Hi Fellow Cyclists,
We are working on final planning for an October GAP/C&O Canal ride (west to east). We are hoping to locate a few roadway route options along segments of the C&O. Why the options? We'd like to have an opportunity to see some of the countryside and areas where people live away from the river canyon. Additionally, we will be on a road tandem and were concerned about how well it (and we!) will handle rougher trail surface conditions, particularly if we run into a lot of wet weather. We have thousands of road miles on the tandem but little time on dirt or gravel. We could use any advice from anyone familiar with the area.
The tandem will be set up with largest tires I can fit under the fenders - 700/32 front tires and it looks like I'll have at least 37mm squeezed in the rear. We've had a chance to ride a 10 mile stretch of the GAP near Connellsville on a rental fat tire tandem, the trail surface there seemed like it would work out OK for our road tandem; blogs and other sources also seemed to indicate the GAP surface would be pretty do-able for us. The C&O sounds like it might be more likely to provide some tougher conditions. We did do rental tandem (wide tires again) out of Cumberland to investigate about a 10 mile stretch of C&O - pretty good surface along there. Ditto on a rental ride out of DC, mostly on the paved Capital Crescent and then towpath dirt to around somewhere maybe called Glen Echo.
We get the feeling there's not much in the way of "easyish" roadway cycling routes in the area of the C&O - seems no shoulders/narrow roads, short sight-lines, high traffic volumes, grinding steep grades make up much of what we have ferreted out with on-line resources so far. There are a couple areas that looked initially possible however, and we hope someone out there can provide some feedback.
#1 Hancock to Williamsport
Big Pool Road(Hywy 56) and Clearspring Road (Hywy 68). This initially looked ok on Google Map terrain view and Mapmyride - further investigation with street view and the State of Maryland Highway department "Bicycle Level of Comfort" map (http://roads.maryland.gov/oppen/bloc_washington.pdf
) was maybe not so good. Though not too hilly, and what looks like beautiful countryside, the State gives it what appears poor ratings for bicycle use on the eastern part of Big Pool and along Clearspring. It does look like riding Big Pool east to Hassett and then 4 Locks Road back down to the C&O might be ok and a worthwhile option. Anyone out there familiar with this area? We do have the rail trail (Western Maryland RR) in the plans for this area.
#2 Williamsport to Antietam
It looks like there may be a number of options along here. Perhaps Lappens Road (Hywy 68), Downsville Pike (632), Spielman and Bakersville Road (63?), Sharpsburg Pike (65), then Harpers Ferry Road south to what appears to be an access back onto the C&O near Antietam (town and creek). How about Lappens directly to Sharpsburg Pike, or maybe other little roads in that area?
Any other alternates between Cumberland and DC? We have lodging locked in already so wouldn't be able to stray too far off the C&O corridor. Also, we are looking at this from the perspective of a group of six with ages getting close to sixty (not super strong) , some of the group with past multi-day touring experience but just getting back to riding regularly - and others whom are somewhat newer to biking. We do ride some hills in the lower Sierra Nevada foothills, but we seldom encounter the rather severe grades that the eastern mountains seem to occasionally provide for its roadways. We have, by the way, put the WOD rail trail (Leesburg to DC) on the optional list - will see if we feel like we have gotten too beat up by the C&O surface at that point, or if we need some relief from what others have described as the "green tunnel " effect along the river.
Thanks in advance for any help you can provide, and we are really looking forward to the trip