Ok, so it actually poured. A lot.
On her. At times, in fact, the rainfall seemed to be targeting her.
“It’s the one thing you can’t plan for, and the weather did alter some things during the ride,” explained 28-year-old Melinda Koslik, a resident of the East Wheeling neighborhood of the Friendly City. “When I stayed the night in Harper’s Ferry, the storms that day were the worst of the trip.
“When I was close to Harper’s Ferry, it started to lightning and thunder, and the rain that day was gushing down on me. It really looked like flash-flood weather, and I biked through that for around an hour, and I had enough,” she continued. “Trees were falling down, and the rain was poking me in the eyes, and I was trying to go as fast as possible so I could finally reach Harper’s Ferry. I was disgusted and soaked when I got there, and thank goodness there was a room.”
Koslik set out on an adventure in mid-August along the GAP Trail (Great Allegheny Passage) and the C&O Canal Towpath, two trails interlocked that allow mountain bikers to travel from Pittsburgh’s Point State Park to Washington, D.C. She planned for six overnights, four camping and two in hotels, and the trip took her through Ohiopyle, Cumberland and Hancock in Maryland, and through Harper’s Ferry, W.Va., before she reached the nation’s capital.
“I have always loved the travel, and I’ve already looked for the next big adventure,” Koslik explained. “I’m also a subscriber to a lot of travel magazines and a few adventure magazines, and I really got into biking last year, and I’ve really enjoyed it. I came across an article about the GAP trails, and I thought it would be awesome to bike from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.
“The trail technically begins at Point Park, and I had already ridden that section, so I started at the waterfront and continued from there,” she said. “The trail was pretty flat but not completely flat. I believe there’s about a 1 percent grade all the way to Frostburg, Md., so you are technically climbing for a couple of days, but I didn’t really feel it that much.”
Her ride called for much planning so Koslik would have the supplies she needed on a pair of trails that feature only a few communities along the way. That’s why she purchased a pair of “saddle bags,” and the young lady packed them with a number of necessary items. Koslik had a two-person tent, sandals and an extra pair of tennis shoes, a pair of non-biking outfits, a knife, mace, a book and a couple of magazines, her bike attire, and bottled water and several different food items like beef jerky, granola and protein bars, canned tuna salad and crackers, and , most appropriately, trail mix.
And Koslik promised there were no high heels on this trip.
“I did purchase the biggest bike bags I could find, and I did over pack a little because I was pretty weighted down,” she said. “That affected my pace somewhat, but for a six-day trip I took hardly anything if you compare it to another kind of trip. I really did have to think about what the bare essentials would be.
“My food and bottled waters did take up a lot of space, but I knew that’s something that I had to take with me because there are long stretches on the trails where there are no stores or water stops,” she said. “And it was pretty hot at that time, so I was going through a lot of water while trying to stay hydrated. And there was a guide that I purchased because it could tell me suggestions about what I would need and what to expect out there.”
Koslik owns a road bike, but such a cycle would not survive the trail terrain, so she found a 1992 Timberline GT mountain bike she purchased for less than $150. One flat tire and a replaced peddle later and she glided into Washington, D.C.
“When I bought the bike, I thought it would be perfect, and it’s not a bad bike, but it’s not ideal either because of how heavy it is compared what’s now available,” Koslik explained. “Plus it was loaded down with around 50 pounds of gear, so I was probably pushing around an extra 100 pounds plus me.
“The bike isn’t anything fancy, and there were people on the trail riding very expensive bikes,” she continued. “But at one point there was a really large tree down across the Towpath, and I was lucky that I was biking with a few others at that time. Without them I would have had to empty everything out, get the bike around the tree, and then load it up again, but those guys helped me, and I was very lucky.
The trek was a total of 335 miles, and there were distinct differences between the two trails she traveled. For example, the GAP Trail featured a crushed brick path on which to travel.
But the C&O Canal Towpath? Not so much.
“The Towpath is literally right along a canal with a pretty steep dropoff, so that was something you really had to be aware of,” Koslik explained. “Plus, the Towpath was pretty saturated by the time I reached it in Cumberland, and there were just ruts in it that looked like they were made by a truck or something. When it rained, the ruts will fill up with water, too, so they slowed me down some.
“I would try to start no later than 9 a.m., and I was usually done right around 6 p.m. so that I would have a couple more hours of daylight,” she said. “At one time I thought I would be done a lot sooner each day, but I also stopped for a lot of breaks along the way. The time spent, though, getting something to eat and drink took up more time than I anticipated.”
Oh yes, one more thing. Koslik, an employee of Orrick, Herrington, Sutcliffe, was alone.
“There have been a lot of people ask me why in the world I did it by myself and if I thought I was going to be safe while doing it by myself,” Koslik admitted. “Some people really thought I was crazy for doing it, and some even thought the worst was going to happen. My mom was definitely nervous; I know that.
“I also had several friends who were trying to give me things to ensure my safety. So many of them wanted to give me knives and mace, and I did take mace and a pretty big knife with me on the trip, but I didn’t have to use them at all,” she continued. “So there were no predators on the trail, and I made it safe and sound.”
She also met other mountain bikers along the way.
“I did do it by myself, but halfway through I ran into a group of people who were close to my age, and they were also going to D.C.,” she recalled. “I ran into them on Day 3 halfway through the day, and we ended up biking together the rest of that day. Even though they planned to go further than I did that day, I continued to run into them the rest of the trip.
“We actually ended up finishing up together in D.C., and we took some photos of us with the White House behind us,” she explained. “But when I planned the trip, I planned it knowing I was going to be by myself. I had no idea whom I may meet on the trails. I was pretty confident that others would be on the trails, but this was my first trip, so I really didn’t know what to expect.”
There were lessons learned, she admitted, like the weight of her bike, and taking reading material proved unnecessary, too. If Koslik, who peddled at least 60 miles per day, would decide to make a second trek on these trails, she likely would extend it by at least a couple of days.
“I would like to, and hopefully I’ll have some people to join me the next time,” she said. “I’ve had a lot of people on Facebook who said they would. I don’t know if I believe them or not, though. It would be awesome to go with a small group.
“But I would like to do it again even if it’s by myself again, and yes, I would be better prepared, and I would do some things different the next time,” Koslik added. “There were people of all fitness levels out there, so those who might be afraid to do it probably have nothing to fear. It’s all about deciding how many miles you want to cover per day and how many days you want to give the trip. But don’t be afraid of it. I mean, I did it.”
(Photos provided by Melinda Koslik)