Great Allegheny Passage Trail

Tuesday, September 2

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(75th anniversary of the signing of the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay, and Daddy was there)

I rode from Connellsville to Confluence today, a distance of 30.21 miles.

I woke up early - at 6 am and felt rested enough to start the day. With some rain in the forecast, I thought it might be good to have additional time to ride today's route in case I needed to sit and wait out a shower.

My accommodations at the Comfort Inn in Connellsville are very nice, but there was nothing available for breakfast when I went downstairs, despite the front desk telling me - and writing on the folder for my room key - that the breakfast started at 6 am. At 6:15, the breakfast room was still dark and the only thing available was coffee. That suited me okay since I had a carton of instant oatmeal I had picked up in the Pittsburgh hotel but hadn't yet used. A couple of coffees and oatmeal, and I was full enough. (Postscript: the breakfast availability at the Comfort Inn turned out to be a misunderstanding on my part. The instructions are to go to the reception desk and ask for the sack lunch. The staff prepares them upon request, and they are happy to do so. I learned this on my return trip, when I had a very tasty sack breakfast, which I warmed up in the microwave in my room.)

I packed up the stuff on the bike, which I had stashed in the room with me, took the elevator downstairs and checked out. Before leaving town, I backtracked on the trail to the grocery store I had seen when I arrived in Connellsville, and I picked up a freshly made ham and cheese sandwich and a packet of fruit and cheese.

Behind the grocery store, I noticed a small campsite at trailside in a grassy space not much bigger than our back yard, and a cyclist was camped there at one of the four lean-to shelters. (His/her bike was in the shelter, but the cyclist was under a tent. Priorities.)

I crossed a short trestle on the edge of Connellsville and began a slight, almost imperceptible climb. Sometimes it was not clear if I was really riding up an incline or a descent, but I know that I am heading for the Eastern Divide, and I'd prefer a little climb every mile as opposed to a big-ass climb now and then.

I still harbor this fear that the Great Allegheny Passage Trail is the region's idea of a great practical joke on flat-landers like me, and that eventually I will come to this 8-mile long climb of a 15 percent grade in a stadium-like setting, with hecklers on bleachers on each side, just waiting for me to get clued in on their sick humor.

Today's ride was almost entirely in the lovely, dark and deep forest of the Alleghenies, and I saw only a few other riders. I marveled at the denseness of the forests and tried to imagine what these mountains looked like before European settlers moved in. In places, the undergrowth was so heavy that I couldn't imagine navigating without having an already established path. Once in a while, I would see an enormous boulder on the mountainside, with its compatriot boulders further down the slope or in the river on my left. Some were the size of a car or a house. I thought briefly about rock slides and wondered how frequent they are. The Alleghenies are old, old mountains - much older than the Rockies, and they're still changing.

I made good progress, riding along pretty much lost in my thoughts and content that I was getting in some miles before the rain arrived. Not that it would really matter, though, since the humidity was heavy and everything I was wearing was already plastered to my skin. I resolved not to look at my odometer for at least an hour, hoping that when I did look, I would have gone more than 10 miles, about a third of my day's distance.

The trail was a little rough in spots, with some exposed rock and even a few soft spots of mud which I rolled on through without sinking in or sliding around. But I was glad not to be riding in heavy rain because in places the trail looked like a recent rainfall made runnels and channels for water flow. It would be a little more difficult to judge the surface of the trail if it was a running stream.

After a while, my energy started to fade and I thought it might be time for one of my snack bars. After a little while longer, I thought, and I rode another mile or two. Finally, I needed a break and decided I'd stop at the next wooden bench - there was one every mile or so. When the next one came up, I pulled off an ate two little almond bars and admired the peacefulness of the woods. I checked for any messages and tried to send Steve a selfie image, but my cell signal was too weak for it to leave my phone.

After I finished the energy bars, I hopped back on the bike and rode on. Not more than 50 yards up the trail was a nicer bench (with a back rest), facing a spectacular view over a little bend in the Youghiogheny and some rapids. Of course I had stopped at the wrong bench. I paused to take a photo and rode on.

The trail has mile markers, which I have generally ignored, but this morning I realized that I was coming up on mile marker 75, the halfway point between Pittsburgh and Cumberland. When I got there, I stopped for a photo.

My aim was to reach Ohiopyle before the rain caught up with me, and I rolled into the park area there just a little before 11 a.m., crossing a large trestle over an impressive gorge, then curving around and crossing another trestle slightly upriver from the falls that attract so many tourists to Ohiopyle. On the weekend, this place is usually packed with river rafting groups, canoeists, hikers, cyclists, picnickers and sightseers. Today, there was hardly anyone around, and it was easy to navigate the side route to get to an overlook where I had a good view of the falls.

I stopped at the trailside visitor's center and ate my little packet of fruit and cheese. There was an occasional rain drop and a light mist but no thunderstorm. I checked the radar once more, and it appeared that perhaps the greater part of the rain had passed to the south. I had only 11 miles left to ride before reaching Confluence, my stopping point for the day.

I debated whether to rest now and finish the route later in the afternoon, leaving me less time to wait until I could check in at the B&B, which does not welcome guests until 4 pm. I decided to press on and ride to Confluence, where I could have my sandwich in a park shelter if I needed to get out of the rain.

The trail from Connellsville to Confluence was in a little better shape than the first part I had ridden. It had been resurfaced last fall, and though it was still packed limestone (not paved with asphalt), it didn't have the potholes and soft spots I had encountered earlier. However, there were one or two places where a tree had fallen across the trail and had not yet been removed. The first one was an easy portage. It was not a huge tree, but it was an uprooted trunk too big to move without several strong people or a chain saw. It looked like others had already done what they could to remove small branches, and I easily lifted my bike across the trunk which spanned the full path. The second downed tree was still a pile of leafy branches, but it didn't quite block the entire trail, and there was a narrow strip where I could navigate around it without dismounting.

Yesterday I had seen several places where a recent storm - within the last day or two - had toppled massive trees. In one place, there there three large trees which had been cleared from the trail and lay side-by-side along the path. They were each at least a foot-and-a-half in diameter, and it must have taken some heavy equipment to push them aside.

About a mile or two before reaching Confluence, I started to emerge from the forest canopy and I could feel the raindrops. I stopped at a point with a nice view of the confluence which gives the town its name - the joining of Youghiogheny River, Laurel Hill Creek and Casselman River. The place was first named Turkeyfoot because that's what the junction looked like to early settlers.

I crossed a bridge over the Youghiogheny, didn't see a park with a shelter, so kept going and crossed the bridge over the Casselman River and saw a small town square with a little gazebo. Perfect.

There were other bicyclists already gathered there - about 12 of them appeared to be with an organized group ride who had stopped in the park for a lunch break, and two others were sitting in the gazebo with their bikes. They started to make room for me to bring my bike up the steps into the dry space, but it wasn't really raining all that hard, and everything on my bike (except me) is inside a waterproof bag. I wouldn't have had the strength to lift the bike up the steps anyway, and I was too pooped to take all the bags off and transfer them. I just needed a dry place to sit and have my sandwich.

I visited with the couple in the gazebo while I had my lunch. They were from Ohio, riding their bikes from Cumberland to Pittsburgh, where they left their car and took Amtrak to their starting point. They said that when they booked their tickets, they made sure to get dates when there was space available in the car for the roll-on bike storage (vs. stowing in the luggage car). The woman said there were only two spots available, so she took that date. Yet when they boarded the train, they said there was hardly anyone else riding and there was room for at least six more bikes.

They were an older (ish) couple - maybe just five years older than me, and the man was riding an e-bike. He said he couldn't talk his wife into getting one, but he really likes his because he can complete the climbs without so much knee pain. They talked as if they had done plenty of bike trips, but they weren't wearing bike clothes or helmets - the man was actually wearing blue jeans, which I would find incredibly uncomfortable for bike riding in such humid weather. Their planned ride was to Connellsville, but they were waiting in the gazebo for a bit until the rain shower passed. After about an hour or so, they decided to hit the trail.

It was just barely 1 pm, and I still had 3 hours before check-in at the B&B. I decided I'd just sit a bit and then go get a cup of coffee at a diner across the street. I sat and read newspapers on my phone for a while and got sleepy. If I had had a pillow, I would have lain down and taken a nap! I would have gotten on the bike and explored the town, but it's not that big, and I had already seen most of it. I decided that starting and finishing early has some disadvantages, even if I did avoid riding in the rain.

Just before 3 pm, I decided to go get my coffee.

At the cafe, I saw a tandem parked outside and guessed that there other bicyclists killing time waiting for the B&B check-in hours. It turns out that we were staying at the same B&B. We chatted a bit while I had my coffee. Just then, it decided to let loose and rain. It was a brief shower, followed by another, and then it quit. At least our bikes got a little bit of the trail grit rinsed off of them.

A few minutes before 4, we pedaled across the bridge and down the street to the B&B and checked in. We're the only three guests tonight. I have a comfortable and spacious room, with plenty of space in the bathroom to hang up my laundry. Before I carried my stuff into the house, I took a few minutes to clean the chain on my bike - it wasn't as full of sand as I thought it might be, but it did have a good amount of gunk on it.

After I cleaned up and did my laundry, I walked down the street to the Riverside Cafe, which was a nice surprise. It had an extensive menu of choices of seafood, pasta, steaks and salads. I opted for the "Cafe Carbonara," which came with a salad. My table was truly at the river's side. I was sitting on the porch overlooking a small garden and the flowing waters of the Youghiogheny.

While I dined, I looked over the route for tomorrow's ride - about 30 miles with more climb and with only one or two small towns on the way. The couple in the gazebo assured me that I would be impressed by the Salisbury Viaduct, which comes near the end of the ride. The weather forecast for tomorrow is much like today's - 90 percent chance of rain. If it works out like today's weather, that would be okay.

Today's lessons:
The early bird gets to wait for the B&B check-in time.
No matter which bench you stop at to eat your snack, there's a better bench just a few yards up the trail.

Trail out of Connellsville, heading south

The trail out of Connellsville, heading south

Youghiogheny River and GAP Trail, heading south from Connellsville

Youghiogheny River and GAP Trail, heading south from Connellsville

Sweaty Molly

Humid morning, and I'm plenty moist when I stop for a snack

Nice view on a bend in the Yough River

View from the bench where I should have stopped - a bend in the Yough River, not far from Ohiopyle

Sign about coal mining in the region

A sign about coal mining in the region - placed at a spot on the trail where one can look up at the rock cliff and see a seam of black coal

A seam of black coal visible in the rock layers along the GAP Trail

A seam of black coal visible in the rock layers along the GAP Trail

Molly at mile marker 75

Molly at mile marker 75 - the halfway point between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, MD

Crossing the Yough in a gorge near Ohiopyle

Crossing the Yough in a gorge near Ohiopyle

Signage at Ohiopyle

Signage at Ohiopyle - it has been a popular attraction for generations

Molly at the falls at Ohiopyle

Molly at the falls at Ohiopyle

The falls at Ohiopyle

The Falls at Ohiopyle

The Falls at Ohiopyle, from an observation point

The Falls at Ohiopyle, from an observation point

Late morning snack

Late morning snack at Ohiopyle (picked it up at the Martin's grocery store in Connellsville)

Two kayakers on the Yough

Two kayakers on the Yough - the area around Ohiopyle is very attractive for all sorts of outdoor recreation

Trail surface leaving Ohiopyle, heading south

Trail surface leaving Ohiopyle, heading south - a veritable "superhighway" except when you encounter a fallen tree

Signage at Confluence

Signage at Confluence, once known as Turkeyfoot
See for better readability

Confluence of the Youghiogheny with the Casselman River at Turkeyfoot (Confluence)

Confluence of the Youghiogheny (foreground) with the Casselman River at Turkeyfoot (Confluence)

Smith House B&B in Confluence

Smith House B&B in Confluence

Guest room in Smith House B&B, Confluence

My accommodations at Smith House

En suite shower & toilet at Smith House guestroom

En suite shower and toilet for guestroom at Smith House B&B in Confluence. I was very comfortable here.

River View Cafe, Confluence

River View Cafe at Confluence - also a B&B. I heard good things about it from others who stayed there.

A look at River View Cafe from across the Casselman River

A look at River View Cafe from across the Casselman River

Glass of wine and salad served at River View Cafe

Glass of wine and salad served at River View Cafe

Carbonara dish served at River View Cafe

Carbonara dish served at River View Cafe in Confluence - very tasty!

Next - Wednesday, September 3
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