Bikepacking from Pittsburgh to D.C.: Why you should keep your phone chargedTopic:
Our family rides bikes. It’s what we do, and it’s how we bond.
So when it came time to plan a trip this year with my two children, 13 and 10, I set my sights on a major goal: a 335-mile bikepacking trip from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.
I’d never taken a trip like this before, so I spent a lot of time planning. My original idea was to camp for most of the trip and get a hotel only when it rained. But there were a lot of things I didn’t know.
I had no idea how many miles we’d be able to pedal every day or how long it’d take to complete the trip, so I couldn’t plan out where we were going to stay each night. What I did know was that everything would be much harder without a smartphone. Without one, I wouldn’t be able to access the trail guides that show where the closest towns and campsites are located along our route. It would also be harder to find hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, and bike repair shops.
Which brings me to another unknown. How would I stay charged for a weeklong camping trip?
Luckily, Ventev gave me a few products to carry along with me. I never lost power, but I did find out what it’s like to lose connection, because I lost my phone.
What I brought to stay charged
For spare power, the powercell 3015c fit the bill. It was slim and fit nicely into a side pocket on my backpack. With 3,000 mAh, it stored enough power to charge my iPhone SE’s battery almost twice and it had an integrated cable that tucked neatly into the battery.
I also carried one of Ventev’s chargesync cables. These cables are flat, which makes them tangle free, and I used Ventev’s magnetic cable organizers to keep the cables neatly bound.
When cables are packed in bags, they tend to get tangled in knots or snag on heavy items. With cheaper cables, those snags can separate the internal wiring, leading to a cable that looks fine but doesn’t work anymore.
How I used my phone
It was really quite easy to keep a single phone charged for the majority of the trip. When riding on well-marked trails that didn’t require navigation, I was able to power off my phone until it was time to snap a photo.
While I didn’t need GPS on the trail, I did need it to find my way to grocery stores, lodging, and restaurants.
Most of the towns along the Great Allegheny Passage Great(GAP) trail don’t have motels or hotels. Instead, they have small part-time bed & breakfasts where the phones often go unanswered. I often had to look up and call several places before I could find a room.
I was glad, on many occasions, that I had a spare power pack.
Wildlife, pinball mechanics, and pools
The 150-mile GAP starts in Pittsburgh on the path of a former railroad. Where it ends, in Cumberland, Maryland, the C&O Canal Trail begins. The canal trail spans 184 miles, ending in Washington, D.C.
Riders travel along the path that mules once walked to pull barges up the canal. The GAP is smooth. The C&O rutted and muddy. Both were fun, and chock full of history.
Together, the two trails make up one of the longest continuous cycling paths in the U.S.
We spent seven days riding bikes through beautiful country. We saw tons of wildlife and got to explore several small towns.
One highlight of the trip included a 23-mile downhill stretch. We took a surreptitious dip in an RV campground pool, met a pinball mechanic, and talked to lots of other cool people. We only got one flat tire, only had to dig into the first-aid kit once, and only one of the children got lost (and the police found her pretty quickly. It’s a long story.)
What it’s like to be without a phone
On what turned out to be my last day, my kids wanted to set a personal distance record of 73 miles, and I agreed, though I was wary because I was the one towing the trailer and carrying the gear — an extra 100 pounds. Midway through this trek, I realized that I had left my phone at a hotel in Sheperdstown, West Virginia.
On this last stretch, there were plenty of camping spots along the trail where we could pull off if we got too tired, but there was a storm brewing behind us, so camping was off the table. And without a phone to navigate us to a motel, the only option we had left was to continue on to D.C. and hopefully outrun the storm.
Or last hours on the trail were dire. It was dark, drizzling, and lighting peppered the sky. We were in an unfamiliar city. As a dad, I was worried, and that got my adrenaline pumping.
Finishing the trail, however, didn’t end our ordeal.
My original plan for when we got off the trail was to lock our bikes and take a ride sharing service to our car. But without a phone, I had no way to call a ride, nor did I have a way to call a cab.
Luckily, I spotted a hotel close to where we emerged from the trail that we could take cover in for the night. With breaks, we had been riding for 11 hours that day.
Once in the room, the adrenaline from outrunning the storm wore off, and everything began to hurt. Everything.
The moral of this story is simple. On this trip, I was completely dependent on my phone, and losing my phone is a lot like running out of battery. Without my phone, I ended up over-exerting myself, which led to pain and misery, which is a shame, because it was really easy to stay charged.