The high 5s - My C&O and GAP Pandemic Tour - CycleBlaze

October 16, 2020

The high 5s

The good, the bad, and the ugly of this pandemic tour

Life has returned to normal, as normal as it can be in today's world, after almost a week at home. Waking up and pedaling the day away has been replaced with laundry, paying bills, and other mundane tasks. This was my firth end-to-end C&O and GAP tour. Four prior tours guided my planning. It is when the tires hit the trails that new experiences and lessons are learned. I present my high 5s from the tour.

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5 highlights

  1. NO RAIN sunny, the mid-70s every day – This is a rare occurrence and my first rain-free week on these trails. Touring is much more enjoyable when your shoes don’t squeak and your shorts are not soggy.
  2. New C&O trail surface – The 40 miles of new trail surface from below White’s Ferry to Shepherdstown was a joy to ride. It very much resembles the smoother GAP trail surface.
  3. New tourists, new sights – I invited 5 cycling friends to accompany me on his tour. It was refreshing to see the wonder of this trail’s history, nature, and towns in their eyes, the things I enjoy the most on my bike.
  4. Fall tour – This was my 2nd autumn tour on these trails. I am a BIG fan of autumn touring. I have toured the trails in spring and summer as well. Autumn is firmly my choice for cycling the C&O and GAP.
  5. My cycling pal Kevin – All of my touring companions were new to self-supported touring. They did well. Not to minimize others, Kevin made my tour enjoyable when it would have otherwise not been so.
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5 Best food and lodging

  1. Town Hill B&B—My only other overnight at Little Orleans was not the most enjoyable. I opted to revisit Little Orleans with a stay at Town Hill B&B. It was a thoroughly enjoyable night at a historic B&B on the National Road. The owners lovingly restored the inn into a comfortable and welcoming place.
  2. Ristorante Ottaviani – I had eaten at this downtown Cumberland restaurant on a prior tour. It did not disappoint then and was stellar this time. It came at a time when I needed a lift.
  3. Buddy Lou’s – Weavers has been my go-to spot in Hancock. It was disappointing on my prior two tours. Buddy Lou’s is trailside in Hancock and served up good food in a fun atmosphere. It is my new go-to in Hancock.
  4. Bright Morning B&B – This B&B in West Newton has been a star performer on three of my tours. The lodging is top-notch, the innkeepers welcoming, and the breakfast is amazing.
  5. White’s Ferry diner – This was my first visit to the diner at White’s Ferry for food. This unassuming spot delivered a delicious burger. You cannot beat eating lunch while watching the ferry on a sunny day.
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5 Best Natural wonders

  1. Great Falls – The Great Falls on the Potomac are truly an amazing feat of nature. It is always a stop for me. The overlook is a must-stop for any tourist on the C&O.
  2. Fall color – Fall color arrived when I was nearing Cumberland. It was beyond amazing during the climb up Big Savage Mountain to the eastern continental divide. Color watching made the climb tolerable.
  3. Salisbury Viaduct – The expansive view of the valley from the Salisbury Viaduct near Meyersdale is my favorite photo-op. My first tour was from Pittsburgh. After cycling 3 days in heavy shade, this eye-opening view is etched into my memory.
  4. Dam 5 on Potomac – The dam and powerhouse above Williamsport is my second favorite view on this tour over the years. There is an excitement of hearing rushing water through the trees as you approach the falls.
  5. C&O below Oldtown – The backend of the C&O is often the poorest maintained trail section. The scenery surrounding Oldtown makes the ride through that area memorable. The canal is replaced with wider stretches of open water that are scenic and serene.
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5 Things to do again

  1. Come back – Five through tours down. I often say I need to explore new places. No matter where I tour, this tour will be on my calendar in the future. I love everything about these trials.
  2. West to the east – My first tour was west to east. My last four have been east to west. It is time to return to west to east. Each direction gives new perspectives experience.
  3. Summer tour – Earlier I stated my preference for a fall tour. That does not limit me to that season. I have not toured the trails in the summer since 2011. It is time to return when it is a tunnel of green.
  4. Keep C&O to 4 days – I am a causal bike tourist. I have alternated the C&O portion of this tour between 3 and 4 days. This tour made it clear that a 4-day C&O tour is optimal for my style of touring.
  5. Amtrak – This was my second experience with Amtrak. The first train was 3 hours late. This time it was on-time. I like the train experience. It is not about being on a rigid schedule. It is enjoyable with unbelievable views. It also happens to be an economical way to get to the start of the tour.
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5 things to not do again

  1. Climb at end of the day – I was heading west on this tour. I had made Frostburg my destination for one night. 45 miles on the C&O before tackling 16 uphill miles of Big Savage Mountain was too much for me. Cumberland will be my overnight whether I cycle east or west.
  2. Overpack – I know the benefit of packing light. This time I let that logic slip and overpacked. Fall is these unpredictable temps. I over prepared. I need to reevaluate what is necessary to be comfortable.
  3. No through tours in 2021 & 2022 – Both of these years pose obstacles for a through tour. The Paw Paw Tunnel will be closed for two years. Construction near Boston on the GAP looks to close the 10 miles of the trail for a good bit of 2021. I need to be creative in my GAP and C&O tours during these years.
  4. Catch up – I sometimes found myself catching up with the others in my touring group. I do not mind touring with people with differing abilities. I forgot the advice an experienced cyclist gave me early in my cycling time… Ride your own ride. That is what I will do.
  5. Not enough time in Pittsburgh or D.C. - I opted to limit my days on the front nd backend of the tour. Pittsburgh and D.C. are worthy of am extra day. I am retired. What's the hurry?
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5 disappointments

  1. Schoolhouse kitchen – This quirky diner in Oldtown is just about your only chance for hot food on the backside of the C&O. My prior two visits were fun with the quirky atmosphere. I found the food to be disappointing and the service poor on this tour, far beyond poor.
  2. COVID-19 limitations – Touring during a pandemic is unadvisable. I knew that going into the tour. I toured the Katy Trail earlier this year. Both tours were limited by health regulations. I doubt that I will tour under the conditions in the future.
  3. C&O outside of Cumberland – It was an unusually dry ride. I expect the C&O to not have the optimal trail conditions. The trail nearing Cumberland was miserable in this dry time. It was a combination of rutted single and doubletrack.
  4. NPS visitor centers closed – The closure of National Park Service visitor centers was disappointing. The Tavern at Great Falls and the Williamsport visitor center are two of my favorite stops.
  5. Not being able to climb – I am not the best climber. I knew I could not make the climb to Frostburg before nightfall. I opted to spend the night in Cumberland and climb fresh in the morning. I was disappointed in not making my goal. It turned out well in the end but left me being disappointed with my abilities.

The whole shebang

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Happy trails!

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Al BurnardI always appreciate your end of tour wrap up Tom. It's very helpful to know what worked, places to eat and stay and upcoming trail closures. As always, the narrative and photos are excellent! Thanks!
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