Day 2: Homestead to Connellsville PA

September 19, 2016

52 miles today

Today’s route
Click map for detail

Friday September 9.  We got up, got breakfast, and I returned my rental van to a nearby rental place.  Hank drove me back to the hotel, we got into our gear, and started our ride, first down East Waterfront Drive towards the trail.  Homestead had been the home of some major steel mills, as well as the site of a major strike in 1892 that resulted in a violent battle between the strikers and private security firm troops hired by the steel companies. We stopped at a historical marker about the events, then headed onward to get on the trail at about 8:30 or so.

Just outside of Homestead, industrial sites across the Mon River

Just outside of Homestead, industrial sites across the Mon River

At this point the trail is alongside the Monongahela River, and goes along a very industrial area. At McKeesport we turned to follow the Youghiogeny (pr: yockagaynee) River. After winding a bit through the town — here the GAP  trail goes on a few streets, we crossed the river and continued along some industrial site roads. Eventually the trail separated from the roads, and we had a nice ride, with one “challenging” climb — not really bad at all, then into Boston.

By 11:30, after about 22 miles, it was time for some fuel, so we stopped at an ice cream place just off the trail in Sutersville, a small place called the Yough Twister. Most of us got ice cream, Dave got a hot dog. We hung there for a while, then back onto the trail.

Ice cream!

Ice cream!

We followed the trail, which continued to run along the Yough River. The trail is great, going in this direction it was very subtly uphill but not at all noticeable, it’s virtually flat and very well maintained. Much of the day was through forests.

On the trail

On the trail

We eventually wound our way into Connellsville, where we checked into the Connellsville B&B. Dinner was at Brad Murphy’s in Connellsville. There seemed to be a mixup between different IPAs, so we each had about three just to test. For dinner I had fried chicken which was great. We went back to the B&B and played euchre and drank Jamo and/or Scotch. Then to bed.

Friday September 9
Distance: 52.3 miles
Time on bike: 4 hours, 53 minutes
avg speed: 9.4mph
ascent: 600 feet



Biking the Great Allegheny Passage Trail

September 14, 2016

For the past eight years I’ve been doing a long ride every September with some friends from Rochester who ride recumbent bikes.  Up until three years ago, the ride went from Oswego, NY to Kingston, Ontario, via the Thousand Island bridges and the ferries from Kingston to Cape Vincent.  They’d been doing this ride already for years.

In 2014, they decided to mix it up a bit and so we did a ride on the Pine Creek Trail in Pennsylvania (Wellsboro to Jersey Shore, PA) that year.  Last year we did the Cape Cod bike trails in Massachusetts.  And this year, we did the 150 mile Great Allegheny Passage rail-trail.

The GAP trail starts in Pittsburgh, and follows the path of the old Western Maryland Railway (WM) and the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad (P&LE) tracks.  For much of its length the trail runs along the Youghiogheny River, a tributary of the Ohio River. Going from Pittsburgh it climbs very gradually, less than 1% grade, until it gets to the Eastern Continental Divide, where it drops 1750 feet over 26 miles, ending in Cumberland, Maryland, where it connects to the C&O canal trail.

I rode a small part of the GAP back in 2012 on my ride from Ithaca to Norfolk, VA that summer. I’d taken Pennsylvania Bike Route G down to the Maryland border, then continued on Maryland Rt 35 down to Cash Valley, where I climbed up to the GAP trail, riding the last 5 miles of the trail into downtown Cumberland, where I picked up the C&O to head further south.  I was impressed with the trail, so was pretty happy when my recumbent buddies said they were going to do the GAP this year.

Day 1: Thursday September 8

Map of today’s route
click for more detail

The Rochester guys (Mike, Dave, Cliff, John and Hank) drove down early to Homestead, PA, outside of Pittsburgh, where we stayed the first night.  They rode their bikes from Homestead into Pittsburgh to the start of the GAP trail (about 10 miles) and then back that day.

I couldn’t leave Ithaca until about 11am, and since the ride is one way, ending in Cumberland MD, I drove there and parked my car at the trail head.

GAP trail

GAP trail (in light blue)

I loaded my panniers onto my bike, then rode about 3 miles from the start of the GAP out to Dakota Rd, where I got off the trail and rode a big downhill (61 feet descent over a tenth of a mile, much of it at 11% grade) to the main road, and then to the car rental place.  I rented a van there and then drove up to Homestead, about 100 miles.

I found the guys, and after stowing my bike and gear at the hotel, we went out for dinner and beers. Then back to my room to get everything ready for the GAP ride.

Thursday September 2
Distance: 3.14 miles
time in saddle: 17 minutes
avg speed 10.57 mph
ascent: 182 ft
weather: sunny, temp: 93°F

Wrap up post, July 2012

July 11, 2012

Another great bike trip down to Norfolk!

I was very lucky with the weather, didn’t get rained on once, and the huge storm that went through the area happened at night.

– The temps were pretty high the last six days of the ride — four days in the 100s, the other two with highs in the 90s — but hydrating and keeping up electrolytes really helped, so I felt great. Having a hydration pack is the key for me, it makes sure I drink very often. The electolyte tabs I use (Camelbak Elixir) are just the right taste to keep me drinking.  Having water available along the 130 miles of the C&O Canal Towpath really helped, but I was also very good about refilling when I was on the road, even adding an extra 32 ounce bottle to my water supply (which was the 64 ounce hydration pack plus two 20 ounce water bottles), for a total of  1 gallon plus 8 ounces. It added about 8 pounds to my total carried weight but well worth it.

– The heat wasn’t really that bad, even though it was in the 90s and 100s; as long as you keep moving on a bike you get at least a bit of a breeze. It’s when you stop that it gets hot. Plus the asphalt really does radiate heat. My thermometer read 106 at one point, and the heat coming up from the pavement felt like being in an oven so I think it was accurate. But I just kept on moving.

– The roads were with very few exceptions great.   The few exceptions were a couple highway segments that were probably unavoidable and at least had decent shoulders; and the road around Quantico, again unavoidable if I wanted to get to Fredericksburg.

– The trails I rode were nice alternatives to the roads.  The Pine Creek and Lower Trails in Pennsylvania were very nice, not paved but great surfaces.  The C&O was kind of rough up until the PawPaw Tunnel, my first 30 miles, then got a bit better for the remaining 100 miles. I’m not sure I’d ride that much of the canal towpath again.  The paved Western Maryland Trail and Washington and Old Dominion Trail were great, especially the WODT which cut through a lot of suburban sprawl. I rode about 240 miles on these trails, almost 1/3 of the total mileage.

– I’m glad I took my upright bike for the most part.  There were enough areas where I wouldn’t have felt comfortable on a recumbent — though no climbs — that the upright was the right bike.  I can’t imagine having to carry my recumbent over all the downed trees that I dealt with on the C&O; and it would have been a challenge carrying it up the spiral staircase to Harpers Ferry.  On the other hand, given some of the saddle discomfort on this ride, I really appreciate the comfort of the recumbent seat…

– I never had any problem with car drivers, they all gave me wide berth even on roads without shoulders, slowed behind me on curving roads, I never got honked at or any other signs of aggression. Not sure what’s happened to all the rednecks…

– My legs felt great the entire time, never felt exhausted or drained; I’ve put more miles and lots of hill climbing in this year so far and that really helped. Also I consciously took it easy so I didn’t burn out early, and also made sure to eat at least every 20 miles or so to keep from bonking.

– It was cool riding door to door — in the past Lisa has picked me up at the start of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, a 25 mile long unbikeable stretch.

– Washing my biking clothes in the sink worked real well, wringing out and then laying on dry towels, rolling and wringing again, then hanging overnight gave me dry clothes almost without exception — another nice thing about hotel rooms.  The few times my biking shorts were still damp I clipped them to the top of my rack bag and they were dry within a few hours.

– Doing this as a credit card tour — staying in hotels — was good, especially given the heat and my tight schedule, not to mention the huge storm Friday night. I do like to camp and maybe in the future when I have a less restricted schedule I’ll do  another camping tour. But I have to say having less weight on the bike is nice.

– Speaking of weight, I was carrying about 25 pounds in my panniers, plus 8 pounds of water when I was fully loaded up.  I could probably try to get the weight down but I have to say it didn’t seem overly heavy, it did slow me down on hills but I never felt like it was too much — and it’s a lot less than the guy I just read about who was touring with his dog and 400 pounds (!!!) of gear on his bike and trailer! In terms of my own weight, I pretty much maintained my pre-trip weight, despite all the cycling. I was very good about carb-loading and refueling at all meals, so I didn’t expect to lose any pounds.

– I loved discovering little bakeries and restaurants on the way. I did eat at chains and big places, but when you find a cool little place with excellent food in the middle of nowhere it somehow gives you renewed faith in humanity.

– Lessons learned — don’t plan a 100+ mile day for a route that has a cue sheet of 4 pages…

– Next summer: maybe down to Norfolk via the Delaware River, Philly, Baltimore, DC; maybe riding from St Paul MN (where Lucas starts college in the fall) to Ithaca via Michigan’s upper peninsula and Ontario. We’ll see.

The entire route
Click for details

Elevation profile

Day 9: Williamsburg to Norfolk VA

July 3, 2012

70 miles today, 786 miles total. Ride finished!

Highlights: two ferries, nice back roads, finishing the ride!

Map of today’s route
click for more detail

Tuesday, July 3. I got up at 5 and hit the road by 6. I wanted to get an early ferry at Jamestown across the James River. I pedalled by Historic Williamsburg, by the College of William and Mary, and pulled into a 7-Eleven to grab some doughnuts and bananas for breakfast. After a few more miles, I went past Jamestown and onto the ferry waiting pier, and there was the ferry coming in the distance.

The Jamestown ferry

The ride was about 2 miles or so across the river.  The rest of the route was one that had been put together by the Tidewater Bike Association for cycling from the ferry to Virginia Beach.  The first 50 miles were almost all on very quiet backroads, and all pretty flat.

Back roads headed to Smithfield

Then the Rt 17 bridge over the Nansemond River — very wide shoulder — and a bit of a busy area getting to West Norfolk Rd, which was a nice quiet change.  This took me to the Rt 164 bridge over the western Branch of the Elizabeth River. This bridge also had a wide shoulder, and then an exit ramp for bikes and pedestrians that brings you down into Portsmouth.  A bit confusingly, at the start of the bridge there’s a sign that says no self-powered vehicles, but on google and other places it’s listed as a bike route, so I continued; the exit ramp for bikes was a relief when I saw it.

The cue sheet then has you go a kind of circuitous way to get by the highways — through neighborhoods that seem cut off from everything else by the highways — and eventually I was in downtown Portsmouth and at the ferry dock.

The Portsmouth to Norfolk ferry

And just as I got there, the ferry pulled in, and soon I was in Norfolk, at Waterside.  I headed along the shoreline on the brick path, onto Botetourt — 2 blocks of cobblestones, not fun on a road bike — then onto York, turned onto Colley and headed north.  I got to my father-in-law’s place at 1:45, a pretty quick ride!

At Waterside in Norfolk

Overall a good day and a good way to end the trip.  The route is great, and being able to actually ride my bike the entire way was pretty cool. I was really luck overall with the weather, never got any rain.  The temps were pretty high but they actually didn’t bother me, I stayed well-hydrated and electrolyted, kept eating at regular intervals.  My legs felt great as I rode up Colley near the end and still feel good.

Ride finished!

Tuesday July 2
Distance: 70.0 miles
start: 6am , finish: 1:45pm
time in saddle: 6 hrs, 3 mins
avg speed 11.55 mph
ascent: 1570 ft
weather: sunny, temp: 73-93°F

Total stats:
9 days
786.4 miles
time in the saddle: 69 hours, 34 minutes
Avg speed for the entire tour: 11.30 mph
climbed 29,192 feet / avg climb: 37.1 ft/mile

Day 8: Kilmarnock to Williamsburg VA

July 2, 2012

53 miles today, 716 miles total

Highlights: Three bridges, tailwind, sightseeing

Today’s route
Click map for detail

Elevation profile (max is 82 feet)

Monday, July 2.  After two long days I slept in this morning until 7. I’d arranged to meet the escort/ride over the bridge at 10 so I had plenty of time.  I set off into downtown Kilmarnock, where I had breakfast at Lee’s.  While there an older guy came up to me and we started talking, he and his family had ridden RAGBRAI (one week long ride across Iowa that draws thousands of riders) five times.  He took a picture of me outside the restaurant.

At Lee’s Restaurant in Kilmarnock

I headed off toward the village of White Stone and then the Robert Norris bridge over the Rappahannock River.  The bridge is almost 2 miles long, and has absolutely no shoulder; even the existing lanes are pretty narrow, having been constructed in 1957.  Originally I’d planned to skip the “Northern Neck” (the peninsula between the Potomac and the Rappahannock) because of that, but Edie with the Northern Neck River Ride century told me that the Chamber of Commerce provides escort/ride service across the bridge for cyclists, so I took her up on the offer.

The bridge over the Rappahannock River

When I got to the place just before the bridge starts, where I was meeting my ride, I parked the bike and walked to the nearby shore to get a look at it.  It rises up 100 feet above the water. It was also pretty busy, at least 5-10 cars per minute while I was waiting.  I was met by Tom who helped me stow my stuff in his SUV and drove me over the bridge. Turns out the escort service is only if you are there very early in the morning; I have to admit I was relieved, it would have been a long slow haul up the bridge.  Apparently they are thinking of replacing it with a new modern bridge but that won’t happen for many years.

Waiting for my ride over the bridge

After thanking Tom I continued on my way, heading to Gloucester across the “Middle Neck”. But it turns out there’s another bridge I hadn’t really paid attention to, across the Piankatank River (which I’d never heard of). There were signs saying the bridge was down to one lane, but I assumed it was a small bridge over a creek.  When I got to the construction it turned out I was wrong, it’s actually a good sized bridge, the Twigg bridge, also built in the 50s.  I got in line and waited with the cars, then went ahead when they went, keeping up a pretty good speed.

At one point though one of the construction guys yells at me that I’m not supposed to be cycling on the bridge and that I’d get a ticket. Since I hadn’t noticed any signs, and the original flag guy had let me pass, I just continued.  Then at the next gas station I pulled over and a guy in a car asked me if I’d cycled over the bridge. I said yeah, why? He said there’s a sign that says no pedestrians or bicycles.  I really didn’t see it, and I think I was lucky there was construction because the bridge also has no shoulders.  I have to say in all the research I did on this route I never came across anything saying bikes weren’t allowed on that bridge, google bike maps doesn’t indicate that, and even now can’t find anything. Oh well…

The next excitement was 10 miles on Rt 17, the George Washington Memorial Parkway.  It’s very flat, not a huge amount of traffic, four lane, some wide shoulder, some narrow shoulder.  Plus I had a very nice tailwind. So while it wasn’t the most pleasant ride in the world with the traffic, it was nice to be cruising along at 15-20mph.  Midway I stopped at a Sonics for a burger and shake — the skating server brought it out to me in their walk-up area, which was covered and was getting a very nice breeze. Then I finished the 10 miles and ended up at my third bridge of the day.

The Coleman Bridge over the York River

This is the George Coleman Memorial Bridge, over the York River. It’s about 3/4 of a mile, about 60 feet of climbing, but it does have a very nice wide shoulder, so this was one bridge that, apart from all the debris on the shoulder, was a nice ride. I took a few pix at the top then headed down and turned toward Yorktown, where I got on the Colonial Parkway.

View from the Coleman Bridge up the York River

This is an old highway, cement with stones embedded so a little bumpy, speed limit 45 and very wide, so it wasn’t a problem. Much of it is shaded, and it’s very gently rolling.  I took this all the way to the street in Williamsburg where my hotel is, and got in at 2:45!

Along the Colonial Parkway

It was very nice to have a short day, I took a shower and a nap, then headed out to historic part of town.  I walked around — not much going on, it was late and very hot, then stopped at a Mexican restaurant for dinner and a beer.

In Colonial Williamsburg

Another tourist picture

Tomorrow’s the last day, 72 miles including two ferry rides.

Monday July 1
Distance: 52.9 miles
start: 8:15am , finish: 2:40pm
time in saddle: 4 hours, 19 minutes
avg speed 12.2mph
ascent: 1400 ft
weather: sunny, temp: 74-93°F

Day 7: Fredericksburg to Kilmarnock VA

July 1, 2012

94 miles today, 663 miles total

Highlights: heat, birthplace of Robert E Lee, flat tire

Today’s route
click map for details

Elevation profile (not as bad as it looks, the max altitude is 194 feet…)

Sunday, July 1. I actually felt pretty good when I got up, at about 6:30 or so. I had breakfast at the hotel, then headed out at about 7:30. Because there was no traffic I just took the direct main road to hook up to Route 3, “Kings Highway” which I rode for the first 16 miles.

The first 16 miles of Rt 3, and some of the rest of it, was like this.

The original plan I had included lots of back roads. My first turn off the highway onto backroads convinced me to ditch that. First, the directions had me going through a big horse farm and then I was supposed to turn on something that looked like a dirt path. So I turned around (adding about 2 miles…) and hooked up to the route via another road. Plus while scenic, it was getting very hot, and there were lots of little hills, in other words very slow.  The main highway actually wasn’t bad, shoulder, little traffic, and I could get my speed up, so I decided to just stay on it the whole way and ditch the back roads.

On one of the back roads early in the day

I had also thought about visiting the George Washington birthplace, but it’s 3 miles off the main road and saddle issues were causing discomfort, so I decided against that. I did however visit Stratford Hall, the birthplace of Robert E Lee (only about a mile off the highway). After about 10 minutes of discussion I managed to get the old guy at the entry booth to give me a grounds pass for half price, since I didn’t plan on doing the tour of the “Great House.”

The “Great House” at Stratford, birthplace of Robert E Lee

The exhibition hall gave a long history of the Lee family and their roles as founding fathers of the US, Robert E Lee as a distinguished US military officer, and just a bit on how he ended up commanding the confederate army. There were also slave quarters (no entrance fee required), stables, etc. Very interesting.

House slave quarters

I headed back out, a few more back roads until I hooked back up with Highway 3.  The road is four lanes in places, two in others, sometimes with wide shoulders, sometimes with 6 inch shoulders, but traffic wasn’t heavy and I had no problems with cars at all.

Given the heat — my thermometer registered 106 at one point as I felt heat coming up off the asphalt, it was like being in an oven — I was sure to stop every 12 miles or so to rest a bit, get a gatorade and a snack.  Plus I was carrying a lot of water and was sure to hydrate a lot.

Stables at Robert E Lee birthplace

The route itself is flat in some places, big rollers in others.  The good thing is that the uphill part of the rollers was almost always shaded by trees, which helped a lot.

At one point, on a big downhill, I felt my back tire get really soft. Fortunately this happened right near a park with trees, so I pulled off, found a small wire stuck into my tire and tube; replaced the tube, put a tyvec/duct tape boot over the small hole, and headed onward.

Fixing a flat

I got into my hotel at about 6, felt really good — except for the saddle issues — had dinner at an Italian restaurant across the street.

Tomorrow morning at 10am I meet my escort to cross the bridge across the Rappahanock River. It’s not really bikeable, but when I emailed someone about it, the local Chamber of Commerce said they provide escorts, so after breakfast I’m meeting them at the bridge (about 5 miles from here) for the escort. Tomorrow’s a short day, about 54 miles, so I thought I’d sleep in a bit.

Sunday July 1
Distance: 94.0 miles
start: 7:30am , finish: 6pm
time in saddle: 8 hrs, 7 mins
avg speed: 11.6 mph
ascent: 3578 feet
weather: sunny, temp: 74-101°F

Day 6: Harpers Ferry to Fredericksburg VA

June 30, 2012

113 miles today, 569 miles total

Highlights: Trees down, bonus miles, barbecue

Today’s route as planned (not including wrong turns, missed roads, etc)
click map for details

Elevation profile

Saturday June 30. Very long day so short post and didn’t take a lot of photos.

Harpers Ferry

– Really big storm last night, I heard it and it was huge.

Sunrise over Potomac from Harpers Ferry

– I got an early start, 6:15am and hit the C&O trail. I immediately came across trees down across the trail, and more trees, and more trees. Fortunately none too big for me to just carry my bike across, even if I had to take off the bags for a few. But it really slowed me down — 6 miles in 1-1/2hours, so I decided to get off the trail at Brunswick rather than continue on another 25 miles to the ferry.

Tree down on C&O canal towpath, one of many I had to maneuver over and/or around; this was one of the smaller ones

– Beautiful roads out of Brunswick down to the Washington-Old Dominion Rail Trail.


– The WOD rail trail itself was great, paved, very smooth, not a lot of people. There were a couple trees down but nothing big. Unfortunately when I got on I started out going the wrong way; after a few miles I noticed the sun wasn’t where it was supposed to be, asked a few people who confirmed I was going the wrong direction, and turned around. One guy in particular, Ace, helped me out, took me on some roads to avoid the downed trees on the trail, and rode with me quite a few miles to the barbecue place in Ashburn.

The WOD Rail Trail (paved on left)

– The barbecue place in Ashburn that I’d heard about, right on the trail. I stopped and had barbecue!

the barbecue place on the trail

– The rest of the trail was great. Getting off the trail wasn’t. The cue sheet I had was very complicated, so I missed a few turns, added more miles, but did eventually find my way through Manassas.

My lunch at the barbecue place

– The road around Quantico was real busy, two lanes, not fun. Even the roads south of there were relatively busy. I think they used to be quiet but there’s a lot of development.

– By this time I’d added 12 “bonus miles” to my originally planned 101. I did feel okay, my legs were fine, but I was pushing up against sunset and I could see a storm approaching.  I got to the hotel right at sunset. And I was pretty wiped out overall. Went immediately to Shonies next door for dinner — burger, fries, mac and cheese.

– Overall lots of trees down all over, not just on the trails. Power is out everywhere, this was a major storm, I’m glad I wasn’t camping.

– Tomorrow another 100 miles, to Kilmarnock. The route is a lot simpler and straightforward so hopefully no wrong turns, and if I’m feeling good and have time I might stop at the birthplaces of George Washington and Robert E Lee.

Saturday June 30
Distance: 113.1 miles
start: 6:15am , finish:  8:40pm
time in saddle: 10 hrs, 33 mins
avg speed 10.7 mph
ascent: 5100 ft
weather: sunny, temp: 68-102°F