This is a shameless attempt to save the the most advanced civilization in
history from imminent self destruction by eliminating carbon emission,
dependence on foreign sources of fuel,obesity, hypertension and diabetes.
Cycling accomplishes all those things at once and helps us develop a better
understanding of ourselves, each other and our relationship to the cosmos.

Oh, horse puckey!
I like to ride bikes, have been doing it all my life.
The rest of that crap is just a fringe benefit,
and the blogosphere gives me a chance to share my interior
monologue with virtual rather than imaginary friends.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Early Spring on the GAP/CO trails: Part 1 The GAP

   Since Saturday was my birthday, I decided to celebrate by riding my age every day of the week.  It didn't work out quite like that, but was close enough for braggin' rights.  I had been watching the weather pretty closely and decided to drive to Pittsburgh and ride the GAP/CO trails to Washington, DC.  The drive there is car like, boring, detached, the only cultural or personal interaction was the irritation of toll booths.
    The trail actually begins in downtown Pittsburgh where parking is scarce and expensive.  One commuter lot  recommended was clearly marked that overnight parking was forbidden.  After a little wandering around and following Google Maps,  I settled on suburban McKeesport where the trail head shares a lot with the local police.  Sounded safe enough...and free!
    I threw the bike together
 and headed off quickly because it was nearly 4 PM and I wanted to make a trail side campsite in Perryopolis for the night.  The trail itself is in great shape and is set on a grade ranging from .75 to 2.5%.   It's not a daunting task, but not a fast one, and it is 125 miles to the Eastern Divide (that's the place where water flows the other way).   It got dark, cloudy, threatening and windy but I plugged along until a thundershower stopped me in the dark and I decided to camp next to a convenient shelter on the trail.

 I got a bit wet the first night, but had set up soon enough that it wasn't a disaster.  There was nothing that wouldn't dry out in the morning and I was reasonably comfortable for the first night.
     The second day was cooler, but there was a consistent westerly wind gently pushing me  against the relentless grade.   Within a few miles I passed the campsite I had been looking for the night before.  It's a free development which is always available, if you make it.
The free campsites along the trail are impressive.   Most have free split, aged firewood ready as well as rustic toilets, well water and shelters.
The Dravo campsite shown is one of the better I passed but wasn't in a position to use.  I learned that the Mileage Chart of the trails designates the free spots as "campsite" while the commercial sites are listed as campgrounds.  It's a difference worth noting whenever plans are made.
This part of the trail reminded me the route was a major artery fueling the industrial revolution.

The coke ovens of Connelsville remain as a monument to the tons of material the W&M railroad carried through the GAP to help fuel the steel mills of Pittsburgh providing the development and export of heavy equipment and steel goods from the Chesapeake and north to Detroit. The towns and villages along this route developed to serve this route.
  The trail itself is maintained better than any I have ever seen.  In some places I would say it is over maintained.  Because of the availability of shale in the area, it has replaced limestone as top coating. Shale is a smooth, naturally polished stone rather than rough angular pebbles characteristic of limestone.
 In short, traction suffers a bit on the incline.  The 2-2/5% grade persisted daily and there were miles of riding on the granny ring which afforded more than ample time to enjoy the spectacular scenery.
 I stopped at Confluence which reportedly had a campground nearby servicing the trail.  I have no idea where that might be.  I asked a local I saw jogging on the trail, they swiveled around looking confused and said "Really, a campground?"  I went into town to gather my evening and morning meals along with a supply of trial mix for Sunday's ride.  Again failing to get any information about the campground, I pushed on a few miles until I was comfortable setting up in a clearing near an observation bench.
   It was cold that night.  I thought a smaller tent would have been a warmer choice.  Waking in the morning, I found my water bottles partially frozen.  After breakfast, a couple came by on bikes and visited for awhile. They said the campground was a couple of miles off the trail on US 40; they had seen it as they drove to the trail head from the south.
   Sunday was the trying climb. It's a time to ignore ambition.  Progress came at a consistent but frustrating pace.  A 70#  bike dug into the slippery shale surface against a persistent 2.5% grade.  I stopped frequently and patiently, enjoying the cool mountains and fresh spring water cascading from the mountaintops.
I carried a filtered water bottle which I could trust to remove sediment and am sure I was above the level of civilized contaminants and bacteria which are found in the developed valleys.  I wondered whether my patience or legs would quit first, odds were on my patience.  I made the climb to Meyersdale, on Sunday, camping just 5 miles short of the divide and again by the trail in a clearing which had obviously been used before.   Judging by the debris I collected from the bushes, it was a local party spot for adolescents looking for "privacy" from this rural bible belt town.
    The silence was deafening.  As I set up my camp, I noticed a, no two, no a flock of Turkey Vultures accumulate above me.  I wondered if I had died and not been notified.  If so, it wasn't that bad, kinda comfortable and really pretty .  I just hoped I wasn't condemned to watch my corpse eaten. They glided away in their custom, searching for a more decrepit carcass, acknowledging  I didn't smell THAT bad.
Within site of the town is the wind farm built across the Laurel Highlands  A long series of turbines takes advantage of the constant air pressure crossing the high point of the Allegheny mountains.  It is an interesting, and somewhat majestic monument to the use of this land since the industrial revolution. The house pictured next to the turbine is a two story house I estimate to have a 1200 square foot print.  Yeah, the turbines are huge.
   I started early in the morning.  Crossing the divide was a much anticipated event and I wanted to get there on time.  It was longer than the nominal 5 miles.
 I pushed happily over to spectacular views of the Cumberland valley.
One of the tentative points in the trip was whether the Big Savage Tunnel would be open.  It is soooo long and the elevation creates icing problems which closes it throughout the winter. 

 Fortunately, it opened the day I arrived in Pittsburgh.  That was a relief.  The detour is about 15 miles of steep country roads I was glad to avoid.  I planned to coast to lunch at Frostburg and possibly do laundry there so I could make a little time on the downhill and pass Cumberland.  The ride to Frostburg is a real treat.  I enjoyed the useless burst of adrenaline from crossing the divide,  finally got into my large chainring and felt like a real
 "WOHOOOO" spandex hamster cruising down that mountain.  
 At Frostburg, the locals have built a chicane to make the town more accessible
and complimented that with some interesting sculptures.

 A pizza parlor at the top of the hill is strategically placed with a diverse menu and salad bar to make tired travelers give it up right there.  I took that bait and am not disappointed.
    After lunch the idea of riding across this mountainous little town to do laundry was a bit ludicrous compared to coasting through the chicane and onward to Cumberland.  The plan was to have dinner in Cumberland while I did laundry and collected the next day's supplies.  A brief discussion with another cyclist on the trails convinced me to stay at the YMCA!?!!
There in the center of Cumberland, the YMCA has a campground with a pavilion and fire ring.
(No, that's a tire for some game, the fire ring is elsewhere)
They allow camping for $10 per person per night.  They also provide full use of their facilities during the stay.  I was tempted to find a 3 on 3 ball game, or spend a few hours on the climbing wall, but, after climbing 2600 ft on a bike in 2 1/2 days, a shower felt like a career.  They probably have a sauna and maybe a masseuse available, but a shower and flush toilets were a real big deal. I no longer abhorred the idea of a public drinking fountain!  It's a damn good idea really!
  There is a laundry a few blocks away and I searched out dinner and the next day's provisions while running the laundry.  I crashed early and clean.  I cared less it was raining, slept late and, guess what, took another shower after breakfast just to celebrate the clean clothes.
   If anybody ever wondered about the benefits of developing a trail system they should visit Cumberland, Md. and look at the business development between the junction of the GAP and CO trails.   An impressive piece of commerce has developed there in a formerly depressed area.


  1. Nice write up and pictures, sounds like you had a great trip! Can't wait to read the next installment.

  2. Yep...what Tony said. Thanks for all the details.

  3. My last trip was 2011, so could be wrong, but the campground near Connelsville is about 6 miles up the road - Paddeler's Rest, I think.

  4. Oops, sorry! I checked my Flickr images and found that it was Paddler's Lane in Confluence. I can't recall one in Connelsville.

  5. I thought it was Paddler's Rest also. I stayed there a couple of years ago with a group who rented the house. We rode from Cumberland up to Ohiophyle on that trip. That whet my appetite.