Sunday, June 5, 2016
Ordinarily it’s a case of “too many tours and not enough time,” so I would rarely want to repeat a previous trip, and the last time I did the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal Towpath tour I remember telling my wife that I was not sorry I’d done it, but once was certainly enough. Time has a way of dulling such memories however, and over the winter I found myself again signing up with Wilderness Voyageurs of Ohiopyle, PA to reprise my trip of 2012, hoping for a better outcome. My earlier experience had been my first fully-supported tour and was colored by having a not-quite-suitable bike plus a lack of other equipment (specifically rain gear!) for such a journey. Besides, there had been some improvements in the trail itself and I wanted to ride the entire length without the previous detours, as well as cover a section that I had skipped.
There were twelve of us signed up for the ride, most of whom met at 7AM at the Voyageurs’ headquarters in Ohiopyle, while the rest would meet us at our actual starting point in Boston. With our two guides — Taylor and Dave — we would pretty much fill up the 15-passenger van while our luggage and all the support gear was carried behind in a large enclosed trailer. I won’t further embarrass anyone by relating the incident that occurred just as we pulled out for the drive to Boston, but it did give us some ammunition for giving our guides a bit of a hard time for a couple of days!
The weather reports had generally not been looking great for the first days of the trip, and indeed it started raining just about the time that we started our 56-mile ride back to Ohiopyle. It was not a downpour — just a steady slow drizzle — but I was definitely glad that I had a good waterproof rain jacket and pants, and especially shoe covers: muddy shoes that turn into wet shoes when you wash them are no fun to deal with. At least the surface of the GAP trail is mainly crushed limestone that drains well, but when actively raining it still throws up a lot of dirty water and grit. One of my other equipment investments was a mud deflector installed on the front downtube, which really paid off in helping keep mud off of my legs and water bottles.
Our first support stop was in the town of West Newton, where the old train station is now the headquarters of the GAP Trail Alliance. A bonus was that the local trail supporters had a number of booths set up to celebrate National Trails Day. It had been a while since I had eaten breakfast, so I really enjoyed the free hot dog with sauerkraut. They were also glad to see us since they were not getting many visitors with the steady rain falling.
It was about lunchtime that the rain finally stopped, and as it turned out, that was actually the last time we were rained on other than some stray sprinkles for the rest of the tour. In fact, the weather steadily improved each day, but I’m getting ahead of myself. The rest of the way to Ohiopyle we rode along the Youghiogheny River through mostly settled areas until entering the state park itself for the last 10 miles or so. One benefit of having all that rain was that the various creeks, small waterfalls, and cascades on the uphill side of the trail were gushing water, making for a very scenic and sonorous ride.
When we got to Ohiopyle, Dave and Taylor immediately started washing the accumulated mud off of our bikes (and off of us!). They then wiped down and oiled the chains. This was just the first sample of the exceptional service that we received all week, making it apparent to me that Wilderness Voyageurs had upgraded this tour to a new level over the past four years. It was going to be great!
The first day’s lodging is always scheduled at the Voyageurs’ own Trillium Lodge up on Laurel Hill. However, back in 2012 the lodge had been rented out privately for the weekend and instead they had put us up at the somewhat marginal Yough Plaza Hotel. So this was my first experience at the Trillium Lodge, which is a large vacation home type of place where a family or other related group can stay. There were enough rooms for all of us (five pairs/couples and two singletons), and it made for an interesting start to the “bonding experience” to have to coordinate access to the limited number of bathrooms.
The day ended with a healthy meal cooked by our guides and after a couple of glasses of wine I could see that we had a more than usually compatible group of people who would be sharing experiences over the next several days.