Monday, June 2, 2014

Reviewing the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP)

I've thoroughly over-indulged with 60+ pictures across 6 galleries which is admittedly a lot for a three day bicycling trip.  And throughout those galleries I've focused on captioning the photo's instead of a more organized blog post or review.  So in case it is of any value for information or inspiration I'm putting together one more post to summarize my thoughts.

Photo Galleries:

Frostburg - The Mason Dixon Line
The Mason Dixon Line - Rockwood
Rockwood - Confluence
Confluence - Connellsville
Connellsville - Mckeesport
Mckeesport - The Point

The Itinerary:

Day 0 - Arrive in Rockwood by car, stay at the Trail Inn
Day 1 - Depart Frostburg 0830ish, arrive Rockwood at the Husky Haven Guesthouse 1300 (just before the rain)
Day 2 - Depart Rockwood 0830, lunch in Ohiopyle, arrive Connellsville at the Connellsville B&B around 1600ish
Day 3 - Depart Connellsville 0700, late lunch in Homestead, arrive The Point at 1600
Day 4 - Return to Rockwood by car to pickup other car and head home (parked at trailhead, no issues)

The Accommodations:

1. Trail Inn, Frostburg, MD. A bit pricy but right on the trail, the room was perfectly adequate and the covered balcony offered a great place to work on the bikes.  The adjacent restaurant became quite the hopping local watering hole in the evening but everyone seemed friendly.  You have to watch their hours as in the day and a night we were there wasn't always someone available.  Bike storage wasn't very good, we kept one in the room (against the rules) and the other stayed in my car for the night.  They did give us a breakfast basket that had some tasty baked goods.

2. Husky Haven Guesthouse, Rockwood, PA.  A steal of a deal!  The campground was incredibly well kept looking as well but the guesthouse is a rambler style single family home with three bedrooms, a tv sitting room, full kitchen and a covered attached deck.  Below is a basement rec room shared with the campers that includes a pool table, high speed internet access (PC) and ping pong table.  The proprietors are right next door and are very friendly. We kept the bikes locked up on the covered deck. Most highly recommended!

3. Connellsville B&B, Connellsville, PA.  Extremely convenient to the trail, the well kept and somewhat fancy large home was a very comfortable place to stay. One room has two bed's available which we got.  They have a Samsung TV system with free netflix that was much enjoyed as a late evening treat.  The breakfast the next day left alot to be desired but the proprietors were very friendly and there was covered, locked storage available for our bikes.

The Food:

As this was a 'credit card tour', we availed ourselves of packed snacks and restaurants for the whole way.

1. City Lights American Grill, Cumberland, MD.  Having a car gave us the opportunity to venture into Cumberland for a last minute trip to the hardware store and some dinner.  We had a great wine and cheese appetizer course and I think I had a ceasar salad... nice place, I'd go again.

2. The Mill Shoppes and Opera House, Rockwood, PA.  The ONLY show in town!  Well not exactly but it may as well have been.  Between the rain and tired legs we didn't make it further than the closest place to our beds.  We had lunch at the cafe in front, the potato soup and chicken dumplings were both fantastic.  We had dinner of fresh prepared pizza that night, very nice, good crust and some fun conversation with other passing cyclists.  Our breakfast attempt the next morning was aborted when it seemed the ladies running the cafe needed some serious help with pretty much everything.  Anyway, don't be in a rush at the cafe but the food was very good and the atmosphere friendly. Definitely check out the museum and performing space upstairs which is open for self guided tours.

3. The Firefly Grill, Ohiopyle, PA. Great gyro sandwich and fries that really stuck to the ribs. Nice outdoor seating area that you can bring your bike into and keep an eye on.  I'd go again.

4. El Canelo, Connellsville, PA. Typical mexican fare, no alcohol (dry county?).  Good at the end of a long day for sure.

5. TGIF, Homestead, PA.  Ribs were good, cushy seat felt fantastic...should have pushed the final 10 miles and gotten something lighter.  I wish we had found a better stop between West Newton and the Point for a final 'trail side' experience.

The Equipment:

It isn't terribly exciting to write about but the bottom line was that all of our bike related equipment worked as designed, held up very nicely and just blended in to the background of the trip.  Between my Dad and myself we had two very different bikes and a wide range of equipment.  Here are a thoughts in no particular order;

1. Wide Tires - I rode 650Bx42mm Grand Bois Hetre's (extra leger), very expensive, very nice and a wonderful tire in all conditions I found on the GAP.  A no reservations recommendation!  After I rode a demo bike at Rivendell Bike Book and Hatchet back in January I was really impressed by the Schwable Little Big Ben tires and recommended them to my Dad. His Trek did very well with the 700x38mm tires with the little bit of tred adding some nice grip.  On the GAP I think you could get away with fairly narrow (28mm ish) tires if you really wanted to, and certainly anything 32mm and up would work.  But 35+ with some cush was really comfy and felt great.

2. Fenders - I installed a set of SKS Longboard Fenders on my Dad's bike the night before the trip. Just in time installs!!! Both of us were sporting longboards and neither of us had to bother worrying about the many puddles and occasional washed out sections of trail. The bikes stayed cleaner and we stayed drier and cleaner.  You really should have fenders in many conditions but for a multi day trip with unknown weather they are a must for civilized cycling in my book.

3. Camelback/Hydration Packs - I really like the convenience and ability to carry 3L of water in the camelback especially in hot conditions, unfortunately after about mid day on the second day I was loosing circulation in my arms and uncomfortable in the armpits from my pack.  It got removed and strapped to the saddle bag never to be used again.  I'm not sure what this means going forward, particularly on hot summer rides it was a lifesaver last year so I may give it another go.  My Dad carried one without complaint the full time on the trail.

4. Carradice Longflap Saddle Bag - Cool bag with plenty of previous use that I picked up used.  I've been using it commuting with a Nitto Quick Release but decided to strap it directly to the Brooks for this trip to cut down on weight and complexity.  The setback of the support loops from the seat post made attaching the stability strap (centerline) a bit difficult and overall the bag looked a bit awkward in the way it hung.  But it was very secure and I barely noticed the load I put in the bag.  I will do a follow up with pictures on the bag as I experiment with it going forward.

5. Wald 137/Sackville Medium Bag - Front storage was my typical commuting medium sized basket with Riv Sackville Shopsack Medium.  Looks like the price has gone up on these since I got mine for $40-45 but its a very nice bag designed perfectly for the Wald 137.  The only rub is the lack of compartmentalization... neither my Carradice nor the Shopsack offered any way to divide up my gear without the addition of smaller internal bags/stuff sacks.  So it's not really a complaint but I think for longer trips the lack of organization allowed by these two bags makes them less well suited for the task.  I continue to love the bungee-net cover which I still used in conjunction w/ the shopsack even though it was clipped in.  This allows an easy 'glove compartment' for jackets, gloves, cameras, snacks.  Definitely recommend having some front storage that allows quick access to that kind of stuff while on the trail.

6. The Bikes - Not a bike or frame review. I"ll just hit some common points between both my Dad's Trek and my Saluki that made them good bikes for this trip.
-The right size (for each of us)
-Tuned up/broken in (we'd ridden them and tuned up the shifting/braking performance was good and predictable)
-Plenty of storage; this was a CC tour so extreme loads were never in the picture but our bags permitted easy access to foul weather gear and adding snacks along the way.

Trail Conditions

The pictures tell the story better than I can write it... but we were on nearly all of the GAP and in some challenging rain conditions.  At worst the softness on day two cost us ~1 mph in speed. In general the trail was better maintained in MD from Frostburg to the Mason Dixon Line. There was also an excellent portion near Bueno Vista.

I think that is about all I have to contribute, I'd be happy to answer any questions either directly or in the comments.  Start planning your GAP trip soon!

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