The C&O Towpath has always been a favorite outing activity for Scout Troops. I often receive many inquiries from Scoutmasters who are planning C&O trips. For this reason, I have posted a few great ride reports from past Scout rides:
An excellent report from: Bob Hendrickson
Troop 454, Davidsonville, MD
Our local scout troop, which consists typically of 12 year old to 14 year old boys, has made the C&O trip twice in recent years, most recently June 2000. Our "transportation" dropped us off at Spring Gap both times and we were followed by a trailer/pickup combo the first trip, the second time we rented a 24 foot Ryder truck to carry the tents, food, etc. as well as all of the bikes to and from pickup/drop off points.
Our troop is not fanatical about bike stuff. They alternate summer camp by doing biking, hiking, canoeing primarily. Two of the boys had never owned a bike before the trip and one had only learned how to ride a bike, with my help, 2 months before we left for the C&O. We had 14 boys this past trip.
Scouts achieve special recognition if they travel a minimum of 50 miles in a single day by hiking, or biking. We planned and executed two days of at least 50 miles each day while at the C&O. Our second day accomplishing this mileage found us at Fletcher's Boat Yard (our originally planned pickup point) but short our goal of 50 miles by just a little bit. A group of about 5 of us decided to push on and go the extra mileage to Georgetown, which added more than the miles we needed. There was one 15 year old, the others were 14 years old or younger. We had no problems accomplishing this mileage.
We had warmed up the boys with shorter bike trips at the NCCR trail, B&A trail (fast, straight, and almost boring), and Gettysburg, from Feb to June. All the boys had mountain bikes, in good shape. One bike was only a 22 inch model, due to the short height of one boy. We made sure they ate good meals, had plenty of water available and had plenty of time at night to rest up, swim in pools where available, with fewer than usual camping chores. They still had to set up camp and break down each day, sleeping in heavy canvas two man tents.
We experienced significant (not hard, but steady) rain on this past trip, and violent storms on the first trip, (a tornado was suspected) including forging over huge trees that had fallen across the non-detourable sections of tow path on the first trip. Also, on the first trip, we found long stretches of semi-washed out and bumpy/rocky patches of tow path that slowed us down. On that trip we averaged two flat tires per day.
We began, both times, at Spring Gap (on Sunday), and went downhill towards Georgetown, where we arrived on Friday. The trailer or truck met us with supplies for lunch and snacks, and carried our tents and equipment for sleeping at various stops along the way where the road intersected the tow path.
I was in charge of the operation and biked with the boys for the duration. I felt that this was an opportunity of a lifetime for the boys, having a logistics team, made up of about 4 extra adults, riding ahead of us (although at times, just barely) with the provisions we needed for each stop. No motels, no pull-offs from the tow path, just pure C&O all the way. It was great!
Just for planning purposes, our sleeping/stopping points were:
With the support team of a van, assuming you are going from North to South (downhill), and "only" a couple of days of rain, some warm up shorter trips somewhere else, I would highly recommend this plan. Only one boy couldn't make both the 50 mile segments; he was the one that just learned to ride a bike, and he was over-weight. He made the other 50+ segment though.
The boys (and two Moms the first trip) had enough energy to also explore Ft Frederick, go swimming at the Williamsport public pool and Little Orleans campground pool, and play tag football at the end of the day. Sore butts? Sure! Exhaustion? Not at all.
I would make sure you bring a good supply of inner tubes and EXPECT it to rain at least part of the time. Some boys wore parkas, others just found it easier to get and stay wet from the rain, rather than from sweat under a parka.
Also, if any of the crew is a light sleeper, be sure to bring expandable ear plugs. The train runs right along the tow path. On top of that, Brunswick is a railroad switchyard, so you hear slamming and banging of cars and engines all night. I am a light sleeper and found the ear plus helped greatly on the second trip. Some of the other adults weren't as prepared and had a rough time sleeping with the noise.
As Nike says: "Just do it!" Good luck, and good biking!
Thanks for that great report! The earplug idea was a really great idea. I should point out that not all campsites are susceptible to noise problems. Check the camp page for more info.
Here is another good ride report from Tony Dwyer:
I joined a few of the older scouts (age 13 and up) from our troop when they biked the length of the C&O canal towpath a couple of years ago. The trip was planned for a full week - six days of biking, with a day off in the middle. (We used the rest day to go tubing on the Potomac at Harper's Ferry. This was a lot of fun.)
We carried all our gear on the bikes. We had a resupply truck meet us in mid-week with clean clothes and the second half of our food. We patronized restaurants and snack bars quite a bit more than we had planned, so the resupply turned out to be superfluous, except for those of us who changed our underwear regularly despite not being rained on.
Biking on the towpath is slower than on paved roads or bike paths. Figure about 6-8 mph under good conditions, unless you push it.
One gets in shape quickly when biking every day. Thirty miles will seem forever on the first day. After our rest day in Harper's Ferry, our scouts decided to bag the final night of camping and bike the 60 miles to Georgetown in one day. It took them just under 10 hours.
The "Day-Off" is another great idea. Tubing is quite popular around Harper's Ferry, and there are also many cool points-of-interest to check out along this section of the towpath. Here are some more great ideas from:
Troop 71 - Macungie, PA
Having participated in several Scout biking trips I would recommend 20 miles for the day. This allows plenty of time to a from the campsite to drop-off points, time for meals and other scout activities and time to stop and enjoy some of the sites on the trail. Now having said that, if you are planning a longer trip with experienced riders on relatively flat terrain, I don't see why you can't cover 30-40 miles/day. We had a wonderful trip along the C&O Canal last fall travelling only about 11 miles from Antietam to just below Harper's Ferry. But our day included watching the reenactments at Antietam, a tour of the battlefield and bike stops at Dargen's Bend (John Brown's cave), a walk across the bridge to Harper's Ferry where we enjoyed an ice cream and stroll around the town, and numerous stops to collect and eat paw paws, throw rocks in the river, investigate rocks and ruins. Later that night after we prepared and ate a spaghetti dinner we went on the unique torchlight tour at Antietam Battlefield. It was one of the most rewarding and fulfilling days that I ever had. With a mix of experienced and inexperienced riders, we all had an enjoyable trip that left everyone wanting to come back again.