Great Allegheny Passage Bike Ride

Joe & Ginger Watkins                                 Brant & Elaine Cockerill

Monday  Sept. 19th
Left for Pennsylvania around 9 am, heading to Meyersdale. We had this trip planned for almost a year.  Originally scheduled for June but due to Joe’s eye surgery we had to push it to September.  The weather is supposed to be fantastic.

After driving for six hours, we met Brant and Elaine at Yoder’s Guest House a B&B in the center of Meyersdale.  Denise, the proprietor, was very hospitable. Joe and I have the Alleghany Suite on the second floor.  Brant and Elaine are downstairs with a separate entrance. Nice big house with lots of rooms and guests. Denise said they have a full house. Most of the guests are biking the trail and many do not have vehicles.

Morguen Toole Co. Logo

We ate dinner at Morguen Toole Company. It was located just a few blocks from Yoder’s. Denise explained that they usually are not open on Mondays but they were setting up for an event and so they were serving dinner for their guests. The restaurant is located on the 2nd floor of an old furniture factory/ warehouse where they built not only furniture, but caskets and baby cribs. “From cradle to Casket,” as one waiter put it.  But what was most unusual about Morguen was that they also housed the local morgue in this building on the 2nd floor. The waiter told us that they would “truss them [the bodies] upstairs, pack them in a casket built downstairs, then send them to their home where the wake would take place.”  The menu was limited, so we all enjoyed the fried haddock dinners. We stopped and had hand-dipped ice cream cones at Donge’s across the street from Yoder’s.  We headed back to our rooms to rest and get ready for our first big ride.

Tuesday  Sept. 20th
Coffee and cold breakfast at Yoder’s. Cool and foggy out this morning. The weather forecast looks great all week. I thank the Creator that we are healthy enough to ride bikes and enjoy our lives so fully. I thank Nature for her beauty and the awesome late summer weather.  I thank the Holy Spirit for our great friends who we can share this time with. My prayer is that we have a blessed and safe day on the trail.

We rode almost 33 miles, starting at Meyersdale riding down to Cumberland, Maryland. Per Denise’s advice we called a man named John who agreed to pick us up at Cumberland and shuttle all four of us and our four bikes back to Meyersdale.  He charged us $95 total. Our plan had been to drop off an empty vehicle in Cumberland, drive our truck with all 4 bikes and riders back to Meyersdale, park and take off on the trail to Cumberland where we would load up all four bikes and passengers drive back to Meyersdale, where we would have to pick up the empty vehicle left there. Sounds very complicated, and time consuming since it is over 45 minutes by car one way to Cumberland. So we felt we got our money’s worth.

Foggy View from bridge

We chose to ride out of Meyersdale both ways, since the continental divide, the highest point on the trail, was about eight miles out of Meyersdale. So we took off in the foggy wet morning, riding south going uphill.  It was hard to ride in the fog and mist. Joe was still getting over an inner ear and sinus infection and had trouble breathing for the first leg of our trip. We rode over an old iron railroad bridge which spanned a stream and country road far below. Even with the fog swirling around us, we were gifted with breathtaking views. The path is made of fine crushed packed gravel. It seemed to be fine for our bikes, even the two with skinny tires.

Eastern Continental Divide

By the time we reached the Eastern Continental Divide we were pretty tired.  We took a break and ate apples, snack bars, and sipped water. We got a lot of comments from other bikers about our matching salmon colored T-shirts. On the front are the letters G A P and on the back is a map of the Great Allegheny Passage. We purchased them online months ago. From there the ride became a downhill glide. At times it felt scary, trying to slow our bikes to a reasonable speed. We actually did not need to peddle as the trail was dropping  1,754 feet for the next 24 miles to Cumberland. Speed limit signs posted 15mph, and at times we topped that flying downhill.

When we reached the Big Savage Tunnel we were well rested and getting used to the easy ride.

Big Savage Tunnel

The Big Savage is an abandoned railway tunnel built in 1911, which has been re-purposed for recreational use, as is the Borden and Brush Tunnels (which we will also ride through).  Savage is the longest tunnel on the trail, burrowing  3,295 feet through Savage Mountain.  It was scary going, even with our headlights on and the row of dim lights in the ceiling, as we were still riding downhill trying not to brake too hard.  I felt disoriented because I could not see the walls of the tunnel, just black on both sides. Joe said he felt like he was going through a “worm hole”.  After we emerged into the sunlight there was a rest area, with picnic tables and benches where we could stop and take in the spectacular view of the valley below.  Behind us was the mountain ridge where there were rows of wind turbines, all turning slowly in the blue sky.  We saw them ahead of us before the tunnel, and now they were behind. We had just rode under them in the tunnel.

Ginger in PA, Joe in MD
Brant in PA, Elaine in MD

A few more miles down the trail, we crossed the Mason Dixon Line that marked border between two states. We stopped to get photos; Joe stood in Maryland, me in Pennsylvania.  Always on different sides of the line. Ha Ha! The last 10 miles of the trail followed a functioning railroad track right into Cumberland.  Thank God no trains came by as we rode. It was hard enough to dodge all the large gravel that made its way into our path from the track bed.  But the scenery was magnificent.  Across the tracks ran Jennings Run Creek. The white water rippled between and over large boulders. Great walls of granite rose on our right. I did not realize that parts of Maryland were so mountainous and remote.

Half way there

We were all glad to pull up in front of the Train Station in Cumberland where we met our ride around three. John drove a silver mini-van with a rack that held 4 bikes on back. Brant sat shotgun and listened to all John’s crazy stories. I was in the way-back seat and thankfully could not hear too much that was being said.  But I did hear John say that he was one of Hillary’s “Deplorables”.  So we know who he’s voting for.  We saw more Trump signs in this part of Maryland and Pennsylvania than we have back home. I always thought of these as Blue states, but I guess that is just the eastern   half, where most of the population is.

Back in Meyersdale, Joe and I stopped at the drugstore to pick up some meds for his head, even though he was feeling much better.  Later we used the $3 coupon, courtesy of Yoder’s, and headed up 10th Street for dinner at The White House. Nice place to eat, good food, very reasonable. Joe and Brant had steak, I had a grilled chicken dinner. I think Elaine had chicken also.  Back at Yoder’s we sat outside on the porch and talked.  Later we went to the dining area and played one round of Sequence, a board/card game, then retired to our rooms  

Wednesday  Sept. 21st
We drove north to visit Flight 93 Memorial after an early breakfast at G.I. Dayroon on Main Street. Got there at 9, when the visitor’s center was opening.  Joe and I had been here years ago but do not recall the Visitor’s Center, just the Memorial Site. There were lots of displays and videos to take in, also several telephones that one could pick up to listen to the final messages left by passengers for their families before they crashed and died. There was one display case that had bits of debris from the crash site: a seat belt buckle, seat belt torn and melted, pieces of seats, twisted metal. The sign said there were “no bodies” found, but each victim was identified by DNA.  The crash site is the grave for all 44 souls, which includes 4 hijackers. I wonder if any of the families actually had anything of their loved one’s remains to use for a funeral or to put in a casket. It was very somber.  We walked along the Wall of Remembrance  and viewed the crash site from a platform.  It is only opened by appointment only for family members of those who died on that field.

Salisbury Viaduct

We drove back to Meyersdale, changed into our biking clothes and drove to the trail head where we started our ride around noon. This time we rode from Meyersdale north toward Confluence.  According to the chart we thought we’d be riding downhill, since Meyersdale’s elevation is 1975 feet and Confluence is about 1332 but this proved to be very misleading.  We actually pedaled many miles up hill and then down for short distances. The downhill part was not like the day before, we still had to pedal to keep momentum. So the 32 mile ride was much harder than the previous day.  And because we got such a late start, the sun was much hotter. Joe was feeling strong and had no trouble with his breathing like he did the day before. Before we even got out of Meyersdale we rode across the Salisbury Viaduct, an old 1,908 foot long trestle that spans the Casselman River. We followed the river most of the way, through beautiful farm country and cool woods, crossing many bridges and trestles, but only one small tunnel.  We stopped frequently, ate fruit, snack bars, pb & jelly sandwiches that Brant had made that morning, and drank lots of water. The last five miles we were really huffing and puffing. I could feel the burn. By the time we got to Confluence at 4:30 we were beat and our bottoms quite sore. We could not find the park where John was picking us up, so I called him and he came to us. We were on Highway 281 in front of a restaurant called the Lucky Dog.  On the ride back, John again regaled Brant with crazy stories. He even shared that they expected snow next week. I don’t think he’s a very good weatherman, as I checked the 7-day forecast for south-western PA and it looks like highs in the 60s, lows 50s. Not a snowflake in sight.

GAP Trail riding toward Confluence, PA

We got back to Yoder’s, after six. We showered and decided that Sub Way sounded good. As I was coming back into the hall at Yoder’s carrying my Sub-way bag of leftovers, Denise stopped me.  She asked, “Is that your supper?”  I said, no, just leftovers. She then chastised me, saying, “I was going to have you go to [fill in restaurant name here] tonight.” I explained that we just wanted to grab a quick sandwich tonight. She then continued the interrogation with, “Did you eat at [fill in restaurant name here] in Rockwood, like I told you?” Again I had to answer in the negative, explaining that we ate snacks on the trail.  I wish she’d stop trying to be so helpful, it almost feels like she wants to control every bite of sustenance that we take in, like she’s stalking us. I’m sure she’s trying to help out her fellow local businesses, but enough already.  We sat on the porch and talked a while, then off to our rooms.  Our last night at Yoder’s Guest House then goodbye to Denise.

Thursday  Sept. 22nd   
At breakfast we met another couple staying at Yoder’s. They were riding down to Cumberland and then taking a train back to Pittsburg, where they lived.  Elaine remembered meeting them on the trail earlier the day before. We checked out and headed north to Connellsville, where we were able to check in early at Melody Motor Lodge on Highway 119. The proprietor was a Polish woman who spoke with a thick Eastern European accent. The rooms were outdated, but clean; reminded Joe of the rooms at the Bates Motel. We had a lot of things to figure out with no shuttle service to pick us up at the end of our ride.  So we loaded 4 bikes on our truck, then drove both vehicles to the park near Third Street in Connellsville, where we left Brant’s car.  Then we headed south to Ohiopyle.  On our way we passed a sign that said Kentuck Knob. This was one of the places we wanted to see.  Elaine said, “Hey, let’s stop now.  That way we won’t have to drive all the way back up here.” So Joe turned the truck around and we pulled into the lot at Kentuck Knob.  Luckily we got tickets for $23 apiece for the next tour which started at 12 noon. It was 5 minutes till.

Kentuck Knob

We were shuttled up the hill to the house in a short bus with a group of older women. Kentuck Knob is a single family house built in the 1950s, and designed by the famous American architect Frank Loyd Wright, who was well known in the area for his design of Falling Water House built in the 1930s. Kentuck Knob is all on one level and sets nestled in the woods, with some of the dwelling abutted right into the hillside. The austere furnishings are all built into the walls. It looks very uncomfortable. There is a great view of the Youghiogheny River gorge from the summit on the property. The current owners are from England and have several homes where they live full time. It was fun going through the dwelling, seeing the modern 1950s kitchen appliances, but maybe not worth what we paid, although Joe disagrees, and says you can’t put a price on nostalgia and sentimentality. We decided to walk back to the lot so we could view the many sculptures placed along the path.  Brant had something to say about each piece as we walked by.

“That looks like a pile of sawed up logs. I could do that,” as we passed an arrangement of what used to be tree trunks.

“I have stuff like that in my barn,” referring to a large configuration of rusty metal beams.

“That’s just a pile of rocks,” for a pyramid of large rocks and boulders.

Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle State Park, PA

Back in the truck we headed to Ohiopyle, where we had lunch at an outdoor café. They had great gyros. Finally we got on the trail.  The ride was relaxing and beautiful.  We crossed another viaduct out of town and then rode most of the way through the woods of Ohiopyle State Park. Beautiful scenery, river on our right and big stone cliffs on our left. We rode through a thick forest of tall trees, and each turn brought views more amazing than the last. The weather again cooperated, it was warm sunny day.  We got back to Connellsville and followed the trail right in the middle of town. We did not know where Brant’s car was parked.  Luckily Elaine remembered she had the address of the parking spot in her phone, something on Third Street. So we asked a woman which way to Third Street and found out we were only a few blocks away. We rode on the sidewalks, and then found a bike path. We found the car at a lot near the river in a small park, right where we left it.   We loaded up and headed back to Melody Lodge.  I did not have the key to our room, since I locked it in the truck back in Ohiopyle.   So I went to office and the husband (I assume) of the Polish woman, a man who looked like Lurch and talked like Boris Yeltsin, came and unlocked our room. As he did he gave me a weather report along with his comments that I could not make out because of his accent.  All I heard was “97”  and “Hot.”  I know that it was not 97 degrees, nor did it even feel like 97. Maybe in the low 80s. What is it with these people?  One man said it was going to snow next week, and now I’m told it’s hotter than Hades here. Make up your mind people!

Woods, Ohiopyle State Park, PA

After we freshened up we went out again, headed to Ohiopyle to pick up the truck. On the way we pulled into the lot marked Cucumber Falls located in Ohiopyle State Park. Brant said, “I hope this is worth it, and not like someone pissing over a rock.”  Always the comedian. We walked down a path a short distance and viewed the falls. Not too impressive. I’m sure they are more  to see in the spring.  So we saw what we came to see, then back to the car. We picked up the truck in Ohiopyle and headed back to Connellsville.

We decided we wanted Pizza to eat, so we found N.Y. Pizza & Pasta on our smart phones.  It was very nice.  I had two very cold Yuengling beers.  Joe and I had a large slice of Sicilian Pizza each and a side of chips. Brant and Elaine ordered personal pizzas. We enjoyed good conversation and food. Full bellies, we headed back to the motor lodge for the night.

Falling Water House

Falling Water House was really awesome. As I stated earlier it was designed by the same architect, Frank Lloyd Wright who designed Kentuck Knob.  He is considered the greatest Western architect of the 20th century. The house is all horizontal lines and cantilever terraces, stacked out over the waterfalls and stream below.  No air conditioning in this house either, but with the use of windows and a galley hatch that opens to the water below, the place seemed cool.  No one has lived in the house since 1963, when Edgar J. Kaufmann Jr. the only son of the Kaufmanns of Pittsburgh who built the home in 1935, donated the property and house to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.  We paid $27 each to tour this place.  It was very busy, every 10 minutes a group of tourists would be taken through the property.  We were permitted to take photos outside of the house, but none inside.  I will not go into all the details here, so if you want to learn more about Falling Water or Frank Lloyd Wright you can to the web site at –

After the tour, we browsed the parking lot, enjoying all the antique cars there.  Most were Model T Fords, 1920s and 30s models. We said goodbye to our friends and headed east toward Ohio and then South to Kentucky.  We were home by 7 pm.  The Cockerills drove on to Gettysburg.  Great trip.         

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