October 19, 2006

A ride on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail

The Great Allegheny Passage is actually two trails that will soon be connected to form one 335 mile trail from Washington, DC, to Pittsburgh, PA: The C&O Canal National Historical Park towpath that runs 184.5 miles from Washington, DC, and the Cumberland & Pittsburgh Trail that will run approximately 150 miles once the section between Cumberland and Frostburg, MD, is completed in late 2006.

I had made my annual pilgrimage to Cumberland in mid-October this year, with the intention of pedaling as much of the GAPT as I could in a few days. It was pouring down rain the first day, so rather than subject my bike (and myself) to getting drenched, I took a ride on the Western Maryland Scenic Railway, which parallels the uncompleted final portion of the GAPT from Cumberland to Frostburg.

On the second day of the trip, under overcast skies, I drove out to Ohiopyle, PA (near Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater), to pedal the 11 miles from there to Confluence, PA, and back. I rode this section last year and loved it. Apparently, I'm not alone in that feeling: That 11 mile stretch is considered the most popular section of the PA portion of the trail. Unfortunately, I left my camera in the car.

On the third day, I began my ride at about 2 in the afternoon, heading NW from Frostburg, MD, under a partly cloudy sky. The plan was to ride roughly 17 miles to the Salisbury Viaduct just beyond Meyersdale, PA.

The uphill gradient from Frostburg is approximately 1.75% all the way to Deal, PA. From Deal to Meyersdale is then 0.8% downhill. Which means the best way to begin this ride, theoretically, is from east to west so that the last several miles coming back east are an easy downhill. We'll see about that...

Borden Tunnel, just a little blip of a tunnel compared to the one to come.

The first 4 miles from Frostburg are bordered on the left by the upper slopes of Big Savage Mountain, and on the right by a deep valley that you can almost see through the trees. Once you cross the state line into PA, though, there's a break in the trees that affords a nice little view. Unfortunately, by that point the sky wasn't quite as blue.

Savage Tunnel. Approximately a 1/2 mile long and normally lighted. Today, though, the lights were not functioning. No biggie, though, as I've walked through the Paw Paw Tunnel on the C&O several times. What was more unnerving was the fact that the weather turned totally grey and windy in the time it took to walk through the tunnel. I came out the other side and immediately wondered how long I had until it would begin raining. Oh well, so the bike and I might get wet. We came to ride, and ride we did.

One of the cool aspects of riding through this section of PA is the wind farms (which would be more easily visible in this photo if the sky had been blue). And, as I realized on the way back, one of the not so cool aspects of riding through this section of PA is that it's a very appropriate place for wind farms.

This ride was the first on which I've actually remembered to bring my camera, so I finally got some photos of my pony.

On the far side of the Salisbury Viaduct is a cow farm and a tiny little cemetery.

A portion of the viaduct is visible in the background of this shot.

Either the old train depot at Meyersdale or the far end of the viaduct are good places to stop for a break. At 16.5 miles and a little after 4 p.m., this was my turnaround point. I would have liked to have explored Meyersdale and taken more photos on the way back to Frostburg, but the fact that I'd made so many stops on the way up and had only about 2 hours till sunset meant no dilly-dallying. But I was confident that I could pick up some speed on that lovely downhill between Deal and Frostburg...

Coming out of Savage Tunnel on the way back to Frostburg. What wasn't visible in the first photo of the tunnel was the massive metal doors at each end.

Looking back up through the tunnel just before the end. Fatigue had set in on the way back, in spite of the downhill from Deal, and all I could think about during this second walk through the tunnel was those doors swinging shut and trapping me inside. This dark and creepy walk was too appropriate just a week and a half before Halloween.

And that lovely downhill from Deal wasn't so lovely. No matter what gear I was in or how hard I pedaled, I just could not get above 19mph. I was blaming it on the wind I felt pushing against me, until I looked up and realized the leaves on the trees were perfectly still. Must have been the rolling resistance from the crushed gravel trail (yeah, that's my story and I'm stickin' with it).

In spite of the grey sky, the black tunnel, and pushing myself to the point of fatigue coming back, it was a great ride of 37 miles. Next year, though, I'll start earlier in the day, and hope for clearer skies and lights in Savage Tunnel.

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