Great Allegheny Passage Trail

Saturday, September 5

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Aunt Esther's birthday. She would have been 105.
[total miles today - 33.7]

I made it up the mountain! And it wasn't brutal. I woke up around 6:45, at about the exact same time a text message floated in from my sister Annis, saying that she was thinking of me this morning. She had texted Patrick, Shawn and Samantha, telling them that I was riding out of Cumberland this morning. When I pass through the Narrows, I will be going past the school that they attended and the hospital where they were all born - high up on the ridge. (I found it on the map, and I looked to see if I might see the school as I headed out of town, but it was too far up there.) Patrick had great confidence in my legs because he was going to drive to Pittsburgh to meet me today. SOME people are crazy enough to ride the entire 150 miles from Cumberland to Pittsburgh in a single day, but I think I am beyond those crazy years.

However, I will confess that I am a confirmed bicycle nut (thank you, Drew!) because I found much more satisfaction in climbing 22 miles up the mountain than I did coasting down that distance yesterday. It seemed to go by faster for me, but of course, it didn't. I found my happy gear and was tooling along between 8 and 9 mph, making steady progress and thankfully (maybe because Annis's thoughts were pushing me up the mountain), it was nothing like what I had dreaded.

I knew the climb to the Eastern Divide was between 22 and 23 miles, so I decided to think of my ride up the mountain in 8-mile segments, taking a break at those points. This worked out well.

Not too far out of Cumberland, I stopped for a photo of Lover's Leap. It wasn't the best place to get a photo of it since I was looking practically straight up and into the sun. The precipice is 900 feet about U.S. Route 40 and looks sufficiently stunning in old photographs. I was standing at the marker explaining the legend of Lover's Leap. There's always an Indian princess involved. This tale seemed especially unlikely but was probably charming 100 years ago.

Not much further up the mountain was the Cumberland Bone Cave. I saw this spot yesterday on my decent but decided to save it for today, knowing that I'd need a break now and then. It was pretty cool! It was an ancient cavern in the rock, found when railroad construction began making cuts through the mountain. The bones in the cave were from several extinct species, some dating back 200,000 years. Many of the specimens are now housed in the Smithsonian Institute.

Shortly before I reached Helmstetter's Curve, I saw a deer on the trail. She paused and looked at me, and I slowed. She hesitated, trying to decide whether to cross the trail or go back in the woods, so I stopped and watched. She moved on across the trail. Behind her was a fawn. Then another doe. Then a small buck.. Then a bigger buck, and then a really nice buck. Each of the bucks had a progressively bigger rack and more bulk. I waited after the third one to see if some 56-point buck might emerge from the woods, but none came. So I moved on.

Before I reached the 8-mile milepost, I encountered a guy riding about my speed, and we fell in an easy pace riding together, chatting. His name was Kevin. He was riding from Cumberland to Meyersdale, where his wife was waiting to pick him up. When I reached the 8-mile post, I told him "this is my first rest stop" and pulled off. He went on.

After a brief rest - I didn't linger too long because my legs felt strong and I thought I had better move while they still felt good - I moved on. But I needed a porta-potty. I had made "alternative provisions" for situations like that, but I have not found it necessary to use the female urinary device. Mostly because I don't see good options for getting out of view of the trail users. I would need to either walk into heavy weeds or climb into a ravine. I've not been that desperate yet.

So I pedaled on, and lo and behold, there was a shelter ahead with a porta-potty. And there sat Kevin, the fellow with whom I had just ridden a few miles. I stopped and did my thing, and before Kevin and I got back on the trail, another rider showed up - a gray-haired, very fit looking fellow in a racing jersey and on a fancy bike. He sort of roared up, braked to a stop and started talking (don't think he stopped talking the whole time he was there). I think Kevin had encountered him earlier because he seemed to recognize him. The gray-headed-racer told us he had just crashed on the railroad tracks a ways back, and indeed he had some ugly road rash on his arm and hand. I asked him if he wanted some neosporin for those wounds - I was carrying some in a little first aid kit. At first he said no, then then changed his mind. So he held out his arm while I squirted some on there. He commented, "People who don't wear helmets are crazy!"and said he'd hit it head, too. (At this point, I began to wonder if he might need more of a medical check-up.) He had a tiny dot of blood on his forehead but said, no, this is where my head hit, and pointed to the back of his helmet, which had two small punctures. Whoa.

But he wanted to go on, and after a few seconds, off he went. Kevin told me after he left that he had been riding with a group of three other guys and they dropped him (left him behind), and he was trying to catch up with them. "Maybe they dropped him for a reason," I said. We encountered him later on the trail, riding back the other direction, and I could hear sliding gravel when he rode past us and went around some other riders. I looked in my rearview mirror to see if everyone was still upright, and they were. He was just a bit too reckless, I think.

We continued moving up the mountain at an 8 mph pace, but because I was talking more than I usually do during a ride, I had to take a breather before we reached the 16-mile marker. Using too much oxygen on chit-chat, I told Kevin. "Oh, I get it," he replied. "Focus on the ride." And we rode on in silence for the next several miles, and I got my wind back.

Before we actually reached the 16-mile marker, we arrived at the Frostburg trailhead. I couldn't believe that I had gotten so far so easily. This was where I planned to stop and have a snack, so I stopped for an extended rest, and Kevin moved on up the mountain. I thanked him for the company and the conversation.

I couldn't find a grocery store that was easily reachable by foot or bike from my hotel in Cumberland last night, so I didn't have a real lunch with me today. But I had a packet of provolone cheese and salami left over from yesterday (stashed in the fridge at the Fairfield Inn overnight), and I got a plain bagel and some cream cheese from the hotel breakfast menu. I opened the packet of cheese and salami and ate one piece of cheese. It didn't taste at all like provolone, and I didn't like the smell of the packet, so I pitched it. Cream cheese and bagel were my lunch. Plus an almond energy bar. It was sufficient. I had only 16 more miles to Meyersdale, my overnight stop, and I knew that as soon as I crossed the Eastern Divide again, it wouldn't be much of a push.

I came upon Borden Tunnel - the dark tunnel that caused some issues for me yesterday. This time my helmet light was fully charged, and I switched it on as I entered the tunnel. And - duh! - you know what would have helped me immediately yesterday? I could have removed my sunglasses... ("why's it have to be so DARK in here?!")

I knew it wasn't far to the eastern end of the Big Savage Tunnel (the place with the great view over the valley), but I wasn't sure I'd have the legs to get all the way there before a break. I came across the Mason-Dixon line before then, had enough gas to keep going, so made it all the way to the Big Savage Tunnel trailhead (and another porta-potty). I had refilled a water bottle at the Frostburg trailhead, and though it's not hot today, it is sunny, and I sucked down at least three bottles of water so far. I had a reserve bottle (with ice) packed in the pannier.

I paused only long enough to use the porta-potty at the Big Savage Tunnel stop and surprised a woman who was already in there but had not locked the door. Oops. Neither of us was too bothered about it.

In the Big Savage Tunnel (which has lighting), there was a big temperature change. It's a long tunnel and was probably around 45 degrees in the middle of it. I actually started to get cold before I got all the way through it. Out the other end, it was less than a mile before I was at the Eastern Divide.

Riding over the Divide, I shifted gears and cruised. I even moved up to my biggest gear (the VERY happy gear) and even riding into the wind that was in my face, I was nearly reaching the trail speed limit (15 mph). I saw plenty of people exceed that the limit, and though it wouldn't really be a big deal if you were on the trail by yourself - maybe - (don't think the gray-haired racer should be doing it!) it would be reckless to do that on a downhill around other riders, especially kids.

In no time at all, I was crossing Flaugherty Creek and coming upon sights that I knew were on the edge of Meyersdale. I reached my B&B at 4 pm, checked in (same room), did my laundry and had a shower. Now I'm sitting on the veranda with a glass of pinot grigio and writing this to you.

When I wrap this up, I'm heading down the hill to a dinner spot that I enjoyed the other night. It's a three-quarter mile walk, but I think I may actually ride my bike this time.

Today's lessons:
Maybe that big climb isn't as hard as you think it will be.
If you're traveling through a dark tunnel, remove the sunglasses.

Screen shot of map with text message

As I was checking the location of Bishop Walsh School (where my nephews and nieces attended), my sister's text message floats in.... Positive thoughts are as powerful as energy gel.

Sign about Lover's Leap, at the Narrows outside of Cumberland, MD

Sign about Lover's Leap, at the Narrows outside of Cumberland, MD

1937 postcard of Lovers Leap at Cumberland Narrows

1937 postcard of Lovers Leap at Cumberland Narrows

Sign about Cumberland Bone Cave

Sign about the Cumberland Bone Cave - skeletons of the Cumberland cave bear and an extinct saber-tooth cat which were recovered from this site are exhibited at the National Museum of Natural History

Molly at the entrance to the Cumberland Bone Cave

Molly at the entrance to the Cumberland Bone Cave

a chateau in the woods near Helmstetter's Curve

A "chateau" in the woods near Helmstetter's Curve

Cyclists riding the switchback trail up to Frostburg

Cyclists riding the switchback trail up to Frostburg

Entrance to Borden Tunnel

Entrance to Borden Tunnel - this time, I removed my sunglasses

Bicycle repair stand

At several points along the trail, you might encounter a bicycle repair stand similar to this, usually equipped with tools and a tire pump

Trail bridge over Flaugherty Creek outside of Meyersdale

Trail bridge over Flaugherty Creek outside of Meyersdale

Molly at the welcome sign at Meyersdale

Molly at the welcome sign at Meyersdale

Sign about Meyersdale

Meyersdale is also known as Maple City for its annual maple sugar festival

Bicycle in the garage at the B&B

I took a moment to admire this beast of a bicycle in the garage at the Levi Deal Mansion B&B. It's a Surly bicycle (same brand as Earl but a much bigger cousin) and belongs to another guest.

Baked potato and steak topped with Maryland crab imperial

Dinner at the White House Restaurant in Meyersdale - baked potato and steak topped with crab imperial. Oh, yes. One of the joys of riding ~30 miles a day is consuming calories that are burned up rather quickly.

Next - Sunday, September 6
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