Saturday, September 10, 2016

C&O Canal - Gear, Tips & Helpful Resources

See THIS post on our day to day travels on the C&O Canal from Cumberland, MD to Washington DC.


We were fully self supported on this trip.  There are plenty of outfitters in the area that will provide SAG for a fee.  We saw a couple of groups that went this route but we chose to be self supported and are glad we did.

From our trip last year on the Greenbriar River Trail I learned that a trailer is NOT the way to go.  Some folks use a single wheel trailer & say that is fine but no thanks.  This past winter I got my bike outfitted with a front rack & panniers.  It did take me about a couple of miles on the trail to get used to the extra weight but I was able to go so much farther in a day without the trailer.

My bike is a Fuji Absolute 2.0 Hybrid with gravel tires.  I did get bar extensions added this summer & that made a world of difference on comfort.  It gave me options on riding positions which really helped especially as the butt got sore.

Steve has a Salsa Fargo also equipped with front & rear Orlieb panniers.  We both have a trunk bag & a front handlebar bag for quick access.  Steve has a phone mount on this handlebars.  He also has a top tube bento box that he keeps his phone charging brick in.

I have front & rear Ortlieb waterproof bags.  It is amazing how much stuff you can carry! A couple weeks before our trip we spent an afternoon laying all the gear we thought we needed out & loading in our bags to get an idea of weight.  A couple nights before we left we again loaded & weighed everything but also created an inventory list for each bag.  This really helped me when I needed something specific but didn't want to dig through every bag.

Steve's Gear List 
Andrea's Gear List
We also used smaller bags to organize stuff within each bag.  For me this system worked great.  For Steve, not so much.  He seemed to always have a hard time finding stuff & would have to rummage through every bag.  This is just some of the stuff spread out our DC hotel room.

When we were at the B&B, Will asked if we used everything.  Surprising, I used just about everything in these bags.  I didn't use the rain fly but had we camped that 3rd night we certainly would have. There was one pair of running shorts I didn't wear either but everything else got at least 1 wear if not multiple wears.  We did laundry at the B&B so we were able to get away with 4 sets of cycling clothes yet only have to wear them once between washes.

We packed up all our cycling bags in Lexington & packed an overnight bag for our first & last night of the trip in Cumberland which included our first day of riding clothes.  That way, we only had to add a few items to our panniers the morning we started out on the C&O.


  • Bug Spray Bring Bug spray & apply before you even need it.  I ended up with a bug bite for every mile we rode.  I think we got into a chiggers nest or something.  I had at least 15-20 bites on both legs & the back of my arms.  Mosquitos will eat you up at night so bring a bug net if camping.  I also got one mystery bite on my leg, probably some kind of spider.  It still is on my leg almost 2 weeks later.
  • Water  The water on the trail is treated with Iodine.  It tastes terrible.  Refill your bottles in town whenever you can. Every place we ate at offered to fill up our bottles.  If you do fill your bottles with the trail water the taste will stay in the bottle until you give them a good wash.  Don't bother trying to boil the trail water to make coffee.  It will taste terrible.  Steve had a filter but we didn't use it so maybe that would have filtered out the taste - not sure on that one.
  • Food  I had a bag full of food just in case.  We did need it the first day for lunch & 2 days on the trail for breakfast as well as snacks.  All other meals we were able to get in towns along the way.  
  • Hills  Most towns are up a hill from the C&O.  Not crazy steep hills but when you have your heavy bike loaded down with 60 pounds of gear & it is 90+ degrees they are pretty tough.  Cumberland, Hancock & Frederick are right on the trail. All other towns are a mile to several miles off the trail.  Just be aware of this.
  • Lodging There are Hiker/Biker campsites every 5-10 miles.  They all had a picnic table, porto potty & water.  Most had trees to hang your hammock in.  Some were right on the trail, some were farther away.  Be advised, you ride near a train line for part of the trail.  Our first night, there were train tracks across from the river which you couldn't see but at midnight when you are trying to sleep you can certainly hear it.  THIS site does a pretty good job listing the sites you want to have ear plugs for.
  • Trail Condition - The trail is bumpy.184 miles of bumpy. Get used to it. You will spend a good portion of time navigating around roots, rocks & ruts.  I almost bit it twice getting into a deep rut.  I thought for sure I was going down but at the last second the rut kicked me out.  The beginning of the week it was dry so the trail was very dusty.  Our bikes were filthy by day 3 when we got to the B&B.  The 4th day on the trail it was muddy so they were coated in mud by the end of the day.  Bring chain lube because you will want to rinse your bike off every chance you get. Also, be advised if you run off the trail you will either be in water or down an embankment for the majority of the ride.  The trail isn't narrow but it can be nerve wracking in some areas.
  • C&O Companion App - Steve downloaded this app & used it quite a bit on the trail.  
  • Cell Service - I have T-Mobile & Steve has AT&T.  He had cell & data the majority of the trail.  I had cell but only had data in Sharpsburg, Leesburg & as we got close to DC.

The C&O Bicycling Guide - I studied this website most of the summer.  It was extremely helpful in planning our trip.

GAP/C&O Bike Trip Blog - I read this blog over & over as well.  Very helpful, especially on Day 5 when it rained.  I remembered their post about Comfort Suites having a shuttle service from White's Ferry.

Cumberland Visitors Center - Here we picked up a few pamphlets.  Here are the ones I used most:

This was used the most.  How far to the next rest stop?
This was used the most.  How far to the next rest stop?
Used this to help us find Mile 0
Very handy guide to the towns along the trail

I ordered this book about a month before we left.  We didn't use it too much on the trail but we both read through it before leaving. It covers both the GAP & C&O.

Lastly, I created a google sheet with links to all these websites, lodging along the way & other various information I thought would be helpful.  I accessed this several times over the week.  It was good to have everything in one file.

I honestly can't think of anything I would change if I was to ride this trail again.  I know Steve would say he would bring his real sleeping bag & not just a liner.  Even though it was hot during the day you still needed a sleeping bag at night in the hammocks.  Probably wouldn't have needed them if we had brought our tent instead.  Steve says he would skip bringing his camp chair next time.  I personally like having the camp chair if we are going to camp.

I am really glad we took the entire week to ride this trail.  We never felt rushed to get to the next town.  We had plenty of time to stop & take in the surroundings.  For me there is no way we would have been able to ride this in 3 days.  A lot of people do but it would not have been enjoyable.

For our day to day rides on the C&O check out THIS blog post.

Happy travels!

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