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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.