A Baker’s Dozen Common Sense Tips for the GAP Trail and C&O Canal Ride

Slice of Life – Future – October 17, 2011

If you have done a metric or 100-mile century ride before then you are about 1/3 of the way educated for this 4-day ride.

I hope that these following 13 common sense recommendations along with my lessons learned will help you.

#13 – Is the bike tuned up?

I own 3 bikes but ride my 2003 Lemond Wayzata, 95% of the time. For this ride I changed out the complete drive train with a lots of help from the good people at Gaithersburg Bicycle (MD). Everything – I mean everything was replaced with new. It was a challenge finding all the Shimano parts to substitute for the originals. One week before the ride I had them check over my work (as I was having trouble with squeaky rear brakes). The good news was – they easily fixed the brakes; bad news was I needed a new rear axle. To my naïve surprise the cheap original Bontrager rear wheel set had an integrated axle that prevented an axle replacement. So they scoured the country and found 1 wheel that came close to matching (silver rim/black spokes) and put it on in time for the ride.

The ride was great – no problems whatsoever.

Lesson Learned – get expert advice – fix the bike/pay the man – it’s a long walk home.

#12 – Find a seat that loves you

I spent a lot $$ fixing up the bike but chose not to replace a 7-year-old seat. I thought that this seat loved me. It just abused me after the 2nd day. In 2012, I am splitting up with this seat and getting fitted for a good Italian seat that loves me.

#11 – Flat hand bars with bar stops. Put them on.

Don’t even think of riding these trails tucked over on the drops. First you’ll miss the scenery; second the ability to chat with other riders for extended periods (1 minute); third your shoulders will become defacto shock absorbers.

Lesson: Ride upright on flats and let your arms take the shaking.

#10 – Camaraderie – expect it!

Your night in Ohiopyle PA means shared housing – you remember the 80’s, 70’s and maybe the 60’s where you lived in group settings – well – welcome to Ohiopyle. If you are lucky to get a hotel room – you might not hear the snoring. But Ohiopyle adds to the lore of why this is a great ride. PS: Ride Allegheny controls all the available rooms in Ohiopyle on the first overnight rest. Let them handle it.

Remember: What happens in Ohiopyle – Stays in Ohiopyle.

#9 – Train for this event – It is BUTT time that counts.

Don’t even think that one long century ride qualifies. Yes, there are heroes out there whose longest ride was a 15-mile tune up. I saw them – they suffered – silently.
Work the core muscles at the gym, spin, ride the weekends, ride in the mud and do a minimum of four 50-mile rides – do at least two of them back to back.

Lesson learned – it’s not about the miles but rather the time on a bike seat that loves you. Also see recommendation #2.

#8 – Cue sheets, Maps or Garmin?

Know the route, the towns and historic locations that you will travel through. I found that the best primer for this ride was Bill Metzger’s The Great Allegheny Passage Companion. I read it in the weeks preceding the ride.

On the ride I had two maps (maps and cue sheets area supplied by Ride Allegheny) marked with all rest & overnight stops – with mileage marked. Both Trails are well marked so – no need to worry about being found by the FUGAREWE tribe.

I also traveled with the iPhone APP – Cyclemeter by Abvio Version 6.0. It worked well most of the time except for tunnels, gray clouds, tree cover and satellite’s that lost me along the way. Plus this APP shuts down every time you get a call.

Lesson learned: If you’re a bit of an A-Type like me – buy a GARMIN. I will.

#7 – Leave the 23mm’s home – Use wide tires

You don’t need a MTB to ride these trails – yes it could come in handy on the C&O Canal but wide tires – anywhere from 28mm to 32mm will ease the shocks and bumps that you will encounter along the trails. Remember this is not a competitive race rather it is a ride across mountainous and river valley country. Up and down, under control. 80 PSI works – conversely 110 PSI just amplifies the shocks.

Lesson learned. Find that first pothole on the C&O – you’ll understand what I am writing about.

#6 – Camera at the ready – Stop and enjoy the beauty

Those that know me know that I have many cameras and shoot a lot. (Why else do I have this photoblog for)? For this ride I left the PRO’s home and borrowed a Coolpix 8800, used my iPhone 4 and a small point and shoot Nikon Coolpix (pink) that belongs to my wife. Yes, I know I could have bought a TRANSIT rack and bag and brought one of them along but go back to #13 to understand why I didn’t. They all worked just fine. The best camera is the one you have in your hand. Stop and enjoy – it is truly a beautiful country from the trail.

Lesson learned: Enjoy the view

#5 – Chat

You have more in common with these groups of riders than you’d ever expect to know. Case in point – one rider grew up in the next town over from me in Syracuse NY. I grew up in Solvay, he in West Genesee (known for great lacrosse players). Sitting at the bar with him was like being back at a bar on Milton Ave (well – that one is a stretch), right Kevin?

Lesson Learned: Talk – the miles in between the now and the then wiz by.

#4 – Get Wet, Get Muddy

If you are a MTB rider – skip to #3, otherwise read on.

September 2011 for the Midwest, Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states was a deluge of rain – all time records for rainfall. That makes for some wet riding and muddy trails especially on the C&O Canal. You cannot be afraid to ride in the rain or through the mud. Train for it. Experience fish tailing through the mud, control the handlebars to avoid taking a spill into a canal, or to just cover up from the rain. It pays dividends.

We experienced four great sunny days this past October ride but from Cumberland MD to Seneca MD you can count on having miles of wet rutted trails.

Lesson learned: Bring a “woodie” – a fantail for the rear wheel if you don’t like to muddy your best Performance two tone riding jersey.

#3 – Hydrate

I once rode between the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays on an 85 round trip sponsor ride. It was 100 degrees that day – not much overhead cover on the Eastern Shore and the support was pitiful. That did not make this a bad ride. I did, by not hydrating for it – for days before. Plus I did not bring the Camelback. I cramped up – too many times to count – for the last 25 miles I experience heat prostration – I was cold riding the bike – I could not sweat. Stupid.

So for Ride Allegheny/C&O I hydrated for 3 weeks prior to the ride. Remember I am an A-Type. To some I may have went overboard. All I can say is that I never cramped, never was I dehydrated. I rode with a Camelback. I contributed to both the Mississippi and Chesapeake Watersheds every 10 miles – I could never find one of those chemical toilets in time.

Lesson Learned: I cut out the Bud Light– and I went with the pure spring water – Deer Park.

#2 – BUTT Crème

For all the knowledge on hydration I learned, I was clueless on butt crème. My posterior hurt up to this past weekend. I could have easily solved that issue by using the butt crème that I brought along

Lesson Learned: Use it if you have it. Or buy it along the trail.

#1 – Work the Contributions – Have Fun

If you do this ride with the Ride Allegheny group who supports Operation Second Chance then there is a “charity” component to the ride. The threshold is not much; if you’re smart you can find ways to get a sponsor or to raise contributions. The thanks they you receive along the way at American Legion rest stops are more rewarding than the ride itself. It makes the ride, fun to be well received.

Lesson Learned: Be gracious; give thanks, my sweet Lord. (A shout out to George Harrison for that inspiration.)