Great Allegheny Passage Trail

Thursday, September 3

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Today I rode from Confluence to Meyersdale, a total of 30.68 miles and climbed 1,874 feet.

Today should have been miserable, but somehow, it just wasn't. The forecast was - and I'm quoting directly from the National Weather Service - "Showers before noon, then showers." And this time, it was right.

I enjoyed breakfast at the Smith House B&B with the two tandem riders I had met the day before - Stan and Sue. (Or it could have been Sam and Sue - I'm not wearing my hearing aids often enough to detect the difference.) I was extra pleased to find that the breakfast room had an espresso machine similar to the one I have at home, and I enjoyed two cups of espresso with a generous portion of milk, just as I normally do at home. Maybe that's what saved the day and got it started off right.

Mindful that there is no bonus for being early when the check-in time at the lodging establishment is 3 pm or later, I was in no rush to leave the breakfast table. I packed up and pedaled away just after 10 am, and went first to the convenience store in the town center to buy a sandwich and request that they fill my water bottles with ice. They were happy to oblige. By 10:20, I was headed for the trail.

The radar appeared to indicate that I could ride rain-free for perhaps about an hour, but all bets were off after that.

Shortly after getting on the trail, I passed a memorial bench (there are lots of these along the trail, placed in memory of someone who enjoyed the trail or perhaps worked hard to support its upkeep.) This one touched me because it was carved with the Irish blessing, "May the road rise to meet you, may the wind be always at your back." It reassured me, and I stopped and took a photo of it.

Just as other riders who have ridden this portion have told me, there was a lot of climb on today's ride. I recall coasting down an incline perhaps only twice. When I looked ahead on the trail, it was rising upward, always upward. I guess that's the part where the road rises to meet me.

But I found a happy gear, and pedaled an easy pace, perhaps moving at about 11 mph, which was fine with me because I'm in no hurry.

After about 90 minutes, the rain started. But I couldn't tell at first because 1) I'm already soaked with sweat, and 2) I'm under the forest canopy, and the trail is still mostly dry. It wasn't a heavy shower, but it increased to a steady rain - much more than seven drops on a brick. We're talking something more along the lines of a soggy brick.

Now, for those of you who cannot imagine enjoying a bicycle ride - uphill - in a summer rain, I don't know how to convince you that it can be joyful. There are much worse things in life - mandatory training on regulatory compliance, for instance. I don't say this to disparage compliance training. I know it's important, and I suppose that there is someone out there who finds satisfaction and fulfillment in exploring all the ins and outs of the Mail and Wire Fraud Act or the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, but let me ask those folks, when was the last time you sat mindlessly watching a 98-slide Powerpoint presentation on one of those topics and found spontaneous joy at being in the moment?

On the other hand, riding on a forest trail in the some of the oldest mountains in the world in a late summer downpour, I found endless opportunity for satisfaction. Early in my ride before everything was soaked, the rain stirred up earthy aromas which faintly reminded me of a blend of fine tea leaves. As the showers grew in intensity, even to my unaided ear, I could hear a rushing sound as it came through the forest, or I might look to my right and see a little waterfall that probably won't be there when I return this way in a couple of days in drier weather. I spotted a rabbit and a squirrel, facing each other and having some sort of critter detente at the side of the trail until they looked up, saw me and scampered away. But most of all, my legs just didn't feel as heavy as they did yesterday, and the ride wasn't a slog, despite the fact that I was constantly climbing. The trail surface was good, and the wheels rolled smoothly along, mile after mile. Maybe it was that Irish blessing that I saw on the bench at the start of the ride.

I did not see a lot of people on the trail today - perhaps only five other cyclists between Confluence and Meyersdale, and two of them were my tandem friends from the B&B. We kept overtaking one another throughout the day after one or the other of us would stop for something and then get back on the trail.

The first time I encountered them was around mile marker 55. I remember the approximate location because I was riding along, lost in my thoughts, when I began to hear an unfamiliar noise. I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a 4-wheeler on the trail behind me. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on the trail, so I assumed that this person had a reason for being there. Though the trail was fairly wide at that point, I thought it might be best if I pulled over and stopped so that he could safely get around me.

As he pulled up, I could see it was a trail volunteer, and he stopped long enough to explain that he had gotten a report that there was a tree down over the trail up ahead, and he was going there to clear it away. I thanked him for his good work, and he moved on.

I rode for about another mile and didn't hear a chainsaw (but then, I gave up on wearing the hearing aids because I can't keep them dry). But shortly I saw ahead of me my tandem friends and the trail volunteer, clearing away a rather sizable trunk that had fallen across the trail and blocked the path. It was big enough that loaded cyclists (i.e., those carrying panniers like I am) would not have been able to lift their bikes across without unloading their bags. It would have been a real pain to portage the tandem across it. And the fallen tree was long enough that it blocked both sides of the trail well into the underbrush.

When I pulled up on the scene, Stan and the trail volunteer were just moving away a section of the trunk long enough to allow us to pass. I stopped and took a photo, and we struck up a conversation with the volunteer. His name is Doug, and he lives along the trail near milepost 55. Someone who had been out on the trail had sent him a text message about the downed tree, so he loaded up his tools and came right away. He had a chainsaw and a rake, because he's also a cyclist, and he knows how much we like for all the little branches and chunks of bark to be cleared away after the main problem is cleared. He said that he and two other guys look after about 43 miles of the trail from north of Confluence to near Meyersdale. I asked him how often he gets called to clear away fallen trees, and he acknowledged that it keeps him busy. He explained that one reason there are so many trees down is that it has been dry in the region lately, and when some big wind storms came through a few days ago, a little rain in the tree tops makes them heavier but their root system can't hold. Also he noted that the ash trees are dying (weakened and diseased by the ash borer), and they are coming down. I thanked for his efforts - that's what makes the Great Allegheny Passage a world-class trail. It's not just that it traverses beautiful countryside; it's also that multiple volunteer organizations along the way care about it and maintain it.

After I left the tree fall, the rain picked up. As I came to a slight clearing in the forest, I was in a downpour. That's when I came upon the Pinkerton Tunnel. I decided to pause there and wait for the heavier shower to subside. Doug the trail volunteer came along as I was waiting there, and he pointed out that the tunnel had been added to the trail only five years ago. Before then, the route took a 1.5-mile route around the mountain. The Pinkerton Tunnel was of course a part of the Western Maryland Railroad, along whose rail bed the trail runs, but after the railroad ceased use of the line, the tunnel had collapsed in the middle and was impassable. It wasn't until the volunteer trail organizations organized fundraisers and other resources to refurbish the tunnel and replace the old structure with reinforced steel that the tunnel was open again. He also mentioned that if I needed another place to get out of the rain, further up the trail were a few little shelters built by the Boy Scouts.

After Doug drove on, Stan and Sue, the tandem couple, arrived on the scene, and the three of us waited in the tunnel till the rain let up a bit, and then we moved on.

I decided to make my lunch break at Rockwood, which was located slightly off the trail, but there was a trailhead park there with a restroom and a little gazebo - the only dry place around. I hauled Earl in the gazebo with me and sat down to eat lunch. I checked the radar and decided that I could probably rest there for about an hour and miss a few showers. In the meantime, I watched two other cyclists, followed by my tandem friends, pass by in the pouring rain. When I got back on the bike, I had to put on my rain jacket - not so much to keep the rain off (that was pointless by now) but for a little warmth. I was starting to shiver a bit and knew that as soon as I started riding my wet clothes would feel even colder. It wasn't long before I was steaming up the jacket, but it felt good to keep it on.

From Rockwood, it was only about 12 miles to my end point for the day, and I was looking forward to seeing the viaduct, only a few miles outside of Meyersdale. Before I reached the viaduct, the incline ticked up a bit, and soon I was riding on almost level ground in the uplands. I was surprised to see a cornfield or two on my right - the first place level and open enough for a crop like that. It was a little farm beside the trail, likely also the source of the three guinea hens that greeted me on the trail and a little bit further on two peahens, each with a chick beside them. They eyed me rather warily, and I didn't test their maternal instincts. I also saw two ginormous puffball mushrooms growing at trailside. They were each as big as a volleyball. I took a photo but then needed something to indicate their scale, so I reached in my handlebar bag and got an ink pen to use for comparison in the photo.

I emerged from the woods and came into a big valley, across which stretched the viaduct - solely for pedestrian and bicycle use. It was an awesome view! And there was a good breeze up there. If had stood there a little longer, perhaps my clothes would have dried out a little more, but they were so completely soggy that I was still dripping.

Shortly after crossing the viaduct, I came upon the Meyersdale trailhead, which has a nifty little visitor's center and a local history museum. It was 30 minutes from closing time, so I stepped in for a quick look. Inside was one room with four or five model train setups - each from a different era of train travel, and each in its own little layout of a town or countryside. The room was equipped with motion sensors, so as soon as I stepped in there, the lights came on and all the trains started up, circling their little model towns. It was so cool! I thought how much my great-nephew, Henry, would like to see it.

From the trailhead to my B&B was a short ride down into town, but down a fairly steep hill with a railroad crossing. And a train came along just before I got there, so I stood and waited as it passed. Riding out of here tomorrow, if I come up that same route, will undoubtedly require some push from my legs. I just hope I have the same legs I had today - even though there was more climb on today's route than yesterday's, it seemed like an easier day for me.

When I arrived at my overnight lodging - the Levi Deal Mansion - I was happy to see that they had a garden hose for cleaning off my bike. Earl was really covered with trail gunk, as were my legs and my panniers. Everything got washed down.

The B&B is really something. I feel pretty pampered. They even have a refrigerator of adult beverages for guests to help themselves. I had a small glass of white wine before hiking downhill to a restaurant - the White House - for dinner. It was a longer walk than I thought, and I wouldn't be surprised if my calves will let me know about that tomorrow. But I had nice meal of fried haddock, baked potato and a salad. And probably burned off half of those calories walking back to the B&B.

Tomorrow, I have 32 miles to ride into Cumberland, MD. I'll cross the Eastern Divide and then have a 22-mile downhill ride into Cumberland.

Today's lessons: It takes lots of people with a shared passion for the trail to make this the wonder that it is.

Bench on the GAP Trail just south of Confluence

The message on this bench gave me reassurance for the day's ride.

Porta potty on the GAP Trail, with sign that there's not another one for 12 miles

Plan accordingly.

Volunteers clearing a fallen tree from the GAP Trail near mile marker 55

Volunteer - Doug (in the orange vest) - and my tandem friends, clearing a fallen tree from the trail near mile marker 55

Inside Pinkerton Tunnel

Inside Pinkerton Tunnel

map showing Pinkerton Tunnel

Reopening of the Pinkerton Tunnel saved trail users from having to go around the mountain - but you still can if you want to

Rain catches up with me at Rockwood trailhead

Rain catches up with me at Rockwood trailhead. My tandem friends (on the other side of the road) head on down the trail.

Molly and her bike in the gazebo at Rockwood trailhead

Taking shelter from the rain in the gazebo at Rockwood trailhead


Sandwich picked up at the convenience store in Confluence... some of the lettuce was a little wilted, and the pickles had lost their flavor, so I ate only selected parts.

debris on the bike drivetrain and frame

Poor Earl! He picked up a lot trail debris, but I was able to clean this up at the end of the day. Be nice to your bike if you are asking it to carry you and your stuff on the trail.

puffball mushrooms

Puffball mushrooms

Puffball mushroom with an ink pen - for scale

Puffball mushroom with an ink pen - for scale

View from Salisbury Viaduct

View from Salisbury Viaduct. For more information about the viaduct, see

Molly on the Salisbury Vidaduct near Meyersdale

Molly on the Salisbury Vidaduct near Meyersdale

Meyersdale sign

Sign at the Meyersdale trailhead

Sign about the Western Maryland Railroad

Sign about the Western Maryland Railroad - for better readability, see

Visitors' center and local historical society museum at Meyersdale

Visitors' center and local historical society museum at Meyersdale - interesting stuff inside. Worth a visit (and make a donation, if you are able.)

One of the model train exhibits in the Meyersdale Visitors' Center

One of the model train exhibits in the Meyersdale Visitors' Center - these were so fun!

Signage for pandemic precautions in the Meyersdale Visitors' Center

Signage for pandemic precautions in the Meyersdale Visitors' Center. I appreciated that most people I encountered took seriously the need for such precautions.

Levi Deal Mansion B&B in Meyersdale

Levi Deal Mansion B&B in Meyersdale

Levi Deal Mansion in its heydey

Levi Deal Mansion in its heydey. Deal was a lumber and coal baron. This place is popular with trail users - get a reservation well in advance in a "normal" year.

Clean up with the garden hose

The Levi Deal Mansion B&B hostess thoughtfully provides a way for cyclists to clean trail debris from their bikes, gear and themselves.

Guestroom in Levi Deal Mansion B&B

Guestroom in Levi Deal Mansion B&B

Staircase in Levi Deal Mansion B&B, Meyersdale

Staircase in Levi Deal Mansion B&B, Meyersdale

Sitting room, Levi Deal Mansion B&B, Meyersdale

Sitting room, Levi Deal Mansion B&B, Meyersdale

Front door, Levi Deal Mansion B&B, Meyersdale

Front door, Levi Deal Mansion B&B, Meyersdale

Fried haddock at the White House Restaurant, Meyersdale

Fried haddock at the White House Restaurant, Meyersdale

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