Great Adventures on the GAP: Memoirs of an 11-Year-Old Bicyclist

Posted 09/09/14 by Mae Nagel in Trail Use

Photo of Mae and David Nagel © David Nagel

RTC is shining the spotlight on the state of Pennsylvania during September. When it comes to trails, Pennsylvania is doing it right! Check back throughout the month to learn how unique collaborations and forward-thinking agencies are coming together to help communities realize their trail visions and make Pennsylvania a leader in the trails world.

We want to extend a special thank you to Mae Nagel and her father David for this very heartfelt and very candid peak at their recent bike trip through part of the Great Allegheny Passage in Pennsylvania!


When my dad told me we should take a father-daughter bike trip along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), I wasn’t really sure what to expect. First, we realized that I needed a new bike because my other one was too small, so we went to a bike shop. I was so excited about getting a shiny, brand new bike!

Photo of Mae Nagel © David Nagel

On Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 5, at 4:15 p.m., after a piano lesson we were late to (and missed), we set out. We got to Café Bruges in Carlisle, Pa., around 6:30 p.m. for dinner. I had corned beef for the first time, and their Belgian fries were delicious! We also had delicious chocolate mousse for dessert. Then we set out for the Lodge at Chalk Hill in western Pennsylvania where we would begin our adventure. 

On Wednesday morning, we woke up to cold, rainy weather. We thought to ourselves, Oh no! It can’t be raining. We were very disappointed. I guess singing “Rain, rain, go away, don’t come back until…Sunday!” really works because the rain stopped, and the sun came out. Hooray! We were so relieved. We drove to the start of the GAP in Connellsville, where we loaded up our bikes with panniers, sleeping bags, a tent and luggage of all sorts. The best part was putting my teddy bear, Beary, in my pannier with his head sticking out so he could watch the scenery.

At the very beginning of the trip, the trail was paved, so it was easy riding and smooth. After about a mile, the trail was flat with packed gravel. I was really excited, but after about nine miles, I was surprised we had only gone that far. We kept plugging away, but after a while I was really anxious to get to our midway point in Ohiopyle. I was wishing I had a super power that would make me be in Ohiopyle—right then and there.

Experiencing Challenges

After that, when I thought we’d gone three more miles, my dad checked his odometer and realized we had only gone one. “Ugh!”  It wasn’t that bad, though, because we had snacks and played games like 20 Questions and This or That while we were riding, which made the time pass more quickly. Along the way we saw waterfalls that were pretty and picturesque. The trail was peaceful, and there were nice overlooks. Thinking back, though, we were like Dory in Finding Nemo, singing, “Just keep swimming; just keep swimming.”  I learned to just keep going.

Finally, we arrived in Ohiopyle, where we decided that going the additional 11 miles to Confluence would be just too far. I admit I was a little upset, because we didn’t have our car, and the town was unfamiliar. We had lunch and ice cream, but that didn’t help much.  

We realized we needed to book the campsite for one more night (we were originally going to stay in Confluence for one night), so we asked around and finally found the park office. My dad called Ohiopyle State Park and asked if we could have a campsite for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, instead of just Thursday and Friday, and fortunately we could. The woman at the trail office directed us to where it was. We found the path to the campground, but it was a quarter mile of steep rockiness, and after a long, hard day, you don’t think anything can get worse, so that was hard. 

We finally found the check-in office at the campground, and the lady was very nice. She gave us cookies. Then, we heard thunder and felt a gust of wind, and it started to pour. Now things really couldn’t get worse! Fortunately, the nice lady let us stay under the porch, and my dad pulled out some jellybeans! Yummy! When the rain stopped, we went to set up our tent, and everything felt better that evening.

Brighter Days Ahead

The next day, the ride back was a TON easier. Maybe it was because the route was slightly downhill, and we didn’t have our panniers—we left them at the campground—but we went eight to 10 miles per hour! I was relieved that we had gone halfway so quickly. I had so much fun, and the trail was beautiful.   

It was really fun to watch the river and hear the train go by on the other side. There were lookouts and waterfalls, and benches at which to stop and have a snack. We arrived back in Connellsville in two hours and 20 minutes. It was a breeze! We got our car and drove back to the campsite. After that, we went to some natural water slides at Ohiopyle, and we stayed two more days.  

On Friday morning, we visited Fallingwater, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house, and in the afternoon we went to Cucumber Falls at the campground and enjoyed the nice water. The next morning, we packed our bags and headed back to Philadelphia.  

Now that I know what to expect, I’m excited to go on my next biking trip. 

For me, the 17 miles there and back were a big accomplishment, and all in all, it was an excellent adventure that I’d highly recommend.

Just don’t forget the jellybeans! 

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