Friday, September 27, 2013

Riding The Great Allegheny Passage - Day 3

Rockwood to Cumberland

This morning, September 10th, we returned to Rockwood to begin my final journey from the spot where I stopped the previous day. Maybe it was the overcast sky, or the higher humidity, or creeping fatigue, but I definitely felt less energy and enthusiasm this morning. My mind seemed unfocused and foggy. I began pedaling at 8:42 am facing 44 miles ahead to Cumberland.

There wasn't much to see during the first few miles, so I didn't stop to take many pictures and made good progress. These two pictures show the trail out of Rockwood on this hazy, gray morning. In the lower picture I had gone 4 miles with 40 still to go.
This small waterfall made a pleasant, peaceful scene.
Soon, above the trees, I began seeing many, many enormous wind turbines slowly rotating. They looked impressive looming above me, like machines from War of the Worlds. I could hear them turning in the morning quiet. Unfortunately, many attempts to photograph the turbines were unsuccessful. The sky was milky white, and the white turbines were virtually invisible against the background sky in most of my photos.

After pedaling about 10 miles I came upon the Salisbury Viaduct, a 0.36 mile long bridge passing over Route 219 and surrounding countryside.
The next picture is a panoramic view from the viaduct made by combining three individual images into a mosaic. There are lots of wind turbines on the ridge to the left of center, but they don't show well against the white sky. Click on the image for a better view.
Rows of neatly planted corn were arrayed below the viaduct.
I drastically darkened the foreground in the following picture to make some of the wind turbines seen from the viaduct more visible.
About two miles beyond the viaduct I arrived at the train station in Meyersdale.
I combined three individual images to make this somewhat distorted panorama of the Meyersdale station. Click on the image for a larger view.
Inside the station a museum included some model railroad displays.
After leaving Meyersdale I encountered this hulking bridge at the beginning of the Keystone Viaduct. At this point I had covered about 14 miles from Rockwood and had 30 miles to go to Cumberland.
Soon after crossing the viaduct I came to the hardest segment of the trail. The five mile stretch leading up to the continental divide was almost completely straight. It passed through open, bland territory with no shade. The sun beat down, and the humidity started to affect me. It felt like riding through a green desert as I slogged on, drinking frequently from my water bottle. The trail receded to infinity before me. Finally, in the distance, I saw the continental divide.
The continental divide is the high point on the trail at 2,392 feet above sea level. The journey from Pittsburgh (at 720 feet) climbs 1,672 feet over a distance of about 117 miles. The descent to Cumberland is steeper. Here's a closer look at the colorful pictures beside the tunnel.
I crossed over the continental divide through this tunnel. Notice the elevation chart on the right wall. I'll show a closer look at the chart shortly.
There were colorful displays on the eastern side of the divide.
The next picture looks back after crossing the divide. The long hot trail leading to the tunnel can be seen in the distance.
Click on the picture below to see a larger version of the elevation chart in the tunnel. As I mentioned before, the trail rises 1,672 feet in 117 miles between Pittsburgh and the continental divide. This long gradual climb is represented on the right side of the chart. Continuing east from the high point, the trail drops 1,787 feet in only 24 miles from the continental divide to Cumberland (at 605 feet). So the downhill slope, shown on the left side of the chart, was bound to be more apparent.
I did enjoy a noticeable downhill slope on the way to the Big Savage Tunnel. These pictures show my approach from the west.
The tunnel was long, well lit, and refreshingly cool. It was fun to ride toward "the light at the end of the tunnel".
The tunnel exit opened onto a nice scene.
Shortly after emerging from the tunnel this panoramic view was visible on the left side of the trail. Click on the image for a larger view.
Looking back toward the tunnel exit I could see two of the numerous wind turbines located on the ridge above. Wind turbines are the technology of the future. The tunnel, and the coal hauling trains it serviced, are becoming technology of the past.
Now the trail was definitely downhill. It was easy to get some speed and fly onward. The next landmark, just before the 20 miles to Cumberland marker, was the Mason-Dixon Line, where I crossed from Pennsylvania into Maryland.
About 18 or 17 miles from Cumberland I pedaled through the Borden Tunnel.
The Borden Tunnel exit framed an inviting picture.
Many times along my three day journey I passed piles of broken slate and shale at the bottoms of layered rock formations next to the trail. These rocks screamed, "Search me for fossils!" I did stop several times, but had no luck until one particular rock caught my eye. Somewhere between 18 and 16 miles from Cumberland I thought I saw a fossil leaf on a piece of shale. Stopping quickly, I pedaled back, dismounted, and picked up the piece I had spotted. Yes! It did have a section of fossil leaf on it, but the leaf was incomplete, and the rock was too big to carry on my bike. Maybe there were more fossils in this particular pile of fragments. Maybe some would be small enough to carry home.

Carefully avoiding poison ivy and hovering wasps, and keeping a lookout for snakes, I started searching through the huge number of available fragments. In no time I found several fossil leaves. Most were fragments, or several leaves mashed together. I picked up two pieces small enough to fit in my belt bag. The first piece has a small leaf at the top on the right.
The second piece has several leaves across the surface.
My fossil hunting fantasy is to find a nice fern, or single leaf, displayed flat and distinct on a small piece of rock, so I kept poking around in the hot sun. And there it was! A fern leaf! It was just the right size to carry home, but, unfortunately, it was on a delicately thin piece of shale. I carefully put it in my wallet and hoped it would survive the rest of the trip without breaking. Finding these fossils was a highlight of my trip. I wish I could return to this spot with better equipment and more time.
About 14 miles from Cumberland, and 30 miles from my start in Rockwood, the tracks of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad began running parallel to the trail.
Both the tracks and the trail pass through Brush Tunnel about 5 miles from Cumberland.
Not far beyond Brush Tunnel I was surprised to come upon the Cumberland Bone Cave where fossilized bones from the Pleistocene have been found. The cave was inaccessible, but the nearby sign was informative. Click on the picture of the sign to read it more easily.
Cumberland was now only three miles away. At this marker I had pedaled 41 miles since my morning start at Rockwood.
Cumberland was not far beyond this bridge.
The last two miles or so into Cumberland were paved. The city itself is coming into view beyond the waterway here.
The trail ends behind the train station, about 50 meters beyond the stop sign . I had to cross a busy street on foot to get there.
I reached trail's end at approximately 2:30 pm. The time is only roughly correct, because I forgot to look at my watch. So, on this final day of travel, I pedaled 44 miles in roughly 5 hours 48 minutes for an average speed of approximately 7.59 mph. Today I spent more time than any other day taking pictures and fossil hunting. It felt good to reach my goal.
Before changing clothes in the nearby train station, I posed in front of the sculpture marking the end of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath and the beginning of the Great Allegheny Passage. I stood in front of this same statue in 2003 when I completed the C&O Canal ride. Now I've biked, in segments, the entire trail system from Washington, DC to Pittsburgh. It's been great fun!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Riding The Great Allegheny Passage - Day 2

Connellsville to Rockwood

While planning this ride I considered saving one hotel night by completing the trail in two 70-mile days rather than three days. I'm glad I finally decided to take the extra third day. Considering how long it took me to complete each of the three segments, and considering the level of fatigue I felt at the end of each day, it would have been a mistake to choose the two day option. Ten years ago I could have done two consecutive 70 mile days with a little extra effort. Now it would have been pushing the envelope. If I had done two 70 mile days, each day would have included about nine hours of pedaling. The trip would have been an exhausting athletic event rather than an enjoyable sightseeing excursion.

I began the second segment of my journey on September 9th at the exact spot where I stopped the previous day: in Yough River Park next to the Youghiogheny River in Connellsville. The park has a replica of the cabin Colonel William Crawford constructed in 1765. Crawford (1732-1782) was a soldier in the French and Indian War and the American Revolutionary War. He was also a surveyor who worked with George Washington.

The blue belt bag around my waist contained my camera, wallet, glasses, and food. I carried the same snack used on previous trail rides: a mixture of crumbled sugar cookies and raisins. I started pedaling at 9:20 am after waiting a bit for the cool morning to warm.
My starting energy level and enthusiasm were high as I set off through the back streets of Connellsville and passed this flag in the cool morning.
Once again, mileage signs, like the one above on the way out of Connellsville, were inconsistent with mile markers along the trail. There was at least a mile discrepancy between the 90 mile mark on the trail and this sign showing 90 miles to Cumberland. This annoying discrepancy soon faded from mind as I began enjoying the trail out of Connellsville on the bridge seen in the pictures below.
The trail became very scenic. I was intoxicated by fresh, fragrant air, a cool breeze, and the sparkling sunlit river to my left.
I passed another small Red Waterfall caused by elevated acid and iron levels in emerging ground water. Other small waterfalls frequently descended steep slopes to my right.
The trail segment from Connellsville to Ohiopyle seemed to be the most remote with the fewest bikers. It was also the most beautiful portion of the Great Allegheny Passage. Riding along on the smooth trail surface in absolutely perfect conditions filled me with euphoria. I loved the solitude, the river views, the forest smells, the sound of river rapids, and leaves falling in the quiet breeze. If the leaves had also been colored autumn gold, I think I would have been completely overwhelmed!
Always hoping to find fossils while riding along, I examined many layered rock formations rising nearly vertically on the side of the trail. At one spot I glanced to my right and saw coal seams clearly visible in the three pictures below. I stopped and found several chunks of coal that had fallen down the cliffs. Then, carefully avoiding poison ivy, I searched for fossils. I saw some fossil stems, but no leaves. The stems were broken and unremarkable. I'd love to return here with a hammer, backpack, and more time to explore.
This bridge crossed the Youghiogheny River and gave good views of the river below.
Soon I crossed this bridge into Ohiopyle, roughly 18 miles from the start.
There was a nice sunny view from the Ohiopyle bridge.
I found Ohiopyle to be a charming small town. Lots of snack bars, bike shops, and bed & breakfasts serve bikers on the trail.
The old Ohiopyle train station serves as a visitor center.
I biked a short distance off the trail to view the Ohiopyle Falls and the rapids leading to them. Unfortunately, observation decks for the falls were under construction, so the best head-on views were off limits behind fences. A side view was the best I could get.
The next stop along the way was the town of Confluence where the Casselman River meets the Youghiogheny River. In the next picture the Youghiogheny River is closest to the camera on the right. The Casselman River is further from the camera coming in from the right near the center of the picture where the two rivers join.
The mileage sign at Confluence said 19 miles to today's destination, Rockwood.
I saw this man fishing in the Youghiogheny River as I rode near Confluence.
The next picture shows the trail leaving Confluence. I detected a very slight uphill grade on the way from Confluence, elevation 1353 feet, to Rockwood, elevation 1826 feet. The height gain of 473 feet over a distance of about 19 miles hardly demanded much effort.
Between mileposts 55 and 50 I encountered the closed Pinkerton Tunnel.
The tunnel bypass was about a mile long and passed through attractive, shady forest.
The bypass brought me to the other end of the tunnel where I could more easily view inside. I don't know why this relatively short tunnel has not been repaired and made part of the trail.
Roughly eight generally unremarkable miles remained until Rockwood. The trail approaching Rockwood looked like this.
Just before Rockwood a bench was placed before this small waterfall so one could sit quietly and enjoy its soothing gurgle.
I arrived in Rockwood at 3:00 pm after traveling about 46 miles in 5 hours and 40 minutes. My average speed was 8.12 mph, slower than yesterday because I stopped so many times to take pictures, especially in Ohiopyle where I spent about 30 minutes sightseeing.
C took my picture in Rockwood next to the interesting reflective metal sculpture seen above. After today's trip I felt about the same as I did yesterday, tired, but not exhausted. My bike was quite dusty after each day's ride, so I wiped it clean before loading it into the car for the drive to our next hotel. A shower felt wonderful after the ride.

The 17-mile trail segment between Connellsville and Ohiopyle turned out to be the most enjoyable portion of the entire Great Allegheny Passage. It was absolutely beautiful!

Only 44 miles remained from Rockwood to Cumberland. I looked forward to more new sights on my final journey the next day. 

People say I'm crazy doing what I'm doing
Well they give me all kinds of warnings to save me from ruin
When I say that I'm o.k. well they look at me kind of strange
Surely you're not happy now you no longer play the game

People say I'm lazy dreaming my life away
Well they give me all kinds of advice designed to enlighten me
When I tell them that I'm doing fine watching shadows on the wall
Don't you miss the big time boy you're no longer on the ball

I'm just sitting here watching the wheels go round and round
I really love to watch them roll
No longer riding on the merry-go-round
I just had to let it go

John Lennon