I just finished a four day ride along the entire 185 mile length of the C&O canal, camping along the way. What an amazing trip! I first started riding a unicycle about a year ago and this forum was incredibly helpful for me (thank you!). I figured I would give back a little by writing up my recent trip, hoping someone would enjoy the details. I apologize ahead of time if my post is too verbose…
- UDC Titan 36" Unicycle
- Diamondback Seatpost Bike Rack
BACKPACK (15.5 pounds with water containers empty, over 20 pounds when full)
- Camping Gear: Tent, sleeping bag, inflatable sleeping mat, headlamp, Swiss army knife, matches, 20 feet of twine, backpack rain cover
- Clothes for the evenings: windbreaker/rain jacket, lightweight pants, shirt (x2), underwear (x2), socks, trash bag to keep it all dry
- Toiletries: Toothbrush, minimal first aid kit, sunscreen, bug spray, Chamois Butt’r
- Water: Camelbak (70 ounce capacity), 20 ounce water bottles (x2)
- Other: Mobile phone, selfie stick, charger, pages with a long list of potential stopping points on the trip. Cash, credit card, drivers license, medical insurance card.
MINI SEATPOST BAG (didn’t weigh it, not shown in picture)
- Bike multi-tool, tube patch kit, tire levers, spoke wrench, mini bike pump, bike lock
RECTANGULAR BIKE RACK BAG (7 pounds)
- Four days of food. I planned to stop at restaurants along the canal for lunch but otherwise packed enough food for four days.
I also wore bike shorts, a bike shirt, sunglasses, helmet, wrist guards, socks, running shoes and wrist watch. If it isn’t on this list, I didn’t bring it.
Day-by-Day details of the ride…
DAY 1 (50 miles)
Drove an Enterprise rental car to Cumberland, MD (one way rental worked great).
Starting the ride, I became a bit nervous after three unsuccessful attempts to free mount while carrying over 25 pounds of equipment and supplies. I got going on the fourth try, but seriously wondered if my ride was doomed to failure. I had only done a couple of 15 mile practice rides with a 20+ pound load and I obviously wasn’t quite used to it. It was good that I was a couple hundred miles from home at that point. I was committed.
Rode about 3 miles on the Great Allegheny passage before getting to the start of the C&O canal. Pavement on this section!
The C&O Canal towpath is not paved. It is sort of like a dirt road with some gravel in it at various spots. This creates a problem when mud and puddles form after days of rain…and we had just had days of rain.
The first 10 miles of the trail had lots and lots of very large patches of mud and puddles which also managed to nicely hide bumps in the path. I counted at least a half dozen unplanned dismounts in the first 10 miles. This fueled my worries at first. However, as the miles went by there seemed to be a bit less mud and I adjusted to riding with the extra load.
I found an interesting way to ride with my backpack hip belt loosened a bit, letting much of the load rest on my seatpost rack. This produced less overall strain on my upper body but also made it more important for the backpack to be balanced (in both the way it was packed and the way it was sitting on the rack). I rode lots of miles this way.
I found three definite modes of riding:
–Mode 1: Everything balanced, a bit more of the pack weight on my hips and shoulders, leaning forward to the point that I was at the edge of losing control. With the accentuated forward lean, I had not choice but to ride fast in this mode with little wasted effort. However, it did take a lot of energy to ride this quickly and I couldn’t keep it up all day. It was great for spurts of a churning out couple of miles and then reverting back to Mode 2 for a while.
–Mode 2: Everything balanced, more upright position, pack mostly leaning on the seatpost rack. In this mode I could ride at a relaxed pace. Easier on the legs and less energy output overall. However, in this mode, it seemed that a portion of my energy went into just keeping the load balanced. I also found myself inadvertently slipping from Mode 2 into Mode 3.
–Mode 3: Load not balanced right. Lots of wasted energy to keep riding straight One might think I would never ride in this mode, but unfortunately everything wasn’t always balanced and I would just be riding along for a while before I noticed how difficult things had become. At that point, I would make some adjustments but I certainly rode along in this unbalanced mode more than I would have liked, especially in the first couple of days.
On day one I camped in Little Orleans and strangely, I felt GREAT at the end of the day. I had ridden from 9 AM to 6 PM with lots of stops including a lunch stop of over an hour. I was snug in my tent before 8 PM!
Highlights from Day 1 included the Paw Paw Tunnel (0.6 miles, very dark, needed headlamp, VERY bumpy so I had to walk), lunch at The School House Kitchen (1/4 mile off the trail, located in an old high school), seeing a rattlesnake on the trail (I have spent a lot of time in this area and never seen one before), getting out of my tent around midnight for some star watching. I forget how many stars are out when you get away from city lights.
DAY 2 (45 miles)
- Another day with great weather. Day 1 reached 80 degrees and Day 2-4 were all in the mid to upper 80s with sun. Fortunately, I didn’t get rained on at all during my trip.
- Broke camp and on my unicycle by 8:15 AM. Interestingly, I could feel my core muscles and upper body muscles a bit, which I am sure was due to the backpack. I wasn’t feeling as strong during the first half of the day. Fortunately, I felt stronger and stronger as the day progressed.
- The Western Maryland Rail Trail is a paved trail that runs parallel to the C&O canal towpath for 22 miles. I jumped on the chance to ride on pavement and get a break from the bumpy towpath. If you are a purist, you would say that I didn’t ride the entire C&O canal. That’s fine. I enjoyed the rail trail.
- I fell into a routine that I basically repeated for the next three days. Up early, eat a big breakfast, break camp, ride for about 3 hours, stop at a nearby restaurant for a an hour for lunch, ride for the rest of the afternoon, set up camp at around 5 or 6, down for the night at around 8 PM.
- I would also stop every 45 minutes or so to rest for a short bit, eat a Gu packet (energy gel) or trail bar, drink some water, wet my head to stay cool, etc. It was hot and I drank a LOT of water all day long. These short breaks were the single most important activity for keeping my energy level up throughout the day. I really can’t say that enough.
- Applying Chamois Butt’r to my seat area a couple of times per day was the second most important activity of the trip. I am sure I would have been in trouble if I hadn’t brought it. If you do a trip like this, don’t leave home without it!
- Oh yeah, don’t forget the sunscreen. The trail is mostly shady so I only applied sunscreen at lunchtime to protect from the mid-day sun. No sunburns for me on this trip.
- I camped at the Cumberland Valley Hiker/Biker camp site at mile 95 on the C&O Canal. I took advantage of these mini remote camp sites every 5 to 8 miles along the Canal. Each site a hand pump for water and a port-a-potty. No automobile access for miles. No people for miles. Very neat experience.
DAY 3 (45 Miles)
- Great sunrise over the Potomac River. Started riding at 7 AM.
- Saw an owl in the morning and spent a few minutes just watching it.
- The trail conditions were very good in this section as I went by the towns of Sharpsburg, Shepherdstown and Harpers Ferry. Much of the mud had dried out after a couple of sunny days and the riding was a bit easier today.
- I followed my daily routine just like Day 1 and 2. Dousing my head with water every 30 minutes became more important today as it reached 88 degrees.
- Camped at the Bald Eagle Island Hiker/Biker campsite. Very remote. Nobody for miles.
- Highlights for the day: Side trip into Shepherdstown, WV for lunch at Maria’s Taqueria (despite a killer hill), swimming in the Potomac River to cool off at my evening camp site.
DAY 4 (50 miles)
- By now, I was an expert at riding with a heavy load. I did most of my riding in Mode 1 or 2 (described above). I had also eaten most of my food by now (reducing weight a bit) and was carrying as little water as I could, knowing that I could refill every 5 miles or so. I was still drinking a LOT of water. I was just carrying less. I was probably carrying 7 or 8 pounds less than day 1.
- Today I encountered a 4 mile section with the worst mud of the trip. At points, I felt like I was riding through thick peanut butter with deep bumps. I was pleased with myself for only having one unplanned dismount in that mess. Strangely, I just felt stronger in the mud. It wasted a lot of energy to get through it, but the sense of accomplishment made it fun.
- With 16 miles left to go, my wife met me on the trail to bring me lunch (actually it was my second lunch) and she took my backpack with her. She is great! All I carried for the last 16 miles was some water and energy bars. I did the next 10 miles in less than an hour! It was a nice freedom to be riding without all of the extra weight.
- Highlight for the day: Finishing up in Georgetown in Washington DC.
- I am approaching 50 years old and I joke with people that learning how to unicycle last year was my mid life crisis. There may be some truth to that.
- I am glad I took the trip. The experience was a wonderful combination of disconnecting from my daily life, not checking work emails, being outside for four days, meeting lots of great people and accomplishing a big goal. It was just what I wanted…and more.
- If I were going to do it again, I would try to figure out a way to carry a bit less weight. However, that wouldn’t be easy for me. I actually used everything I brought except for the selfie stick, tools, the first aid kit, the bug spray and a little bit of extra food. I would leave the selfie stick behind next time.
- I didn’t use a handlebar. It would have made my trip easier. I might install one if I did it again. However, I like playing on my unicycle and I don’t think I would like having a handlebar outside of a long trip like this.
Attached is picture of my unicycle, resting by the sign indicating the endpoint of the C&O Canal. Enjoy!