Every October Kindred Cycles takes a few days to celebrate a successful completed season with a cycling retreat. We like to call this time Camp Kindred. The season is so busy we don't spend as much time riding bikes as we would like and Camp Kindred allows us to spend some time recharging our batteries by doing what we love. This year was our third annual retreat. In 2015, the first season we actually had regular employees, we took the shop to Raystown to ride the Allegrippis trail system that we kept hearing such great things about. Last year, for Camp Kindred 2016, we headed a little further north to State college to ride the great trails in Rothrock State Forest and hang out with some bike shop buddies. This year we decided that it was time for us to complete the GAP and C&O Canal ride to Washington D.C. The D.C trip is such a incredibly popular bicycle touring trip for Pittsburgh based cyclists (and beyond) that we felt we needed first hand experience to better serve our customers. Embarrassingly, before this trip, neither Katharine or myself had ever completed it (Nate and John both have). We had used the trail for overnight camping trips to Cedar Creek and day rides to Ohiopyle, but neither of us had ever gone the whole way. This year was the year.
The 335 mile route to Washington D.C starts follows two trail systems. The Greater Allegheny Passage which runs from Point State Park, here in Pittsburgh and runs 150 miles to Cumberland MD. It is a "Rail Trail" which means it is built on old railroad beds and is comprised of crushed limestone. The trail itself is in great shape. It is very smooth and drains well. As the trail follows rail lines the grades are quite flat never exceeding 2%. That said there is a high point in the trail at the Eastern Continental Divide, at GAP mile marker 23.9, meaning if you are leaving from Pittsburgh you are more or less climbing until you reach that point and descending to D.C afterwards. The C&O towpath is a much different trail. It runs 184.5 miles from Cumberland MD all the way to Georgetown in D.C. As it is a historical towpath it is not maintained in the same manner as the GAP and the trail conditions are known to be more challenging with more mud, rocks, roots, and ruts.
While planning the trip, we decided we needed to set an ambitious schedule if we were going to be able to return to the shop in a reasonable amount of time. It was decided that we would leave Saturday October 7th after closing the shop and attempt to make D.C by Tuesday the 10th so we could open the shop Wednesday. We had a hard deadline of being at the downtown U-Haul by 7 P.M. to pick up our cargo van. The van was necessary for Tandem transport due to them not being allowed on the train. We broke down the days as such:
- Saturday Night
- Pittsburgh to Connellsville 61 miles Camping
- Connellsville to Paw Paw 120ish Cabin
- Paw Paw to Harper's Ferry 100 miles Camping
- Harper's Ferry to D.C. 60 miles
We planned on two nights of camping and one night in a cabin at the Three Otters Eco Retreat, which is located right across the Potomac river from C&O mile marker 151. We brought little to no food, and planned on picking up food as we went. We were a little worried about the weather as tropical storm Nate was barreling up the coast, but luckily we missed the worst of it. If anything, the little bit of rain we encountered on Sunday was a nice respite from the unusual heat and mugginess.
The first night ride was nice and easy. We made it to Connellsville by 11:30 P.M. The camp site is not the most secluded and as it sits right behind a Martin' Grocery store, however it sure was convenient to stock up on food for the next day. Sunday was our longest day. John's garmin said we rode just a little more than 120 miles. It was really tough to get back on the bike Monday morning, but we hobbled on and loosened up to ride another 100 miles to Harper's Ferry. We arrived at Harper's Ferry around 9 and wandered into town in search of beer and food. Unfortunately, almost everything in town was already closed. We were walking the streets looking for any sign of life and not seeing a single soul, but finally I saw a person walking a hundred feet or so ahead of us and I yelled to them to ask for directions to a gas station, however the person turned and ran from us. Katharine barged into a unlocked closed restaurant and was given directions to a local seven eleven by a startled barkeep, and I called and confirmed that they were open and most importantly had beer. Katharine jogged the mile and a half uphill to pick up the sudz and snacks, and John and Josh rode up the big hill and secured the necessary provisions. Nate and I stayed back in the middle of town to guard the tandem and rest AKA drink whiskey. Josh, John, and Katharine returned 40 minutes later with beer and crappy food, and I couldn't have been happier. Those may have been the best beers of my life. We then realized that the next camp site was another 11 miles down the trail, so we actually decided to back track 2.5 miles towards Pittsburgh to the nearest site and make camp.
We woke up Tuesday morning with 63 miles to go just outside of Harper's Ferry. The last day the weather was beautiful and we had the wind at our backs. The excitement of nearly reaching our goal had us riding with gusto. We rolled into Georgetown around 4:30 and found the nearest outdoor restaurant where we could sit outside and watch the bikes. After scarfing down some Thai, Katharine and I jumped on the tandem and pedaled 2.5 miles through downtown D.C in some nasty rush hour traffic to pick up our U-Haul Cargo van and head back to Pittsburgh. We arrived home around 2:30 AM Wednesday morning, grabbed a few winks and opened the shop up later that morning.
The trip went super well and I can't stop thinking about other trips we could get into. Bicycle touring is a blast and I think this might have been the best Camp Kindred yet. I tacked on a bunch of pictures with captions below to give yinz some insight to the trip. If you stop down by the shop to talk about the GAP and C&O we now have firsthand experience of the trail.