Summer Sojourns, 2018

As summer nears its end, I am somewhat surprised to find that I have spent a total of 47 days—almost 7 weeks—traveling this year so far. I’ve already written about three of these trips. Here are just a few images from some of the others.

My most recent trip was a 10-day, 1,750-mile drive to explore some coastal areas of New England I wanted to get to know better. I passed through Williamstown in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts; spent a couple days visiting Bristol and Providence, Rhode Island; and went on to visit several towns along the south coast of Massachusetts, Sandwich on Cape Cod, Rockport north of Boston, and various towns on the South Shore below Boston. I also took side trips to eastern New York and Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.

Along the way I reconnected with quite a few people: my oldest friend (from orientation in college) and his wife (a friend from my Michigan days), two of my newest friends (whom I met through my bicycling trips), two good friends I’ve known since my early working years at the Boston Museum of Science, another friend from the Science Museum I hadn’t seen in 35 years, and a friend from the National Air and Space Museum and his wife, who have retired to New Hampshire. These people span almost every period of my adult life.

The weather cooperated beautifully, Siri’s wayfinding proved invaluable, SiriusXM satellite radio relaxed me on the long interstate drives, and I had a great time.

David Romanowski, 2018

Mucked in Pennsylvania

Rails to Trails Conservancy’s 2018 Pennsylvania Sojourn

I’m having a beer and a burger at a bar and grill in Easton, Pennsylvania, and checking tomorrow’s weather forecast on my cell phone again. The chance of rain keeps increasing; it could rain most of the day. Not good, but at least the forecast improves in the following days.

My cycling friend Bob from Michigan will arrive soon. Tomorrow morning we will drive from our motel to nearby Hugh Moore Park to join the Pennsylvania Sojourn, a five-day bicycle tour organized by the Rails to Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating a nationwide network of trails from former rail lines.

We will travel on the Delaware and Lehigh Trail on rail trails and canal towpaths through the Lehigh Gorge and to the towns of Jim Thorpe, Easton, and New Hope. Our route will follow a system of railroads and canals developed in the 1800s to transport vital anthracite coal from the mines near Wilkes-Barre to Philadelphia. We will also cross the Delaware River and ride along New Jersey’s Delaware and Raritan Canal, part of a similar system built to transport freight between Philadelphia and New York City.

Rails to Trails has been running Sojourns since 2002, mostly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. Meant to celebrate existing rail trails and draw attention to gaps in trail systems, the multiday rides have been very popular. This year’s Sojourn has drawn some 300 cyclists from 30 states.

This is my first Sojourn, and Bob’s too. It will also be our last. Rails to Trails just announced that, despite the popularity of the tours, the organization is shifting its priorities and will no longer run Sojourns. I am bummed to hear this.

Day One: Rain, Grit, and Grief

We arrive at Hugh Moore Park on Sunday morning before 7:00 a.m., park our cars, unload our bikes, and register for the event. We load our luggage onto one truck and our bikes onto another. We load ourselves into one of the waiting school buses, which transports us an hour and a half north to the starting point of the ride in Lehigh Gorge State Park, somewhere in the remote hills of northeastern Pennsylvania.

It is raining lightly but steadily when we arrive at Black Diamond Trailhead and retrieve our bikes. It feels chilly for mid-June, and we are eager to start pedaling to warm up. We head off down the trail through the rain toward Jim Thorpe.

Today’s ride is only 35 miles, all gently downhill or flat. It should be easy, but the trail is saturated and messy. It varies from a single track to a double-track path, and the surface ranges from packed dirt to fine loose gravel. We veer from one side of the trail to the other, trying to find the best way through the puddles and muck.

We stop for a welcome lunch break in White Haven, 10 miles down the trail. Lots of wet, grimy, and cold cyclists pile into Antonio’s Pizza, where we order slices and sandwiches. I warm up with coffee and a hot slice of pepperoni pizza. Before Bob and I head out into the rain again, I add a long-sleeved shirt beneath my rain jacket, which has already soaked through.

The trail widens a bit, and the rain eases for a while. By now I’ve gotten used to being wet and dirty, but our bikes are taking a beating. Bob and I stop twice to squirt water from our bottles onto our derailleurs and chains to wash off the accumulating gunk. Our bikes make an awful grinding sound when we brake. My chain skips now and then, but otherwise my Trek 520 touring bike, which I’ve ridden some 30,000 miles over 15 years, is doing okay. It has weathered drenching rain and mucky paths before.

But about 10 miles from Jim Thorpe, my rear wheel suddenly locks up and I skid to a stop. I get off the bike to see if maybe the chain has fallen off. Instead I find that the lower part of the derailleur has somehow pulled sideways and jammed into the spokes. I have no idea how this could even happen. I tug and pull and finally wrench the derailleur free. I discover that the lower of its two rotating cogs is completely locked up with grit.

I squirt the rest of my water onto the cog and manage to wash off enough grit to get it rotating again. I’m finally able to continue pedaling. But when I shift gears a while later, the derailleur slides sideways and jams into the spokes again. This time it’s even harder to extricate. I pedal on again, but now I avoid shifting at all. I count down the miles to Jim Thorpe.

Farther down the trail, I and some other riders stop to try to help a woman who is also having bike problems. The bearings in the bottom bracket—the “axle” that the pedal arms attach to—have ground to a halt. She can no longer pedal. We can’t fix her bike, so she calls the tour’s rider support number to summon one of the roving mechanics riding somewhere along the trail. As we head off, she begins to walk her bike toward town.

Screw It—Let’s Get a Room

We finally straggle into Jim Thorpe, with Bob’s disc brakes grinding badly and my 27-speed bike reduced to a single speed. We join the crowd of fellow cyclists milling around in front of Pocono Biking, which is providing mechanical support for the tour. Many have lined up to hose off their bikes and themselves, creating a beach of gray grit on the sidewalk. The shop’s mechanics are performing triage on dozens of crippled bicycles.

As we wait for them to assess ours, I start shivering again. Our campground is a half-mile walk from here up a steep hill. Dinner is not provided on the tour tonight, so after setting up our tents in the soggy campground we are supposed to head down the hill into town to find a restaurant, and then trek back up the hill again. As we mull over that thought, the mechanics’ verdicts come in: both our bikes are unrepairable with the parts and tools at hand. Bob’s brake pads have been ground away, and my derailleur mishap has bent part of my bike frame.

We overhear another cyclist asking about nearby hotels. One is right behind the bike shop, just steps away. Cold, wet, and demoralized, Bob and I agree we should look into it—and quickly, before the place fills up. As he waits to hose off, I dash around the corner. Tiny Hotel Switzerland has just a few rooms left. I reserve our best option: a room with a queen bed and private bath. It will beat setting up camp in the rain at the top of that hill. Lots other cyclists who had planned to camp opt for hotel rooms too. We will be the most comfortable campers on the trip that night.

Bob and I lock up our bikes and arrange for a tour staff member with a minivan to shuttle us up to the campsite, where our luggage awaits, and back. We lug our duffle bags upstairs to our tiny hotel room—just large enough to walk around the bed, but with a roomy, private bathroom. Bob offers to sleep on the floor. We shower and change into dry, clean clothes; hang our dirty, soppy ones wherever we can; and go to the restaurant downstairs to eat dinner and consider our options.

By now I am in full emotional response mode. I’m ready to quit the tour. I want to find a way to get me and my damaged bike back to Easton, load up the car, and go home. But the weather forecast for the next couple of days is good, and Bob, in a more calm and rational mode, wants to try to find a way to continue the trip. After dinner we drop by Pocono Biking and ask about rentals. We also arrange to have our own bikes transported with our luggage back to Easton, tomorrow’s campsite and where our cars are parked. With the logistics figured out, I calm down. We decide to continue the tour, at least for now.

Days Two and Three: Back in the Saddle Again

The next two days are everything the first day wasn’t: sunny, warm, and dry. The riding is mostly carefree and easy. The rental bikes are adequate. I enjoy examining the canal structures we pass, visiting the National Canal Museum in Easton, and comparing these canals to those I’m more familiar with, the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal and the Erie Canal.

At our second night’s campsite in Hugh Moore Park, I retrieve my bike and lock it onto the rack on my car. Bob calls around and finds the brake pads he needs at a bike shop in Easton. The mechanics in camp are able to get his bike repaired, and he turns in his rental bike to them.

The campground for the next two nights is at the upper unit of Washington Crossing State Park, a couple of miles beyond New Hope. I am not happy to discover that our camping area is rife with poison ivy, to which I am extremely sensitive. I step carefully and manage to avoid contact.

Day four will be a layover day. Some riders had preregistered for a kayaking trip or a tour of the state park, which preserves the area where General George Washington and his troops crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776 to surprise and defeat the Hessian forces at Trenton. I plan to explore the park and New Hope on my own. But once again, weather comes into play.

Day Four: Let’s Call It a Tour

Rain is forecast for later today, the last thing we want to deal with again. And neither of us is looking forward to largely retracing our route back to Easton tomorrow. Now it is Bob who favors cutting the tour short. He has made up his mind; he’s ready to leave. I am conflicted. But I’m also looking forward to driving up to Albany, New York, to visit friends after the tour. I call and they tell me I’m welcome to show up a day early. I make up my mind.

With the sky overcast but the rain holding off for now, we pack up our tents and gear. We learn from some tech-savvier campmates how to use Uber, our best option for getting ourselves back to Easton. I turn in my rental bike to the mechanics. After some difficulty due to our remote location, we finally book an Uber to Easton. We load up and depart. Bob heads back to Michigan. I head for New York State. Our Pennsylvania Sojourn is over.

Afterward

A few days after I returned home, I took my bike to REI for service and repair. Its mechanics managed to straighten the bent and twisted derailleur hanger on the frame. The frame could have broken during that process; if it had, the bike would have been a total loss. They will replace the derailleur, cassette, chain, crankset, and possibly the bottom bracket, which was full of grit when they took it apart—basically the entire drive train. It will be expensive, but I’ll have my bike back soon, ready to roll again with brand new components.

I’m not inclined to provide a detailed critique of a tour that won’t happen again, especially one so different in nature from others I’ve taken. Touring on trails and towpaths presents unique challenges, including lack of access to roving sag vehicles for aiding riders who need assistance. And anyone who has gone on enough bicycle tours knows that stuff happens. You get caught in the rain. It gets colder than you expected. The shower truck breaks down. There are not enough sinks and restrooms. The caterer runs late or runs out of coffee or food. Information is inadequate, inaccurate, untimely, or poorly relayed. Every tour has its snafus. Some are unavoidable; others reflect shortcomings in planning or preparation. This tour, in my opinion, had more than its share of these issues.

But I also have to say that much went very well, that all the Rails to Trails staff and volunteers I dealt with were unfailingly genial and tried to be helpful, and that the Pocono Biking staff did a commendable job dealing with the effects of that disastrous first day.

Even so, I am no longer so disappointed about the decision by Rails to Trails to end the Sojourn series. Many participants will likely disagree, but my sense is that bicycle tours are not the organization’s forte. I’m glad they offered these unique tours, and I’m glad I got to experience one. And I wish them well as they redirect their efforts and continue their noble mission of creating and promoting the use of trails across the nation.

David Romanowski, 2018

Summer Sojourns, 2017

My travels this summer all have been within the nearby region: the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia, the Jersey Shore, southern Pennsylvania, and western Maryland. Here are a few images I took along the way.

The Shore and More

Longwood Gardens

The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Rail Trail

David Romanowski, 2017

Different Strokes: 20 Bicycle Tours | # 3

Bike Overnights

About a year ago, the Adventure Cycling Association introduced Bike Overnights, a blog featuring readers’ stories and photos about their own brief bicycle adventures. Adventure Cycling describes a bike overnight as “a short getaway by bike, involving at least one night away from home.”

When I was looking for a term to describe the short bicycle trips that groups of cycling friends and I planned and executed over the last four years, I thought “bike overnights” worked as well as anything else, so I adopted that term. I devote this third “Different Strokes” to those half-dozen trips.

Rest stop on "The Farm, Fruits, and Forest Tour” in Pennsylvania.

A rest stop on “The Farm, Fruits, and Forest Tour” in Pennsylvania.

Three of those bike overnights were planned in conjunction with Bike Florida’s annual spring tour. In each case, a group of us got together in Florida before the tour and did some exploring by bike on our own. For the rest of the trips, we gathered in other places for a couple of days of cycling.

An obvious advantage of a bike overnight is that you can schedule and plan it whenever you want and cancel if the weather turns bad or other issues arise. But it may still require considerable advance planning, travel to the base site, and lodging or camping reservations. On several of our trips, rain was either a threat or a minor inconvenience, but it didn’t wash away any of our plans. The length of our rides each day was modest, often 35 to 40 miles, sometimes less, which allowed us plenty of time to relax and enjoy the ride.

Pinellas Trail, Florida

The group in Dunedin.

The group in Dunedin. [Photo: Tad Darling]

Base: Seminole, FL
Riders: 9
Biking Days: 2
Daily Biking Mileages: 38, 38

Before Bike Florida in 2013, a group of us rendezvoused at a friend of a friend’s home in Seminole, a couple of blocks from the Fred Marquis Pinellas Trail. The trail extends about 44 miles from St. Petersburg to Tarpon Springs. It is one of the best known and most heavily used rail trails in Florida.

On our first day, we biked the southern half of the Pinellas Trail and explored St. Petersburg’s downtown, waterfront, and lovely nearby neighborhoods. As a bonus, race cars were whining down the closed-off streets near the waterfront, practicing for the IndyCar Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. I had never gotten so amazingly close to a speeding race car!

The next day we planned to bike the rest of the Pinellas Trail to Tarpon Springs. But along the way we decided instead to detour off the trail near Dunedin onto the causeway that led out to Honeymoon Island State Park, which occupies a barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico. We ate lunch there and enjoyed the park’s unspoiled beach. Tarpon Springs would wait another day.

Amelia Island, Florida

2014-03-21 15.51.08 (2) (Medium)

The sand dunes near American Beach.

Base: Fernandina Beach, FL
Riders: 3
Biking Days: 1
Daily Biking Mileage: 38

Before my next two Bike Florida tours, I linked up with two friends from the Pinellas Trail group: Tad and Lea from New York State. In 2014 we rendezvoused at Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island in the very northeastern corner of Florida. We booked a suite at the Hampton Inn and spent a full day exploring the island by bicycle.

We biked around the Fernandina Beach historic district; visited Fort Clinch State Park, with its canopy road, Civil War fort, and half-mile long fishing pier; and biked down the coast to American Beach, a historic African American community and the site of the highest sand dunes in Florida. We returned via an inland route that took us through a mid-island nature preserve.

As we wandered around Fernandina Beach after dinner in the evening, we came across a carnival in a local park, an unexpected treat and a nice way to end the day.

Pinellas Trail, Florida

The view from the visitor center at Honeymoon Island State Park.

The view from the visitor center at Honeymoon Island State Park.

Base: Dunedin, FL
Riders: 3
Biking Days: 2
Daily Biking Mileages: 35, 25

This past spring, Sue and I rendezvoused with Tad and Lea at the Palm Court Motel in Dunedin, across the street from the Pinellas Trail and not far from the causeway to Honeymoon Island.

An unexpected health issue sidelined one of us, but the others enjoyed revisiting the Pinellas Trail. On the first day, we biked north and finally made it to Tarpon Springs. Later that day we also revisited Honeymoon Island State Park. The next day, we headed south to Largo, where we visited two sites just off the trail: the Florida Botanical Garden and Heritage Village.

While the Pinellas is a fine trail, it could use more maps and signage posted along the way to direct you to nearby attractions. We had a difficult time finding the Sponge Docks area in Tarpon Springs, a major tourist draw, and we would never have known about the other two sites had I not read about them beforehand.

Eastern Shore, Maryland

Riding the ferry from Oxford to Bellevue.

On the Oxford-Bellevue ferry. [Photo: Tad Darling]

Base: Easton, MD
Riders: 5-6
Biking Days: 3
Daily Biking Mileages: 10, 40, 25

Tad and Lea and two other friends from our cycling network—Barb and Michael from Pennsylvania—invited me and Sue to meet up with them for another bike overnight. In late October 2014 we rendezvoused at a Comfort Inn on the outskirts of the historic town of Easton, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Soon after driving across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on our way there, Sue and I stopped on Kent Island to bike the short (5 miles) but lovely Cross Island Trail.

The next day the group biked the circle route linking Easton, Oxford, and St. Michaels, one of the best known and most scenic Eastern Shore cycling routes. We explored all three towns, and the sailors among us especially enjoyed visiting the Cutts & Case Shipyard in tiny Oxford. We all enjoyed taking the ferry from Oxford to Bellevue and then continued on to St. Michaels and back to Easton.

The following day we biked on Tilghman Island (really more of a peninsula than an island). As Sue and I drove home the next day, our friends stayed longer and went on to explore Hoopers Island (an actual island) a bit farther south.

Vermont and New York

Biking through the Vermont countryside.

The Vermont countryside. [Photo: Tad Darling]

Base: Burnt Hills, NY
Riders: 5-6
Biking Days: 3
Daily Biking Mileages: 45, 40, 17

In August 2015, the same group from the Eastern Shore tour rendezvoused at Tad and Lea’s home north of Albany, New York. The next day, we drove to Middlebury, Vermont, and biked a loop route from there to the Lake Champlain Bridge at Crown Point, New York, and back via Vergennes, Vermont. The route Tad had mapped out rewarded us with spectacular vistas, rolling hills, and classic New England towns and countryside.

We returned to New York and did two more cycling day trips. First, we explored the rural countryside near Tad and Lea’s home. Then the next day, we biked along a short section of the Erie Canal and through Schenectady’s Stockade Historic District.

After our Burnt Hills bike overnight, Sue and I went traveling on our own for a few days. We rode the 11-mile Burlington Bike Path, which extends from downtown Burlington, Vermont, along the lakeshore and out into Lake Champlain on a narrow causeway. We biked the 5-mile Stowe Recreation Path through the countryside near Stowe, Vermont. Finally, we biked the 11-mile Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, which runs from Adams, Massachusetts, south toward Pittsfield.

Southern Pennsylvania

The contents of the welcome bag provided to each tour participant.

The contents of the “goodie bag” provided to each tour participant.

Base: Carlisle, PA
Riders: 4
Biking Days: 2
Daily Biking Mileages: 40, 38

My Pennsylvania cycling friend Dana got especially  creative when planning his bike overnight. In July 2013 he invited me and two other friends in our cycling network to his farm just north of Gettysburg for what he called “Bike-o-Rama.”

When I arrived at his house, I found a tour sign-in sheet; route cue sheets; a “goodie bag” filled with snacks, home-grown veggies, and ride souvenirs; and a custom-designed ride t-shirt! His son followed us on our ride in Dana’s pickup truck, which served as a sag wagon and lunch wagon. Dana’s wife Andy provided medical and meal support back at the farm.

On the first day, “The Great Battlefield Ride,” we biked from Dana’s farm to Gettysburg National Military Park, where we rode around the battlefield and then loaded the bikes onto the pickup and drove home. The next day, “The Farm, Fruits, and Forest Tour,” we biked around the countryside near Carlisle. Despite occasional drizzle, we had two fine days riding over the rolling hills of southern Pennsylvania.

David Romanowski, 2016

Different Strokes: 20 Bicycle Tours | # 2

Fully Supported Tours

I took part in 10 fully supported tours over the past 13 years. They varied greatly in duration, numbers of riders, and the nature of the routes, but they also shared many similarities.

Tent rentals at Bike Florida.

Tent rentals at Bike Florida.

On each tour, we stayed in campgrounds, parks, schools, colleges, fairgrounds, or convention or recreation centers. On most tours you can camp out, sleep on the floor in a building, pay a tent rental service to handle your camping needs, or book lodging on your own. You usually have the option to sign up for catered breakfasts and dinners for an extra fee. On many days, you often have the option of different routes of varying length.

Cycle Maryland, which I went on 2006, was discontinued a year or two later. That year it was based at Princess Anne on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and was similar in nature to the Cycle North Carolina Coastal Ride described below.

Bike Florida

One of the rewards of biking in Florida: beaches.

One of the rewards of biking in Florida: beaches.

Takes Place: late March or early April
Duration: 7 days
Riders: Hundreds
Where: Different regions throughout Florida
Routes: Loop routes among 3 or 4 host sites
My Tours: 2004, 2013, 2014, 2016

www.bikeflorida.org/

Bike Florida was my very first bicycle tour, and the only one I’ve gone on more than once. I enjoy exploring Florida, and this tour makes for a nice end of winter getaway. Bike Florida has taken me through the springs-rich region of northern Florida between Gainesville and the Gulf of Mexico, the citrus-growing region of central Florida south of Orlando, the Atlantic Coast region of northeastern Florida, and the Gulf Coast region around Sarasota.

At Gasparilla island State Park on Boca Grande on the Gulf Coast.

At Gasparilla Island State Park on the Gulf Coast.

On Bike Florida tours, you can look forward a lot of flat riding, although some regions have more hills than you might expect. Another thing you might not expect is the wide temperature range. It can get surprisingly cold at night—down to the low 40s—in northern or central Florida in early spring.

I plan to publish a blog post soon on Bike Florida, its past routes, its plans for the future, and next year’s spring tour.

Bon Ton Roulet

A typical view in the Finger Lakes region.

A typical view in the Finger Lakes region.

Takes Place: July
Duration: 7 days
Riders: Hundreds
Where: Finger Lakes region, New York
Route: Loop route among 6 host sites
My Tour: 2012

bontonroulet.com/

Besides cycling in Florida, I’m partial to exploring my home state. The popular Bon Ton Roulet tour introduced me to the Finger Lakes region of central New York. Each year the route and overnight locations vary. But you can always be sure of lovely rural and lakeside scenery, farms, wineries, handsome historic towns, lots of rolling hills, and the occasional steep climb.

Exploring the beautiful gorge in Watkins Glen State Park.

Exploring the gorge in Watkins Glen State Park.

My tour led me through beautiful areas and towns I’d missed seeing during all those dozens of times I’d driven straight across the state. Among the places where we stayed were Cortland, the starting and ending point; Auburn, at the head of Owasco Lake; Geneva, on one end of Seneca Lake; Watkins Glens, on the other end; and a state park just outside Ithaca.

I decided to try the tent rental service, which included a roomy tent, thick air mattress, chair, and other perks. I enjoyed letting someone else do the work of setting up and breaking down camp. One particularly memorable experience: the fierce, blinding downpour during the tour’s final couple of miles—one of the worst storms I’ve ever been caught in while on a bike, and an experience my friends and I still talk about.

BubbaFest – Florida Keys

Lots of bridge crossings and beautiful waters in the Keys.

The Bahia Honda Bridge in the Lower Keys.

Takes Place: November
Duration: 6 days
Riders: Up to 200
Where: Florida Keys
Route: Key Largo to Key West and back
My Tour: 2009

www.bubbaspamperedpedalers.com/

Bubba’s Pampered Pedalers, those cheerful folks who provide tent rental services on many bicycle tours, run BubbaFest. As the name implies, Bubba aims for a rollicking good time. The result is partly fun and partly tacky. It has its fans; many people do BubbaFest year after year.

I had mixed feelings about my tour. I came alone and at times felt like I was crashing some stranger’s party. I rented both tent and bike, so it was a pretty carefree trip. But I wasn’t in a carefree mood at the time and never got into the festive groove.

The old Seven Mile Bridge from the top of the new one.

The old highway bridge from the top of the current Seven Mile Bridge.

However, for me the biking’s the thing, and I really enjoyed cycling in the Keys. About half of the riding is on bike paths, and most of the rest is on reasonably wide shoulders. The views of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico (sometimes from the same spot) can’t be beat. You go over many bridges, including the iconic Seven Mile Bridge, which takes you about as far out to sea as you can get on a bicycle. You’re usually going with the wind on the way down the Keys and against it coming back. It was an easy two-day ride from Key Largo to Key West, where we had a day off to explore that end-of-road town. A bicycle is the best way to get around Key West, and one of the best ways to see the Keys.

C&O Canal / Great Allegheny Passage

Entering Pennsylvania on the GAP Trail.

Entering Pennsylvania on the GAP trail.

Takes Place: Early summer or fall
Duration: 8 days
Riders: Up to 70
Where: Washington, DC, to Pittsburgh, PA
Route: C&O Canal towpath and Great Allegheny Passage rail trail
My Tour: 2008

www.adventurecycling.org/

The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath begins in the nation’s capitol and connects with the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) rail trail at Cumberland in western Maryland to provide a continuous off-road route from Washington to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a distance of some 335 miles.

Many cycle touring organizations run tours along this route. I took mine through the Adventure Cycling Association. At the time, the GAP trail hadn’t quite been completed, so the tour ended in the town of Boston, a little short of Pittsburgh. We were bused back to Washington from there. It’s easy to plan and execute a trip on your own as well, given the availability of campsites, towns, and lodging along the way.

A view from the GAP Trail in southern Pennsylvania.

A view from the GAP trail in southern Pennsylvania.

This isn’t a route for those who want to ride hard and fast, but for those interested in biking past, across, or through transportation relics of bygone days and getting away from it all—you’re really out in the boondocks for much of the way. You encounter lots of wonderful tunnels, bridges, aqueducts, canal locks, and countless other historic structures. The canal towpath is rough in places, but the crushed gravel GAP trail is smoother. By the end of the trip, you’ve traversed the better part of two states and crossed the Appalachian Mountains without hardly realizing it.

Cycle the Erie Canal

The Erie Barge Canal locks at Lockport.

The Erie Barge Canal lock at Lockport.

Takes Place: July
Duration: 9 days
Riders: Hundreds
Where: Buffalo to Albany, NY
Route: Erie Canal trail, some on-road routes
My Tour: 2011

www.ptny.org/cycle-the-erie-canal/annual-bike-tour

Another great canal trip is the annual Erie Canal tour offered by Parks & Trails New York. They have been doing this tour over the same route for nearly two decades, so it’s very well organized and run. For me, it was quite a thrill to bike 400 miles all the way across New York State from the Niagara River to the Hudson River.

The finish line along the Hudson River in Albany.

The finish line along the Hudson River in Albany.

You can park in Albany and (for an extra fee) take a shuttle bus to Buffalo, where the tour starts. The tour route generally follows the still-working Erie Barge Canal and sections of the historic Erie Canal that are no longer used. The riding is mostly off road, and the sections on roads are safe and easy. You go through lots of historic canal towns and small cities. There are many historical sites and museums to visit along the way. Like the Bon Ton Roulet, this tour introduced me to many places in my home state I’d only heard about or seen in passing from a car window. Like the C&O Canal/GAP tour, this tour attracts a more family-oriented, history-appreciative crowd than your typical bicycle tour. Riders range from surprisingly young to surprisingly old. Some have taken the tour many times.

Among all the fully supported tours I’ve taken, I think the Erie Canal tour was my favorite. It was the first tour on which I made friends—and other friends through them—whom I now reconnect with when I go on other tours.

Cycle North Carolina Coastal Ride

Camping along the river in Washington, NC.

Camping along the river in Washington, NC.

Takes Place: April
Duration: 3 days
Riders: Hundreds
Where: A town in coastal North Carolina
Route: Loop routes from the host site
My Tour: 2015

cnc.ncsports.org/index.cfm

Each year this early spring weekend tour is hosted by a different town that lies in the low country bordering Pamlico Sound, the body of water separating mainland North Carolina and the offshore Outer Banks. My tour was based in Washington (NC rather than DC), a nice little riverside town I enjoyed exploring. Other recent tours have been based in Oriental and Edenton. The daily loop rides (you have a choice of routes from under 30 miles to 100) are rural and flat.

Except for the first night’s dinner, you are on your own for meals. This keeps the tour cost low and encourages riders to patronize the local restaurants and eateries. I’ve come not to expect memorable catered meals on bicycle tours, so a particularly tasty one always comes as a welcome surprise. The fried fish and shrimp dinner served to us on the first night was one of the best meals I’ve ever had on a bicycle tour.

David Romanowski, 2016