The Great Allegheny Passage is probably one of the prettiest bike paths in the country. It runs approximately 150 miles from Pittsburg to Cumberland Maryland through some really beautiful scenery.
This is a ride that we had been trying to do for several years now but the pandemic and other things got in the way. Finally the stars aligned - I had time off plus a good weather forecast. We decided to go for it.
The original plan was to ride the whole trail in two days, but we decided that might be a bit ambitious for Mrs. Kong. We cut it back to one day, from Ohiopyle PA to Cumberland, roughly 72 miles.
Now for the logistics.
If we stayed in Ohiopyle, we would need to hire a shuttle service to take us back there from Cumberland. If we stayed in Cumberland, we would need a shuttle to take us to the starting point. After negotiating with the shuttle service we agreed on the latter.
Cumberland is a small city in Western Maryland that has a few hotels plus a nice little downtown area with some decent restaurants.
The next morning we met up with a nice young guy named Jason who drove us and our bikes up to Ohiopyle. The earliest I could talk him into picking us up was 9:00 AM, so it was around 10:30 by the time we got to Ohiopyle and started the ride. I would have preferred an earlier start but we still had plenty of time to do the ride and get back to Cumberland before dark.
Now, what to ride? Confession time, we have a total of 13 bikes between the two of us. Of those, I’ve built eight. After I built my first bike it turned into a bit of an obsession.
I went with my “go to” bike which is a 650b randonneur and the first bike that I built. I’ve ridden over 5,600 miles on it and it does everything well. I can load it up for touring or leave the bags off and go fast. It rides comfortably and handles rough roads or light gravel with aplomb. It’s a bit heavy but with a 30-tooth small chainring I can gear it down and grind my way up the hills. If I had to pick one bike to rule them all this would be it.
That’s cute. One bike. Who am I kidding here? I crack myself up sometimes.
Mrs. Kong needs a bit of help to keep up with me so she went with her Specialized Turbo Vado SL 5.0 E-bike (can they make those names any longer). This thing cost me dearly but she loves it and if she’s happy I’m happy.
What led me to this particular E-bike is that it’s relatively light at 32 pounds versus a lot of commuter style E-bikes which can get as heavy as 70 pounds. Specialized claims a top speed of 28 mph and a range of 120 miles with the range extender (extra battery). I’d say those numbers are a bit optimistic but that’s usually the case.
Mrs. Kong normally rides on power setting 2 out of 3, which might give her 80 mile range out in the real world. Just to be safe, we brought an extra range extender and tweaked the settings on the bike to use the extra batteries first before expending the main battery. Sort of like drop-tanks on a fighter jet (you can always count on me to work an aviation reference in there).
The GAP trail is covered with very finely crushed gravel. Almost a powder, which is what your bike will be covered with at the end of the day. Stray too close to the edge of the path and it can get loose but if you stay towards the middle it’s fine. You could ride this on a road bike no problem. My 38mm wide tires ate it up.
Going south from Ohiopyle, once you get past the town of Confluence food can be scarce. Confluence is only 11 miles from Ohiopyle but we elected to eat there because most of the towns after that didn’t have any place open for lunch.
From Ohiopyle to the Continental Divide is roughly 50 miles and you will climb for every one of those miles. It’s only a 1% grade at the most but over that much distance it will grind you down. At least that was my experience. I set an average speed of 12 mph as a goal and we averaged 12.5 to the Continental Divide.
The nice thing about this trail is you hit a town every ten miles or so. Some of them are pretty small and have limited amenities so plan accordingly.
At Rockwood PA we met a couple that were riding all the way to South Dakota. Just call me “slacker”.
Meyersdale is the last town before the Continental Divide. Fortunately they have a rest stop that sells bottled water because we were running low by this point. It was a warm day but most of the trail is shaded.
There is no shortage of beautiful scenery on this trail but crossing the Keystone Viaduct was definitely impressive.
After crossing the Keystone Viaduct it’s thankfully only a few short miles to the Continental Divide. I was definitely ready to be done climbing by that point.
There’s a nice picture showing the elevation.
I’m tempted to try it the other direction next time. Twenty miles of pain up front and then 50 pretty easy miles.
Looking south from the Divide it’s maybe a 2% descent most of the way to Cumberland.
Shortly after you start down you reach the Big Savage Tunnel (and meat locker). They close the tunnel in the winter and open it back up in April.
The tunnel is about ¾ of a mile long and probably 20 degrees colder than the outside temperature. It’s dimly lit and I found headlights were useful for seeing the trail and bikes coming the other way.
Right after the tunnel you get some spectacular vistas so it’s worth stopping.
The view was well worth the 50 mile climb.
You’ll cross the Mason Dixon Line (or the Manson Nixon Line as I call it) a couple miles after the tunnel. We didn’t stop because we had a pretty good descent going by that point.
After that it’s about 23 miles of downhill back to Cumberland. The trail surface kept us from going as fast as we could have on the descent. After the 50 mile slog uphill we barely had to pedal on the way down. We pulled into Cumberland around 6:30 at which point I wanted beer, food and bed in roughly that order.
Mrs. Kong had plenty of battery left on her E-bike at the end. I figure she could have gone another 25-30 miles on level ground. Plus it’s still a bike. Worst case you’ll just go slower without the electric assist.
If you really enjoy pain, you can pick up the C&O Towpath in Cumberland and ride all the way to Washington DC (184 miles). I might just be crazy enough to try it sometime.