Thursday, September 12, 2013

GAP / C&O Ride, 9/12/13, Connellsville, PA to Pittsburgh, PA

After Bonnie won her teaching award in the spring of 2012 she purchased a new bike.  She and I decided to then take bikes on vacation that July.  Well Catharine and I needed new bikes so I bought mine off Craigslist.  After vacation Bonnie, Catharine, Daniel and I decided to bike some of the trails around Pittsburgh that we'd heard about. It was after learning a bit more about the Great Allegheny Passage that I thought that I'd like to try riding the entirety of it. Today I completed all 330 miles of the C&O Canal Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage. 


As I started the day with my bike gloves I realized how long I have owned them. I purchased them through mail order from LL Bean in 1981 for my bike trip with Jim Nelson, John Corey and Hugh McLoughlin from Long Island to Cape Cod. I then also used the gloves on my ride with Chris McKenna from Albany to Syracuse in 1986. After my Motobecane was stolen in Philadelphia I did not ride again for many years as children became the priority. I am happy to say though these gloves are still going strong 32 years later.

The day started in Connellsville with the self-serve breakfast - English Muffins with peanut butter. (Sunny-D does not qualify as orange juice, blech.)   There wasn't a lot going on in Connellsvile but the city had done a very fine job of clearly marking the path and routes to it. 

The plan was for a 61-mile ride from Connellsville to downtown Pittsburgh and much of it along very familiar trails.  There are some surprisingly bland sections of the trail that run alongside well worn homes and neighborhoods. But it doesn't take long to catch up with the prettier parts of the Youghiogheny again. (The old Western Maryland tracks upon which much of the GAP is built do not follow a river from Cumberland to Meyersdale. Only there did I start riding along the Casselman River. In Confluence a small creek and the Casselman River meet up with the Yough which then flows north to connect with the Monongahela.)

I saw this sign shortly after leaving Connellsville.  It was great to see what I had already accomplished. 
There aren't as many historical markers along this section of the trail. A local group, however, placed this memorial and marker to 239 miners.
The Yough does certainly have some relaxing spots to sit and enjoy. 

But industry had a way of creeping back in - 
I arrived in West Newton around 10:00 am. I had planned for this to be my lunch stop.  Although a bit early I figured that I could find a late breakfast. But it was not to be as nothing was open until 11:00 at the earliest. Thus, out came a protein bar. I did stop, sit and eat and hoped to find something more substantial in Boston, PA (or Little Boston as the sales clerk in Connellsvile called it). 
This image below is a good depiction of the elevation changes from Pgh to DC. I'm still aching from the 24-mile climb from Cumberland to the Eastern Continental Divide. The true upside to that three and a half hour climb was that the ride was downhill all the way to Pgh. 
As I continued on along the Yough the coal mining business kept getting in the way. This water and red colored rock are a result of acid mine drainage.

I needed to rebalance with a calming Yough photo.  This shot is from the path and across someone's backyard. A rather pleasant view from their back porch. 

In Boston, PA I was getting closer to home and was hoping for lunch here. I found a pizza shop but without a bike rack. So I continued on and concluded that lunch today would be from my own fridge. 
A short ride from Boston is where the Yough meets the Mon in McKeesport.  Unfortunately, at this point I was met with rain. For a while I waited it out underneath a parking structure but eventually I slipped on my rain gear and continued through. As is typical of a late day summer rain, it only lasted 15 minutes or so but by this time I had made my way along the trail close to Homestead. 

Here on a bridge crossing CSX rail tracks one can see along the Monongahela to the US Steel Edgar Thompson Works in Braddock, PA. 
I rode for five days through remote forest and I had to come to a very industrial area of the city along ten sets of tracks to photograph wild turkeys. 

As the sun reappeared I removed my rain jacket for the final push.  Here in Homestead, PA one can see this historical marker. One hundred years later the steel mill is gone and thousands shop daily at the Waterfront. 
The GAP runs along the Waterfront shopping area. This local restaurant helps out the cyclists. 
This is the welcome to the City of Pittsburgh along the GAP. (I already have the letter to the mayor written in my head as to how poor a welcome this sign is.)
The GAP ends at Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh where the three rivers - Ohio, Monongahela  and Allegheny converge. 
The GAP is exceptionally well signed all the way to Pittsburgh.  However, the trail runs along downtown city streets. At the Point with me were four cyclists completing their rides from DC and Cumberland (GAP only). The four of them and I vainly searched for the final mile marker in the park all around the fountain. There was a huge state marker inset in the ground near the actual point. But the GAP marker was not to be found. I finally asked a state employee and he referred me back to the large state marker. The GAP marker is a tiny round inset within the state marker.  (The 30-minute ride around Point State Park was somewhat anti-climatic.). But you can see the GAP marker -

And my bike lying on the ground next to it. 

Fittingly, as I finished my ride I met a couple taking photographs here to begin their ride to Washington, DC. 

At this point I had an eight mile ride home and of course a climb back to Squirrel Hill at the end. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

GAP / C&O Ride, 9/11/13, Meyersdale, PA to Connellsville, PA

I stayed up late last night finishing yesterday's blog post because I knew that I had a comfortable 56 mile ride planned for today to Connellsville and that I could sleep in a little bit. However, I heard the group upstairs (Wilderness Voyageurs trip) moving around and the trains never stop coming through town so I was still up rather early.  I waited for the group to leave then grabbed some self serve breakfast.   I was out the door from Gram Gram's Place around 9:00. 

So far today's scenery was the best. I had to stop taking photos so as not to bore you.  Even just the ride out of Meyersdale was gorgeous. 

The GAP trail is just so much easier to ride than the C&O Towpath.  You can see that the crushed limestone is many steps above dirt and roots.  And it allows for horses although I did not see any. 

The next town on the GAP is Rockwood. 

There are numerous small waterfalls along the trail. I figured that I could only photograph so many. 

I rode alongside the Casselman River to Confluence. 

There are many long bridges like this. As I ride over I still marvel at the early 20th century engineering knowledge and raw muscle that went into building these structures. 

There are occasional reminders that the trail was for trains. You can see the decaying and abandoned railroad communications network. 

I thought that these two photos showed what appeared to be the GAP dragon. (Catharine, as the dragon expert, can decide.)

I stopped for lunch in Confluence, PA. This coincided nicely with my usual 25 mile protein bar break.  I ordered two slices for $4.00 and they were excellent. I sat outside and enjoyed a beautiful day.  The two guys in the shop were super nice and one plans to do the DC to Pgh ride next year. 

So far today I hadn't had the opportunity to speak with any other riders.  One guy did give a yell as he rode by while I ate my lunch. I did speak to two Canadians also at the pizza shop. They were looking for the Confluence trailhead and I sent them in the right direction (after suggesting that they try the pizza). 

I headed back to the trail and entered Ohiopyle State Park. 

Ohiopyle State Park is quite beautiful.  Again,there are many streams and waterfalls heading down the mountainsides to join the river. 

Riding through the park though was the first time in four days of riding that I heard thunder and it happened as I was deep in the park and no obvious way to get out from under trees. This gave me the opportunity to put on and try out the new rain gear (and to ride quickly).   It turned out to be a good afternoon soaker which seemed to be about right for a hot and humid day. 

My ride now took me into the town of Ohiopyle. 
The town is known for its falls. 
And me against the falls. 
The trail after leaving the town of Ohiopyle goes back into the State Park.  At this point I once again was able to try out the rain gear (a successful purchase). It was one more late afternoon cloud burst. 

As is true of so much of western PA, there was coal to be seen in the mountain walls along the trail. 

This was towards the end of Ohiopyle State Park and moving towards Connellsville.

My stop for tonight is another self-service B&B.  Actually, Pam the owner, called it more of a rooming house. I again have a shared bath but am the only one here (in fact, I saw in the guest book that the previous guests were the Hawaiians that I met in Little Orleans several days ago) . The bathroom has an old claw foot tub with the wrap around shower curtain and the water flows from a less than powerful shower-head directly overhead. 

I walked out to dinner at the Valley Dairy Restaurant.  This is not a vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free type of establishment.  And the service was awful. However, I was able to finally strike up a conversation with other cyclists. There was a large table of people who were on their way south making their way around 25 miles per day. I don't know if they're headed all the way to DC but it would take them quite a while. I have a feeling they may just be going to Cumberland.   And then I encountered a young Canadian at Sheetz. He too had just ridden the hill out of Cumberland. 

Tomorrow concludes my trip as I'll ride 61 miles to Pittsburgh and Point State Park along very familiar trails. I'll try and snap a photo at the final mile marker.