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  1. #1
    Senior Member Papa Tom's Avatar
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    Eastern Continental Divide: Winter Daydreaming

    At 51 years old and feeling it physically, I feel like I only have a few good bike adventures left in me. I still do one or two short (50-60 mile) road tours each summer and I commute to work by bike pretty much every day between April and November. I'm wondering if I can handle one more mountain bike excursion...

    Today, I browsed through some sites about the Eastern Continental Divide Trail between McKeesport, PA and Cumberland, MD and got lost in a fantasy about doing a 50-60 mile stretch of this trail sometime during the summer of 2014. At first glance, this looks like a pretty good match for me; but, with further research, a lot of these rides end up being totally wrong. Here's what I'd want:

    * A way to get myself and my bike to one end or the other without having to drive from Long Island, NY
    * A 50-60 mile spectacularly scenic ride one way with an option to return via railway or other mode of transportation
    * A clean place to stay overnight at either end (no camping)

    If these conditions are realistic, then the next item on my wish list would be that the trail portion I choose is reasonably flat. I have absolutely no love for climbing when I've got a bike full of clothing, food, and other gear. In fact, at this point in my life, though I am fit and capable of handling some good climbs, I don't need the taxation on my body anymore.

    Finally, I would need to know that there are a few places to find a bike shop when I break a spoke or snap a cable and don't have the proper tools to repair it.

    So, my questions to you are:

    1. Should I put this out of my head entirely?
    2. If not, can you recommend a 50-60 mile portion that fits the bill?

    Thank you, all. And please, as much as I know you'd be doing it out of the goodness of your heart, do not try to convince me to "challenge" myself or to compromise on accommodations, etc. If this ride is out of the question for me, I'd rather just live it vicariously through the stories and pics on this forum!
    Papa Tom

    "I just need a rest...and by 'rest' I mean a really long bicycle ride."

  2. #2
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    The GAP, Great Allegheny Passage is a great ride! I am 59 and have done it 4x's. Two with my wife and twice solo. All of these rides were from Pittsburgh to DC.
    It is a real doable ride! Get a hold of the guide book and it will answer all your question.Just do it!!!

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    It's a trail right up your alley, Tom. Mostly flat with some long grades on the eastern side, but just chug along stuff, nothing steep. It's all gravel but great on a tourer. Lot's of B&B's and places to visit.

    Biggest issue is getting to the start. Us easterners would typically park a car in Cumberland then get to Pittsburgh and ride back. As BTW, the GAP is complete thru to downtown Pittsburgh as far as I know. So in theory, Amtrak is doable, except I don't think they can handle bikes from Cumberland to Pittsburgh. There is a company offering shuttle services as of last year. Here's a link:

    http://www.atatrail.org/pv/shuttleservices.cfm

  4. #4
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    51 and only a few adventures left??? You are younger than me and I have plenty left in me. You are talking about the Great Allegheny Passage. While some areas are a bit remote you are never a day from a town. There is plenty of places to get help along the way with plenty of riders to lend a hand. And there is plenty of beauty along the way too.

    A 50-60 mile day is doable. Some folks will do the whole thing all at once in 36 hours (and that is all the way to DC), The trail is mostly flat with less than 3% grade at any point. Very easy but I find it a bit tiring as it is too flat. I do much better on rolling hills. IMHO it is easier to start in Pittsburgh. The trail does continue to DC. Starting in Cumberland it is know as the C&O trail. Not as good as a surface as the GAP. Lots of roots and ruts. If it rains there will be plenty of mud.

    The trail does start from downtown Pittsburgh and is complete all the way to Mckeesport. This section is paved the whole way.

    An option would be to take the Montour Trail from the airport (assuming you are flying in or dropping off a rental). The Montour has sections that rival much of the GAP IMHO. You can also take that trail to Mckeesport but is nearly twice the distance and you would miss the city. The bike museum in the city is well worth seeing. A compromise would be to take the Monour to Library, PA then take the transit system (The T) to the city. This is the prettiest part of the Montour anyway.

    PM me if you are serious about the trip. I can act as tour guide, SAG or a place to stay at the Pittsburgh end. I live very close to the airport.

    You don't have to camp but there are plenty of good spots to camp if you want.

    Just some places to stay:

    Yough Shore Inn, in Little Boston just outside of Mckeesport. Lots of fun, I highly recommend.
    The motel off the main street in Ohiopyle (I can get the name for you later if needed). FYI Ohiopyle will be expensive.
    Connellsville comes before Ohiopyle and I have yet to find a place near the trail so you are probably better pushing on to Ohiopyle and should plan accordingly.
    The hostel in Rockwood, PA. Very clean and cheap.

    To get here, I would rent a car and drop it at the airport. You could leave your car in Cumberland or DC or maybe just take the train from DC back home.
    Last edited by spinnaker; 01-01-14 at 02:33 PM.
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  5. #5
    Senior Member Papa Tom's Avatar
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    Ah hah. So the Eastern Continental Divide and the Great Allegheny Passage are the same trail? That answers a few questions.

    So spinnaker, what would be a good 50-60 mile portion (total, not per day) for me to consider? Please note that I work full-time and would only want to take 3 days off, at most This would probably mean half-a-day traveling each way to and from PA or MD, which leaves one full day for riding.
    Papa Tom

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  6. #6
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    There is no Eastern Continental Divide trail. Well maybe that small section of the trail that crosses the Divide is called Eastern Continental Divide Trail. The GAP is actually made up of a lot of shorter trails and collectively they are called the Great Allegheny Passage.

    In my opinion, with travel and all 3 days is not worth the trip. It will take 2 days just to get back and forth. But if I just had one day then I would do the section from Mckeesport (Boston actually) to Ohiopyle. This will be the most pretty section. Of course it opens a whole lot of other issues like transport back to Mckeesport. Shuttles in that area might not be as available as each end. And you don't cross the divide till you are almost in Cumberland so that would be out if it is something you want to do. BTW you also cross the Mason Dixon line right around there too.

    I would try to swing 5 days total. That gives you 2 for travel and 3 for the trail. In 3 days you could be in Cumberland from Pittsburgh but that leave little margin for error. A 6 day total with travel would be a fairly big comfort margin and give time to see the sites.

    If you are really pressed for time, you might want to consider the Erie Canal Trail out of Albany, Probably closer to you. There us a train that you can catch back to your starting point. Not sure where you can catch it, you would need to look into that. No way near as pretty as the GAP but nice and flat and maybe even flatter than the GAP.
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  7. #7
    Senior Member Papa Tom's Avatar
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    I've done a few pieces of the Erie Canal. You are right, it's not all that spectacular, and just a little TOO flat for me.

    I will consider what you said about the amount of pre and post-ride travel time I'd be looking at. Maybe this ISN'T the right ride for me.

    Also, I knew someone would comment about the "51 and only a few adventures left" part! After many years of professional drumming, followed by years of airplane travel literally every day, followed by my current job working on a production crew for outdoor concerts and festivals most of the year, my body is feeling beaten and worn down. I've got constant back and leg pain that is only eased, albeit temporarily, by cycling. Even then, I can only do so much before I pay for it when I get OFF the bike. Yeah, I'm still a spring chicken compared to many of the true road warriors here, but I know my limitations and I enjoy every minute of biking within them!
    Papa Tom

    "I just need a rest...and by 'rest' I mean a really long bicycle ride."

  8. #8
    Senior Member DCwom's Avatar
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    The GAP is doable by just about everyone, we did it on a tandem this past summer, here's our crazy guy journal:http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/12687 . As other have said the whole GAP is the thing to do, but if you don't mind back tracking you could park in Cumberland and take the tourist train up to Frostberg and then from there ride to Meyersdale to overnight. From Meyersdale you can continue north for part of the day (Rockport?) then turn around and head back to Cumberland. The extra distance on the second day would be mitigated by the 20 mile down hill ride back to Cumberland. This brings you through most of the GAPs big engineering features (tunnels & viaducts).

  9. #9
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Papa Tom View Post

    I will consider what you said about the amount of pre and post-ride travel time I'd be looking at. Maybe this ISN'T the right ride for me.
    Given your limited amount of time I would think most tours that require more than a few hours of travel would be out. Maybe there is something nearby you? Vermont can be beautiful but hilly. I would think that is not an awful far drive. Or maybe even something right out your back door so you can spend all three days on the tour?
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  10. #10
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by DCwom View Post
    The GAP is doable by just about everyone, we did it on a tandem this past summer, here's our crazy guy journal:http://www.crazyguyonabike.com/doc/12687 . As other have said the whole GAP is the thing to do, but if you don't mind back tracking you could park in Cumberland and take the tourist train up to Frostberg and then from there ride to Meyersdale to overnight. From Meyersdale you can continue north for part of the day (Rockport?) then turn around and head back to Cumberland. The extra distance on the second day would be mitigated by the 20 mile down hill ride back to Cumberland. This brings you through most of the GAPs big engineering features (tunnels & viaducts).
    Ohiopyle is still the best section but I must admit this is a close second. That few from atop "the glide" is spectacular. Add the steam train ride back and I think you have a pretty attractive option there dcworm.
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  11. #11
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    BTW if you meant 3 workdays plus 2 weekend days then that would be tight but should be enough time. If you could could do it during a holiday then you could add another day and that would be about right.
    "The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it."

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  12. #12
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    Given your parameters, I would put the GAP out of your head entirely. Since one of those parameters is not driving, and you only have three days max, step one is to determine where you can get to from your home without driving in a relatively short amount of time. For example, do some research on train availability and lodging in the areas of the Paulinskill Valley and Sussex Branch Trails in NJ.

  13. #13
    Senior Member Ridefreemc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Papa Tom View Post
    At 51 years old and feeling it physically, I feel like I only have a few good bike adventures left in me. I still do one or two short (50-60 mile) road tours each summer and I commute to work by bike pretty much every day between April and November. I'm wondering if I can handle one more mountain bike excursion...
    Quote Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
    51 and only a few adventures left??? You are younger than me and I have plenty left in me. You are talking about the Great Allegheny Passage. While some areas are a bit remote you are never a day from a town. There is plenty of places to get help along the way with plenty of riders to lend a hand. And there is plenty of beauty along the way too.
    Thank you spinnaker for boosting him up. At 51 Papa Tom I would think you should be having the money and time start opening up for MORE adventures, not less. Heck, I'm older than you and thinking of how I can get in a cross-country ride before I'm 60. And that's so I can have more time to tour after that (get the ride across out of the way first ). Anyway, I do understad that our obligations can weigh us down (as you stated the work you do is taking its toll). Sounds like you are aware of the issues though and should be able to find a solution to doing better. Riding more is a great start! Good luck on the planning. Maybe think about a bit of B&B stuff over near Skaneateles - plenty of nice roads (and even some great MTBing at Bear Swamp), good places to eat, and the great wineries. Gets a little hilly east-west, but north to south not so bad.
    Last edited by Ridefreemc; 01-05-14 at 01:36 PM.
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  14. #14
    Senior Member Papa Tom's Avatar
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    >>>>At 51 Papa Tom I would think you should be having the money and time start opening up for MORE adventures, not less.<<<<<

    Unfortunately not. I started life as a professional musician, which went very well until my thirties, when the industry changed and work became harder to come by. Then I spent my forties trying to salvage an income by flying all over North America on a daily basis (and beating the crap out of my back) investigating jewelry crimes. I made great money during that decade and was able to take week-long vacations, but that all ended when the economy crashed in 2008. Now I am an audio-video tech for my local township and I have had to start at the bottom of the payscale again ($50,000, which is poverty-level if you live in New York). Plus, it's the kind of job you don't stay away from for more than a few days, lest you come back and find someone else sitting at your desk! (cont'd below)

    >>>>Sounds like you are aware of the issues though and should be able to find a solution to doing better. Riding more is a great start!<<<<<

    I still ride as often as I can, and I am very satisfied with the amount of riding I have been able to get in between 1996 and now. If I don't take this ride, I will likely do my favorite road ride up the shore of Connecticut and Rhode Island again this summer. I just though a different route on a different type of terrain might be a neat addition to my memory book. (cont'd below)


    >>>>Maybe think about a bit of Band B stuff over near Skaneateles - plenty of nice roads (and even some great MTBing at Bear Swamp), good places to eat, and the great wineries. Gets a little hilly east-west, but north to south not so bad.<<<<<

    Sorry, I don't know what "Band B" means or where Skaneateles is!
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  15. #15
    Senior Member Jim Kukula's Avatar
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    Maybe a ride up around Lake Champlain. Amtrak goes up to Montreal & stops along the way. Maybe stop in Plattsburgh and ride around there. Another idea would be to go up to Quebec and do some of the Route Verte. I hear the little towns up there have nice B&Bs. There are good resources for biking the Route Verte and also routes around Lake Champlain. I should think a quick internet search will give you more hits than you can handle!

  16. #16
    Senior Member Jim Kukula's Avatar
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  17. #17
    Senior Member Papa Tom's Avatar
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    Thanks for the tip, Jim. I had considered Lake Champlain a few years back, but I had the same issue then with the travel time it takes to get there and the amount of time I can realistically take off from work. Instead, I've DRIVEN much of the roadway adjacent to the bikeway and enjoyed it that way!

    Anyway, as you noted, there are many possible rides out there if you just Google a bit. However, I am interested in the GAP primarily because it is reasonably close to Long Island, NY AND because it is a mountain bike ride, rather than a road ride.
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  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Papa Tom View Post
    I am interested in the GAP primarily because it is reasonably close to Long Island, NY AND because it is a mountain bike ride, rather than a road ride.
    I don't think it's a "mountain bike ride" as that term has common meaning. It's a trail ride that one can do on pretty much any type of bike.

  19. #19
    Senior Member Papa Tom's Avatar
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    >>>I don't think it's a "mountain bike ride" as that term has common meaning<<<<

    But it's gravel and dirt, right? To me, that means the butt will thank me for using a mountain bike, which, in my little world, makes it a mountain bike ride!
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  20. #20
    Every day a winding road spinnaker's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Papa Tom View Post
    However, I am interested in the GAP primarily because it is reasonably close to Long Island, NY AND because it is a mountain bike ride, rather than a road ride.
    The GAP is no where near Long Island. Yes it probably is the closest longer distance trail. The C&O might be just a bit closer. There is also the Ghost Town trail just outside of Phillie.

    Quote Originally Posted by Papa Tom View Post
    >>>I don't think it's a "mountain bike ride" as that term has common meaning<<<<

    But it's gravel and dirt, right? To me, that means the butt will thank me for using a mountain bike, which, in my little world, makes it a mountain bike ride!

    The GAP is mostly crushed limestone. The limestone offers a lot of rolling resistance and is not as smooth as you might think. I prefer paved surfaces but a car free trail of that distance is hard to beat. The C&O is a real kidney buster. It is no where near a comfortable ride.
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    How about Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard, & Block Island? I believe there's a LIRR train to Montauk, and from there a ferry to Block Island. From Block Island there are ferries to Martha's Vineyard & Nantucket. I haven't been to Block Island which is quite small, but I've biked on Nantucket and a part of Martha's Vineyard and liked them both. Nantucket was my favorite.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by Papa Tom View Post
    >>>>Maybe think about a bit of Band B stuff over near Skaneateles - plenty of nice roads (and even some great MTBing at Bear Swamp), good places to eat, and the great wineries. Gets a little hilly east-west, but north to south not so bad.<<<<<

    Sorry, I don't know what "Band B" means or where Skaneateles is!
    Yes, I re-read my post and at first I didn't know what Band B was either I meant B&B - sorry. Skaneateles is the town on the north end of the lake with the same name, but it is all in the Finger Lakes area of Central New York. Lots of nice country for riding.
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    Senior Member Papa Tom's Avatar
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    Roosterbird: Thank you for the very useful link.

    Others: Thank you for your very good suggestions. Please don't take this the wrong way, but this particular thread was a request for info specifically about the GAP. Perhaps the suggestions about other rides would be more useful to readers of this forum if listed as separate topics?
    Papa Tom

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  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by Papa Tom View Post
    >>>I don't think it's a "mountain bike ride" as that term has common meaning<<<<

    But it's gravel and dirt, right? To me, that means the butt will thank me for using a mountain bike, which, in my little world, makes it a mountain bike ride!
    I rode the entire GAP on a hybrid, with front suspension fork, back in 2011, and rode various sections over the intervening years. The trail is crushed limestone, as others have said. It's pretty smooth. On the first ride, I used the suspension. On the rides since, I've locked it out, riding on 700x35 tires at 85 psi. Very doable. Energy-expending wise, I'd say the GAP, when dry, is probably 1.2 to 1.3 times what smooth asphalt uses. In the wet, maybe 1.5 times smooth asphalt.

    While you could easily ride it on an MTB (I've ridden sections on one with 26x2.00 tires), I'd say it would be overkill. If that's the only bike option you have, I'd really consider changing out knobby tires for semi-slicks.

    And to give you my fitness level - I'm 55, with creaky knees, a neck and back that aren't too flexible anymore, and arthritis in my hands and feet. I rode the full length after owning a bike for less than 6 months and with my prior max distance as 25 miles. I did 50 miles a day, but wished I had done more like 40. Two days were in rain, one day sporadic, the second in a 5 hour steady rain (challenging, but rewarding). After day one, I wished I had prepped better, but I got through it.

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