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!

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!


  1. Isn't the Western Maryland Rail Trail great? I'm a truck driver and try to stop at as many trails as possible, but the WMRT is probably my favorite. Once a fawn ran right alongside my bike for a few yards before sprinting off into the woods.

    I'm looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip.

  2. I anxiously await your posts everyday so far. I rode tje C&O from cumberland to DC twice about 15 years ago and see nit much has changed thank goodness. I sm riding Pittsburgh to cumberland in August.

  3. Fantastic! Another great chapter! We are so fortunate to have you documenting this historic ride. I'm happy you were able to get a new camera. Tell Linda I said "Hello!" :)

  4. By reading your blog, I feel one step closer to actually realizing my dream of riding the entire trail. Now I can better visualize myself achieving this dream! Thank you so much for the detailed description and for your enthusiasm. You make anything seem possible.

  5. I'm glad I found your blog. I want to do a solo ride of the whole trail in the fall, so I am doing lots of research and getting physically prepared. This is full of great tips. And it looks beautiful, I'm even more inspired!

  6. Thank you again, everyone! It's great to get off the trail each evening and get to enjoy each of your comments. I'm glad I can help inspire others to make the trip.

    After the ride is over, I'll be posting a list of tips and recommendations. Be sure to watch for that if you are planning a trip of your own!