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06/04/2007 Entry: "Bike Paths to Washington, D.C."
This is how I got to be from where the group was in Newcastle (?), PA to Washington, D.C. It may be a long post and is a detour from the main action so to read about it, click the link.
The morning of the day I split off from the group I was still deciding what direction to pursue. The dilemma was that I had been struggling with pain in my knees from the day after RAGBRAI (about 2 weeks), which had been getting much worse as the hills got steeper. Ohio and its absolute flatness gave me a brief respite for a couple of days, but even though for a couple of days my knees didn't get much worse they also didn't get any better. The steep hills of the last days of Ohio and into Pennsylvania were causing each stroke to hurt somewhere in my knees and as I rode up any hill I worried that something would explode. Since I knew that the conditions from Pennsylvania to the coast, especially through PA and NY would involve many steep hills, poorly paved roads, increasingly bad traffic, less friendly people and other poor riding conditions associated with the East Coast, I decided my best bet would be to catch a ride home.
Orian thought I should finish and found me a flat route from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, D.C. along bike paths. After lengthy discussion, I agreed to do this, especially when my dad offered to come down and help me carry my weight. However, since he was driving from CT to come see me, he wanted me to ride directly east with the group, instead of south to Pittsburgh and the bike paths. The negotiations in my head continued until right before the four of us hit the road at about noon, saying goodbye to the nice people who lived next to the church. At the last minute, I took off south.
Riding south was fun in that I got to set off by myself. The route to Pittsburgh was along a busy section of highway that Ariel, Minwah, and Seager would have absolutely hated. I didn't mind it, but we've ridden on better. There were many rundown, industrial-looking businesses and towns that reminded me that Pennsylvania had once had a booming steel, mining, and manufacturing industry though no more. This route reminded me of both the beautiful and ugly sides of Pennsylvania.
I rode with knee braces for awhile which helped on the hills until I realized they were cutting off circulation to my calves (I had cramped calves for a day and a half after that) and took them off. Fortunately there were only a few hills (steep and long ones, though) after that until I reached the town with beginning of the bike path, Coraopolis, which is technically 10 miles or so outside of Pittsburgh.
I found a bike store with a map of the first trail, the Great Alleghany Passage and then I decided to eat lunch since it was 4pm and I hadn't eaten since 9am. I didn't see much in the way of food or other businesses as I rode through the downtown area, which was the first place on the entire trip where I thought about locking up my bike (or wished that I had the ability to). I saw a sign for a McDonald's, turned into the parking lot, and I was making my way over there when I was invited to some leftover hot dogs and pastries that were part of a community revival effort and book publishing event. The guy who invited me over had done a few centuries of his own and was just beginning to get into road cycling, he said. I think one nice thing about traveling with panniers is that they make you very visible and approachable, and I definitely missed this, though not the weight, when I met up with my dad.
This guy's name was Curt and he had gotten involved with the even through his church community and had a wife, Chris (sorry if names are mispelt) and three daughters, so I asked them if they knew a place in town to camp out for the night and they invited me over to their place.
Their place was this lovely old Victorian-style house and they offered a delicious bed and a shower and then took me to a barbecue down the street where I met more friendly people and the author of the book on Coraopolis.
Later, many of the people at the barbecue came back to my hosts' house for a pool party and then hung out with the three girls and their sleepover buddies until my dad arrived around 11pm.
My hosts, the Deitricks, were amazingly hospitable, welcoming, and friendly. What I had first thought was a dying community proved to have an incredibly vibrant one just up the road!
I have more stories about the Deitricks, but I need to move on my narration.
Dad and I awoke early, around 6-ish and hit the road. Dad didn't want to drive through Pittsburgh again and wanted to drop me on the trail just outside of it. Since he had taken the time and energy to come down and meet me, I didn't complain, but technically I missed about 20-30 miles of the trail (which brings me up to 100 miles that I didn't ride, in total, for the trip).
The way my dad and I worked was this: he drove to the end town with the car and gear, then rode his bike back to meet me. Because we didn't get good cell phone reception I didn't want to leave the trail and miss my dad. There wasn't much (I mean any) food along the trail (although there was water) and by the time I met up with my dad about 50 miles in I was very hungry.
The trail was quite scenic with lots of cool bridges. The trail was beautiful and in good condition, with a nice crushed limestone texture. It being a Sunday, I saw many people along the trail. The trail never became too crowded, but there were more people than I was used to seeing on the road. I said hi to every biker I passed that first day, and more often than not I did not get a response. Not used to having so many people to talk to! It was fun to ride with my dad, too, who slowed down his pace for me (he rode 20 mph to come meet me, and 12 mph once he caught up with me).
On the way, about 5 miles from our end town of Meyersdale, we hit a less well-maintained section and a stray stick jumped up and broke Dad's odometer. This was a bad omen; Meyersdale proved to be a place without very much in it. The map claimed Meyersdale had lodging which is why we chose it as an endtown; however, it was a long day, we started late, and there were other bikers who got to Meyersdale first; by the time we got into town, all the lodging was full.
So we asked around a bunch, but it IS harder to get lodging with a car: harder to be discreet and harder for people to feel sympathy for you. We ate at Subway and drove around looking for a place until my stepmother, Connie, from the internet in CT, found a place for us about 15 miles away. We slept in a hotel, and she decided she would set up a place for us every night so we wouldn't go through the same thing again.
Sleeping in those hotel beds, showering every night, wow, that was very very restful.
So we would wake up at 6am, hit the road, get in miles, and get into town later, secure that we had a place to sleep.
The next day, Monday, I knew I would be finishing up the Great Alleghany Passage and starting the C & O (Chesapeake and Ohio) Canal Trail. I'd do about 31 miles on the GAP and 61 miles on the C & O.
The day started off foggy and the mountain views were particularly beautiful, all smokey and hazey. I went through a cool, long, mountain tunnel, which was disorienting because it was lit and I rode the whole way through. For a long time, until just before the end of the tunnel, the light of the other end didn't seem to be getting any closer.
I passed quite a couple of landmarks in my last 30 miles: the Eastern Continental Divide (separates the watersheds to the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic) and the Mason-Dixon line. The last 15 miles were all downhill and even though I was on gravel I still was able to mostly coast, sometimes pedal at 15 mph into Cumberland, MD, the endpoint of the GAP and the beginning of the C & O.
In Cumberland, I found out that the C & O would be even more rough than the GAP (for some reason, I thought the C & O would be paved). Dad was worried at his end that he wouldn't be able to ride; he suggested I take the roads, thought they wouldn't be too hilly. I was skeptical; I knew the C & O was flat and that West Virginia and probably Maryland were not, so I decided to check out the C & O. It wasn't that bad, though like a rough dirt road. I got a lot more comfortable riding on dirt roads as a result.
Anyway, got into Cumberland around 11am, decided to have lunch at the train station, and I'm telling you about it because it was very good. If you are ever in Cumberland, MD stop at the deli at the train station by the canal. Their sandwiches are very good and so are their cookies. I bought a little box of 5 cookies for $3...5 chocolate cookies with a salty-ish, dense, peanut butter filling. SO good; I thought of Seager while I was eating them because he loves the combination of chocolate and peanut butter. I wish I had some right now.
I did 60 miles on the canal trail, the first 10 miles of while I rode with this family: a dad, his son, his older daughter and her boyfriend; it was their first bike tour, inspired by the fact that the dad wanted to get his son out of the house and away from the video games. It was fun to ride with them, but their whole trip was shorter than my ride for that day.
I did manage to meet up with Dad on the canal trail about 30 miles from the end point for the day; he had ridden mostly roads to meet me there and said they were very, very hilly.
The canal trail was cool; there were the old canals, sometimes filled with water and sometimes not, just overgrown with trees or grass. There was the Potomac, on the right. We rode on a path that was shaded, densely most of the time, and occasionally we would pop out into little clearings, or ride along cliffs. I thought there would be mosquitoes with the standing water of the canal; there were none, for the entire length, nor were there biting flies of any kind. In the late afternoons there were gnat clouds, and those were annoying.
The trail was tough; there were many little rocks to send your front tire askew and bumpy rocks and roots to send you into the air so I had to be constantly vigilant in my steering. Also, the constant bumping contributed to irritation friction from the saddle; not too badly, but noticeably.
However the trail was very peaceful, and in constrast to the GAP there were better camping sites (though not many drive-in sites to speak of; I think we only passed one or two). And all the hiker-biker sites were free (the water was all rust colored, however), the porta potties relatively well serviced. My first day riding on the C & O I went through the Pau Pau tunnel, which was not lit and almost a mile long. I had been warned about the tunnel beforehand and had brought my headlamp with me. The headlamp was helpful; the trail was very narrow, there were occasionally swarms of tourists in it, and the concrete of the path was eroded into divots by dripping. Very cool; I felt in this tunnel, as I had in the one on the GAP earlier in the day, the oppression narrated by J.R.R. Tolkien about the dwarf halls in Book 1 of the Lord of the Rings series, The Fellowship of the Rings. There was darkness, and dripping, and all sounds were both echoed and muffled. I wished there were networks of tunnels for me to walk through.
The last 10 miles of the day were on a paved bike path on a former train passage parallel to the canal trail. Those went quickly; as soon as Dad and I popped over to the paved bike path Dad got a flat which slowed us down a little bit, but we still got into town around 7pm.
The town, Hancock, MD was of a sort to motivate Dad to tell my brothers to stay in school. We stayed in a motel, however, anyone doing this canal trail I would advise to stay at the hostel thing-y available at the bike shop right off the canal trail or rail trail in this town.
Next day, Tuesday, was a century day for me; I rode 105 miles. First 10 miles were on the rail trail; rail trail ended without a connector to the canal trail and I had to hit the road to find the next opening, which was a mile down the road at Fort Frederick. I rode by Fort Frederick, which was cool, and rode another 60 miles to meet up with Dad. On the way, there were some detours due to washed out sections on the canal trail. Dad, who was doing roads to meet me, had some detours on his end, also. When we met up, we were both exhausted and kind of out of it, having not eaten that much and being just weary from our tough pace and the jarring canal trail. We rode down the road 2-3 miles and bought some Cokes; this sugary, caffeine-ful rush was enough to get us the last 35 miles into our end point. We did 20 of those miles on the road and could tell we were getting nearer to Washington, D.C. by the size of the houses on the road; there were also many farms and rolling hills and it was quite scenic.
That night we ate at a Chinese restaurant and got ready for our last day. It would be 20 miles into D.C. and back however many miles to wherever Dad found a place to park the car. The last day was very scenic; we found pretty rapids and waterfalls and also a part of the canal that was maintained for tour boats. I got within 20 feet of a blue heron before he took off. I really liked this section of the trail, even though by now I was exhausted.
When we got into Georgetown it wasn't much of a celebration; we took a picture and we started to head back to the car. We'd ridden 2-3 miles in that direction before I decided that I wanted to go into Georgetown and get a drink; we rode back into Georgetown and stopped at the first place we saw, which was a Dean & Deluca, and I had a caffe latte and lemon bar in celebration. Back to the car and then a long ride back home.
I am happy with the route that I took and I enjoyed the trail very much; nevertheless the ending was less of a celebration that it would have been with the rest of the team.
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Posted by yewfzle @ 06/04/2008 12:48 AM CST
Hooray! I'm glad to see that you posted! We have twenty miles left tomorrow and we'll be in Boston tomorrow night. I hope to see you there before I leave on Saturday!
Posted by Ariel @ 08/22/2007 06:59 PM CST
Leave A Note! YAY! We are loved!