Trip from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to Washington, DC

Gearing Up

I spent a ridiculous amount of time planning out my gear and organizing it all. Waterproofing proved to be very important.

Here’s the bike fully loaded. It’s a Kona Honky Tonk with Schwalbe Marathon Tires, 28c. I have a set of Ortlieb Back Roller Classics on the rear rack, and a Topeak Tourguide Handle Bar Bag on the front. The Kona might not be the ideal touring bike, since I wasn’t able to fit it with fenders or a front rack, but it did great on the trails and it is very comfortable.

This being my first tour, I was pretty thorough when it came to planning out my gear. Google Sheets was a big help (gear list here). In the end, there are a few things I wish I had brought and a few things I could have left behind, but overall it worked out pretty well.

Day 0 — Traveling to Pittsburgh

Left Chicago at 6:40pm Saturday and Arrived in Pittsburgh at about 7am on Sunday. Amtrak loves delays apparently. I got a good amount of sleep on the train and we started the first leg of the journey Sunday morning.

Packing away my bike was pretty easy, considering how much I stressed about it.
I bought a tarp and wrapped up my tent and sleeping pad in it. At camp I used the tarp under my tent to protect the lining. It worked pretty well.

Day 1 — Starting the ride

From downtown Pittsburgh to the outskirts

Distance: 41.30mi
Duration: 3h:33m:10s (rolling)
Unfortunately my GPS Map Data for this day seems to have been lost. Below is an approximation of the route drawn up on Google Maps.

Below is mile zero of the Great Allegheny Passage, located near downtown Pittsburgh.

Mile zero of the Great Allegheny Passage
We stopped at a diner for breakfast just as a big storm rolled in.

The Great Allegheny Passage is full of little trailside bars and restaurants.
Waterproof panniers make for great coolers as well.
The rain cleared up later in the night and we had our first camp fire.

Day 2 — Outside Pittsburgh to Confluence, PA

With a stop at Ohiopyle along the way.

Distance: 47.81mi
Duration: 3h:48m:14s (rolling)
Unfortunately my GPS Map Data for this day seems to have been lost. Below is an approximation of the route drawn up on Google Maps. The distance and time are not accurate.

Connellsville gave us a nice preview of the long slow climb ahead
Slow, gradual climbs definitely pay off.

Day 3 — Confluence to Frostburg

All uphill, all day

Distance: 49.59mi
Duration: 4h:14m:55s (rolling)
Total Ascent: 5633ft
Total Descent: 5545ft
View on Endomondo

A friendly morning visit from the local wildlife
The people of Confluence are clearly not too concerned about bike theft.

The GAP is full of huge bridges and awesome views.

The Mason & Dixon Line
Great way to end 40 miles of uphill riding.

Day 4 — Completing the GAP, C&O Towpath Part 1

Frostburg to Cumberland, then the first leg of the C&O Towpath

Distance: 39.49mi
Duration: 3h:16m:42s (rolling)
Total Ascent: 1817ft
Total Descent: 3200ft
View on Endomondo

Woke up to a rainy morning, but it cleared up pretty quickly.

This cave was called the “Cumberland Bone Cave”. Apparently it was found loaded with the bones of animals dating back for thousands of years. We chose not to venture inside.

Saying goodbye to the Great Allegheny Passage, and Hello to the C&O Towpath
Looking back on Cumberland

The first of 75 Locks we’d be passing along the C&O Towpath
We stopped by a “town” called Oldtown, which consisted of a single road and an elementary school which had been converted into a small restaurant.

The campsite we planned to stop at was beautiful, but unfortunately the well wasn’t pumping. We moved on to the next one down the trail.
C&O Towpath campsite #1. Right on the Potomac

Bryan cooked all kinds of great dinners with his small camp stove.


Day 5 — C&O Towpath Part 2

Continuing down the C&O, through Hancock and the Paw Paw Tunnel

Distance: 41.35mi
Duration: 3h:30m:50s (rolling)
Total Ascent: 4395ft
Total Descent: 5084ft
View on Endomondo

This is the entrance to the Paw Paw Tunnel, which is about 3100 feet long and pitch black inside.

In addition to the locks, the towpath was spotted with aqueducts which crossed over the Potomac’s many tributaries.

We left the C&O Towpath for 15 miles of smooth pavement on the Maryland Rail Trails leading into Hancock. Along the way we came across these little cave dwellers.

These people were offering $1 water bottles and $10 rides into the nearby town of Hancock, if needed.

Day 6 — C&O Towpath Part 3

Distance: 52.03mi
Duration: 4h:10m:09s (rolling)
Total Ascent: 5109ft
Total Descent: 4903ft
View on Endomondo

One of the rack bolts on Bryan’s bike snapped off. Nothing that a couple twist ties couldn’t fix.

Day 7 — C&O Towpath Part 4

A quick stop in Harper’s Ferry

Distance: 43.55mi
Duration: 3h:25m:54s (rolling)
Total Ascent: 5284ft
Total Descent: 4978ft
View on Endomondo

Sunscreen, Bugspray, Sweat, Dirt, Bugs

Day 8 — Wrapping up the C&O Towpath and arrival at Washington DC

A quick stop at Great Falls and then onto the national mall in DC.

Day 8, Part 1 — From the Campsite to the National Mall

Distance: 27.19mi
Duration: 2h:13m:57s (rolling)
Total Ascent: 2596ft
Total Descent: 2828ft
View on Endomondo

Mission Accomplished!


Day 8, Part 2 — Ride out to the suburbs

Bryan’s aunt and uncle graciously allowed us to crash at their house in Falls Church, West Virginia. It was just 9 miles out of the city, but it turned out to be the hilliest ride of the week.

Distance: 10.56mi
Duration: 1h:03m:20s (rolling)
Total Ascent: 1028ft
Total Descent: 804ft
View on Endomondo

After cruising around DC for a bit we rode out to Falls Church to crash at Bryan’s Uncle’s house.

Day 9 — Heading Home

A quick stop at the DC Natural History Museum then on to Union Station Amtrak

It was… a little crowded. There are exhibits there somewhere.

A 19 hour train ride home awaits.
Yes, let’s stop for cigarette breaks along the way. Because no one here is anxious to get home.
One last glimpse of the C&O and the Potomac on the train ride home.

The end.