PARTY PACE THE GAPCO
Our Crew of 7 Party Paced the GAPCO. Route Here. We planed our trip for 5 days or riding, averaging around 70ish miles per day. For most of the trip we rode in two groups - team tortoise (a steady 10-12 MPH pace) and team hare (blasting down the canal at 16-20 MPH only to stop ever 20 miles and waste copious amounts of time beer drinking, river swimming, and bar hopping. Basically everyone got to do it our own way, but we all still ended up at camp each night around the same time and all finished in DC the same afternoon. 1 day behind the main group was Dylan and Hannah - leaving Pittsburgh 1 day later. We wouldn't run into them, but we did leave them a present. More on that later.
We rented cars in DC and piled in bikes. Drove up to Pittsburgh early enough to spend the evening jamming around town, checking out cool bars, and watching and re-watching an old AF youtube video of Pastor Benny Hinn knocking idiots over set to the song "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor." this would be a theme.
Day 1: We met down at the Point State Park fountain, waited out a little rain, took a bunch of pictures, and then headed out on our way. Day 1 was a day of bridges. with the crew crossing over various rivers over and over again on old rail trusses. Day 1 was the shortest of our days as we were only headed as far as Connellsville, PA. Connellsville has a nice campground of Adirondack shelters right behind a grocery store. We stocked up on veggie dogs and beer and made a night of it. We met our new friend Jordan at this campsite and we would end up yo-yoing with his solo trip for the next 3 or so days. Trail conditions: dry and flat.
Day 2: After quickly guzzling coffee at the campsite we took off for a brisk 17 miles to a breakfast spot in Ohiopyle, PA - smack dab in the middle of a state forest and major confluence of two rivers. Picturesque AF. We treated ourselves to some breakfast beers and great food at the Falls Market. Ahead of us was a hard grind to lunch at Rockville, PA. Andy and Cass made some new friends on a trailside back porch and got to hear stories about bigfoot. Really. More trail beers followed by the only appreciable uphill section of the trip: a 20 mile slog up to the continental divide. During this section Cass, Alex, Jess, and Andy squared of against an angry Grouse. The final section of the day had its rewards, though. A very cool blast through the deep, dark Big Savage Tunnel, amazing panoramic views from the top of Big Savage Mountain, and then, finally, a fantastic free-fall-esque descent down the backside of the divide to our overnight at Frostburg, MD. The dinner on night two was by far the most well-earned: Mexican food and a lot of beer and margaritas. Our campground was on the top of a very steep hill and it poured rain that night, but we did manage to sneak out before the rain settled in to get a grape flavored Smirnoff Ice. More on that later. Trail conditions: smooth but steep.
Day 3: We had by far the greatest start of our trip on day 3. We were all pretty hungover, but we did get to start with a nice and easy downhill into Cumberland, MD and the end of our first trial section, the Great Allegheny Passage. The GAP was good to us. Great weather, dry trail, great people, easy campsites, plenty of beer. We stopped for food in Cumberland and Andy went to a bike shop to pick up new Ergon grips for what promised to be rougher trial ahead. By mid-morning we were on our way down the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trial. The C&O is a different animal than the GAP. Less path and more Jeep trail/double track for most of its length. Also thanks to the previous evening's downpour the trail was SLOPPY. Cass took full advantage of the mud and drilled every single puddle as hard as he could. We got muddy. Really muddy. We barely made it through the dark and very creepy Paw Paw tunnel before the NPS closed it for the year (repairs) and closed out most of the days riding before arriving in Little Orleans, MD for dinner and beers at Bill's Place. Bill's Place is a bar, restaurant, biker bar, hunter haunt, simple grocery, and the Honkey Tonk Bar that all other Honkey Tonk Bars aspire to. Confederate Flags and grafitti ceilings and all. We also found out they did beers to go, so obviously we did that. About this time, 1 day behind us, Hannah and Dylan arrive at our Frostburgh campsite and are "Iced" when Dylan discovered the grape Smirnoff Ice we hid for him there. We're monsters. We made it to Cacapon Junction hiker-biker campsite that evening to clean ourselves off and fall asleep to the sound of CSX trains crossing a truss across the water. Trail conditions: splatter factory.
Day 4: Thankfully the trail had dried out (mostly) by morning and we were on our way towards Hancock, MD and breakfast at the Park-n-Dine. Throughout the trip Kevin, Kevin, and Devin had been keeping a steady pace while Cassidy, Andy, Alex, and Jess had been blasting down the trail at high speed only to come screeching to a halt for hours of goofing off at a time. This became all the more apparent in Hancock where Devin and Kevin veered onto the paved and parallel running Western Maryland Rail Trail, other Kevin trucked along the C&O and Alex, Andy, Jess, and Cassidy spent the next 2.5 hours in the Hancock area scrounging for beer, repairing panniers, and looking for snapping turtles. Our two groups managed to catch each other coming and going at lunch at the Desert Rose Cafe in Williamsport, MD where we also ran into the rad crew from Baltimore Bicycle Works who were on their own mini-overnight trip. The next step in our trip was a minor deviation from the trial into Shepardstown, WV to load up on party supplies for our last night together on the trail. Our final evening's accommodations were at Huckleberry Hill campsite. Trail conditions: we'd stopped caring.
Day 5: Andy hadn't shut up about his favorite cafe in Maryland, Beans in the Belfry, for the last two days. Thankfully day 5 meant only a 10 mile start before arriving there for breakfast. Beans in the Belfry is a super cool spot, worthy of a detour to the town of Brunswick, MD. It's in an old church, has great food and coffee, and friendly staff. We also watched the "Let the Bodies Hit the Floor" video again on full volume. Patrons were not amused. Breakfast here was a good-bye of sorts for our little group, as it would be the last time all of us would be together for the rest of the trip and we knew it. As it was the final planned stopping point for the trip, everyone took their own pace to finish out the ride. Kevin S. and Devin left first towards DC, but Cassidy got out ahead at a blistering pace, Kevin was held back by some tire issues, and Andy, Alex, and Jess rode for 20 miles or so before Andy took off to try and close the gap with Cassidy. Ultimately Cassidy and Andy finished together; Alex, Jess, and Kevin finished together, and Kevin S. and Devin finished together. The mile 0 post, hidden at the confluence of Rock Creek and the Potomac River, got more visitors that Saturday than usual. Trail Conditions: triumphant.
Andy's Final Thoughts on the GAPCO: Even months later, the feeling that this was one of the best weeks in my 31 trips around the sun hasn't faded. It was the perfect combination of four of my favorite things: hanging out with a bunch of my best friends, riding bikes, enjoying nature, and not worrying too much. It's perhaps the latter that has had the longest lasting impression. It is so rare to have 5 whole days of nothing to worry about. The path only goes in 1 direction, all I had to do was turn the pedals. Eat when hungry, drink when thirsty, sleep when tired. iPhone on airplane mode, media black out, sounds of crickets. 5 whole days. We all have our lives and our jobs and our competing priorities. Jess and Alex have now moved to NC, the rest of us back to work in DC. It's hard to imagine when the stars will align like this to allow such an adventure to happen again, so we hold onto the memories. Here at Greateskape.com we learn to appreciate the little moments of escape we can squeeze into our lives (see #15secondsofflow) so it was a rare treat to get a whole week away like this. #432000secondsofflow.