A few stories from my GAP and C&O ride

In my haste to bike across the country, I didn’t get to stop and smell the roses very often. I completed a ride of the GAP and C&O towpath, roughly 330 miles, in under 4 days (not recommended). As a result, I couldn’t tell you much about anything I rode past.

The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) trail has a ton of places to stop for nature or for touristy things. I recommend taking a 3 or 4 day tour of the GAP and you will have an easy ride (40 miles per day) with plenty to see and places to stay (you don’t have to camp).

There are hundreds of streams, waterfalls and springs that feed into the rivers along the GAP. I never really stopped to appreciate one. Time for another cliche: Travel is not about the destination, it’s about how you get there.

Is that a banana in your pocket?

The last day that I saw my girlfriend, I had already biked for 2 days and my skin had darkened quite a bit on my arms, legs, and neck, making for a delightful “farmer tan”. It was also red in the places where I hadn’t applied sunscreen adequately. She joked that I should ride naked one day to even out my tan.

Around mile 40 on the GAP I passed by a guy in his 50s riding an old cruiser bike with a basket. I was concentrating on the trail so I didn’t get a good look at him. While riding on the trail I generally used my peripheral vision to see everything that was not straight ahead of me. As a result, I was able to tell that this guy had his shirt off and he was very tan. I waved to him as I waved to everyone I passed on the trail. Wave is a generous term; I gave him the “cyclist wave” by raising my fingers off of the handlebars whist keeping my head down.

A few seconds later, another similar looking man, maybe the first guy’s brother, rode past me on a cruiser bike with a basket as well. He was also riding shirtless. He must have had very short shorts on because I couldn’t see where his shorts ended (and the basket was blocking his waist). A few seconds after I passed him, I swung my head around to see for sure. And as the second shirtless man went rolling on down the trail, I saw for the first time what a butt looks like on a bike seat. Unless I was hallucinating, he appeared to be naked! It’s not like he had plumber’s crack either, this was the full thing, all the way down to the seat. Maybe there is nudist colony nearby? Maybe you can come up with better reason for riding down a public bike trail naked. Whatever the reason, he did have a very even tan.

Bike culture

While I was hanging out in Point State Park in Pittsburgh (enjoying my tour), I wound up talking to a park ranger, Jerry, for over an hour about bike touring. He too had plans to bike the GAP and C&O and we were strategizing how he would be able to accomplish it with his two children. Jerry knew the city up and down. He could have been a tour guide. He recommended, among several other places, that I eat at a bike bar called “Over the Bar”. It’s literally a bike (bicyclist) bar. Not biker (motorcycle) bar. I cannot stress that enough. It’s a few miles down the GAP and over the river in South Side Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh is really convenient for getting around by bike. I got dinner and a couple beers at Over the Bar. I tried their “secret menu” item which is a bacon cheeseburger with peanut butter. Jerry said that they used to have peanut butter and jelly (and some other high calorie ingredients for bikers looking to load up) but the owner stopped serving it.

As I sat down I asked the guy next to me if anyone was sitting there. He said no and that he was just leaving. Well after 2 hours and a couple of beers this guy was still there and we we’re sharing stories about the GAP and other rides we have done. My new friend was Doug and he knew two things very well: bikes and beer. He even offered to find me a place to stay while I waited for my train ride home. As I left the bar, someone sitting outside saw me unlocking my loaded bike and asked if I had everything I needed. Wow! I couldn’t get over how helpful people in Pittsburgh are and their bike culture. I really felt like taking Doug up on his offer and continuing my journey the next morning. If I had an extra week to get there then maybe. Did I mention most of my fingers are numb from the trail? I don’t think it would be healthy to continue on the way I had been going.

Over the Bar is a great place if you are into cycling (or not). There is bike paraphernalia everywhere and most people there ride. Since it’s right along the trail, they have eliminated all car parking in front of the establishment and made it 100% bike parking. How’s that for dedication?

Before I left the area, I sat for a while with Chase, a pedicab driver whom I had met earlier in the day. Chase and his acquaintances we’re also into bike touring and had ridden from Pittsburgh to places like Seattle and Florida. They kept encouraging me to finish my ride. Each of their tours took around 60 days. That’s a good length of time for a cross country tour, not 35. 60 days gives you time to enjoy the journey and by bike about 60 miles/day, not 100+. As I was explaining my situation to the group, one of the guys (I can’t remember his name unfortunately) said “Never rush”. And he was right. Rushing something never makes it fun.

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