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It starts here

 

SO here’s the plan (short version): Bike the Erie Canalway Trail from start to finish, Buffalo to Albany, N.Y., in 4 to 5 days.

Slightly longer version: Doing this as a bikepacking trip, hauling a tent, sleeping bag and other gear. I’ll be riding each day from campsite to campsite, if all goes well, or motel to farmer’s field to highway underpass, if it doesn’t.

GAP/C&O trail, Day 3, Paw Paw, WV, to Sharpsburg, MD

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Things got a bit messy today. The mostly good weather of the first 2 days turned mostly bad, as we got rained on most of the afternoon.

After a relatively early start (8 a.m.), Jim rode another 25 miles out of the saddle before we found a bike shop in Hancock, MD, and got his seat post replaced. At that point we were thinking the challenges of the C&O were largely overblown, with just a few easily negotiated muddy spots. When we stopped for breakfast in the same town, it was sunny and mild. Leaving the restaurant a short time later, it was hazy and overcast, and the first drops of the day were hitting the sidewalk.

It rained a bit between Hancock and Williamsport, where construction detoured us into the center of town. Looking for a quick bite and water refills, we stopped at the Desert Rose Cafe, which I recognized from online posts about trail accommodations. Before long we saw the weather situation begin to deteriorate again, going from sunny to eerily dark as we sat. Alan, the guy behind the counter, suggested we hunker down there rather than risk getting caught in a storm. We insisted we’d be fine. Before we could get our bikes unlocked the storm was bearing down on us. We retreated to the safety of the cafe, which promptly lost power. Alan  not only let us stay, he told us we could bring our bikes in out of the storm and then went across the street to heat up some red beans and rice for us. It was a heavy duty storm — one we would have been caught in if we had left just a minute earlier.

When the weather calmed down an hour or so later, we struck out again. The trail was a mess, with fresh mud puddles and branches scattered all along the route. The C&O was living up to its bad reputation. That’s how it stayed the rest of the way, except darker towards the end.

We pushed on through the rain and mud and darkness to get to a campground near the site of the Antietam battlefield. It was a $20-a-night campground, which I mistakenly assumed would include hot showers and maybe access to an electrical outlet. Turns out the luxury amenities totaled just two items: a picnic table and a fire pit. Not what we were hoping for after slogging to the end of an 80-mile ride in the dark. Jim and I agreed that pitching tents in the rain was not the best way to set ourselves up for our push to the finish. Instead, we backtracked 3 miles and checked into a hotel.

Once again we missed our chance to have a sit-down dinner, as the hotel restaurant was closing just as we rolled in. That was probably for the best– we were not a pretty sight when we arrived. Both of us were soaked and filthy. My shins had picked so much trail crud it looked like I was wearing knee socks.

We spent the rest of the evening eating Dominoes pizza and laundering our mud-caked clothes in the bathroom sink.

Miles for the day: 83; total, 277

GAP/C&O trail, Day 2, Rockwood to Paw Paw, WV

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It was all tunnels and bridges on our 2nd day. We got another late start and tried to compensate by stopping to refuel after the first 11 miles. Having climbed a very gradual incline most of the previous day, we finally got a return on that investment, with a downhill section of 24 miles, beginning at the Eastern Continental Divide and ending in Cumberland MD. That’s where the GAP trail ends and the C&O begins.

The C&O is a bit rougher than the GAP, but not as bad as we had heard. It was sort of like riding on decaying concrete. On the plus side , it was fairly flat most of the way, and we made good time despite my riding buddy Jim’s broken seat post which forced him to ride standing up the last 25 miles. Still don’t know how he managed to do it, but he did. We got to trailside campsite just before dusk, so that was an improvement.

Totals for the day: 80; for the trip: 194.

GAP/C&O trail, Day 1

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Late start, followed by a long day. Conditions were mostly excellent but we finished in the dark after riding 114 miles between Pittsburgh and Rockwood. Luckily we got to the Husky Haven Campground in time to get a site (a steal at $10!). Not so luckily, all the stores and restaurants were closed when we pulled into town around 9pm. We were spared having to make do with a dinner of trail mix and energy when some fellow bikers at the campground took pity on us and donated a few slices of leftover pizza. I suspect we’ll be doing a lot of eating on today’s ride.

Geezer of the Week: Ed Whitlock, 85

So, you know how there’s always some really old dude making the news by shuffling along at a snail’s pace in a local marathon, much to the delight of slightly less old folks everywhere? ed_whitlock_september_2012Well, that’s not Ed Whitlock. No, good old Ed ain’t in it for the participation medals — he’s crushing world records. The latest for the Canadian was the 85-89 age group marathon record, which he set Sunday in Toronto with a mind-blowing 3:56 effort, more than half an hour faster than the previous mark. Think about that: An 85-year-old running a sub-4 hour marathon. Damn. That’s almost as impressive as the 73-year-old man who ran a 2:54 marathon. Yeah, that was Ed, too.

Erie Canal Trail, Day 4

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St. Johnsville to Albany

The long-awaited final chapter, in which nothing all that exciting happens …

Woke up a little sore from my sprint to the finish the day before. Other than that, all signs pointed to a good day on the trail, and indeed this turned out to be the best riding of the trip. It was sunny, not too humid and I felt like I was going downhill with a tailwind most of the way — probably because I was.

Continue reading “Erie Canal Trail, Day 4”

Geezer of the Week: Karl Meltzer, 48

meltzerCongrats to ultra-stud Karl on his record-setting Appalachian Trail trek, covering all 2,190 miles in just under 46 days. That means he cranked out more than 47 miles a day on average. Not bad for an old man.

Erie Canal Trail, Day 3

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Treats of the trail. All you can eat — for free!
Manlius to St. Johnsville.

OK, I fell asleep while writing this post Thursday night. Must have been pretty tired. Also, typing on a cellphone kinda sucks. So I’m finishing this a few days later and may never catch up…

Nature was messing with me today. The forecast for St. Johnsville, where I was planning to camp, called for thunderstorms starting around 5 p.m. I figured with an early start I could outrun the storm. Not a good plan, as it turns out.

Continue reading “Erie Canal Trail, Day 3”

Erie Canal Trail, Day 2

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Macedon to Manlius

After yesterday’s flat and relatively cool conditions, I had my fingers crossed that today would be more of the same. Not so much. A big chunk of this ride was on the hot and hilly NY Route 31, where the only relief from heat was the breeze created by big rigs flying by at 60 mph. Even the canal-side sections were not so cool, as much of the trail ran along the old Erie Canal, which is narrower, swampier and generally sadder than the wider, rerouted sections. Things were even more roasty when I got to Syracuse late in the afternoon. The Weather Channel said it was 90 in the city. Can’t argue with that. It didn’t help that I spent more time than necessary there, thanks to a missed turn.

Continue reading “Erie Canal Trail, Day 2”

Erie Canal Trail, Day 1

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Buffalo to Macedon

Writing this from the world’s hottest pizza joint. Just what I need after a long, hot day of pedaling. The good news is the pizza place is in charming Macedon, NY, which means I’m still on track to get to Albany by Friday. I figured getting this far on the first day was a long shot, mainly because of the unseasonably high temps. But two things I hadn’t counted on saved my bacon: the trail is 95% flat as a pancake, so the added weight of my camping gear wasn’t a factor, and the high humidity I was expecting to melt my brain never materialized. In fact, the canal itself helped cool things off most of the way. Even when the sun was beating down on me, it felt about 10 degrees cooler on the long stretches next to the water.

Totals for today: 122 miles, including side trip to supermarket and a detour route that directed me off the trail and left me to find my own way back on. Maybe a half mile off the trail by my own mistakes, and about half the day wondering if I was still on the trail. All in all, a great first day.