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GAP Trail questions

Old 09-20-18, 07:51 AM
  #1  
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GAP Trail questions

I am in preliminary planning to do a ride from Pittsburgh to Cumberland along the GAP trail during the summer of 2019. A couple things about me: Been riding for 16 years, I've never really done a tour of any kind except the MS 150, I am currently out of shape but hope to fix that to some degree in the next year. I would be riding a single speed mountain bike with roughly 32/14 gearing. I am fairly good on equipment to take, since I do go camping and am a part time mechanic for a shop. My plan would be to do the ride in 2 days, with day 1 being a longer ride of 90 miles, from Pitt to Confluence. Camp in Confluence, then ride to Cumberland to Amtrak my way back to Pitt. When I was preparing for the MS 150 I rode 2-3 days a week and it was usually a 20-30 mile ride and I felt fine during the ride, no real issues, but that was years ago. Now I am exclusively a mountain biker and I only manage a ride every other week, so I know that will have to be ramped up. Is doing this in 2 days reasonable? Any advice is welcomed, since I am new to the touring game.
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Old 09-20-18, 09:09 AM
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Having done it with cooking and camping gear as part of a cross-PA tour in basically 2.5 days, I wouldn't want to wed myself to 2 days or a 90 mile day. Day one was to Connellsville. Somewhere over 60 miles. Had a headwind the entire day, and it was warm and sticky. I felt like I had done a good amount of work for a rail-trail. Second day was to Rockwood. Also had a headwind. Day three I made it to Cumberland and continued on to Bedford, PA. Exertion and the potential for bad weather delaying you aside, it's nice to have some time to stop along the way and take in the sights. I spent a decent amount of time down by the river in Ohiopyle..

Ultimately, what is reasonable for you will depend entirely on you.
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Old 09-20-18, 09:45 AM
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Two days enough time or Pittsburgh to Cumberland for someone that is out of shape? Definitely not.

Don't let the fact that the trail is flat fool you. The trail surface will provide significant rolling resistance.

Also what is your hurry? You are coming from Cleveland to just buzz the GAP? Why not just ride the Ohio & Erie a couple of times?

I don't understand why anyone would want to punish themselves riding a single speed but to each his own I guess.
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Old 09-20-18, 10:08 AM
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Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
Two days enough time or Pittsburgh to Cumberland for someone that is out of shape? Definitely not.

Don't let the fact that the trail is flat fool you. The trail surface will provide significant rolling resistance.

Also what is your hurry? You are coming from Cleveland to just buzz the GAP? Why not just ride the Ohio & Erie a couple of times?

I don't understand why anyone would want to punish themselves riding a single speed but to each his own I guess.
Good point on the trail surface, I guess I was assuming pavement. I have been on a single speed for a long time and I truly enjoy it. 4 kids is why I didn't want to commit a lot of time to it. If I could tackle it in 2 days and catch the train back to pitt I could potentially only be gone for 3 days. Been down the towpath on casual 40-50 mile rides a few times up here (CLE to Akron), just wanted somethjng different and more scenic. So maybe Ill look into adding a day to the schedule.
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Old 09-20-18, 10:35 AM
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Originally Posted by trekkie820 View Post
Good point on the trail surface, I guess I was assuming pavement.
You might want to peruse this:

https://gaptrail.org/

The profile, albeit an exaggerated one because of the small scale:

https://gaptrail.org/plan-a-visit/mi...evation-charts

There is a net elevation gain south for most of the way, and you will notice it at times.

And note that the train doesn't get you back to PGH until nearly midnight, assuming it's on time.

Since CLE to PGH is a relatively short drive, you could:

Day 1: Drive from CLE and start riding to some point.
Day 2: Second day on the trail
Day 3: Finish the trail, catch the train (7:24 p.m.) and drive home, arriving early in the morning

There is a place to camp (Husky Haven) along the trail just south of the bridge for the town itself. $10, shaded and free firewood. No running water (porta-potties), but the $10 entitles you to use the bathhouse in town and well as the common room amenities of the guest house. There are gallon jugs of water you can fill and take back to camp. The owner will collect them in the morning. Just bring earplugs if you are a light sleeper. The trains can be somewhat noisy. (I'll try to remember to post my infamous video later.)
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Old 09-20-18, 10:46 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
You might want to peruse this:

https://gaptrail.org/

The profile, albeit an exaggerated one because of the small scale:

https://gaptrail.org/plan-a-visit/mi...evation-charts

There is a net elevation gain south for most of the way, and you will notice it at times.

And note that the train doesn't get you back to PGH until nearly midnight, assuming it's on time.

Since CLE to PGH is a relatively short drive, you could:

Day 1: Drive from CLE and start riding to some point.
Day 2: Second day on the trail
Day 3: Finish the trail, catch the train (7:24 p.m.) and drive home, arriving early in the morning

There is a place to camp (Husky Haven) along the trail just south of the bridge for the town itself. $10, shaded and free firewood. No running water (porta-potties), but the $10 entitles you to use the bathhouse in town and well as the common room amenities of the guest house. There are gallon jugs of water you can fill and take back to camp. The owner will collect them in the morning. Just bring earplugs if you are a light sleeper. The trains can be somewhat noisy. (I'll try to remember to post my infamous video later.)
Thanks for the info. That schedule does look a little more manageable. Looking at the profile is what attracted me to the trail, I like the idea of crossing an entire mountain range. I was thinking maybe Pitt->Connelsville->Meyersdale->Cumberland (Arrows are days on the trail) and mileage would be 60, 60, 30 roughly.
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Old 09-20-18, 11:21 AM
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Allow for 3 days and enjoy yourself.
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Old 09-20-18, 11:47 AM
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Originally Posted by trekkie820 View Post
I like the idea of crossing an entire mountain range. I was thinking maybe Pitt->Connelsville->Meyersdale->Cumberland (Arrows are days on the trail) and mileage would be 60, 60, 30 roughly.
You cross the eastern Continental Divide, but it's not really like crossing a mountain range. As the profile notes, the ruling grade is only 1.5%. From Rockwood south is where I really noticed the up hill.

There is trailside camping in Connellsville. The park has Adirondack shelters. When I was there in 2012 there were two, but I think there are four now. One came complete with a used condom. A trail volunteer who stopped by told me kids use them to have sex in sometimes. You can see the back of the grocery store from the park.
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Old 09-20-18, 01:10 PM
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Originally Posted by trekkie820 View Post
Good point on the trail surface, I guess I was assuming pavement. I have been on a single speed for a long time and I truly enjoy it. 4 kids is why I didn't want to commit a lot of time to it. If I could tackle it in 2 days and catch the train back to pitt I could potentially only be gone for 3 days. Been down the towpath on casual 40-50 mile rides a few times up here (CLE to Akron), just wanted somethjng different and more scenic. So maybe Ill look into adding a day to the schedule.
If you want a quick tour then consider the Montour Trail. IMHO it is every bit as good as the GAP, if you leave out Ohiopyle.

You could easily ride to Boston and back in 2 days. This would minimize your travel time (train / car) .

Another thing to consider is to drive to Connelsville and park there. Except for a visit to the city (sounds like that is out for you anyway) things don't really get good till you get to Connelsville anyway. Coming back you will be arriving at the station at a much more hospitable time.

Last edited by spinnaker; 09-20-18 at 01:14 PM.
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Old 09-20-18, 01:13 PM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post

There is trailside camping in Connellsville. The park has Adirondack shelters. When I was there in 2012 there were two, but I think there are four now. One came complete with a used condom. A trail volunteer who stopped by told me kids use them to have sex in sometimes. You can see the back of the grocery store from the park.
I have seen evidence of said sex.

I would stay at the KOA just up the trail from there. Showers and real bathrooms. Beautiful spot right along th eriver.

DO NOT try to camp in Ohiopyle. The campsite is straight up a rocky trail;off ogf the GAP. Once you get to the top, there is more up to get the office where you need to check in.
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Old 09-20-18, 01:16 PM
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Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
If you want a quick tour then consider the Montour Trail. IMHO it is every bit as good as the GAP, if you leave out Ohiopyle.

You could easily ride to Boston and back in 2 days. This would minimize your travel time (train / car) .

Another thing to consider is to drive to Connelsville and park there. Except for a visit to the city (sounds like that is out for you anyway) things don't really get good till you get to Connelsville anyway. Coming back you will be arriving at the station at a much more hospitable time.
Thats actually a fantastic idea! Fits into my timeframe and fitness levels better for sure! Thus the value of coming on the forums. Thanks!
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Old 09-20-18, 01:43 PM
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My first time is almost exactly like Indyfabz mentioned above... same town (distance 62 miles). By the time we got there, I thought my ride was done ( longest one day ride at that time). My back seized up, took a couple Aleve, took a walk, felt like I ruined the ride for the people I was with. The next morning, got on the bike, after five miles felt OK. Stopped and enjoyed the sights along the way ,(highly recommend) that's what I do it for. Stayed at Husky Haven second night.... Also like Indyfabz said, bring earplugs for sleeping. No matter where you stop on the GAP, I think they will prove useful. We are going to try and ride the GAP again before winter, this time slower and enjoying the sights more.
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Old 09-20-18, 02:40 PM
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Originally Posted by trekkie820 View Post
Thats actually a fantastic idea! Fits into my timeframe and fitness levels better for sure! Thus the value of coming on the forums. Thanks!
The Montour idea or Connelsville?

The lower part of the Montour is absolutely beautiful. They just finished it about a year or so ago. It is not very long, only about a mile or so but it really is a nice section. There are two places to camp along the Montour. Both with shelters. So if you drive in from Cleveland, you can get started down the trail.

You could return through the city and have a chance to see the city and Bicycle Heaven. You then could jump on light rail and get back to the Montour or just take roads back to your starting point. I could give you a route.

You are welcome to park at my place (assuming I will be home), I live about a couple of miles from mile 3 of the Montour Trail. Only about a mile if you want to go over the hillside at the back of my house and through my neighbors yard. But don't be surprised if he meets you with his shotgun.
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Old 09-20-18, 03:57 PM
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Originally Posted by spinnaker View Post
The Montour idea or Connelsville?

The lower part of the Montour is absolutely beautiful. They just finished it about a year or so ago. It is not very long, only about a mile or so but it really is a nice section. There are two places to camp along the Montour. Both with shelters. So if you drive in from Cleveland, you can get started down the trail.

You could return through the city and have a chance to see the city and Bicycle Heaven. You then could jump on light rail and get back to the Montour or just take roads back to your starting point. I could give you a route.

You are welcome to park at my place (assuming I will be home), I live about a couple of miles from mile 3 of the Montour Trail. Only about a mile if you want to go over the hillside at the back of my house and through my neighbors yard. But don't be surprised if he meets you with his shotgun.
I was talking about GAP from Connellsville, then the train back but thanks for the offer! I should have mentioned part of my prep will also be doing a few s24o trips of 20 ish miles. The viaducts and tunnels and riding over the divide are what drew me to it in the first place and I wouldnt care about taking 3 or more days, but my wife who will have all 4 kids probably would
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Old 09-20-18, 04:16 PM
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Originally Posted by trekkie820 View Post
I was talking about GAP from Connellsville, then the train back but thanks for the offer! I should have mentioned part of my prep will also be doing a few s24o trips of 20 ish miles. The viaducts and tunnels and riding over the divide are what drew me to it in the first place and I wouldnt care about taking 3 or more days, but my wife who will have all 4 kids probably would
Well you can come back and ride the Montour. It really isn't that far away for you.

You should plan on visiting Bicycle Heaven. Craig has a huge lot to park. It would not be too awful far out of the way for you.

If you don't want to drive back late, the hotel in Conneslville is an excellent option. You might even talk to them about leaving your car in their parking during your trip. Though the parking lot under the bridge is safe enough. and I think parking at the train station is free in Connelsville.
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Old 09-20-18, 04:48 PM
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Be sure to book your train trip early. There are only 6 slots on the train for RORO. You will need to hang your bike. So have the bags off when the train rolls up. As I recall the bike car will be behind the sleepers which is behind the baggage car which is right behind the engine. Have a flashlight ready as it is often dark inside the car. Coming from Cumberland and only going to Connelsville, there are only a couple of stops so I would not be too worried about security. If you are have a lock ready. Amtrak will supply the cable.

If you can get into Connelsville early for the start of the trip you could make Rockwood that night. Stay at the hostel. Next day would be Cumberland. If you get in early, and it is the weekend, you could take the stem train back up to Frostburg and do that section all over again.

If you can't make it early into Connelsville then a good first night stop would be Confluence.
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Old 09-20-18, 07:29 PM
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I did the opposite of a planned GAP tour ride. I waited for very good weather, got a motel within driving distance of a trailhead, and did two long out-and-back day rides. The weather was perfect, and the rides were very nice with just a camera and a jacket stowed in a handlebar bag. B&Bs and other accomdations near the trail need advance reservations, but motels farther away are easy to book.

The crushed stone trail surface was mostly very smooth and hard, with a thin coating of peppercorn sized stone fragments, and very occasionally looser surfaces. I was still significantly slower than on a paved road.

Day1: 66 miles. park at Rockwood, ride uphill to the Maryland border, the Mason-Dixon monument, then back to the car. Head west on a second out-and-back to the Pinkerton Tunnel, and also ride it's detour path.
A lightweight gravel bike and smooth 38 mm tires were perfect for this. I averaged close to 12 mph uphill and 15-16 mph downhill, even though the grades were very shallow.

Day2: 56 miles, park at Connelsville, then uphill all the way to Confluence and return. Passed through Ohiopyle in the middle. The grade is often about 0.5%, so the speed difference each way was only a mph or so.

Both days were great. I often had no other riders in sight, except near trailheads and near Ohiopyle. The out-and-back was fine, with different views and different times of day as I retraced my route.
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Old 09-20-18, 10:25 PM
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Make sure you prepare for all weather. I rode from Cumberland to Connellsville and back over a weekend in July a couple years ago. In the 50s at night and sunny but cool during the day.
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Old 09-21-18, 04:27 AM
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Originally Posted by M69thunder View Post
Also like Indyfabz said, bring earplugs for sleeping. No matter where you stop on the GAP, I think they will prove useful.

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Amtrak's Capitol Limited heading to PGH:

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Old 09-21-18, 07:56 AM
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I had a plan last year in the spring to do both the GAP and C&O in about 5 1/2 days. Plan was to pass through Cumberland partway through day 3. But even before I got to Pittsburgh, I was finding the mileage goals I had set for myself to be a challenge and to be taking a lot of the fun out of the ride. Instead I changed my plans, and gave myself 4 days to just do the GAP. It was very enjoyable. My longest day was 50 miles, and it was getting dark when I got to camp. I'm not a fast rider to start with, but knowing I had low mileage goals meant I could stop, read the information signs, take in the view, have leisurely meals, etc. Unlike some of the other riders, I enjoyed the urban parts of the trail as well as the wilder parts. I would try to squeeze at least one more day into your schedule and do the whole trail. Make the first day your longest ride of up to 60 miles, spend the night in Roundbottom or Connellsville or that KOA that others seem to have a higher opinion of than me (but then I sleep in a hammock, and that campsite appeared to be a field). Then on to Rockwood. Then you've got plenty of time to get into Cumberland for the train (7ish, I think?) on the last day. Plus the 2nd half in an easy, downhill ride. Of course if your first day involves driving to Pittsburgh, you may want to make the 2nd day the longer one.
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Old 09-21-18, 08:39 AM
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2 days max, unless you like sitting around a lot. It’s only 150 miles.
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Old 09-21-18, 09:25 AM
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Originally Posted by alan s View Post
2 days max, unless you like sitting around a lot. Itís only 150 miles.
I would not want to do it in 2 days and I have done that run several times. To each his own but the OP has already stated that he is out of shape. Of course things can change by next year but I still would not want to do those miles each day. I would much rather do 75 miles on rolling hills on a paved surface than 75 miles on the flat (almost) GAP crushed limestone surface.
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Old 09-21-18, 10:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
I'm not a fast rider to start with, but knowing I had low mileage goals meant I could stop, read the information signs, take in the view, have leisurely meals, etc. Unlike some of the other riders, I enjoyed the urban parts of the trail as well as the wilder parts.
I think there's something to be said for taking in the whole trail including the Pittsburgh urban end. If you take in the historical nature of the area and the ride, you really are travelling through time. Although there aren't any steel mills left in Pittsburgh itself, you can see the remnants of the industry in many places. Riding out of the city into Homestead let's you take in the old smokestacks at the Waterfront, some of the old gantry cranes, the site of the Homestead Strike of 1892, and a view of US Steel's Edgar Thomson Works across the river from the trail. You can take in a sense of the scale of the industry and the impact on the area, both economically and environmentally. Several bridges now carrying the GAP were originally built to carry rail cars of hot steel to rolling mills. Riding out towards Connellsville takes a rider in coal country that produced coke for steel production. It's a fascinating history and in many ways, it's a history of America. Reading up on the history of the area before hitting the trail gives a rider a greater appreciation of it all. By the time you get to Rockwood, you can check out a fossil bed of shells laid down 300 million years ago. I can't think of another trail that has this depth of history!
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Old 09-21-18, 11:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Rob_E View Post
I'm not a fast rider to start with, but knowing I had low mileage goals meant I could stop, read the information signs, take in the view, have leisurely meals, etc....Make the first day your longest ride of up to 60 miles, spend the night in Roundbottom or Connellsville or that KOA that others seem to have a higher opinion of than me (but then I sleep in a hammock, and that campsite appeared to be a field). Then on to Rockwood. Then you've got plenty of time to get into Cumberland for the train (7ish, I think?) on the last day. Plus the 2nd half in an easy, downhill ride. Of course if your first day involves driving to Pittsburgh, you may want to make the 2nd day the longer one.
Yeah. The OP as a couple of hours driving, which likely means an early wakeup call on day one.

As for that KOA, I don't think it was a KOA when I rode the GAP in 2012. I do remember passing the place and hearing heavy metal music coming from it. Glad I moved on, used condom in one of the Adirondack shelters notwithstanding. Also, it's 3 miles from the grocery store in town, which means an additional 6 miles round trip if you are not carrying food for dinner.
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Old 09-21-18, 11:33 AM
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Originally Posted by indyfabz View Post
As for that KOA, I don't think it was a KOA when I rode the GAP in 2012. I do remember passing the place and hearing heavy metal music coming from it. Glad I moved on, used condom in one of the Adirondack shelters notwithstanding. Also, it's 3 miles from the grocery store in town, which means an additional 6 miles round trip if you are not carrying food for dinner.
The KOA has a small convenience store where you could likely scrounge a meal, and, of course, if you were planning on stopping there, there are other places to grab food on the way. I stopped at the KOA during both rides last year to grab a snack. It had good facilities, but really just served to remind me how I don't care for campgrounds that cater primarily to RVs. The tent/bike area looked unwelcoming to me as well, but, like I said, I like a couple of trees, or at least some sturdy structures to hang my tent from. When I got to Connelsville, I was struck by how welcoming it looked with the colorful arch over the trail, the shelters for campers, and a park or two along the trail as you got into town. Not sure if I could have made my hammock work with those shelters, but it looked possible, and I wondered why anyone would stay at the KOA and listen to the RV generators drone on all night when there was such a charming spot just down the trail. I certainly would not stay at the KOA if I were planning on going to Connelsville for dinner anyway.
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