PITTSBURGH-CUMBERLAND 2011: This was the third Mileposters trip from Pittsburgh to Cumberland. As it was two years ago, we had difficulty planning this trip, but thankfully things came together sooner than they did that year. What had seemed at the start to be a grim summer became, by Divine blessing, much better. As in 2009, the ride was made to support the Campus Ministry of the Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod in Pittsburgh, and was planned to take place over four days, August 17-20. Once again, the number of riders was limited, but we did better than in 2009. Pastor Eric Andrae of First Trinity Lutheran Church in Oakland, director of the Campus Ministry, joined us as far as Cedar Creek, and I had two riders with me on the triplet as far as Connellsville. We began the ride at the Boston trailhead, starting about 11:30 a.m. [SCROLL DOWN for the rest of the story and more pictures.]

Riders at Boston, PA, Great Allegheny Passage (Youghiogheny River Trail), August 17, 2011

We had to make some adjustments at Greenock, just past Milepost 21, which delayed us, and even after that, we moved slowly. Pastor Andrae's wife, who delivered him to the Boston trailhead, picked him up at Cedar Creek, where their daughter joined us for a picture.

Snack time and farewell to one rider at Cedar Creek, August 17

Things speeded up after we left Cedar Creek, my stokers seeming to take more responsibility for the trip, and after a break at Whitsett, they began to hit their stride, stretching out to 15mph for a couple of miles on the grade approaching Slush Run, "latched out" in seventh gear, and then slowing down some, but still moving pretty fast. A single bike came up beside us and the rider commented that he didn't know whether to pass or draft us. I said it looked like he had decided to pass, but the stokers took that as a challenge, and quickly resumed the fast pace! I commented that he had said the wrong thing. He did stay behind us and draft us as far as the facilities at Slush Run, where I had to make a pit stop. But when we got going again, they repeated the flight approaching Dickerson Run, where past stokers have so often bogged down, sometimes crawling along in the lowest gear--28-tooth granny on the front and 34-tooth Alpine in the rear. We arrived at Wendy's in Connellsville shortly after seven o'clock. An escort joined us for dinner, and then took the stokers back to Pittsburgh. The first day was 40 miles.

I checked in at the Connellsville Bed and Breakfast, conveniently located only 250 feet from the trail. My room was very nice, and the proprietor, John, was very helpful. Breakfast the next morning was excellent, and I was even given cookies to take along for a snack along the way!

With two previous trips riding the triplet alone, I had no worries about continuing toward Cumberland. For no apparent reason, the rear timing chain came off at one point, but it was quickly replaced. I wished that perhaps I had used a half-link to tighten it up, but later on I was glad I hadn't!

I paused for a lunch of banana chips and Gatorade at Ohiopyle, taking advantage of my seated position to get a picture of the east end of the bridge across the Youghiogheny River.

Trail bridge at Ohiopyle, August 18

I arrived in Confluence about 4:00, wrapping up five hours for 27 miles, and headed for Suder's Soft Freeze. Their fish and chips filled me up nicely. After that I checked in at the Confluence House, where we had stayed once before. It was just as nice, and convenient in every way, with a house phone to circumvent the lack of cell phone service. I was told that Verizon has installed a tower, but neither of my phones was for that carrier. I had a lazy afternoon and evening, recovering from frenetic trip planning and the first two days of the trip. I had been worried about the chance of rain for the second and third days. There was actually none for the entire trip--at least not while I was riding. Around six o'clock it got very dark, and there was a lot of thunder, but it did not rain. The next morning I heard that it had rained in the night, but I didn't hear it!

After another excellent breakfast at Confluence House, I got an early start on the third day, since the threat of rain was greatest on the trip, although the chances had continued to decrease since the trip had begun. Taking it easy, I had planned only the 20 miles to Rockwood, since I knew that I would be going downhill after cresting the Eastern Continental Divide on the fourth day. I paused at the gazebo in the middle of Confluence. I had nice, long breaks there during my 1997 and 2000 rides to Washington, DC, before heading over Pa. 523 to U.S. 40--that was before the trail was finished. We also spent quite a while there in 2007, when our trip was interrupted by fatal tire problems, waiting for someone to come from Pittsburgh and pick us up.

The segment to Rockwood was fairly routine except that as I rounded Pinkerton Horn, a sharp, triangular bit of stone broke off from a larger chunk and penetrated the Kevlar cord of my rear tire (Bontrager Satellite Elite Hardcase, and excellent--we had zero flats all the way from Pittsburgh to DC last year). Due to unfavorable conditions, this also caused the first bent rim since Mileposters rides began in 1997. I was able to straighten it, but after six consecutive seasons, including four trips to Washington, DC and two to Cumberland, the rim has seen better days. I took my time, which is sort of necessary anyway when you are repairing the back tire of a loaded triplet. After the disaster of 2007, I had two spare tubes along, and the next day I bought another to replace the one I had just used. Despite the delay, since I had started at 9:00 I still arrived in Rockwood about 3:30.

Unusual train/bicycle sculpture at Rockwood, August 19

It was my first time crossing the railroad tracks in Rockwood, although I have ridden them many times--previous trips have passed through. I had a reservation at the Hostel on Main, and after checking in there, headed back to the Rockwood Mill Shoppes for something to eat--a really great place for that! I was delighted to discover that the free Wi-Fi at the hostel meant that one of my cell phones would work, so I did some catching up on calls. Overall, the hostel was the best of the three I have used, the other two being the one in Meyersdale and the one in Paw Paw, West Virginia, which is unfortunately no longer in operation.

After breakfast in the hostel kitchen, I started the fourth day, heading for Cumberland. The sky was threatening as I crossed Salisbury Viaduct, getting close to Meyersdale, but it did not rain.

Salisbury Viaduct, August 20

As I was counting the miles to Deal, I wondered if the Big Savage Tunnel monument planned for that location had been completed. As I approached, I saw a new, square roof to the right--it was done!

Tunnel assistance monument, August 20

Since I have been making trips with kids on the trail since 1997, it was an emotional moment to see our name on the list.

One face of the monument

I was glad that it wasn't far from Deal to the Divide.

Eastern Continental Divide, just past Deal, PA, elevation 2392 feet, August 20

It isn't far, either, from the Divide to the tunnel. It was cold inside, but at least the lights were on this year--it was scary last year without them!

Big Savage Tunnel, western portal, August 20

It felt good to come out into the warm sunshine on the other side. It was fun to pick out my favorite location from the grand vista, and photograph it with a camera I acquired since last year.

Telephoto view of a farm, taken from the mountain at the east portal, August 20

I made sure to include the next two tunnels in the pictures. As I passed Frostburg, I could see the train above me, next to the station. After that point, I raced downward at and above the speed limit of 15mph, hoping to stay ahead of the train and get a picture of the steam engine exiting Brush Tunnel.

Entering Borden Tunnel

Exiting Brush Tunnel

I easily beat the train, since it is on a later schedule than in years past. Since I couldn't hear it coming, I decided to do the picture at Brush Tunnel without it. Then I waited quite a while at Helmstetter's Curve, since the light was just right. But I was already in communication with my ride home, and didn't want to delay him while I waited for a train that might be very late because of some unknown problem. When I arrived in Cumberland, I found the true story, and had a picture taken beside the watering spout about ten minutes before the train arrived. After another 43 miles, I had ridden a total of 130, and grateful for the lack of rain. I waited for the arrival of the train with my host for the trip home.

End of the trip, at the steam engine watering spout in Cumberland, August 20, 2011

I got my picture of the train, just before it arrived at the station. Since it was the peak of the summer season, a diesel engine had been added, behind the steam engine, to handle the extra cars.

We give thanks to God and to all those who assisted with the trip, especially Ralph Myers, Fred Durbin, and Terry Terhune, who provided critical transportation assistance.

Western Maryland train approaching the Cumberland station, August 20

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

Messages: jornada AT juno DOT com