We woke up a bit earlier today so that we could get wheels-down shortly after sunrise. We needed to ride about 55-60 miles, plus drive about 4 1/2 hours back home. Riding on this surface is much slower than the road, plus we are trying to enjoy the scenery, not race home. So after doing morning prayer, I finished the normal ritual of sunblock, chamois cream, loading up on some calories, and packing up for the journey home.
Our stay at the Old Clark Inn was very nice. I highly recommend staying there if you overnight in Marlinton. It is an old inn dating back to the early 1900s, but it is well maintained and the owners do a good job of making it a nice home-away-from-home. They cater to cyclists with secure storage as well.
The weather today was faaaantastic. Cool and overcast. The morning fog kept us company for over 20 miles. The sun finally peeked out towards the end of the day and made it a bit warmer, but for the most part, it was just a beautiful fall day.
We saw many cabins and a few nicer homes along the river. Nearly every building was raised up on stilts or built upon a poured-concrete pedestal / garage about 10-15′ tall. This area had a massive flood in 1985 and again some time in the early 1990s, so the homes are raised to try to be flood proofed. In one of the pictures below you can see a flood mark on an older building we saw on a farm. I think this farm may be the only set of buildings we saw that were not on a raised foundation.
Plugging along, we took a break about every 12-15 miles to stretch the legs and our rear ends. One such stop was just outside a prison. I decided it was a good photo op for my bike.
Two of my favorite things commonly found on rail trails are bridges and tunnels. Only two tunnels on the GRT, but they were long enough to be fun. Most of the bridges were very short though.
On day 1, we discovered that there isn’t anyplace to get food between Lewisburg and Marlinton. So last night we picked up some Subway sandwiches to carry with us today. We held off eating until we reached Renick. We pulled off into a park pavilion to rest and eat our sandwiches.
The rest of the ride was beautiful and uneventful as we reached the south end of the trail. Many leaves were down and made for a nice soft-yet-crunchy surface. Each of us had to stop a few times when bunches of leaves would get caught under the fenders or in the gears to clear them. This trail is heavily tree-lined with a nice canopy for most of it. Even with lots of the leaves down, the canopy was pretty. I imagine it would be nicely shady and comfortable when the trees are full. We were a bit surprised that we did not see many cyclists the last three days. Perhaps it was lighter traffic since we rode mid-week.
We parked our car up at the Super8 in Lewisburg. On the way down from Lewisburg on day 1, we were treated to some really nice downhills into the valley. That meant today would finish with a big climb up from the valley. It was about 2 miles of steady climbing, ranging from about 4%-12% grade and rising about 750 feet. I generally like climbing, but I could tell that Joe was having some anxiety about the climb as we got closer to the end of the trail. Climbing with a fully-loaded touring bike is much harder than with a road bike, but I was still looking forward to a little challenge at the end.
We reached the southern end of the trail and rested for a bit. Joe and I talked over the options – I could leave him there and ride the last 5 miles to pick up the car, or he could ride with me. He decided to give it a shot and we both did great. It was a very pretty view from the top looking back at the mountains and realizing we had been at the river level just a few minutes earlier.
A few more surface miles took us back to the Super8 and our waiting car. The desk manager was kind enough to let us use a private area to change our clothes and clean up a little bit before getting in the car to drive home. A quick dinner stop at Arby’s was the only stop we made before getting home. It was great to get home and see my wife, my daughter, and Sophie, my best-buddy dog who was so happy to see me.
On the ride home, Joe and I compared our thoughts about the trail. First, the pros:
- The GRT is a really great trail. Smooth, well maintained, and gorgeous scenery. The surface is good and you can probably ride it on 32MM or bigger tires without any trouble. The crushed limestone is well packed and we saw very few muddy patches. If you wanted to camp, there are several primitive camp sites and a few shelters where you could probably pitch a 1-man tent or bivy sack. Some of the sites also had pit-toilets and water pumps.
Some other considerations or cons:
- There are very few towns along the trail. In the first fifty miles, we only saw one or two water pumps and only one mini-mart that was about .7 miles off the trail on a climb up the valley (Renick). The only major towns are Lewisburg and Cass at the two ends, and Marlinton about 50 miles north from Lewisburg. In between, it is just you and the trail and a few camp sites. There is also very little cell phone coverage. We really only had coverage in Lewisburg, and a mile or two near Renick and Marlinton. What that means is that if you were to have a major mechanical or medical issue, you could be 25+ miles from getting help. I recommend making sure you have enough spare equipment (tires, tubes, patch kit, chain tool, first-aid kit, etc…) to be self-sufficient because you probably won’t be able to call for help.
- We didn’t see much opportunity for water on the southern 50 miles. We both used up our two water bottles during that section. If it had been a hot day, that could have been a problem. I recommend taking more water and make sure to take advantage of the pumps if you have room to refill your water.
- We didn’t see many opportunities to get down to the river itself. I kinda wanted to take my shoes off and dip my feet in the water. I didn’t get a chance to do that. On a hot day, that would have been refreshing.
Overall, I gave the trail a 7/10, Joe said 6.5/10. For me, it needs more services (food, water) and towns to adventure into. I very much enjoyed our three days. This trail feels very similar to the Great Allegheny passage in the area near Ohiopyle state park, but not as many places to explore.
Stats for the ride:
- Miles: 164.75, including the ride to/from Lewisburg to the trailhead
- Hours in the saddle: 15 Hours, 23 Minutes
- Energy Bars: a few. Maybe 6?
- Chicken wings: 1 dozen – 6 on Weds and 6 on Thurs. They were mighty tasty.
- Beer: 1 glass. It was good, but I wasn’t in the mood for any more.
I hope to find a new adventure next year for a bike tour – probably more than three days. This was really a nice short tour with Joe and hopefully we’ll do it again soon. Riding solo is nice, but so is riding with good friends and enjoying the scenery.
Peace, Dcn. Matt