Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Riding the Great Allegany Passage Trail to Pittsburgh

After our misadventures getting into the Virginia suburbs, a warning from Dave Harper on the poor condition of the C&O bike path for bikes with skinny tires and a forecast for heavy rain on Monday, we decide to skip the C&O and start riding the Great Allegany Passage Trail in Frostburg.

Background on the Great Allegany Passage Trail.  With the railroad mergers in the 1970s, the Western Maryland Railroad line became redundant with a parallel rail line on the opposite side of the river owned by the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  At the abandonment hearing before Congress, a WM railroad executive suggested that the route would make an excellent biking and hiking trail.  The expense to remove all railroad bridges and to seal all railroad tunnels was certainly a major concern for the railroad executives. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Western Maryland Railroad  organized a final train ride along the route and many on the train  were inspired to create the trail.  The first section of the trail, near Ohiopyle, was opened in 1986 by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.  
Today the Great Allegany Passage Trail starts in Cumberland Maryland and runs 150 miles to Pittsburgh.  The last section of the trail from McKeesport to Pittsburgh was completed in June 2013.  In fact, the celebration of the opening occurred on the Saturday we rode into Pittsburgh.  The trail includes numerous tunnels, the largest of which is the 3300 foot long Big Savage Tunnel.   The trail crosses many bridges, some old railroad bridges, and several newly constructed just for the trail.  For more information, check out their web sight at http://www.atatrail.org  If you ever have an opportunity to ride the Great Allegany Passage, do it.  It is an amazing ride and not very difficult.

Allegany Mountain  in Maryland
In preparation for riding the Great Allegany Passage Trail, we took off the fenders and mounted 700 -32 tires on the tandem.  On Sunday we rented a U-Haul truck and on Monday drove in the rain to Frostburg Maryland.  Tuesday we rode from Frostburg to Rockwood on the Great Allegany Passage Trail.  Along the trail we met several riders who had just completed the C&O Canal bike path and said the riding was very difficult because of the mud from the recent rains.  The Great Allegany Passage Trail went upward from Frostburg along the railroad grade before reaching a tunnel under the Eastern Continental Divide.  From there the grade is mostly downward into Pittsburgh.  Tuesday night we spent in a hostel in Rockwood.  This was our first stay in a hostel but there was no one else there and we had the place to ourselves.  Unfortunately the hostel was very close to the railroad tracks so sleep was limited.
Entering Pennsylvania
Crossing Under Eastern Continental Divide
Crossing One of Many Converted Railroad Bridges

Carolyn on Historic Caboose 
Farm on South Side of Trail
Hostel in Rockwood
Our ride from Rockwood to Connellsville was simply spectacular, riding above the Casselman River.  The river was swollen from the recent heavy rains and was moving swiftly over the rapids along most of the river.  In several locations we rode across old railroad bridges modified for bicycle and pedestrian traffic.  In other locations new bridges spanning ravines up to a hundred feet deep had been constructed specifically for the trail.  The trail passed through Ohiopyle state park where rafters were negotiating rapids a hundred feet below us.  We spent the night in Connellsville.  The forecast for that evening and the following day were for heavy rain and even a tornado watch.  Although it didn’t rain much in Connellsville, we decided to stay put on Thursday because we were concerned about mud on the trail. 

Cassellman River

Cassellman River

Trail through the Woods along Cassellman River
Rafting at Ohiopyle
Calmer Section of Youghiogheny River below Ohiopyle

Remains of Beehive Coke  Ovens (Holes in Hillside)
Coal was one of the principal products transported by the Western Maryland Railroad and Connellsville was the coke capital of the area.  Coke is formed by heating coal to drive off the components which form smoke and bad odors when coal is burned.  One can only imagine the air quality around Connellsville in the early 1900s.  The only remnants of this industry are some holes in the side of the hillside which had once been the entrances to the beehive furnaces used to convert coal into coke. Friday we continued along the trail and quickly learned that Wednesday night there had been a landslide along the trail, burying it under 12 feet of mud.  Had we ridden Thursday, we would either had to turn back or take a nasty detour up into the surrounding hills.  By the time we got to the landslide, it had been cleared using a skip loader and we were able to walk the bike through.  As we continued into the outskirts of Pittsburgh we could see a number of steel mills on the opposite side of the Allegany River.  The route crisscrossed busy railroad tracks on bridges built for bicycle and foot traffic.

Antique Passenger Car in West Newton PA
Remains of Mudslide on Great Allegany Passage Trail
Steel Mill 
Celebrating Opening of Final Section of Allegany Passage Trail
We spent Friday night in Homestead and Saturday we rode through downtown Pittsburgh, riding past Pirates Stadium and Heinz Field, home of the Steelers.  Pittsburgh is a city known to the bridges across its three rivers.  We rode six of the bridges as we made our way through the city.  Parts of the city were beautiful and parts were scarred with remnants of abandon steel mills and other heavy industrial buildings.  Once through the city we rode north to Cranberry Township to visit the Orrs, friends from several Pennywise tandem bike trips to Europe.  We celebrated Fathers Day at the Orrs with a barbeque with their two sons and their
Pittsburgh Pirates Stadium
daughter.  Monday they took us for a tour of downtown Pittsburgh, walking around The Point where the Allegany River joins the Monongahela River to form the Ohio
River.  We also rode the Station Square Incline to the top of Mount Washington.  Tuesday we left the Orrs for Carolyn’s brother’s cottage on Silver Lake in upstate New York.

Incline up Mount Washington
Jim and Sonya Orr with Carolyn and Hank at the Top of the Station Square Incline

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