The goal was six straight days in the saddle. Ride the roughly 300 miles from Pittsburgh PA to Frederick MD over the course of four days, arriving for two straight days of polo at the most glorious DC Polo Camp. Mission accomplished. Here’s a quick account of the four days on the trail.
Last year I rode this same route alone to the first DC Polo Camp, and apparently spoke highly enough of it to convince fellow Pittsburgh polo player Max to come along for the 2011 edition. First time bike camping for Max, killer travel mate. Pretty great trip.
Day 1. We are blessed in Pittsburgh and DC to have the longest continuous trail system in the United States connecting the two cities and many small towns in between. Between the 150 mile Great Allegheny Passage and the 185 mile C&O Canal you can travel between the two cities by bicycle or by foot, camping in various sites along the way. We hit the trail just outside of town riding 85 miles to Confluence PA, passing the Edgar Thomson Works mill in Braddock, the relatively old Dravo cemetery, and through the Roundbottom campsite (pro tip: new structures are in the works, but still no water) on the way. We also passed through Ohiopyle, but our leisurely pace early in the day and push to camp in Confluence made us motor on through without picture-time. The pay-campsite in Confluence is ok, but pales in comparison to other more primitive hiker/biker sites along the way that don’t have camper trailers and people driving to the bathroom all over the place. Unfortunately given our daily mileage needs it was the best of two or three less than ideal choices.
Day 2. Definitely the most picturesque, and perhaps the easiest of the four. We got a late start, letting the mist and fog burn off the day warm up a bit before going, especially seeing that the previous day was spent in the mid-50s and in a fine mist all day. After a quick stop in Rockwood for a snack we soon crested the Eastern Continental Divide, finishing the climbing for the trip with 1700 ft of elevation gain from our start. Shortly after crossing the divide the trail takes a definite downward slope, losing the past day and half of elevation gain in 25 miles or so. Just after the divide is the 3300 ft Big Savage Tunnel, one of the longer ones most people will ever get the chance to ride through—from there it’s the Borden Tunnel and a quick last 15 miles from Frostburg to Cumberland. Stopped at Sheetz and Dollar General for food rations and an alcohol fuel refill for my stove and pushed a few miles to the Irons Mountain campsite on the C&O. About a 75 mile day, ending in a pretty great campsite right near one of the many locks on the canal.
Day 3. Morning was beautiful as the fog burned off and we had our usual breakfast of coffee and oatmeal. Rode through the dark and damp 3000 ft Paw Paw Tunnel and otherwise hit lots of the towpath, trying to hit our mileage before dark. Midway through the day we were able to hit 22 miles of paved rail trail that runs next to the rough dirt C&O canal towpath, a welcome change and a few extra miles per hour. We stopped at Hancock for food and refreshments before calling it a day at the Jordan Junction site. Another 75 miles down.
Day 4. No time for photos—with Polo Camp and friends in store at the end of the day, we woke up early and hustled, trying to make it to camp and cool refreshing beer and a grill pretty well as soon as possible. With no real towns on the way, we cooked the last of our food along the trail for lunch and made good time on the longish day, riding up the steepest hill of them all just as we finished the 313 mile total ride—Polo Camp’s driveway. I was hungry enough upon arriving that against all better judgment I ate a giant sausage from the grill, perhaps the first full serving of “meat” in eight or nine years. It was awesome.
No walking the entire trip. No real injuries even if both of us had some knee pain throughout. One flat 15 miles from the end of the ride (me), and one lost fender (Max) with no other mechanicals between us. Awesome trip, would do again.
DC Polo Camp II. Killer. Best event of the year. We played lots and lots of polo on the finest courts I’ve ever played on by day and drank moonshine around the pallet fire by night. I only took pictures of one of these activities.
Last word: The Ransom family is awesome. Thank you!