Biking the Great Allegheny Passage

Over the summer, my father, brother and I decided to go on a trip together. Months of ideas, emails and calls finally coalesced into a plan to bike the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) from Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland, MD. We would do it over three days, renting bikes and staying in B&Bs and hostels along the way.

Day 0

I drove out of DC on Wednesday afternoon, intending to leave my car in Cumberland and catch a train to Pittsburgh. Traffic was bad enough that I missed the train and we had to adjust our plans. Instead, I drove straight to Pittsburgh, where Dad and A were waiting with pizza and beer.

We ribbed A about leaving his wedding ring at home, and spent the evening catching up and calling home from our Airbnb (a converted dorm room).

Day 1

Leisurely morning. Packing up and walking to coffee and breakfast, then bike shop. Quick fitting and packing then back to the Point for a quick photo op. Weather gorgeous as we pedal through and then out of Pittsburgh.

Over the hot metal bridge and past the Steelers’ practice facility, whistles and horns and cameras in the air. Narrowly avoided a large snake across the path. Past train tracks and scrap metal years, old brick buildings, graneries, warehouses.

Through small towns, lots of American flags and bunting, also many signs of urban decay. A train had derailed the day before in McKee sport, and many men in helmets & reflective vests were swarming the bridge with hand tools trying to get it back on the tracks.

 

Coffee at a tea shop in Boston, lunch in West Newton. Long stretches through woods under canopy, winding so that the sun came from every direction. Conversation dealt mostly with physics, specifically batteries and energy.

Past attractive campgrounds and lovely houses on the river. Photo op at the 100 mile marker.

Started getting saddle sore the last 15 miles. Pulled in to Connellsville, unpacked, grabbed beer from Sheetz, and enjoyed a sundowner on the back porch.

Pasta dinner at Ruvos. Bed at 9:30.

 

Day 2

Woke at 7. Talked to Kiran. Great breakfast of sausage, egg and cheese with pesto. Chilly start leaving Connellsville and rode through woods next to river until Ohiopyle.

Stopped for coffee then on to Confluence, a very quiet town that reminded us of Shelton, NE. Fly fishermen stood in the sparkling, wide river. Had lunch at Parkview Grill. Proceeded on. Caused a collision with Dad when stopping short for a (dead) chipmunk. He was OK and we kept riding.

Climbed a ridge to look at the train tracks at Pinkerton Tunnel. Got into Rockwood around 3:30pm and had a celebratory ice cream cone. We also stumped up $2 each for blankets and $1 for towels at the hostel. After unpacking and showering, we walked the main street and had a couple of beers plus dinner at Rock City Cafe, talking mostly of politics.

Back at the hostel, searched in vain for good books or games and all were in bed by 8:30.

Day 3

Woke at 7:15. Dad turned up The Writer’s Almanac and we all lay listening. Breakfast at the general store: a donut, coffee and breakfast sandwich special. We were cold to start. Saw a couple of deer and an eagle.

Gained elevation, more color, farms, corn, cows, a little cemetery. Into Meyersdale. Found three coffee shops closed before locating one open, but with awkward service and mediocre coffee. Talked to a local who biked a lot back and forth between the towns we’ve passed. Back up the steep hill to the trail, then on to the Continental Divide.

Took a few pictures, then started moving very quickly downhill. In Frostburg, climbed a long, steep hill into town and ate a good meal at Mountain City. Back down and then on to Cumberland, with just a couple stops to read placards and have a look at the Bone Cave. Lots of weekenders on the trail. Finished in Cumberland, dropped off bikes, washed up, changed into clean clothes. Dropped into a sports bar and had beer and watched football. Ate a quick dinner and then walked to the train station on the other side of the tracks, leaving plenty of time for any mishaps.

Waited a while for the train then found our seats. Enjoyed one last brew in the observation car. It was dark, but we picked out some of the places we had been as we rumbled by in the black night, Meyersdale, Rockwood, Confluence. Dozed for the last couple of hours to Pittsburgh. Picked up the car, drove to the airport hotel and got in around midnight.

 

By the Numbers

3 men

3 days

Day 1

62 miles

Day 2

48 miles

Day 3

47 miles

7,939 calories burned

8 coffee stops

RANKED

  1. Mountain City Coffee House & Creamery, Frostburg*
  2. Gasoline Street Coffee Co, Pittsburgh
  3. Springhill Suites, Pittsburgh
  4. Connellsville B&B, Connellsville
  5. Sweet Treats, Rockwood
  6. Market Square Bakery & Cafe, Meyersdale
  7. Falls Market Restaurant, Ohiopyle
  8. The Betsy Shoppe, McKeesport

1 crash