Total Daily Miles Traveled - 49 - All Bicycle
(added 4.3 mile side trip to Big Savage Tunnel = 53.3 miles)
Cumulative Miles - 112
Estimated Miles Remaining: 17
Low Point: Confluence, PA - 1330' (Low Point on Loop)
High Point: St. John's Rock 2930 ft
Time: 7 hours
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Day 5 Maps
Overview of the Day
The photo really describes my day, a bear! If you've been reading along you know that this trail segment was supposed to be done over 2 days (30 miles Confluence to Meyersdale and 19 miles Meyersdale to St. John's Rock). Well I found myself eating lunch in Meyersdale at 11:30 am, the body was feeling good, weather was awesome and I couldn't handle the thought of sitting on a bicycle seat for a second day. So on I went. I discovered about mid-morning after 2 hours of 7-8 mph pace, that standing up helped with the sore seat syndrome but it required shifting down to the lowest gear so I could still have resistance on the pedals. This was great for the body AND I picked up speed to 10-12 mph. Was able to keep this pace even though I climbed over 1000' feet on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). Barely noticed I was climbing thanks to the continuous 3% grade. Followed water all the way to the Eastern Continental Divide, first my friend the Casselman River where I have spent many days paddling and then Flaherty's Run, seems to be a theme for this trip. I can't recommend the 50 miler unless your are a real bicyclist in great shape. There was little left in the tank to climb hills once I left the GAP for the 8.7 miles of road riding, road builders don't build at 3%.
Yough Lake dam to Meyersdale
Starting where I left the day off on day 4 at Yough Lake boat ramp it was in the 60's with a beautiful fog shrouding the mountains and water. Quickly had to put on a jacket as I started moving it was so cold. Found the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail after crossing the low point of the loop (1330') on the bridge below the dam. The town of Confluence has really embraced the trail and has prospered from its presence with new restaurants, lodging and trail related shops at its access points. The trail itself is an old railroad grade that is now graveled in mine dust, a truly awesome surface to ride on. The highlights of the trail are the babbling rivers and streams below and the bridges and tunnels left over from the age of the railroad. The variety and age spread of the 50 or so fellow riders I encountered during the day was amazing. A 3 generation family with a 3-4 year old on training wheels at one end and many retirees that looked to be in their 70's perhaps more at the other. All types of bicycles but you could tell those serious about doing the whole GAP with their extensive panniers. The trip to Meyersdale took a somewhat leisurely 3.5 hours with a couple of water and snack breaks. Had to do some tightening of the handle bars as the stand-up technique put a lot of pull on them and all of a sudden they were loose. Passed through some small towns and crossed several roads. Rockwood had a cycle-in campground that was impressive but few other facilities were found (other than a proliferation of rest benches with donor names engraved). The Meyersdale GAP Visitor Center is definitely a stopping point with water, bathrooms and interpretive exhibits. Saw a couple of trail oriented restaurants nearby and had read of some reasonable lodging in town, even a cyclist friendly bunk room. The 910' long Keystone Viaduct, and the historic Wills Creek Bollman Truss Bridge were impressive, not too comfortable riding over the highway on the Viaduct though, glad it wasn't windy or crowded so I could hug the center. This would make a great leisurely day ride.
Meyersdale to St. John's Rock
The first section of trail from Meyersdale to the Eastern Continental Divide was 8.25 miles with an elevation gain of 300 feet on the GAP. Again with a 3% grade it was easy going although much of this segment has no overhead trees so you get a lot of sun exposure. The only bikes to overtake me the whole day were on this section from a tandem and solo rider from Michigan and Missouri. As they passed I noticed that my pedaling cadence was higher frequency than theirs, this made realize that I was in a higher gear than I wanted. Once shifted I got a much needed second wind and passed them again within a 1/2 mile. I was so pleased with myself and my progress that I blew past my exit from the GAP at Deal, missed the sign while trying to avoid a young rider whose bike tipped in a sand pothole on the trail. I checked my GPS about a 1/4 mile later but was convinced that my turn was after the Continental Divide so off I went. It was worth it to get some photos at the namesake for the Loop and I even got to share the historic moment of the inaugural Loop ride with the folk who had inspired my second wind. Still thinking my turn was ahead (fatigue was clouding my judgement a bit) I proceeded onward and soon found myself in the Big Savage Tunnel, now I knew I had gone about 2 miles too far but it was worth it and the view at the other end was spectacular.
Backtracked to the Continental Divide and jumped off on McKenzie Hollow Road to start the 8.7 mile road ride to St. John's Rock at the trailhead to tomorrow's Big Savage Mountain Hiking Trail. Steeper hill grades on the road and fatigue from a long day on the trail put me on my feet for the uphills and brakes for the downhill coasts as there was a fierce crosswind. Only one left turn (McKenzie to Greenville/Finzel/Beall School Rd - same road but name changes) from here to the entrance road to the trailhead. As I approached the trailhead access road a big black bear rambled out of the woods in front of me with a bewildered look on his face like "what are you doing here?" After the long ride I had I asked myself the same thing but was relieved about a mile further up the trail with an end to the ride at the spectacular and historic St. John's Rock. Final day tomorrow, sorry to see it end.