Time for another biking adventure. As I may have mentioned before, we are lucky enough to live on the Youghiogheny Bike Trail. This trail is a rails-to-trails project that was started in the 1980s to make use of unused railways by stripping out the rails and ties, and replacing them with a crushed limestone pathway that is about 15 ft. wide which can easily accommodate bike traffic in both directions. Because these trails follow the course of the railways, they typically follow rivers, are picturesque, and have very gentle grades. The Yough trail is part of a greater system of bike trails that extend from downtown Pittsburgh, past Rick’s house, and off to the southeast toward Washington DC. It is not unusual in the summer and early fall to see bikers laden with huge saddle bags making the 335 mile trek to the nation’s capital. I hope to join them someday when Max gets a little older, and before I get too old.
While it is certainly a luxury to live on the trail and use it daily for walking the dog or biking a few miles, it’s equally great to take advantage of particularly beautiful stretches. We load our bikes onto the car rack and drive to different places locally to keep things interesting, and to more exotic places like Ohiopyle and Pittsburgh for a great biking day trip.
Today’s trip is a bit different. Today we will bike the mountains from the Eastern Continental Divide in Pennsylvania to Cumberland, MD. The trip is about two hours from Pittsburgh. Our friends Lisa and Linda set this up, and the logistics were impressive. Thanks to Lisa, too, for the pictures as I had inadvertently hit a button on my camera that made my pictures kind of blue.
The trail through this section of the mountains is part of the Great Allegheny Passage, and is made up of several individual trail segments. One of the most dramatic segment connects the Yough trail in Confluence, PA to the C&O Canal section south of Cumberland, MD. This takes you right over the highest section of the Allegheny Mountains.
Now, I’m not one for pedaling uphill any great distance, so we engaged a company called Wilderness Voyageurs to drive us up the mountain so we could pedal down. When I say “us”, I mean a whole bunch of us. Four families with about 14 people met in downtown Cumberland and loaded the bikes onto a big van. About 40 minutes later after a series of increasingly smaller roads, we came to the Deal trail access. A few minutes to get the bikes off the van and away we go.
Deal to the Eastern Continental Divide
The whole point to going to the highest point on the trail is so you can coast downhill. Unfortunately, Deal is about a mile or so from the highest point, so the first bit was uphill until we reached the Eastern Continental Divide. This marks the line between the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico watersheds. All rivers and streams west of this line eventually end up in the Mississippi River and then the Gulf. Everything to the east ends up in the Atlantic Ocean.
The Big Savage Tunnel and the Mason-Dixon Line
As the trail follows the old railway, several old tunnels are used. The biggest of these, the Big Savage Tunnel is over half a mile in length. There are lights, but it is kind of cold and creepy. The kids thought it was great. There is a second tunnel further down the line is not as long, but is also not lighted. That was a scary place since the only light was the daylight coming in from the entrances.
Soon after the tunnel, the trail goes blissfully downhill and we crossed the Mason-Dixon line. This marks the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland. This line was surveyed back in colonial times to settle a border dispute between Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware. I knew about the first two, but not about Delaware.
After crossing into Maryland, the trail continues to drop. The going is easy except when you see the poor saps coming the other way trying to pedal up the hill. Frostburg is about the halfway point in the ride. There is a large parking area and a switchback trail will take you up to the town. Frostburg is also the terminus of the Western Maryland Steam Railway. We took Max to Cumberland when he was 3 and a HUGE fan of Thomas the Tank Engine. The train stopped here and turned around for the trip back. The quaint little town is home to Frostburg State University, and has restaurants, B&Bs and an ice cream shop that cater to the bikers and train buffs.
Frostburg to Cumberland
The trip back to Cumberland follows the railway line for about 15 miles. It isn’t as pretty a ride as the mountains, and to add insult to injury, the way levels quite a bit, so gravity isn’t so much your friend. Still, it was an interesting ride, and we got back into downtown Cumberland about three and a half hours after leaving Deal.
It was a wonderful day. Crisp fall weather, trees just beginning to change color, really the reason you live in our part of the country. I highly recommend this trip. It’s not too taxing for casual bikers, and you will sleep well that night. It did show me that I’ve got to get into better shape if I want to attempt that trip to DC.
The end of the line is the railway station in downtown Cumberland, right where the van picked us up. There are lots of shops and places to eat. Check out the Crabby Pig which had the distinct advantage of being exactly where the trail ends. They specialize in blue crabs and pulled pork.. Seeing that we were about 200 miles from the shore, I’d stick to the pig.
I hope you enjoyed our bike trip down the Great Allegheny Passage. I mentioned that we took this trip to one of my work buddies who plays on my hockey team. He said, “My boys and I love that trip. We park in Cumberland and go up to the tunnel and back.” That’s like 50 miles, half of it uphill. I never liked him much.
Daytripping with Rick