Monday, August 10, 2009

Squid on Wheels: The Great Allegheny Passage ... Day 1

Several days ago we set out on a little adventure. Our goal was to ride a portion of the Great Allegheny Passage. The Passage is a rail-trail that connects Cumberland, MD with Pittsburgh, PA. The passage is incomplete at the Pittsburgh end so you can only get as close as Boston, PA without riding on any roads.

Driving first to Pittsburgh, we spent the night with my brother and his lovely wife (and cat and dog) before setting out.

Starting in Mckeesport, PA, about 10 miles north of Boston, we immediately discovered the first challenge as we unloaded and set up the bikes--two flat tires.

The tubes in Little Squid's rear wheel and in Mike's front wheel were quickly swapped out and we took to the road to meet our second challenge:
a tree across the trail. We found a way around it and continued on down the trail until it ran out and continued down a road for a bit until the trail began again. The trail from this point until Boston is not very pleasant. It alternates between asphalt and rough gravel over and over again--with some asphalt areas spanning only a quarter mile or less. It really did not make sense! We were begining to think that maybe this was not such a good idea when, after a few miles, the trail turned to a consistently packed limestone and stayed that way.

We were traveling relatively lightly compared to a family that we met a few days later. They are doing a cross country trek and are fully loaded with both kids pulling their fair share. We had with us 5 paniers and a handle-bar bag. Each adult carried 2 paniers and Squidette carried the 5th. Little Squid was in charge of the snacks in the handle-bar bag.
For the first couple of days we were really conscious of how much we were drinking and being really careful to stay properly fueled and hydrated. We've adopted a new sports drink--Nuun-- and it seems to do the job just fine without giving Little Squid a stomach-ache (an unfortunate side effect of our old sports drink, Accelerade), it also has minimal calories so Mike and I were comfortable guzzling it, something I am not good about with plain water.

See our water source? Just a suggestion, if you ride this trail, make sure to fill up your bottles in the towns and avoid the pumps if you can. The water from the pumps is sulfury and not pleasant to drink straight. The Nuun helped but I still had to force it the liquid down.
The pump above is the one at the Dravo Cemetery and Campground. Nope. Not kidding. The boy scouts built and maintain a primitive biker-hiker campground here. Nice place, actually, and there is a toilet of sorts. (One step above a porta-potty but without the flush of a "real" toilet.) Not bad when given the options.
We passed several creeks and waterfalls. This one looked like it was frozen. I'm thinking that it is due to calcite or limestone in the water. Very neat looking.
Then there is this one, the famous Red Waterfall. The red is due to the iron oxide seeping out of the old coal mines. Basically, pollution. Neat but sad. So much damage was done to the area during the coal and iron mining days. There are piles of mine tailings all over the region just waiting to be cleaned up.
Despite the environmental damage, the trail is lovely. It is mostly surrounded by trees and runs alongside the river for most of it's length. We passed bridge after bridge after bridge. Some, the remnants of the old railroads, others, still in service as automobile or pedestrian bridges over the Youghiogheny River.

After riding for more than two hours, we finally stopped at West Newton which has the distinction of having the best bathrooms on the trail. Or so we were told. Not having tried all of them, we can't really say. But ... they were really good bathrooms! Clean, automatic and ... air conditioned!

Right across the road / trail from these wonders of modern plumbing was the Trailside Cafe where we had a very nice, filling lunch before moving on. And on. And on.

At the end of the day, about 4:15, we rolled into Connellsville, PA and, after asking directions, pedaled about a mile, up hill, to the Melody Motor Inn.

It was clean, reasonably sized and the proprietress was very nice. It was also a distance from any food. The diner behind it closed at 3 and we started to worry that we would have to resort to sandwiches from the Walmart across the highway (or really busy street, one of the two). The motel owner did tell us where there was an ice cream and beer distributership a little bit up the road (on the same side as the motel) and that they served sandwiches. We decided to give that a try before resorting to Walmart. Good thinking! They had hoagies on the menu and, I've got to say, those were the best hoagies I've ever had. Homemade roast beef, real turkey, right off the bird and honest to goodness ham. Yum! And we washed them down with milk shakes. Hey, we'd just ridden 45 miles!

Back to the motel for a round of Quiddler, and one of Uno then some reading and off to bed.

Tune tomorrow in for day 2


Kristen said...

What a fun adventure. It's great that your vacation includes family togetherness plus healthy activity. You make me feel like a biking wimp - not to mention that cross-country family!

Ina said...

What a great tour! But... is that a folder? Wow, I bow low to anyone who tours on a folder.

Penny said...

Wow. How wonderful! I hope one day to be able to do something like this.