With all this floating around in the foreground and background, I thought if I can get outside the beltway by 2pm, I'm doing it. Bike the recently opened/completed (except for one ten mile stretch) of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). The GAP is a trail first proposed more than 15 years ago to connect Pittsburgh with Cumberland, MD and (via the C and O Canal) Washington, D.C., 330 miles of almost car free travel.
I also had a bike trip in California coming up soon, with folks planning to ride 100 miles per day, and had done absolutely no training because of my work schedule. At 12:30pm I put in my leave slip and was off. Threw my bike in the back of the truck, stuffed some clothes in a bag, grabbed my biking shoes and headed out. Traffic was slow - as always - on I-270 heading west, but it was a beautiful spring afternoon. Enroute to Cumberland, I left a voice message with my friend Bill F. (aka Billy Dos) in Pittsburgh to see if he was going to be around, and if he wanted to meet up. I arrived in Cumberland at 5:10 PM. The Visitor Center there had closed just ten minutes before, but I saw the National Park Service Ranger inside and gently knocked on the door. I asked if she had any maps of the Great Allegheny Passage, which she politely offered (even after hours), and I'm off.
Maryland finished building the eastern most ten miles of the Allegheny Passage last December (December 2006). It is a ten mile trail that follows a lightly used active rail line from Cumberland to Frostburg. I thought it followed the Potomac, but no, it works its way up and up around to the north of Cumberland. It is green, and the weather is perfect, comfortable, riding weather. I grind my teeth about work frustrations as I work my way up the grade.
In Frostburg I pause for dinner, a large pizza with "kind of a" beer. (I had a hard time finding a place to drink the beer I bought at the liquor store next door. I wasn't allowed to drink it in the pizza place, nor on the bench in front of the pizza place, so I crossed the street, and discretely drank my brew out of a paper back on a streetside bench across the street, and then returned to the pizza place for my pizza.)
After dinner, as it approaches dusk, I head out of Frostburg and continue up. It is a nice crushed fine gravel rail trail and no longer has an adjacent working rail line. It climbs out of Frostburg towards the Big Savage Tunnel (refurbished by Pennsylvania in 2005, but closed during the winters - ice stalagtites??), then over the Eastern Continental Divide to Meyersdale.
The climb to the contintental divide is delightful. It is still early spring at this elevation, so while the trees are just starting to leaf out, you still have great views of the surrounding heights and mountains from the trail. It's dark by the time I reach the Big Savage Tunnel, but light enough out not to need a flashlight (which I did not pack).
Work matters still wheel around in my head, but increasingly, I am spending time thinking about the topography, spring, drainage flows, etc.
It's dark now and I'm plugging along at a good clip, the trail is basically level. I'm squinting for milepost markers and beginning to think I have missed Meyersdale. Then FWUPH! I feel like Frodo Baggins in Shelob's web. I thought I had hit a fallen tree, but find I am entangled in orange plastic construction fence. Good thing. I am close to the end of a bridge abutment, and there is no bridge there. They are getting ready to lift one in.
I find the other side of the bridge site, by following a detour, and trundle into Meyersdale, looking for a place to stay. Meyersdale is a quiet little town. It's Friday night at 9PM and the wildest thing I come across is two guys smoking and working quietly on an old car in an old garage. The picture doesn't quite capture the ambiance. I feel a little guilty they don't know I'm taking pictures.
All hotels are full, but the lady at the ice cream shop calls the Rec Department
lady who runs the bike hostel, in the basement of the old public school. It contains
about ten bunkbeds, men's and women's showers, a coffee pot, a TV, and
a very soft couch. The Rec Department lady goes home and brings back some sheets
for me to borrow to sleep on. I get cleaned up and all is well. I have the place to
myself. 30 miles today, but I am now many more miles away from the wacky worries of work.
OK. I have 120 miles to go today. Doesn't seem quite possible. Eat a good breakfast and head out. I realize I have forgotten to bring my padded bike shorts, and contemplate what 120 miles without padded bike shorts will mean. The good news is that the trail follows the Casselman River, which runs into the Ohiopyle River, which hits the Monongahela River. A downhill run all day.
I see a bike shop a few miles down the road in Rockwood and gratefully buy some padded bike shorts.
I stop for food and a break in Confluence, where I get a
message that Billy F has called and wondering which direction I'm headed
in and when I will be in Pittsburgh. I can't call back out though. I buy
some Vaseline at the drug store.
Shortly after Confluence the trail runs through Ohiopyle State Park.
There is a campground here, and campers doing some short distance biking
on the trail, and of course the Ohiopyle River coursing below. The River
here is beautiful, and filled with rafters. I stop at the old store
in Ohiopyle and take a picture of the train
The rest of the day is a blur. I pump along through beautiful countryside, generally and gently downhill, with the river always to my right. Kids swimming in the river from the local jumping-in point. Fisherman wading, pitching their lines and flies. An occasional weekend home, nestled in the trees, overlooking the water.
About 4PM, I finally connect with Billy Dos directly by cellphone. He is in town, and I can stay over, and we can have dinner. I am forty miles out, and say I should be into Pittsburgh about 7PM. I'll call him from either the bottom or the top of his hill for the final directions to his place, which I can't remember.
About fifteen miles from downtown Pittsburgh, the bike trail ends in McKeesport,
an interesting, though scruffy looking place where the Ohiopyle meets the Monongahela.
It's urban riding for the next ten miles, which is interesting -- at first. I pass by large
old industrial sites where the plants have been torn down or put to new uses; past large old
industrial infrastructure like bridges and rail overpasses that no longer pass over large rail yards or
I cross the Monongahela to get to the west side, and the road continues on along the River, though some distance back from it. Duquesne doesn't look too bad, and Kennywood, the local version of Six Flags, is neat and well maintained. Then the road narrows considerably for about 8 miles. It is now a narrow two lane highway with high curbs and no sidewalks. It is not as comfortable a ride as it was through the old industrial relics of McKeesport because the speed and closeness of the traffic. I can see, over a well-fenced set of through-railroad tracks, a bike path on the other side, near the river, but can't figure out how to get there. It is a little hair raising and unpleasant until I hit the Southside Flats, which is a totally cool neighborhood. I pass through the new mixed-use developments of retail and residential (former industrial land I'm sure) and then hit the really good part, with real old brick rowhouses and real local bars, restaurants and stores. The new isn't half bad. The old is bursting with the flavors of a good dark chocolate bar: hints of ashtray, grocery bag, cardboard box, basement, and stale beer.
I anxiously approach the final hill on the Southside of the Monongahela that leads up from the river to the residential neighborhood up top. It is a long long long long steady grade. I just barely make it to the top, pull over in a small pocket park, call Billy Dos for final directions, and find my way to Chatham Village. 120 miles and one very big hill at the end. And right on time.
It is good to catch up with Billy Dos, especially on such short notice, and though I have ridden 120 miles today I am not particularly sore or tired (though not zippy). I get cleaned up and Bill and I meet another running friend, Pete, for a very nice dinner.
Sunday morning, Billy Dos drops me off at the Amtrak station, so I can get back to Cumberland and get my car. The train hit some drunk kid's car in Ohio that got stuck on the tracks so it is 2 hours, 3 hours, 4 hours late. Billy F. and I take short trips to visit the Strip neighborhood: old stores, a great fish market, restaurants and old warehouses. After the next announced train delay we visit a park near Carnegie Mellon, and I get a free and valuable counseling session about my frustrations at work.
The train finally arrives and off I go, along the Ohiopyle and Casselman Rivers back to Cumberland, taking almost the same route I rode to Pittsburgh on.
Trains are always cool, and I meet two black women going to D.C. to work on their geneology. I learn some interesting twists about black geneology. For instance, after the Civil War, former slaves had to choose a last name. Some took their former master's last name, some took their father's master's name, some just took a completely new last name. It makes it more difficult to work back through the generations. Very interesting.
Palomar is one of the two woman geneologists; she works for the Post Office. She tells me a story that reminds me of an important lesson. We talk about people getting wound up about work. Just remember she says: "It's only the damn Post Office!!!"
A good story to remind oneself that most things aren't that important!
Thanks Billy Dos. Thanks Palomar.
Last Update: July 3, 2007