Biking from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. – Prep and Training

Every so often, hubs and I have a discussion about what things we want to do before we have kids. Sometime last year, after we traveled through Salerno, Rome, and Edinburgh, we talked about biking from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. It’s something we had talked about before, but always far off in the future. But this time…we decided to do it. We were biking from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C.! Me being me, of course I started planning pretty immediately.

All the details of how we prepared and trained before biking from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. along the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Towpath!

Booking the Trip

Amtrak

We had heard about Amtrak allowing bikes on certain trains between Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. but knew there were limited spots on each train. In late January, we booked our train tickets from D.C. back to Pittsburgh, including two bike spots.

After later research, we found that my bike (with 4″ tires) would not fit on the bike racks, so that’s something to keep in mind. They do offer cardboard bike boxes at the Amtrak station (for a similar fee) that you can use to check your bike. We read that the bike would have to be slightly disassembled to fit in the box, so we knew we would have to deal with that.

The train ride is almost 8 hours long, so we opted for a Sleeper Roomette. It offers lay-flat seats, shower amenities, and dinner. We figured we would be grateful for a little extra space since we would probably still be stiff from biking from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C.

All the details of how we prepared and trained before biking from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. along the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Towpath!

Where to Stay

Once we had our train booked, we started figuring out which towns to stay in. Our route ended up being:

  • Pittsburgh to West Newton (32 miles – Saturday)
  • West Newton to Confluence (54 miles – Sunday)
  • Confluence to Cumberland (63 miles – Monday)
  • Cumberland to Hancock (60 miles – Tuesday)
  • Hancock to Harpers Ferry (66 miles – Wednesday)
  • Harpers Ferry to Washington D.C. (62 miles – Thursday)

I basically found a B&B with a room available in each town before booking anything, just in case we had to make any adjustments. Once I knew we would have somewhere to stay in each town, I started booking. I was able to do most online, but a couple required phone calls or emails. While a couple were close to being booked full, we didn’t have any issues since we made our reservations about 5 months in advance. If you’re biking from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C., I would definitely recommend making reservations early!

We also planned on having one full day to spend in D.C. before heading back to Pittsburgh, so I booked a hotel there. The train leaves for Pittsburgh at 4pm, but we heard from friends who have biked this route to get to the train station early, especially if you’re checking a bike. We knew we wanted at least one night in D.C., and I was excited to sight-see a little.

All the details of how we prepared and trained before biking from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. along the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Towpath!

Training

Guys…did you take note of the mileage above? We were planning the longest bike trip I’ve ever done, with the most consecutive riding I’ve ever done by far. Two years ago we did a shorter trip with four days of about 30 miles per day. I’ve also done weekend trips of 40 miles per day, but never anything close to 60 miles in one day, let alone for four days in a row. So, that provided a lot of motivation to make sure we trained enough before we tried biking from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C.

Our training plan was pretty simple: bike as much as we could, on as many consecutive days we could. Some days that meant 10 miles after work. Some days that meant 30+ miles around the city. Other days we would mountain bike, just to switch it up.

I also knew I wanted to do at least one 60-mile ride before the trip since my longest day was only 40 miles. I was pretty adamant about biking 60 miles at least once before the trip. If I had done it once, there was no reason why I couldn’t do it again, right?

About three weeks before our trip, we finally had a nice day with no plans and biked from Pittsburgh to West Newton and back. It ended up being about 65 miles, and I accidentally had my first metric century (100km).

We were also trying to stretch every night to avoid possible injury. Hubs had a great idea, and we ended up having a friend’s sister come to our house every other week for about three months to give us private yoga lessons. While it was more expensive than going to a yoga studio, we felt it was worth the cost to have the classes focused on exactly what we wanted – core strength, back strength, and flexibility mostly.

All the details of how we prepared and trained before biking from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. along the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Towpath!

Packing

Hubs’ packing philosophy for bike trips is that everything we bring to wear, we should be able to ride in if we have to. Since he was carrying almost all of our gear, I let him make the rules about it. We had to pack super light anyway since we didn’t have a ton of room. We actually did a trial run packing our clothing about a week or two before the trip, just to make sure we had enough space.

My basic packing list included:

  • For riding:
    • two short sleeved shirts
    • one long sleeved shirt (Heat Gear)
    • two sports bras
    • two pairs of shorts/capris
    • two pairs of socks
    • knee braces
  • Clean clothes:
    • two short sleeved shirts (that I could ride in)
    • one pair of leggings
    • one pair of shorts that I couldn’t really ride in, for walking around D.C.
    • two sports bras
    • pajamas
    • one pair of socks
  • Toiletries:
    • face wash
    • moisturizer
    • comb
    • conditioner (since some B&Bs don’t provide this…if I was leaving the hair gel at home, I knew I needed conditioner)
    • contacts
    • contact solution
    • toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Luxury/comfort items:
    • razor
    • loofah

That’s it. All of my toiletries fit in a small bag in my handlebar bag, along with some other essentials, like a phone charger, notebook, my phone, sunscreen, bug repellant, etc. (If anyone is interested in our full packing list, just send me a message!)

We hoped to be able to do laundry at least once during the ride. But, honestly, even when we’re wearing clean clothes, we get kind of smelly after an hour or so of riding in the heat and humidity. I figured I could always dip into my clean clothes if I had to and do laundry in D.C.

All the details of how we prepared and trained before biking from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. along the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Towpath!

Snacks

One thing hubs read was that we should eat every 45 minutes. He set a timer so we actually kept track of our riding time during our test ride, and we took a break around the 45-minute mark. We ate a combination of snack bars and energy chews, depending on how hungry we felt. It seemed to help keep our energy levels up, and we decided to take the breaks while biking from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C.

We knew we would be able to restock snack bars during the trip, but we weren’t sure about the energy chews. I bought two packs of energy chews per day of riding, plus one or two extras. Some of our chews had extra sodium, which we knew we would need because of sweating. Some of them had caffeine, and some were just regular.

I also bought one snack bar per person per day. Some of the bars we like are two servings, so that counted as enough for one day. We planned on stopping for lunch most days, so we were covered there. On our test ride, we weren’t very hungry after we ate lunch, and I figured we would probably just want energy chews in the afternoons.

Finally, we had two snack-sized Ziploc bags of homemade trail mix. I put sesame sticks, cashews, pistachios, dried fruit, and M&Ms in the mix. I wanted something easy to eat to bring with us into our room at night because a friend who biked the trail in 3 days (WHAT!) said she would get hungry in the middle of the night when she was at her peak with marathon training. So, I figured having an easy snack in our room couldn’t hurt!

 

All the details of how we prepared and trained before biking from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. along the Great Allegheny Passage and the C&O Towpath!

Check back soon to find out if our training and preparation paid off!



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