GAP Bike Vacation Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

It was a pretty ambitious plan to try to get from Cumberland to Confluence in one day, especially with M being sick. We needed to make 62 miles plus another mile off trail to our B&B that night. And all before 6pm when it started getting dark. Just as I was about to throw in the towel and book some train tickets home, M rallied. We figured we would at least start up the mountain and then, if he wasn't well enough, it would be an easy ride back into town and the trail didn't leave until 7pm.

So, we started up the mountain. On the way up, the train passed us twice, as did lots of folks on bikes. I have no good photos of this stretch because I had to just keep going. No stopping. No thinking about the mile markers slowly ticking by. The weather was perfect, the scenery gorgeous, and several hours later, we were back at the Eastern Continental Divide. All downhill from here!

We paused again at Meyersdale for some lunch and to let the kids play in the caboose. And it really was noticeably downhill into Confluence. We went much faster and with much less effort. M started to feel better. When we got to Stepping Stone Farm, the kids were delighted to find playmates (grandkids of the owners) and chickens!

Chickens also roamed around the yard.
The owners, Vicki and Larry, had actually been in Frostburg the day before and saw us there. (Our trailer train made quite a spectacle wherever we went.) There were 3 other families staying at the Farm that night and we had a campfire with smores. In the morning, they showed the kids how to milk a goat. Breakfast was delicious and included raspberries and pears they had grown, as well as a taste of paw-paw fruit. The weather was once again warm and sunny and we coasted back through Ohiopyle and Connellsville on our way to our final stop of the trip, West Newton.

Rocky cliffs line the trail.
That night we stayed at Bright Morning B&B, which sits directly on the trail. The room was large and had a really comfortable king bed and a private bathroom. The B&B actually takes up 3 separate houses and we had the place to ourselves. Unfortunately, that night I slipped and hurt my calf pretty badly. I couldn't even walk! But luckily there was a drug store and a restaurant only a few hundred yards from where we were staying. Ice on my leg and a cold beer improved my spirits. The next morning I found that I could still pedal. We were only 30 or so miles from Pittsburgh, so it seemed a shame to not actually finish the trail at that point.

The final stretch of trail takes you past steel mills and scrap yards. Busy train tracks parallel the trail. Stacks of rusty old pipes and mill equipment lay everywhere. The air is tangibly gritty and the noise from the mill in Braddock is deafening. I cannot imagine living in this valley when it had many more mills and factories. I started to think about the "new" Pittsburgh, reborn from the ashes, as they say. We are a tech and ed and med city now, right? But the 20 or so miles into town tell a different story. From the bike trail, you can really see and hear and smell what the effects of industry are. I'm not saying they shouldn't be there....I have a house and a car and use plenty of fossil fuels and plastic and steel. Over the last five years, I've spent a lot of time getting to know how food ends up on my table. I've adjusted my expectations about what it's worth as a result. I haven't really done this for the other resources I use, but this trip definitely made me think more about it.

The GAP ends downtown, at the Point. It was exhilarating to finally be back in Pittsburgh, but also stressful. Signs marked the way, but there were no sharrows or bike lanes so it was a little unclear where we were supposed to use sidewalks and where we should be on the street. Construction vehicles blocked the right lane on portions.

You can go no further.
Point State Park was under construction for a long time so I haven't hung out there much, but it really is beautiful. Even if you don't want to go on a long distance bike ride, it would make a great destination for a town ride, and you can stick to trails if you start on the North Shore. We hung out at the fountain for a while, and then had another 8 or so miles back to our house. M ran this app on his phone to collect mileage data for our entire trip, so he'll post our stats. (Slow and steady is what you'll see.)

Fall is a perfect time to do the GAP. Enough leaves had fallen that we had excellent views of the river and mountains along the way. We lucked out with the weather, but even if it had rained or was cold there are plenty of places to stop along the way to eat or warm up. Overall, I was really pleased with our lodging options, but I think next time we'll take advantage of some of the adirondack shelters and do a little camping. People from the towns along the way were friendly and very excited to see our kids. We learned a lot about the geography of southwestern PA and western Maryland, railroad history, coal and coke processing and saw a lot of birds. Other than the actual pedaling, the trip was pretty undemanding. There is something extremely therapeutic about spending so many hours a day outside, just watching leaves float down from above and listening to the river churn.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm so happy to hear about Part Two of the trip. Perhaps the Smithsonian Magazine would be interested in an article about your adventure.

Love from, Mary