When I found out I was attending a conference in Richmond, Virginia the week before 4th of July, I set out to figure out how to tack on a bike trip! After lots of googling and advice from friends of friends, I decided to check out the Shenandoah Valley and part of the C&O towpath.
Amtrak & Bikes
I figured out that Amtrak and a short rental car trip would be the best way to go. I would be going: train from Philly > Richmond | rental car from Richmond > Waynesboro | bike from Waynesboro > DC | train from DC > Philly. That sounds complicated, but was surprisingly stress free! There are lots of other places to find good info on bikes + Amtrak (like here) but Amtrak seems to keep adding more bike accommodations (YAY!) so just check their website here for current info. On the route I took, I had to box my bike to ship it as checked luggage — see bike boxing in photos above.
Waynesboro to Harrisonburg
Throughout the valley, it's mainly farmland. And boy is it beautiful. But it's also VERY hilly! But hills lead to camaraderie. On my third day on the road on my way to Winchester, I was partway up a long hill stopping for a water and snack break on the side of the road. It's pretty quiet out there, and I don't think I'd seen any other cyclists that day. But then someone rolls up! We were heading the same way and got to talking. He had recently started biking, but was hooked. When I met him, he was riding to a job site in the next town over
My stay in Winchester was probably one of my favorite people-parts of my trip. I stayed in a room through AirBnB of an amazing couple who LOVES Winchester. They took me under their wing, took me on a tour around town (including an awesome pedestrian plaza!), went out to dinner, and helped me hang out my tent to dry on their clothesline. Because hey, I love roughing it as much as the next outdoorsy camper, but sometimes you're solo touring, having a warm homey night like that is just what you need.
The C&O into DC!
The C&O is definitely a gem. You don't having to worry about where your next turn is, the hiker/biker campgrounds are often (check out the campgrounds by mile marker here) and free and have water pumps, and there are friendly tourists aplenty (but not too plenty!). The night I camped on the C&O I shared the site with a college couple from Pittsburgh, biking to DC with gear strapped to their bikes, flip flops, and little experience but all the enthusiasm and positivity; a father an young son - the dad said he works a lot so loves taking a week out to ride with his son, who said he can't wait til he can take his younger daughter along soon; and a solo guy. I got to the site as it was starting to get dark, but we sat around the table and exchanged stories and then leap-frogged while riding much of the next day.
My goal was to make it into DC for the 4th of July - and I did! As you get closer to DC, especially near Great Falls, the trail gets much more crowded with tourists (not always paying attention to their surroundings..), but it is nice to see so many people making use of this great park.