USA 2019 Day 5 from Cumberland to Ohiopyle

It’s gonna be weird today. I have to overcome the so-called Mountain Divide, the highest place in the Appalachian Mountains. All rivers on this side flow into the Atlantic from where I started in Philadelphia. All rivers on the other side flow into the Gulf of Mexico. Compared to Switzerland, the mountains are not the highest, but today I have a climb of more than 40 kilometers in front of me. That’s going to be awesome.

I had planned a distance of about 100 kilometers for today, from Cumberland to Confluence. But in Confluence it was hard to find a hotel. But in Ohiopyle, I immediately found a motel. That’s 20 kilometers more. But my route plan for the next stage was the decisive factor because that would be 150 kilometers from Confluence to Pittsburg. If I now drive 20 kilometers more today, that’s only 130 kilometers from Ohiopyle tomorrow. Sounds good! That’s how I do it now.

After a very quiet night but a bad breakfast at the Ramada Hotel in Cumberland, I leave quite late at 10:30 am. First I drive all over Cumberland looking for a shop to stock up my drinks. It occurs to me that today is Sunday. I forgot about that! But after about half an hour I find it and buy a lot of water and also a Mountain Dew Voltage.

Then I go directly to the Great Allegheny Passage, a trail on a former railway line. At least partially. The first kilometers the trail runs parallel to the still used railway line, further up they divide. The train travels on a new route and the trail continues to use the old route. Shortly after the beginning of the trail at the outskirts of Cumberland, I see someone standing at the side with tools in his hand. His name is Matt and he drives the same route as me today, he also wants to go to Ohiopyle. Luckily he doesn’t have a problem, he just changed his saddle a bit. He has a new Brooks leather saddle and is still looking for the optimal position. While he is still tidying up, I set off again. He is half my age and has less luggage. It won’t take long and Matt will pass me by.

In the beginning, the gradient is hardly noticeable. This changes with time. There are a few flatter passages with only 1-2 % gradient, mostly around 4 % and in some places even 6 %. That doesn’t sound much. It’s not really. Actually. Because this gradient stretches over 40 kilometers! At a temperature of up to 34 °C! Up to the highest point I will need good 3¾ hours.

After a good eight kilometers, I reach the first sight, the Cumberland Bone Cave. A cave, which was discovered in 1912 during the construction of the railway line and in which over 200’000-year-old skeletons of today extinct species can be found. Unfortunately, the cave was closed today, so that I had to drive on without having achieved anything. Too bad, that would have been one of the few sights I would have liked to visit.

Only a few kilometers further on, I again enjoy the advantage of being on a railway track: The relatively short Brush Tunnel cuts through a small mountain that I, as a poor tired cyclist, do not have to struggle my way up but can comfortably drive through in this tunnel. The tunnel is equipped with huge warning signs typical for America. Even one that it is dark in the tunnel and you should take off your sunglasses. How deep has a country sunk that has to communicate something like this to its citizens on huge warning signs? I just wonder and continue my journey.

I have already covered about 16 kilometers when I come to a rest area with a small train station. Unfortunately, the benches and tables are all in the sun and I wouldn’t last long there. It looks as if the steam train used to stop here. The small station is called Mountain View, even if I can’t see anything. Maybe there used to be fewer trees and you could see better. Just when I was quenching my thirst, I heard the typical American horn of a train. Pretty loud, so pretty close. I just had time to get my camera ready when the tourist train came around the corner and drove uphill past me. Unfortunately no steam train like in former times, but still a nice motive. I pack my camera again and Matt overtakes me at that moment.

Fresh as I am after the short break, I quickly caught up with Matt. We chat a bit about the train and then I drive on at my own pace. I’m a bit faster uphill than Matt because I have a different gear ratio and don’t have as little gears as he does. I also do everything uphill about the strength of my leg muscles, Matt does everything about fitness. His condition is very good, mine miserable. Thanks to my strength I can drive faster, but I also need more breaks. As we notice on the tour up the mountain, it balances out quite well.

At a nice spot on the mountain, I’m preparing to take a picture of myself driving past, and Matt comes around the corner and I can’t resist filming him. The video of his pass-by he gets later from me. Then I have set up my camera, drive back a bit (downhill, how cool) to then drive uphill past my camera. Then turn around, dismantle and drive on. Somewhat laborious, but I hope to get some good shots.

I meet Matt again a few minutes later, at the next resting place. It offers a shady canopy and even a mobile toilet. He screws around with his new saddle again. I know that it took me months to find out the optimal setting. I’ll give him a few tips, because I’ve only been riding Brooks saddles for years now, so I’m quite familiar with the running-in and care. I treat myself to an Ovomaltine bar, which I still have in my luggage. I also offer one to Matt, he seems to like it. I explain to him that it’s not chocolate.

There stops another cyclist who comes from above. He greets with “Hopp Schwiiz”. He saw my flag on the handlebar. He is American but speaks Berndeutsch. He learned that from his father. We still talk a little and then he has to go on, his friends were ahead. Matt and I are on our way again. Unfortunately uphill.

So far, the still-active railway line and the cycle path have run side by side. After about 25 kilometers they separate now. This is where a new route for the railway begins. The cycle path continues to follow the old route. Still, 15 kilometers to go.

Five kilometers before the highest point of the Great Allegheny Passage I cross the state border, leave Maryland and am now back in Pennsylvania. Directly on the border, there is a small monument made of stone blocks. I only drink a sip and drive on. At least for two kilometers, then comes a nice resting place with roofed seats. Time for a break and a sweet drink instead of water. I need energy, physically and psychologically. This extremely long uphill passage is quite demanding for me. There are other cyclists at the rest area and we exchange a few words. Then Matt comes along. He just drinks something and then continues directly, I stay a few more minutes.

Shortly after I have continued driving, I stand in front of a tunnel. This one is a bit longer, 3’300 feet (that’s pretty much one kilometer) and passes under the Big Savage Mountain. It used to save the train a lot of time and now it saves me many more meters of altitude. It’s also very cool in the tunnel, which is a welcome refreshment with over 30 degrees outside! Much too fast I am already through. I think the tunnel is the highest point, which is not quite correct. It goes a little further uphill. Less steep than before, but still uphill.

Just two kilometers uphill after the tunnel, then after a little more than four hours, I finally reach the highest point of today’s stage, the Eastern Continental Divide. A lot was going on here. About the same time another cyclist from my direction arrived with me (no, it wasn’t Matt) as well as two ladies from the opposite direction. And everyone wants to have photos of themselves here at the Eastern Continental Divide with a sign. The gentleman, who came from my direction, worked as a photographer with me and the two ladies. Thus a few beautiful photographs came off. Unfortunately, I forgot his name. Of course, we also got into the conversation and it turned out that one of the two ladies drove Route 66 two years ago but in the other direction. She liked it a lot and she made me even more curious than I already was.

Now it’s downhill for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, the descent is much less steep than the ascent, it’s just a 1 % descent. Too little to just let it roll, the gravel road has too much resistance. But still noticeable. With comparatively light pedaling movements I descend without much effort on the trail towards my goal for today. I’ve only just made 40 kilometers, 80 kilometers lie ahead of me. But they will be much faster to complete.

After another eight kilometers on the Great Allegheny Passage, I see a sign with the inconspicuous text “To Pittsburgh” for the first time when crossing a road on the trail and I’m looking forward like a little child! That motivates me and I step on the gas. I catch up with Matt and we drive along for a while. Strictly speaking to Meyersdale. A small place, through which the Trail leads and directly at the Trail is a bicycle shop with workshop and over it a restaurant. Matt wants a longer handlebar stem, I ask for aluminum drinking bottles. They don’t. But Matt finds what he is looking for. I say goodbye to him because I’m drawn to the restaurant. On the way up I burned a lot of calories and I need something sensible to eat. For me, there was a salad with chicken and a Dr. Pepper Cola, which I even had refilled again. In retrospect, I can’t say exactly how long I was in the restaurant. It doesn’t matter either. At some point, I drove on.

After exactly 57 kilometers the trail went on a rather long bridge, which spans a small valley with motorway and current railway line. From there it had a nice view, albeit loud thanks to the motorway. From there I could observe a thunderstorm in the distance, which was exactly in my direction. It already began to flash and thunder. The day today also offers everything! Although it is no big miracle that a summer thunderstorm is coming up after the sultry heat of the day. Of course, I hope for the best, but I also make sure that I make good progress. Maybe I’ll make it to Motel before the thunderstorm is with me.

But not a chance. Only four to five kilometers further the first drops fall, still sporadically. In an underpass on the trail near Garrett, I meet two other touring cyclists who have stopped here. The thunderstorm will be violent and the underpass offers first-class protection. I join them and while we still get to know each other, hell breaks loose “outside”! Heavy rain with gale-force winds. How good that we stopped here in the underpass and didn’t go any further. When after a while it got a bit better and wind and rain subsided, we dressed rainproof and drove on. The two were on the way with trailer, I without and I wanted now quickly to the motel. So after a while, I said goodbye and pedaled harder.

With each further kilometer, it becomes clearer that we were still at the edge of the thunderstorm. In my charting direction, the effects of the storm become more visible with every kilometer. Where in the beginning there were only many leaves and smaller branches on the trail, the surrounding branches became bigger, so I had to start slalom. It went so far, that I suddenly stood in front of a fallen tree, which lay crosswise on the way. That was about 20 kilometers away from the underpass. This was probably the center of the storm. At the treetop I discover branches pressed aside. It looks as if someone had made passage there. I check it first without a wheel and get through reasonably well. Then I decide to take off my luggage and carry it over separately to make my bike lighter. After a few minutes, it is done and I put my luggage back on the other side. I notice that I have lost the reducers for the Ortlieb holder of one of my panniers. I search for everything for a while, but can’t find it. Very annoying. The bag also holds so well, but the holder on the carrier bar now has some play and could rub off the coating. But I can’t change that now. I have to drive on. In the evening I will temporarily glue on some insulating tape to protect the relevant areas.

As I continue towards the hotel, I have to pass two more fallen trees lying on the trail. But it’s easier than the first one. In the forest, the storm has raved quite a lot and caused a lot of damage. I realize that I was really lucky not to have been in the center and that I had an underpass as protection. Meanwhile, the weather has improved considerably. After the temperature drops from 34 °C to 16 °C, it stopped raining, the sun came out and the temperature starts to rise again. I can get rid of my rain gear and drive on with short clothes at 20 °C again.

I pass some bridges on the trail, which shorten the loops of the Casselman River and enjoy the view down to the river at each of them, as it meanders sometimes more, sometimes less wild but always natural through the wooded hills. For such moments I am on my way!

After exactly 101 kilometers I reach the village Confluence, where I first wanted to spend the night. But my plan had changed so that I now have to drive another 20 kilometers. The thunderstorm and the fallen trees cost a lot of time, the twilight begins and I would have liked to stay here. But I stick to my new plan, then I’ll have it easier tomorrow, and continue. Of course not without thinking of my colleagues, because we use software with the same name in our company: Confluence. I’m making a short video that I think is funny at this moment and will send them tonight from the motel. Tomorrow the video will certainly embarrass me, but no matter, now I just let myself go…

Here in Confluence, the Casselman River flows into the Youghiogheny River, which I will now follow to Ohiopyle. The trail leads here in loops directly along the river through the forest. I meet a young man carrying his bike. On foot, he would be a few hours on the way to Ohiopyle, the next village more than 15 kilometers away. Of course, I stop and offer my help. His brake on the front wheel broke and now blocks the front wheel so that it can no longer turn. He has to lift the front wheel and runs through the forest. I can’t repair the brake completely, but I get it straightened so far that I can release the blockade and he can drive again. I admonish him to be very careful as he can now only use his rear brake. But he can at least drive and be home before dark. The trail is also very flat and I didn’t see anyone but him. We say goodbye and I drive much faster than him, I’m drawn to the motel.

Soon afterward I finally made it. After more than nine hours on the trail and about 120 kilometers, I reach Ohiopyle with the sunset! I quickly found my motel and the check-in is done in a minute. Record time, so fast was no other motel or hotel! But it still takes a while until I arrive in the room. I see a water hose on the parking lot and first take care of cleaning my bike. That got a lot of mud and dirt off the trail after the thunderstorm. I sprayed everything, including my bags. They are from Ortlieb and waterproof, no problem. When everything shines again, I want to go into the room and on the way, I promptly meet a group of other cyclists who started today in Pittsburgh and want to go to Cumberland, a two-day tour. They sit in front of their room and drink beer. They want to buy me a drink and of course, I don’t say no! We talk for a while and then they want to eat and take me with them. But I want to take a shower first and promise to comply.

When I had also cleaned myself and was ready for dinner in fresh clothes, I left and thanks to a good explanation from them I found the Falls City Pub on the other side of the river without any problems. They sat outside, it was still pleasantly warm and they waved me right up. We had a very nice evening with many great conversations and I enjoyed meeting these guys. When we left and I wanted to pay, they had already done that. Thank you very much, boys!

Wow, this has become a long post. There you can see how much happened today in one day. Despite the thunderstorm, it was a great day. A very great day. Especially the many great people I met today. It was a very valuable day for me, in many ways. Now I will fall into bed satisfied and sleep very well.

🕑 Ø
5:53 119 km 20.2 km/h 2’080 m 1’890 m

Yours
Marcus

Written on August 18, 2019