It was 11 a.m. We had been stalling because of the torrential rain, but now it was time to grin and bear it. In our full rain wear (jackets, rain pants and helmet covers), which we had not used since the State of Washington, we cycled over the Smithfield Street Bridge toward Pittsburgh’s Point State Park. The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) begins at the Point. We had been hearing rave reviews about the GAP from other cyclists since we were in Indiana. And, here we were, in my hometown, taking on the next 149 miles (a quest I never dreamed would one day be a reality).
After the obligatory photo at the fountain, we were on our way, cycling past the Steeler’s training camp, former steel mills that have been converted to other businesses, up and back over the Monongahela at the Hot Metal Bridge and past Kennywood, Pittsburgh’s amusement park, A bit farther along, we came across the fully operational West Mifflin US Steel plant.
This absolutely outstanding trail, (which having ridden on plenty this past summer gets our blue-ribbon award of excellence), was a 35-year effort that required commitments from two states, nonprofit organizations and thousands of volunteers. The vision for such a trail began in 1978 and culminated in 2013 when the last part of the trail was completed! The GAP has a bit of everything – beginning at the confluence of three rivers in a city once known for its steel industry and boasts of over 400 bridges, through smaller towns next to the Youghiogheny River, forests, wind towers, tunnels and a 23-mile downhill ride to Cumberland, Maryland.
After riding through Homestead, we cycled through McKeesport and part of the Union Railroad to the village of Boston and then to West Newton, PA. We decided to call it a day and stayed at a unique campground that offered outdoor warm showers, a living room complete with television, and a sheltered place to pitch our tent. Just as we were in the throes of celebrating our good fortune, Pat noticed that his rear tire was flat. Learning that there was a bicycle shop still open a half mile away, he chose to have the shop replace it. Hey, we figured we have earned it!
As we continued through the next section of the GAP, we began bumping into more cyclists, some of whom were traveling from Cumberland to Pittsburgh and some individuals who were doing sections as morning training rides. In Connellsville, another former mining town, we took a break and then found our way back to the trail, which overlooks the Youghiogheny River for several miles. We passed through Ohiopyle, well known for its rafting excursions and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater masterpiece.
Our camping destination this time, was the Outflow Campground in Confluence, PA – managed by the Army Corp of Engineers.I was looking forward to some decent rest, as the previous night the trains through West Newton had kept me awake. All was rosy, until around 3 a.m., when a blinding blinking light woke me up. While I presumed, it was coming from someone’s recreational vehicle, I was sorely mistaken. Pat’s bicycle headlight had turned itself into a strobe light and regardless of how many times I attempted to shut it down, the light wasn’t having it. That night’s rain had caused a short in it. Finally, I asked for Pat’s help; ultimately, he threw it in the corner of the nearby men’s room and we both went back to sleep. Hours later, it was still blinking.
After what has become a normal routine of putting everything back in the panniers, we cycled into the small village of Confluence and discovered the Tissue Farm coffee shop. It turned out that one of the owners, Pope, came by with his dog and we learned that he and his wife, Susan, had only opened the shop a few months ago. Previously they lived in the Seattle suburbs where Pope once worked for Microsoft. “If you have ever played solitaire on your computer, you are welcome,” he said, laughing. Following Microsoft, he did a stint with Burning Man and now is where they want to be next to the river and the GAP.
We also had the pleasure of conversing with Doug Tartar, who was taking a break from his earlier ride before cycling back up to his home in Fort Hill. Doug offered to ride with us until his turn-off and we took him up on it. He and his wife chose to retire in this area after living in Kentucky, because of the GAP and the pristine land.
Though the ride was a steady climb, 38 miles on a very gradual grade, there was plenty to keep to us entertained along the way: tunnels, the former Salisbury railroad viaduct, a visitor’s center at Rockwood, the Myersdale depot/museum and the Eastern Continental Divide. And on the way down the mountain we saw the Big Savage Mountain Tunnel and the Mason-Dixon Line. It was there that we had a brief history lesson; according to the signage, Mason and Dixon drew the line at the behest of two prominent British families – the Penn’s and the Calvert’s who had continued to disagree for years as to who owned what. Less than a decade later, however, all this disagreement was for naught, because of the American Revolution.
We coasted the rest of the way into Cumberland, passing the outskirts of Frostburg and then we followed alongside an active rail line, now known as the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. Apparently, there are special excursions that individuals can take advantage of on this railway.
We arrived at the Fairfield Inn to spend the night, thanks to a wonderful gift from our Grand Isle friends, Mick Brown and Michelle Godwin. The hotel room was outstanding – it was cool and we could see the almost full moon rise out our window. We did our laundry and there were lots of yummy items on the breakfast table. On to the C and O towpath.
Shevonne and Pat
Follow us as we spin our wheel