CUMBERLAND, Md. (AP) — I warned them about those Great Allegheny Passage tunnels. Make sure you get off the bikes and walk, I told my dozen cycling companions. Did they heed?
Not much. Most plunged into the disorienting void, one wearing sunglasses no less, gazing through dark lenses upon what was already dark. Expressions of concern, let us say, echoed off the walls. I flashed back to a friend's mid-tunnel wipeout a year earlier. Were they all going down?
The episode proved to be a harmless hiccup in a gem of a bicycle trip.
The Great Allegheny Passage between Pittsburgh and the Western Maryland town of Cumberland is a smooth-rolling romp through the mountains that pleases cyclists of varying ability and just glows on fine autumn days. It does not have much in the way of hazards, if you'll just listen to me and walk when I tell you.
It stretches for 141 miles (227 kilometers), offering sparkling river views enlivened by the screeches of whitewater rafters. It gives you a passing panorama of wind-farm turbines beating lazy arcs in the sky, and loads upon loads of peace and quiet.
The GAP links up with the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal towpath in Cumberland, which then carries on to Washington, D.C., 185 more miles (298 kilometers) away. The C&O trail is rougher and wilder but there's no slam-dunk case that one is more beautiful than the other. They're different, and together they form a 326-mile (525- kilometer) off-road expedition without parallel in the nation.
These days, the Great Allegheny is getting the buzz because it's newer, more carefully maintained and growing.
The recent completion of an eight-mile (13-kilometer) section connects the trail to the old steel town of Homestead on Pittsburgh's outskirts, leaving just one section to be finished to link with downtown.