Brian's First Bike Overnight on the GAP Trail
Brian's first bike overnight on the Great Allegheny Passage. "It was a relaxing, inexpensive, and wonderful ride!"
Bicycle Adventurer: Brian Thompson
Distance: 90+ miles in two days
Bonus tip for this adventure: Fantastic views, friendly people, and great camping once you climb the mountain!
For my first self-contained bike overnight, I decided to travel a portion of the legendary Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) starting in West Newton, PA.
West Newton, PA is a quaint town with cycling amenities including The Trailside store, the West Newton Station - Visitors Center, and many other options. The trailhead is in town so you have ample opportunities to stretch your legs, grab a bite to eat, drink a pint, do some exploring, or all of the above.
At noon on a beautiful September Tuesday, I loaded the panniers on my bike and hit the GAP. Since this was my first bike overnight, I wasn't sure how I would fare toting myself and 30 pounds of gear. I didn't make prior reservations and chose to see how far my legs could take me. I decided on this route because of camping options in three successive towns: Connellsville, Ohiopyle, and Confluence. I would not recommend this "no prior reservation" approach on a weekend or in the summer, since most of the campgrounds are understandably full, but I had made several phone calls to the local campgrounds and felt assured that I could find a place to pitch my tent on a Tuesday night in September.
My first pit stop was Connellsville. As you ride the trail into town, you'll see rest rooms, water fountains, multiple Adirondack shelters, and grills for trail users. Further along, you'll find several restaurant options, a convenience store, a bike shop, and other locally owned businesses. I passed a sign near the community park stating that a new hotel is going to be built. This should provide additional options for future cyclists on the GAP.
Feeling good, I chose to continue and pedaled toward Ohiopyle. The trail follows the Youghiogheny River with beautiful vistas, interesting rock formations, lots of wildlife, and a built-in serenity. You'll find many covered picnic tables and benches to stop for a break and I took my time and arrived at the Ohiopyle State Park at 5:00 p.m. At this point, I was 40+ miles into the trip and still felt good, but thought it was time to stop for the day.
A sign points to a trail that leads to the campground. Allegedly, it's a quarter mile, but it seems much longer and is extremely steep. The toughest part of the entire journey was pushing my fully loaded bike up this rocky, rutted incline. Unfortunately, this appears to be the only way to access the Kentuck Campground at Ohiopyle State Park by bike. I had to stop at the top, sit down, and take a breather. Tough climb!
Once at the top of the hill, an easy ride takes you to the park office. I paid for my campsite, pitched the tent that I borrowed from a good friend, made a fire, and ate the best, dehydrated chili-mac. It's amazing how good bad camp food can taste! A warm shower was followed by a great night's sleep.
After a little camp stove coffee and oatmeal, I explored the park a bit. If you want to see some beautiful views, be sure to ride a couple of miles further into Ohiopyle State Park on the trail. You won't be disappointed.
I walked my loaded bike back down the rocky, rutted trail to get back on the GAP and started the journey back home on a relaxing and uneventful ride with plentiful wildlife and at least half of the trip seemed to be under a canopy of trees. Although the incline of this rail trail is negligible, it took about 30 minutes less to get back to West Newton.
If I'm fortunate, this trip will be the first of many bike overnights that I have in my future. It was a relaxing, inexpensive, and wonderful ride!
Your favorite local bike shop?
Dapper Bicycle Shop
219 South Main Street
Zelienople, PA 16063
Bike overnight tips and tricks?
- Here's my must have gear: Aquaphor "chamois lube"
- Homemade soda can camp stove ... Huh? Here's an example.
- Stanley Adventure Camp Cookset (24 oz. stainless pot with two 10 oz. stowable cups)
HOW ABOUT YOU? Inspire others by submitting your bike overnight adventure!