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The Mileposters' first 2012 trip, our fifth from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, 340 miles in nine days (extended to Berwyn Heights, MD), was made to benefit Jayden Collington, close relative of several Mileposters riders, including three youth captains. Jayden has been diagnosed with advanced cancer, and after weeks of chemotherapy, which caused his hair to fall out, will undergo surgery to remove his adrenal gland, his spleen, one kidney, and other organs. Because of this contingency, the Mileposters will also do a trip this year from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, to raise support for the campus ministry at First Trinity Lutheran Church, in the Oakland area of Pittsburgh.

For the first day, July 11, Jayden's aunt and two cousins joined the group leader and one of our new trail dads for the first 40 miles, as far as Connellsville, PA, on the Great Allegheny Passage. The ride stepped off from the Boston trailhead. Bill Seitz and Eric Bendekovic provided transportation for bikes and riders to that point.

The new trail dad, Eric Bendekovic, a bicycle racer, was very popular, and the stokers were anxious to take turns riding with him--they got far ahead!

As has often been the case with long rides, we got a late start, and went rather slowly at first, making lots of rest stops, but later things began to pick up. On our lunch stop at the Yough Twister, we were encouraged to meet Jason Nestor, from Australia, on a ride around the whole world to raise support for The Long Road--Tour 4 A Cure (Cancer and Parkinson's Disease Research).

We arrived in Connellsville just a bit over a half hour late and shared supper at Wendy's with graphic designer Norm Huelsman and author Fred Durbin, who had come to take the tandem and first-day riders back to Pittsburgh. After that the group leader checked in at Connellsville Bed and Breakfast, only 150 feet from the trail, which was just as excellent as last time.

The four riders who joined the group leader for the first day, at Milepost 47 on the Youghiogheny River Trail (Great Allegheny Passage)

All five first-day riders at Wendy's in Connellsville, PA

A big advantage of riding a triplet alone is having plenty of room for luggage, including nine bottle cages for Gatorade! The morning of the second day began the ritual of mixing and filling the bottles--the availability of orange-flavored powder this year was welcome, and of course a big money-saver. Besides the two panniers at the back of the bike, there was a backpack hung from each of the two sets of stoker handlebars (the racer-trail dad graciously carried one the first day, while the other rode the luggage rack). It was great to learn the very handy location of the Dollar General in Connellsville, on a better way back to the trail from Wendy's than was previously known.

As the first day, there was no rain for the 28 miles of the second, to Confluence. After all the preparations, departure was only an hour from noon. Taking it easy up the ascending grade, it took a little less than five hours. Along the way it was a delight to meet a family traveling with a tandem pulling a trailer, plus some single bikes. The official lunch stop was at Ohiopyle.

Upon arrival in Confluence, fish and chips, plus a large sundae, made a satisfying meal at Suder's Soft Serve. After check-in at Confluence House, it was time to visit the laundromat. Then there was ample free time to rest. A triplet is much more comfortable to ride than a single bike, and no regrets, but it is of course slower and takes more energy, although less alone than with stokers.

Youghiogheny River at Ohiopyle, PA, second day

The start of the third day was a leisurely one, with only 19 miles to go to Rockwood--a bit later departure time than the second, after discovering the Dollar General in Confluence--but pudding without a spoon is a problem!

The rain started right away, requiring a poncho, but never got very heavy. A pair of chipmunks were spotted near Harnedsville, crisscrossing the trail.

Once again, there was another tandem traveling the same direction, ridden by a couple who were youth leaders in their church--much to talk about, including their annual project of fixing up old bikes for needy kids--all thoughts of the rain were forgotten!

A bit over three hours was all it took to get to Rockwood. The cell phone kiosk was much appreciated, although it was anticipated (correctly) that one phone would work with the free wi-fi at the hostel.

No kidding--preparing for this trip was at least as crazy as any of the others, and the hours of free time were fabulous! Back and forth between the hostel and the Mill Shoppes, eating and watching trains--it was all great! (A useful way to get a spoon is to save it when you eat an ice cream sundae!) Around supper time, the tandem family from the second day showed up to eat, and there was a more relaxed chance for conversation.

The hostel was as marvelous as ever, with the wi-fi and laundry facilities (free detergent!). A rider from Illinois checked in--a one time transcontinental traveler (high school biology teacher) who was "only" going to Washington, DC and back this time--more conversation.

Besides relaxation, there was business to attend to--it was necessary to get on the phone, with the superb wi-fi service, and begin planning for the August ride to Cumberland for the campus ministry at First Trinity.

Leaving Confluence, PA, third day

A tandem couple, Christian youth leaders, who kept the group leader company coming into Rockwood

Family in front of the Rockwood Opera House: tandem, trailer, two solo bikes

The short hauls were done with the awareness that there would be four straight days over 40 miles, starting with the fourth day (43 to Cumberland). To be fair, half of the fourth would be downhill, but the sit-bones still get sore!

Just when all was packed and ready to go (for an "early" departure at 10:15!), the skies opened up! Who wants to start the day wet? But it wasn't optional. The new little tunnel under the road at Garrett was a place where respite was possible, but to be fair, the rain really wasn't any worse than the third day. Things were still wet at Salisbury Viaduct, and a duck and goose were enjoying the drops a bit farther along, but when the Western Maryland station in Meyersdale came into sight, the rain stopped as if by magic, and there was none the rest of the trip (some train passengers on the way back had a different experience, despite being in nearly the same place).

After the encouragement of seeing the Monument at Deal (the Mileposters contributed to restoration of Big Savage Tunnel) and a pause at the Divide, a swift descent terminated in Cumberland about 4:30. An earlier schedule for the train from Frostburg this year prevented seeing it on the way down.

The Holiday Inn graciously provided a hose to wash off bikes. Supper at McDonald's and shopping were convenient, and with a spoon available, the purchase of plenty of trail mix, and more pudding, was accomplished at Family Dollar! Light packing with few clothes meant laundry back at the motel.

Crossing Salisbury Viaduct in the rain, fourth day

Goose and duck enjoying the rain, near Meyersdale

Triplet at the Western Maryland station in Meyersdale , PA

Monument to honor donors to the Big Savage Tunnel Project at Deal, PA (Mileposters' name included)

Eastern Continental Divide, elevation 2392 feet

Before beginning the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal, an Egg McMuffin and a large orange juice started Day 5--fuel for the second-longest day, 46 miles. Threading the triplet out of the Holiday Inn wasn't easy, but it was possible; it definitely contributed to another 11 a.m. departure. After leaving Cumberland, despite few problems the first four days, the triplet's rear timing chain began an infuriating series of departures from the chainwheels. Extra time spent with it before Day 1 was apparently to no avail. (The frustrations of timing chain maintenance will not be detailed here, except to say that a standard eccentric is rendered useless by set screws that dig themselves their own holes, and a phantom chainring is usually the easiest solution [but hard to find one big enough in this case]--it's beginning to look like an idler isn't such a bad idea after all.)

Thunder rumbled off and on all day long, especially when the headlight was hiding in the luggage prior to entering Paw Paw Tunnel (it was found), but neither of those, nor the chain, was the highlight of the day. It was only about a dozen miles out of Cumberland, in broad, barely-shaded daylight, that a fair-sized black panther entered the trail from the Potomac River side, about 75 feet ahead, accelerated, and disappeared into the narrow strip of land between the towpath and the (watered, at that point) canal. Photography of trailside wildlife (deer--panther fodder) had already begun, but the survival instinct overruled the temptation for an extraordinary photo opportunity--you won't see a big black kitty below (how about a black bridge?). The realization that the sighting was "impossible" did not occur until that night, but the group leader is a sober, carefully observant person. Subsequent conversation with a park biologist was respectful and factual. Draw your own conclusions.

Steve, the gracious host of Little Orleans Lodge, was waiting at the door of Bill's Place and, miraculously, had already ordered a ham and cheese sandwich, offering it to the group leader, who also received a glass of milk, poured by Bill himself. But the sky was not conducive to further pleasantries, so a hasty retreat to the lodge managed to narrowly miss the onset of a downpour.

Steve dished out ice cream at his own place later, and enjoyable conversation was had with a teacher couple from California who were making a leisurely tour of the area.

Lock 70 and lockmaster's house, Oldtown, MD, fifth day

East portal of Paw Paw Tunnel

After a breakfast of Steve's French toast, and anointing all the chains with a certain mystery oil, it was time to start the sixth day--surprise, surprise: 11:00. By the way, there were no flat tires for the entire trip, thank God, and no air added at any point.

The rear timing chain came off only twice in 42 miles. As always, the Western Maryland Rail Trail was a smooth, fast alternative to the towpath from Pearre on, for 22 miles, although the towpath as a whole was the best ever, with the least mud. Competing with the WMRT for top spot of the day was the mushroom Swiss third-pounder at the Hardee's in Hancock. Arrival at the Red Roof Inn in Williamsport was a bit before 6:00.

Wi-fi service at the Inn was marginal, and lightning had struck the local T-Mobile tower, but the washer and dryer worked. After a third of a pound of hamburger for lunch, a supper of trail mix and butterscotch pudding was just fine!

"Mystery bridge" which seems to begin and end forever away in the woods--actually one of the Western Maryland Railway spans crossing the Potomac, which could become part of the Western Maryland Rail Trail some day; sixth day

Passing through Hancock, MD on the Western Maryland Rail Trail

Day 7, the longest at 48 miles, started with breakfast at McDonald's (free doughnuts at Red Roof, too)--also, not good, the latest start at 11:45 (it was at least nine hours of sleep every night, though). It was interesting to compare notes with a motorcycle rider right before leaving. He was especiallly fascinated with the triplet; he was also familiar (as many motorcycle riders are) with one of the group leader's favorite stretches of two-lane blacktop, on the North Carolina-Tennessee border--it's called the Dragon's Tail.

The detour around Big Slackwater was longer because of the heavy construction taking place to restore the towpath and end the detour. Unaccountably, the chain came off on the smooth pavement of the detour; it came off one other time as well, but on the whole the mystery oil worked well, if it did attract a tremendous amount of dirt.

Not surprisingly, arrival in Brunswick was near seven o'clock. It was appalling to see "Darth Vader" signals surrounding the railroad interlocking tower in Brunswick (see photo caption), but the Green Country Inn, with its 24-hour diner (former railroad YMCA, and still a haven for railroaders away from home) was as inviting as ever; then, after a feast, laundry, and getting clean in the biggest shower ever seen in a lodging place.

Passing by the large campground at Antietam Creek, near the aqueduct, seventh day

WB Tower in Brunswick, MD, which was one of the last staffed railroad interlocking towers in the U.S., controlling switches and signals there until January, when its operation was replaced by remote control from Jacksonville, Florida

Great breakfast again in the 24-hour diner, and fresh-baked cookies wrapped to order, for the trail! It was cheering to think of only 36 miles for the eighth day, and a place to stay right on the towpath. Because the weather had been so dry (people all the way along had been complaining about that), the decision was made not to use insect repellent going through "mosquito alley," the worst stretch along the canal (applying sunblock was already a big job every morning). And that worked--neither did the timing chain come off! A sort of irritating bit of baggage from Day 1 had been an empty gallon water jug, but it was a critical necessity now, with no water at Pennyfield Lock, nor within ten miles in either direction. It was filled before leaving Brunswick, and every last Gatorade bottle.

It was another race against the rain, but the rain never came. There was a missed photo opportunity with what seemed to be a friendly black squirrel (another black squirrel the last day was not cooperative). The heat had been increasing every day, and seemed to have reached its worst. There was an unusually long rest stop at the Marble Quarry hiker-biker campground. Then came the last water refill at Chisel Branch, the beautiful last stop on the Mileposters' first DC trip in 2005. The chain did not come off; it never came off again (on this trip).

Arrival at Pennyfield Lock (Lock 22) at ten minutes after four was fabulous. Suddenly it was 1820, and time seemed nonexistent for a while--much more relaxing than the afternoon in Rockwood. The solitude inside the thick stone walls of the lockhouse was magnificent--no other guests, no desk clerk, nobody going around with a passkey to clean rooms. No annoying, noisy electric appliances. Careful bathing with the water from Chisel Branch, using a china washbasin, implements laid out on a wide stone windowsill, was a timeless experience. There were e-mail messages to write (for sending the next day--the BlackBerry could not get a signal; the TracFone could, but only outside the stone walls) and pictures to take.

It had to end. Nineteenth-century ventilation, heavily dependent on convection, was working very slowly, and the once-soothing sound of water rushing through the lock outside the window began to become irritating, sounding like an air conditioner, except the air was still hot. The picnic table outside the basement door was inviting, but seeing a mosquito was enough. The primitive mattress, suspended on ropes, was lumpy. Crossing the canal to the porta-potty (no indoor plumbing) brought the mosquito along--a war ensued--at first the mosquito missed at every visit, but successfully evaded deadly human attacks all night, and won the next morning. Sitting by a downstairs window helped for a while, and the music of the katydids down there was soothing, but it was drowned out by churning waters back upstairs. Nine hours a night had been invigorating, but had proved too much for this situation. Eventually a comprehensive hour-long planning session with the BlackBerry, including the determination to acquire a bike trailer for small children, and sheer exhaustion brought fitful slumber, but real rest would have to wait until the next night. [Make no mistake--this is a wonderful place, but next time needs to be in cooler weather, and perhaps with mosquito repellent.]

Chisel Branch campground, where the Mileposters spent their last night on the trail on their first ride to Washington, DC in 2005; eighth day

Lock 22 on the C & O Canal, where the group leader spent the night in the lockhouse at the end of the eighth day

The constant practice of preparing every morning served well on the ninth day, despite the sleep loss, and also the lack of any interruptions, looking at 38 miles to finish the trip, and departure was fifteen minutes before 11:00.

It was the best day for photographing deer (see below); many efforts on previous days did not go nearly so well. It was disturbing, though, to see so much of the canal that had been fully restored now falling into ruin and dewatered. Despite restoration several years ago, the Widewater breach occurred again, and several others. Crews picking up fallen trees had to be gotten by gingerly, with scant inches to spare; thankfully they were helpful in the process. As noted in a photo caption, the Berma Road detour is, as Princess Leia's nemesis put it, "charming to the last," especially when there is no one to help you drag a partially-loaded triplet up a knifeboard on the edge of a stairway.

Although the trip is, as advertised, to Washington, DC (Fletcher's Boathouse, in this case), the real punch for Mileposters riders is the zigzag back onto the Capital Crescent Trail, the beginning of the Northwest Connection, which also includes the Georgetown Branch Trail, the Sligo Creek Trail, the Northwest Branch Trail, the Northeast Branch Trail, and the Indian Creek Trail. Then it's two blocks on the quiet streets of Berwyn Heights, MD to get to the home of Pastor Rudy Kampia and his wife Judy, final destination of all seven trips by the group leader, including the five since Mileposters rides began. By the time a last-minute detour on the Northeast Branch popped up (easily negotiated), he felt "too close to home" to care.

Lunch was in the delightful cool relief of the McDonald's on River Road in Bethesda, MD, but the favorite part of the day was the descent through the Sligo Creek Gorge. Final arrival was at 7:00 p.m. Of interest, and with a possible Old Testament connection, is the fact that the same Spalding backpack which was taken on the group leader's first trip in 1997 was along on all six of the rest, including this one, and still has no holes!

Deer and fawn in the dewatered (due to breaks in the towpath/canal walls) canal bed, ninth day

Unusual mechanical lock gate control at Lock 10

"Knife board" for raising/lowering a bicycle on stairs at the infamous Berma Road detour around Widewater, where the towpath was again washed away--no fun with a triplet

Arriving in Washington, DC at Fletcher's Boathouse

Dalecarlia Tunnel on the Capital Crescent Trail--right-of-way of the Georgetown Branch of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad

Pastor Rudy Kampia and his wife Judy were gracious hosts for the group leader before his return to Pittsburgh aboard Amtrak's Capitol Limited.

Thanks to God as well as to all of those who supported us by physical means and days of earnest prayer.

Soli Deo Gloria.

Page written on and posted from the BlackBerry 8320

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