Our adventure begins somewhere in Richmond in the early summer. My friend Wilson floated the idea of riding the Allegheney Passage and C&O Canal Towpath from Pittsburg to Washington, DC. For some reason this snowballed into trying to complete this journey in one shot. One essentially non-stop ride covering about 330 miles of crushed gravel rail-trail, dirt path, and muddy double-track. Somehow this crazy scheme continued to gnaw at the back of Wilson’s mind and soon he reached out to my other two friends, Mark and Brantley about joining him on this adventure. Soon enough word reach me when they remembered that I had ridden the C&O in the past and may have some sound advice on equipment and other logistics.
The idea of riding my bike that distance immediately piqued my interest. I had a growing curiosity towards very long rides and this seemed like a great way to really put myself to the ultimate test. So far in my life the longest I had ever ridden my bike was 125 miles. Certainly not a small feat but nothing like the ambitious goals being laid out.
The four of us met to discuss things and after a bit of talk and a bit of encouragement we all agreed to go for it. We set a date for the first Sunday in October then set about planning and preparing. Brantley and Mark looked at train schedules and how to safely transport bikes and store our cars. Wilson dilligently worked on getting lighting and battery charging solutions in place for them. I started making a point to ride more.
All the way back in March I decided I wanted to start putting on some longer group rides and I had already put in a couple 100 plus mile rides out through Cumberland County. As the heat of the summer began bearing down on us I came up with the plan to put on two 125 mile night rides to not only get some much needed miles in but to also test my response to riding late into the night.
<An epic sendoff from our friends at Rockett's Landing>
I chose a full moon night in August for the first ride and assembled a small group to ride. We left Outpost around 8pm and headed for the Capital Trail. After many miles, some stops, and some waiting around we had completed the whole trail out and back as well as a lap of James Island for a total distance of 125 miles. I got back to my house around 5am and found that during the entirety of ride I had no real fatigue. A month later I did the same ride (this time Mark came along as well). Same result at about 132 miles, I felt fine. I was going to be as ready physically as I possibly could be for a ride of this length.
<Wide awake and feeling fresh at 125 miles / 3am>
As the big day got closer I started to go back through my equipment and making sure I had everything in order. I had recently been testing out a new fork configuration on my Endpoint light touring bike that is optimized for a larger front bag than I previously been using. It was good timing to say the least so I finally pulled the trigger and ordered an Ozette bag from Swift Industries. I had been eyeballing one of these for a while and this was just the excuse I needed to finally get one.
<What kind of a bike is ideal for 340 miles of gravel?>
With all my equipment sorted it was now just getting to the start of the trail in Pittsburg. Saturday morning came and we all met up at the shop. We stocked up on snacks, loaded bikes and hit the road. Mark was going to drive straight to Pittsburg with our bikes and check into the hotel. Brantley, Wilson and I drove to just outside Washington, DC to stow our cars in a parking garage near the end of the C&O canal. We grabbed a bite to eat, hopped on the metro over to Union Station to get on the Amtrack to Pittsburg.
This was actually my first trip on an actual train. Not a bad experience to say the least. The three of us did our best to relax and not think too much about the challenges ahead. As the train moved along we caught glimpses of the trails we would be riding back on. It’s no surprise that the modern train lines pass through the same river valley that the old train lines and tow path use. Gradually darkness fell and around midnight we arrived in Pittsburg. Mark picked us up at the station and we all headed back to the hotel and tried to get some sleep.
Sunday morning came and we all gradually woke up. We would be driving into downtown Pittsburg and stowing Mark’s vehicle at a garage there. We kitted up, packed up our travel clothes in Mark’s car, and triple checked our gear. A short time later we rode out of the parking garage in search of breakfast and our first stocking up of food for the ride.
<Filled with optimism>
I knew that to be able to ride for this kind of distance I would have to eat somewhere between 400 and 500 calories every hour. At first that didn’t sound like much, but when you really start to think about it it’s actually quite a bit of food. Even at 400 calories I was expecting to eat at least 10,000 calories worth of food along the way. My Ozette bag was loaded up with all kinds of snacks but I knew I wanted to start off with something savory and calorically dense.
So what did we do? We found the closest McDonalds and strolled on in. Thanks to our current obsession with counting calories, the McDonalds breakfast menu is nice enough to list how many calories are actually in each of the items. I quickly glanced at the menu and saw that the sausage egg mcmuffin was going to be the ticket. 450 calories, protein, carbs and fats housed in a durable english muffin and glued together with cheese. I knew at once we had a winner. I ordered 6 and the rest of our party followed suit.
<I'm lovin' it>
After enduring some odd looks from the staff, we collected our food and rolled to the start of the trail at Point State Park. It was time for this adventure to truly begin.
To be continued...