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Reply to Cumberland to DC - 2 Days in Mid March

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Matthias McMahon from Washington DC on 3/11/2019 8:40:20 PM:
It might be too late to be on this forum, as I am sitting in the Manhattan Social in Cumberland Maryland, grabbing a large dinner and beer before I begin my 2 day voyage back home. Let’s first bring you all to how and where I am now... I outfitted my All City Gorilla Monsoon with a pair of rear Panniers perched on a PDW rear rack, a sleeping bag and some food in a dry bag mounted to the top. As it is mid-March, and all the water is shut off, I have brought 2 64oz kleen kantee bottles mounted to my salsa down under front rack. All together, I will be hauling 100lbs of shit. The train ride up here from DC was very pleasant. I spent the majority of the 3 hour ride in the “viewing carriage” trying to grab a glimpse of the trail I would be riding on. While it all looked good from the train, I am expecting a “sloppy” ride home. Smooth sailing so far. Only issues was a lost bike lock and a scratched top tube. Honestly, pretty lame cause the Abus lock cost me a pretty penny. This all occurred on the Amtrak ride. The usual bike carriage with the vertical bike stands was not there and the conductor informed me I would need to lay my bike down. I was very hesitant to do this as I didn’t want to scratch my bike, or potentially loose gear in the frantic frenzy to remove the bike before the train took off. Sadly, both occurred. All is good though. Upon arriving in Cumberland, I rode to my AirBnB host house, dropped the gear, set up my space, and went in search of a replacement bike lock. Because it was after 8pm, only Cycles and Things was open. The gentleman working the shop was super nice and we chatted for a bit about my bike, my ride, and the lack of lock. He didn’t sell me shit... in fact he informed me that I didn’t need a lock. I would be fine on the trail, and that only the occasional local hill-billy would come disturb me, but they would be of no harm (Insert Deleverance Scene). So here I am, about to embark on a 190 mile bike ride with 100lbs of shit, no bike lock and the thought of unwelcome guests while sleeping. Any last minute suggestions would be welcomed. If none by my completion, I will add more about my experience if others are interested. -Matthias

JK on 3/12/2019 6:07:20 AM:
Given the trail terrain and that much stuff (100 lbs is a lot!), I hope you don’t expect to average more than 8-10 mph. So you need to be riding by sunrise each day to maximize daylight. And if it’s muddy, you’ll be lucky to average more than 6-8 mph. Good luck!!

Tom from Pgh on 3/13/2019 12:29:27 PM:
Looking forward to hearing your comments on the condition of the trail, especially at slackwater and the Brunswick culvert washout. I'm trying to build up the nerve to do the trip too. Hoping to hear some words of encouragement.

dcswindler4 from Culpeper, VA on 3/14/2019 8:14:41 AM:
Also looking forward to your update. I'll be between jobs 3/22-4/1 and wanted to try the entire C&O. I love a challenge but it would be my first multi-day bike trip, AND my first high mileage bike trip (on a fat bike no less). Looks like rain is in the forecast that week so not sure I should throw myself in head first for this trip and tough it out. Just not sure how soon I'd have the opportunity to try it again. hoping to drive to Cumberland after the CAPS game 3/24 and start the trip early 3/25

Matthias McMahon from Washington DC on 3/15/2019 10:24:27 AM:
Ride is complete, and what a journey it was. For those curious, the trail was a challenge this time of year. Keep reading for details. One thing to consider, spring is cold, but summer has the possibility of extream rain too. I took off from the Air BnB at 7:30, stopped off at a coffee shop in town, and grabbed 3 shots of espresso with a splash of foam. I was already about an hour behind schedule, and I hadn’t even gone a mile. Once on the trail though, I felt great. Conditions were perfect. Cold, but I had a good amount of layers on. The day before, I ventured to Cycles and Things, and was warned about some sharp rocks that cover the right side of the trail. The gentleman told me that this was just before Oldtown, right as the river disappears and the trail turns left. I found his advice to stay left very helpful. Repairing a flat with tubeless tires was not something I wanted to do. Other than that, the trail conditions for the first 15 miles or so were great. I was averaging about 10mph, which was my goal. After about 15 miles though, the trail started to show signs of limited use from winter. While dry, there were a ton of little sticks all over. Every mile or so, one would get caught in my wheel, brakes, or worse yet, my fenders. A few times, the sticks would get jammed with such force that they would rip the emergency release off, causing the fenders to rub against the wheel. Either way, these stuck sticks required a quick stop, removal,, and then a push to get the 100 lb steed going again.. For anyone who rides in traffic, you will know that stop signs and traffic lights are a huge momentum killer, and cause a ton of “wasted energy”. These excessive stick stops required me to get the 100lb bike moving again, which drained me to no end. At about mile 25, a tree branch actually broke my emergency release on my fender. I needed to reattach the fender with a dip tie (or remove the fenders altogether, which I did not want to do). The Paw Paw tunnel was open (they are planning on closing it soon though for phase 2 repairs), and was a huge moral boost for me. Such an incredible piece of engineering. Once emerging on the other side though, be careful again of sharp rocks that may be stuck in the boardwalk like knife blades. Thankfully my tires were tough enough to not get sliced, but thin road or cross tires might have issues. 3 miles after the tunnel, and 35 miles from Cumberland, a giant tree lay across the trail. This seemed like a good place to stop and have lunch. In order to cross this barrier, I needed to take all my panniers of the bike, lift it over, and then gear back up. There were about 3 more tree crossings, and plenty more stick issues all the way to Handcock, MD. I was averaging about 6mph for this ride, thanks entirely to the debris all over the trail. I had hoped to camp somewhere near Williamsport, and while I think if the trail were pristine this would be possible, I was 20 miles short, and setting up camp at Licking Creek. Day 2 trail started out much better. I was able to bike all the way to Williamsport without any issues, making great time too. Spirits were high, and I was considering making it a 120mile day, still finishing in 2 days, I kept this mindset for hours. Once at Williamsport, I filled up all my water bottles, and hit the trail again. Still making good time, and enjoying the trail, I figured I would be home around 10pm. Yes, that’s a long day in the saddle, but I was motivated. This all changed about 12 miles past Williamsport near Big Slackwater. A Detour sign warning of “falling rock” seemed like a recommendation to me. I continued along the trail. This is where the mud began. What’s worse, sticks causing a complete stop and start, or mud with a 100lb bike on 650b 47mm tires. Talk about energy waster. About 1 mile after the detour sign, I could see why. Apparently the trail washout is common here, and it is also completely impassible (unless you are willing to swim). Backtracking time. The detour signs led me up a steep hill, through an abandoned farm, and up and down small county roads. After a few miles and not seeing detour signs anymore, I looked at my map and decided to head down Avery Mill lane to the trail again. Once there, I had lunch in front of McMahon Mill (appropriately named, and no known relation). The next portion of trail is cement “boardwalk” and is pretty easy going, except for all the mud. Still tons of mud. From the detour sign, there were about 15 miles of clear trail followed by thick mud. Again, slowing me down, and making me doubt I would be able to complete the ride without an additional day. These conditions continued (great to horrible) all the way to Snyder’s Landing, causing me to make about 8mph. Once past Snyder’s Landing though, I picked up the pace to around 11mph. As I approached Harpers Ferry around 6pm, I began to realize that completing another 60 miles would be a tall order. I knew there was a big washout about 10 miles ahead. My goal was to cross the Brunswick washout before dark, and then set up camp at the next campsite. I got to the washout at about 7pm. For anyone thinking this washout is going to be easy to cross, think again. The washout gap is about 50 feet, below and to the right is rushing water and to the left is a congested portion of train track supporting CSX, MARC, and Amtrak. Crossing to the right through the water would be hard (though doable), and crossing to the left across the track would be illegal. I would never break the law, and also would never encourage anyone else to. I was able to cross the gap though, because where there is a will, there is a way. I set up camp just after the washout, and had completed 70 miles again. With only 50 miles remaining, Day 3 started off great. I was averaging 13 mph. No sticks or mud. This last section of trail was obviously the best cared for. I even saw construction workers after Whites Ferry laying new gravel down. Biking was smooth, fun, and the finish line was near. I took a nice long lunch break at Swains Lock. The trail was getting congested by day hikers, bird watchers, and everyone else out to enjoy the beautiful spring weather. Back on the bike, the remaining 17 miles were clear. I opted to stay on the Tow Path when provided the option of joining the paved Capital Crescent trail. Once in Georgetown though, I was forced to ditch the trail for some city streets. Finally though, I found the other end. Recommendations for anyone doing the ride, bring tons of water because most of the water sources are turned off until May. Bring warm cola thing, weather conditions ranged from 22-68 degrees during my 3 day journey. Be patient, and remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said... “it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”. What was supposed to be 2 days turned into 3. I am thankful my job was supportive of my ride, and allowed me the extra time needed.

Oye Nations from West Newton on 3/15/2019 10:45:56 AM:
House for sale by owner $28k 30 yards from bike path and close to Yough River. One bedroom, trans heat and air, oil furnace, good and solid, dry. Near Collinsburg Volunteer Fire Dept. oyenations at g mail

David Anderson on 3/15/2019 12:00:16 PM:
Thanks for this description. I'm planning a Cumberland to D.C. through-ride April 18-21 and trying to figure out how to bypass the washout at Brunswick. One of the companies listed on the NPS website quoted me $160 for 1-2 person shuttle between Brunswick and Point of Rocks!!

Matthias McMahon from Washington DC on 3/17/2019 1:54:36 PM:
David, don’t pay money, I think you can figure out how to cross. If you have spare time, maybe take a day trip to Harpers Ferry, bike 10 miles down river, and give it a shot.

John from Pittsburgh on 3/17/2019 6:22:31 PM:
You can try and traverse the creek yourself but just proceed with caution. If you’e going to DC the crossing will be to the right of the bridge. If the water is high (and you won’t know it’s high until you get there), I would not attempt to cross. You would then have to backtrack back to the shuttle pickup points. The day we were there the water was low. We had to take all of our bags off the bikes, carry the bikes over the creek, then go back across the creek to collect our bags, go back over, then reassemble. Also know that the rocks are really slippery so I went slowly, step by step, rock to rock. It was work to get everything across but we made it. We lucked out because it was relatively dry compared to the rest of the season. Money saved. :-) People are adamant about not going up to the railroad tracks and crossing there. Apparently the trains come thick and fast and there’s not a lot of spare room up there on the sides near the rails. I’ve been told the nearby roads that constitute a “detour” parallel to the C&O are very dangerous with little sight distance, narrow or no shoulders, hills, and fast car traffic.

dcswindler4 from Culpeper, VA on 3/20/2019 7:59:37 AM:
Thanks for the update, looks like i'll have to postpone my attempt since it looks like rain and cold most of the week I'm off and able to try.

rgr692 from Northern Virginia on 3/22/2019 5:49:00 AM:
Congratulations Matthias! I enjoyed reading your excellent account of your adventure. I did the C and O from Cumberland to Georgetown a few years back under similar conditions and equipment: raining, mountain bike, 50lbs of gear on a rack and panniers. "Challenging" is putting it mildly. Your description of the trip brought back a lot of memories, both good and bad! It took me two days and I just remembered being cold, wet, and constantly starving...haha. I also remembered that throughout the trip, I kept thinking, "I brought way too much stuff". Your description of having to stop and restart momentum is so painfully true. I must have blocked those "good time" memories. I completely agree with your advice of bringing lots of water. I did my trip in January and finding water was only an option while passing through the towns near the canal. They say time heals all wounds...and bad memories, so fast forward to today and I'm about to embark on the same trip. This time: gravel bike, minimal gear, credit card, and the goal of doing it in one day. The rain yesterday has really tempted me to postphone this attempt. I'm hoping Friday's wind will help dry/drain the trail for a weekend attempt. Thanks again for sharing your adventure and welcome to the club!

Mel from Williamsport on 4/2/2019 6:40:08 PM:
Thank you for your feedback. My son and I are planning on doing the entire C&O over 4 days and I am particularly worried about the crossing at the Brunswick washout. Really appreciate your input!

DH from Shepherdstown on 4/8/2019 2:57:33 PM:
Matthias - or anyone else - Did you see anyone taking the route in the video at the link below? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OhDNlqPGyuk wondering is it is still an option for 5 of us later this month (3 kids 12-14) thanks!