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Old 11-05-10, 07:15 PM   #1
Altair 4
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Prepping for the Great Allegheny Passage

I turned 53 a week ago. I bought a bike about a month and a half ago. Right now, I am enjoying weekend rides on the Heritage trails along the rivers of Pittsburgh. My time on the bike is limited due to work, kid, and volunteer commitments, but I'm able to get 15 mile rides in on the weekends. My boss and I are are giving serious contemplation to riding the Great Allegheny Passage in the Spring, from Cumberland to Pittsburgh. He's a more serious athlete than I am, having been a runner for much of his life (but his knees aren't what they used to be and his running days are over).

My current rides don't tire me out and I plan to work up to doubling this very soon, possibly this weekend. Still, I'm looking for some advice on how to better train for the GAP. Our itinerary looks to cover about 40 miles a day. I figure I'll have maybe 45 days in the spring to get back into shape before we hit the trail. I'm very excited about the prospect of the ride and have been reading as much as I can about it. I figure I need to get to the point of training on 40 mile rides on back-to-back days to get there.

Any help, pointers, tips on how best to do this would be gratefully accepted!! I don't want to be embarrassed out there. My concern is for that first day climbing out of Cumberland to the Eastern Continental Divide. Right now, we're thinking late April as our target date, but subject to change due to work and kid schedules.

And I'll be checking in for suggestions on racks, packs, panniers and that sort thing over the winter. We're not plannig on camping - credit card touring, I guess, best describes what we're thinking.
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Old 11-06-10, 01:04 AM   #2
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40 miles a day will not be a problem- some of us do that on their daily commutes- but the problem will be the Butt.

Get plenty of longer time rides in and give the butt enough time to get attuned to the saddle- and to get it set up right. I think most newcomers will be able to do 40 miles in a day after a few months- but to get on the saddle on the 2nd and subsequent days could be a bit painfull.
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Old 11-06-10, 03:37 AM   #3
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If you concentrate on making sure your bike fits you and is well adjusted, 40 mile days will be no problem, even with lots of climbing. I'd try to get in maybe three long-weekend trips packed, if you can manage the time- that should give you some ideas. Stapfam has it about right - seat and butt have to come to terms.

I did a lot of 2-3 week tours but too long ago to be of specific help with what gear to buy now. Work on honing the list of what you will carry, and whittle away on it 'til you've eliminated more than you think you should. Credit card touring is great though - the kitchen sink can stay at home.

I'm sure others will chime in soon.

Happy Trails!
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Old 11-06-10, 05:32 AM   #4
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Your in for some hilly terrain. Just keep riding or spinning over the winter, need not be long - an hour or two at a time. When you can get out again in the spring put a 1000 to 1400' climb into your rides. As I recall, in PA the hills aren't incredibly long but they can be very steep. Get ready for that. The other thing I would consider - particularly since you will be touring, a triple with a very low end cassett. 10-wheels has a friggin pie plate on the back of his bike. Don't worry about being embarressed about getting to the top, just get there at your own pace. Sounds fun.
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Old 11-06-10, 05:41 AM   #5
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Suggest you take some spinning/cycling classes at the local rec center/health club over the winter months, or if that is not possible, get a "trainer" and set your bike up at home and train with Spinervals.com dvds or Carmichael Training Systems. Can you commute to work? 40 miles per day is certainly doable. Mtn bike or a hybrid perhaps.

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Old 11-06-10, 06:12 AM   #6
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Your in for some hilly terrain. Just keep riding or spinning over the winter, need not be long - an hour or two at a time. When you can get out again in the spring put a 1000 to 1400' climb into your rides. As I recall, in PA the hills aren't incredibly long but they can be very steep. Get ready for that.
Isn't the GAP a rail trail? If so the maximum slope is 3%.
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Old 11-06-10, 06:24 AM   #7
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Isn't the GAP a rail trail? If so the maximum slope is 3%.
You are so right - I did not do my homework before I replied. From the Web site:
"The trail has a packed crushed limestone surface for a smooth ride. Built mainly on abandoned rail beds, the trail is nearly level with the average grade of less than 1%. The steepest eastbound grade - 0.8% - is from Harnedsville to Markleton and Garrett to Deal. The steepest westbound grade is from Cumberland to Deal at 1.75%. Near the Big Savage Tunnel, the trail crosses the Eastern Continental Divide. From that point going east, the trail drops 1,754 feet in 24 miles to reach Cumberland and, going west, it drops 1,664 feet in 126 miles to reach Pittsburgh.

From Cumberland to Washington, DC, you drop 625 feet to sea level on the C&O Canal towpath. The towpath is overall much less improved than the GAP, as it was built for mules and not railroads. Be prepared for ruts, tree roots, mud and mosquitos. "
i

I would think no big gears required - just fat tires. From this description I'd consider using a modified MTB or cross bike - no suspension but 26" wheels with wider tires.
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Old 11-06-10, 08:16 AM   #8
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I live in Western PA and yes, we've got hills, but the GAP is a rails-to-trails deal. I just don't have a good mental image of the climb from Cumberland to the Eastern Continental Divide and that's our plan, to ride from Cumberland, MD, to Pittsburgh, PA. 1.75% grade doesn't sound bad, but the length of the steady climb is what has me curious. My partner on this ride has already ridden the C&O and I'll save that for another ride and another time.

We're both riding hybrids, 700x40 tires. I understand the comment about getting comfortable in the saddle and that's what I'm working on. I feel like I have the bike dialed in pretty well to my stature.

I've read some of the packing lists suggested in the GAP Trailbook. Do I really need to pack wheel spokes?
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Old 11-06-10, 08:40 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Altair 4 View Post
I live in Western PA and yes, we've got hills, but the GAP is a rails-to-trails deal. I just don't have a good mental image of the climb from Cumberland to the Eastern Continental Divide and that's our plan, to ride from Cumberland, MD, to Pittsburgh, PA. 1.75% grade doesn't sound bad, but the length of the steady climb is what has me curious. My partner on this ride has already ridden the C&O and I'll save that for another ride and another time.

We're both riding hybrids, 700x40 tires. I understand the comment about getting comfortable in the saddle and that's what I'm working on. I feel like I have the bike dialed in pretty well to my stature.

I've read some of the packing lists suggested in the GAP Trailbook. Do I really need to pack wheel spokes?
Always a good idea, but pretty much useless unless you are also equipped to remove your gogset. Murphy's law dictates that a broken spoke on tour will always occur on the rear wheel, drive side.
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Old 11-06-10, 09:48 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by Altair 4 View Post
I live in Western PA and yes, we've got hills, but the GAP is a rails-to-trails deal. I just don't have a good mental image of the climb from Cumberland to the Eastern Continental Divide and that's our plan, to ride from Cumberland, MD, to Pittsburgh, PA. 1.75% grade doesn't sound bad, but the length of the steady climb is what has me curious. My partner on this ride has already ridden the C&O and I'll save that for another ride and another time.

We're both riding hybrids, 700x40 tires. I understand the comment about getting comfortable in the saddle and that's what I'm working on. I feel like I have the bike dialed in pretty well to my stature.

I've read some of the packing lists suggested in the GAP Trailbook. Do I really need to pack wheel spokes?
I've ridden almost all of the GAP (Savage tunnel area wasn't open) generally there are bike shops at reasonable riding "gaps" along the trail Unless you frequently break spokes OR have a weird sized spoke I don't think it's worth it.
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Old 11-06-10, 10:11 AM   #11
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Originally Posted by Altair 4 View Post
I live in Western PA and yes, we've got hills, but the GAP is a rails-to-trails deal. I just don't have a good mental image of the climb from Cumberland to the Eastern Continental Divide and that's our plan, to ride from Cumberland, MD, to Pittsburgh, PA. 1.75% grade doesn't sound bad, but the length of the steady climb is what has me curious. My partner on this ride has already ridden the C&O and I'll save that for another ride and another time.

We're both riding hybrids, 700x40 tires. I understand the comment about getting comfortable in the saddle and that's what I'm working on. I feel like I have the bike dialed in pretty well to my stature.

I've read some of the packing lists suggested in the GAP Trailbook. Do I really need to pack wheel spokes?
I did the C&O/GAP about a month ago on an ACA tour. The climb out of Cumberland will be about two to three hours of 7 - 9 mph for most folks. Just put it in a low gear and keep spinning. It's not a steep climb, but it is a long one of about 25 miles or so. I think the max at any point is about 4%. You'll only see that in a place or three. I did the entire tour on my touring bike BUT used a 13-27 rear cassette. For most of the climb I was in the 36/26 or 26/23 combination and I'm a real hill slug.

The 40 mm tires will work well for the entire trip.

If you're worried about spokes, and you probably shouldn't be if you have your wheels turned beforehand, you can carry one of these http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/fiberfix.htm
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Old 11-06-10, 01:19 PM   #12
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Wheels are a problem but to carry spare spokes means that you will have the capabilities to replace the spoke and retrue the wheel. Just not necessary----But good wheels are. Don't know what wheels you have on the bike but I would suggest a set of handbuilt Mavic Open Pro/CXP33 rims with 36 spokes to an Ultegra hub. They will last the life time of your riding and not just the bike and will be far better than "Most" OM wheels.

Failing buying new wheels- Find a good wheel builder in your area and get him to "Tweak" your current wheels. And get him to do it again about a month before your trip.
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Old 11-06-10, 01:38 PM   #13
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I've ridden almost all of the GAP (Savage tunnel area wasn't open) generally there are bike shops at reasonable riding "gaps" along the trail Unless you frequently break spokes OR have a weird sized spoke I don't think it's worth it.
If you are afraid of breaking spokes, there is a simple trick. Go to your LBS and get a few spares for what you might need (front and both kinds of rear) then tape these to the chain stay. It isn't elegant but it works.
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Old 11-06-10, 01:52 PM   #14
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I did the C&O/GAP about a month ago on an ACA tour. The climb out of Cumberland will be about two to three hours of 7 - 9 mph for most folks. Just put it in a low gear and keep spinning. It's not a steep climb, but it is a long one of about 25 miles or so. I think the max at any point is about 4%. You'll only see that in a place or three. I did the entire tour on my touring bike BUT used a 13-27 rear cassette. For most of the climb I was in the 36/26 or 26/23 combination and I'm a real hill slug.[/URL]
Thanks! This is more what I was looking for online, but never seemed to find on other sites. My rear cassette is 11 -32 and the crankset is 48/38/28. I have only used the 11 on a downhill run-up to a steep but short hill, to get up as much momentum as possible.

Thanks, too, for the comment on the tires. I'm feeling better and better about this whole trip. Can't recall the last time I was this excited about doing something!
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Old 11-06-10, 03:03 PM   #15
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Some friends and I recently completed the C&O and Great Allegheny Passage this past September, doing around 40 miles a day for seven days. As stated in an earlier answer to your question, the hardest portion is the 25 miles out of Cumberland going West. We did the ride on Mountain Bikes, with center slick tires with lugs on the sides for grip in mud of soft places. It is a great ride, you should really enjoy it. This is a good website to check out the GAP: http://www.atatrail.org/. Enjoy and take pictures.
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Old 11-06-10, 03:40 PM   #16
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I am surprised nobody has mentioned the obvious, cycle the other direction, Pittsburgh to Cumberland. That way the toughest hill is downhill. I think you would also benefit from prevailing winds.

I did the trail in May, 2007 over 4 days. The trail surface was excellent and you should be fine with a hybrid and 40 mm tires. I say "should" because you will be about 3 weeks earlier than I, and I don't know when the last snow melts. Also, they close Big Savage Tunnel for the winter and you will have to find out when they open it. There is a Yahoo Group called Great Allegheny Passage and I suggest you join it because the members there will know all the details. It is at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Great_Allegheny_Passage/
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Old 11-06-10, 08:43 PM   #17
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I've ridden Pgh-DC 3 times, and DC-Pgh once. I think you're quite right to ride Cumberland-to-Pittsburgh. Here's a few thoughts.

Out of Cumberland, I recommend you take the once-a-day train (that hauls bikes) from Cumberland to Frostburg. There's no reason to start your adventure at the point of greatest challenge. Get off the train, climb from Frostburg to the peak (6 miles) and then you're downhill the rest of the trip.

Here's a profile chart:


I recommend you end your trip in Boston, PA. The ride through McKeesport and Duquesne is marginal. From Duquesne to SouthSide is non-bike-friendly.

The GAP is a great trail, you'll really enjoy this.

Here's links to a few of our trip reports:
http://thirdwave-websites.com/bike/2...ke-bicycle.cfm

http://thirdwave-websites.com/bike/2...dc-c&o-gap.cfm

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Old 11-07-10, 01:11 AM   #18
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I think you're all making too big a deal out of the "climb" from Cumberland. It's not that hard. It's just long.
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Old 11-07-10, 09:05 AM   #19
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I think you're all making too big a deal out of the "climb" from Cumberland. It's not that hard. It's just long.
+1 We rode the trail in September and if I can do it anyone can. I have nerve damage in the left leg and it gets tired easily when climbing or riding long grades like this one. We simply stopped for a couple minutes every few miles so I could rest my leg and I was fine.

I thought this was one of the most scenic and interesting sections of the trail....enjoy it
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Old 11-07-10, 07:36 PM   #20
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As a fellow 'Burgher who's out on the GAP at least once a week, i think you're getting good advice here re: butt conditioning, tires, getting an indoor trainer, etc., & it sounds like you're doing a lot of things right. Check out the Linking Up site written by two trail experts, Roy Weil & Mary Shaw, (http://old.atatrail.org/linkup/trip.htm) for tons of info to help you plan your trip. Feel free to PM me if you have questions.

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Old 11-07-10, 07:57 PM   #21
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The perfect bike for these type of rides would be a 29" mtb. Better traction, better roll, better comfort than a 26" mtb. But really, any bike can do it. My friend led a co-ed group of 12yo kids on the full length from Pittsburgh to DC. No problem.
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Old 11-07-10, 10:14 PM   #22
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There are lots of posts on this ride but starting either in Pburg or the East, how do you get your bikes and self back to point A once you have reached point B?
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Old 11-08-10, 01:57 PM   #23
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Feel free to PM me if you have questions.
Thanks; I'll probably take you up on this as I continue with my conditioning, planning, and execution.
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Old 11-08-10, 02:03 PM   #24
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There are lots of posts on this ride but starting either in Pburg or the East, how do you get your bikes and self back to point A once you have reached point B?
Well, here's the alternatives I have thought of so far. My wife drives me to Cumberland from the West. My partner drives to Cumberland from the East and either leaves his car or rides with his wife and she takes the car home. We then spend three days riding to Boston or McKeesport. At that point, I drive him back to Cumberland to get his car (or meet his wife, whatever the case may be) and then I drive home. Alternatively, he could rent a car and drive back East. All depends - we're still up in the air on a bucketful of details. There's no easy way to get both of us to Cumberland, complete the ride and then back to our respective homes again.
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Old 11-08-10, 04:23 PM   #25
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My friend and I used a shuttle service, and they were very good. Used them in 2006 when we did the C&O canal and again in 2007 when we cycled the Allegheny Passage.
http://www.freedomtrailriders.com/
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