A Winter Bike Trip on the Great Allegheny Trail

Updated on January 20, 2020

A Bike Trip in the Wintertime?

There are benefits to bucking conventional wisdom. I just rode for 3 days along the Great Allegheny Passage, a bike trail built on the remains of a railroad line that was built a hundred years ago through the rugged Allegheny Mountains between Pittsburgh and Cumberland Maryland. By going in the winter I avoided crowds, (duh), snakes, bugs, and sweat. Actually I did break a sweat a few times, but not from summer heat or pedaling uphill. Since the bike trail is made from an old railroad track and trains can't go up or down hills quickly, the Great Allegheny Passage is nearly flat, although the mountains that surround it are so steep and jagged that without this bike trail they would be impassable.

The Great Allegheny Passage goes through deep wilderness. I pedaled for miles and miles without seeing a house. The terrain surrounding the trail is usually steep and made up of trees growing out of piles of jagged boulders which are covered with moss and lichen. Without the smooth bike trail, there's no hope of traveling through this type of country on a bike. In fact, bushwacking would also be next to impossible. Snapping a shin while trying to traverse the boulders and the holes between them, which are hidden by fallen leaves, would be the likely outcome.

Sometimes I want to brave the elements. I like a grey sky and a light, brisk wind and some drizzle now and then. I don't know why. I also like not knowing where I will camp until the light starts to fade. I know I'll think of something. I met a family taking a walk on the bridges at Ohiopyle, and asked them to take my picture, since I'm hardly ever in any of my photos. The mom had a comment, "It'll prove you were here." And, in fact, I was.

I have a backpacking stove that makes a quick cup of tea. I used honey in packets to sweeten it on this trip, but it was so cold the honey was like putty. Next time I'll take a small bottle of sugar which should be unaffected by the cold. I brought my thermal travel mug which fit in the bottle holder on the bike and kept the tea hot for miles. Good call, Buddy.

I rented this bike from Adventure Sports in Frostburg, Maryland, which is near where I started my 3 day trip. I got the bags there too, and they're waterproof. Good thing. The sun came out once and it stopped raining some of the time. The weather promoted my solitude, enabling me to ponder while I pedaled.

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