Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Trail : Day 1 : Pittsburgh to Connellsville

On Monday June 12, I started the first day of a six day trip, south on the GAP trail from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, and then back north again, returning to Pittsburgh. This was a solo, self-supported ride, on a Kona Dew Deluxe hybrid, hauling a Croozer Cargo trailer (I'll have more to say about the logistical and spiritual consequences of hauling a cargo trailer in a separate post later on!).

Day 1 = Pittsburgh to Connellsville, or more accurately, the KOA a few miles north of Connellsville.



In theory, if you're biking the GAP, you start at the trail-head in Point State Park.



I started seeing some conflicting news about an immediate disconnect in the GAP trail, starting right at Point State Park. There isn't a continuous trail that you just start riding on - you have to do some Pittsburgh street riding right away, and then return to the trail a few blocks away.
I registered for an account in the Bike Pittsburgh message boards, and got some insider advice on how to handle the disconnect. Check this thread in particular.

In the end, largely because of where my hotel was located, I decided to skip the classic "start at the trailhead" approach, and instead I flew south down the big hill on Bates Street, rode on the 2nd street sidewalk briefly (so a right turn at the bottom of Bates, and bike on the sidewalk towards downtown), and used the 2nd street ramp to get up onto what is locally called the Eliza Furnace Trail, which is the first bit of a patchwork of Pittsburgh trails that make up the GAP trail.

And with that, I was on my way.

(this picture was probably taken almost at McKeesport, so this would be the Monongahela River, and looking back into Pittsburgh, seeing the McKeesport-Dusquene bridge).

I'm an early riser, so I was probably pedaling down Bates (or coasting down Bates) by about 6:30am.
It was a gorgeous day, as you can tell from the picture above. Full sunshine and little to no wind. The first stretch of the GAP trail you are weaving your way out of Pittsburgh, so it is city riding, though on a dedicated bike trail. In fact, the trail is completely paved (except for one stretch of trail when you run behind some condos) all the way to Boston... which is about 22 miles south of Pittsburgh.

I liked the first section... the city & industrial section. In particular, I enjoyed the stretches where the trail went right along people's backyards, and you got a glimpse of small town (and generally lower-income) life in this area. Eventually (and I'm slightly guessing, but I'll say beginning in Boston and heading south), you enter "Country" riding, where for dozens and dozens of kilometers the Youghiogheny River is on your left, and high cliffs (forested cliffs) are on your right.


I saw one deer on this first day, and would then see at the very least a deer per day on this trip. On Day 4, headed north out of Cumberland, I saw five deer. Something that never fails to surprise me is how quickly and completely a deer can disappear when he decides he's had enough of seeing you ride towards him. Weird dude is coming... weird dude is coming... weird dude is coming.... okay screw it I'm out of here....   and Presto... 7 seconds later you reach the spot where the deer was standing and he's completely invisible behind the bushes someplace.

At West Newton, where I would stay for a night on my return trip, I stopped at the train station / visitor's center and had some bread and peanut butter, and an apple. By West Newton you're about 35 miles / 56 km into your trip, and I was feeling the need for a rest at that point.

The rest of the ride to the KOA north of Connellsville would have been forest and river, forest and river, on repeat. I don't remember much of that ride. I do remember being surprised - as I would be for much of this trip - at the absence of other cyclists. You certainly reach certain sections of the trail that are popular with locals (both north and south of Ohiopyle being the most popular section); but otherwise, you can go for over an hour without seeing another soul - then, you see one person... and then another hour passes where you're completely alone. I'd honestly thought it would be far busier... with gaggles of 6 or 7 riders on guided tours going by me all the time.

The KOA north of Connellsville was great. They have a store there where you can buy some food and drinks, a pool, good showers / washrooms, and in the tent area they have power outlets to charge your devices, and also free and quite good wifi. Right at the front of the main building, they have taps that people can use to get free, and good, water.

At the KOA I met another long-haul cyclist named Troy. Troy was doing more relaxing mileage than I was - about 30 miles a day. We talked and shared stories a bit, and being a bit older and far more world-travelled, he definitely had better stories. Troy would still be southbound when I had made my turn and would be headed north, so we parted hoping to cross paths again in a few days.



I should note here by the way that I was travelling with only an iPod Touch - so my social media updates were done each time I reached a free wifi area, which are quite easy to find along this trail. In general, what you're looking for as you hit towns are free water, free power, and free wifi - and I found all of these easy to find at my campsites. The KOA had all of these.

For dinner, even though I had cooking supplies and some food, I had a craving for Chinese food for some reason, so I biked the 6 and a bit km into Connellsville and ended up at the Double Dragon restaurant. I won't go into much detail here, but I wouldn't really recommend this restaurant. I also didn't really enjoy Connellsville that much. I'm sure I failed to see the good parts of Connellsville, but still, my first impression, when I biked in to get some dinner, was not great. And then, on my return trip north, the only significant amount of broken glass that I saw anywhere on the GAP was in the on-street bike lane through Connellsville.

This is my full rig that I was hauling. I'll have another post later on about the pros/cons of using a cargo trailer like this one.



And, a couple of brief logistical notes here:

What was in the cargo trailer and panniers?

  • tent
  • sleeping bag
  • air mattress
  • cooking supplies (gas cannister, tiny stove, etc)
  • food
  • clothes
  • extra bottle of water
  • book & magazine, journal, pens
  • bike locks
  • bike repair tools / gear (I even brought a spare tire)
  • miscellaneous things (like the chargers for my Garmin watch and my iPod touch)

Basically - I was hauling way too much stuff, which I'll mention again in the eventual Day 3 post.

How fit was I?

Well, fairly average, to be honest. The longest ride I had done this season was probably about 50km on Zwift. I hadn't come anywhere close to the near 100km days that I did on this trip. Especially not hauling a heavy cargo trailer.
The only thing I had going for me is the fact that I am a bike commuter, used to biking every day and accustomed to having serious weight in my panniers.

So - you can do it. It really just comes down to setting your daily mileage in a way that will be doable for you, and then taking as many breaks during the ride as you need to.

Upcoming

I will be doing six "daily ride" posts about my six days on the GAP trail, and then I'll do a few miscellaneous posts about the cycling / travelling life etc.




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