Cycling the Greater Allegheny Passage // DAY 1

Point State Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania // The GAP trailhead

Point State Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania // The GAP trailhead

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Wiehan made a firm proclamation during the cold winter months that he was going to make the most out of every minute this summer and soak up as much sunshine as possible. Trying to squeeze in as much adventure as possible, while also maintaining his day job, he came up with a massive goal: to cycle the Greater Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal trails in just 4 days. That’s 515km / 320mi, broken up into approximately 130km / 80mi per day. And he recruited his kind wife to provide vehicle support along the way! Check out our video from Day 1 here!

The selected dates were Saturday, June 30th to Tuesday, July 3rd. This way, he only had to take a day and a half off from work, with the July 4th holiday occurring the day after completing the trip. But to complicate matters, he left on a business trip on June 27th until the evening of June 29th. And we had to be home by July 4th, well, because we have a tradition of celebrating the holiday in our hometown with family, and it’s a lot of fun. So this 4-day trip was tightly squeeze between two other big events, thus requiring precise and timely planning. Wiehan packed for his business trip and his bike trip all at once. I spent all day Friday cleaning, packing and prepping road snacks. It was exhausting. I always have a way of totally overdoing it before a trip. Wiehan arrived home around 10pm and we scrambled to get last minute prep work done, before catching a late bedtime and getting up again 6 hours later. Wiehan discovered that he needed to make some adjustments to our newly installed roof rack, which slowed us down. We left the house just before 8:00 AM, headed off on a 4-hour drive northwest to Pittsburgh, PA, by way of Maryland and West Virginia. In hindsight, though it wouldn’t have worked in this instance because of his business trip, we should have driven up to Pittsburgh the previous night, to be able to hit the trail first thing that Saturday morning. To try to make up for this in some way, I did all the driving, to help Wiehan conserve energy for a long trek on the bike in the afternoon.

We planned the trip by studying the Greater Allegheny Passage website, along with Yelp and TripAdvisor. The most colorful source for information came from YouTube videos by Noble Invention Bike Touring. For cycling and travel novices, we’d really suggest looking into setting up a trip with this company. While we haven’t used their services personally, we can vouch for the quality of their online materials, as we pieced together our own trip.

While planning out where we’d stay each night, Wiehan and I realized that there is a great need for updated 21st century accommodations in the small towns along the GAP.  Those who run bed and breakfast accommodations in the region ought to update their bedspreads and furniture, along with their websites. Both look dated by at least 2 decades, and we struggled to find accommodations that looked appealing. The majority of the restaurants are also outdated. But we did find some gems throughout our trip to highlight. We are only listing restaurants and accommodations that we really loved and can recommend hands down, or if there was one particular aspect of the venue that was really helpful. If you’ve been to these areas and see a quality restaurant or accommodation missing, let us know! Maybe we missed it.

In the future, if we ever return to the GAP, we’ll consider bike packing and camping each night. And while we’re on the subject of what we’d do in the future: we would also extend the trip from 4 days to 7 or 8. The surface of the trail is not paved, instead covered with loose dirt and gravel. Therefore Wiehan’s road bike wouldn’t have survived. In planning for the trip, he didn’t consider that the weight of the mountain bike, along with bumpy and often muddy trail surfaces would slow him down so significantly. Distances like 130km are very doable for him on a road bike. But in these conditions, even with his cycling strength and experience, 60km was much more realistic for a day’s ride. The other problem with trying to squeeze so much mileage into a day is losing out on time to stop and enjoy the scenery. The goal that Wiehan set out to accomplish was centered on endurance rather than enjoyment.

And to top it off, the timing of our trip fell right in line with the biggest heat wave of the summer, with temperatures climbing just below 38 degrees Celsius / 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The humidity was slightly more bearable in Pennsylvania. But as we traveled down to West Virginia and Maryland, the humidity climbed, as did the temperatures. It was brutal. So the targets really were completely unrealistic. However, as Wiehan says at the beginning of our GAP Day 1 video: If nothing else, we’ll have a cool little road trip. And a cool road trip we had, indeed!

Packed Snacks!

I didn’t pack these snacks right, unfortunately resulting in some wasted food by the end of the trip. I wasn’t prepared for such drastically high temperatures. And I made the mistake of packing all the produce in one big cooler. The ice packs got everything wet and it was messy. In the future, I will pack the first day’s food items in a small cooler with ice packs. The rest will go in a dry cooler, without ice packs.

Packed Hydration!

  • For the last 4 years, we’ve been buying Metagenics Endura for electrolyte replacement. Unfortunately, the product is currently out of stock. So we just started trying Ultima Hydrating Electrolyte Powder, which works as a great replacement.

  • Wiehan also loves Garden of Life Sport Whey Protein Powder, in the Chocolate flavor, though he recently accidentally bought the Plant Based formula (the bottles are practically identical), and is enjoying this one as well.

  • I take my Lifefactory glass water bottle literally everywhere with me. I have three colors: carbon, ocean and raspberry. I’ve had them for several years, and they are so durable, despite having dropped them on pavement several times.

  • We were also each gifted a Hydro Flask water bottle two years ago for Christmas. Wiehan also won one at an REI grand opening party for landing a bag into a cornhole. These bottles are amazing when it comes to keeping ice frozen all day long. So I filled my Lifefactory bottles with water and the Hydro Flasks with ice, and then poured water into the flasks throughout the day as necessary.

Recommendations

Coffee: Market Street Grocery

Delicious iced latte. In addition to great coffee, this spot really is a small grocery store too, as its name implies, offering the kind of organic packaged foods that you’d find at a health food store. The only freshly prepared food options are sandwiches. They didn’t have sourdough or gluten free bread, so I passed on this option. And Wiehan wanted something more substantial to fuel him up for the ride ahead. There are several food options in this fun city square and we opted for Chipotle instead, though after eating, I did see The Simple Greek restaurant which probably would have been a better option for my food preferences.

Lunch: Chipotle

Okay so, as someone who is allergic to peppers, this really isn’t a great place for me to eat, because basically everything except for the rice, lettuce and dairy products have peppers in them. I asked if the guacamole had peppers in it and was told it’s hardly any, and I wouldn’t even notice. But I would notice. Oh yes, indeed, I can always sniff out a pepper. So I ordered a chicken bowl, with pinto beans and lettuce. The pinto beans were extra spicy, and my mouth was burning with every bite. However, despite the ample use of spice in the foods, I will recommend this particular Chipotle for GAP trail folks because it’s an excellent spot for filling up water bottles. And in a more recent visit to Chipotle, I learned that the carnitas option is not spicy. It’s also great that Chipotle takes big steps toward sustainability, with responsibly-raised meat, using wholesome ingredients, going GMO-free, cooking all their food by hand, and using many recyclable and compostable packaging materials.  

Accommodation: Cobblestone Hotel and Suites

This place looks brand new and is a true modern oasis in its town. Our room was pristine and quiet. On such terribly hot days, we were very thankful for fresh, cold drinking water in the lobby. Two downsides to be aware of: Strangely, the window shades are see-through. Fortunately our window looked out onto the river, without passersby. But it still felt a little invasive. Second, while it’s an awesome idea for breakfast to be provided, the quality of the food is mostly processed and doesn’t fit our standards here at Mountain Road. There is however a refrigerator and microwave included in each room, so I’d suggest alternatively bringing your own wholesome ingredients for breakfast, along with bowls and utensils, dish soap and a drying towel.

When I arrived at the Cobblestone Hotel and Suites, I realized that it was located literally at the end of Wiehan’s trail ride for the day. You seriously can’t get more convenient than that! I checked in and unloaded some of our belongings into the room. And with an hour or so to spare, I went exploring along the Youghiogheny River. A church group was pumping Christian tunes on a radio at the Yough River Park by the hotel, while young kids worked on decorating water lanterns and big kids jumped off a rock, into the river. The adults were decked out in yellow shirts that said HOPE FLOATS. It was a glorious summer evening and a member of their community saw me taking photos and invited me to witness their water lantern lighting at dusk, for the purpose of spreading hope in a time when hope can be difficult to grasp. 

Wiehan arrived in time to help me bring the rest of our luggage and food to our room, shower, and then join me to catch some photos and video of the lantern lighting. Afterward, we found a spot for dinner and then crashed back at the hotel for a much needed night’s rest. The day’s ride was cut short by about 27km / 17mi. The original plan was for Wiehan to cycle all the way to a town called Ohiopyle, where I’d pick him up and drive him back up the trail to Connellsville. But all in all, the day worked out perfectly.

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Be sure to check out DAY 2 from this adventure here!

- Christin

And tell us! Would you ever consider a week-long cycling adventure or are we the only crazy ones?!