The Great Allegheny Passage. We were finally going to experience it for ourselves, along with Michael, my brother, who is relatively new to riding. We planned to meet in Cumberland and drive to Pittsburgh where Mike and I would ride south each day while Bob drove Turtle to the end of each day’s segment, getting in what riding he could from there. What we didn’t anticipate was how steep and narrow the circuitous roads would be for Bob as he drove the motorhome through the mountains of Western Pennsylvania while we cruised on a relatively flat railroad grade.
Mike on the Salisbury Viaduct
Our first day was long even though we didn’t get in any riding. Mike had driven from Glen Burnie starting at 4:00 a.m. and reaching Cumberland by 8:00, where it was already getting hot. He cooled off in the lobby of the Marriott while waiting for his wayward sister and brother-in-law, who finally rolled in around 10:00. Nobody told us how difficult it would be to get a cell signal in the Allegheny Mountains and when we got to town, there were already two messages from Mike. We loaded up his gear and bike, registered his car for the long-term parking lot and headed off for P’burgh, stopping on the way for fuel and groceries. My poor routing made for an even longer day as I wanted to avoid the toll road. We crawled up and down the tortuous Route 40 until finally we camped at a commercial campground near Cedar Creek Park, just in time for an easy dinner of chicken salad.
Beginning at Homestead
We opted to start from Homestead on the advice of some other riders we’d met in Cumberland and we found the trail a bit convoluted through the urban areas. Sections of trail followed sidewalks, bisected parking lots and edged along residential streets until finally we were on continuous railroad grade. Bob parked at Cedar Creek Park and rode up to meet us about halfway, so he probably rode as far as we did. The last ten miles was brutally hot—in the 90’s—so we stopped often to cool down. About 29 miles, it was Mike’s longest ride yet, and that was just his first day. We camped at the same place as last night.
Enough Adventure For One Day
Our second day on the trail was about as much adventure as we would see the whole trip, which can be a good thing. Bob pumped up my front tire and we took off, hoping for the best and not quite prepared for the worst. Within three miles, my tire was low again, so Mike used his pump and we rolled on hope more than reality. By the third try, we knew we had a problem, so we found a good trail down to the river where at least we could locate the slow leak in the water. Bob had kept our one patch kit and spare tube and Mike’s kit was intact but old enough that the glue had dried up. Our only option was to hope a passing cyclist would have some glue. Instead our unnamed good Samaritan had an insta-patch, which I foolishly almost turned down. But we tried it and it held so on we went, rolling about 40 miles, another personal best for Mike. Bob had ridden up the trail but turned back, sure he’d missed us. We camped at Ohiopyle State Park, a really nice park.
We broke up our third day of riding with a stop at Confluence, where Bob met us and took us to town to shop for groceries and find access to the Internet. We finally located it at Confluence Cyclery, a really welcoming center for cyclists far from home. The second half of our day was especially pretty as we rode gradually up along the Casselman River. We camped at another nice state park, Laurel Hill, along the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail.
Ice Cream Break and Pennies on a Railroad Track
By our fourth day, the riding was really getting rewarding and we let our schedule go slack. We took a short day in order to have one more day of riding tomorrow as well. We stopped at the Meyersdale Depot for a long lunch and when Mike suggested ice cream, we hiked down to town, stopping on the way to lay pennies on the busy railroad track. We signed the bright new walls of the ice cream shop and went back to look for Mike’s pennies. We were both pretty tickled to find them well flattened and nearly unrecognizable. Mike gave me one as a souvenir and I’ll keep it forever.
The Eastern Continental Divide
We continued on uphill until we reached the Eastern Continental Divide, elevation 2,392, the highest point on our ride. Just beyond it, in the Big Savage Tunnel, we startled at the flash of a photographer in the middle of the 3,000 foot tunnel before realizing it was Bob, giggling and testing the features of his new camera. Stopping at Frostburg for the night, we enjoyed some trail side pizza—delivered to Turtle in the parking lot—as Mike’s treat.
Our final day was an easy coast all downhill to Cumberland, where we arrived at the parking lot three minutes after Bob, though he did stop to shop along the way. It was a nice finish to a fun tour; 140 miles in five days. Before pulling out, I leaned heavily on Mike to promise we might plan another trail ride sometime soon. The C&O Canal Towpath lay straight ahead of us, continuing for another 180 miles all the way to Washington D.C.