Ralph Hauser's round trip between Cumberland, Maryland and Washington, DC was a major inspiration for the group leader's first trip from Pittsburgh to DC in 1997, and many Mileposters long rides to follow, including Pittsburgh-Cumberland, but there have not been many Mileposters round trips (not counting short, one-day rides), and they were not long. The first camping trip was a round trip to Connellsville, with a truncated return leg to accommodate the riders of the time. Several years later the Connellsville turn was repeated, followed by one between Cumberland and Stickpile Hill, along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal.

This year, to accommodate another cancer emergency, which necessitated doubling up on long trips for the summer, the ride for First Trinity Lutheran Campus Ministry was a round trip between Pittsburgh and Cumberland, the longest Cumberland trip ever at 302 miles, placing it in the same league with Pittsburgh-DC one-way rides. Since the best Mileposters riders had just completed a one-way trip to Cumberland for the eye cancer appeal, the group leader did most of the ride by himself, assisted on the first-day kickoff by First Trinity members Terry Terhune and his son Terry, who rode with him between Grant Street in downtown Pittsburgh and the Waterfront, for the first 16 miles. (Father and son have ridden from Pittsburgh to D. C. three times--it took only four days in 2014!)


At Grant Street, Eliza Furnace Trail, kicking off the ride

At the Pump House in Munhall--father and son

A late start the second day (nearly noon) meant skipping the usual lunch stop at Douglas Run as well as supper at Wendy's in Connellsville (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches a bit later served very nicely, as well as along the trail), but arrival at the Melody Motor Lodge was on time. A great help was riding the yellow aluminum tandem, the first bike built in the Mileposters shops, instead of the usual steel triplet. While the triplet is very comfortable to ride and has lots of room for luggage and Gatorade, it weighs much more, and its wider tires do not roll so freely. As a result, he was able to ascend the Slush Run grade and the Dickerson Run grade without downshifting at all, continuing to cruise at 12 miles per hour in. Among other places, a rest stop was made at the Round Bottom campground at Slush Run. Thankfully there was no rain at any time during the day, although it was very hot.

Conversation with a recumbent rider during a stop at Dravo Landing revealed the intriguing possibility that there was a direct link between Melody Motor Lodge and the trail, but the informant was fuzzy about just how to access it, so the usual street riding ensued.

Melody Motor Lodge is a marvelous creation of 1957, flawlessly preserved. It features central air conditioning, an amenity which has all but disappeared in the twenty-first century--its silent operation is very helpful in getting a good night's sleep, which was much needed after riding 53 miles and the accompanying leg cramps.

Slush Run campground, Great Allegheny Passage, July 22, 2014

Ed's Diner, behind the lodge, provided the usual fantastic breakfast of pancakes, eggs, bacon, and sausage, with orange juice. Back in the room, the day's supply of Gatorade was mixed before shoving off, reversing direction back into Connellsville to pick up the trail again; the rider was tempted by the sight of the sign on a road to the right that said "Wheeler Bottom," but did not want to wrestle a loaded tandem up some brush-covered embankment. The only place imaginable involved crossing an active railroad track, and the prognosis was not positive. The conclusion was, for the time being, that the recumbent rider was either mistaken or else more willing to traverse a steep hillside with his lighter bike.

It was already hot at departure, although the near-continuous shade made it easier to take. Ascending the steeper grade past Camp Carmel (rest stop) did require some downshifting, but not much--it was taken in fifth gear and fourth--second is normal with a solo ascent on the triplet. Past Ohiopyle, where whole families were enjoying the river, the grade lessens, so fifth became the norm. When thunder began, there was an upshifted to sixth and more rapid progress toward Ramcat Run and Confluence. Just before the stop at Ramcat, the skies opened up, but there was shelter in the spacious, although primitive, comfort facility. A couple of fishermen, whose day had been ruined, showed up to chat about rock snot and how soft the trail surface gets after rain. After they had gotten into their car to head home, the rain stopped. The last two miles to the Outflow Soft Freeze brought the rider to the rewards of a hot dog with cheese, cheese balls, and a cherry sundae, washed down with vitamin water. After 28 miles, it hit the spot.

Camp Carmel, Great Allegheny Passage, July 23, 2014

Swimmers in the Youghiogheny River, Ohiopyle, PA

Rest at River View Kitchenettes was welcome. A bargain ($16 on eBay) CDMA BlackBerry, accessing Verizon's tower via Page Plus, provided phone conversations as well as primitive e-mail. No complaints, since Page Plus rates start at only $2.50 a month. Because the temperature had moderated, it was possible to turn the air conditioner off, for a quiet night--quieter even than in Connellsville, since there is no highway nearby, and the fairly distant sounds of occasional trains passing were musical. For sleeping at this same location many years ago, the music would have been much louder, because the Western Maryland Railway was only about 100 feet away, but then there would have been no cyclists, since the trail was built on its abandoned roadbed. (The bridge pictured below is not a part of the trail since a rod and gun club was built on its western approach before the trail got there--the trail crosses a wooden bridge into town instead.)

Abandoned Western Maryland Railway bridge, Confluence, PA

Next morning the weather turned out surprisingly on the cool side. There was ample time to prepare for a short day (18 miles) after a generous eleven hours in the sack. Everything in these two days was getting ready for the 60-mile trek coming up--Rockwood-Cumberland-Frostburg, all at once.

Fourth gear was again fine for the climb to Rockwood, pausing at Pinkerton Tunnel, finishing off the peanut butter and jelly at the same shelter (near Rockwood) as our one-way trip a couple of weeks previous. Arrival at Rockwood was early, leaving plenty of time to catch up on various things, including bringing this account up to date, but the most important task after a shower and laundry (conveniently located inside the hostel) was getting to bed and getting up early for the big day.

Approaching the Divide and working past Meyersdale was not so easy, consuming more peanut butter and jelly at Deal, but the descent from Big Savage into the Queen City made the day shorter. There is always a sense of refreshment upon exiting the long tunnel and seeing the vista of farmlands spread out below. Then the sight of the Methodist church steeple approaching Frostburg from above is always welcome. At last the platforms of the Western Maryland train station in Cumberland were attained, and in good time. The swiftness of descent from the mountain was marvelous as usual.

Salisbury Viaduct, outside Meyersdale, PA, July 25, 2014

Farm as seen from Big Savage Mountain

Steeple of the Methodist church in Frostburg

Arrival at destination: Western Maryland station, Cumberland

After a quick stop to refuel at McDonald's, reversal was made to tackle the first fifteen miles of the hill back up--the larger part. Perusal of the Western Maryland train schedule indicated that there would be an encounter with the inbound about that time, which did in fact occur.

Although the light bike certainly fulfilled its promise as the climb proceeded, the decision to stop for pictures was more easily made than at any other point in the trip!

Western Maryland 734 close by the trail

Farm with silos

Farm with barn and pond

It was the first time to stay at the Trail Inn Bed and Breakfast, in the Liberty Room bunkhouse, in Frostburg. Arrival was, thankfully, a just-comfortable amount of time before the grill closed, enjoying the last glass of milk available along with a hamburger!

The inn is right above the Frostburg terminal of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad, affording a magnificent view of the station facilities the next morning.

During preparation for departure, there was an interesting exchange with a large family traveling with three generations, from a distant city, who had parked their car on the street in Pittsburgh, bought bicycles on Craigslist, and set out from Station Square. They were staying in the large camping area above the bunkhouse.

Frostburg station, July 26, 2014

During packing, an audacious mental plan began to form. If pedaling downhill could be so marvelously easy, then there were going to be a great many more miles of it on this trip, even if not as fast as yesterday. There was an eagerness to evaluate the possibility as speed on the other side of the Divide was checked. By the time of arrival at the little tunnel at the top, the anticipation was intense.

Pausing at the Eastern Continental Divide

Lunch was again enjoyed at the little pavilion in the trailhead area at Deal; the indication was that the plan was going to succeed. By Meyersdale, the decision was made, and a call to the motel in Connellsville was made to change the reservation--a whole day was cut out of the schedule!

Passing Rockwood a little after 2:00, with a stop to inform the hostel of the non-sojurn and a quick scarfing up of supplies at the very nice new store right up the street, the plunge down the slope toward Connellsville proceeded. Very few people passed the lone rider. Photo stops were made at two locations.

Pinkerton low bridge and tunnel


Even though things were going well, the threat of rain was becoming more serious, further increasing the rate of speed in hopes of arriving at Melody before the skies opened up.

The hope was shattered at the exact moment of arrival in Connellsville. The wish to know another, faster way to the motel was unfulfilled, but the inset doorway of the bike shop, closed for the night, offered adequate shelter. When the rain at last slacked off, a poncho was donned and a small tarp spread over the backpack. The lull allowed a pleasant few blocks along Crawford Avenue until the drops once again pelted down in earnest.

With the rain gear in place, a small overhang diagonally across from the former Pittsburgh & Lake Erie train station gave relief for a good bit longer. After an unpleasantly long wait, the decision to continue was made; the rain was nearly over. About 9:00 a weary rider pulled up to the motel office, and the day was over. Cursory drying efforts and the consumption of peanut butter sandwiches preceded sleep--74 miles in a day will make one very tired!

The final day, July 27, was the most difficult. Although shorter than the 26th, it was still long at 53 miles, and the downhill effect for the balance of the trip was quite mild. Shin splints had developed during the intense push, and extreme saddle soreness had set in--this tandem is certainly not as comfortable to ride as the triplet. Rain once again intruded, and the last mile and a half, poncho-clad, on city streets, was not pleasant.

Regardless, the 300-plus miles had been conquered, a day sooner than planned--seven days in all--the trip was a clear success. Soli Deo Gloria.

(As a postscript, the group leader did drive back to Connellsville later to check out the recumbent rider's story. Making the turn onto the little road leading into Wheeler Bottom, he headed toward the trail, making mental notes about what the route would be like on a bicycle, comparing it to the fairly unpleasant trek between downtown Connellsville and Melody Motor Lodge. There is a hill right away--going down. The road is not perfectly smooth. There is a place to access the railroad track, on the other side of which is the Sheepskin Trail, which connects with the Great Alllegheny Passage, but it is steep and narrow. It is also unknown how far one has to go along the track before being able to access the trail. At another point, access to the track is immediate, but certainly far from a place to get easily to the Sheepskin. However, mental pieces started to fall into place when the realization dawned that the Connellsville water purification plant was near. This is very close to the Passage, and was the access point before the Wheeler Bottom and Bowest trestles were re-decked for bicycles. There is a short, unpleasantly steep hill from the road to the trail, but not prohibitively so. Bottom line: eastbound, take the streets from Connellsville to Melody, and the road through Wheeler Bottom to the water plant the next morning. Westbound, reverse the procedure. YMMV. Let's hope Melody survives with the fancy new hotel under construction in the city.)

The Allegheny Trail Alliance Web site has maps and many links to information on trails in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, and West Virginia.

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