We pushed deeper into the trip, halfway done as we pedaled out of Ohiopyle on the morning of the third day. We intended to cover the same distance as the previous day, a little more than forty miles, although we’d gain a thousand feet of altitude while reaching the town with the highest elevation along the trail. The day turned warm and sunny. I would finish this stretch with a minor sunburn on the back of hands where they were exposed as I gripped my handlebars.
Each town along the trail had its own character. Besides Pittsburgh, they were all small and some were downright tiny. Their fortunes faded as Rust Belt industries collapsed. Now the Great Allegheny Passage offered a new hope based on a more environmentally-friendly source, the trekkers who passed anonymously along the trail.
Only the most resourceful cyclists packed everything they needed for a 150 mile journey. We saw a few if them and I wondered how they even managed to remain on two wheels carrying their quadruple panniers with sleeping bundles and tents like vagabonds. Everyone else stopped at trailside towns as the need arose, at convenience stores, restaurants, lodges, B&B’s, campgrounds, taverns, hardware stores, pharmacies or bicycle shops. A new town appeared every ten miles-or-so. The trailbook made it easy to anticipate anything that would be available up-the-road (e.g., Ohiopyle) and plan accordingly.
Everyone we met couldn’t have been nicer. People went out of their way to be helpful and hospitable. Maybe some of that happened because we were amongst the vanguard of riders arriving in early Spring. I got the feeling though that they’d be equally nice at the end of a long touring season, even before things got quiet again for a long winter.
Confluence Shrouded in Fog
Departing Ohiopyle, the town of Confluence (map) was the next significant settlement. If that name sounded familiar it might be because it appeared on Twelve Mile Circle in February 2014 in an article called Confluence of Confluences. I’d learned about Confluence by happenstance. The article mentioned several interesting sites and geo-oddities within its general orbit. At the time I said, "Now that I’ve considered it more, I think I’ll have to put Confluence on my list for a long weekend. This should be a feasible itinerary for anyone living in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States. Someday maybe I’ll take this trip and report back to the 12MC audience." I hadn’t anticipated that my prophesy would come true barely a year later.
Confluence impressed me even more than I’d imagined; a quaint town on a beautiful stretch of river, or more accurately two rivers and a creek forming the namesake confluence. In the photograph, the Youghiogheny appeared as the river in the foreground. The Casselman River flowed into it. Up the Casselman on the left bank one can barely see where Laurel Hill Creek flowed into the Casselman. We arrived on the first day of trout season. Fishermen lined the banks for miles (photo) as we biked along the trail.
I still want to return to Confluence. We simply passed through, stopping only for a late breakfast in an old-school diner (photo) on the town square. I didn’t get to see any of the fascinating features I mentioned in the earlier article. This area deserved to be savored.
The bike trail switched away from the bank of the Youghiogheny River at the town of Confluence and followed the Casselman for the remainder of the day.
The Pinkerton High Bridge led to the entrance of the Pinkerton Tunnel (map). It will be an impressive feature on the trail someday. The tunnel was dug originally for the Western Maryland Railroad in 1912 although it was in sorry shape by the time the Great Allegheny Passage came into existence. Modern railroad trains traveled through the large cut seen up and towards the left in the photograph, leaving the Pinkerton Tunnel obsolete. Restoration efforts continued on the tunnel at the time we arrived in April 2015.
When completed, this feature will eliminate a 1.5 mile detour along a bend in the Casselman River called the Pinkerton Horn. The GAP marked miles as if the tunnel existed, planning ahead optimistically I supposed. In essence we didn’t bike 150 miles during our journey, we biked 151.5 with the Horn serving as uncounted bonus mileage. It was actually quite lovely as a detour, passing through thick forest high above turbulent waters.
I’ve read several trip reports that described the long uphill segment as "barely noticeable." That was correct in a sense. The grade never went higher than 0.7%. However it was an accumulation of miles that made it noticeable. I’d been training on rolling terrain all winter and I felt strong although I still wanted to crest that final hill and be done with it. It was right after the Horn that one of our biking companions had about enough of the constant day-long steady climb and slowed to a crawl for awhile. Generally it wasn’t all that bad though.
Trailside Art at Rockwood
Towns along the trail took pride in their appearance. Oftentimes this reflected as works of art with whimsical themes reflecting area history, a railroading legacy or bicycles. Rockwood had a wonderful steel train with bicycle rims replacing steam from a smokestack (map).
It became a game for me. I’d stop to admire each new creation for a moment and snap a photograph or two.
- Railroad spike statue in West Newton
- Arch over the path and bicycle rim sculpture in Connellsville
- Panoramic rendering in Meyersdale
- Historical Scenes at the Divide
- Bicycle tire and gear bust at Frostburg
- Murals in Cumberland
These all livened-up the trip and helped pass the time as hours and miles blended into each other.
Farm Outside of Meyersdale
The character of the terrain changed slowly once again. Mountain and forest gave way to farmland as we drew closer to Meyersdale (map). Day three ended with visions of open fields and barns and windmill turbines atop scenic hillsides (photo). It took one final push across the spectacular Salisbury Viaduct, almost two thousand feet long, to draw closer to our day’s destination. It crossed U.S. Route 219, the "Flight 93 Memorial Highway" at this point, only twenty five miles south of Shanksville where a United Airlines flight hijacked by terrorists crashed on September 11, 2001.
We entered Meyersdale soon after crossing the viaduct for our third and final overnight.
The Great Allegheny Passage articles:
- Day 1 (Pittsburgh to West Newton)
- Day 2 (West Newton to Ohiopyle)
- Day 3 (Ohiopyle to Meyersdale)
- Day 4 (Meyersdale to Cumberland)