I pedaled through dark tunnels of green with mountain laurel to my right and the sound of rushing waters to my left for three days. The forest unfolded and the sun streamed on my bike as the trail approached Meyersdale. The view ahead was stunning. The Salisbury viaduct appeared as a ribbon of steel and concrete high above the expansive open valley. Wind turbines rimmed the valley whirling as I cycled into Meyersdale, Pennsylvania.
It was this time of discovery that cast the spell of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and bicycle touring on me. Bicycle touring is all about discovery. You see the world from a new perspective at 12 mph. A new place with new people and experiences awaits you around the next bend. I have retraced my tire tracks of that June 2011 bicycle tour from Pittsburgh to Washington D.C. on the GAP and Chesapeake &Ohio Canal Trail (C&O) three more times over the past eight years.
The Ride of Your Life was the theme of marketing for the GAP and C&O for many years. For many, including myself, it truly was the case. Today, this ride is the ride of my life. Two things come together to make these trails the signature ride that I try to return to every year.
Touring by bike is not about distance and time or about setting records and winning medals. It is about the solitude of solo touring and the companionship of group touring. It is about meeting new people, the thrill of new experiences, and the challenges of the unexpected. Check one off for the ride of my life.
Touring by bike is experiential. It is about what you observe from behind your handlebar. It is about the sounds and aromas that bring back good memories and elicit new sensory memories that ride on with you. The ride of my life immerses me in nature and history following the railbeds and waters on the path of American settlers. Check two off for the ride of my life.
Here are the five things that are special about this ride that keeps me coming back.
- Every tour on the GAP and C&O is a new experience. The parade of people and places change as I continue exploring the 334 miles of these trails. The trails take on a new face with the changing weather and seasons; some times enjoyable and some times challenging.
- Mountains surround me as I pedal through the valleys lined with the legacies of steel. Rails and rivers gave life to the growing western frontier. The remnants of canal life, locks, and lock houses tell the tale of America’s westward growth. This ride packages the history of the Civil War, America’s steel heritage, and America’s canals days surrounded by stunning nature and wildlife.
- Bicycle touring is not just about the time on the bike. Every day of pedaling ends with a destination. These trails begin and end in unique metropolitan areas. The real gems are the small towns along the way. Each of them has a unique flavor. They range from tourist destinations, college towns, steel settlements, and just plain small town America.
- Memories made, memories revisited. This past week I cycled portions of the GAP. As I rested my bike along the entrance of the Salisbury Viaduct, the memories of my first visit came to mind. That is the case every time I see the Narrows at Big Savage Tunnel above Cumberland, every time I lean my bike on the stone wall along dam #5, every time I carry the bike up the steel staircase to cross the Potomac at Harper’s Ferry, and every time I pedal into Georgetown.
- It makes me happy. Retirement has a way of refocusing your life. Time takes on new meaning and value. My time is now about living every day to the fullest and do the things I love. I love the tunnels of trains and greenery, the rushing waters of rivers and stagnant waters of canals, the sound of tires on limestone and birds in the trees, the majesty of national monuments and simplicity of milepost 0 in Washington D.C. These ware just a few of many things that make the Great Allegheny Passage and Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail the ride of my life.
On the ride of my life