Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Riding the Great Allegany Passage Trail to Pittsburgh

After our misadventures getting into the Virginia suburbs, a warning from Dave Harper on the poor condition of the C&O bike path for bikes with skinny tires and a forecast for heavy rain on Monday, we decide to skip the C&O and start riding the Great Allegany Passage Trail in Frostburg.

Background on the Great Allegany Passage Trail.  With the railroad mergers in the 1970s, the Western Maryland Railroad line became redundant with a parallel rail line on the opposite side of the river owned by the old Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  At the abandonment hearing before Congress, a WM railroad executive suggested that the route would make an excellent biking and hiking trail.  The expense to remove all railroad bridges and to seal all railroad tunnels was certainly a major concern for the railroad executives. The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and the Western Maryland Railroad  organized a final train ride along the route and many on the train  were inspired to create the trail.  The first section of the trail, near Ohiopyle, was opened in 1986 by the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.  
Today the Great Allegany Passage Trail starts in Cumberland Maryland and runs 150 miles to Pittsburgh.  The last section of the trail from McKeesport to Pittsburgh was completed in June 2013.  In fact, the celebration of the opening occurred on the Saturday we rode into Pittsburgh.  The trail includes numerous tunnels, the largest of which is the 3300 foot long Big Savage Tunnel.   The trail crosses many bridges, some old railroad bridges, and several newly constructed just for the trail.  For more information, check out their web sight at http://www.atatrail.org  If you ever have an opportunity to ride the Great Allegany Passage, do it.  It is an amazing ride and not very difficult.

Allegany Mountain  in Maryland
In preparation for riding the Great Allegany Passage Trail, we took off the fenders and mounted 700 -32 tires on the tandem.  On Sunday we rented a U-Haul truck and on Monday drove in the rain to Frostburg Maryland.  Tuesday we rode from Frostburg to Rockwood on the Great Allegany Passage Trail.  Along the trail we met several riders who had just completed the C&O Canal bike path and said the riding was very difficult because of the mud from the recent rains.  The Great Allegany Passage Trail went upward from Frostburg along the railroad grade before reaching a tunnel under the Eastern Continental Divide.  From there the grade is mostly downward into Pittsburgh.  Tuesday night we spent in a hostel in Rockwood.  This was our first stay in a hostel but there was no one else there and we had the place to ourselves.  Unfortunately the hostel was very close to the railroad tracks so sleep was limited.
Entering Pennsylvania
Crossing Under Eastern Continental Divide
Crossing One of Many Converted Railroad Bridges

Carolyn on Historic Caboose 
Farm on South Side of Trail
Hostel in Rockwood
Our ride from Rockwood to Connellsville was simply spectacular, riding above the Casselman River.  The river was swollen from the recent heavy rains and was moving swiftly over the rapids along most of the river.  In several locations we rode across old railroad bridges modified for bicycle and pedestrian traffic.  In other locations new bridges spanning ravines up to a hundred feet deep had been constructed specifically for the trail.  The trail passed through Ohiopyle state park where rafters were negotiating rapids a hundred feet below us.  We spent the night in Connellsville.  The forecast for that evening and the following day were for heavy rain and even a tornado watch.  Although it didn’t rain much in Connellsville, we decided to stay put on Thursday because we were concerned about mud on the trail. 

Cassellman River

Cassellman River

Trail through the Woods along Cassellman River
Rafting at Ohiopyle
Calmer Section of Youghiogheny River below Ohiopyle

Remains of Beehive Coke  Ovens (Holes in Hillside)
Coal was one of the principal products transported by the Western Maryland Railroad and Connellsville was the coke capital of the area.  Coke is formed by heating coal to drive off the components which form smoke and bad odors when coal is burned.  One can only imagine the air quality around Connellsville in the early 1900s.  The only remnants of this industry are some holes in the side of the hillside which had once been the entrances to the beehive furnaces used to convert coal into coke. Friday we continued along the trail and quickly learned that Wednesday night there had been a landslide along the trail, burying it under 12 feet of mud.  Had we ridden Thursday, we would either had to turn back or take a nasty detour up into the surrounding hills.  By the time we got to the landslide, it had been cleared using a skip loader and we were able to walk the bike through.  As we continued into the outskirts of Pittsburgh we could see a number of steel mills on the opposite side of the Allegany River.  The route crisscrossed busy railroad tracks on bridges built for bicycle and foot traffic.

Antique Passenger Car in West Newton PA
Remains of Mudslide on Great Allegany Passage Trail
Steel Mill 
Celebrating Opening of Final Section of Allegany Passage Trail
We spent Friday night in Homestead and Saturday we rode through downtown Pittsburgh, riding past Pirates Stadium and Heinz Field, home of the Steelers.  Pittsburgh is a city known to the bridges across its three rivers.  We rode six of the bridges as we made our way through the city.  Parts of the city were beautiful and parts were scarred with remnants of abandon steel mills and other heavy industrial buildings.  Once through the city we rode north to Cranberry Township to visit the Orrs, friends from several Pennywise tandem bike trips to Europe.  We celebrated Fathers Day at the Orrs with a barbeque with their two sons and their
Pittsburgh Pirates Stadium
daughter.  Monday they took us for a tour of downtown Pittsburgh, walking around The Point where the Allegany River joins the Monongahela River to form the Ohio
River.  We also rode the Station Square Incline to the top of Mount Washington.  Tuesday we left the Orrs for Carolyn’s brother’s cottage on Silver Lake in upstate New York.

Incline up Mount Washington
Jim and Sonya Orr with Carolyn and Hank at the Top of the Station Square Incline

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Visiting Friends, Sight Seeing in Washington DC

Vic, Lynn, Carolyn and Hank at Erickson's Home
Our 10 day stay in the Washington, DC, area was most enjoyable.  We stayed with Vic and Lynn Erickson at their home in Oakton, VA.  Vic and Hank were fraternity brothers at Boston University and we frequently partied with Vic and Lynn during our college days.  We arrived on Friday and spent Friday night and Saturday catching up on each other’s families. 

Charlotte, Jennifer and Ben
On Sunday we drove down to Huntingtown, Maryland to visit another friend from our college days, Charlotte.  Hank was the best man at Charlotte’s wedding to Kevin Quinlan.  Charlotte’s daughter and grandson were at a nearby baseball field where the grandson was playing baseball.  We went to visit with all three of them and watch some baseball.

Jeannie, Carolyn and Norm by Jeannie's Garden
On Tuesday we drove out to Leesburg, VA to visit Norm and Jeannie Sandstrom, friends from a Pennywise tandem cycling trip in Provence. 

FDR Memorial
Thursday we took a bus and the metro into DC and toured the memorials that had been built since we left the DC area in 1972.  Much has changed in the intervening years.   The Franklin D Roosevelt Memorial captures a number of his famous quotes and images of the nation’s only four term president, including FDR in a wheel chair, a man listening to the fire side chats on a 1930’s radio, and a bread line from the depression. 

FDR in Wheelchair

Listening to Fireside Chat
Depression Era Bread Line

Martin Luther King Memorial
The Martin Luther King Memorial includes a large relief statute of the Dr. King with a number of his famous quotes along a wall.

Korean War Veterans Memorial
The Korean War Veterans Memorial includes an array of larger than life figures in ponchos moving through a field and a wall with facial images of soldiers.

Vietnam Memorial
The Vietnam War Memorial, most noted for the list of the lost and killed in action, also includes a statues of three soldiers and a statue of two female nurses and a wounded soldier looking upward as if wait for an incoming MASH unit.

Vietnam Memorial
World War II Memorial
The World War II Memorial has a large pool with fountains in the center with memorable battles from Europe listed on one end and the South Pacific on the other end.  Along the outer edge of the memorial are columns, one for each state.

World War II Memorial
After touring the memorials, we visited the Holocaust Museum.  It was a very well done and the visit was a very sobering experience.  It causes one to reflect on how such a horrible thing could happen and what each of us can do to insure that it never happens again.  Although the exhibits emphasized the events after the end of World War I and the actions of Hitler and the Nazis, I feel the distrust and hate between religious groups going back centuries were the real roots of the Holocaust and the parallels to the hate and distrust in todays world need to be addressed if we are to achieve the stated goal of Never Again.

Don and Kathy Brumbaugh, Dave and Julie Harper
Saturday we did a tandem ride with two couples we met on Pennywise tours, Dave and Julie Harper and Don and Kathie Brumbaugh.  We started the ride started at a winery and toured through some beautiful horse country, stopping for lunch in Middleburg.  Saturday evening we had dinner at an Italian restaurant and were joined by Jeff and Alice, another Pennywise couple.

Sunday we spent a quiet day with the Ericksons as we prepared to leave Monday morning.

Friday, June 7, 2013


College of William and Mary
We entered Virginia and spent the first night in Suffolk.  From Suffolk we rode north and took a ferry across the James River into Jamestown, the first English settlement in North America.  We didn’t spend any time in Jamestown but instead rode north about 10 miles to Williamsburg.  We had visited Williamsburg on several occasions while Hank was a graduate student at Georgetown.   The historical area appears to have expanded tremendously since our last visit.  The crowds now are reminiscent of Disney Land although it was Memorial Day weekend so I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised.  On alternating days the historic area emphasizes either the events immediately before the Revolutionary War or events during the Revolutionary War.  On the Saturday we were there, events prior to the Revolutionary war were emphasized, including a confrontation with the Governor and play about a husband
Governor's Mansion in Williamsburg
who supported separation from Britain and a wife who supported the crown.

Riding north from Williamsburg, the terrain became hiller and we passed a number of farms.   In the wooded areas we also began to hear the cicadas.  We had never heard the cicadas before and now understand why people have difficulty sleeping because of the noise.  The sound is loud and constant as thousands of cicadas seek a mate.  We continued to hear them on and off until we reached the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC.  Between Williamsburg and Richmond we stopped at the site of the Seven Days Battle at Malvern Hills, fought in June and July 1862.  Here cannons were arrayed at the top of the hill overlooking a large open field.  Another set of cannons was arrayed halfway down the hill. From there we rode into Richmond, spending the night a block from the Virginia capital.  That evening we ate at the Tobacco Company and enjoyed the live band. 
Cannons at Malvern Hill
Virginia Capital In Richmond

Confederate General Stonewall Jackson Monument

Leaving Richmond, we passed several monuments of Confederate generals, including Stonewall Jackson and Robert E Lee. 

Cannons on Howison Hill in Fredericksburg
In Fredericksburg we stopped at Howison Hill, where Confederate cannons were used to bombard the Union troops attacking the city.   During the Civil war, the area was surrounded by open fields.   From the site of the cannons the gunners had a clear view of Fredericksburg.  The fields are now forests, blocking any view of the city.   At noon we stopped for lunch at a restaurant adjacent to a souvenir store displaying the flag shown below.  In the afternoon we toured the Fredericksburg Civil War museum.

AK 47 Flag in Fredericksburg
Stream Across Bike Path
The ride into suburban Virginia proved more challenging than we had expected.  Our cycling friend Don Brumbaugh suggested we ride into the city on bike paths and then taking the Washington and Old Dominion bike path out to Vienna.  This route would have been 41 miles.  Instead I mapped out a route on bike paths that was only 25 miles.  Unfortunately the paths I chose were more suitable for mountain bikes than a fully loaded road tandem.  After fording three streams and covering only 12 miles in 3 hours, we completed the ride in 90°F heat, 85% humidity and rush hour traffic.

We will be in the DC suburbs for 10 days before heading northwest to Pittsburgh.