Sunday, October 4, 2009

Great Allegheny Trail bike ride

Saturday I went for an awesome bike ride on the Great Allegheny Passage trail. This was with the same friend from church that did the C&O Canal bike ride a few weeks ago. This time though, we had both our families drive us up to Meyersdale, PA. They dropped us off there, did some sightseeing and had lunch, parked one of the cars for us in Cumberland, MD, and headed home in the other car. That left for the two of us bicycle commandos to make the 33 mile trek from Meyersdale down to Cumberland to find the car and drive ourselves home.

Arriving at the Meyersdale train station.

This is another one of those rail-trails - a former railroad that was converted into a bicycle / jogging / walking trail. The old train station in Meyersdale has been very nicely refurbished thanks to generous charitable donations, and they have a pretty decent museum inside considering the size and charitable funding source of the operation.

Getting underway from Meyersdale

The trail is hard-pack dirt and fine gravel, so you don't get any of the Lance Armstrong wanna-be speed-demons like you do on the W&OD Trail through Ashburn.

The first 9 miles was uphill from Meyersdale up to the Eastern Continental Divide. However, thanks to it being an old railroad, it was a gentle slope. I got a good workout from it and was breathing heavy when we got to the top, but it wasn't too tough. According to my GPS, we averaged 8 mph on the uphill leg.

Keystone Viaduct

The highlight of the uphill leg of the trip was seeing the Keystone Viaduct. This magnificent structure was refurbished recently to help complete the Great Allegheny Passage trail from Pittsburg to Cumberland.

Autumn is in full swing up there in Allegheny County, and the trees and windmills just beyond the Keystone Viaduct were gorgeous.

This is the small bridge-tunnel at the Eastern Continental Divide. There are nice murals on both sides of the tunnel.

The view looking back down the way we came.

Statistics at the Eastern Continental Divide.
8.42 miles 0.0 mph current speed
59 min 30 sec moving 8.5 mph moving average
15 min 29 sec stopped 12.3 mph maximum speed
2394 feet altitude at Eastern Continental Divide

Altitude Profile.

We overheard someone on the trail say that for the downhill section through Frostburg to Cumberland, you don't need pedals on your bicycle - just brakes. Whereas our average speed was 8 mph going uphill, we ended up averaging between 13-15 mph going the rest of the way down to Cumberland.

We saw a lot of caterpillars along the way - mostly either black & white ones or black & red ones. Something struck me as odd though. They all seemed to be crawling WITH the flow of traffic on the trail. I would think a caterpillar would want to spend as little time as possible ON the trail and would try to CROSS the trail to get to where the green stuff is that they can EAT. Every single caterpillar we saw was crawling along the trail as if they were going the same place we were (or back the way we came).

Self portrait with orange autumn tree

There were three tunnels along the way. The first and by far the longest was the Big Savage Tunnel.

Big Savage Tunnel

There's a wonderful view just as you come out the other side of the Big Savage Tunnel.

Crossing the Mason-Dixon Line back into Maryland

Shortly after we crossed the Mason-Dixon Line, I decided I needed a drink. I tried flipping the valve on my Camelbak bite valve open to take a drink, and the yellow part of the valve popped out! Doh.

This resulted in the contents of my Camelbak bladder spewing all over the front of my body with nothing to hold the water back. I squeezed hard on the brakes. Note to self: Bicycle no stop quickly on fine gravel. I must've left 15 foot long skidmarks on the trail as I came to a screeching halt. I stuck my finger in the hole where the bite valve used to be and walked back up the trail to retrieve the missing piece. Luckily it popped right back into place and I didn't have any further troubles with it.

Borden Tunnel

A Frostburg church steeple peeking out above the trees

Our plan had been to stop and eat lunch in Frostburg, MD. Unfortunately, we did not realize that the path does not run through Frostburg. It actually runs BY Frostburg, but at the bottom of the hill from the town. If we wanted to go into town for something to eat, it would have been a steep half mile climb up into the town.

Frostburg Rest Area

There was a nice rest area alongside the trail there in Frostburg though, so we just ate the snacks we brought in our backpacks and kept going down the trail.

Brush Tunnel

After leaving Frostburg, the trail runs right alongside the railroad tracks for the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. From this point on, we noticed a higher number of bicyclists on the trail. It turns out, you can ride the railroad from Cumberland up to Frostburg, then ride your bike back down the hill again. That sounded like a pretty cool idea to me - I may try that someday with my family.

Near the Brush Tunnel, we stopped to find a geocache, only there was a snake guarding the geocache. He looked peaceful enough at first...

...then I poked him with a stick. I expected him to scurry away. Nope. He didn't like me one bit. He hissed and inflated himself to twice the diameter he was before, then adopted this coiled S-shaped spring posture and tried snapping at me. I've been trying to identify him. I think he's either a garter snake or a ribbon snake.

The trail is well-marked with mile-markers along the way. The numbers tell you miles from Cumberland, so I took this photo to show we were in the home stretch.

We saw lots of the same flowers alongside the trail - very small white flowers and purple flowers mostly.

Toward the end of the trip though, I spotted only a couple of these, and I thought they were the nicest flower we saw on our trip.

Then in the last mile before Cumberland, we spotted these purple flowers with Monarch butterflies all over them.

The Allegheny Trail ends in Cumberland right where the C&O Canal Towpath begins.

Western Maryland Scenic Railroad Station

Beginning of the C&O Canal Towpath

Turning Basin at the end of the C&O Canal

Overall Trip Statistics
33.1 miles 0.0 mph current speed
3 hours 26 min moving 9.6 mph moving average*
1 hour 32 min stopped 20.3 mph maximum speed
632 feet altitude in Cumberland

* This average speed includes the uphill segment. We actually did between 13-15 mph most of the downhill portion of the ride.

We stopped and had an excellent dinner at a place called the Crabby Pig right next to the end of the C&O Canal, then we piled in the car and headed back home again. Overall, it was a great trip and I hope to do it again someday, especially the downhill section with my family.

Statistics for today:
1,790 feet elevation drop from Eastern Continental Divide to Cumberland (approximate)
1,320 caterpillars spotted on the trail (give or take)
165 pictures taken
33 miles ridden on our bikes
3 railroad tunnels we rode through
3 hours driving to Meyersdale / hours driving home from Cumberland
1 bug in the mouth (I spit it out)
1 bug in the eyeball because I didn't put my sunglasses back on when we came out of the Big Savage Tunnel


Hilary said...

Looks like a great time. Thanks for taking us along for the ride. That purple-blue flower which you liked is wild chicory. They grow all around my nearby park. There were far fewer of them this year than last. Perhaps they're cyclic.

Tom Bailey said...

This looks like it was a fun ride.

leo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
leo said...

Superb story from the trail! Having been to most of those places before I feel like I just revisited them.

I did the Highlands trail west, toward Pittsburgh, from Meyersdale, PA a bit earlier this summer. My experiences are at

pdxboxer said...

I love the wildlife safari bike ride but I am always confused by those willing to stop and investigate snakes. I imagine if I saw a snake, I could actually pedal fast enough to burn rubber.