Pittsburgh to Washington, DC by bike

Some of the planning for this trip is available in the MBB forums.

We left early in the morning on Saturday, May 10, and completed the ride in 4 days. The Allegheny Trail Alliance contained most of the necessary logistical information regarding what trails we needed to take.

P2P: Pittsburgh, PA to Purcellville, VA by bike

The next morning after Kathleen’s comprehensive finals at Duquesne,
she and I loaded our camping gear and 4 days worth of foul weather
gear onto our bikes and set out for her parents’ place near
Purcellville, VA. We considered riding door-to-door from our
apartment in Pittsburgh to her parents’ in Philomont, but Kathleen has
more sense than I do, and she insisted that we avoid roads that
actually have cars on them to the extent possible.

The route was to consist of 4 parts: (1) The 150-mile Great Allegheny
Passage from McKeesport, PA to Cumberland, MD; (2) the northernmost
150 miles of the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath from Cumberland, MD
to White’s Ferry, MD; (3) a few miles on Route 15 into Leesburg, VA;
and (4) under 20 miles on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail from
Leesburg, VA to Purcellville, VA.

Trip time: 4 days

Day 1: McKeesport to Confluence (69 mi / 7:15)
Day 2: Confluence to Cumberland (65 mi / 6:49)
Day 3: Cumberland to Williamsport (88 mi / 8:26)
Day 4: Williamsport to Purcellville (62 mi / 5:57)

Jon’s bike + gear: 70 lbs
Kathleen’s bike + gear: 50 lbs

Jon and Kathleen near OhiopylePictures

Day 1: McKeesport to Confluence (69 mi / 7:15)

My dad dropped us off at the trailhead in McKeesport and we strapped
our gear onto the bikes. Right away the rain started, and we pulled
out our jackets and our warmest clothes. The first 3 to 4 hours of
the trip were spent riding in the rain. The Youghiogheny River, which
runs along the Great Allegheny Passage for most of its length, was
raging. The rain actually made for some amazing scenery, as many
impromptu waterfalls decorated the hillside as we rode. The ground
was sufficiently saturated that we encountered a number of trees whose
roots couldn’t hang on in the mud. We also saw the aftermath of some
recent rockslides. The trail surface itself withstood the rain quite
well, and we had no trouble making progress. Around noon, the rain
slowed and the sun showed signs of coming out. We stopped at Marten’s
Grocery in Connellsville, PA and got a sandwich, some pasta salad,
bananas, and more gatorade. As we restarted the sun came out and we
began to dry. Just shy of 20 miles later we rolled into Ohiopyle and
ate again at the Firefly Grill. This time I had BBQ pulled pork and
Kathleen had a chicken wrap. We relaxed for a short while and then
finished out the day, arriving at our destination in Confluence just
before 4pm. We setup camp at the Youghiogheny River Dam Outflow Area
Corps of Engineers Campground (quite a mouthful). My favorite part
was hauling firewood the mile or so from the grocery store on the back
of my bike. Kathleen and I retired to the Lucky Dog for some
margaritas and chips and salsa. The proprietor of the rafting
business next door was kind enough to let me use his computer to
offload the data from my GPS device. Unfortunately, it turned out
that our firewood was still alive, and preferred smoking to burning.

Day 2: Confluence to Cumberland (65 mi / 6:49)

The forecast suggested that this day would start out nice and
deteriorate. Our plan was thus to get up early and hit the trail,
which we did, with hopes of beating the storm. We had brunch in
Garrett, PA at the Country Nook Cafe, while there was a car show going
on. We didn’t spend much time looking around, as the sky was looking
sinister. There was a light rain falling as we rode through
Meyersdale, but it quickly dissipated. The area was covered with
windmills, and with good reason. The rain was replaced with an
incredible headwind. We later learned that wind gusts reached 40~50
mph, and I believe we felt several of those. At one point, Kathleen
and I were both blown off the trail into the grass. The worst of the
wind was in the straight section of trail from Deal, PA to the Eastern
Continental Divide. The divide marked end of our climbing, which
started way back on Connellsville the previous day. Interesting
things began happening in succession, with trail going through the Big
Savage Tunnel and crossing the Mason-Dixon Line into Maryland. There
were beautiful views east of the tunnel, and the trail began
paralleling some active train tracks. Our average speed jumped from
around 7 mph into the headwind to over 15 mph as we descended. With
only a few miles left to Cumberland, the rain came. Given the
forecast for inches of rain and the high likelihood of thunderstorms,
we decided to forgo camping and checked into the Holiday Inn in
Cumberland, MD. The hot shower, dinner, and breakfast were most
appreciated, but the hotel didn’t get Versus so we couldn’t watch the
Pens beat the Flyers.

Day 3: Cumberland to Williamsport (88 mi / 8:26)

We started the day with a trip to another Marten’s Grocery for some
more granola bars and gatorade. It was raining. The C&O Towpath
started rather ceremoniously from the Cumberland Train Station with a
fancy brick surface. We were surprised by how close the canal is to
the Potomac River. We quickly came upon our first lock and lock house
along the canal. We also came upon some more uprooted trees, given the
sogginess of the ground. Again the trail seemed to drain pretty well,
though there were puddles that made us extremely grateful for our
front fenders and waterproof gear bags. Kathleen joined the ranks of
experienced cyclists by acquiring her first flat tire. We came rather
unexpectedly upon the Paw Paw Tunnel, through which the canal and
towpath pass. This tunnel is 5/8 of a mile long, and is not lighted.
With all the rain, the canal was flooded, and the trip through the
tunnel involved a lot of feeling our way in the dark. It turned out
to be well worth the trip, however, as some of the most impressive
waterfalls of the whole trip were on the east side of the tunnel. We
found the construction signs warning of possible delays to be pretty
amusing, as we had the trail to ourselves for the most part.

Our next interesting stop was Little Orleans, where Bill (from Bill’s
Place, of course) made us some beef sandwiches and fries, and we found
mountain dew. It was a close call, as Bill arrived to open the place
a few minutes after we arrived there. We were very much in need of
food and rest, so it would have been quite unpleasant had Bill not
arrived when he did. Bill also told us about the Western Maryland
Rail Trail (WMRT), which is PAVED and runs for about 20 miles parallel
to the towpath. In the interest of time, we decided to go for it. We
averaged about 17 mph for the next 20 miles, and hereafter referred to
the WMRT as the warp zone. About halfway through the warp zone we
stopped at C&O Bicycle in Hancock, MD and got more gatorade and some

After rejoining the towpath, we came upon Dam #5 on the Potomac, and
it was raging. The water was trapping debris that included mounted
tires and enormous tree trunks. These things were being thrown back
into the falling water, creating an amazing spectacle. A few miles
further and we were in Williamsport, our destination for the night.
Given the day’s high mileage and continuing questionable weather, we
rode a mile up the road to the Red Roof Inn. Dominos Pizza provided
the room service, and a guest down the hall provided a laptop we could
use to get our GPS data.

Day 4: Williamsport to Purcellville (62 mi / 5:57)

We had a nutritious breakfast at Waffle House and set off for the
final day’s riding.

The first obstacle was a 6-mile road detour due to washed out
trail. We managed to navigate it successfully, though both Kathleen
and I were too mesmerized by the scenery to see the roadkill in the
road: we both ran it over. We were greeted by some very high water
where the detour rejoined the towpath, and I ended up trading my
cycling shoes for flip-flops and carrying our bikes through the water.

Our next planned stop was in Harper’s Ferry, but the railroad bridge
across the river at Harper’s Ferry had its gate locked. We decided to
press on to Brunswick, but before we could get moving I discovered that
my rear tire had gone flat. We changed it without incident, and
decided to press on to Brunswick for lunch.

We were concerned that our planned crossing of the Potomac on White’s
Ferry would be closed due to the high water, and debated the merits of
riding all the way to DC and getting a rental car, or crossing the
river in Brunswick and riding the last 12 miles to Purcellville on the
road. We opted for the shortest path, and found ourselves at our
destination in Purcellville less than an hour later! There were many
school busses whizzing by on the road, and Kathleen hit a turtle and
sent it flying, but we arrived safely. More margaritas were in order
at Magnolia’s while we waited for Kathleen’s parents to meet us.

Gear list
Sleeping pad
Sleeping bag
Flip flops


Spare tubes
Patch kit
Chain links
Extra spokes
Spoke wrench
Tire levers
Chain lube
Chain tool
Multi-tool + 8mil
Zip ties
Electrical tape
Flashlight(s) / headlamp(s)

Phone charger
GPS charger
Solar charger and Nokia/USB ends
Ziplock bags
Dry bags (rain plan for sleeping bags, tents)

Baggy riding shorts
Riding tights
Short sleeve riding shirt
Long sleeve riding shirt
Rain jacket (grey Marmot, or Purple North Face)
Pants, underwear, t-shirt, socks

Granola bars
Contact solution
Glasses cleaner?
First aid kit
camera (charger)


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