Max's Tales from the Trail - Volume 5
Max Hepp-Buchanan, Director of Bike Walk RVA, is currently riding his bike from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., on the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath trails, a 334.5 mile route free from traffic and motorized vehicles. He is chronicling his journey, and below you’ll find his thoughts, observations, musings, and menu selections.
I spent the last night of my bike tour camping by myself about 18 miles from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. (By the way, if you’ve never been to Harper’s Ferry, I highly recommend it – great mix of American history, scenic views, outdoor recreation, and good food). I rode about 70 miles on day five and was eager to eat my last bag of astronaut food and crawl into bed. I had an uneventful night at a lonely hiker/biker site along the river.
The next morning (my last day of riding), I woke up earlier than any other day and was on the trail before 8:00am. The stiffness I woke up with dissipated as I mashed my way towards home. Day six of riding was only 42 miles and I barely stopped but to fill up my water bottle, change my music, and shed layers.
I couldn’t help but slip back into “work mode” and thought a lot about the Pro Walk/Pro Bike conference we attended in Pittsburgh and the future of bicycling in the Richmond region. Not many places have a connected trail network that spans states like the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal, and we are just finishing up our own signature trail – the Virginia Capital Trail.
The VCT will be done next summer and will take you 50 miles out of town to Williamsburg, but what about the possibilities after that? Hampton? The Outer Banks? Or perhaps it will extend from Richmond in the other direction out towards Roanoke. Who knows, but there’s a lot of potential for growth across the state and Mid-Atlantic, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.
The last 20 miles of the C&O Canal Trail was especially beautiful and enjoyable, and made me jealous of all the people who live in DC who get to take advantage of that resource on a regular basis. If I lived in DC, I would pack a lunch and do an out-and-back on the trail as often as possible.
Arriving in DC was a shock. It kind of crept out of nowhere and before I knew it, I was in the Georgetown waterfront area, overwhelmed and unsure of what to do next. I had reserved a 10-foot Uhaul truck to drive home, which I had to pick up over by the Capitol. Believe it or not, a one-way Uhaul rental is cheaper than renting a car. I didn’t want to go through the hassle of boxing up my bike for Amtrak, especially with all the dirt-encrusted baggage I was hauling around. I considered the rental charge a convenience fee for not having to jump through Amtrak’s hoops for dealing with bikes (hopefully those will be changing soon).
The hardest part of the whole ride was getting to the Uhaul rental office and negotiating my way out of the city. I love DC, I really do – but as soon as I got there, I wanted to leave. And I did – I was on the interstate within the hour.
And then I got the best worst idea of my life. To get the most out of the Uhaul rental, I decided I would stop by IKEA on the way home and buy some much needed furniture. Because what else would you do to wrap up a 350-mile bike tour than buy a new comfy bed to sleep in?! And a desk. Two hours later, I was stuck in traffic with a truck full of bike stuff and furniture. Obviously, I eventually made it home to my lovely wife and son.
Here are a couple of minor things I learned along the way, for those of you thinking about doing this ride:
- The best music to listen to while riding the tour is early Rolling Stones, Rancid, and Macklemore, so be sure to load up your iPod
- If you leave your shoes outside, check them thoroughly before putting your bare feet into them first thing in the morning
- Names don’t mean much on tour. I rode with some people for dozens of miles, had great conversations, and never caught their name – and that’s okay
- Only pack freeze-dried food you will actually want to eat at the end of the day – forget the Chana Masala (sounds healthy) and just get the Mac n’ Cheese (tastes good)
- Don’t stop at IKEA after biking for several hundred miles and camping without a shower and a change of clothes
Thanks for reading, and for encouraging me to write. I can barely describe the magic of those trails, and would do that ride over again in a heartbeat. If you ever get the chance, take it. Do it alone or with friends. Either way, you’ll be glad you did.