This will be the first full year that bicycle tourists can ride the full-length of the 150-mile Great Allegheny Passage between Cumberland, Md., and Pittsburgh.
Connecting with the 186-mile long C&O Canal Towpath between Washington DC and Cumberland, the entire route 336-mile route promises to be a popular destination for bicycling tours this summer, if the Rails-to-Trails' Greenway Sojourn 2007 along the the corridor is any indication.
A group of 12 cyclists from Atlanta recently completed the trip and posted some observations at GAP Yahoo group. They passed through before this week's opening of the Big Savage Tunnel, a 3,300-foot-long former railroad tunnel at the summit of the ride.
Reading their experiences and other comments at the group website, here are some suggestions:
1. Bike shops are few and far between. This is the first year that the entire GAP bike trail has been open and connected with the C&O, so there really hasn't been the traffic to support a chain of bike shops along the route. Be prepared to fend for yourself or go out of your way for parts or assistance, depending on where you run into trouble.
2. The Atlanta group averaged about 15 mph and did the entire ride in 4 days. They recommend, however, 5 days as a minimum to enjoy the towns and the history along the route. Also the GAP section is slower than the C&O towpath.
3. Most used cyclocross tires, but three or four used
23mm 25mm road tires and did OK. For the Greenway Sojourn, organizers recommend touring bicycles with slightly knobby hybrid tires or mountain bikes with semi-slick tires.
4. The Atlanta group took an off-trail detour around the closed-for-winter Big Savage Tunnel. The detour is marked on maps, but it wasn't otherwise marked.
5. Being early in the season, finding places to eat was “hit and miss.”
My overall impression is that anyone riding the GAP this summer should be geared up for a regular bicycle tour, instead of what you'd carry on a fully supported weekend ride.
In other words, carry tools for basic bicycle repairs. Leave space in the panniers for food and consider carrying a camp stove. Most of the small towns along the route have restaurants, but they might not be open when you pull in off the trail.
And, unless you've already made arrangements for lodging, take a tent and sleeping bag.
Before you go, check the Great Allegheny Passage website for an excellent list of amenties, such as lodging, food, and bike shops on different route sections. The website also lists hints for preparation and even sample trip itineraries.
A guidebook — TrailBook 2007; Biking and Hiking Guide for the C&O Canal Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage — also is availble through eBay.