OK, actually nothing at all like that movie...
This past weekend Carole & I and June & Chris, friends for 30 years, had a three day two night adventure centered on bicycling on the Great Allegheny Passage rail trail, which connects Cumberland MD with Pittsburgh PA. The GAP trail is slightly uphill going from Pittsburgh to Deal, PA, gaining about 1600' in elevation over the first 125 miles and then giving all that gain back in a beautiful downhill 25 mile stretch through Frostburg, MD and into Cumberland.
This was in the middle of yet another heat wave in the Washington DC area, but the elevation and the weather forecast promised some relief. So we packed up John's trusty Subaru Outback with 4 bikes and assorted stuff and drove to Confluence PA and checked into the Parker House County Inn.
The Parker House is a beautiful place that we had to ourselves the first night but shared with 7 or 8 other cyclists on the second night. Mary, the Innkeeper, recommended the Summit Inn for dinner when we asked about places to eat near Uniontown. We drove west on the "National Pike" (Rt. 40), felt a bit under-dressed for such an impressive looking place, but had a great meal with great views of the valley from the summit. The Summit Inn dates back to 1907, built in an era when coal and foresting wealth meant Uniontown PA had one of the highest rates of millionaires per capita of any city in the US. The decline of coal coupled with the Chestnut blight brought on hard times, but the place has been restored and is very impressive, inside and out.
The next day began the calorie-burning portion of the trip. Carole and June drove us an hour west of Confluence and dropped us off at the West Newton trailhead on the GAP trail. While Chris and I were cycling 53 miles back to Confluence, Carole and June would go zip-lining at Nemacolin and then meet up with Carole's friend Martha for some hiking and other adventures in Ohiopyle.
The first 25 mile stretch from West Newton to Connellsville PA was a piece of cake, scenic and a barely noticeable uphill going upstream alongside the Youghiogheny River (one of the few rivers in North America that flows north) and passing under I-70. We stopped for lunch there and Chris began to feel his buttocks complaining about sitting on a hard bicycle seat for so many hours, while John, who had wisely spent years accumulating many layers of relaxed muscle on his posterior, felt fine.
The next 17 miles to Ohiopyle were through a beautifully rugged and isolated section of the Youghiogheny River, with an increased uphill slope. We stopped at one rest stop where Chris admired the combination air pump/bike hoist/tool dispenser kiosk. We saw several of these on this trip, a great idea.
About 17 miles from Connellsville, we crossed two bridges over the Youghiogheny and entered Ohiopyle, just a few miles from the famous Frank Lloyd Wright Fallingwaters House. We had a second lunch at the phenomenal Ohiopyle House Cafe - I think the food would have tasted great even if we hadn't just cycled 42 miles.
Oddly enough, just miles away Carole, June and Martha were braving the Natural Water Slide - a stream that runs down a small canyon on its way to the Yough, and at the right water levels it is a popular place for a natural water slide ride. Here's June and Carole going down with Martha providing the verbal encouragement:
It was another 11 miles from Ohiopyle back to Confluence - a section I had done many times, starting 25 years ago when Lauren was less than a year old and I had carried her on a baby seat - and she ripped her helmet off her head, sending it flying towards the Yough River. It is a beautiful stretch and at about 3pm we arrived back at the Parker House, just in time to avoid a gulley washing downpour - which it turns out dumped directly on the heads of Carole, June and Martha while they hiked - punishment for not biking with us.
That night, at Martha's recommendation, we had a great meal at the Stone House Inn on Rt. 40, then back to bed to prepare for the next day's complicated logistics. John would hop on his bicycle at 0630 to pedal the 38 miles to Deal, while at 0730 Carole and June would drive to Cumberland MD, dropping Chris off at Rockwood PA on the way. The Cumberland Trail Connection bike shop would then shuttle Carole and June and their bikes back to o the top of trail at Deal PA where magically we would all reunite.
Within a mile of starting in the morning, I found a tree had fallen and blocked the path. I had to break off some branches and drag the bike under sideways. The next 18 miles from Confluence to Rockwood (art at the Rockwood trail stop above) included visits by turkeys, deer, rabbits, chipmunks, cats, owls and chickens who were out foraging after the evening deluges. After Rockwood, the trail steepens a bit through Connellsville and then up to Deal - where magically all the timing worked out and John&Carole & June&Chris were reunited to enjoy the ride back down to our car in Cumberland.
First, we got to cycle through the 3,000 foot long Big Savage Tunnel. It was lighted but some of the lights were out. We had put lights on our bikes, but sill sort of a spooky ride through - the natural air conditioning was very enjoyable.
The southern/eastern end of the Big Savage Tunnel has a great view. What you can't see are the dozens of huge wind turbines on the ridge.
A few more miles brought us through a short tunnel at the Eastern Continental Divide - from that point on, all our sweat would flow into the Chesapeake Bay vs. the Gulf of Mexico.
From there it was another 20 miles or so of swooping downhills, passing Frostburg and the Cliffs of Cumberland before reaching the Cumberland terminus - where 18 years earlier Carole and I had started our 3 day, 184 mile bike ride of the C&O Canal Towpath into Washington DC.
A quick meal at the European Dessert and Sandwich shop and we hopped back in the trusty Subaru for the petroleum-powered ride home.