Bikepacking around the North East of the United States

I’ve finally got round to editing the photos from this year’s tour and want to share them here along with some of the stories from this trip.

Originally, my brother and I had planned a summer of bike touring around the Western US. We began in San Francisco with an ambitious plan to follow a huge horseshoe route around the mountains of the West. This went awry when I crashed heavily on day 9, forcing me to return home, rest and re-assess plans. We changed our strategy, planned a new route and set off from DC, finally riding a 2,300 mile loop around the North East of the US, over 25 days.

1. The trusty steed
A standard Cannondale cyclocross bike with Revelate bikepacking gear was the perfect setup for this tour. Fast enough to cover long distances on the road, light enough to climb any hill with only a compact double, agile enough to lift easily over obstacles we encountered and tough enough to ride off road for several days at the beginning of the tour. By the end, the bikes felt more like friends than mere mechanical objects.

Cannondale setup in bikepacking mode

Cannondale setup in bikepacking mode

2. C & O Canal
The first two and a half days were spent riding along the C & O canal: 185 miles of off-road, traffic free riding from Washington, DC to Cumberland. My back was still hurting like crazy from the crash earlier in the year, so I had to take strong pain killers to help me sleep in the tent at night. The canal towpath was scenic, quiet and full of historic interest. Highly recommended for bike touring.

Cycling past an historic canal aqueduct

Cycling past an historic canal aqueduct

3. Night riding along the C & O canal
We were slower than anticipated along the C & O canal as a result of my bad back and a poor riding surface (in places) so we didn’t make it to our chosen campsites before darkness fell. As we only had head torches, it made for some interesting night-time riding.

Pete cruising along the C&O at night

Pete cruising along the C&O at night

4. Stretching on the GAP trail
From the end of the C & O canal in Cumberland, we picked up the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail to Pittsburgh, a further 150 miles of off-road riding. The GAP trail gives superb riding through miles and miles of forests, with hardly a soul out there.

Stretching on the GAP trail

Stretching on the GAP trail

5. Pittsburgh
The end of the GAP trail and the end of the signed, off-road bike paths. Personally I was relieved to have made it this far, but still felt there was only a 50-50 chance of being able to continue the tour from here because of my back pain. We stopped overnight in a hotel in Pittsburgh, ate in a dingy, cheap restaurant, gorged on fantastic chocolate from The Milk Shake Factory and slept a deep sleep. A real bed did wonders for my back and the bike tour was still on!

Fountain in Pittsburgh

Fountain in Pittsburgh

6. Changing brake pads in Meadville, PA
Pete’s bike did not have a particularly happy tour! It began with a scraping sound from his rear disc brake, which we were able to fix ourselves relatively easily in Meadville, as we waited out a passing storm. Several days later his rear sprocket and free wheel began making all sorts of horrible noises, which continued on and off for the duration of the tour. We had two bike shops take a look along the way and replace various bits, which helped keep us going….for a while.

Replacing brake pads in Meadville, PA

Replacing brake pads in Meadville, PA

7. Sunset on Lake Erie
From Pittsburgh, we cycled through Amish country for two days to Lake Erie, where we raced the setting sun to the PA/NY state line and camped right on the lake shore. This was our longest day so far, 114 miles. We arrived just in time to pitch the tent and take a sunset photo. Lake Erie is so vast it felt like we were camping along the ocean. The campground hosts made us feel very welcome, offering us a prime pitch looking out over the water, bottled water, use of a charging point for our cellphones and not charging us full price when we didn’t have the available change. The generosity of the strangers we met on the bikes was something refreshing and wonderful, something one doesn’t encounter too often in day-to-day life.

Sunset over Lake Erie

Sunset over Lake Erie

8. Niagara Falls
An amazing sight. Spectacular. Superb. Deafening. Monumental. Be warned though, the statistics are not good if you decide to go swimming.

Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls — Bridal Veil falls

9. A pain in the ass
Literally. Beyond Niagara we picked up the Erie Canal towpath for around 60 miles until just beyond Rochester. For me, this was some of the most difficult riding of the tour as saddle sores were causing me all sorts of discomfort in the afternoons. Aside from this issue, the canal made for lovely, relaxed riding (it was flat and traffic free!).

Sunset over the Erie Canal

Sunset over the Erie Canal

10. Lake Ontario
We reached Lake Ontario, our second Great Lake, on day 9, at a pretty little hamlet on the lake shore by Salmon Creek, called Pultneyville, scene of a battle between British invaders and American locals in 1814.

Lake Ontario

Lake Ontario

11. Sunset from our camp on the shores of Lake Neatahwanta, near Fulton, upstate New York
We arrived into camp and pitched the tent just before dusk, a common theme on this tour. That evening, we walked through the woods (and the worst swarm of bugs I’ve ever encountered) to have an excellent dinner and beers at the Red Brick Pub in Fulton. We caught a taxi back to the campsite that night (we decided unlit roads with no sidewalk was too risky). The cab driver was a character — as he drove through the campsite in the dark, a fellow camper said “Hey, the speed limit is 5mph” to which he replied, in thick New York accent, “Whaddya think I’m doing, huh, you wanna drive?”. For some reason this amused us greatly, and my brother and I laughed about it for days.

Sunset over Lake Neatahwanta

Sunset over Lake Neatahwanta

12. Into the Adirondacks
Beautiful scenery, brilliant, quiet roads and fantastic riding. This is what we came for.

Pete cycling

Pete cycling

13. Lake in the Adirondacks
The numerous lakes through eastern New York (and Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine) were beautiful. Scenic roads hugged their shores, giving us cyclists the perfect backdrop as we pushed the pedals.

Lake in the Adirondacks

Lake in the Adirondacks

14. Camp at Paradox Lake, New York, on night 11 of the tour
I liked this campsite, mainly because of the misty, atmospheric conditions we had. It felt like we were the only ones around for miles and miles.

Camp at Lake Paradox

Camp at Lake Paradox

15. Covered bridge in Vermont
Old, wooden, covered bridges were few and far between on this tour so I was particularly excited by this one and insisted that Pete get a photo of me riding into it. Having seen hardly any cars in the previous hour, one arrived barely a moment after this photo was taken, requiring a hasty retreat to the right side of the bridge.

Covered bridge in Vermont

Covered bridge in Vermont

16. Thirsty work under a blazing sun

Thirsty work

Thirsty work

17. Cresting Kancamagus Pass, New Hampshire
Our high point of the trip, and some of the best cycling too. An earlier sign titled “No Gas – 32 miles” made us chuckle as we joked we shouldn’t have eaten such a heavy lunch. By this stage of a long outdoors trip, toilet humour takes over as the main relief for weary minds.

Kancamagus Pass, New Hampshire

Kancamagus Pass, New Hampshire

18. White Mountains of New Hampshire
Arguably the best scenery of the trip, although one might argue the same for the day we cycled through the Adirondacks past Mt Marcy. Certainly some of the best cycling. I enjoyed the long climbs up and over passes in the White Mountains. They afforded plenty of time for day-dreaming, time to enjoy the splendid scenery, time to embrace the exhaustion emanating from one’s legs. One is able to use the excuse of a photo opportunity at various scenic overlooks to cover up one’s suffering, and give those tired legs a little time to recover.

White Mountains of New Hampshire

White Mountains of New Hampshire

19. Panorama from the Kancamagus Pass road, New Hampshire

Mountain Panorama

Mountain Panorama

20. Maine, where roadworks were never far away
Before the tour, I thought Maine would provide some of the best riding of the tour, and, though it was stunningly beautiful, it was less suited to bike touring than the previous few days through Vermont and New Hampshire. Partly that was attributable to us being there over a weekend, so we had to contend with holiday traffic on the busy coastal roads of Maine. This did not make for relaxing riding at times. The other factor we noticed in Maine more than any other state, and this is understandable given how far North Maine is, was the poor quality of the road surfaces. Frost heaves, huge potholes and unlaid roads meant we had to keep our wits about us at all times.

New road in Maine

New road in Maine

21. Feeling remote in Maine
We relished getting away from the traffic and off the beaten track, although these unsealed roads were precarious at times. Small rocks were everywhere, ready to flick a wheel off its natural course and tip you over, so speeds were necessarily low. Absolute concentration was required so they were tiring miles, but experiences like this were always preferable to clogged up highways.

Dirt road, Maine

Dirt road, Maine

22. Victory!
We ate lobster on the Atlantic coast of Maine, thereby achieving the goal we had set ourselves several weeks earlier. A steadfast determination had gotten us here. The reward was a deep sense of satisfaction as we munched through these delicious lobster rolls. It was with some degree of relief too, at least on my part, to be here in Maine, as I had been worried the crash on the west coast had laid waste to any further biking this summer. The tour felt like a redemption of sorts, salvaging a great adventure from the pieces of our earlier summer tour.

Eating lobster

Eating lobster

23. Feeling fresh as a peppermint
Taking a break in Stafford, Connecticut. By this stage a cumulative fatigue had set in, so that each day the legs felt a little heavier, with a little less pop. We frequently reminded ourselves that it was a marathon, not a sprint. Keep turning those pedals, our mantra went, and so we did, from morning to evening, enjoying the satisfaction that comes from covering long distances each day.

Weary legs

Weary legs

24. In the hurt locker as we near home
We could smell the finish line as we raced through Maryland during the last couple of days to home, in Arlington, Virginia.

Pete at speed

Pete at speed

25. Finish line photo
We made it! This photo was taken by my wife as we cycled back along the road where it all began, three and a half weeks earlier. It was particularly memorable to simply ride back to my front door at the end of such a long trip, prop the bikes up in the garage, take a shower and then sit in the living room with a cup of tea, as if we had just returned from a two hour training ride.

Finish line

Finish line

26. Mileage chart from the Eastern Tour
We ended up covering just over 2,300 miles in 25 days, of which 24 were riding days. We took one rest day in Burlington, Vermont. Our average daily mileage ended up being around 96 miles for the riding days. We were pretty tired by the end.

Mileage chart

Mileage chart

4 thoughts on “Bikepacking around the North East of the United States

  1. Peter Wallis

    Love the mileage chart. Planning to do John O’Groats to Lands End next summer so gonna need to pick your brains at some point.

    Reply
  2. Jeff Hatcher

    I would love to do something like this. Soon to be new owner of a Trek Tricross (2014 LTD). UPS is delivering it today. At least I hope they show up because I’m waiting at the front window for them. Do you guys have a list and or Pictures of the equipment you took with you. Names and Model numbers of the equipment you took. Bike brand and model numbers and Groupsets you have on them including your gearing (9, 10, 11 Speed??) and how you packed your equipment in the bags would be SO SO helpful to people out here like myself. Thanks for sharing your experience, especially about the accident. My TriCross has mounts for front Panniers but not so sure I will use them now that I’ve read your blog.

    Jeff

    Reply
    1. benlcollins Post author

      Hey Jeff, Congrats on the new bike, hope you have many great adventures! Bike touring is one of the greatest ways to travel and see places, a perfect blend of being in nature and having a long range. Bikepacking is particularly wonderful because you’re not burdened by the weight (physical and mental) of loads of kit.

      This article I wrote about our bikepacking kit for this trip should answer most of your questions: https://bencollinsoutdoors.com/2014/07/26/evolution-of-a-lightweight-bike-touring-rig/

      For gear ratios, I was on a 46/34 on the front – I switched the 36 out for the 34 to give me a little help 😉 Then an 11-28 11 speed on the rear. Aside from that smaller front gear, I only changed the tyres and added the frame bags.

      Let me know if you have any more questions.

      Cheers, Ben

      Reply

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