Sunday, May 28, 2017

Great Allegheny Passage - Complete!

For those who follow my blog, I have been gearing up to ride the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP)for several months now. Well, it happened. I just spent an amazing few days on the GAP. I dare say that it was an extraordinary experience!

Tuesday May 16

In September 2015, Amtrak announced roll-on, roll-off (RORO) bicycle service for the Capitol Limited. The Capitol Limited originates in Chicago, with stops very close to the GAP and C&O Canal Towpath in Pittsburgh, Connellsville,  Cumberland, Harpers Ferry, and Washington, DC. I took advantage of the Capitol Limited last year when I biked solo from DC to Pittsburgh, and I decided to use the service again.

I left my house in Fort Wayne for the 40 minute drive to the Amtrak station in Waterloo, IN. I downloaded the Amtrak app to check the status of my train. When I left Fort Wayne, the train was running on time. I left in plenty of time to grab a couple of things at the store I needed for the train trip (Powerade, Trail Mix, and Gummy Candy). As I was pulling into Walmart to pick up these critical items, I received a text train was now running 45 minutes late. Well, at least I didn't need to rush at Walmart...

I picked up what I needed, and drove to the train station, and waited, and waited...My 10:23 p.m. departure became the midnight train to Cumberland, when I departed from Waterloo...

I found out the reason for the delay was there was a bridge that was stuck open in Chicago. Regardless, I settled into my seat and prepared to sleep. Fortunately, I had two seats to use. This picture gives an idea of how much room you have to sleep in coach:

From Amtrak's web site

Wednesday May 17

I woke up from my sleep around 6 a.m. - not bad...6 hours of sleep in a coach seat! I checked Google Maps and saw that I was close to the Ohio/Pennsylvania border. I decided to get up from my seat and move to the observation car. One of the things I like about taking the train is the ability to get up and walk around while traveling, which you can't do with many other forms of transportation. I also know that on the way to Pittsburgh, the train would go through Rochester, PA - my hometown! Here's the video:

After going through Rochester - I knew that Pittsburgh wasn't that far away!

After arriving in Pittsburgh, I settled back in my coach seat, and slept a bit more...

After my nap, I just looked out the window at the beauty of the Laurel Highlands. I've been through here before on two previous rides on the Great Allegheny Passage, but the beauty never grows old. I just became more anxious to ride the trail...

After arriving in Cumberland, I was met by my brothers Bruce, Brian, and Gregg. Brian and Gregg agreed to ride with me, and Bruce was their ride from the Pittsburgh area to Cumberland. We ate lunch at the Cream City Creamery...which I highly recommend. After lunch - it was off to the Fairfield Inn in Cumberland to check in.

The Fairfield is very convenient for bikers. It is located RIGHT ON the C&O towpath. Of course, the Fairfield is a Marriott property, so the service, cleanliness,  comfort was top notch. After getting settled in, Brian, Gregg, and I went for a quick spin on the C&O Towpath.

The C&O Towpath is a tougher ride that the GAP. While the GAP is primarily crushed limestone on the abandoned Western Maryland Railway, the Towpath is a goat path. Literally. This picture from Trip Advisor give you an idea of what the Towpath looks like around Cumberland:

From Trip Advisor

Nevertheless, we did an 18 mile spin, got back to the hotel, and I took a nap 😊😊😊

After the nap, it was time for our pre-ride social at the Crabby Pig, where our group would meet. I organized the trip on Facebook, so some of us had never actually met each other. We had a great time getting to know each other over a great meal. 

Crabby Pig - Ribs and Crabcake

After a great was time to sleep...and ride!

Thursday May 18: Cumberland to Rockwood

The gang getting ready to depart

Seven of us started the ride: Me, Jeff, Nancy, Laurie, Ayleen, Gregg, and Brian. Due to a previous commitment, Jeff and Nancy would ride to Connellsville and head back home. After a couple of delays...we were ready to go, with a nice 1,787 feet of climbing over 23 miles

Departing Canal Place in Cumberland

Photo from Great Allegheny Passage

The ride up the mountain, while not difficult, is relentless. Unlike most hills, there is no break. You are climbing, and climbing, and climbing.

Along the way, you get to ride through tunnels:

And see some great views...

But, after a bit of time, we made it to Frostburg...16 miles up...7 miles to good spirits!

After a well deserved break - we used the strategy of getting to:

  • Mason/Dixon Line
  • Top of Big Savage Mountain
  • Eastern Continental Divide
First Stop...Mason Dixon Line!

Then...the top of Big Savage Mountain

And after a ride through the Big Savage Tunnel...

...we reached the Eastern Continental Divide!

After the divide - it was good to start riding downhill! Next stop...Meyersdale!

Here's a picture of the train station in Meyersdale:

It was after 2 p.m, and after we all regrouped, we were in search of food. Some of the group had ice cream at the train station - while others found Fox's Pizza Den and Sheetz (or both 😜). After refueling, off to the Salisbury Viaduct. (BTW - the viaduct is 1,908 feet long, according to Wikipedia).

After stretching, relaxing, etc. it was the final push to Rockwood, where we called it a day.

In Rockwood, some of the group spent the night at a bed and breakfast, while others (myself included), stayed at The Hostel on Main.

Photo from Trip Advisor
The Hostel on Main is an inexpensive place to stay the night in Rockwood. It's slightly more expensive than Husky Haven Campground, but less expensive than the bed and breakfast. Those of us who were staying at the hostel showered, unwound a bit, and to Rock City Cafe...home of the TNT Burger!

TNT! 8 oz burger, 3 cheeses, ketchup, mustard, mayo, lettuce, tomato,
onions, pickles, fries, and slaw on a toasted bun!

After we all ate delicious food and drank refreshing cold beverages, it was back to the hostel. When we got to the hostel, we met Yuki! Yuki was in the middle of riding from Washington DC to Pittsburgh on a bikepacking trip. After a few nights of camping, Yuki decided that he wanted a bed for the night, so he checked into the hostel. When he got to the main room of the hostel, I'll bet he was surprised to see Laurie leading our entire group in yoga!

Friday May 19: Rockwood to Connellsville

This is probably the most beautiful day of the ride as you descend gradually in the Laurel Highlands, with stops in Confluence and Ohiopyle before wrapping up the day in Connellsville. We also spent a good amount of time biking with Yuki as well!

The beauty of this section is just remarkable - I wish I would have taken more pictures, but I was having trouble with my camera phone (my lens cracked.) In addition to Ohiopyle, this section goes through the Pinkerton Tunnel, with a bridge before the tunnel and a bridge after the tunnel as the Castleman River makes a bend.

After that scenic view, it was off to lunch in Confluence. Laurie suggested that we eat at the River's Edge Cafe in Confluence. As always, Laurie came through once again with a fantastic idea! Here was the view!

And here was the food!

Yes, that's Grilled Cheese and Avocado!

After lunch, it was off to Ohiopyle!

On the way to Ohiopyle, we came upon some high school students who were celebrating Senior Skip Day. One of these students wiped out her bike pretty bad. She was wearing a dress, and skinned both of her knees and elbows. Fortunately between three first aid kits (mine, Ayleen, and Nancy) we were able to get her cleaned up and bandaged. I mention this because I think it is important to have a first aid kit and extra fluids when biking in case of an accident. When I bike the GAP, I carry one gallon of fluid with me: 2 bottles of water, 1 bottle of Gatorade, and 1 bottle of Pedialyte. When it is very hot, my body handles Pedialyte better. In addition to patching up this young lady (she had several friends with her), she didn't have any fluids with her - so I left the Pedialyte with her to make sure she was hydrated and OK.

As we approached Ohiopyle, the clouds began to get dark. So far, we had not hit any rain, and we were hoping that the rain would stay away. Right as we pulled into Ohiopyle, the rains hit...and we parked the bikes and dashed into the store for some yummy Hershey's ice cream.

After ice cream, it was time to take in the beauty of Ohiopyle!

The rain stayed away and we got closer to Connellsville. As we got close to Connellsville, Laurie stopped at a waterfall and decided to get wet:

Me...not so much...that May mountain water was COLD!

After playing around in the waterfall it was the race to Connellsville, before the rains came. We just made it in :-)

Again, our group decided on different lodging. Some stayed at a bed and breakfast; others at the Cobblestone Inn. I stayed at the Cobblestone.

The Cobblestone is RIGHT ON THE TRAIL. It's a brand new hotel and it is nice. Comfortable beds, large rooms, good continental breakfast, etc. That being said, there is not a bike wash station at the hotel. For a hotel that caters to bicyclists, that's an issue. My bike was muddy from the ride due to the earlier rain. The hotel did provide a bucket and rag, and I used my squirt bottle to get the worst of the mud off...but not the same as a hose. I did mention this to the clerk, and in my review of the Cobblestone on Trip Advisor, I gave kudos for the nice rooms, but mentioned the lack of a bike wash station. Hopefully they will get that fixed soon :-)

At the front desk of the Cobblestone, we asked about dinner recommendations. The clerk suggested Ruvo's Italian Restaurant. Italian sounded good after a long day of biking.

Ruvo's is a small restaurant in Connellsville. I didn't think to make reservations, but the owner worked us in. Ruvo's is a BYOB establishment; but the liquor store is very close if one desires a bottle of wine, and there is a bar next door if you want a cold beer. (For the record - I had root beer at Ruvo's). Dinner is served family style, and the owner came out and talked to us to ensure we ordered the right amount of food. As the owner pointed out, we weren't in a position for leftovers. So we ordered spaghetti and two chicken dishes, which also came with pasta, and homemade meatballs. Folks, this did not disappoint.

After stuffing ourselves with delicious food - it was time to call it a night, and get ready for the final day!

Saturday May 20: Connellsville to Pittsburgh!

Jeff and Nancy said good bye to us on Friday night as they had commitments back home. They were sad that they couldn't finish, and vowed to come back to finish the ride.

Day 3 is the longest day of the ride, 59 miles. Why have the longest day last?

  • Day 2 from Rockwood to Connellsville is IMHO, the most scenic
  • Day 2 is a good recovery day from climbing Big Savage Mountain
  • Most of the final 16 miles of the GAP from Boston to Pittsburgh are paved - so it's an easier and faster ride.
That being said, Day 3 also has the longest stretch between towns. It's 22 miles between Connellsville and West Newton. We also knew that we would be leaving the Laurel Highlands and heading towards urban trails in Pittsburgh, especially after West Newton.

We took off from Connellsville for the ride to West Newton. We started to see the Laurel Highlands fade away...

And we arrived in West Newton...and proceeded to fuel up for lunch at the Trailside Inn!

After the Trailside, the final push to the finish!

When we got to Boston...the trail changed from crushed limestone to pavement. There's also a bit of a hill as you leave Boston, and prepare to go to McKeesport.

Once we hit McKeesport and the trail began to follow the Monongahela River, we knew we were getting close. The trail became very urban, and we passed through abandoned steel properties and revitalized waterfront property. After passing through Homestead we soon gathered at the Hot Metal Bridge...and then realized...the end was near!

The five of us rode together as a tight group on the final part of the Great Allegheny Passage as we approached downtown Pittsburgh.

And then...Point State Park!

After arriving at the Point for the mandatory pictures, it was time for the ride to the Strip District and the obligatory stop at Pittsburgh's very own Primanti Bros.

Stories were told, hugs were exchanged...but after that, it was time...time to return to the real world...with memories cherished...and a sense of accomplishment. 

Sunday May 21

I spent the day visiting my mother. I grew up in Rochester, PA, about 25 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. After a day with her and family, it was back to the Amtrak train station...and back to reality...
Closing Thoughts

This is the third time I've biked the GAP. I did it two years ago with the Boy Scouts as an adult leader; last summer I biked solo from Washington DC to Pittsburgh.
This time was special. My brothers Brian and Gregg joined me, along with my friends Ayleen, Jeff, Nancy, and Laurie...and we got to meet Yuki. We got to know each very well - and it was fun. Indeed, memories of a lifetime!

As many of you know, I'm active on Facebook, and some of my friends asked about going on a future trip. So...

May 16 - 18, 2019

That's when I'm riding again...and if you are interested, let me know. You can reach me on Facebook, or at

I'd love to have you join in the fun.

Again, special thanks for the pictures...and more importantly...the memories to Brian, Gregg, Ayleen, Jeff, Nancy, and Laurie. It was simply awesome!


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