Day 3: Confluence to Cumberland - Fall Colors Bike Tour on the GAP - CycleBlaze

October 14, 2021

Day 3: Confluence to Cumberland

The bases were loaded and it was a grand slam into home

Fall color on the GAP east of Confluence
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A heavy fog was lifting from the Casselman River as I cycled out of Confluence. Today’s destination was Cumberland. It was my much-anticipated day of cycling through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Allegheny Mountains. Only thirty-seven miles of uphill pedaling to the Eastern Continental Divide lie ahead with a reward of twenty-four miles of downhill bliss.

Approaching the Pinkerton high bridge
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I mentioned earlier that a ride on the Great Allegheny Passage is a trip through time. The railroads moved America west through the Alleghenies following the river valleys to bring industry to the growing western states. Concrete and steel structures were built to conquer the westward path in the 1800s and 1900s. Today, I cycled east on this passage admiring the structures built to make the progress west possible.

Fog lifting above the Pinkerton high bridge
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Pinkerton Horn

Shades of yellow and gold became more prominent in the trees as I gained elevation as the morning fog lifted. I reached the Pinkerton Horn in about ten miles. The railroad had to overcome a 1.5-mile sharp turn around the horn that trains could not navigate. The Pinkerton T tunnel was the answer. 

The Casselman River from the Pinkerton low bridge
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The GAP passes high above the Casselman River as I caught my first glimpse of the tunnel portal. Passing through the tunnel, the river descended to a much lower elevation over its 1.5-mile run. Both bridges offer a photo-worthy view of the river valley.

The western entrance to the Salisbury Viaduct
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Salisbury Viaduct

The kaleidoscope of fall colors was on display over the next twenty miles. A wonderful artifact of the days of the rail greeted me a few miles west of Meyersdale. The 1,908 feet Salisbury Viaduct crosses the Casselman River 101 feet above the valley. It was a blue-sky morning and a welcome sight. 

The viaduct is a monument to the intersection of industry and nature. The wheels that cross on the viaduct today are people-powered two-wheeled following the ghosts of steam and diesel-powered trains.

Fall colors on full display crossing the Keystone Viaduct
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Eastern Continental Divide

The Eastern Continental Divide is the highest point of the Great Allegheny Passage at 2,392 feet. Water travels to the Mississippi River to the west and the Chesapeake Bay to the east. It is a welcome sight to cyclists from both directions as it is downhill from this point. The trail passes through a road underpass with a mural showing the large change in elevation over the trail’s distance. It was time to coast and peal downhill to the finish.

Exiting the Big Savage Tunnel
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Big Savage Tunnel

I arrived at the western portal of the 3,291 feet Big Savage Tunnel after only a few miles. The Western Maryland Railroad overcame the challenge of passing the rails over the 3,000-foot Big Savage Mountain here in 1912. 

The Cumberland Narroes from the eastern portal of the Big Savage Tunnel
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Today, I was like a kid in the candy store pedaling through the cool damp lit tunnel to be rewarded with s spectacular view exiting the eastern portal. I took a break to enjoy the view of the Cumberland Narrows, a water gap and expansive valley far below the trail.

The Madon-Dixon Line on the Great Allegheny Passage
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Mason Dixon Line

It was a very fast pedal a few miles to the Mason Dixon Line. I remember The line from my school days as the demarcation of the North from the South. I first set sight of the line on my 2011 GAP and C&O tour. It was just two metal posts with a Mason-Dixon Line sign hanging on a chain suspended between the posts. It had a major upgrade a few years back. Granite blocks and a monument in a parklike setting replaced that single sign.

Great pedaling down Big Savage Mountain
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The miles passed quickly as I descended the final twenty miles past Frostburg into Cumberland. The views were simply amazing as the trail snaked along the edge of the mountains with the Cumberland Narrows to my left.

What a view!
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It is best enjoyed with the slow climb westward with more time to soak in the surroundings. (Of course, that comes with a 23-mile uphill grind.)

Western Maryland Railway station in Cumberland
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Western Maryland Railway Station

The Western Maryland Railway Station signals the end of the Great Allegheny Passage. A commemorative arch and emblem embedded in the trial mark the official end of the GAP and the start of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail. 

Crossing the finish line
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This was my sixth time to pass through the arch. Every time is emotional. The feeling of accomplishment and pride comes out as I stand on the emblem. It is tradition for cyclists to celebrate their GAP or C&O tour start, finish, or the midpoint of their Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. tour. My group was among those taking photos today.

What a super group of cyclists
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It was a short cycle to the end of the tour celebration dinner at Ristorante Ottaviani. They welcomed us, our bikes, and our gear on their outdoor patio. Our timing was perfect with our Wilderness Voyagers shuttle arriving shortly after we finished dinner. Bikes and gear loaded; we retraced our 3-day journey back to Pittsburgh in two and one-half hours.

Group photo at our end of tour dinner
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Heading back to Pittsburgh
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Tour reflection

150 miles passed under my wheels over 3 days. Memories were made. Many good times with friends were enjoyed. I was overcome with the beauty of nature and the change of seasons from my bike. I am especially thankful that I can live a life that allows me to enjoy my time on a bike and new experiences from the bike.

What a super time!
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The bicycle teaches what effort is, what means going up and down - not only on mountains but in fortunes and sorrows - it teaches how to live. Cycling is a long travel searching for your true self. - Ivan Basso
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Today's ride: 61 miles (98 km)
Total: 150 miles (241 km)

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Al BurnardMakes me want to go back! Thanks again for sharing your adventure with all of us!
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7 months ago
John PescatoreGreat photography! Thanks for the foliage preview - explains why I've had a tough time finding a room in Confluence for Thursday night next week. Parker House and River's Edge B&B and a few others were all booked up,

The foliage is either green or brown here in Maryland, forgot this was probably prime leaf peepage week out there!
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7 months ago
Tom BilczeTo John PescatoreYou should have good color next week. I try to cycle the GAP in mid October. I have hosted my bike club's annual retreat in Confluence for the past 8 years. Next one will be at the Parker House.
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7 months ago
John PescatoreTo Tom BilczeI've rented the entire Parker House twice for large groups, great experience. Confluence is a great home base location for doing more than cycling, which is what my groups were.

Unless the weather reports change radically, I'm taking Amtrak from DC to Pittsburgh on Weds, biking to Confuence Thursday, to Cumberland Friday where I'll meet my wife and we'll spend the weekend at Deep Creek Lake.
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7 months ago
Rich FrasierGreat journal! Your enthusiasm and love for the trail shines through all your writing. Thank you!!
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7 months ago