Bicycle leaning against a building loaded with camping gear

Prepping for the C&O bike tour

This year, I had hoped to fly to Alaska, ride my bike, and camp for a couple of weeks. That didn’t pan out, so instead I’m packing my bags (technically panniers) for the C&O trail from Cumberland to D.C. My friend Kathyrn and I will be spending a whole week with each other. Both of us have done overnight camping on our bikes, but neither of us have done a multi-day trip.

The 184.5 mile long Chesapeake & Ohio Canal is located along the north bank of the Potomac River, starting in Washington, DC and ending in Cumberland, MD.

Bike Washington

Test your gear!

I’ve been on two overnight bike camping trips this year, and I went on four or five last year. Doing this helped me shake out what was essential and what wasn’t. I definitely overpacked a few times, underpacked other times, and forgot essentials like tent poles at least once.

Bicycle leaning against a tree with camping gear on and off the bike
First overnight campout.
Bicycle loaded with camping gear leaning against a tree
Not much changed the second time.
Bicycle leaning against an SUV loaded with camping gear
Tried out a seat pack and Salsa’s Anything Cages.

I tested various setups over the past two years, tweaking this and that until I found out what worked and what didn’t.

Bicycle leaning against a building loaded with camping gear
Ended up liking a pannier setup with one Anything Cage on the fork and a basket on the front.

Kathyrn and I went on a longer gravel ride (~60 miles) in March at Croatan National Forest, where we encountered a flat care tire and really got to test how we worked together in a stressful situation when we were both exhausted, cold, and hungry with barely any cell phone service. The good news is we were able to work together to fix the flat and get back to civilization.

Ride often, ride a lot

When people ask me how I train for any bike-related thing, this is always my advice: ride often, ride a lot. I think the “often” part is probably more important than the quantity of miles you have under your belt.

I’m no personal trainer, but it has worked really well for me to commute to work (~11 mile round trip) a few days a week and do a couple of longer (20-40 mile) rides throughout the week. I have two centuries (100-mile rides) under my belt following my disorganized training plan, but I also wasn’t trying to race either time.

Chart of cycling mileage the past four weeks leading up to the trip
Okay, so I don’t always follow my own advice. I completely skipped riding my bike to work this week.

I think riding often and riding a lot helps you tune in to how much you should eat and drink. You’ll know if you’re going to bonk before it happens.

Planning the route and stops

The route for the C&O is well laid out by many cyclists before us, but Kathryn did a bang-up job of planning where we should stops, what’s available, and making sure we had a place to sleep each night. We started with a spreadsheet, then I moved things to Trello (mostly because I love Trello).

Trello planning board
Did I mention we’re taking the train to Cumberland? Trains are great!

It’s okay to make things easier

I’m not cooking at camp. I’ll get two servings for lunch, then pack the rest for dinner. I can eat cold leftovers if it means not having to pack cooking gear.

We might have noticed we’re staying in Jellystone Campground. They have a pool, water park, mini golf, and all sorts of fun things. This will be an awesome, relaxing, luxurious mid-week stay. We’re also staying at a hostel one night, and once we get to D.C., we’ll be staying in a hotel and exploring the city for a whole day.

The night before

I’m spending the day relaxing, packing up, and trying to get a good night’s sleep (assuming I can contain my excitement). I plan on writing more as the trip goes on, so stay tuned!