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2003 Tour de Canal Ride Report(13 posts)

2003 Tour de Canal Ride ReportHumma Hah
Sep 9, 2003 11:14 AM
Over the weekend, September 6 and 7, I rode the 184.5 mile C&O Towpath, in the 7th annual Tour de Canal. Billed as the longest off-road bike ride in the US, it runs from Cumberland, MD, along the C&O Canal, paralleling the Potomac River, the whole way to Washington DC. A short road detour from miles 88 to 84 adds about 1.3 miles. We ran the last three miles on the asphalt Capital Crescent Trail, and there are a few hundred other yards of pavement on the ride, but otherwise it is all basically two-track dirt road of varying compositions. Flat as the proverbial pancake, it drops about 700 feet from start to finish, most of it as abrupt 3-5 ft drops at each lock.

This fundraiser for the Alzheimer's Association asked for $300 per rider, plus anything else you care to donate, and with special team sponsorships available. They don't use a fundraising service, but use extensive volunteer effort, and manage to pass about 93% of all money collected on to the organization, where it goes directly to support research and to help families of victims of this dread disease.

My wife lost two grandparents to Alzheimers, and supported me thoroughly. She even volunteered for one rest stop, difficult to reach from DC, but easy for us coming from our W Va cabin.

Friends, I wanna tell you, I've NEVER seen a ride that's this well run, offering so much support to the riders. They provided bus transportation to the start from DC to Cumberland, and any intermediate transportation, moved the bikes by truck, provided meals, arranged the motel accomodations (extra cost, but a good rate), and even cleaned and serviced the bikes! The food was varied and good for cycling, and Gatorade was offered, in addition to water, at every stop.

We cut a path across the country long enough to be easily seen on any scale of map. I could see it on a globe. You could see it with the naked eye from the Moon.

I recommend it highly. Get out your singlespeeds, cyclocrossers, and hybrids. Leave the FS bikes and the C-40's at home.

Here's their website:
The Retro Ride ...Humma Hah
Sep 9, 2003 11:16 AM
The 1971 Schwinn cantilever cruiser, singlespeed, with straight chopped bars, Brooks B-73 3-spring saddle, 46:20 gearing (2.3:1), 26 x 1.9" street slicks, Planet Bike clip-on fenders, 10W headlight, kickstand, and a backpack containing a 2-liter hydration flask, spares (even a spare chain), a pound of Peanut M&Ms and a couple of cans of Ensure Plus, and enough tools to overhaul the bike. Bike weight at start: approx 44 pounds, not including pack and water, estimated at about another 15 pounds.

Suspension and gears were unnecessary for this ride, and weight only counts if you're climbing. This ride was slightly downhill almost all the way, and weight actually helped a little when blasting thru mud. The old cruiser was in its element, possibly the best-suited bike imaginable for the conditions.
Day 1, Cumberland to Williamsport, 84.5 mi.Humma Hah
Sep 9, 2003 11:17 AM
Departure: approx 9:15 AM
Finish: approx 4:35 PM
Elapsed time: 7:20
Average rolling speed: 13.1 mph
Average speed to Paw Paw: 14.1 mph

This was not a race, and I did not start out with the intent of going especially fast. Knowing I was not trained well, and how much mileage was ahead, I consciously tried to keep my pace comfortable. I did get a little carried away at the start, letting the lead group sucker me up to a bit over 15 mph for the first few miles, and still held 14.1 at the first rest stop at Paw Paw, just before the tunnel, about 28 miles from the start.

My wife was working the Paw Paw SAG stop. This marks the first time I've ever gotten a kiss when coming in to a SAG stop.

The Paw Paw tunnel is about 3/4 of a mile long, and a real engineering marvel for the early/mid 1800's when it was built. The canal and towpath run thru it. The wood railing is largely original, still bearing the wear of many tow ropes rubbing against it. I was prepared to ride it, but there were five riders just ahead of me and the first two decided to walk. Evidently, some folks got vertigo in there. I rode at a slow walking pace, trying to keep my headlight beam on the trail so those ahead could see where they were going, but I'm not sure it really did them any good. At least I could see and admire the brick work. Coming out of the tunnel, my average speed had been knocked down by 0.6 mph, and I'd never get it back up enough to tell.

I noticed I was not getting passed much. A few riders thundered past me, but I'd catch up with them at the SAG stops, and they'd take longer at the stops. A while later, they'd thunder past me again. One outstanding rider was 20 minutes ahead of everyone at Paw Paw, and about 45 minutes ahead by the finish, but otherwise I seemed to be pretty much hanging with the leaders.

I finished about 20 seconds ahead of a triathlete. I asked him how this compared to a triathalon, and his answer surprised me. "I'd say this was considerably harder than the cycling leg of a triathalon, and we do a lot of climbing in those." Thinking about it, maybe I shouldn't be surprised. A 112-mile triathalon cycling leg, ridden on one of the lightest and most efficient solo-riding bikes ever built, could well be easier than 85 miles of flat dirt on a knobby-tired MTB. But I'm accustomed to riding centuries and longer on the cruiser. The climbing is what kills me, not the miles. I've always figured 100 miles on the cruiser was about equivalent to 130 miles on a roadbike, but on this trail, riders on MTB's had no such advantage over me, and few were experienced at that mileage.

I was feeling pretty good, in fact. A little tired, but no more so than after an easy century.

And when I asked the person with the clip board how many bikes in the 84-mile group had finished ahead of me, the answer was 12! 60 had started. I have never, EVER, finished a long ride so far to the front.
Saturday NightHumma Hah
Sep 9, 2003 11:18 AM
They held a banquet Saturday night. The same company that had donated the lunch both days also did the banquet. The fare was not spectacular, but very well suited as a recovery meal, and showed a lot of thought. We met the movers and shakers responsible for the ride and heard a little of its history, and thank-you's were passed out to the volunteers.

A team of professional sports massage therapists donated their services. For $1 a minute, fees and tips all donated to the Alzheimer's Association, they'd work out the kinks. There was quite a line. They made short work of the knot that develops between my shoulder blades on every long ride, and my wife was there to take notes.

A number of people recognized me as the cruiser rider, and they started telling me about the stories circulating about it. Folks who saw the bike at the start just shook their heads and figured I'd never finish. The couple who led my qualifying ride (until I left them behind) were quick to quash this notion. By the end of that first day, everyone knew about that bike, and were apparently fairly impressed. My head was getting so swelled I had to adjust my helmet band.

Meanwhile, the true heros of the event had borrowed a hose at the Waffle House and were WASHING THE BIKES! All of the bikes from the long ride and the shorter "50/50" option were muddy, so they washed them, oiled the chains, and inspected them. A mechanic put each one up on the stand, tweaked it, and even did repairs. One rider got spokes replaced. The mechanic, now stuck in a wheelchair as the result of an accident, was one of the founding riders of the event.

I will bet nobody in this forum has ever gotten treatment like this on a 2-day ride.
Day 2, Williamsport to Washington, DC, 100 mi +.Humma Hah
Sep 9, 2003 11:21 AM
The bike was lightened a pound or so by removing the light, which had only been on for the Paw Paw tunnel.

Departure: approx 7:20 AM
Finish: approx 4:50 PM
Elapsed time: 10:30
Average rolling speed: 13.1 mph to first SAG stop, 12.4 mph at Great Falls, 12.2 mph at finish.

Saturday night, they informed the slower riders that they'd decided to do two starts. The early start was for the slower riders. They managed to get off around 6:30 AM. The stronger riders, which evidently included me, could start later. I ended up leaving with with the strong group at about 7:20. I was looking forward to having a chance to reel in some slower rabbits.

As it turned out, I didn't actually pass all that many of the slower group on the towpath. It was a little discouraging. My average speed was down from the previous day, and I wondered if my lack of training was showing. But I seemed to be dicing back and forth with the same strong riders as the day before, and actually seemed to leave some of them behind. It turned out I was, indeed, passing the slower riders, mostly at the SAG stops, where they were sitting around with a bad case of 200-yard stare, wishing the durned ride were OVER.

I was just concentrating on holding a steady, comfortable, sustainable pace, setting lots of little goals, congratulating Humma on its superb performance every time we passed a mile marker. "Hey, Humma, we're 1/4 of the way there." "That was half way." "Rounding third and heading for home." "16 to go ... we just equaled yesterday's miles."

You're required to walk your bike across each aqueduct, and each one of those dropped average rolling speed 0.1 mph. Heavy foot traffic starting near Swain's Lock, peaking at Great Falls, reduced average speed in the last 25 miles significantly. My wife had said she'd try to meet me at Great Falls on her old 3-speed, so I slowed down there to look for her. It turned out, she decided to ride out from DC instead of Carderock. I met her 7 miles from finish and finished at a snail's pace so she could keep up.

And even so, I'd still managed to finish strongly, way ahead of the bulk of the riders. I felt good. I could have kept riding. I felt a bit better than I did after the Tour de Palm Springs, and far better than the 2001 Solvang, which left me crippled.
Signs of Madness.Humma Hah
Sep 9, 2003 11:22 AM
How do you ride 184 miles of straight, flat dirt road? How do you pass the time? Singing and making up stupid songs was one way.

The old folk tune "I had a mule and her name was Sal, 16 miles on the Erie Canal," kept popping to mind. Alternate lyrics were tried, but were never very satisfactory.

The second day, starting at 100 miles, I came up with "A hunderd miles of C&O trail, A hundred miles of trail. If both of my legs continue to flail, ninety-nine miles of C&O trail." I sang that coming in to one of the early SAG stops, and got a laugh. By 50 miles it had lost its charm, and I'd taken to talking to the bike, instead.
badger badger badger badger mushroom Snake badger...nmrwbadley
Sep 14, 2003 8:45 PM
Whupping the Weatherman.Humma Hah
Sep 9, 2003 11:24 AM
Tom Sater is the morning weatherman for WTTG, Fox 5, in DC. He rode last year, and mentioned it on the air, which is how I learned about the ride. He rode again this year. His wife, Holly Morris, a Fox 5 reporter, allowed him to ride in spite of the fact that Sunday was their wedding anniversary. We all thanked them both profusely, and also thanked Tom for the splendid weather he'd arranged: cool, and dry enough to have begun drying the mud from the week's rain.

Tom is one of the many riders I never saw on the trail either day. Saturday, I started with the first handful and the rest never caught us. Sunday, he started with the early group, but finished way behind me. I have no idea where I passed him, but there were bodies strewn all over the place at the SAG stops, especially at the lunch stop.

Holly was waiting for him at the finish, with a camera crew and remote van. They filmed the muddy bikes, then came inside to the restaurant across the street, that had donated a buffet to help us recover. We all cheered for the camera, and were on the morning news the next day.

Tom did show up for work, but did most of the weather segments sitting down. He had his floor director stand in front of the map for one segment. Later, he did it himself, but didn't seem to move very much. The anchor teased that he was hobbling around painfully.

I felt pretty good. My quads were slightly sore, but I walked normally and was not tired by the next morning. Gotta watch my appetite, tho'. I could eat a whole cow!
The Ride is Retro, too ...Humma Hah
Sep 9, 2003 3:17 PM
... The thing that instantly appealed to me when I heard about the TdCanal was that the second day was a dirt-road century. Centuries have been around for more than a century ... they were quite popular in the 1890's, when the roads were not paved and bikes had only one gear. From a purely retro-geek perspective, I wanted to know if I could do what wheelmen did when rims were made of wood and legs were made of iron.

And now I can say I've done it.
Great Story - Thanks for the long post (nm)KeeponTrekkin
Sep 10, 2003 6:42 AM
Sounds like fun, good ride report!rwbadley
Sep 14, 2003 8:47 PM
re: 2003 Tour de Canal Ride Reportwspokes
Sep 10, 2003 6:55 AM
Very Cool report Humma Hah! Great play by play. It sounds like this ride is heads above the ones I have ever done for organization. definitely sounds better than the MS rides. I would love to do an offroad century...I have done an offroad metric myself but never organized. Maybe a goal for next year...this year has been a year without goals for me and it shows. I am finally going to do my first tour this weekend...pathetic year!

See you at T-town.
thanks for the great post. nmContinental
Sep 11, 2003 8:08 AM