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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Planning a DC-Pittsburgh bicycle trip: Satisfice & Scrounge

bike trip planning DC to Pittsburgh
Yesterday's post, Planning a Pittsburgh to DC bike trip on the GAP and C&O Trail, offered a dozen questions about what you'd like to do. In this post, let's use your answers to inform your bike tour planning.


Who's Going?
  • Three generations of my family
  • Eight members of my riding club
  • Four co-workers, their boss, and their spouses/SO's
  • Just me and my bike.
  Why? What's the reason for the trip?
  • Significant Life Event - retirement, marriage or divorce, career change
  • vacation
  • re-union
  • bucket-list
  • adventure

bike trip planning DC-Pittsburgh group dynamics

Some Bike Trip Planning Thoughts

If you're traveling solo, planning is easier because you only have to satisfy one person. But if you're traveling in a group, there are implications.

Every group faces some pressure on the trail - it might just be anxiety of a new experience, or physical discomfort. Those stresses will play out in the group dynamic. The relationships between friends and who-is-the-Alpha-dog may play out. It's to your advantage to acknowledge that your group is a social construct and that group dynamics will have implications for the ride leader.

The First Rule of Group Bike Trip Planning

If you're riding in a bicycle group from Pittsburgh to DC, here's a primary guide: It's a social construct. You should be friends before the ride, during the ride, and after the ride. There's no reason to bust up any relationships because of a failure to build-in success at the planning stage.

The Second Rule of Group Bike Trip Planning

the planner sets the stage for the success of the adventure. You want to stack the deck in favor of success by anticipating and resolving issues before anybody turns a pedal. Then the trip looks easy and people may say, what was the big deal? because you designed success into the plans.

Time, Distance, Victims These four questions will help you solve the most nuanced problem of bicycle tour planning: how long, how far, how many days? They all come into play.

What is the least proficient rider's enjoyable daily mileage?
  • 20 - 30 miles a day
  • 30 - 45 miles a day
  • 45-60 miles a day
  • remember: are you carrying your gear on your bikes?
   Will every rider ride every mile every day, or will one/some want the choice of opting out?
  • Every rider wants to ride every mile
  • We want the capability of one/some opting out of some segments
  • Our very young/old will want to jump into a van some days
  • Some of us (not a frequent rider, has a new hip) want to skip the long days
 
What's the enjoyable daily mileage for most of the riders?
  • 20 - 30 miles a day
  • 30 - 45 miles a day
  • 45-60 miles a day
  • 60-75 miles a day
  • remember: are you carrying your gear on your bikes?
   How many days do you plan to spend riding the trails?
  • I can only spend 4 days on this trip
  • 5 Days from Pgh to DC
  • 6 Days from Pgh to DC
  • 7 Days from Pgh to DC
  • 9 Days from Pgh to DC

Click here for a Duration Estimator.

Itinerary Step One: Timeframe For most groups, the length of time available is the most rigid factor. Between work, families, and other committments, and trying to get your group free during the same week, once you've chosen a NumberOfDays you're pretty locked into it.

Itinerary Step Two: 335/Days = DailyMiles This is superficially pretty easy. It's 335 miles from Pittsburgh to DC. Divide 335 by your Number of Days, and you'll get the average daily mileage to make your timeframe work.

  • 335/4 days= avg 84 mile days (two 75 mile days on the GAP, two 92 mile days on the C&O)
  • 335/5 days= avg 67 mile days (two 75 mile days on the GAP, three 60 mile days on the C&O)
  • 335/6 days= avg 56 mile days (3x 50 mile days GAP, 3x sixty mile days C&O)
  • 335/7 days= avg 48 mile days
  • 335/9 days= avg 37 mile days

Itinerary Step Three: Reality Check This is important. Compare your average daily miles (84, 56, 37) with your least proficient rider's comfortable daily distance. If your plan calls for 56 miles a day and Bertie is only good for 40 miles a day, it's not a good plan yet. What you've designed could be a failure for Bertie, unless you build a plan to accommodate your least proficient rider. It could be a support van. It could be an e-bike. There's a lot of approaches to accommodating that rider.

It's a disaster to design a situation that people won't succeed in without providing alternatives and accommodation. This is NOT survival of the fittest; this is vacation of the thoughtful. Unless you're training for an Ironman, in which case: roll on, brother.

Look at your options and resources: some of the group might only ride 20 or 30 mile days, or just the most scenic 20 miles, then jump in the van and meet the group at the hotel. Some might skip that one long day, take to the Spa and meet the group later. There's a lot of options.

The Third Rule of Group Bike Trip Planning: build a plan that's successful for everybody. Avoid re-enacting the Bataan Death March.

bicycle trip planning on the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Trail from Pittsburgh to DC

Do you ride Pittsburgh to DC, or DC to Pittsburgh?

Which Way You Going, Billy? Between DC-Pgh and Pgh-DC, there is no 'best' direction. Often the decision will be made by the logistics of your situation; if you're flying in from Europe, land at IAD and start in DC. If you live in DC and want to ride back to increasingly known ares, ride Pgh-DC. It's up to you. If your logistics don't dictate your direction of travel, I recommend Pgh-to-DC for a few reasons:

  • For half the trip, the prevailing wind is from the northwest.
  • On the GAP, I like the slope of the climb-and-descent eastbound.
  • The C&O Trail is a series of 74 plateaus, give-or-take one for each lock. The plateaus are mostly level, and there's a 6-to-8 foot change in elevation at each lock. As far as direction on the C&O goes, I'd rather have seventy drops than climbs. Not crucial but a small factor.
But it works either way.

Here's another notion: The GAP is a modern, wide, very forgiving trail built with contemporary materials and modern engineering standards. The C&O is a Civil War donkey path with rocks, roots, puddles, and it doesn't drain well. If your goal is to ride 300 miles on a quality trail, then ride the GAP round-trip - in other words, Cumberland-Pittsburgh-Cumberland or Pittsburgh-Cumberland-Pittsburgh, and ride back to where you left you car.

  • Camping
  • Hostels - Low Cost Motels
  • mid-range hotels and B&Bs
  • Glamping
  • upscale hotels
Confronting Constraints and Making Sausage Knowing who you've got, what your desired daily distance is, where you're staring and what direction you're riding, you're ready to build your itinerary. Begin at your choice of start-points, roll out the Desired Daily Mileage, and see what's on the map that's consistent with your Lodging Preference.

There won't be anything there. There never is. But wiggle around. A little further, or a little shorter along the trail, what sort of lodging is there? Do you have a support van (for accomodating Bertie the Short-Distance Rider, or carrying luggage) that you could use to shuttle the folks to a hotel? You begin satisficing, finding a suitable compromise that doesn't break any criteria and come close to satisfying most factors. And then you do the same for Days 2, 3, 4...


Pittsburgh - DC Bike Trip Planning Primer

The group is a social construct. You should be friends before the ride, during the ride, and after the ride.

The planner sets the stage for the success of the adventure. Stack the deck in favor of success by anticipating and resolving issues before anybody turns a pedal. Design success into the plan.

Build a plan that everybody will enjoy. Accommodate your weakest rider (which may include alternatives like a support vehicle). Every rider doesn't have to ride every mile; prioritize the scenic. Avoid re-enacting the Bataan Death March.

You'll never find the perfect lodging at your perfect distance; satisfice and scrounge; wiggle all the details. Do you Glamp for one night? Will that hotel come get you? Does your support vehicle bring new options?

In the words of Nobel-winner Herb Simon:* deciders can either 'find optimum solutions for a simplified world, or find satisfactory solutions for a more realistic world'. Satisfice and scrounge.


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