ft.

Peak elevation:  600 ft.
Ending Elevation:  366 ft.
Net elevation gain:  9 ft.

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