Sunday, November 10, 2013

GAPCO - Rockwood to Irons Mountain Campsite

Photo credit: Patty
Monday, September 23. 52 miles.

Every morning on a bike tour should start with eating pie at breakfast time! My husband's resistance to sweets lowers dramatically when he comes face to face with fruit pie. Such was the case when he purchased a blueberry pie the evening before, yet inevitably was unable to eat much, after wolfing his mandatory pasta. Not to worry though, we'd pack leftovers to eat en route.

 Salisbury Viaduct. Photo credit: Patty
We regrettably left the hostel by 8:00, by now a warm and comfy haven for Patty and me, who suffer more so than Andy in the cold. Patty's phone said it was 39 F. Bundled in extra layers, hoods under helmets, and mittens necessary, we kept climbing in altitude toward the eastern continental divide. Today's highlights, according to our map, promised to include multiple points of interest, so despite the cold, we bubbled in excitement.

Within 15 miles we pedaled over the spectacular 1900 foot Salisbury Viaduct. It's an amazing structure, spanning highways, railroads, and farmland. We were lucky that Amtrak happened to pass below us after we'd stopped, alerting us with the mandatory horn blowing as it travels through junctions and populated regions.

As with many of the bridges, viaducts, and tunnels, the safety features are pure delight: smooth concrete and high sturdy railings, lending confidence even when seated higher, pedaling a burdened, sometimes wobbly bicycle. We looked forward to these crossings, which afforded open landscape views, an alternative to often monotonous wooded trail.

Still steadily gaining altitude, we took a break at Meyersdale's train station. Patty and I were chilled. I regretted not bringing warmer footwear; my wool socks and bike sandals had to suffice for the rest of the trip. With tin mug in hand I went searching for coffee and walked into a renovated train station, complete with bathrooms, gift shop, museum, and model railroad, run by an elderly lady who graciously filled my mug from her office pot of coffee. Thank you, kind soul.

Meyersdale trailside museum.

Warmed and stoked for the next miles, we set off but are soon way laid at the Bollman Bridge. Patty and I momentarily inspect historical signs and continue—it was much like other bridges.

However, Andy remains, talking with a gentleman who'd paused, leaning on his walking stick. Patty and I cross the bridge and viaduct then wait, enjoying the changing foliage, noticing also a ridgeline filled with wind generators. Patty becomes cold and goes back to find out why Andy is taking so long.

He'd gotten caught up in conversation. He loves to talk—no surprise to me of course—but it becomes a concern when traveling with two easily chilled women. Peculiarities of women's bodies aside, it was a reminder that this adventure wasn't a race. To take a break and chat with the locals was equally important. And, as our adventure progressed, my husband would observe things Patty and I were oblivious to; sometimes he'd alert us, other times not, lingering to his own music and exploration, hence Patty and I were caught up in forward motion until she or I realised Andy wasn't behind us.

Last grunt to the divide tunnel. Photo credit: Patty
We took a quick break in Deal to use the trailside facilities. I also needed some calories so I polished off the last of the pie. But it was a short and sweet interlude. Time to hoof it over the divide and descend to balmier lowland.

Photo credit: Patty
In typical Great Allegheny Passage fanfare, signage at the divide, at nearly 2400 feet, celebrated our accomplishment. I'm sure the auto road passing overhead didn't include historical murals...

Photo credit: Patty

Photo credit: Patty
...nor the elevation charts, displaying a slow steady gain, which we'd ridden over the past three days, plus the anticipated steep descent on the other side.

Photo credit: Patty
Out of the tunnel we shift into a higher gear, first time in days. It's a noticeable drop. I whoop it up, pedaling and coasting, repeating the pattern to keep momentum. We'd certainly earned this downhill.

Before we know it, we are cruising through the Big Savage Tunnel.

It's well lit, but still eerie riding 3,300 feet underground, following a speck of daylight at the far end.

Photo credit: Patty
Encountering the Mason Dixon Line, two miles later, came as a complete surprise. It's a new monument too, completed within the past year. We all particularly enjoy the individual MASON DIXON letters etched on each granite block, extending from initial pillar and intersecting trail, then continuing straight along the state line.

This descending stuff was going to get the better of us. Barreling into Maryland, through another tunnel and several miles later, we are cold and stiff. Arriving in Frostburg I was ready to locate a coffee shop. However, we didn't expect a half mile climb to get to town. Instead we all go into survival mode, realise we have a stove, and create our own temporary coffee shop within a spot of heavenly sunshine, amongst the comings and goings of other bike tourists and the curious who've parked automobiles in the trail access lot.

Path parallels Western Maryland Railway. Photo credit: Patty
It was providence. We warmed up, swapped pleasantries with other riders, then continue descending, riding beside the Western Maryland Railway all the way out of the mountains into Cumberland. I don't know if it was the time of year, proximity to raging rivers, or high mountain weather, but the Great Allegheny Passage portion of our trip was curiously devoid of wildlife. I expected to dodge at least chipmunks or squirrels and they were nowhere to be found.

Purple bicycle parked outside National Park Service information center. Photo credit: Patty

It's a seamless transition from one trail to another. After restocking on food and wine, we pass beneath the blue entrance, stop to take obligatory photos as rights of passage, then continue riding beside the Potomac River. For the next 180 miles we'll be on National Park land.

We're warm now, but still retain socks in sandals. I loved Patty's colorful ones.

Photo credit: Patty

Chick flick photo to send to Patty's boyfriend.

From this vantage, looking back toward the obvious cut through the mountains, The Great Allegheny Passage slips through The Narrows and ends in Cumberland.

Photo credit: Patty
Anxious to see what the C&O Canal surface is like, we are pleasantly surprised. It's 18" wide in parts, but very ridable, even for my touring bike. I grab the outer part of my mustache bars for control, concentrating on staying within the trail. Patty is likewise getting used to a narrower surface. Andy surprises us, however, noticing turtles lined up on fallen branches filling the defunct canal, unmaintained for 70 years, half covered in duckweed.

Ten miles from Cumberland, it's time to call it a day. We opt for the second campsite. These primitive places are free and come with hand-pump water, portolet, and picnic table.

Photo credit: Patty
It's burrito night, welcome after too many pasta meals. Then it's early to the tent. Even though we've dropped in altitude, cool weather is upon us for a few days, not entirely welcome of course, but nothing to do but wear extra clothing and hunker inside warm sleeping bags. Train traffic is frequent; ear plugs are a necessity.

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