An Introduction

I am not a cyclist, but I love travel, new experiences, and adventure...

I'm Sarah, the Program Manager for Friends of the Riverfront, a nonprofit in Pittsburgh that has been building trails and restoring the region's riverfronts for over 20 years.

The 25-mile Three Rivers Heritage Trail has helped transform Pittsburgh from an industrial city to a green one. We work to build, maintain, expand, and promote this riverfront trail system for cyclists, walkers, runners, commuters, and rollerbladers. The Three Rivers Heritage Trail is also a Pittsburgh hub, connecting to larger trail systems.

This year, we celebrate the completion of the last link in the Great Allegheny Passage - the final mile to form a complete trail connection between Washington D.C. and Pittsburgh.

In anticipation of the official grand opening Point Made! celebration on June 15, I'm joining the grand opening ride to pedal 335-miles from D.C. to Pittsburgh on the C&O Canal Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage.

Count down the days -- and miles by taking a virtual tour with me from the Capital to the Burgh! I hope you'll enjoy following me on this amazing ride!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Pictures...or it Didn't Happen!

Wow! Almost a week later and it's still amazing to think that I rode 335 miles from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh, PA on a bicycle!

It doesn't seem so far when you think of a 30 minute plane ride or 4.5 hours in a car, but being able to slow down and look at life through a macro lens -- seeing all of the towns, people, history, and wildlife you would have missed otherwise, a relatively short distance becomes an amazing journey.

The riders of the historic Point Made! grand opening ride of the Great Allegheny Passage have returned to their lives with jobs and families, but a special connection remains. It is something unique, the instant friendship and comradery that emerges when strangers set out on an adventure together.

The physical and mental endurance of riding, paired with the beauty and enormity of the longest continuous bike trail in the United States makes the C&O Canal Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage an experience of a lifetime; but it is the people you are riding with -- and the people you meet along the way -- that bring personality and life to the experience.

Every rider in our group had their own reason for making the trip: a new adventure, a bucket list item, a celebration of long-time achievement in completing the Trail. These personal goals fueled the group with different energies and excitement. It was so special to celebrate the accomplishments of these goals together on the final day at The Point in Pittsburgh, and heartbreaking for the riders who had to change their goals along the way.

My Week on Two Wheels was an unforgettable one, I enjoyed every moment of it. I was lucky to have such amazing people to share the journey with (including all the readers), and am excited to continue riding with more adventures to come (reunion ride coming soon, I hope!). I just have to get a bike!

As promised, here is the complete photo album of the ride from DC to Pittsburgh!

Best wishes for smooth trails and just a little mud! :)

- Sarah

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Know Before You Go

Comments and Suggestions for Riding the C&O Canal Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage

One of the most common comments I've received while writing this blog and talking to people about biking from D.C. to Pittsburgh or vice versa is that this is something a lot of people are interested in. A bucket list item, something they have been trying to plan or thinking about doing for years, or even a possible family vacation now that the trail is complete.

I believe that making this trip is possible for just about anyone, from the experienced cyclist to the bicycle novice (like myself) looking for a new type of adventure. There are many ways to make the trip and things to consider, so here are my comments and suggestions:

Planning Your Trip:
Like most travel, riding the GAP and/or the C&O can be done in a variety of ways. Which direction should you ride? What type of accommodations should you use? Supported or unsupported?

Our supported trip with Events Unlimited was very luxurious in comparison to what it could have been. It took a lot of the planning and guess work out of the equation. We didn't have to transport our luggage on our bikes each day, and had nice hot showers and comfortable beds to sleep in each night. Other advantages of the supported trip were the knowledgeable guides, ready to lend a hand with any maintenance issues during the trip. The SAG (support and gear) wagon was available for anyone who couldn't ride due to illness, injury (thank goodness there weren't any), or people who just wanted to avoid a bit of rain.

The camp sites along the trail looked very nice, and many are free to use. I'll definitely be making use of some of these sites when I do some shorter, weekend rides.

We met many people during our ride who were doing the trail in different parts or directions. There's no  right way to ride the trail, but I enjoyed going from Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh because it got the harder part out of the way first -- I'm all for that! After the C&O and the brief 16 mile gradual elevation climb after Cumberland, the GAP was a breeze and a luxury with smooth paved or crushed limestone surfaces that were similar to what I was used to riding.

The ride to the top of the Allegheny Mountains at the beginning of the GAP is something a lot of people were hesitant about. I found that it was neither as easy or as hard as people had described. I was able to keep a steady pace in what I call 3rd gear (with the number 3 on the right -- again I'm no cycling expert), and with persistence and a few short breaks, I made it to the top!

Unfortunately, I can't provide much expertise on the type of bike to use on this trip, but it seemed like something a bit tougher than a road bike, with some tread on the tires was what most people were using.

I rented my bike in Pittsburgh from Golden Triangle Bike Rental -- these guys are great! My rental package came with everything I needed - extra tube, pump, tire levers, lock, panniers, and even a helmet! Seriously, can't say enough good things about these guys.

Training vs. Riding the Trails:
Even though I only had 8 days of bike training before leaving for my trip - 6 days at the gym ranging from 5-30 miles and two 18-mile rides around Pittsburgh on the bike I rented for the trip - I am an active person, going to the gym 5-6 days a week, running, lifting weights, yoga, and aerial silks.

I'd definitely recommend a bit more training if you're not already active.

At the gym or on the smooth-surfaced Three Rivers Heritage Trail, I could ride a high number of miles in very little time. In fact, none of my training rides lasted over 2 hours. When you're out riding on the trail, the experience is very different.

Our rides on the trip ranged from 35-60 miles, and always took up the entire day, riding at least 6 hours and often including additional time for stops to explore points of interest along the way.

The surface of the C&O is much more rugged and bumpy than the Three Rivers Heritage Trail which I had practiced on. There were gravely portions, patches of mud, puddles spraying dirty water, and all of these slowed you down. I LOVED the experience of the C&O, especially in relation to the Great Allegheny Passage and the Three Rivers Heritage Trail in Pittsburgh, but at the beginning of the trip I did wish I'd done some practice runs on rougher surfaces.

The Nitty-Gritty:
This ride will make you sore. It's not the end of the world by any means, and if you can handle basic soreness from physical activity, you'll be fine.

For me, certain parts of the ride felt like extended hours on the thigh-master. Raising the seat on my bike, yoga stretching, and relaxing in a cool swimming pool helped this.

For other people -- and what I was warned of most before the trip -- saddle soreness aka pain in the bum! This wasn't bad for me, and I survived the whole C&O Canal without padded shorts. But, my suggestion: get padded shorts! At some point, you'll be thankful you did, and anyways, who doesn't like a more comfortable seat?!

Apologies in advance for this last bit, but you'll thank me. Be sure to bring Butt Paste. It's anti-chaffing ointment that can be found in the infant isle. It will save you after long days of riding, especially if you get soaked in the rain and your riding outfit becomes a wetsuit.

There are some great resources out there for riding the trail, but none more helpful than the TrailBook! We followed this little $10 book mile by mile throughout the ride, so we always new what attractions to look forward to and where to go when we stopped in a town! It comes with nice water-resistant map that my riding buddy used as an "old school GPS," constantly reporting on what was up ahead.

While you're on the GAP, check out the GAP Certified Business Network page for suggestions on local sustainable businesses. This is where I was tipped off about Queen City Creamery in Cumberland,  and some of our other stops like the Trailside in West Newton can be found on this page. If you're going the Bed & Breakfast route, there are some good suggestions on this page.

Sarah's Rules of the Trip:

1) Most important! Attitude is everything. The trail isn't always easy, and the weather isn't always cooperative, but nothing can stop you if you keep an open mind, go with the flow, and have fun!
     - If it's muddy, embrace the mud! When else is it ok to be completely covered in mud?!

2) Food = Fuel. Fuel up regularly and enjoy every bite. Be prepared with extra fuel while you're riding - I took lots of fruit from hotel breakfasts for this purpose, fruit is perfect for a quick boost. Energy bars like Clif, Luna, or granola were great packable snacks for a bigger energy boost. Don't get yourself in a bad spot by not eating!

3) Water, water, everywhere! Remember your water so you don't have to ration. Refill stations with water pumps (water treated with iodine) are available about every 5 miles on the C&O and much less frequently on the GAP. I used these pumps more than a few times. If you can't use this water, be sure to pack enough to get you to your next stop!

4) Relax & Enjoy. Taking time to stop for a nice lunch and exploring points of interest along the trail provides a nice break from a long ride.

5) Smile. When the going gets tough, take a quick break, smile, and keep pedaling. Celebrate each mile marker, make up a game, ring your bell. You can do it!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Point Made!

Day 8: Homestead, PA to Pittsburgh, PA on the Great Allegheny Passage

When I peeked through the curtains of my hotel window, into the blinding sunny morning at The Waterfront, the first sight I saw was a cyclist pedaling by. Already, the crowd of over 1,000 bike riders and trail enthusiasts were beginning to arrive for a momentous day.

Today was more than just a personal celebration of accomplishment for all the riders on our trip, who had made it from D.C. to Pittsburgh by bike in just over a week. It was a celebration of a long-awaited trail completion, many years in the making, and the longest continuous bike trail in the United States.

As I put on my special edition Point Made! jersey, I felt such pride and accomplishment like an athlete stepping to the podium. Just a short ride from our hotel, the ceremony was about to begin at Sandcastle Waterpark, and with our whole group in matching uniform, we became a strongly bonded team. 

Over 1,000 trail enthusiasts in the crowd
The grand opening ceremony began at 10am with speakers including Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Congressman Mike Doyle, former Mayor of Pittsburgh Tom Murphy, Department of Conservation & Natural Resources Secretary Cindy Dunn, Project Manager Jack Paulik, and Allegheny Trail Alliance President Linda Boxx. 

Linda Boxx, President, Allegheny Trail Alliance
Everyone talked about the time it had taken to build the trail, the way it had brought different groups together to work toward a common goal, and how the completion of the trail is an achievement that everyone should be proud of.

The 24-hour relay team arrives

With Peter, Nathan, and Dave at the grand opening
The 24-hour relay team arrived to lead the procession of cyclists toward The Point, starting at the edge of the newly completed trail. The ride was slow, with the crowd of 1,000 or so cyclists riding single file towards the city.

Riders on the new section of trail, others wait to begin riding

Riding toward Pittsburgh near the South Side
At the Hot Metal Bridge, everyone walked their bikes up the switchbacks while a steel drum band played cheerfully below. With the city in view, the idea of a trail system stretching from the nation's capital to my hometown was finally something I had some perspective on, and my excitement grew.

Crossing the Hot Metal Bridge
One of my favorite parts of the ride was on the road near Point State Park, where everyone was trying to figure out bike parking. Tom Murphy, the well-loved former mayor of Pittsburgh was suddenly riding right beside me and we guessed at parking options while waiting at a red light.

Bikes were locked or checked at bike valet stations and everyone headed toward the fountain where the final mile marker of the Great Allegheny Passage is embedded at the very point of The Point.

Victory at Pittsburgh! Point Made!

Great Allegheny Passage Terminus
At 1pm, there was an unveiling ceremony at the big stage in the park, and more speakers shared their stories about the historical significance of this trail, the history of the Point, and what the trail means for the City. It was all started off with the presentation of the relayed American flag that had flown over Washington, D.C. and was now raised in Pittsburgh.

The relay flag is raised at Point State Park
The design of the mile marker is unveiled
After the ceremony, our group went back to the plaque at the tip of The Point for a final celebration of our accomplishment.

Point Made! riders at The Point
Riding the C&O Canal Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh, PA was such a wonderful experience, and I had the pleasure of meeting the most amazing people in our group, while riding on the trail and stopping in trail towns, and the virtual riders who followed my journey.

Up next I'll post some notes and suggestions for anyone thinking of making the trip. Also still to come, the complete photo album!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

An Almost Homecoming

Day 7: Dunbar, PA to Homestead, PA on the Great Allegheny Passage

Today we began our charge toward Pittsburgh on the Great Allegheny Passage. I couldn't quite piece together in my mind how we were going to ride from Dunbar, near Ohiopyle, to Homestead all in one day. It seemed too far.

We started off where we left off near the Dunbar Historical Society, back down the Sheepskin Trail, and across the big red bridge where we followed the GAP into Connellsville. There, the Fayette County Cultural Trust had wonderful breakfast waiting for us at a pavillion in the park. Muffins and coffee cake, fresh fruit, coffee, juice, and yogurt, were the perfect start to our last long day of riding.

Breakfast in Connellsville, PA

Mileage signs on the trail at Connellsville
Today's ride was much different than yesterdays, and instead of tree-lined trail and wilderness, we spent most of the day passing by houses and small towns. There were signs of industry past and present everywhere, including a newer industry: the trail.

When we stopped for lunch about halfway through the day's ride in West Newton, The Trailside was the first thing we saw. A charming restaurant with a nice outdoor patio, had taken the bicycle theme and made it their own. Menu items featured names from neighboring trail towns and locked bikes lined the railings near the entrance.

The Trailside, West Newton, PA
After lunch we continued towards Pittsburgh, and for the first time, I was not counting down the miles to the end of the day's ride -- I just wanted to keep going. As the scenery became more familiar, I became more nostalgic and thought of what a wonderful trip this had been.

Near Boston, the rain and storms had caused a rock/mudslide on the trail, and when we arrived, the crew was just finishing the clean up.  There were still some ruts and sticky mud on the trail, but it was passable and really nothing compared to the C&O.

Remains of a mudslide near Boston, PA
Today, Dave and I were the honorary "sweeps" at the back of the pack on the trip since most of our crew had headed back to D.C. to take part in the 24-hour relay. At Boston, we had planned to grab ice cream at a place we'd heard was right off the trail, but when we arrived, it was closed for the day.

We continued to McKeesport, and everything was familiar again. Although I had never been on this section of the trail, I had a good sense of direction, and knew where to go. Here, we had a brief section of share the road trail, some bends and turns and bridges, and then a nice final section of the day - a series of fly-over bridges that would bring us to The Waterfront.

First, we crossed over the Riverton Bridge, which was beautiful, and what I had known was an important part of finishing the trail to Pittsburgh. The few fly-overs that passed over the train tracks along the Monongahela River, were similar in steep inclines leading up, and like an amusement park ride going down.

Riverton Bridge, McKeesport, PA

Fly-over bridge, Duquesne, PA
Then we came to Kennywood Park, a memorable part on the trail into Pittsburgh, with two of the park's coasters - the Phantom's Revenge and Thunderbolt coming close to the trail. When riding by, it is almost as if you are in the park with the screams of riders rushing towards you all at once.

Kennywood Park, from the Great Allegheny Passage
We continued riding, and soon we were passing through the fields and beneath the Rankin Bridge with the signs to The Waterfront right in front of us. We knew we were within a few minutes of our final destination for the day, and although this was our second longest day by mileage - 55 miles, I did not want it to end.

Entering The Waterfront, there is a well divided share the road bicycle lane with marked pavement and directional signs. Then, you hop back along the river, behind the plaza housing and past the restaurants and businesses to the hotel.

Entering The Waterfront
We arrived at The Courtyard Marriott, where we had set out towards D.C. just a week ago, now ALMOST victorious bicycle travelers of the C&O Canal Towpath and Great Allegheny Passage - Washington D.C. to Pittsburgh in 8 days.

Victory at Homestead, with Susan, Mary Jane, and Dave
After stopping in our rooms, we met for drinks in the hotel bar and headed to Mitchell's Fish Market for a big celebratory feast and toasted the completion of a great adventure. After dinner, a group of us stayed out for drinks and then returned to the hotel to prepare for tomorrow morning's festivities.

Part of our group at Mitchell's Fish Market

Please join me to celebrate the completion of a wonderful trip and the milestone completion of the longest continuous bike trail in the United States! There will be a ribbon cutting ceremony at 10am at Sandcastle at The Waterfront, followed by a group ride to The Point led by our fearless and tireless 24 hour relay team!

At The Point, the final mile marker of the Great Allegheny Passage will be unveiled at 1pm, and from 2-10pm back at the Pump House at The Waterfront, there will be a Pop Up party with music, beer, and food trucks to continue the celebration.

Please join us to celebrate, and if you see me, please stop and say hello!  Tomorrow, I will post the conclusion to our ride, and later I'll share comments and suggestions about the trip.

I hope you'll continue to follow along -- the ride's not over yet!

Friday, June 14, 2013

Rivers and Woods

Day 6: Rockwood, PA to Dunbar, PA on the Great Allegheny Passage

Today must have been one of my favorite riding days on the trail. After storms through the night, the weather was calm and cool, perfect for cycling, and the most beautiful stretch of trail to do it on.

The breakfast buffet at 7 Springs was a treasure trove providing anything you could dream of and I loaded up on eggs, bacon, fruit, potatoes, and a cream puff doughnut to fuel the day.

The short shuttle ride dropped us back off in Rockwood where we started to ride -- and time flew by. The section of trail from Rockwood to Dunbar was so incredibly scenic with a wide crushed limestone path that allowed you to maintain a good speed and fully enjoy your surroundings.

The Casselman River from the Trail.

Trail bridge on the Great Allegheny Passage
We passed over trail bridges that leapt over the Casselman River creating dramatic scenic views of the hills and water below. Before we knew it, almost 20 miles had passed and we were met by a welcoming committee, the Confluence Chamber of Commerce, with a refreshment station right on the trail. They offered water and orange wedges and cheered us on, so excited to see our group. We stopped to talk for a few minutes before continuing on toward Ohiopyle.

Stopping for refreshments in Confluence

Mural along the trail in Confluence
Just after Confluence, Ohiopyle State Park began, and the most beautiful views with tree-lined trails, rocks, rhododendrons, waterfalls, and kamikaze chipmunks that darted onto the trail and then back to safety. I have visited Ohiopyle many times in the past, but have never been able to experience so much of the park's beauty.

Trees lining the Great Allegheny Passage

Rocks and rhododendrons line the Trail.
Before we knew it we were in Ohiopyle, and met a bunch of our group members at the bike racks by the station welcome center. They reported that two of our group members had seen a bear on the trail.

For lunch, we ate at The Firefly Grill -- just steps from the trail, and right as it started to rain. The Grill was nice with good food and friendly staff and we took a nice break for lunch and waited out the rain. We even got ice cream to help enjoy the wait.

When we were finished, the rain had stopped and we joined some of our groupmates to continue our ride to Dunbar. At first the air seemed to have cooled down significantly from the rain, but it was really perfect riding weather, and a beautiful mist hung in the trees. We passed over the great bridge over the Youghiogheny River and saw people coming in from a kayak trip.

Looking back at Ohiopyle from the bridge
The trail really seemed to fly by, especially after lunch and with the slight downhill grade. The trail was wet from the rain and had some puddles, but the dirt was nothing compared to Monday's ride on the C&O.

About halfway between lunch and our turnoff, there was an overlook with a beautiful view of the river below.

Overlooking the Youghiogheny River
When we got to Mile 86, we turned off onto the Sheepskin Trail that led us about 2 miles into Dunbar where our shuttle and bike truck were waiting.

Our group leaders told me that I had been requested at the Dunbar Historical Society, and there I was greeted by Linda, Donna, and Mike. They were such kind people and all so very excited to have us stop by. Linda gave me a big hug even though I was completely covered in grit from the trail and they offered us refreshments, some town history,  and asked about our trip.

Dunbar Historical Society with Linda and Donna
The Dunbar Volunteer Fire Station had left a hose on for us to hose off our dirty bikes before loading them into the truck for the night, and soon we were on our way to the Holiday Inn in Uniontown.

After getting cleaned up, our group headed across the street to Don Patron where they had a $1.99 margarita special and good food. Back at the hotel, some of the group mingled at the bar, and Dave, Nathan, Peter, and I closed out the night playing ping pong -- my very first game!

Today's trip was beautiful in many ways. Amazing scenery, a smooth, easy, 44-mile ride, and the opportunity to meet such kind local people who are so excited about what the trail brings to their towns. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Moments of Greatness

Day 5: Cumberland, MD to Rockwood, PA on the Great Allegheny Passage

This morning we officially left the C&O Canal Towpath behind as we rode our bikes over Mile 0 of the Great Allegheny Passage in Cumberland. Before I did this, I went back to get a picture at the last mile marker on the C&O, Mile 184.5, which is somewhat hidden, and I had missed it yesterday on the ride into town.

Mile 184.5, terminus of the C&O Canal Towpath

Great Allegheny Passage Mile 0
Even though I left the hotel at my normal "late" time of 9:30am, I was not at the back of the pack today because our group had expanded with new riders joining us for the Great Allegheny Passage, Cumberland to Pittsburgh ride. They were about an hour behind me on the trail.

I rode alone today with my iPod in one ear, and made some friends that were not with our group as we continued to leap frog each other on the trail.

The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) experience was much different than the rugged and muddy C&O. The surface of the GAP is similar to the Three Rivers Heritage Trail in Pittsburgh (which I had trained on) and is either paved or crushed limestone, making for a smoother, faster, and cleaner ride. *To experience the trail by video, check out my friend David's helmet-cam videos he's been making throughout the trip. I've added this feature to the bottom of the page.

A few miles into today's ride, the 16-mile gradual incline through the Allegheny Mountains began. I was a little unsure of this section because I had heard so many different descriptions of it. I decided in the end that it was neither as easy or as hard as people had described, and with steady persistence and patience, it is very doable.

The Great Allegheny Passage
Plenty of interpretive signs throughout the trail told stories of interesting sites and features, and I was particularly interested by Lover's Leap near Cumberland, which Chere had pointed out last night, and the Bone Cave. Also in the first few miles of the trail was Brush Tunnel, and the first glimpse of the mountaintop wind turbines that we would follow and eventually pass during the day.

I took 2 short breaks to eat some fruit on the way up the hill and while I was eating pineapple at my first stop I saw a turtle right up against the railroad tracks as if he was waiting to catch the Western Maryland Railroad train, with tracks that ran right next to the trail for several miles.

At Frostburg, a few miles from the top of the mountain, I stopped at the support van to refill my water. This morning I had forgotten that there wouldn't be any more water stations and didn't fill my second bottle, so I had to ration my water on the hill.

After my water break, I felt strong and the rest of the incline seemed to fly by. I passed through Borden Tunnel and then reached the Mason-Dixon Line and crossed into Pennsylvania. Soon after, I was at the top of the Allegheny Mountains at an overlook where a lot of riders were gathered sitting on benches.

Crossing the Mason-Dixon Line by bike
View from the top of the Allegheny Mountains
Right after the overlook, the Big Savage Tunnel awaited, bursting cool air out to the trail, inviting you in. I rode through the 3,300 foot tunnel that is the longest on this trip, and the only one that was lighted.

Big Savage Tunnel
Riding through Big Savage Tunnel
A few minutes from Big Savage was the Eastern Continental Divide that separates the Atlantic Ocean watershed from the Gulf of Mexico watershed. Here, there was a nice monument tunnel with murals and an elevation chart that showed the dramatic rise in elevation on the trail to 2,392 feet.

The Eastern Continental Divide
From the Divide, it was a little less than 10 miles to my lunch stop at Meyersdale, and the beginning of the gradual downhill climb really gave me a boost in speed. One last point of interest before lunch was the Bollman Bridge, a section of ornate iron bridge originally used by the B&O Railroad, that is now a short span of trail.

These points of interest throughout the trip are like mega-mile markers. While each mile marker is a reassurance and a celebration on the ride, each moment of greatness like a bridge or aqueduct is a destination. 

Bollman Bridge
When I arrived in Meyersdale, I took a short ride down from the old train station (now the visitors center and museum) to a unique little garage restaurant called the Toole Shed Sandwich Shop. It was recommended by Linda and was run by a very friendly and welcoming couple out of an old open air garage. I got their Tool Kit meal deal which was a sandwich (the cranberry walnut chicken salad was excellent), chips or fruit and a soda or water for $10.

I sat outside and ate at a picnic table and then headed up to the visitors center where the shuttle and some of our new group were riding in. I hit the trail after stopping to talk to a few people, with just about an hour left to ride.

Toole Shed Sandwich Shop, Est. 2013

Old train station and visitors center, Meyersdale, PA
The Salisbury Viaduct was the last point of interest on today's ride, a high bridge spanning across the wide valley with the freeway busy below.

There was trail resurfacing work being done a few miles from our end point and this was the hardest part of the day. The packed sand surface will eventually harden like concrete, but today was still being pressed and my tires sunk in like quicksand. This seemed harder than the ride uphill this morning.

Salisbury Viaduct
In Rockwood, I waited until there were enough people in to make a shuttle trip to our overnight at Seven Springs. For dinner, a group of us went to the restaurant in the hotel and the whole table took advantage of the all you can eat soup, salad, and dessert bar.

It was early, but nothing else was going on at the resort, and it seemed like everyone was ready to catch up on some sleep after the past few days of riding. Just 2 days until we arrive in Pittsburgh!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Paw Paw Magic

Day 4: Hancock, MD to Cumberland, MD on the C&O Canal Towpath

Wow! 4 days down, 4 to go...I can't believe we're already halfway through the ride! Today we completed the last 60 miles of the C&O Canal Towpath and arrived in Cumberland, MD - 184 miles from our starting point!

I got an early start this morning, weary of the a long day ahead, but revitalized by the sight of sunshine. The Super 8 had a limited breakfast of only waffles and toast, and as I waited to board the shuttle to the trail I did some yoga stretching out on the sidewalk. I think I scared a couple from Texas because I was mid-pigeon pose - face on the ground when they walked out the front door.

We made a stop at Sheetz for lunch to go since there was no opportunity for lunch along the trail today. I took the opportunity and replenished my stock of snacks I keep in my panniers.

When we reached the trail we were off after taking a quick moment to check tires. Everyone had raved so intensely about the Western Maryland Rail Trail that I decided to give it a shot. I really didn't want to cheat the experience of the C&O, but these two trails run parallel and I took the opportunity to turbo boost through the first 10 miles of the day.

Western Maryland Rail Trail
I was on my own, but it was okay. I listened to my iPod, immediately found a beautiful cluster of pink waterlilies in bloom, and about a mile into my ride I realized that I was not actually on either trail, but a road! So, I found a low point where the short wooden fence bordered the Western Maryland Rail Trail and hoisted my bike up and over and kept moving.

The trail was very scenic, so I had a lot to enjoy other than the boost in speed and smoothness. Turtles, deer, and -- something I have enjoyed this entire trip -- saying hello to everyone I pass. When there was no one else around, I sang along to my iPod, serenading the animals to see if they'd sing back. Then I began to pass the dramatic rock walls that would repeat themselves throughout the day.

Dramatic rock walls along the Western Maryland Rail Trail
After 10 miles, I got back on the C&O and soon Dave and Mark caught up to me and we rode at good pace toward Paw Paw.

Today was different than other days on the trail because our group seemed to be leap frogging along, and we kept running into each other. In our group of about 15 riders, there were about 10 flat tires today and some people experiencing more than one. Thankfully, my full tires avoided a flat!

It was at one of these tire change stops where we ran into a large group of our riders at Little Orleans. They reminded us to make the quick ride up the hill to Bill's Place - a quirky tradition along the trail because of the legacy of former owner Bill. Here, trail riders stopped for a drink, lunch, or supplies and swapped stories like cowboys in a saloon. Dollar bills that were signed or designed by cyclists passing through lined almost the entire ceiling.

A part of the dollar bill covered ceiling at Bill's Place

Outside of Bill's Place

It was also at Bill's Place where my camera finally died, after surviving 2 days after a serious mud drowning (only cell phone pictures for the rest of the day). 

After Bill's Place we had rode on toward the Paw Paw Tunnel, and arrived around 1pm. I was worried that I wouldn't be able to wait for lunch on the other side, but when we neared the tunnel I forgot all about being hungry (but only for a moment). The trail toward the tunnel became narrow, running between a high rock wall and the canal with another wall on the other side. Then a trail boardwalk led the way to the tunnel entrance, building excitement for what was to come.

Boardwalk leading to the Paw Paw Tunnel
When we reached the tunnel, you could feel adventure in the air, and I called to mind a recent interpretive sign for the Three Rivers Heritage Trail about Frank Lenz, the great cyclist explorer who attempted to travel the world by bicycle and disappeared in the late 1800s. I tried to recreate his photograph in front of the tunnel to commemorate this milestone in my own cycling adventure.

Outside the entrance to Paw Paw Tunnel
We walked our bikes over a half mile through the tunnel with our lights turned on and took in the dark, damp, dripping with an ever present light at the end of the tunnel. It was truly a must-do experience and may have been my favorite part of the trip so far.

On the other side of the tunnel, we rode our bikes a short distance and met up with some of our group members and support wagon for a Paw Paw Pie Picnic in the Park. I eagerly ate my entire footlong sub from Sheetz and the rest of my fried pickle chips I had been unable to resist at 9:30am.

After lunch, we rode on, less than 30 miles to Cumberland. On this stretch we saw our last locks, aqueducts, self serve camping, and water pumps. The environment surrounding the trail became less wild and more open with large fields or houses to our left and the canal on our right. We saw 2 large black snakes crossing the trail near Cumberland and were barely able to swerve to avoid them.

As we approached Cumberland, we passed more pedestrians on the trail - similar to what I am used to seeing on the Three Rivers Heritage Trail in Pittsburgh. Slowly, signs of life started to appear - sports fields, steeples, and then the green bridge that would bring us to the end of the C&O Canal Towpath, to our hotel, and to the beginning of the Great Allegheny Passage.

I stopped at the Cumberland Trail Connection bike shop right near the end of the C&O for a victory cup of their home brewed beer, made right in the shop. It was a friendly place with dogs lounging on the floor and people happy to help and talk about the trail.

Enjoying the last sips of my victory wheat ale

I rode back to the Fairfield Inn & Suites, which is in the perfect location right at the end of the C&O. They had a trailside bike rinse station where we were able to give our bikes a quick bath before loading them into the truck for the evening - even though they allow bikes in the rooms.

Bike wash station at Fairfield Inn, Cumberland

We had a nice amount of time to get ready for dinner and then we headed into Cumberland with our local group members Don and Chere as guides toward Baltimore Avenue for dinner. We ate at a delicious Italian restaurant called Ristorante Ottaviani, that had good service, nice outdoor seating, and easily accommodated our large group. I had the frutti di mare seafood pasta, which was wonderful, and we all toasted the completion of the C&O portion of the ride.

Our group at Ristorante Ottaviani, Cumberland
All throughout dinner I was anxiously trying to arrange a ride to Walmart for a replacement camera, but our guide told me they could not take me tonight. Thankfully, Chere saved the day with a little magic and offered to drive me out in her car. *Thank you, thank you, thank you!* I can now promise quality pictures of tomorrow's start to the Great Allegheny Passage!

When we got back, my Paw Paw magic continued, and the Queens City Creamery ice cream I had missed on during our Walmart excursion was waiting for me! Dave and I had been talking about the ice cream all day and he had brought me back a cup of their Flavor of the Day - White Russian, perfectly preserved in great grandeur in the hotel ice bucket. Delicious!

When I returned to the room just after 11pm, a 3rd strike of magic hit when I called down to the front desk and asked if I might be able to use the pool for just 10 minutes to soak my sore legs. They said not a problem! Hopefully, I was able to chill and massage off a bit of that bicycle swagger I had going on. I'll definitely need my legs for tomorrow's incline!