Monday, June 13, 2016

DC to Pgh Bike Tour Day 5 - Cumberland, MD to Ohiopyle, PA

Breakfast (any item from the menu) is included in your room at the Ramada Inn of Cumberland, Maryland, so after a filling meal, we packed up our bikes and headed back for the short ride down through town to the trail.

Of the many popular photo ops in the area, one is the sculpture of the mule driver, which commemorates the working days of the C&O Canal, and it's located at the end point (officially mile 184.6) of the C&O Canal Towpath Trail.

Right at the point where the C&O Canal Towpath Trail ends and the Great Allegheny Passage begins lies a plaque in the ground for mile marker 0 of the Great Allegheny Passage.

The trail starts on pavement heading out of Cumberland, clearly marked. This begins the long 24-mile climb over an average grade of 2%. Trail signage is consistent all along the Great Allegheny Passage, with mileage to adjacent towns in both directions, and helpful hints to local amenities off-trail.

The trail runs alongside an active rail line (rail-with-trail) for about 12 miles. You go through a couple of short tunnels along the way, first the Brush Tunnel:
Then the Borden Tunnel:

The next major city after Cumberland is Frostburg, Maryland about 16 miles out, but the climbing isn't over yet. You cross the Mason-Dixon Line, which separates Maryland from Pennsylvania:
There are spectacular views across the mountain ridges of local wind farms.

Finally you reach the longest tunnel on the whole C&O/GAP trail, the Big Savage Tunnel, at over 3,300 feet long.
The Big Savag Tunnel is CLOSED during the off-season (usually early December through early April), so check local conditions before planning a trip. There is no easy route around the tunnel.

From there, it's a short two miles before your 1,800-foot climb is over and reach the highest point of the GAP, the Eastern Continental Divide. Like every other day, we saw many bike tourists all day, but we only saw one other group tackling the climb to the Divide in the steeper direction as we were. Ironically, they were a family of Mennonites (four men and three women), dressed in their traditional clothing, no helmets but big straw hats, and their bikes loaded to the hilt with all of their worldly possessions. They were moving from Virginia to Oklahoma (why they were taking a detour north via the GAP, we don't know), and "saving as many souls as possible" along the way.

Bill and Ted (doing their own excellent adventure) hired a shuttle driver to take them from Cumberland to Frostburg, and so had only an 8-mile climb to reach the Divide, and were waiting when I arrived there. Jim and Tom arrived soon after me, and we waited a while for Mike, Peter, and Troy to arrive to get a photo of the whole group.
Tom, Jim, Bill, Mike, Peter, Ted, Kevin, Troy
Among the many other people passing through this spot were a father-and-daughter pair who flew all the way from Twin Falls, Idaho just to ride these trails.

This climb is the reason that a majority of bike travelers do the route from Pittsburgh to DC instead of the DC to Pittsburgh as we are. But it really wasn't all that bad. I was able to keep up an average of over 12mph for the whole climb. A few kept a little over 10mph, and the slowest of our group kept over 8mph. So even if you're not the most fit person, you can drop your bike in a low gear and spin on up.

From here to Ohiopyle, it's a fairly flat and easy ride, with more scenic bridges and overlooks.
Keystone Viaduct
Passing some southbound riders on the Keystone Viaduct
Salisbury Viaduct (visible from Amtrak a few days earlier)

We stopped for lunch in Rockwood, intending to go to the Rock City Cafe based on the recommendation of a rider we passed at the Divide. Turns out they are closed on Mondays, so we went back to the Rockwood Mill Shoppes, where we found a delicious array of sandwiches and pizza.

The most recent tunnel to be restored and re-opened for bike traffic is the Pinkerton Tunnel between Markleton and Fort Hill, which just opened in September of 2015. Previously, there was a 1.5-mile loop around it called the "Pinkerton Horn." The latest maps will still show this 1.5-mile loop, until they are updated with the new route through this tunnel.

Taking a rest break in Confluence

The GAP Trail follows the Cassellman River from Meyerdale to Confluence, where it meets the Youghiogheny River.

The GAP Trail does not have the water pumps every few miles like the C&O Canal Towpath Trail does, so there are not as many opportunities for free water refills, but there are more frequent towns along the way with places to purchase water and snacks.

From Confluence, it was an 11-mile jaunt to Ohiopyle, where we checked into the Yough Plaza Motel then headed to the Falls City Pub for dinner.
Kevin at the Yough Plaza Motel

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