The Yockatomac Trek   ™

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OK, JUST WHAT IS THIS YOCKATOMAC TREK THING ANYWAY?  In the mid 90’s, a trail lover’s dream was taking shape across western Pennsylvania.  The rails-to-trails movement had gathered steam, and several trail projects on abandoned rail right-of-ways were becoming reality.  The time would come when these trails would be linked up to form a long-distance trail connecting Pittsburgh, PA with Cumberland, MD, and the 184 mile Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath trail to Washington, D.C.  In 1999, a handful of trail supporters decided there was enough trail completed to attempt a bicycle ride from D.C. to Pittsburgh as a demonstration that the trail was indeed becoming real and viable.  That early trip was so successful that an informal group of trail supporters and trail lovers has staged a repeat tour every year since, with lots of variations.  The Yockatomac Trek name arose some years ago in recognition of the route along the Youghiogheny and Potomac rivers.  The coming year will mark the eleventh anniversary of what we affectionately call “The Trek.”


SO WHAT’S THE DRILL?  Each day you’ll ride an average of 40 miles on the trail at your own pace, stopping along the way to take in the sights, sounds, smells, and experiences of bicycle travel through a natural and traffic-free corridor, arriving at each night’s lodging when you wish.  Camaraderie and riding in large or small groups is certainly encouraged, and is indeed a primary attraction of our tour, but you are also free to strike out on your own and do your own thing.  Our support van will deliver your luggage to each night’s lodging.  We’ll usually gather for a picnic lunch at a pre-selected point of interest along the day’s route.  Evenings may be spent at your leisure strolling through the small towns, chatting with your new-found friends on the porch of a B&B, or wandering in solitude along a nearby riverbank.  It’s your trip!  Our only agenda is fun and relaxation.


WHERE DO I SLEEP?  Wherever possible, we’ll stay in quaint bed & breakfasts and historic hotels and inns along the route, lodgings with unique character and charm.  Most times you’ll be able to bike right to the door of your night’s lodging.  We will have designated lodging for each night’s stay, with rooms held for our group.  You will be responsible for making your own reservations at each place of lodging and taking care of your own bill.  Room sharing is encouraged and we will assist you in finding a roommate if you desire.  It’s a cooperative trip….remember?


WHERE DO I EAT?  This group eats to ride…or maybe we ride to eat!  Sometimes we’re not completely sure if we’re a biking group with an eating problem or an eating group with a biking habit.  For sure, you’ll eat well if you so desire.  We’ll dine each evening in a local restaurant, or a catered meal will be provided courtesy of our B&B or inn hosts.  Lunches will be on your own. Usually we carry a sandwich with us from a local convenience store.  You will be individually responsible for your own meals.  Eat a little or eat a lot, it’s your choice.  Your calorie expenditure may exceed your calorie intake, but probably not by much.


WOW, AN AVERAGE OF 40 MILES A DAY SEEMS LIKE A LOT!  (or… GEE, 40 MILES A DAY DOESN’T SEEM LIKE MUCH!)  You can bike 40 or so miles on these trails in 4 to 5 hours of actual biking time, leaving plenty of time for exploring, sightseeing, absorbing historic sites, chatting with your companions, and just general wandering.  You won’t ride as fast on these trails as you do on pavement.  This is not an endurance ride and we expect to start out easy and taper off from there!  You will however, want to have a foundational familiarity with bicycling and a reasonable amount of cycling experience.  Check the recommendations for pre-ride conditioning in Linking Up.  We don’t have many “hammerheads” on this trip.  The emphasis is on just plain fun and relaxation, camaraderie, and a well-rounded outdoor adventure.


ALRIGHT, SO WHO COMES ON THIS TRIP?  We’ve had participants as young as ten and as old as 80.  For the most part we are mature folks who now have time for and crave a bit of soft adventure with like-minded folks in the great outdoors.  Accomplished cyclists to occasional riders, trail lovers and supporters, couples, singles, young and not-so-young, we always have a convivial and lively mix.


IS MY BIKE OK?  The Towpath is a bit rougher than the well-groomed trails of the GAP Trail.  It will puddle up in the rain, and mud can become a concern.  We recommend a multi-geared, better quality bicycle, hopefully not of the department store variety, either a mountain bike or a hybrid.  If you’re inclined toward a skinny tire bike, we suggest you take a day trip on the towpath ahead of time to gage its suitability for the surface, and then go buy yourself a hybrid.  There are some bicycle and tire suggestions in Linking Up.  And of course, you’ll want to be sure your bike is in top mechanical condition, and comfortable enough that you can stay on it for eight days.


IS IT SAFE?  With some reasonable precautions, yes.  You need to know how to recognize poison ivy, change a flat and maintain your bike between stops; or at least ride with someone who can.  You need to respect the wildlife.  You’re not going to get eaten by a grizzly bear, but if seeing a (usually harmless) snake sunning himself on the trial is going to push you over the edge, perhaps you’d better stick to road riding.  Cell phone coverage is spotty to nonexistent on large portions of the trail, so you can’t always count on calling someone to bail you out.  Our support van is available only at lunch stops, so you can’t hop on just because you need a break.  Park Service rangers are there to handle the big emergencies, but aren’t too happy about being called for the little ones.  This is a cooperative ride, so there is no guide to keep you from doing something dumb.  That said, thousands of folks ride the trail every year and have a wonderful time doing it, and you can too.      


IS THE WHOLE TRAIL FINISHED?  Finally, YES!  There is a 4-6 mile gap (depending on weather) affectionately known as the Dam 4 detour, around a long damaged section of the C&O Canal, which requires a little bit of a climb and a pleasant ride on rural roads.  Otherwise, you can complete the Trek from Georgetown, starting near the infamous Watergate Hotel, to Boston, outside McKeesport, PA entirely on the trail.  Soon, we’ll be adding the last 19 miles, ending in downtown Pittsburgh.  Just a few more trail gaps to close and we’ll be there!


WHERE’S THE START?  CAN I GET THERE FROM HERE?  Sure you can…!  We’ll start from Milepost 0 (the Water Gate, get it?) on the C&O Canal Towpath in Washington, D.C.  You’re pretty much on your own to get you and your bike to the starting point (or to get back from the ending point), but there are many workable options.  Many participants join up in car pools, and we try to facilitate that.  Maybe some of your family or friends will want to drive to D.C. (or Pittsburgh) for the weekend.  Amtrak has scheduled service on the Capitol Limited, but departs Pittsburgh in the wee hours of the morning and is notoriously unreliable in staying on schedule.  There are private shuttle providers who specialize in getting you and your bike to either end of the trail.  Greyhound has scheduled service, and of course cars can be rented one-way.  You can get there, people do it every year, and we’ll help all we can. 


BUT I’M SQUEEZED FOR TIME!  Some folks for various reasons can’t join us for the entire week.  That’s OK; you can ride with us for the portion of the week that fits with your schedule.  The registration fee will be prorated for the days that you ride.  Of course, you’re on your own for transportation to and from your starting and ending points.  With a little luck, we can pair you up!


OK….Um….SO WHAT DOES IT COST?  The Yockatomac Trek is undertaken in the same spirit of cooperation that built the trails it traverses.  It is organized as a cooperative, self-supported, non-profit tour by a group of people who love trails, history, and the great outdoors.  Your registration fee will cover shared costs incurred by the group, such as the support van and driver, expenses, and supplies.  Beyond that, each individual rider will be responsible for their own expenses at designated lodging, meals, snacks, and miscellaneous expenses.  You can share a room at all lodging stops, and we’ll help to pair you up if necessary.  Figure around a $100 to $115 bucks a day, for the eight day trip ($800 total, based on double occupancy) and you won’t be too far from wrong.  Compared to the price of some supported camping trips, this isn’t bad, and we’ll eat a whole lot better!


   Preliminary Trip Cost Estimate:


Shared Costs per Rider (based on 20 riders)



Lodging at designated B&Bs and hotels (double occupancy)

$350 - $450


 Dinners, lunches, snacks

$220 - $250


Miscellaneous personal/incidental expenses 

$30 - $50


Approximate Total Trip Cost 

$825 - $9750

YOU HAD ME AT “HELLO”!  Want to go?  Sound like fun?  It is!  You’ll need to fill out the Registration and Release Forms (coming soon), and send them along with your registration fee (which will cover your shared costs) to:


            Jim Rogers

            125 Washington Road

            Pittsburgh, PA 15221


HMM…LET ME THINK ABOUT IT…WHAT ELSE CAN I READ?  Explore the Allegheny Trail Alliance website, and the C&O Canal National Historical Park site, as well as other links which will lead you to a wealth of information about traveling the trails along this route.  Also, a great source of information on trips along these trails is the booklet Linking Up by Mary Shaw and Roy Weil.  We highly recommend anyone considering this trip get a copy from a local bike shop in the area of the trails, or from the ATA Bookstore.


Good C&O Canal guidebooks are Thomas Hahn’s Towpath Guide to the C&O Canal, and Mike High’s C&O Canal Companion.  Read the more recent High before the trip for background, but bring Hahn in your saddlebag for an on-the-path explanation of the canal’s operating features.  The authoritative guide to the GAP Trail is Bill Metzger’s The Great Allegheny Passage Companion.  All are available through the ATA Bookstore.


For specific questions about the trip, feel free to contact the Yocktrek 2008 Coordinator, Jim Rogers, at .


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You are visiting The Yockatomac Trek, copyright © 2006 by Mary Shaw and Roy Weil. We encourage you to link to these pages or print copies for personal use. However, if you want to copy the material for any other use, you must ask us first. Other outdoor publications by the authors.