I woke up this morning at 12:56am, four minutes before I had my alarm set. All I had to do was get dressed, toss my gear in the car, and hit the road. The eight of us doing the bike tour arranged carpools to save on parking in Pittsburgh, and I was to meet my friend Peter at an old friend's house in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. I made it right on time at 3:15am, and Peter showed up a few minutes later. We loaded my bike on his car rack and headed downtown.
We got to the First Avenue Parking Garage, and another carload of three arrived from Wheeling a few minUtes after us, with Jim, Bill, and Tom. We loaded our gear onto our bikes and started the walk up Grant Street to the Amtrak station.
We arrived at the Amtrak station right on time at 4:30am. However, we learned that the traina was delayed, and would not be leaving until 7:20 instead of 5:20am.
Arriving at Amtrak
We weren't sure if we'd have to lock up our bikes outside the station and take turns on guard duty until we boarded the train. As we looked in, we saw two other cyclists with bikes inside, so we wheeled in. The pair of cyclists inside were doing a unique version of the C&O/GAP trip. One is from near Bethlehem, PA, and the other is from Southeast Ohio, so Cumberland, MD was where they met. They pedaled the trail to DC, then took the train west to Pittsburgh, then were waiting for daylight to start pedaling back to Cumberland. One was riding a Salsa Fargo.
Bill's wife made us tech t-shirts for the trip, so we posed for a photo with a couple of us showing them.
Tom, Peter, Kevin, Bill, Ted, Mike, Troy, Jim
We walked a few blocks into town to get coffee and bagels. We spent the time waiting comparing our bikes and gear. Finally, a little before 7:00am, we got the word that the Capitol Limited train was arriving, and we could proceed to the boarding area. We took turns riding up the elevator two at a time, and got in line on the boarding platform.
The conductors were very friendly and helpful, instructing us to go to the third car from the end to load our bikes. The bike compartment has room for eight bikes. Seven of the spots are vertical wall hooks. You hang your bike by the front tire, then use a second hook that swings up and straps to your downtube with a wide Velcro strap -- this keeps the bikes from swaying side-to-side. The eight spot is a set of straps that just hold the bike tightly against the wall. The hooks were just bog enough for my 29x2.35 tires; they would not work with a fat bike or "plus" tires. The conductor helped us load the bikes and showed us how to use the hooks and straps.
You can leave your bags and panniers in the compartment with your bike, or carry them on board with you; I opted to carry mine on board.
We were directed back to the last car to board. We found our seats in the upper-level of the double-decker cars and got comfortable. We were rolling along by 7:10am.
The place to be, though, is the observation car. We ended up spending most of the trips there, chatting amongst ourselves and a few of the other passengers, who were impressed with our plan to bike back to Pittsburgh. Coincidentally, we were also one car away from the bar car.
With the delayed departure, that meant more delays along the way as we had to pull over to let freight anD other commuter trains pass. We finally arrived in Washinton, DC at 3:45pm. By the tome we unloaded ourselves and our bikes, got our gear organized, and got ready to pedal, it was almost 4:15pm as we wheeled out of Union Station.
The delayed arrival put us navigating on bikes in an unfamiliar city during rush hour. We made our way through crowds of locals and fellow tourists using streets, sidewalks, and bike paths. We took quick views of monuments on our way through the National Mall. When we arrived at our motel on Rosslyn on the Virginia side of the river, it was the most nerve-racking 5 miles I had ever ridden since Mexico.
After freshening up up settling into our rooms, Mike, Ted, and Troy decided to take a taxi back into town. The rest of us, renewed with our newfound familiarity with the route, decided to bike back in so we could linger a little more at some of the momuments before we found a place for dinner.
We found dinner at the Capitol City Brewing Company, then rode back to the motel with even more quickness and confidence just before it got dark.