Mountain Biking in Boulder, CO and biking the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP)
This trip actually started out with a wedding of one of my best friends’ daughter’s wedding in Denver. We decided to get to Boulder, Colorado a few days early and booked 2 private bike tours with Boulder Bike Tours ( https://boulderbiketours.com/ ) First the owner, Hershel, guided us on a 2 hours eBike tour of Boulder. It is a great way to see a bike-friendly city.
The next day he arranged a guide too take us mountain biking in Cowdry Draw area, about 10 miles outside Boulder, for about 4 hours. That area has a beautiful terrain and single tracks in great condition. The only problem is that, because the area was grazing land in the past, there are not that many trees so we were out in the sun most of the time. Luckily we started early and the weather was relatively cool and dry so it was O.K.
Should you be in the area and would like to do some biking, I recommend that you contact Hershel to arrange.
After the wedding, three flew to Washington DC (Dulles Airport) and drove 2 hours to Cumberland, Maryland. Nine of us booked a self-guided bike tour riding the 150 miles (240+ Km) one the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). The tour was arranged by Kelley of Noble Invention Bike Touring ( https://www.nobleinventionbiketouring.com/ )
The GAP ride can be ridden in either direction but the north-to-south direction starting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and ending in Cumberland, Maryland allows for a more gradual climb (less than 0.5% grade) over the first 200 Km and ending on the last 40 Km of a really fun downhill (of about 2% grade). Going the other direction would mean starting with a much harder climb and then no having fun going down such a gradual descent.
So the three of us spent a night in Cumberland at the Fairfield Inn where it seems like all the guest there were there to ride the GAP trails. In the morning, we parked our car in the free long term parking next to the Canal Place. The parking lot is geared for people to park their car for the extended period while they ride the GAP trails. During the high season, it must be packed as there are space for only about 40 cars. But during Big Foot Tour’s favorite low and armpit seasons, the lot had plenty of space available.
Speaking of Big Foot Tour, I have to mention the weather. Big Foot Tour members prefer cooler weather to ride in. In a normal situation, Big Foot Tour would have scheduled this GAP biking in late October but because of the wedding in mid September, Big Foot had to arrange this ride a bit earlier. Late October would be the perfect time to ride this trail as not only the weather is cooler, but the Fall Foliage would be in full display. So with no choice of dates, Big Foot Angel had to alter the weather a bit to suit the members. Up to the day before the ride., the weather was steamy hot and daily peaked as high as 34 Degrees Celsius . Then came the day of the rides, the weather cooled down enough that we can started the daily ride at about 15C and ended each day at the weather no higher than 25C. Then the day after we finished, the weather warmed up to over 30C again !!!
So on the first biking day, 3 of us were picked up from Cumberland is a van to ride 2.5 hours up to Pittsburgh to meet up with the other 6 who flew in to Pittsburgh the night before. We met up at Nobel Invention’s shop and got our bikes. The bikes are hybrid touring bikes in great condition. The staff at the shop led us to the start of the bike track that led us to the beginning of the GAP trail in Point State Park.
For this trip, I will not have much to say about each day’s ride as I told everyone that the GAP trail is MONOTONOUSLY BEAUTIFUL !!! The trails is in great condition with mostly wide smooth gravel trail and the tree cover was so thick that 95% of the time, we rode in nice cooling shades. The problem is that every mile is the same as the 149 other miles.
Smooth, beautiful, cool. That is why I used the term MONOTONOUSLY BEAUTIFUL to describe it. There were not many places to stop to see during the ride and many time, the highlight seems to be the mile markers themselves.
It would be great if the GAP trail would use technology to make the ride more interesting. Things like having audio file that rider can download before starting off and can listen about interesting things at each point. There are many books written about the GAP trail so I am sure that it is not lacking of interesting features.
Having now ridden in both the US and Europe, I think that American bikers ride with a totally different philosophy than European riders. The Americans would ride to get somewhere and as an exercise. They seem obsessed with how far they have achieved each day. Their conversation always starts with “How many miles you rode today?”. Europeans ride as a lifestyle. Their conversation tends to center on what they saw, where they visited, and where were the best beer/wine stops.
Another note was that one of our members had an accident and hurt her ankle just the week before. But since her husband was also on the trip, she decided that she would rent a car and tour around during the day and meet us at the accommodation each evening. We designated her to be the WINE TRUCK. She went to a wine shop in Pittsburgh and got 15 bottles of wine for our evening consumption. Most of us prefer to have a good heavier lunch and just have wine and snacks in the evening. It was rather lucky that we had the WINE TRUCK as it would hard to buy each day as towns are rather small.
So just some of the highlights of each day of the MONOTONOUSLY BEAUTIFUL ride !
Day 1 First I have to mention how surprised I was with the transformation of Pittsburgh from a dirty steel town in the 70’s to a clean vibrant city that it is today. The waterfront bike trails were well built and well marked. Most of the route we rode on to get out of the city were dedicated trails with plenty of tree cover.
Today we were to ride about 32 miles with the first 20 miles on paved trail. It was funny that as we were starting to look for places to eat lunch, the trail ran right next to Costco. A dream came true for many of the members who are Costco fans. Our first lunch consisted of the famous Costco hotdog and pizza. Many of us always carry our Costco membership cards, we had no problem with getting in.
The Bright Morning B&B ( https://www.brightmorningbb.com/ )that we stayed in was nice and clean but we were scattered in 3 different buildings (as we made 3 bookings at different times). The B&B had a nice porch where we had our “traditional Big Foot Tour evening meal” consisting of wine and snacks.
Day 2 This was one of the longest rides Big Foot had ever arranged : 42 miles or almost 70 Km. Unfortunately, the distance was the only outstanding thing of the day’s ride. The trail was once again, MONOTONOUSLY BEAUTIFUL. After 30 miles I even thought that if we had run into an ugly garbage dump, it would have given us something to talk about !!
The lodging in Ohiopyle, Yough Plaza Motel ( https://youghplazamotel.com/ ), was OK but was not as good as others. At least the living/dining area had enough space for our wine/snack dinner.
Day 3 The next day, we hung around to wait for our noon tour of the Fallingwater house then rode a short 11 miles to the town of Confluence.
The Fallingwater home is architecturally interesting but it is not a place Big Foot Angel would stay in. The ceilings are too low and there are many corners and sharp extensions that would make it hazardous for Big Foot Tour’s wino members.
In Confluence, we got the whole of Smith House to ourselves ( http://www.smithhouseinn.com/ ). Smith House was an amazingly beautiful restored home with comfortable bedrooms and a huge dining room where we held a great Big Foot Tour wine dinner.
A NOTE : It would have been better if on Day 2, we stop to spend the night in Connellville (26 miles) and then the morning of Day 3, ride 16 miles to Ohiopyle for the noon tour and then 11 miles in the afternoon.
Day 4 Today’s ride was ………….. another MONOTONOUSLY BEAUTIFUL 36 miles ride in a much cooler weather.
We stopped for lunch at this unique Rockwood Mill Shoppes & Opera House ( http://www.rockwoodmillshoppes.com/ ) and we had one of the best meal of thee trip with very friendly staff and owner. Although they claimed that the Chicken Pot Pie is their signature dish (and it was good), the “Whole Caboose” pizza was truly amazing.
The B&B in Meyersdale, Levi Deal Mansion ( https://www.levidealmansion.com/ ) iis another beautifully restored home with a great front porch to accommodate our Wino Dinner.
The hostess helped to cook an amazing breakfast a bit earlier than normal as we had to leave early to meet the shuttle at 11:30 for some of the members to return to Pittsburgh.
Day 5 The last day was 8 miles of flat plus 24 miles of a really fun 2% grade downhill all the way to Cumberland, Maryland, then finishing point of the ride.
This section was also BEAUTIFUL-BUT-INTERESTING as we go to cross over the Eastern Continental Divide, the Mason-Dixon Line, and ride through several tunnels (one as long as one kilometer).
All in all, it was a nice ride and I would recommend that anyone that can make it to the area should do it once. NOBLE INVENTION is a good company to help organize it. They are very efficient, fast with taking actions on requests and questions, and booked great lodging. Their bikes are in great condition as well.