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Cycling the Allegheny Mountains Loop

Nestled in the western-central portion of the Appalachian Mountains is a 400-mile long section called the Allegheny Mountains. The Alleghenies run from north-central Pennsylvania, through western Maryland and eastern West Virginia to southwestern Virginia. Topping out at Spruce Knob (4,863 feet), the Alleghenies are rugged, sparsely populated, and beautiful.

Adventure Cycling Association (www.adventurecycling.org) has mapped a cycling route through this area called the Allegheny Mountains Loop. Starting and ending in Blacksburg, Virginia, the Loop is 396.5 miles long. According to ACA, “The Allegheny Mountains Loop offers a wide variety of riding types - from pavement to gravel, from gentle grade along river valleys to steep, muscle burning climbs and fast descents over ridges, and from busy U.S. highways to lightly trafficked county roads and rail trails where no cars are allowed.”

As with all of the routes they map, ACA offers for sale turn-by-turn directions for following the Loop (and four optional route choices), as well as downloadable maps. These directions and maps include information on nearby amenities, elevation gains and losses, distances, natural history, cultural heritage, average weather, and much more. All this information on the Loop can be yours for under $20.

One highlight of the Loop is the Humpback Bridge, a single-span 100-foot arched covered bridge, perhaps the only arched covered bridge left in America. The route also passes the Mountain Lake Hotel, the location where the movie Dirty Dancing was filmed. Manmade points of interest aside, there is also ample opportunity to take in amazing views, wildlife, and autumn foliage while cycling this route.

If merely touring the Allegheny Mountain Loop isn’t enough for you, consider taking up the challenge offered by The Bike Pedaler. This unidentified man has loosely organized a group mountain bike ride/race/tour whose premier will be on October 5, 2012. With no entry fee, prizes or support, his intent is for the riders to complete a totally self-supported ride of the Loop. The ride is heavily modeled after the Tour Divide in the Rocky Mountains, and has been called the Tour Divide East.

To be considered “officially” a participant in this ride, cyclists must track their rides with a SPOT satellite tracking unit. While it’s not technically a race, but is instead a bikepacking adventure, those participants who track their ride with a SPOT and complete the entire distance without accepting outside help will have their times posted on his website (http://alleghenymountainsloop.blogspot.com/) in order of completion time. If you aren’t able to join in on the group start, you can do the ride on your own, tracking with a SPOT, and still have your time posted on the website. More information on the ride, the rules, and the bikepacking ethos can also be found on the website.

It’s heartening to know that opportunities still exist for cyclists to find incredible places to have adventures. Clearly, the Allegheny Mountains Loop is one such place. Check it out when you’re in the area.

Ride safe and have fun!

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