c and o canal bike trip (184.5 miles in one shot)

27 Jul

C and O Bike Ride Report

Date of Ride: Saturday June 2, 2012

184.5 mile participants (Cumberland to Georgetown) : Rudy Regner, Mike Brunetto

55 mile (Brunswick to Georgetown) participant: Michael Holland

65 mile (Harper’s Ferry to Georgetown) participant: Tom Bullers

40 mile participant (DC to mile 20 and back): Danny Cohen

Support Crew: Driving to Cumberland (Phil Regner),

Pickup at Shady Grove (Cindy Regner)

Ride Profile:


Planning Reference:


Background: (Rudy) For years I’ve wanted to bike the entire length of the C+O Canal in one effort. There’s always been something intriguing about “doing the whole thing”. I tried once before (in 1998) but only made it to Harper’s Ferry (120 miles of biking). The most sensitive part of my male human anatomy was hurting for 3 days after that attempt. I didn’t really want to go through that torture again. Still, I hate not finishing something I started, so 14 years later …

Mike Brunetto sits in the office next to me at OMB. He is an avid cyclist, leading road rides quite often for bike shops in DC. He also thought it would be a great idea to complete the entire C+O in one effort.

The Ride  Plan: Start pedaling at Cumberland MD by 4 AM. Finish at Georgetown , Washington DC the same day.   It would be a self-supported ride. We’d only stop twice to refill our camelbacks (once at Williamsport, again at Point of Rocks).

Execution of the Plan:

Friday 6 PM – Rudy stopped at The Bicycle Escape in Frederick MD after work. Had them put a shock absorber on his seatpost. Also sought for and purchased bike shorts with the thickest seat cushions available. (trying to avoid the torture.)

Friday 9 PM – while watching TV the National Weather Service interrupted the normally scheduled program with Tornado Warnings.  There would be 3 long beeps, followed the announcement “If you live near Taneytown Maryland  GET INSIDE THE HOUSE IMMEDIATELY TO AN INNER ROOM”.  The rain was falling hard.

Saturday 2 AM – The rain had subsided.  MikeB  arrived at Rudy’s house in Frederick  and we secured our bikes to the bike rack in back of the van. We picked up Phil Regner  and drove to Cumberland MD to the C+O Trailhead.

4 AM – we arrived at Cumberland and unloaded the bikes.  Mike setup his smartphone and heartrate monitor to record our progress in realtime. It would upload his gps coordinates, speed and heartrate.

He wanted to do a full double century. I was going to be happy with just completing the trail.

——————-   4 AM at Cumberland —————————-

5 AM – we started passing runners doing the Tom’s Run 200 mile relay.  They were accompanied by cyclists giving them support along the way. Each relay team consisted of up to 12 runners.  Some teams had less than that. Some teams only had one runner.  We shouted encouraging words as we passed them.

7 AM: Paw Paw tunnel (29 elapsed miles )

There were a lot of downed tree limbs and puddles due to the previous night’s storm.  We’d typically power through the puddles, but quite often we had to lift our bikes over the trees.

10 AM: Hancock .  There was a campground here, with lots of people and tents on the right as you got to the locks. You had a choice to stay on the right and go through the campground, or stay on the canal. Actually it was IN the canal. MikeB was wise and stayed on the right. Rudy was foolish and stayed on (IN) the canal, which was a muddy, slimy mess.

11 AM: Williamsport.  We had thought about taking a paved 11 mile  Rail-Trail which ran parallel to the C+O. When we saw the signs we took a mile to get onto the Western Maryland Rail Trail, but found it was the WRONG END OF THE TRAIL. We deftly got back onto the C+O after a pit stop at a convenient gas station.

About this time Rudy ran out of water (should have filled up at Hancock!), but luckily MikeB had an extra liter to spare.

1130 AM: We get texts that Tom Bullers was at Harpers Ferry waiting for us.

12:20: TomB says he needs to be in DC by 7 pm to catch a train to Baltimore, so he’s taking off. At this point we were still about  3 hours away from Harpers Ferry.

130 PM: there was a bit of excitement (faster riding) as we took the detour around williamsport. You can’t ride on the canal for about 8.5 miles – you must take the road. MikeB was going WAY FASTER than Rudy and met him back on the Canal (Dam 4)

230 PM: as we approach Harpers Ferry we are noticing that both of us are kind of saddle sore. It was around this point I had to abort the trip. However, (thank goodness for those thick pads on the new bike shorts), I was able to continue. We did consider (for a very short time) calling for reinforcements (Cindy) to rescue us, but we made a conscious decision to continue our journey.

330 PM: Got a text from TomB they are at White’s Ferry.

4 PM: We’re at Harper’s Ferry trying to determine where to meet Mike H. The phone reception was not too shabby at this point, and we were never unreachable by text.

5 pm: We meet up with Mike H at the Brunswick Railroad Station parking lot. Mike has this yellow mountain bike (TREK), and has been dropped off by his son. We note that soon we will need water again and plan to refill at Point of Rocks.  The canal was very muddy here.

6 PM: NO WATER! NO STORES! WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO!!! A very kind biker (the motorcycle kind) gave us a liter, and said maybe we should try the train station to see if there was a vending machine. Very thankful to see that there was a faucet outside where we could refill. So thankful for Providence!

7PM: Turns out that MikeH forgot to bring a headlamp. MikeB connects with Danny that we would definitely like to borrow a lamp from him, if possible, before dark.

720 PM: Getting texts that TomB made it to Union Station OK and is on his way home to Baltimore on the train. “Tough ride”, he says.

8 PM:  We meet Danny Cohen, who biked up the C+O 20 miles to meet us. Thank goodness for Danny. He not only had a Petzl headlamp we could borrow, but he also boasts this HUGE light on his bike that is brighter than a car headlight.  http://www.niterider.com/pro-3600-led-2013/

830 PM: It’s getting dark. Now that Danny’s here, he and MikeB can speed on down to Georgetown while  MikeH and Rudy plod along at 10 mph.  We shake hands, knowing that success is just around the corner for us. MikeB is trying for 200 miles (a double century) before midnight.  He gives Rudy and MikeH detailed directions on how to get on the RedLine metro once we get off the Canal.

From here on to 1120 PM it was MikeH and Rudy grinding their way through the dark. Rudy remembers several times being next to the Potomac river and seeing the full moon shining on the water. Very beautiful.  At times like this he gives thanks to the Almighty for the beauty of Creation.

The last 16 miles or so of the canal are on nice, sandy surface – very well maintained. It’s kind of crazy biking UNDER the beltway. You know you’ve only got 5 miles to go, but you’ve just gone underneath the Washington Capital Beltway American Legion Bridge.

Equipment Description:

MikeB had a Cutter 801 cyclocross bike that he had assembled from high-end components. It was made of carbon fiber, had no shock absorbers and had skinny tires.

Rudy’s bike was a Specialized Hardrock mountain bike. It had front shocks, a seatpost shock and fat ,knobby tires.  It weighed about twice as much as Mike’s bike. 











Summary Ride Description:  This chart (click the endomondo link above) shows we averaged just over 10 mph. The dips in the yellow line indicate when Rudy stopped to take his electrolyte pill.  The peaks in the yellow line are where MikeB was either sprinting on the canal or riding on the road around Williamsport. The red line (MikeB’s heart rate) stopped after about 9 hours into the ride due to running out of batteries.

Rudy and MikeH actually got off the trail around 11:20 PM (19 hrs 20 minutes). MikeB and Danny got off the trail around 11:00 PM, MikeB then proceeded to add another 15 miles to complete a double-century. Awesome job!

Rudy’s Observations: I noticed MikeB was never getting out of his small front chain ring. He could have been going a lot faster than I was, but opted to keep stick with me. I truly appreciated his company.  We stayed together until Canal Mile 18 (172 elapsed ride miles), at which point he and Danny made much faster time heading into Georgetown.

I was very thankful that Danny lent us his Petzl headlamp. We needed it.

Fellow ultra-runner Michael Holland met us at Canal Mile 55. He and I had a similar bike configuration and ride pace. We finished together at Georgetown.  MikeH has paced me on several hundred-mile ultramarathons.

If you can imagine two extremely mud-caked people on mountain bikes, complete with helmets and headlamps riding through a swanky part of Georgetown around 11 PM on a beautiful spring Saturday night, you can imagine the look of shock and unbelief on people’s faces. We quickly forgot the detailed directions on how to get to K street and the Metro station. We were randomly asking very nicely dressed people where the Metro station was, and I truly believe some of them purposely gave us the wrong directions.

Cindy Regner (Rudy’s wife) met us at Shady Grove Metro Station 1 AM. (Thanks Cindy!!!) We loaded up the bikes and were back in Frederick by 2 AM. MikeH still had to get to Hagerstown, so he got home around 3 AM.

Rudy’s thoughts: “If I had to do it again”  I would do it with a bike similar to MikeB’s.  We could have probably finished in under 12 hours, instead of 19 hours.  I would also research getting a seat designed for long rides. I’ve never had problems with rides of 6-7 hours on the road. But a bumpy ride for almost 20 hrs caused me much concern for 2 and ½ weeks.

Cleaning up:  Here are some of MikeB’s photos of his bike’s condition after the ride. You can see there was about 10 pounds of mud on the bike, let alone on the person!


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