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Book rooms ahead on a credit card tour?

Old 02-24-20, 05:29 AM
  #1  
pennpaul
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Book rooms ahead on a credit card tour?

I'm currently planning a 6 day GAP and C&O tour starting in Pittsburgh. It's going to be at least 2, maybe 4 of us, and we've all agreed to stay in hotels each night. This will be our first time doing an overnighter on bikes.

I'm undecided whether we should pre-book rooms (we'll probably book the first night). Pre-booking at least guarantees a room for the night but has the added pressure of meeting those mileage goals each day (and also takes away the opportunity to put on more mileage to get further down the road). But there are daily goals and meeting them keeps us on track.

However, the not-knowing if there's going to be room at the inn (or in the spot we all need to rest) seems like the worse alternative, but then there's fewer liabilities if you have to DNF the trip for any reason. I personally don't like surprises.

What has been your experience when credit card touring?

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Old 02-24-20, 06:15 AM
  #2  
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It depends.

I sometimes book things and sometimes don't. Factors affecting my choice:
- Duration of the trip. An overnight weekend, I'll typically have a reservation. An extended trip, I won't.
- Ability to cancel, e.g. 24 hours in advance?
- Factors like a unique B&B or an expected busy holiday weekend? How many hotels in the area?
- My backup plans - on extended trip I'll often also have tent/sleeping bag or even tube tent
- How many in the group?
- Typical weather or weather predictability
- Daylight length, if I start early on long day, I often have an extra 35 miles of reserve if needed
- Connection constraints, e.g. arriving at night or wanting to be close to airport/train on return

With all that said, in my experience, it is rare to not find a place inside - for me it has been more of a trade-off between flexibility and certainty.

The other thing I'll sometimes do on a weeklong trip is anticipate a contingency day and not make any reservations in advance. However, I'll make a few the day before when I'm on the trip. Still none for larger places with alternatives but selected days that might have constraints.

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Old 02-24-20, 07:43 AM
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Booking ahead removes a great deal of serendipity - one of the joys of cycle touring.
It may make more sense on the first night or last night - but for Tuesday night??
Yes, there's the possibility of the state bagpipers convention taking place in Appleville,
but it is so much nicer letting thing unfold around each bend.
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Old 02-24-20, 08:20 AM
  #4  
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Lots of variables to it. I'd book a room in advance if it was tourist season in the area, on the first night of my trip (I usually go someplace by train/plane then cycle back), at hostels (some get crowded at certain times of the year), and sometimes just for piece-of-mind. I usually don't 'over-do-it' on a ride, so I don't try to push my daily mileage out too far beyond what I had planned; I'm usually on vacation so why stress out? . Usually I do reserve in advance. If I do get to a destination earlier than planned its usually an opportunity to sightsee in the area.
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Old 02-24-20, 08:58 AM
  #5  
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I generally book rooms in advance, if it is a busy season or there aren't many places to stay where I want to stop for the night. I also check if there are grocery stores and restaurants in the place I'm stopping.

I don't carry camping gear and try to book places with generous cancellation policies.

In addition, I always contact the properties to inform them that I am traveling by bicycle and may not be able to get to the location on the specified day. Often, the managers will tell me that it is ok to cancel if I keep them informed of my progress.

Once I am on the road, I use sites like booking.com to reserve a day in advance.
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Old 02-24-20, 09:09 AM
  #6  
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A friend & I biked the GAP & C&O from Pittsburgh to DC. We only made a reservation for our first night in Pittsburgh. Our trip was late June/early July. We didn't have any problems finding a room, but there wasn't much in the way of accommodations in Cumberland.

On other trips, I generally haven't made reservations in advance, with a few exceptions. On Saturday nights in popular areas, accommodations are often tight and I'll make a reservation. And in places with few accommodations available, I'll make a reservation.
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Old 02-24-20, 09:44 AM
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The only credit card touring I've done to date has involved booking in advance. If I'm on my own, I like to be flexible, but I also like to camp. If I'm traveling with other, especially non-camping others, it's easier to just plan easy days and know when/where I'm going to stop. This is also helpful if we're not all traveling at the same pace. You don't want to be 5 or 10 miles further down the trail when the slowest folks decide they are done for the day.
My wife and aunt and uncle and I have gone on a few credit card tours together, including the GAP, and so far we have booked them all using Noble Invention Bike Touring (https://www.nobleinventionbiketouring.com/). They tend to focus on bed and breakfast stays, which is nice because it generally means we don't start the mornings looking for food, but rather head out in the morning already well-fed. The downside of this is that there are probably cheaper places to stay, but having pleasant places to stay is part of what makes my wife willing to go on these trips. The other thing Noble Invention handles is shuttling you one way. For the GAP/C&O there is the train option, but the timing isn't always great, so it was nice to have a shuttle available.
I don't mind winging it on my own, and, as a result, have ended up sleeping at some unplanned, less-than-official stops, but with a group, I feel much better knowing the next night's accommodations are lined up. Of course if everyone riding embraces a similar spirit of adventure, then having the flexibility to stop when you want might be nice.
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Old 02-24-20, 09:46 AM
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Most people I know book things in advance but it is not for me. The commitment of making it to a predetermined destination is not fun at all (for me) . So far it has not hindered us at all. We bring our camping gear. Most of the time our camping gear is cleaner than some cheap motel and because we feel comfortable camping with our gear then the perception of value of paying premium money for a better hotel is diminished. (for us). However when the opportunity arises to book into some gorgeous destination we do not feel bad in splurging for it because we saved money camping several days prior. :-)
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Old 02-24-20, 10:13 AM
  #9  
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this is the first time you've traveled with this particular group?
none of you have ever overnighted on a bike trip?
none will be carrying camping gear.

flats, broken chains, thunderstorms.........lotsa stuff can slow you down.
and no telling what the group dynamics will be.
can't imagine 4 cyclists never before together will just happen to ride the
same pace comfortably together for 6 days.
if/when you split up, how do you handle the end of day logistics?

just book the rooms, spaced shorter distance than you're sure you can all cover.

worst case, you have some extra time to relax or explore after you arrive at hotel,
or you can make more stops along the way, even do a few short side excursions.
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Old 02-24-20, 10:58 AM
  #10  
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As a solo traveler, I generally do not book in advance, but as mentioned, it depends on how much you need to stay at a particular location and the likelihood of a room being available. If I know for sure where I will be staying and when, I’ll make a reservation. Otherwise, keeping it flexible and having a tent as a backup works fine for me. Campgrounds, on the other hand, tend to fill up far in advance, so I’ll make a reservation if at all possible. High season in popular areas is another matter. The C&O and GAP have limited accommodations, so having reservations is recommended, but calling the place ahead of time to see what they think can help you decide.
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Old 02-24-20, 11:02 AM
  #11  
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If you book a room in advance and find that you want to cancel, is there a cancellation fee? How early do you have to cancel to avoid a fee? This varies from place to place, but that is an important question.

Are you going to be traveling during peak travel season or not? In other words what is the likelihood that rooms will be available on short notice if you do not make a reservation?

I have not credit card toured, but I have toured enough that I have figured out that often you want to have a reservation in advance, but sometimes was not really needed. And my first question always is f I cancel, what does it cost me and how far in advance do I have to cancel. I usually camp when touring, but I often mix it up with some hostel stays, and I usually make reservations at the hostels but almost never make reservations at campgrounds.

I have toured in some areas where you are out in the open exposed to the wind and the wind can determine whether or not you can travel each day. But fortunately, GAP and C&O is mostly well sheltered in the trees, thus you should not have to take a day off due to weather, provided that you are able to travel on wet rainy days. Being a six day trip, it sounds like it has to be a six day trip so you can get back to work or make other critical appointments. Thus, I think it unlikely that you would want to cancel a motel on any particular day because you are making short distance that day. I say it is unlikley because if you did, the next day you would have to make that up since your six day trip probably has to be a six day trip, not seven.

Bottom line, sounds to me like if you cancel, you would cancel the whole trip well in advance, not one night.

Side note - I did GAP and C&O so many years ago that I do not know if the hostel in Rockwood is still in operation, but if it is, I do not recall if they provide bedding, towels, etc. If you plan to stay there, make sure you know what you need to bring.

Photo, we had several consecutive days of rain when we did GAP and C&O. Hopefully, your trip will be drier.

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Old 02-24-20, 12:16 PM
  #12  
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If you book too far ahead then it can be difficult and costly to change things. So I usually book only one day ahead. Phone apps like Booking.com make this easy.
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Old 02-25-20, 07:36 AM
  #13  
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Couple of things you do not mention such as when you are going (peak time, mid-week during the spring, etc.) or how many miles per day you anticipate riding and/or how many days total you plan to ride or how strong of riders ALL of you are (is it no big deal to crank out big miles or are you struggling after 25 mile days) so the answer could be a bit off. Since you are on a very specific route with a somewhat limited amount of lodging at times, I would probably book ahead. If you were staying in a non-touristy larger town every night with a lot of hotels, it would be a different story. One thing to remember is that since you are going as a group, you can always enjoy each other's company when done for the day, even if at 1pm. Also, if you keep the miles per day reasonable, you should be able to cover any mechanical issues/flats that occur without being forced to ride past a site you wanted to see since you were delayed.

Tailwinds, John
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Old 02-25-20, 09:08 PM
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Originally Posted by axolotl View Post
A friend & I biked the GAP & C&O from Pittsburgh to DC. We only made a reservation for our first night in Pittsburgh. Our trip was late June/early July. We didn't have any problems finding a room, but there wasn't much in the way of accommodations in Cumberland.

On other trips, I generally haven't made reservations in advance, with a few exceptions. On Saturday nights in popular areas, accommodations are often tight and I'll make a reservation. And in places with few accommodations available, I'll make a reservation.
End of June/beginning of July is the same time frame we're going. Why wasn't anything available in Cumberland? It's a pretty big town. Was everything booked?

I've been using this link to help me plan as well as Google maps, komoot, and AirBnB: https://www.gaptrail.org/explore Hotels and hostels are indicated on there and the stops I chose have something in that town with availability on the days I'm going. My friend suggested reserving a hotel on the first night, too. We can't do as many miles since we don't start riding until ~1pm on that day. If it was just me or one other person, I'd probably be OK without booking everything ahead but with potentially 4 people, I think it becomes more important. All the hotels I found have 24hr cancellation policies, but I need to check on the hostels/BnBs.

The second itinerary has extra miles on Day 3 assuming we can get further with not as much effort because of the long downhill. I also felt better about not having big miles towards the end of the trip.

Day 1: Pittsburg to Belle Vernon 42 miles
Day 2: Belle Vernon to Rockwood 58 miles
Day 3: Rockwood to Cumberland 44 miles
Day 4: Paw Paw to Hancock 60 miles
Day 5: Hancock to Brunswick 70 miles
Day 6: Brunswick to end 63 miles

Day 1: Pittsburg to Belle Vernon 42 miles
Day 2: Belle Vernon to Rockwood 58 miles
Day 3b: Rockwood to Paw Paw, WV 71 miles
Day 4b: Hancock to Williamsport 58 miles
Day 5b: Williamsport to Point of Rocks 54miles
Day 6b: Point of Rocks to end 54 miles

Our bailout point is Cumberland where people can take the Amtrak back to DC. After that would be the Point of Rocks/Leesburg area where my wife could be convinced to come pick up some people.
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Old 02-25-20, 09:32 PM
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I've been thinking about this too as I plan my first CC tour. While one of my thoughts is to make a fairly last-minute go/no-go decision based on weather, I do think I want to book at the time I make the decision for areas where there are few alternatives.

In your itinerary there aren't a lot of choices - particularly for example Brunswick I think there may be really only one place to stay, and with Harper's Ferry currently unreachable from the trail it may get more pressure than usual so you might want to book that one in advance.

It's the people camping who have more flexibility but I just don't see carrying that much gear on my frame.
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Old 02-25-20, 11:25 PM
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Between Booking.com, Tripadvisor, Air BnB and numerous other accommodation sites, it should not be a problem finding some kind of bed, unless your stops are in the middle of no where.
Perhaps at your lunch break you can start planning where you will spend the night
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Old 02-26-20, 07:29 AM
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Originally Posted by pennpaul View Post
End of June/beginning of July is the same time frame we're going. Why wasn't anything available in Cumberland? It's a pretty big town. Was everything booked?
It wasn't that everything was booked. Rather, almost no accommodations existed in the center of Cumberland. It's been a depressed town for decades. But it looks like that now there are a couple of new national chain hotel/motels within a mile of the center of town.
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Old 02-26-20, 09:29 AM
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Originally Posted by axolotl View Post
It wasn't that everything was booked. Rather, almost no accommodations existed in the center of Cumberland. It's been a depressed town for decades. But it looks like that now there are a couple of new national chain hotel/motels within a mile of the center of town.
I've used AirBnB on two separate occasions to overnight in Cumberland. One time I was alone and just in someone's spare bedroom. Another time it was my wife and I in what seemed very hotel-like. Both times walking distance from downtown.

For the OP, I have biked from Rockwood to Cumberland in a day twice. It is a short day, but it is also where all the most scenic stopping points are. Also while it is about half, fairly coastable downhill, the first half is the steepest uphill of the whole trip (in that direction). Still not very steep, and it's more than made up for on the downhill side, but it's something to keep in mind. It will likely be your easiest day overall, but it will also include around 20 miles of the last bit of climbing to the divide. During that day you will go through the longest tunnel. I believe you go over the longest viaduct. You go over the divide. You pass the Mason Dixon line. Basically, there are a lot of reasons you might want to stop, and see the sights, so the day may not go as quickly as you'd think, depending on how susceptible you are to sight seeing and photo opportunities. On the other hand, I did it with camping gear, and don't travel that fast to begin with, and with all my stops, I hit Cumberland between 3 and 4 both times after leaving Rockwood around 9. I'm sure if you made an effort to get an early start and keep a good pace, you could have an early afternoon lunch in Cumberland and push on to Paw Paw. However, my brief impression of Paw Paw was that there was not much going on there. But then I just went into town far enough to find a gas station and get something to drink. And I guess if it's at the end of your longest day, you might just be looking to fall into a bed. Still, I like downtown Cumberland, and, if it were me, I think I'd rather have a shorter day that ended in Cumberland. That said, if you have to do a 70 mile day, I'd rather plan that as a GAP day than C&O day. The GAP surface it pretty smooth and consistent. The C&O surface can be very weather dependent, especially on the western end, from my memory.
If it were me, I'd consider pushing on to Connellsville on Day 1, then Meyersdale or Frostburg on Day 2. Get the GAP done in 2.5 days, leaving 3.5 for the longer, rougher, C&O. Actually, if it were me, I'd squeeze an extra day in, and do the GAP in 3 and the C&O in 4, but you have a better idea of your limits and constraints.
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Old 02-26-20, 12:29 PM
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One thing to keep in mind when you start riding it is that starting in Pittsburgh it is fairly flat for a while, then trail starts a steady rise. The rise is so shallow that you don't really notice it, but it is steep enough that it does cause you to lose a bit of speed, perhaps one or two mph while you are riding. Thus, on days two or three out of your six day plan, you might start to worry that you will not be able to make destinations within your schedule because your speed might be lower than you anticipated. But once you hit the divide, the trail has a shallow downhill with a higher speed run until you get near Cumberland. Then flatter after Cumberland, but on the C&O you will find that each lock and dam is a sudden short downhill.

My point is that if you are running a bit slow on days two or three going eastbound, that should be expected.

I attached a screen print of the profile that my GPS and GPS software measured from when I rode GAP and C&O, profile should be from Amtrak station in Pittsburgh and end at the HI Hostel in DC with a few deviations where we left the trail for where we stayed at night.



I rode it in May 2013, very few bugs. But I would expect it to be buggy in late Jun or early Jul. Bring whatever you think you need for bugs.

And, when I did it I had accidently turned on my bike light at some inopportune time. When I needed the light to walk through a long dark tunnel, my batteries were mostly depleted. Make sure you have light.


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Old 02-26-20, 02:20 PM
  #20  
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First time I did the GAP, I booked B&B's along the way. We rode Homestead to Connellsville and stayed at the Connellsville B&B, just off the trail. I just looked at their website - cancellation notice is 3 days. We rode to Rockwood and stayed at the Rockwood Trailhouse. Their current cancellation is 50% charge, unless notified two weeks ahead (that's pretty tough).

Bottom-line - having the reservations made sure we had a place to stay. Both places were full the nights we were there (mid-week, mid-July). Having the reservations also forced us to ride in the rain because of the cancellation policy. I guess it cuts both ways.

Side note - the Connellsville B&B has laundry facilities. We took advantage of that and it lightened our packing for the trip by one day's clothes.
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Old 02-26-20, 02:52 PM
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Realized the first night of my current plan for the D&L is in Bethlehem, so given historical precedent...

It also happens it will probably be a Saturday night. My current thinking is I'll reserve that as soon as I decide the weather is a "go".

But then since the subsequent days are Sunday, Monday, Tuesday etc and March is not a peak tourist season. I'm thinking I may try to book each of those from my lodging the night before. Since this is all in areas with some degree of transit options that would basically let me adjust the length of the trip to how I'm feeling, anywhere between barely 2 up to 5 riding days, and 70-250 miles becomes possible, and I'm really only risking one night's pre-payment at a time, on each evening's estimation of waking up able to ride some more.

This probably wouldn't work as well for the C&O though, at least once tunnels & water pumps start opening in April (I've given though to doing that too once they do)

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Old 02-27-20, 03:26 PM
  #22  
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Originally Posted by axolotl View Post
It wasn't that everything was booked. Rather, almost no accommodations existed in the center of Cumberland. It's been a depressed town for decades. But it looks like that now there are a couple of new national chain hotel/motels within a mile of the center of town.
I have stayed at the Marriott Fairfield Inn in Cumberland. It's very close to the trail and is bike-friendly. Rolled my bike in and up to the room with nary a glance from the hotel staff.

In fact, I used this as my base of operations for my GAP ride. I drove to Cumberland, stayed at the Fairfield overnight, and took a shuttle back to Pittsburgh in the morning after meeting up with my ride partner. Then we rode the GAP back to our cars (which we left at the hotel parking lot with their permission) over two and half days, then drove home. This was before Amtrak initiated the RORO bike service on the Capitol Limited. The train intrigues me, but the departure times at my end are a bit brutal. Eastbound, it's scheduled for 5:00 AM and Westbound, it scheduled arrival is around 2:00 AM.
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Old 02-28-20, 09:23 PM
  #23  
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Originally Posted by pennpaul View Post
I'm currently planning a 6 day GAP and C&O tour starting in Pittsburgh. It's going to be at least 2, maybe 4 of us, and we've all agreed to stay in hotels each night. This will be our first time doing an overnighter on bikes.

I'm undecided whether we should pre-book rooms (we'll probably book the first night). Pre-booking at least guarantees a room for the night but has the added pressure of meeting those mileage goals each day (and also takes away the opportunity to put on more mileage to get further down the road). But there are daily goals and meeting them keeps us on track.

However, the not-knowing if there's going to be room at the inn (or in the spot we all need to rest) seems like the worse alternative, but then there's fewer liabilities if you have to DNF the trip for any reason. I personally don't like surprises.

What has been your experience when credit card touring?

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If you are credit card touring and you have things planned out and you know where you are going to be each night, I say Yes. Book the room. I think there is something to be said for being spontaneous and winging it, but there are few things more disappointing than getting to a motel without a reservation and finding out that they have no rooms. I have learned the hard way. Usually during the week, Sunday thru Thursday, depending on where you are, rooms aren't too hard to find and most of the time you don't need a reservation. The weekends can be a different story. On a Friday or Saturday, if you don't make your reservation early, you may be out of luck. I try to call ahead by noon or 1 pm. By 4 or 5 pm some hotels are already booked up. If there is some kind of event going on in the town that weekend (quilt convention) you might need to call days in advance. Winging it is fun, but some people (my wife) hate doing that.
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