An Introduction

I am not a cyclist, but I love travel, new experiences, and adventure...

I'm Sarah, the Program Manager for Friends of the Riverfront, a nonprofit in Pittsburgh that has been building trails and restoring the region's riverfronts for over 20 years.

The 25-mile Three Rivers Heritage Trail has helped transform Pittsburgh from an industrial city to a green one. We work to build, maintain, expand, and promote this riverfront trail system for cyclists, walkers, runners, commuters, and rollerbladers. The Three Rivers Heritage Trail is also a Pittsburgh hub, connecting to larger trail systems.

This year, we celebrate the completion of the last link in the Great Allegheny Passage - the final mile to form a complete trail connection between Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh.

In anticipation of the official grand opening Point Made! celebration on June 15, I'm joining the grand opening ride to pedal 335-miles from D.C. to Pittsburgh on the C&O Canal Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage.

Count down the days -- and miles by taking a virtual tour with me from the Capital to the Burgh! I hope you'll enjoy following me on this amazing ride!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Moments of Greatness

Day 5: Cumberland, MD to Rockwood, PA on the Great Allegheny Passage

This morning we officially left the C&O Canal Towpath behind as we rode our bikes over Mile 0 of the Great Allegheny Passage in Cumberland. Before I did this, I went back to get a picture at the last mile marker on the C&O, Mile 184.5, which is somewhat hidden, and I had missed it yesterday on the ride into town.

Mile 184.5, terminus of the C&O Canal Towpath

Great Allegheny Passage Mile 0
Even though I left the hotel at my normal "late" time of 9:30am, I was not at the back of the pack today because our group had expanded with new riders joining us for the Great Allegheny Passage, Cumberland to Pittsburgh ride. They were about an hour behind me on the trail.

I rode alone today with my iPod in one ear, and made some friends that were not with our group as we continued to leap frog each other on the trail.

The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) experience was much different than the rugged and muddy C&O. The surface of the GAP is similar to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail in Pittsburgh (which I had trained on) and is either paved or crushed limestone, making for a smoother, faster, and cleaner ride. *To experience the trail by video, check out my friend David's helmet-cam videos he's been making throughout the trip. I've added this feature to the bottom of the page.

A few miles into today's ride, the 16-mile gradual incline through the Allegheny Mountains began. I was a little unsure of this section because I had heard so many different descriptions of it. I decided in the end that it was neither as easy or as hard as people had described, and with steady persistence and patience, it is very doable.

The Great Allegheny Passage
Plenty of interpretive signs throughout the trail told stories of interesting sites and features, and I was particularly interested by Lover's Leap near Cumberland, which Chere had pointed out last night, and the Bone Cave. Also in the first few miles of the trail was Brush Tunnel, and the first glimpse of the mountaintop wind turbines that we would follow and eventually pass during the day.

I took 2 short breaks to eat some fruit on the way up the hill and while I was eating pineapple at my first stop I saw a turtle right up against the railroad tracks as if he was waiting to catch the Western Maryland Railroad train, with tracks that ran right next to the trail for several miles.

At Frostburg, a few miles from the top of the mountain, I stopped at the support van to refill my water. This morning I had forgotten that there wouldn't be any more water stations and didn't fill my second bottle, so I had to ration my water on the hill.

After my water break, I felt strong and the rest of the incline seemed to fly by. I passed through Borden Tunnel and then reached the Mason-Dixon Line and crossed into Pennsylvania. Soon after, I was at the top of the Allegheny Mountains at an overlook where a lot of riders were gathered sitting on benches.

Crossing the Mason-Dixon Line by bike
View from the top of the Allegheny Mountains
Right after the overlook, the Big Savage Tunnel awaited, bursting cool air out to the trail, inviting you in. I rode through the 3,300 foot tunnel that is the longest on this trip, and the only one that was lighted.

Big Savage Tunnel
Riding through Big Savage Tunnel
A few minutes from Big Savage was the Eastern Continental Divide that separates the Atlantic Ocean watershed from the Gulf of Mexico watershed. Here, there was a nice monument tunnel with murals and an elevation chart that showed the dramatic rise in elevation on the trail to 2,392 feet.

The Eastern Continental Divide
From the Divide, it was a little less than 10 miles to my lunch stop at Meyersdale, and the beginning of the gradual downhill climb really gave me a boost in speed. One last point of interest before lunch was the Bollman Bridge, a section of ornate iron bridge originally used by the B&O Railroad, that is now a short span of trail.

These points of interest throughout the trip are like mega-mile markers. While each mile marker is a reassurance and a celebration on the ride, each moment of greatness like a bridge or aqueduct is a destination. 

Bollman Bridge
When I arrived in Meyersdale, I took a short ride down from the old train station (now the visitors center and museum) to a unique little garage restaurant called the Toole Shed Sandwich Shop. It was recommended by Linda and was run by a very friendly and welcoming couple out of an old open air garage. I got their Tool Kit meal deal which was a sandwich (the cranberry walnut chicken salad was excellent), chips or fruit and a soda or water for $10.

I sat outside and ate at a picnic table and then headed up to the visitors center where the shuttle and some of our new group were riding in. I hit the trail after stopping to talk to a few people, with just about an hour left to ride.

Toole Shed Sandwich Shop, Est. 2013

Old train station and visitors center, Meyersdale, PA
The Salisbury Viaduct was the last point of interest on today's ride, a high bridge spanning across the wide valley with the freeway busy below.

There was trail resurfacing work being done a few miles from our end point and this was the hardest part of the day. The packed sand surface will eventually harden like concrete, but today was still being pressed and my tires sunk in like quicksand. This seemed harder than the ride uphill this morning.

Salisbury Viaduct
In Rockwood, I waited until there were enough people in to make a shuttle trip to our overnight at Seven Springs. For dinner, a group of us went to the restaurant in the hotel and the whole table took advantage of the all you can eat soup, salad, and dessert bar.

It was early, but nothing else was going on at the resort, and it seemed like everyone was ready to catch up on some sleep after the past few days of riding. Just 2 days until we arrive in Pittsburgh!


  1. Really enjoying your blog--have only done the trip in sections--hope to do the whole thing as a retirement celebration, when time is not an issue!

  2. Thinking of you with all the rain we're getting. GOOD LUCK I look forward to reading your blog at my lunch time everyday.

  3. Great Blog. I've done the GAP in both directions (in stages)but the ride from the Savage Tunnel to Comberland is like a Kennywood ride. See you at Sandcastle.

  4. Welcome back to PA Sarah! The section you just rode of the GAP is probably my favorite with the viaducts and tunnels and the view outside The Big Savage Tunnel looking all the way down the Potomac River Valley...awesome! Also enjoyed your Paw Paw Tunnel post. 1st time I ever came across that I was riding by myself and had no lights with me. Needless to say, I only made it about 50 feet in before I had to turn around and head back from where I came... :) A valuable learning experience for my future trek to DC from Pittsburgh.

    See ya Saturday! Enjoy the rest of your ride!

  5. Thanks everyone! Glad you're still reading...hope to meet many of you on Saturday! If you see me, please come say hi!

  6. Sarah, the GAP has to be one the best and most beautiful trails in the country. Such a contrast in the "somewhat more challenging environment" of the C&O canal. The Cumberland to Pittsburgh section in this order is my favorite section. Glad that you had a safe and enjoyable ride.