Biking the Great Allegheny Passage: Lessons Learned in 4 Days
For those who know me, I am not the best planner. One time I only packed peanut butter sandwiches, Miller Light beer, and a tent for a Dave Matthews Concert I was camping overnight at. I notoriously forget an essential item almost every time I leave for a trip, like a toothbrush or underwear. My trip on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) was no different. I work for the Trail Town Program as a fellow through the Student Conservation Association this year and I forgot the beloved trail book, which is often referred to as the “Bible” of the GAP trail. However, I learned throughout the trip I was more prepared for some unexpected twists in our trips and learned that this trail is for anyone who wants to experience Pennsylvania and Maryland’s natural beauty at its finest.
Before we even sat on our bikes in Pittsburgh, we got a flat. I heard a pop and listened to the fizz of the tire on my friend’s bike as it quickly deflated. She had just spent the past ten minutes trying to get the bungee cords to attach on each side of her suitcase, which was precariously balanced on top of her bike rack. Once she got her stuff off, I changed her flat for her. In preparation for this trip, I took a bike maintenance course to learn the basics in case something like this were to happen. In general I’ve always considered myself a pretty nature-oriented person. Although I grew up just outside of Pittsburgh and didn’t have a lot of access to woods, I found ways to immerse myself in nature amidst suburbia. This fellowship though gave me a new appreciation for nature though and how to do things properly and on my own. It also has allowed me to bring things I love, like bicycling, into the city so that I have access to nature or physical activity all the time. Although it would’ve been nice for no one to get a flat, it was also nice to use the knowledge I gained to help someone who was not an experienced biker… aka the first time she got on her bike this year was for this 150 mile journey on the GAP.
Luckily for her and our group though, the GAP never goes beyond a two percent grade and the trail is pretty well maintained. This trail can be done as long as you know how to ride a bike. However, I recommend training at least a little bit because trying to bike forty miles with about thirty pounds of weight sitting on your back tire is not an easy task. Our first night we made it to Cedar Creek Park of Westmoreland County, our campsite for the night, just in time to pitch tents. Even though all of us are under the age of thirty and relatively fit for our age, we sat around the campfire that night in silence and watched as the trains rolled by on the adjacent bank of the Youghiogheny River.