GAP Bike Vacation Part 1

M and I have wanted to do the bike path from Pittsburgh to DC ever since Matt and Loren did it back in 2007. But aside from an overnight trip to Connellsville and a few day trips around Ohiopyle, we never did much traveling on bikes, although M commutes by bike to work. But we finally got some time to do it this month. We decided to haul both kids and our stuff in trailers and to avoid the hassle and expense of shuttling our stuff back from DC, we planned a round trip from Pittsburgh to Cumberland and back. The trip took us 6 days and was about 300 miles.

I look happy as I am about to go down
the big hill. Panic about getting back up
will set in shortly.
Most people don't do this because there is a mountain in the way, and who wants to go over that twice? The elevation change is actually very minor, but you definitely feel it when towing a trailer.

On the first day, we set out from our house on a harrowing ride down Browns Hill Road to get to the Great Allegheny Passage in Homestead. The weather was chilly and overcast and a little windy. The trail winds along the Monongahela River to McKeesport, and then up the Youghiogheny. There were still plenty of leaves on the trees. We saw a whole line of coke ovens and other decaying structures from the Pittsburgh Coal Company along the way. The signage along the trail isn't terribly detailed or informative, but I was prompted to read more later. This article describes the Darr Mine disaster, and I also learned more about coke ovens here. (More about the history of the Steel Valley later.)

As for us, we mostly looked like this:

Pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal, pedal.....

The trail in this section passes through many small towns and we stopped and ate lunch in Smithton. The kids were pretty chill in their respective trailers and listened to books on tape when they got bored of looking at beautiful fall scenery.

That night we stayed at a cabin at the River's Edge Campground in Adelaide (MP 92). The next day we continued our uphill climb with a plan to reach Meyersdale. Between Connellsville and Ohiopyle is one of my favorite stretches. The trail sits high above the river and you start to feel like you are in the mountains. We stopped at our favorite place in Ohiopyle for breakfast after knocking off the first 20 miles of the day.

With 58 miles planned, this was a hard day, I'm not going to lie. I may even have cried a little bit and I definitely cursed out all the stuff we had loaded in the trailer. We also had to keep on moving because the sun sets pretty early in late October. We stopped for a snack in Rockwood, at the Opera House, which has a very interesting collection of things in their shops and excellent pizza. As we got closer to Meyersdale the trail opens up and you can see a lot of farms. We passed by some grazing cows and could also see the windmills lining the ridge. I had been looking forward to the Salisbury Viaduct, and we hit it right before sunset. It's crazy the degree of effort that was put into building the railroad here.

Salisbury Viaduct
That night we stayed at the Morguen Toole Company, which was a cool space, but at $140 it seemed a bit pricey. They did nice things like turn on the space heater to warm our room up before we got there, and there were ample towels and a nice bathroom with a shower (no tub). One bed was very comfortable, the other one sagged. The rooms were clean. However, their continental breakfast sucked. No coffee.

The next morning I woke up feeling confident. We had a short day planned into Cumberland and it was mostly downhill. Hands down, my favorite part of the trip was going through the Big Savage Tunnel and then coming out to the view of the valley. We coasted into Frostburg, just in time to see the steam engine come in, which is a big theatrical production. The only downside was that the town sits up the hill, but they have kindly made some switchbacks to follow, so you can avoid the steep country road. After that, we continued on to Cumberland, still coasting downhill. I actually found it sort of frightening to be going as fast as we were, because the path has a lot of loose gravel on it and I was afraid of wiping out. Riding in to Cumberland was weird after spending so much time rolling quietly through forest and farmland. We found Mile 0 and congratulated ourselves for finishing half of our trip.
View from Savage Tunnel

That night we stayed at the Fairfield Inn and Suites, which sits, literally, right next to C&O Towpath, and I really can't say enough good things about the place. They let us take our bikes into our room and found us a spot for the trailers downstairs. There was a pool and a hot tub and it was walking distance to a playground and some little restaurants and the train station.

Unfortunately, M wasn't feeling so hot. Actually, he was feeling really hot, then really cold. Turned out he had a pretty high fever. It looked like we were going to have to end our trip early and figure out another way to get home.


Anonymous said...

You guys are amazing!! Hope Mark O gets well quick!! The morgue toole hotel is quite unique to say the least. I hope YOUR bathroom wasn't communal....

Anonymous said...

You really should develop this into a magazine article. I don't think there are many other parents who do this with their kids. Your writing is terrific. The pace is just right. And the suspense at the end....!!!! I'm so glad that I saw the picture of you all back at the Point in Pittsburgh, so I'll be able to sleep tonight.

More about the kids, please. Didn't you have to stop frequently for them? I'm trying to imagine what they thought about this for three days. Wasn't it bumpy?
-- Mary

k said...

Marko is fine, it was Mark T!

Anonymous said...

Wow I feel like a slug!!!
Love, Aunt DC