plan your ride

Everyone's plan is different

How many bicycle brands can you name?  I’m guessing that you can create a pretty long list.  When I started asking people about their strategy to bike the GAP & C&O, I heard about as many different responses.  Everyone does the ride at their own pace and in a style that suits them.

A friend's family started in Harper's Ferry and spent 10 days riding north to Pittsburgh lodging each night in B&B’s and they took turns pulling the BOB trailer loaded with supplies.  They took their time and covered between 30 and 40 miles a day.  Friends from Dirt Rag Magazine rode the distance over 3 days and a couple hours on the fourth day.  That would roughly equate to three centuries in a row (100 mile days) and then a final day of around 35 miles.  That would make for some pretty long days.


A guy from Virginia was riding from Pittsburgh to DC in two days.  He preferred to split the distance into two even days but he had friends in Frostburg so he planned his overnight there to visit with his friends.  It’s roughly 140 miles from Pittsburgh to Frostburg and 195 from Frostburg to DC.  That's a lot of miles to ride in a day.  One would have to be a considerable athlete to overcome the intense fatigue such distances would inflict.  I found his story very inspiring because I never imagined that even possible.


Below is a chart showing my most recent trip from Pittsburgh to DC.  Create something like this to help you plan your overnights.  I found another website that has this fantastic database of services at each town along the trail.  Click on the town and see if they have the services that you're looking for.  Click here to check out the "bikecando.com".


How do you estimate your daily mileage?

The most important question to ask yourself is how many miles do I feel comfortable riding each day? When trying to figure out how far to ride each day, keep in mind that you will have nothing to do all day but pedal your bike, eat some lunch, and do some site seeing.  Thirty miles would keep you pedaling at a very casual pace where you could stop for a long lunch, a few snack breaks and maybe even have time for some swimming or sunbathing (30 miles @ 10 mph = 3 hours of pedaling).  Keep in mind that 8-10mph is a comfortable pace for most people.  A more advanced cyclist would be able to sustain 15 mph pretty easily, provided that they're not loaded down with too much gear.  Many bicycle tour companies manage their daily mileage between 30 and 50 per day.


Once you figure out your daily riding distances, identify the towns that fit into your mileage range.  Use the mileage chart below as a reference.  From there you can research the lodging and restaurant options.


Do you need to train?

Before I set out on my first multi-day ride I was worried that my legs were not going to make the distance.  As it turns out my legs were not the body part that I needed to be concerned about.  I quickly learned that sitting in the saddle for eight hours a day focused a lot of pressure on my hands and my bottom.  I learned that two of the most important things to pack are a decent pair of padded bike shorts and chamois cream to protect yourself from rashes.  I stopped at the bike shop to pick up a few things and the salesman suggested that I get some chamois cream.  I laughed because I've been riding for years and never used chamois cream before.  It was pretty funny that AsMaster is the actual name of a  product.  After my first long day in the saddle I realized how critical chamois cream is.  If it weren't for chamois cream I never would have managed 70+ miles per day.  I have since tried a dozen different products which all seemed similarly effective.

I was watching a movie about the Tour de France and there was a clip showing a guy from the support team applying chamois cream to the racers shorts.  The coach demonstrated the proper technique which is to apply generous amounts of cream and then evenly distribute the cream across the chamois area of the shorts.  Rub it into the chamois pad so it's nice and even.

Surprisingly, after 70+ miles each day (my furthest ride prior to this was 60 miles) my legs were able to go even longer.  The miles seem to roll past a little easier when your not dodging traffic and negotiating intersections.  Most of my fatigue was concentrated in my arms and my seat.  Changing hand positions often and alternating between a standing position and sitting seemed to help manage the fatigue.


Plan on dealing with fatigue

Fatigue is your biggest challenge.  Pedaling for 6-8 hours a day sitting in the same position causes your body to seize up.  Stretching and changing positions as often as possible helps but you are limited as to the number of different positions.  One technique I use to fight fatigue is to alternate each mile between standing and sitting.  Stand up on your bike this mile and sit on your seat for the next.  I find that this uses slightly different muscles and it gives your bum a break from non-stop sitting.

The key to an enjoyable trip is being comfortable.  Take breaks every couple of hours and stretch.  Make certain that your bike is properly adjusted so that you are as comfortable as possible.  Your clothes should not hinder your pedaling motion and if you feel clothing rubbing against your skin you should stop to adjust it.  It doesn't take long for rubbing clothes to break your skin.

Bring plenty of snacks and water to avoid dehydration.  Energy bars are easy to carry and don't require refrigeration.  Eat a few energy bars a day to prevent yourself from ever getting really hungry on the trail.  If you allow yourself to get real hungry, you might already be slightly dehydrated and be losing energy, so eat and drink before you hit the wall.


Your lodging plan

The trickiest part of trip planning is securing lodging at the towns you have targeted.  Some towns may only have one B&B so it's real easy for a town to run out of rooms (especially during peak season).  If you are hoping for the hotel with a hot tub and all there is available is a hostel with a bunk bed, you may be a little disappointed.  Use the links on the hotels and camping page or learn more about lodging from the trail town page.