Crossing the Continental Divide on a Bike

In 2019, DC UL hosted its inaugural bikepacking trip on the C&O Canal, leaving from Cumberland and heading east for 40-some miles. It turned into the mudbog of the century! During that trip, we experienced flat tires, pot holes, and mud puddles as big as a car.

This year, we decided to use the same entry point at Cumberland but head west on the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP Trail). Cumberland divides the two trails, with Mile Marker 0 delineating the two just outside the Visitor Center.

This “Bikepacking 101” trip would give bikepackers a chance to train and/or test their gear.

The GAP Trail would prove to be in better condition, but with one small caveat: a steady, 22(-ish)-mile climb that would take us up and over the Eastern Continental Divide.

On the Eastern Continental Divide. Photo: Liz T

We were fortunate to convene with good weather outside the Cumberland Trail Connection bike shop, where we met their shop cat (Scraggler?). I (Gig) had gained the dreaded pandemic pounds and needed to buy a windbreaker vest that fit, and Liz (Lost and Found) had forgotten some important items, like a helmet, so we were able to take advantage of the bike shop.

Shop cat Straggler or Scraggler. Photo: Carrie P

After admiring each others’ bikes and gear, we saddled up and prepared to ride.

Holley’s handlebar bag from Swift Industries. Photo: Carrie P

As we headed out of Cumberland, the skies were cool and cloudy. We soon began our climb, which in the beginning didn’t seem that bad. The max grade was only ever 1.5 %. How bad can it be?

Soon, the sun came out, and despite pleasant temperatures, we were feeling the effects of the humidity. We stopped for a snack and water break just outside of Frostburg, where we puzzled over the sign for “The Frostburg Uber: It’s not like other Ubers!”

The GAP trail passes through a few tunnels: first Brush, then Borden, and finally the Big Savage Tunnel, a whopping 3,000+ feet long, and refreshingly cool on a humid day.

Finally, after nearly 22 miles of strong-legged pedaling, we reached the Continental Divide and proceeded with the blessed downhill portion of the ride. We made another stop in Meyersdale, where Steve (Baconator) had performed some pre-trip research and located the Pit Stop Kremery, where many of us indulged in ice cream treats. Dmitri enjoyed several ice creams: “One for last year, one for today, and one for tomorrow.”

The Pit Stop Kremery in Meyersdale. Photo: Carrie P

Others chose to enjoy the ice cream novelties sold by the Meyersdale Historical Society located inside the Meyersdale Train Station. Some of us ate both. Like in any DC UL trip, “there will be ice cream.”

Tam’s Pit Stop Pie. Photo credit: Steve G

The remaining miles were only a slight downhill. All of us were watching eagerly for the signs for Husky Haven, our home for the night. We had reserved the group campsite, which turned out to be quite beautiful (and large!). Next time, we hope for more bikepackers to take advantage of this lovely camping spot along the GAP.

B~~ and Zeus the Husky at Husky Haven. Photo: Carrie P

Husky Haven is indeed a Husky Haven. One of the owners will usually ride by on a golf cart to say hello, husky (or huskies) in tow. Zeus was particularly hairy and left us some little tufts of fur to remember him by.

Husky Haven charges $15 a night per person, and provides excellent sites as well as water, showers, port-a-pots, and firewood. They also have empty gallon jugs for you to carry your water back and forth, since the filling station is about 1/4 mile away from the campsite. The gallon jugs are old milk containers, so that ended up being a fun prank to play: Ali convinced everyone that he had brought a gallon of milk along since “he loved his milk.”

I don’t backpack as much as I used to, so I’m not used to smelling myself quite so intensely. I decided to use the showers that were on the other side of the river from our campsite, and a few others of us went there for water or shower, or to check out the Rockwood Opera House, which serves pizza, salads, and other fuel for hungry bikers. We were back to the campsite by 7:30 p.m., where we wondered what to do with the remaining hour of sunlight. We had a small fire and decided on a 7 a.m. departure for the next morning.

It’s unfortunate that such a lovely campsite is right next to extremely active train tracks. Rockwood, PA, is a train town, and though many of us were professed “I-can-sleep-through-anything” backpackers, it’s pretty hard to sleep through that. Trains came by late into the night, whistles blowing, full steam ahead. Thankfully, it seemed pretty quiet from about 11 p.m. until about 4 a.m.

Morning at Husky Haven. Photo: Liz T

Wake-up call was given at 6 a.m., although most people were already milling about. After breakfast and packing up, we hit the trail again by 7, heading back the way we came. We stopped one more time at Meyersdale for a breather.

I think we were all a little fatigued by this point. We only had a small portion of yesterday’s climb to achieve, but it was tough. Eyes and spirits brightened as the Continental Divide finally came into view. We took a short break for pictures. Brian (B~~) noted that the cicadas were screechingly loud on the east side of the Divide but not the west. It turns out that Brood X does not live past the Divide, at least in that area. We stopped again at Frostburg for water and a snack.

The remaining miles zoomed by as we descended into Cumberland. B~~ even had a whole mile where he didn’t have to pedal.

I wasn’t sure if the group would want to stick around, or how hungry they would be by the end, but it turns out we were all game for a meal. We ended up at Puccini, a pizza and American food place just east of Cumberland off of Exit 46.

We floated some ideas for the next bikepacking trip, including a fall colors trip to the Pine Creek Rail Trail in Pennsylvania, and additional “section” bikes of the GAP and/or the C&O. With enough interest, we may even be able to rent a car or two, plop ourselves down in Pittsburgh, and simply ride home to DC.

The trip turned out to be a pleasant one, and a success with no huge disasters. We all have stronger legs and spirits from the challenge. Who’s ready to bikepack?

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