Cycling the Appalachian Trail
Since this is my first post on Appalachian Trials, please allow me to introduce myself. As you might see from my profile, I fell in love with hiking and backpacking over forty years ago when I was in high school so now you know my approximate age. After cycling a little in college I sold my road bike over twenty-six years ago. I got back into cycling two and a half years ago when a good friend gifted me with a new Trek 8.3 Dual Sport. This hybrid pair of wheels serves me well whether I am peddling on streets, paved or gravel rail trails, or the occasional dirt trail like the C and O Canal Towpath.
Ever since I got back into cycling, I have become a fair weather cyclist and a foul weather hiker. From mid spring to mid fall I will usually be out on my bike unless the weather is really nasty, in which case I tend to stay home, as I don’t like to ride in the rain. From mid fall to mid spring I will usually be out hiking, fair or foul weather. I prefer not to hike if I know it is going to rain; however ice, snow, and cold don’t bother me in the least.
My coldest hike this past winter was a seven and a half mile circuit on snow covered and sometimes icy trails in Western Pennsylvania’s Raccoon Creek State Park. Some small stream crossings were almost solid ice. The temperature was fifteen degrees when I started and twenty-two when I finished. In comparison, my coldest ride this season was a twenty-four mile ride out and in on the dry, paved Brooke Pioneer and Wheeling Heritage rail trails. The temperature was thirty-seven when I started and forty when I finished. That is what I mean when I say I am a foul weather hiker and a fair weather cyclist.
I have backpacked in Wyoming’s Wind River Range and the High Peaks Region of New York’s Adirondacks as well as backpacking every trail in West Virginia’s Dolly Sods Wilderness and Otter Creek Wilderness. I have also backpacked week long sections of the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and North Carolina and day hiked sections in New Hampshire and within Shenandoah National Park. Admittedly, however, it has been a while since I last backpacked or hiked on our beloved AT.
The last time I was on the Appalachian Trail, however, I wasn’t hiking or backpacking. I was cycling! That’s right; I was riding my Trek 8.3 Dual Sport on the Appalachian Trail! It was legal. It was allowed. It was even encouraged.
Along with a friend, I was cycling from DC to Pittsburgh via the C and O Canal Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage, a 335 mile journey billed as the “Ride of Your Life”. As most Appalachian Trail thru hikers or anyone who has been on the AT just south of Harpers Ferry might know, the C and O Canal Towpath and the AT are coterminous for about one and a half miles. That means day hikers enjoying a casual stroll, birding, or taking in the historical sites as well as backpackers thru hiking or out for just a few days or weeks, as well as cyclists covering just a few miles or peddling the entire distance between Pittsburgh and DC, are sharing the trail.
To be honest, I was caught off guard when a little south of Harper’s Ferry I encountered the AT trail sign and distinctive white blaze on the second day of my recent cycling trip from DC to Pittsburgh. The guide book I was using said nothing about it. I knew that hikers and cyclists shared the bridge crossing the Potomac but I did not know they also shared a section of trail. As soon as I could, I stopped, climbed off my bike, and asked my cycling companion, Vince, to snap a digital photo of me leaning against a trail marker.
At first I thought the AT was just crossing the C and O Canal Towpath but not long after we climbed back on our bikes and started riding toward Harpers Ferry, and ultimately Pittsburgh, I realized that the C and O Canal Towpath and Appalachian Trail were one and the same. We started seeing day hikers and backpackers, some with pretty full packs, waking toward us, sitting along the side of the trail, and passing others on their left after warning them with a couple bell rings and saying, “passing left” as we approached them from behind.
During our ride from DC to Pittsburg we encountered numerous walkers, day hikers, and runners, but the only backpackers we saw were on this short mile and a half section where the Appalachian Trail and the C and O Canal Towpath traverse the same ground.
Seeing those white blazes for the first time in a couple of years ignited within me a desire to get back to the Appalachian Trail as a backpacker rather than a cyclist, to put some serious thought into hiking a major section, and even undertaking my own thru hike. Until then, reading about the AT adventures of others who post on Appalachian Trials and posting from my own perspective as a hiker and backpacker will have to suffice because the sky is blue, the pavement is dry, and I hear my bike calling my name.
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