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Riding the GAP/C&O Towpath

By Jeffry Peel

East coast cities can become overwhelming, even for the most hardened urban dweller. The density, congestion, pollution, and crime can cause us all to need a reprieve from time to time, even if it’s simply to another city with the same set of problems. One of the perks of being part of the Megalopolis that spans the east coast from Boston to Richmond is how easy it is to change your scenery. Getting out, visiting seemingly distant friends and riding new streets is often just a cheap Chinatown bus ride away. Toss your bike underneath in the luggage compartment and pack your courier bag for a weekend excursion to Boston, NYC, Philly or Baltimore. The constant flow of urban cyclists along the I-95 corridor keeps city riding exciting, as well as the party going with an influx of out-of-towners for local events.

Lying too far west to be a consistent part of this intermixing is the diamond in the rough, the city of Pittsburgh. Having heard stories worthy of legend; of house shows, great cheap eats, the greatest bike shop ever (Kraynick’s), crust-punk couriers and the playground that is a decaying rust belt city, I felt this was a place that needed exploring. With two weeks off while changing jobs, and a need for some quality time with my bike, I decided I’d just ride there. It’s the perfect getaway mixing the peace and quiet of rural camping along with urban culture.

DC and Pittsburgh are conveniently connected by two continuous bike trails, the 185 mile C&O Towpath, and the recently completed 150 mile Greater Alleghany Passage. Unlike any other trail system outside of Western Europe, the trail network offers not only recreational area for suburbanites, but serves to connect two major metropolitan areas by completely non-motorized means. Imagine if all of our urban centers had this?

Fat tired touring/cyclocross bikes or rigid off-road bikes are ideal along the 315 miles of hard-packed gravel and dirt trails, utilizing old canal towpaths and abandoned rail beds. Though the flat terrain and car-free nature make it suitable for just about any bike. Regardless of your ride, a comfy saddle, padded gloves, a good pair of bike shorts and some chamois cream are mandatory equipment, as you will get