Why I tour the C&O Canal Trail and GAP - My C&O and GAP Pandemic Tour - CycleBlaze

September 29, 2020

Why I tour the C&O Canal Trail and GAP

9 years of cycling these trails bring me back

Done! My friend Chuck and I in Georgetown after a week of cycling from Pittsburgh
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My friend Chuck and I walked our over-loaded bikes through an Independence Day weekend crowd on the Georgetown waterfront searching for milepost 0. It had been an amazing week of discovery for two novice bicycle tourists. My emotions ran high after completing a bike tour that I never fathomed doing two years prior.

That summer 2011 tour across the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail (C&O) stoked my interest in bicycle touring. I reflected on that week as we drove west on I-70 and I-76 to our homes in Akron, Ohio. Names of towns along the way took a new meaning. Visiting them on a bike gave me a deeper appreciation of this part of America. My bike connected me with the people, history, and traditions of the drive-by towns along the interstates.

Lockhouse 6 on the C&O Canal. This was my home for a night on one of my tours.
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I have returned to the GAP and C&O many times over the past nine years. My Akron cycling club held a weekend retreat in Confluence just about every year. I retraced my tire tracks three more times. I traveled in both directions but came to prefer starting in Washington D.C. I have camped and credit card toured. I have toured solo and in a group. I have seen the trails at their best and worse in the spring, summer, and fall. Every tour was unique. Every tour was worth every minute.

I retired in early 2017 and bicycle touring was high on my retirement plans. I dreamed of cycling in Europe. The past three years saw me touring Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Switzerland by bike. I put two of my DC to PITT tours under my belt. My last solo tour was by far my favorite and part of my fundraising for Pittsburgh’s 3-2-1 Ride that benefits melanoma and pancreatic cancer research. Europe is amazing but the GAP and C&O continue to call my name.

My all-time favorite end-of-tour photo from my 2014 tour with friends
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COVID-19 put the brakes on my 2020 European touring. Like most people, bicycle touring moved to the back burner. Touring was still on my mind. I looked for touring opportunities in the United States. I toured Missouri’s Katy Trail in early September. I had penciled in my 2020 GA & C&O tour for early to mid-October to coincide with a finish on the 3-2-1 Ride. Alas, the ride was canceled due to COVID-19 regulations.

I decided to proceed with my DC to PITT tour this coming week. I toured this week two years ago and found it to be an ideal time to cycle the trails. Crisp mornings, cool days, and the changing of seasons make it even more appealing.

The Salisbury Viaduct on the GAP outside of Meyersdale
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Touring during COVID-19 brings many new challenges to bicycle tourists. I take the obvious precautions that I take at home in terms of wearing masks, sanitizing hands, and avoiding large crowds. Dining options were limited on my Katy tour. Restaurants operated on limited hours with a limited menu. Take out was more prevalent and some restaurants had their doors closed. I expect the same on the GAP and C&O. Taking precautions and being aware takes on a new dimension on touring during these times.

I return to the GAP and C&O for a variety of reasons. The scenery varies as I pedal west. The towns and villages have their unique character. I look forward to visiting my must-see places that are the highlights of nine years of visits.

The trail has changed over the years. Nine years ago, bicycle traffic was much lighter and accommodations less plentiful. Today, the trail has placed itself firmly as a destination for both rail-trail and road touring cyclists. There is something about the trail’s natural wonder, the ride through history, the spirit of adventure, and daily challenges that place this trail high on cyclists’ touring plans.

A visit to Bicycle Heaven in Pittsburgh is a must-do and an easy pedal from the Point.
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Today’s GAP and C&O Trivia

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal operated from 1831-1924 from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, Maryland. Construction on the 184.5-mile canal began in 1828 and ended in 1850 it required the construction of 74 canal locks and 11 aqueducts  A planned section from the Potomac River at Cumberland to the Ohio River at Pittsburgh was never built.

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Rachael AndersonHope all goes well for you!
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3 years ago