Tag Archives: C&O Canal

Hancock Bike Tour on the C&O Canal

12 – 13 May 2023

Chuck invited me to join him on an overnight bike trip on the C&O canal, starting from Hancock, MD, heading up the river to Indigo Neck campground.

I haven’t visited this area since the 2014 tour with my brother, so I jumped at the chance to see an unfamiliar part of the C&O national park.

Day 1: Hancock, MD, to Indigo Neck Campground, 15 miles

It was blazing hot as we got ready in Hancock (around 85 F perhaps) so it was a welcome relief to start cycling and get into the shade of the woods.

It felt more remote and wild than sections of the towpath near Harpers Ferry. We only saw one other person the entire time.

With Chuck at the parking lot in Hancock, about to set off
Enjoying the shade along the C&O canal
Round Top Cement Mill
Sideling Hill Creek flowing into the Potomac river

It was hot and dry when we got to camp and thankfully the bugs were minimal.

With the long hours of daylight at this time of year, it was a leisurely afternoon setting up the tent and having dinner.

Indigo Neck hiker biker site
First job after getting the tent up: collect and filter water from the pump

Chuck brought a folding saw, which we put to good use cutting firewood for the campfire. (Pro tip: A squirt of lighter fluid helps get damp wood going!)

View from my tent towards the rest of the campsite

As the evening wore on, the birds became more vocal with the whippoorwills dominating the song.

The campfire was our focal point as we shared tales and watched the flames turn wood to ash as day gave way to night.

There’s something mesmerizing about a good campfire

Day 2: Indigo Neck Campground to home, 82 miles

I woke to light rain on the fly. I headed to the picnic bench and made hot granola and coffee for breakfast. The rain continued through the morning, necessitating a waterproof jacket but never heavy enough to be unpleasant.

Brenda, another bike tourer, was away first that morning at 8.30. Chuck and I were away a bit after 9.

Since we’d ridden the canal towpath into Indigo Neck campground the day before, we decided to ride the parallel Western Maryland Rail Trail (WMRT) on the return to Hancock. The WMRT is paved, which was a benefit as the rain steadily increased.

Chuck on the Western Maryland Rail Trail

It’s a beautiful ride through mountainous western Maryland. Being an old rail line, there is virtually no ascent or descent, so it’s an easy ride.

It was much cooler than the day before with low mist clinging to the mountain sides, which made the whole place look like the set of Jurassic Park.

Crossing over Sideling Hill Creek
Looking out from the rail trail at the Sideling Hill Creek Aqueduct and Potomac River
Me and Chuck
An Eastern Tent Caterpillar (I think!)
Chuck riding past a giant rockfall on the Western Maryland Rail Trail

I said goodbye to Chuck in Hancock, where he stopped at his truck.

I continued, planning to ride all the way home, which would be about 80 miles total for the day, the furthest I’ve ridden since 2014!

Signs every few miles along the WMRT
Typical scenery on the southern end of the WMRT. I didn’t see a single other cyclist or walker outside of Hancock.
Smiling during a lull in the rain

I rode to the terminus of the WMRT, having missed the connection to the C&O canal about a mile earlier. I was loathe to backtrack so I rode through Fort Frederick State Park to regain the canal at the far end of Big Pool.

From there I rode the towpath along the river’s edge and in and out of the woods.

Aside from one large group, the trail was mostly empty and I enjoyed miles of solitude. The rain fell heavily at times, and the trail was muddy, but I love these kinds of conditions as they remind me of home.

Cliffs along the side of the Potomac
The impressive Dam 5
Beautiful riding along the newly restored section of the towpath near to McMahon’s Mill

The riding was super fun until around mile 70, once I was on familiar ground past Shepherdstown. Then my legs began to ache. And ache.

The last few miles into Harpers Ferry were hard. It doesn’t seem to matter how long a ride is — 50 miles, 80 miles, 100+ miles — the last 10 miles always feel hard.

The trails were rather muddy with the rain!
One filthy bike, sign of a good adventure!
Snake sighting! An eastern ratsnake close to Lock 37

Overall, this was an excellent mini bike tour with friends.

I explored a local area that I’ve only visited once before, many years ago, so it felt like new terrain. Plus, 80 miles in the rain on mostly muddy gravel was a solid challenge that had me digging deep, which is exactly the sensation I’m searching for.

March mid-week bikepacking overnighter to Big Woods hiker biker campsite

28 – 29 March 2023

At Big Woods Hiker Biker campsite, along the C&O Canal

One of my goals this year is to camp out for at least one night every month. I managed it in January (see January bikepacking overnighter) but missed February (life and work were busy).

It looked like March was going to be another miss, but right at the end of the month, after launching a big work project, I was able to sneak out for another sub-24 hour overnighter.

Day 1: Home to Big Woods, via dam 4, 27.5 miles

Like the January trip, I rode from home along the C&O Canal towpath to one of the backcountry campsites: Big Woods hiker biker site.

I got away at 3.30 pm, headed upriver on the canal towpath. I’ve ridden this section countless times, but I always enjoy the meditative experience of riding in solitude alongside the river. There were only a handful of dog walkers out on the trail on a mid-week afternoon and I enjoyed the quietness.

Enjoying easy miles along the canal towpath
Loving the comfy ride of the Surly Grappler
It won’t be long until the towpath is a green tunnel again

Although Big Woods is before dam 4, I decided to prolong the riding into the early evening and ride on to see dam 4. It’s an impressive low-head dam that I stopped at with my brother on our north east tour in 2014. A great place to enjoy the river and appreciate its power.

Dam 4 on the Potomac River

Big Woods campsite is set back from the towpath, down by the river. It’s one of the more secluded, smaller hiker biker campsites. There was no-one else here, so I had the campsite to myself.

I had enough light to pitch the tent and have dinner. It was cool, but not cold. The river was flowing fast, specked with foam.

Across the river, on the West Virginia side, I could see the lights of one house, but they might as well have been on the moon, for the mighty Potomac stood between us. Otherwise, it was just me and the woods.

Nemo Hornet 1P tent setup at Big Woods campsite
Cooking dinner
MSR Pocket Rocket still going strong after 10 years

It was a pleasant night and I slept well. The only drama was the camp pillow deflating on me but I survived somehow, haha.

What a strange pastime this bikepacking is. Riding to the middle of nowhere to lie in a tiny fabric coffin and read the same book I would have read from the comfort of home. But somehow it’s amazing and hard to beat!

Day 2: Big Woods to home, 24.2 miles

I awoke to birdsong at first light, around 6.30 am. I made breakfast outside — a weird boil-in-the-bag biscuits dish that had the consistency and texture of one of my son’s slime creations — and enjoyed it from the warmth of my sleeping bag.

Breakfast in the tent on morning of day 2

I watched the sun creep down from the tops of the tall sycamore trees, painting them gold, until finally hitting my tent and announcing the beginning of the day.

It was time to strike camp and get going!

The tent catching the first rays of sunshine.

My return route was a reversal of yesterday’s, minus the few extra miles up to dam 4.

It was a cool morning, so my extremities took a little while to warm up. There were only a few dog walkers out, so it was another couple of hours of tranquil riding alongside the bubbling river.

Departing Big Woods campsite on the morning of day 2.
It was cold in the shadows along the canal towpath.
Beautiful, easy miles along the C&O canal.

With every ride along the canal, one learns or notices something new. This time, I saw the cliffs along the Maryland shore in a new light. Of course, I’ve seen them many times before, but I’d never really appreciated their size and how remarkable it is that the canal company could build the canal between the cliffs and the river.

Cliffs next to the C&O canal. It’s impressive that they could fit a canal between the river and cliffs.

I was home by mid-morning and back at work by noon. It was another successful S24O (sub 24-hour adventure) by bike.

I’m already looking forward to the next one, perhaps I’ll head downstream this time, and stay at Marble Quarry campsite. There’s also 50+ miles of singletrack near Seneca that’s on my radar, but I probably need 2-3 full days to get there and enjoy that. One for the future though!

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

Pedalling north today, our bike tour continues

Today we’re setting off again, picking up the pieces from the aborted No Rest Out West bike tour and beginning a new ride up the eastern seaboard. We’re cycling from home this time, leaving right from the front door after breakfast. I love tours that start and end at home – there’s something about the purity of the route when it doesn’t involve any other mechanised transport, only the power of one’s legs and the bicycle.

We’re going with a much lighter setup this time, partly to avoid the unstable bike setup we had out west and partly to allow us to travel further each day. Whether we can uphold our side of this deal and actually pedal further each day remains to be seen, but we’ll give it our best shot. We’re both champing at the bit to get out there and challenge ourselves again.

The new route we’ve mapped out, documented more elegantly here by my brother, takes us from the capital, Washington DC, inland to Lake Erie, before we turn north east and ride through New York and into New England. If time permits, we’re aiming for Maine, but we’ll see how we go. Our return route will be along the Atlantic coast route, following the coast in places but heading inland as we head further south. I’ve come to love the various parts of the eastern US that I’ve seen, so I’m excited to fill in the gaps and see more of the mountains, lakes and natural beauty of this region.

It’s a loop linking up the following route: C&O canal, GAP trail, Underground Railroad Pittsburgh spur, Northern Tier and Atlantic Coast.

This very rough screen-grab/sketch-map shows our approximate route:

New eastern route

Evolution of a lightweight bike touring rig

Goodbye to the panniers

Goodbye panniers

Earlier this summer, my brother and I set off on what should have been a 3,500 mile bike tour around the mountainous west of the U.S. for two months. Things didn’t go to plan when I crashed badly on day 9 so we returned home to DC whilst I recovered. However, I’m now better and itching to get back out on the bike. We’ve spent the downtime going through our kit item-by-item, paring down to the absolute minimum and transitioning from panniers to full bike-packing setup. As I alluded to in this post, I believe my previous setup with two heavy rear panniers was a contributing factor in the crash. A rethink was needed.

Below is a brief history of my bike touring equipment, showing a general progression towards a lightweight setup.

Bike touring version 1 – 1997 to 2006

I began touring way back in my teenage years, on a 26″ mountain bike. This culminated in a 3 month tour across Norway in 2006, at the peak of my fully loaded setup:

Cycling above the Arctic Circle

Fully loaded above the Arctic Circle, on my 2006 Norway tour

I had two large rear panniers, two smaller front panniers, a bar bag, and a tent and sleeping mat attached to the top of my rear rack. I was certainly not in the lightweight category but I still encountered plenty of heavier laden cyclists during my travels through Norway. I did post some kit home during the tour and suffered numerous broken rear spokes, so the setup was far from ideal. Still, it was relatively stable fore and aft, but rather heavy going uphill. I carried a Terra Nova Voyager tent (2.2 kg), as well as a stove, plenty of warm clothes and food. I was still a novice tourer, carrying too many “spare” items and always an excess of food in my panniers. Overall though, the tour was a fantastic experience and hugely enjoyable.

Bike touring version 2 – 2013/14

After a long period away from bike touring (I spent most of my holidays mountaineering or trekking), I returned to cycling with a vengeance, as a way to explore a new region of the world, when I moved from the UK to Washington DC, USA.

Last year I started touring again – a lightweight tour on a road bike, with two small rear Vaude roll-top panniers and a Revelate gas tank on the top tube. This was a comfortable setup and didn’t dramatically alter the handling of the bike or add too much of a burden for the hills. I kept the weight low by not carrying a stove or too many additional clothes (it being a hot DC summer). I still carried a double skin tent however (a Mountain Hardwear Skyledge tent in this case), weighing a little under 4.4 lbs or 2 kg.

Lightweight rear panniers and a Revelate gas tank bag - works well as long as you keep the weight down

Lightweight rear panniers and a Revelate gas tank bag – works well as long as you keep the weight down

This year I’m riding a Cannondale Cyclocross bike. The riding position is very similar to the road bike and it’s supremely comfortable for long rides. It’s light and rides well over the rougher stuff. It’s inching closer to that mythical one-bike-to-do-it-all that we cyclists dream of.

For the No Rest Out West tour this summer, I went for the same setup that I used on my tour last year, namely two rear panniers and a gas tank bag, but added a bar bag as well. (At the time, I thought the lack of eyelets on the front fork was a drawback of this bike, but now I’m glad I didn’t go down that route of front panniers, and instead went in the opposite direction.) However, I had a lot more gear this time – a stove, warm storm-proof clothing for the mountains, an iPad for keeping in touch with home and telling the story, and a pair of trainers for trekking and days off the bike. Way too heavy to have on the rear of the bike only. The front wheel felt very light and squirmy. The photo below from the California coast shows this setup:

Large rear panniers and tent on the top of the rear rack

Large rear panniers and tent on the top of the rear rack

Bike touring version 3 – summer 2014

The transformation to this final bike-packing setup really began on day three of the No Rest Out West tour, at a campsite in California. My brother and I had rolled into Van Damme camp after a beautiful, but hilly, 68 mile ride, feeling pretty good and in the touring groove. We were soon put in our place when an ultralight bike tourer arrived at camp, having ridden 160 miles that day. He carried the bare minimum of equipment, in various frame bags. We looked in envy at the lightness of his setup in comparison to our seemingly monstrous panniers. A seed was sown, and we started discussing ultralight tactics that very night. We’d both been following the growing bike-packing movement with interest, so this encounter, and then my subsequent crash on an unstable bike, were the catalysts that set us off down that road.

And this is where we’ve ended up:

Cyclocross bike setup with Revelate bags, bar bag and touring tyres

Cyclocross bike setup with Revelate bags, bar bag and touring tyres

For the next phase of our summer tour, we’re leaving a lot of heavy gear at home (notably, the panniers, pannier rack, all the cooking gear, the iPads, spare trainers, warm clothing for the mountains) and swapping out other items for lighter versions (the tool kit has been slimmed down, lighter clothing is being taken). The revised kit list is as follows (summer conditions, north east US):

[Note – am working on weighing all the kit, will add to the table in due course]

Bike and items attached to the bike

Item Kit Weight Notes
1 Cannondale Cyclocross CAADX Disc Ultrega bike 9,480 g / 334 oz Fitted with Schwalbe Marathon Plus tyres for touring (700 by 35)
2 Ortlieb bar bag A 6 liter, waterproof bag containing spare clothes, camera, diary, food. Mine is around 9 years old now, still going strong
3 Revelate Gas Tank bag A 1.5 liter bag on the top tube, useful for food and misc. items
4 Revelate Tangle half frame bag Around 6 liters or so, currently packed with tent poles and flysheet. My brother is carrying the inner tent.
5 Revelate Viscacha seat back Up to 14 liters, packed with sleeping bag, thermarest, spare clothes
6 Topeak Mini Dual G minipump 158 g / 5.56 oz Attached to frame via bottle cage mounts
7 Water bottles One standard bike bottle and one soft drinks bottle (since bike bottle too large to fit under frame bag)
8 Cateye Strada wireless bike computer
9 Rear red LED light

Camping gear

10 GoLite Shangri La 3 tent Lightweight for its size and very comfortable for 2 people, carried between the two of us
11 Rab Neutrino 200 sleeping bag 580 g / 20.5 oz 4 years old and still going strong, a superb sleeping bag. Leaving stuff sac behind and stuffing directly into Revelate bag
12 Rab silk sleeping bag liner Not sure of the model, old. Leaving stuff sac behind.
13 Thermarest Neo Air Small Very small pack size and ultralight, this smaller size will be an experiment
14 Petzl Tikka headlamp
15 Mini Pac towel

Clothing (items worn on the bike indicated in parentheses)

16 Shimano Mountain Bike shoes Not sure of the model as these are a decade old now, but still going strong. So comfortable!
17 2 * Generic black cycle shorts (1 pair worn) Any brand will do, nothing expensive
18 2 * full zip cycle jerseys (1 worn)
19 2 * socks for cycling (1 pair worn) I favour thicker socks
20 Cycling gloves (worn)
21 Bontrager Helmet (worn) New – replaces the one that was damaged in recent crash
22 Oakley sunglasses (worn)
23 Cycling biretta (cap) (worn) We bought caps from Velo Cult bike shop in Portland, to remind us of our time in the west
24 Cycling jacket Something lightweight, no hood
25 Zip-off trousers (pants in the US) For town wear
26 Long sleeve layer For town use or cold days on the bike
27 T-shirt For town wear
28 Boxer shorts For town wear
29 Flip Flops For off bike wear

Other items

30 Maps From the Adventure Cycling Association
31 Canon G16 Camera, padded case, mini tripod and charger
32 Mobile phone (cell phone) and charger
33 Diary and pen
34 Toolkit and spare inner tube Relatively lightweight, left the heavy multitool at home, carrying separate, much lighter Allen keys
35 First aid kit
36 Toothbrush and small wash kit Half sized toothbrush and travel size body wash/shampoo
37 Spot satellite messenger Emergency contact beacon, in case of disaster
38 Cable and padlock Lightweight, shared item
39 Ben’s Insect Repellent (DEET) Small amount carried in 2 oz container
40 Chain lube Small amount carried in 2 oz container
41 Wallet with ID, credit cards

Shakedown tour and further refinements

Ahead of our upcoming east coast tour, my brother and I headed out for a short overnighter to test the new setup. A quick, evening blast 30 miles out along the C&O canal, chosen for its lack of traffic and rough surface, then an overnight camp and a blast back early the next morning in time for breakfast.

Despite its minute scope, the tour delivered an out-sized portion of natural beauty as we enjoyed a stunning sunset, plenty of wildlife (deer, vultures, herons being the most interesting) and the peace of the woods.

The kit performed flawlessly. The Revelate bags are rock solid – the seat pack does swing side to side when you really stomp on the pedals but you don’t notice when you’re riding. The frame bag isn’t noticeable except for occasional brushes against the inside of my knees which is not a problem. We were able to carry everything we needed (see above list) but it was a squeeze, so we spent some time discussing further weight/volume savings, leading to the following modifications:

  • Small half-size toothbrush
  • Zip off pants (trousers) – saves on taking separate pants and shorts
  • Small bottles for liquids – e.g. take chain lube in a 2oz bottle instead of a 6oz bottle, ditto for bug spray
  • Leave mosquito headnets at home
  • Transfer the Advil (painkillers) from their container into a bag or much smaller container
  • Leave spare spokes and spoke tools at home – much less likely to suffer broken spokes with this lighter setup
  • Only carry the minimum number of tent pegs (6 in our case) and leave spares + stuff sac at home

Some photos from this mini-tour:

Pete on the C&O canal

Pete on the C&O canal

Evening reflection near Great Falls

Evening reflection near Great Falls

Sunset over the Potomac River

Sunset over the Potomac River

Further reading – some useful articles I refer to:

Joe Cruz wrote a superb post about touring on a road bike.

Legendary ultralight cyclist Iik talks through his own lightweight evolution – he is much further along this journey than we are, so there’s still plenty to learn here.

Bikepacking.net is a useful resource with plenty of gear and route information in the forums.

And finally, here’s a cool trip that beautifully captures the essence of bikepacking – bikepacking the Appalachian Trail.

Thoughts or comments on anything above? Further tips or any good resources you use? Let everyone know in the comments.