The Mileposters' fourth trip from Pittsburgh to Washington, DC, in support of the campus ministry at First Trinity Lutheran Church in Pittsburgh, started at the Boston, PA trailhead; after passing through Washington, DC at Fletcher's Boathouse, it ended 19 miles farther, in Berwyn Heights, MD, due to the generous hosting of Pastor Rudy Kampia and his wife, Judy. On June 24 we set a long-trip record of 60 miles per day. The top two stokers, my homeschool students (13 and 10) and I, three strong, pedaled the quad (for four riders) and a generous amount of luggage up the long ascent to the Eastern Continental Divide, elevation 2392 ft., just short of 3295-ft. Big Savage Tunnel. It was the second DC ride for the 13-year-old, who made the trek in 2006, and the first for her brother. Our only flat tire was before we started (defective valve stem), but zero flats for the trip itself--credit God's grace and the Bontrager Satellite Elite Hardcase tires--no Slime, either.

Pastor Eric Andrae and his wife, Paola, accompanied us for the 42 miles of the first day, proving the benefits of cross-training (basketball and marathon running)--they kept up with us just fine, despite being unable to join us for any practice rides.

The initial group of five riders made the traditional rest stop at Smithton Beach.

The weather was extremely hot, being above 90 degrees for several days in a row, topping out at 98; we drank about fifteen bottles of Gatorade each day, quickly depleting the supply of powdered mix we had brought along. Let's see--15 times 9 is 135, and I'm sure Pastor Andrae and his wife easily pushed the total over 150 20-oz. bottles of Gatorade for the entire trip!

After having dinner at Wendy's, we spent the night at the Melody Motor Lodge in Connellsville. The next morning, Pastor Andrae and his wife began their return to Pittsburgh, while we headed for Confluence, stopping to rest along the way at a long stone wall built by early settlers. We ate supper at Suder's Soft Freeze and then continued the last couple of miles to Stepping Stone Farm, where we spent the night. Along the way, we were privileged to meet Bill Metzger--it was the second time for me and our first stoker, since he and his wife rescued us after a fatal flat on our ride to Cumberland in 2007.

We took a break on the curved trestle at Harnedsville before tackling the massive grade past Pinkerton's Neck and through Rockwood toward Meyersdale and Big Savage Mountain, on the third day.

Salisbury Viaduct is the longest such structure on the entire route. After crossing it, we entered Meyersdale and checked in at Yoder's Motel. On the way back from supper at Fox's Pizza Den, we had to go through a little rain, but it didn't last.

At the start of the fourth day, we had to push up the long, steep hill in Meyersdale before tackling the final eight miles to the Eastern Continental Divide, elevation 2392 ft. As they did the second day, the stokers really pushed hard, and the ascent was accomplished quickly.

Everyone was happy to see the exit of Big Savage Tunnel, not only because it meant we were facing 20 miles of downhill running, but also because the lights in the tunnel were out! We did manage to ride the whole way through, though.

On the other side, we were alarmed when the sky became black and the wind began to blow. Soon it was raining, so we donned our rain ponchos. Within five minutes, we had arrived at the refuge of Borden Tunnel. It had gotten quite chilly, so we struggled with the wind which was blowing steadily through the tunnel in a vain attempt to get a hood onto our coldest rider. After a time, we noticed that the rain had stopped, so we went on out the other portal of the tunnel. There was no wind on the outside--only in the tunnel!

After an ample lunch from an establishment in the Western Maryland Railway station in Cumberland, we paused for a picture in front and rode on to Paw Paw, WV to set a new Mileposters long-trip record of 60 miles in a day. We checked in at Grandma's Country Inn.

At the start of Day 5, Paw Paw Tunnel (3118 ft.) was the second long tunnel that we passed through, being forced to walk and use a headlight because there are no lights inside, and the ledge is narrow and rutted.

The fifth day was only 17 miles to Little Orleans, MD, taking it easy after setting a record the previous day. After an obligatory stop at Bill's Place to pick up pizza, but before checking in at Little Orleans Lodge, we paused at the campground pool.

On the sixth day we enjoyed escaping the rocks, roots, and mud of the towpath for 21 miles (46 miles total) on the Western Maryland Rail Trail, which parallels the canal, and is paved. The bridges have an unusual decking scheme which includes sidewalks.

There is a cave along the trail. There was mention made of bats flying out between the bars....

Also on the sixth day, before arriving at Williamsport, MD, we passed by another lockmaster's house which is open to guests, at Lock 49, part of the community known as Four Locks. (We had a reservation for Lock 22.) As we were pushing up Williamsport's main street toward the Red Roof Inn, we were treated to the sight of an actual police chase: several cruisers with lights flashing, following a pickup truck which had the front tires shot out. They caught the driver minutes later, when he went off the road on a sharp curve.

We had only eight minutes of rain total. Mechanical trouble was rare; the rear timing chain carried a phantom chainring of 60 teeth. It fell out once the fifth day, but caused no more trouble until the eighth, when it suddenly dropped and was run over by the back two tires, forming it into a lacy, serrated aluminum potato chip. We were amazed and encouraged--contrary to expectation, the unsupported chain did not get thrown, except once at the very end.

There were a fair number of forked tree trunks along the canal. We saw this one on the seventh day, before we arrived at Brunswick, MD, where we stayed and ate at the Green Country Inn.

A record number of times--nine--we sighted a Great Blue Heron. Other wildlife sightings included a fox, an owl, two red-headed woodpeckers, two pileated woodpeckers, four adult ducks, ten baby ducks, five groups of Canada geese (blocking the trail, as usual), three frogs, a tree toad, a beaver, many deer, rabbits, and squirrels (four of them were black squirrels, with a couple of variations), only five chipmunks (one with no white in its stripes), but hundreds of turtles, two of them in the act of laying eggs in holes they had dug along the edge of the towpath.

The heading for our blog includes a picture of one of the lockmaster's houses along the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal. While I did sleep on the porch of one of these houses on an earlier trip, I never dreamed I'd be spending the night inside, but it happened this time, at Lock 22, also known as Pennyfield Lock, where we stayed for the eighth night of our odyssey. There was no electricity in the house, nor plumbing. We brought in bottles of water and made the best of it. A number of LED lanterns and a couple of flashlights were kindly provided by the Canal Trust, making our stay in the darkness workable. We enjoyed breakfast in the cozy kitchen the morning of the ninth day. The thick stone walls and five fireplaces, one in the basement, were amazing.

The final approach to the Kampias' home was on the collection of trails designated as the Northwest Connection: the Capital Crescent Trail, the Georgetown Branch Trail, the Sligo Creek Trail, the Northwest Branch Trail, the Northeast Branch Trail, and the Indian Creek Trail.

The ride was completed in nine days for the first time since 2005. On the last day, eight miles from the finish line, we paused on one of the many arch bridges on the Sligo Creek Trail. The stokers were getting punchy, but they kept pedaling. A few miles after this picture was taken, an unidentified trail angel joined us, speaking encouraging words, helping us push up steep hills, going before us on narrow underpasses to make sure there was no interference, and helping us put the chain back on, right before the end, when it finally did come off.

Arrival at each day's destination took place before dark. After 333 miles, the longest yet for a DC ride, we pulled into the Kampia driveway at 7:15 p.m. on June 29 and did a triangular hand-slap before lining the stokers up with Pastor Rudy and his wife, Judy, for a picture.

As part of our sightseeing the next day, we rode a mule-drawn canal boat both ways through the lock at Great Falls, jaws dropping in disbelief as we realized that Lisa Berray, whom we had known in Pittsburgh but who returned to being a park ranger on the C&O, was our docent; using a rubber ducky, she explained how raising and lowering a canal boat in a lock is like being in the bathtub at home. When we got off the boat, Lisa and the captain posed for a picture with us and Judy Kampia.

After the ride, Lisa took us for a personal visit with the canal mules at the corral above the falls.

The most-requested tourist destination was the White House.

Other sightseeing took place in Washington, DC, with a view of the Capitol and the Washington Monument from the Mall. After we had gotten some lunch at a stand, we found that a friendly squirrel was willing to share our potato chips!

We found some unusual items in the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden!

Our final sightseeing stop before boarding the Metro to return to Berwyn Heights was at the United States Navy Memorial.

We headed back to Pittsburgh aboard Amtrak's Capitol Limited on July 1; enroute, our stokers made friends with some kids from McKeesport who want to ride with the Mileposters some day.

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

Soli Deo Gloria.

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 2013