Day #2 on the GAP Trail was an emotional one: the day started out miserable, ended beautiful, and crossed pretty much every emotion in between.
The forecast called for rain, and we were prepared for this (kind of). When we packed up on Saturday afternoon, the only day that it was supposed to rain was Monday, so we thought, if we could just get through that one day, it wouldn’t be so bad. So we only brought enough cold/rain gear for that single day (and more on how *that* panned out will come in the following entries).
This brings me to my first pro-tip of a multi-day bike trip: prepare for the unexpected, weather-wise. The 10-day forecast when we left Pittsburgh was not even close to the actual weather we experienced. You obviously will want to pack light if you’re carrying your own gear, but bring at least a couple options for each type of weather, and try to plan your B&B or hotel stays for spots with laundry. Having access to laundry was our saving grace once the skies unexpectedly opened up!
No matter what the forecast says when you’re packing your paniers, bring these things: 2 chilly-weather shirts, 2 hot-weather shirts, a poncho (or rain biking jacket, if you’ve got one, but those are pricey, and a poncho is just a couple of bucks and will help at least a little), and a hoody to keep in a waterproof panier that you can take out and change into when you stop for lunch at a dry cafe. (You might even want to consider a full change of clothes mid-day if it’s raining badly enough in the morning with promises of drier skies in the afternoon, but it honestly makes very little difference if it keeps raining all day.)
We set out from Connellsville a little later than originally planned, which allowed us to skip about an hour of steady rain and get the first 6 miles or so in under relatively dry conditions. (Please note the sign here, which states that Ohiopyle is 17 miles from Connellsville. That will become important at mile 14 when I had my Cyclist Breakdown.)
And I mean ‘a bit’.
Our second day of riding was scheduled to be 47 miles (compared to the first day, which was 60). We thought, ‘oh, cool, maybe they give you an easy day second to let your body recover.’
That’s not what it is.
Earlier in the morning, I’d asked Michael to look up how many miles we had between stops. He said, “Only 14 miles until Ohiopyle!” so I had this number 14 in my brain. No matter how cold and wet and windy it was, at 14 miles, I could get some coffee and warm up a little.
So uhhh… recall that sign I posted earlier. The one that has the *actual* mileage between Connellsville and Ohiopyle. And keep in mind that I didn’t even look at the mile markers, except to take the picture, because my beloved husband had assured me that it was only 14 miles.
Perhaps then, you can imagine my rage, when 14 miles in… we were still in the middle of the woods. In the rain. Going uphill.
And so commenced the angriest three miles I have ever ridden in my life. (They were also pretty fast miles, in fact our fastest three miles of the day, so I guess, go anger biking, you’re effective!) I spent three miles leading us through the woods (we had to ride single-file because the trail conditions were a little sketchy with the wet leaves and puddles and branches), cursing the inaccurate labeling of distances by the GAP Trail.
When we finally reached a (level!!!) bridge to stop and take some scenic photos, I had the idea to check the camera and look at that distance sign way back at the start of the day….
And when I realized that it was not the GAP Trail signage whatsoever but my husband’s (usually-lovable) inability to get numbers right as they relate to time and distance, I became the kind of angry that is expressed through maniacal laughter and promises to toss your husband into the next river we came across.
Well, let’s just say we’re all lucky there was a payphone present, and Michael was able to reenact my favorite scene from the movie I affectionately call GIMMIE BACK MY SON to cheer me up.
The skies were beginning to dry up by the time we reached Confluence, and that was about the time we realized I’d broken a spoke on my rear tire. (I like to think that makes my Angry Three Miles even more impressive.)
Thankfully, Confluence has a lovely bike shop in Confluence Cyclery, and I was able to get BT all patched up while we grabbed lunch next door and dried out a bit.
There is, however, the feeling of riding 47 miles on the very verge of cresting a hill, only to reach what you *thought* was the crest and find out it was just another turn to go further uphill. (You climb around 1000 feet between Connellsville and Rockwood.)
Another pro-tip: don’t be ashamed to take advantage of the benches and tables along the way. Taking a short break gives you fresh legs. Bring a ton of Gu (or your choice of Gu-like product), and stay super, super hydrated. Also, if you have access to music on your ride, I recommend saving all the DMX songs for the point where you hit the wall and need it to get you pumped up. (I’d like to believe my stunning rendition of “It’s All Good” was enough to give us the strength to go those last 10 miles to Rockwood, but I can’t be certain.)
One of the most picturesque spots along this route is the old Pinkerton Tunnel. It’s in disrepair and has been closed for quite a long time, so you’re rerouted around it (one of your only stretches with any downhill on the day), but it’s so cool and creepy and fascinating! There’s also a blasting site very nearby (right – let’s put a tunnel right by a blasting site and hope everything’s okay?), and the bridges on either side of the tunnel (Pinkerton High Bridge and Pinkerton Low Bridge) are lovely and a great photo op.
That we had creepy, fabulous, stormy weather above the tunnel? Pure luck.
Tip: there is cell phone service ONLY at the little stand that says ‘cell phone service here,’ which you reach just prior to that train sculpture. There is literally NO cell phone service of ANY kind ANYWHERE in town. Not at the B&Bs, not at the bars, not at the campsites or shops. There is a ton of WiFi, so call your friends & families on Skype, or plan to not talk to anyone until you get out on the road the next morning.