- The Washington Area Bicyclist Association’s WABA in the Wild is an annual peer-to-peer fundraising bike ride from Cumberland, MD to Georgetown, DC along a national historical park
- The trip showcases the link between the urban environs of Washington DC and the 184.5 mile regional towpath, with its rich geological, ecological, and biological diversity
- Fundraising proceeds from the bike trip generate revenue for the advocacy organization’s work in the DC region, which connects communities with safer streets, parks, and trail networks
- Keeping on schedule can be a challenge– weather conditions, possible injuries, mechanical failure, exhaustion, and individual needs and capabilities of participants al are all unknowns. Flexibility is essential to the success of the ride
- Recruitment can be a challenge– now in its fifth year, WABA asks the question: how do we reach new audiences?
- Visiting canal towns along the route demonstrates how bicyclists are part of a greater regional community of park users.
WABA in the Wild is an annual peer-to-peer fundraising ride couched in a quintessential regional bike experience: bicycling 184.5 miles on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath from Cumberland, MD to Georgetown, DC over three-and-a-half days. The trip showcases the C&O Canal towpath as a link between the urban environs of Georgetown, Washington DC and the National Park Service’s Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park, with its rich geological, ecological, and biological diversity.
Completing this trip by bike reveals the park—which is right in D.C.’s backyard!—to participants in a new and intimate way…and encourages participants to consider their own urban region differently.
The Washington Area Bicyclist Association is a 501(c)(3) member-supported organization founded in 1972. WABA’s mission is to create a healthy, more livable region by: promoting bicycling for fun, fitness, and affordable transportation; advocating for better bicycling conditions and transportation choices for a healthier environment; and educating children, adults, and motorists about safe bicycling. WABA serves the Washington, D.C. metropolitan region.
The 2019 ride had 10 participants, four WABA staff, and two volunteers (both WABA in the Wild Alumni). The ride began with a van-ride from Rockville, MD to Cumberland, MD— the C&O Canal Towpath trailhead. The next morning saw the beginning of the ride and the first 60 miles from Cumberland to Hancock, MD.
On day three riders traveled from Hancock to Brunswick, and on day four completed the ride to Georgetown, DC. Each day brought about 60 miles of riding, plus a chance to see the historic lock houses, canal towns, and wildlife from the historic park towpath. Accompanying the bicyclists were two vans that carried gear and set up pop-up pit stops every fifteen miles, as well as overnight camp.
WABA in the Wild
WABA in the Wild is truly a feat for those who complete the trip. Participants revel in the experience of riding 184.5 miles over three days, a ride that is for many, the longest they’ve ever completed. The fundraising component of the ride is an accomplishment as well: raising $1,000 is a first for many. Camping in the parks is part of the experience made easier through a collaboration with the National Park Service, and the C&O Canal Trust.
The tagline for this trip was “WABA in the Wild = more bike lanes in the city,” a nod to how the urban and rural are connected. Fundraising proceeds from the trip benefit WABA’s advocacy work in the DC region, which is about connecting communities across the city with safer streets, parks, and trail networks. The C&O Canal National Historical Towpath and Park is an incredible example of how trails, parks, and greenways connect everyone together.
Alumni who have participated previously in the annual ride are a valuable resource for incoming participants. By volunteering they signal-boost participants’ fundraising efforts, and share their experience with prospective riders. Trip alumni are ambassadors who welcome new registrants into the community of people who are ready to take on the challenge and support their local voice for better cycling conditions.
Supported multi-day rides are a good point of entrance for bicyclists who are curious about bike camping and are nervous or unsure about how to begin. The C&O Canal National Historical Towpath and Park is a safe, controlled environment for WABA to lead new explorers on an outdoor adventure.
What to Expect Before the Ride
Bicycling on the towpath is different from bicycling in the city —in a way it is a more leisurely experience, but the challenges are different as well. Participants have to adjust their expectations for speed, pay attention to different externalities, and prepare different gear for a ride on the towpath than they would on an urban commute.
Canal towns along the towpath expect big groups of bicyclists coming through on their way to Cumberland, Pittsburg, or Washington, DC and so are prepared for their visits with amenities that boost their towns’ economies.
Stopping in for a visit demonstrates how bicyclists are part of a regional community of park users. The experiences expand understanding of who, where, and what the greater region is all about. Nothing brings a group of people together like three-and-a-half days of camping biking to the point of exhaustion, and then eating good meals together! The sense of festiveness and accomplishment are always palpable.
Being good stewards of environmental resources in the C&O Canal National Historical Park requires research and preparation. Riders leave no trash, burn no non-local firewood, and use care with waste-water runoff. These requirements for park use are essential without which the trip would not be possible.
Spotty cell phone service and hard-to-access trailheads make communications along the route difficult at times. For necessary communication during the trip staff strives for close contact at all times but this means that pre-trip preparations (run-of-show binders; driving directions; offline maps) are important to keep everything moving smoothly and to ensure that everyone knows where they are supposed to be and when.
Keeping a program like WABA in the Wild on schedule is a challenge; there are many unknowns. Weather conditions, possible injury, possible mechanical failure, exhaustion and fatigue, and the individual needs and capabilities of participants all affect the ride. Staff and volunteers must remain flexible and available to adjust plans on a moment’s notice — and be prepared with resources on hand if necessary.
The trip is a physical challenge for all involved. It is essential to keep hydrated, stay well-fed, and remain rested. The canal towns along the towpath mean groceries, firewood, and water are available…but only by careful menu-planning, utilizing shopping lists, and making sure to take advantage of water refills at every stop ensures all are well cared for along the way.
While this ride is a revenue source for WABA, recruitment can be a challenge. The trip has capacity for 25; this year only 10 participants took part. WABA in the Wild is now in its fifth year and WABA is looking to reach new audiences. The advocacy group is working to market the opportunity to bicyclists who are nervous about fundraising, and to people comfortable with fundraising who are nervous about a multi-day bike tour.
WABA’s partnership with the C&O Canal Trust helps with trip permits along the trail. Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park Rangers meet riders at two locations to facilitate discussions about the park and its canal history. In-kind donations of water and produce cut down on food costs for the trip. Registrants pay a $250 fee per person to cover their food and lodging , as well as covers staff time for the trip.
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