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!

Monday, June 10, 2013

Beautiful Disasters

Day 2: Leesburg, VA to Shepherdstown, WV on the C&O Canal Towpath

Climbing out of bed this morning made me nervous. I felt surprisingly well rested after a late night of blogging next to a revelrous wedding party in the hotel lobby, but I was sore. My thighs and upper arms were tight and achy, but I was shocked that after a day without padded shorts I had no discomfort in that one area everyone had so seriously warned me of. So, day padded shorts.

The complimentary hot breakfast was amazing and I guiltlessly piled my plate with scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, and a heaping pile (at least 6 pieces) of bacon. As you'll learn, I'm a serious foodie, and when food becomes a much needed source of fuel, eating becomes all the more fun!

General Jubal A. Early Ferry to the C&O
After breakfast, we caught the shuttle back to White's Ferry where we crossed the river, filled our tires and hit the trail. And we flew. Miles went by, and the achiness I feared turned out not to be a problem. The "fight to the finish" mindset that had taken over the end of yesterday's ride was a thing of the past, and became simply, cycling.

Turtle on a log in the canal
We passed more lock houses as the trail continued through the woods, and saw some algae covered turtles perched on floating logs. There was definitely less variation in the trail experience today, and most of the day was spent under lush tree canopy while enjoying a cool breeze.

Most of today's ride was through tree cover like this.
There were points of interest along the way that allowed natural riding breaks and added excitement throughout the day. The grand Monocacy Aqueduct with 7 arches was a surprise to us and we rode right through the abandoned canalway, right between the tall stone walls and had to pull over at the far end to see what we had missed.

Monocacy Aqueduct
We passed the Point of Rocks and then the Catoctin Aqueduct, stopping to read some of the beautiful interpretive signage that accompanied each site. Around this point, before Brunswick, MD, we refueled with snacks - for me, some stolen fruit from this morning's breakfast that was the most delicious I have ever tasted (another benefit of food to fuel eating).

Interpretive Sign at the Catoctin Aqueduct
Catoctin Aqueduct
Near Brunswick, disaster struck. Today, the trail was much more dry and mud and puddles were few and far between - especially later in the day. While riding at a good pace about a half-mile from Brunswick, I hit a puddle head on that I immediately realized was much deeper than I anticipated, and with a sharp angle on the way out. This is the kind of thing I imagine flying over the handlebars for. Instead, I stayed on the bike and watched my camera (which I was keeping handy in my open handlebar bag) fly past my shoulder and hit the ground.

I bailed off my bike and ran back to find the camera directly in the center of the puddle. The clock was on, and I immediately dabbed and wiped at the camera, using my bike seat as a gurney. Everything looked fine, but I patiently waited until Harper's Ferry to try to turn it on. When I did, it was alive, but angry, and I am continuing to try and wipe dirt and grit out of the lens (sorry for any foggy pictures).

At Harper's Ferry, WV, our lunch stop, we locked our bikes and walked across the river to the historic town. It wasn't hard to find a place to eat, and the Carriage Inn Grille offered traditional lunch fare with an interesting twist. Their inviting patio with colorful umbrellas at each table made a comfortable outdoor atmosphere, and the brie and chipotle burger and chocolate root beer milkshake hit the spot.

 Harper's Ferry bridge (from town side)

Lunch on the patio at The Carriage Inn Grille
After lunch, the rest of my group got ice cream and we took a quick walk to explore town before heading back to the trail. The funny thing about Harper's Ferry was, with the wide, old cobbled roads and historic buildings, we kept forgetting to use sidewalks to walk around. More than once in our short visit we found ourselves wandering in the streets, alarmed when we saw a car coming.

Back on the trail with 11.5 miles to go, we got back on track at rapid pace, freshly fueled and ready. At the last small aqueduct, we disobeyed rules and rode our bikes over the stones on the top walkway. We were riding with a much more experienced rider, so this seemed like no big deal, but I was third in line and didn't have far visibility in front of me. Suddenly, some of the rocks were uneven and dropped a couple inches toward the edge. This was right in line with my wheels, and as I tried to shift to the left, my wheel caught and I went down.

In my mind, it seemed like I was a goner -- I was going into the empty canal and it was going to hurt. Instead, I hit perfectly on the side of my thigh and slid with the bike toward the edge (just EXACTLY like one of those sliding-toward-the-cliff scenes in movies). As the front wheel went over, I clamped my thighs and saved the bike, and probably me, from going over the edge! I pulled the bike back, popped the chain back into place and proudly exclaimed, "that was awesome"... for the next 3 or so miles. Not a scratch.


After that misadventure, it seemed like no time until we were at Mile 72, our stopping point for the day. Here, we walked our bikes up a short, steep hill and rode across the share the road bridge into Shepherdstown, WV. Unfortunately, this is where we had to say goodbye to the lovely Mila, who had to head back to Pittsburgh for work. 

We checked into The Bavarian Inn which reminds of the places I've stayed in Switzerland. It overlooks the Potomac River and the rooms are exquisite. I traded my bike for my luggage at the truck next to the 3 small chalets of suites that overlook the river and nearly turned around to run back and yell, "did you guys see these rooms?!".

Suite at The Bavarian Inn

Balcony view of the Potomac River - where I wrote this entry

The chalets on the hillside
After a shower and settling in, our whole group met up at the Rathskellar bar for victory drinks and I went the traditional route and talked the bartender into pouring a Franziskaner in a large stein glass. For dinner, we were able to take over a portion of the fancy restaurant for our whole group to eat, and the food was amazing. I kept it traditional with a schweinebraten (pork) that came with a delicious gravy, potato dumpling, and sauerkraut. I also tasted a stroganoff style veal that was wonderful.

I could rave on and on about this hotel, and in my book it could be a "must do," but what was really great was the great company and conversation at dinner, and how an earlier end to a day of riding gave us time to catch up and story tell.


  1. I'm glad you weren't hurt! Please be careful; there are a lot of hazards along the canal. You'll be riding over some bridges with no side rails and there's not much to stop you from going over the side when you reach Wide Water below Williamsport. Thanks for posting. I'm enjoying the ride!

  2. very good and the pics are great. i want to ride this trail next year

  3. Another great ride report. I always rode over the aqueducts, but I had a friend a couple weeks ago get his wheel caught in a rock and went over the bars dropping twelve feet onto the ground below. Amazingly no broken bones but he was quite shook up. I guess it's best to walk your bike like they suggest or ride in the canal where the park service trucks drive. Glad you didn't go over the edge.

  4. Nice BLOG. Looks like Tuesday through Thursday will be a little muddy and wet 8o(

  5. Excellent! I remember the sound the river make from about two miles below Harpers Ferry to two miles upstream of the confluence with Shenandoah. Have ridden through Shepherdstown, WV without a second thought. Never realized that there was such a nice place just off the trail (after the short climb of course!)