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  • Writer's pictureAl S.

Mind The GAP - Baltimore, MD to Weirton, WV

Updated: Jan 24, 2023



The C&O Canal Towpath runs from DC to Cumberland, MD. The Great Allegheny Passage follows the route of the old Western Maryland railroad from Cumberland to Pittsburgh, PA. Both of these are excellent bike trails that allow you to ride almost 350 miles without ever getting on a road.


 


May 17, 2021

Mileage: 57.7 miles

Odometer Start: 2047.9

Odometer End: 2105.6

Max Speed: 39.3 mph

Home in Baltimore to Indian Flats Campground on The C&O Canal



The rural roads of western Maryland as you approach the C&O Canal.

I had to take a week off when I returned home from Bordentown, NJ. There was a massive limb that fell out of a 100+ year old beech tree in my front yard while I was away. Once home, I spent an entire day cutting up this fallen branch to get it off of the sidewalk. Unfortunately, the fallen limb revealed that the entire middle of the tree was rotten and dying. There was nothing to be done except have the tree taken down. I had to get several tree companies to come out and give me an estimate for removal of the tree. While that was occurring, I also had the bike tuned up with a brand new chain, new tires, and a full once-over to make sure it was in good shape.



Access to The C&O Canal at the Monocacy Aqueduct

I left Baltimore on May 17 heading west with the intention that I would make it to the Pacific Ocean sometime in late summer. I cut cross-country from Baltimore and followed the roads all the way to Point of Rocks, MD and the C&O Canal National Historic Park.






The Indian Flats Hiker/Biker Campsite on The C&O Canal

The roads through this part of Maryland are actually quite good. They have nice wide shoulders and are not too busy. I was able to cover the distance by mid-afternoon and had my campsite set up with plenty of time for dinner and a bit of relaxation.


As you would expect, the first day of riding is difficult. I was in decent shape, but it is nearly impossible to train to ride 50+ miles every day. You just have to start riding, force yourself to not go too far, and allow your body some time to adjust to the new lifestyle.







 

May 18, 2021

Mileage: 60.2 miles

Odometer End: 2165.8

Avg Speed: 12.0 mph

Max Speed: 16.5 mph

Riding Time: 4 hrs, 58 mins

Indian Flats Campground to Jordan Junction Campground on The C&O Canal


There were several barred owls hanging around the campground last night. I saw them just before dusk, but could not get close enough to get a picture. If you have ever had an owl hang out around your tent, you will know that they are loud. They were hooting for a significant chunk of the night. I usually sleep like a baby when I'm out in the woods... but last night was not a great night of sleep.


The Jordan Junction Hiker/Biker Campground

The C&O Canal is a great ride. The towpath that runs alongside the canal has a gravel surface and is in pretty good condition for most of the length of the trail. The canal follows the Potomac River for 184 miles from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD. It is flat, well-maintained, and is really well suited for bikepackers.


The C&O towpath provides cyclists with campgrounds every 8 to 10 miles. These campgrounds have their own water source and a port-a-potty. You really cannot ask for anything more from a bike trail.


I stopped at the small town of Williamsport this afternoon and grabbed some lunch. There was a little pizza place/Italian deli near the canal that gave me a perfect excuse to stop for a few minutes and enjoy the afternoon.


The Devils Alley Campground and the typical water pump that you find on the C&O Canal.

There were several other cyclists at the campground on this evening. We were all discussing our journeys while eating dinner. Of the 5 people at the campground, 3 were headed for DC, 1 woman was headed for Scranton, PA, and I was headed for the west coast. They asked me what I am most looking forward to on this journey. For me, I think that would be The Black Hills of South Dakota. However, I made it clear that I am currently on the 2nd day of the trip since leaving my front door. The Black Hills are so far away that they are strictly an aspiration at this point. There are so many miles in front of me that it is important to keep my goals limited to something that is attainable, otherwise, I might just throw my hands up at the futility of the 60 miles I'm riding each day.



 

May 19, 2021

Mileage: 68.5 miles

Odometer End: 2234.2

Avg Speed: 12.4 mph

Max Speed: 17.2 mph

Riding Time: 4 hrs, 52 mins

Jordan Junction Campground to Pigmans Ferry Campground on The C&O Canal




The eastern entrance to The Paw Paw Tunnel

The National Park Service has closed the towpath just east of the Paw Paw Tunnel while they work on securing the sides of the hills to prevent rock slides. The detour is a footpath that goes up-and-over the mountain. This alternative path is not particularly bike-friendly. Fortunately, the NPS only halfheartedly implemented the towpath "closure" and I (along with many other people) was able to ride up the towpath to the tunnel entrance.




The interior of The Paw Paw Tunnel

Walking through the Paw Paw Tunnel is always an interesting time. It is a 3/4 mile long tunnel on the C&O Canal that was built as a shortcut that took 6+ miles off of the route. There are no lights in the tunnel, so you really need a headlamp to walk through. I have been through this tunnel 10+ times while riding the C&O Canal. Not once have I ever been able to ride my bike all the way through the tunnel. I usually get about 100 yards from the entrance and realize that I can't see anything... even with the headlamp. At that point, I hop off the bike and walk it to the other end.


I made it to Pigmans Ferry Hiker/Biker Campground by the end of the day. This campground is a large open area right next to a farmer's field. I generally prefer to be in wooded areas, but I had the campsite to myself for the evening and that is always really nice.



 

May 20, 2021

Mileage: 78.1 miles

Odometer End: 2312.4

Avg Speed: 13.0 mph

Max Speed: 21.6 mph

Riding Time: 6 hrs, 00 mins

Pigmans Ferry Campground to Confluence, PA




Cumberland, MD as you approach on The C&O Canal.

It looked like it was going to be a beautiful evening last night. There was no rain in the forecast, it was a reasonable temperature, I had the campground to myself. Everything was going my way, so I decided to not put the rain fly on the tent. That was a bit of a mistake. There was a lot of dew on everything this morning... including my sleeping bag in the tent. It isn't a huge deal since nothing was soaked, it was just slightly damp. I had to pack everything up still damp, but it will have plenty of time to dry when I stop riding for the day.



Cumberland, MD - where the C&O Canal, The GAP Trail, and The National Road all meet.

I hit the end of the C&O Canal in Cumberland, MD this morning. I stopped at a little cafe and had a big stack of pancakes to give me some energy for the first 23 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail. The first 23 miles of this trail is uphill and has a vertical climb of about 1800'. This climb takes you up to the Eastern Continental Divide. Once you hit that point, it is downhill all the way to Pittsburgh.






The Mason-Dixon Line on the GAP Trail. The MD / PA state line.

The Great Allegheny Passage Rail Trail (also known as The GAP) follows the route of the old Western Maryland Railroad. This route was built in the early 1900s as a more efficient way of moving freight between Pittsburgh and DC. The railroad fell out of use and ceased to operate in the 1970s. The conversion to a rail trail was completed in 2013. It is now possible to ride from DC all the way to Pittsburgh without ever getting on a road.




The eastern entrance to The Big Savage Tunnel on the GAP Trail.

One of the highlights of the GAP Is The Big Savage Tunnel. This tunnel is at the top of the 23 mile uphill stretch from Cumberland. It is a 2 1/2 mile long tunnel through the Big Savage Mountain. There are great views over the mountains near the eastern entrance and the Eastern Continental Divide is just a stones throw past the western entrance of the tunnel. Unlike the Paw Paw Tunnel on the C&O Canal, the Big Savage Tunnel features electric lights to help you get to the other end.












The Eastern Continental Divide on the GAP Trail.

I ended up riding further than planned on this day. I rode almost 80 miles and ended at Confluence, PA. There is a PA state campground there, but you have to pay to camp. Of course, there is no way to physically pay for the campsite, you have to go online and pay via the PA DNR website. However, cell service is so poor in this area that it was impossible to actually use the website. I made a legitimate effort to pay for the site, but was unsuccessful. Fortunately, no DNR officials came around and asked for proof of payment.


 

May 21, 2021

Mileage: 66.4 miles

Odometer End: 2378.7 miles

Avg Speed: 12.3 mph

Max Speed: 38.4 mph

Riding Time: 5 hrs, 22 mins

Confluence, PA to Cedar Creek Campground on The GAP





Fort Necessity National Battlefield Vistors Center

I got on the road early this morning and made it to Ohiopyle. From there, I rode up the hill to Fort Necessity National Battlefield. The road out of Ohiopyle is steep and straight uphill. It took 1 1/2 hours to cover the 10 miles out to the site. On the ride back down the hill, I made it back to Ohiopyle in about 20 minutes. It was a pretty steep hill.






The recreated stockade at the site of Fort Necessity.

Fort Necessity is the location where George Washington suffered a humiliating defeat at the very beginning of the French & Indian War in the mid 1700s. Most people are not familiar with this event, but it was a critical point in the history of the American Colonies. This battle started The French & Indian Wars which would eventually morph into The Seven Years War between Britain & France.


There is a facsimile of the original stockade that was built by Washington. It is small and doesn't look like it would provide any protection.


The Ohiopyle Station on the GAP Trail.

Back on The GAP, I continued riding northwest. I stopped at the Dollar General in Connellsville, PA and resupplied. I needed some lunch items and a couple of options for dinner. I stopped and set up camp at the Cedar Creek Campground near West Newton, PA.







 

May 22, 2021

Mileage: 69.4 miles

Odometer End: 2448.2 miles

Avg Speed: 12.7 mph

Max Speed: 25.4 mph

Riding Time: 5 hrs, 26 mins

Cedar Creek Campground on The GAP to The PA / WV Line on The Panhandle Trail



The start of The Montour Trail in Wilson, PA.

I made it to McKeesport, PA this morning and that is where I left the GAP Trail. I rode past the confluence of the Youghioheny and Monogahela Rivers to Glassport, PA. There was a bridge across the Monongahela River there and I crossed over to the start of the Montour Trail.








My home for the night, right next to The Panhandle Rail Trail near the PA / WV state line.

The Montour Trail runs south of Pittsburgh and connects to The Panhandle Trail. The Panhandle Trail runs from Pittsburgh over to Weirton, WV. I ran out of daylight over near the PA / WV state line, so I found a nice little spot to camp right next to the trail.





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