In a few hours my bike and I are hopping on a train to Cumberland, MD. Along with some friends, we will spend the night there and in the morning will spend the day riding back to DC via the C&O Canal. The distance is doable, but there are a number of wildcards that lend themselves to what has been dubbed the “Nightmare Option.”
First, you have the canal itself. While lovely in stretches, it can be fairly monotonous for miles on end. The surface isn’t great and even though everyone loves gravel (they should!) it does wear you down after a while. Plus, it’s a canal – there aren’t any Wawas or Pilots on the side of the trail with unlimited shitty heavenly food to stuff in my cakehole.
Then you have the seasonal issues that come with riding in late spring – mainly heat and thunderstorms. Wet, muddy gravel is tough. The torrential rains brought by thunder and lightning is challenging although the safety angle is WAY overrated (you’ve never been struck by lightning now have you?) That said, it would be just my luck to never win Powerball but to beat the odds and get blown up by a bolt of lightning.
Anyway, wrap all this up in a box labeled “idiots are going to try to do this in under 12 hours” and there is no way it ends well.
I also don’t want to overplan. I like the unknown. I’m not saying go out there like a half-dressed infant with a sippy-cup full of Sunny D, but if you plan this down to every last little detail, you…nevermind it probably means you’re smart. But that’s not for me.
So I am sticking with a theme, and that theme is TRAVEL AS LIGHT AS POSSIBLE.
Every little extra thing I have to carry is going to make me work harder. So there are considerations:
- What will I wear on the train up to Cumberland? Real clothes that I have to carry back or just go full kit and sleep in that thing. Like a nerd.
- What food will I bring? How many calories am I going to burn on a 185 mile ride? Probably 5,000. So I need a big breakfast at the hotel and then I need to carry about 3,000 more calories worth of food. There are no food stops, and we are not stopping to eat. Eating must be done on the bike. That rules out ice cream, pizza, 12 inch subs, and any other building blocks of a happy civilization.
- How will I stay hydrated? The temperature is going to hit 90 degrees. I will sweat a metric fucton of salt out of my body. I need water and I need electrolytes (if the sportsdrink-industrial complex is to be believed).
- How will I handle mechanicals? The only thing I am worse at than bike handling is bike maintenance, so basically this is just close your eyes and pray. Plus, am I going to make room for a frame pump, chain tool, spoke tensioner, pedal wrench, bikelube, crescent wrench, blah blah blah? No I am not.
That’s it. The rest is just pedaling and keeping your goddamn feelings to yourself.The bike is a Kona Major Jake with carbon fork and chainstay. It’s light enough. Gearing is road bike level, which is good because we will be hammering. Tires are Clement Xplor MSOs and they’re 32mm wide. We’ll see if the tire choice is a massive mistake. It usually is.
Clothes, I am wearing running shorts and a light t-shirt and my bike shoes and socks on the train to Cumberland. If the shorts and shirt can pack down tiny, I will bring them back but if they can’t then so be it. I am carrying all of my bike clothes in a ratty string bag that has about the same status as my shirt and running shorts. Bike clothes are the standard bibs/jersey/baselayer/cap/socks. Twin Six because I have a sponsorship deal with them that they don’t know about yet.
Food is what it is. I love Clif Bars, probably too much, so I brought 6. I brought 2 Honey Stinger waffles. They are the nutritional equivalent of licking a cube of sugar. I also made REAL FOOD, inlcuding three PBJs and a BIG BAG of nuts and M&Ms. It’s going to be hot as fuck, so this will probably all melt and there will definitely be a point in the ride where I am crying and drinking liquid M&Ms.
How am I going to carry all this without adding too much weight? Thanks to Revelate, the best bikebag-making bikebag makers out there, I can do all this with two feedbags (all the food), and one gas can (wallet, powerbank, keys). I have a spare tube, multi-tool, CO2, tire lever, scimitar, and backup light in a random seat bag. One of those things is not true in the small chance you haven’t dozed off yet.
I have a little first aid kit (antiseptic wipes, aleve, bandaids, chamois cream, citrus wipes, neosporin) in a sandwich bag shoved in the outside pocket of one of the feed bags. Not super useful! Basically if I get injured beyond a medium bug bite, I’m going to die on the canal.
Hydration is two big water bottles for the bike, a spare bottle for my jersey pocket, and a container of NUUN hydration tablets that you add to your water. They say they do this for electrolytes, but I do it for THE FLAVORS because I am guessing the water pumps and fountains on the side of the trail crank out something akin to flat, expired Sprite Zero.
I think there are water stops (fountains, pumps, whatever) ever 10 miles are so. I know they are out there. I don’t know EXACTLY where.
And I don’t want to know. This is going to be hard enough. I don’t want to know how hard. What’s the fun in knowing? The fun is in blowing up and bouncing back and doing shit that makes your in-laws and neighbors just shake their heads and shoot your spouse looks when you turn your back.