Wednesday, January 22, 2014

GAPCO - Post Tour Thoughts and Equipment Review

Somewhere on the C&O Canal. Photo credit: Patty
"People don't take trips, trips take people."
--John Steinbeck
Five months later our 335 mile GAPCO adventure resonates like no other time on two wheels. Perhaps it's the proximity to large and small cities, yet feels like a country ramble through the woods. Perhaps it's a myriad of welcoming small towns, providing all manner of accommodations. Perhaps it's the touring cyclists' camaraderie. Or that the Great Allegheny Passage trail seamlessly blends into the C&O Canal towpath, yet both trails are distinctive and can be an enjoyable journey on their own.

It's heartwarming to experience firsthand how small communities embrace bicycle tourism. In turn, cyclists learn a region's history. Other long distance rail trails should emulate this symbiotic nature. This rare blend of spectacular trail network was a long time coming in the U.S.—a movement that's sure to grow as more trails are developed and linked.

C& O Canal, approaching Big Slackwater. Photo credit: Patty

A big surprise: both trails are 90% tree covered. Leave the sunscreen behind. However, come prepared for colder than predicted temperatures in September and October. Because of shaded trail, chilly mornings will not warm until 10 or 11 a.m. Trade-off: mosquitoes are gone; we had our pick of campsites, and could fall back on indoor accommodation during inclement weather. Next time, I'd add chemical warmers for back up warmth; they're small enough to pack without adding a bulky second pair of shoes.

Incidentals and Equipment Review

I'm a veteran bike tourist, but with the advent of lightweight gear, new fabrics, and different tour companions lending a fresh perspective, I continually learn new ways of doing things. It becomes an on-road class in bike touring with every adventure.

I giggled when my girlfriend bought Jiffy Pop to have as a snack—not too mention that it's impossible to pack inside panniers. However, if kept flat on rear rack Jiffy Pop stays intact. It also cooks pretty fast on a simple camp stove. And did you know that wine and popcorn go well together? I'm sold on this combination for any upcoming bike tour!

Photo credit: Patty
A digital camera doubles as documentation device. Snap a photo of wildlife for later identification—even if it's a big mother snake viewed from a safe distance.

My husband used an inexpensive plastic poncho as bike tarp, plus as additional coverage over an inadequate rain jacket. I presume it could also replace rain gear on an overnight adventure, saving space, and/or utilized as tent ground sheet. Get one at your local dollar store.

I would have preferred riding my mountain bike (I lent it to my girlfriend), but found my touring bike was very comfortable and certainly adequate for the entire journey.

An unexpected side effect: our bike tires constantly flung sticks and twigs. This happened even on GAP's fine, stone dust surface. We worried the twigs would lodge in our wheels and break spokes.

My bike had two fender problems.
The only mechanical mishap, fortunately, was a broken rear fender. A stick probably got caught, snapped the fender, buckling the plastic up against the frame.

My Avenir Excursion small panniers held up well. One side housed ground pad, sleeping bag, and rain wear, while the opposite compartment held clothing and toiletries. If you're a minimalist, the price is right for a decent amount of capacity.

The only downside is, at some point, I'll need to replace the u-shaped hooks that attach to rack. They are cheaply made and one hook was slightly bent before I started the ride. However, the center clamp is a nice touch, insuring hooks stay in place.

Eight days of bike touring on GAPCO's amazing network was certainly a highlight of 2013. I couldn't have traveled with better companions than my husband and dear friend, Patty. I hope we share many more two-wheeled adventures.

For a collection of day by day blog posts, see GAPCO Trail 2013.


  1. As the President of the C&O Canal Trust, the official nonprofit partner of the C&O Canal National Historical Park, I very much enjoyed your posting about your "GAPCO" adventure. (I prefer the term "COGAP" myself, but then I am biased!) All those wishing to help us care for the C&O Towpath part of this national treasure are urged to visit --- Mike Nardolilli

    1. Thank you Mike. Our adventure was a stunning reminder that in the U.S. we have some amazing places to visit. In March my husband and I are presenting a slideshow of our 8-day ride at a local venue, so hopefully we can further spread the COGAP cheer.

      I encourage everyone to check out the Canal Trust's website.

      As for the COGAP acronym, perhaps it's a better one as mine has incurred links from some corporation, plus it's also an effort to revitalize a plaza in New York City. Who knew?

      I encourage everyone to check out the Canal Trust's website.


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