Monday, July 2, 2012

"If You Miss the Train I'm On...." Maryland

After spending a leisurely rest day in West Virginia, tromping around the haunts of my ancestors, I moseyed on over to Maryland. As I transversed from one state to the next, I pondered why one state might carry a reputation for being 'backwoods', while the neighboring one does not. Without a big metal 'Welcome' sign on the road, I would not know when I had left one state and entered the next. There is no big yellow line marking the state boundaries as one sees on a map. That being the case, from where do these conceptions arise, and on what are they based?

Travelling through the various states, each geographical area seems to have it's underdog; that state where the sophistication and intelligence of its residents are a target of ridicule. The Northeast picks on Maine: the Mid-Atlantic coastal states snigger at New Jersey; of course, West Virginia is always the butt of the Cletus jokes, as is Kentucky. Arkansas and Oklahoma seem to gather the attention for the breadbasket states, and we won't even mention Louisiana. It rather reminds me of the high school cafeteria, where the cool kids are at one table, and the hierarchy descends from there. I suspect that, like much in life, worth is erroneously based on wealth.


Travelling into western Maryland afforded me beautiful views of the Appalachian mountains. On this very hot and humid day, I was headed to Cumberland, where homes and business were still without electricity due to Friday's Derecho storm. Not having a Warmshowers host here, I was staying in a hotel; I had faith that I would find one with its electricity intact.

Downtown Cumberland on this Sunday evening was dead. Many of the businesses had signs in their windows, informing customers they would be closed until power was restored. Like a tornado, the outage seemed to skip some business, while hitting others. After the hotel experience in West Virginia and the absolute emptiness of the streets, I began to wonder if a hotel, one in which I would be safe, was available. Pulling into a deserted street, which felt like the set of the Twilight Zone, I pulled out my phone, tapping the app. As the results materialized on the screen,  I let the electronic voice guide me to that night's refuge.

Standing tall and modern among the old buildings in historical Cumberland, the green Holiday Inn sign beckoned me, like a lighthouse in a storm.

Uh-oh......the parking lot was full. Not a good sign for me, but at least there must be electricity AND air conditioning if so many people are there! 

Wiping the red Crystal Light mustache from my lip and entering the reception area, I was greeted with a roomful of sweaty, muddy men in bicycle gear--by the looks of them, grooming my mustache was totally unnecessary! This was a motley, yet happy, crew; they had just come off the C & O Canal Towpath Trail, which runs from Cumberland to Washington DC.  They were obviously ecstatic to be in a hotel and not camped on the wet ground.

Double uh-oh...full parking lot, and now all these guys.... hope that I would get a room was dimming.

Taking my place in the long check-in que, , I chatted with the guy in front of me, a loud Alpha male, about the path and their ride. Telling him I intended to ride that trail in the morning and was on a carbon road bike, he looked at me as if I had just fallen off the turnip truck. He informed me, in very simple but explicit language, that the Towpath had taken a pretty bad beating from the storm, suggesting that I take the Great Allegheny Passage, (also known as the GAP), instead.

The C & O goes south to Washington DC, and the GAP runs north to Pittsburg; they join in Cumberland, creating 300 miles of biking trails!  Biking heaven....but that would be a trip for another day.

He also gave me a lot of useful information, such as:

  • take a light--there are long tunnels
  • wear mosquito repellent
  • the GAP follows the train track, so I could race the train to the top
  • the first 25 miles are uphill

Next in line, I was able to check in, eager for the morning's ride, until I turned and saw all those muddy men looking at me, obviously discussing the folly of riding a carbon road bike on the trail.  Oh well...they just don't know that I believe '100% is possible 100% of the time'. It might not be easy; it might not be fun, but 'can't' just isn't part of my vocabulary.  As a friend of mine likes to say "Maybe you can't because you won't."

The weather for the following morning was forecasted to be another high 90's day, with possibility of reaching 100, and accompanying high humidity. Ugh. With weather like that, I knew I had to be up and riding before 7 and I was. Good thing, too--it took a full 30 min to find the trailhead. Ah......isn't it great to be so directionally challenged!

The Ride

Folks--each ride just gets better and better. I thought I had seen unbelievable beauty on previous rides, but the trip on the GAP was breathtaking in the early morning light. The trail, again, was wonderful hard packed earth with that kitty litter fine gravel, running next to the railroad. As the morning light gently filtered through the trees, casting a magical hue,  the only sounds I heard were the crunching of my tires and the birds calling to each other.  All around me, the underbrush rustled with small creatures scurrying to hide as I made my way up the mountain. Rolling through their territory, Eastern towhees called out

Unbeknownst to them, I had already had my skinny hazelnut latte at Starbucks. No tea was necessary to power my legs; if the coffee wasn't enough, the majesty of my surroundings was.  The towhees' beautiful song was a wonderful accompaniment to the locust singing in the canopy. Rounding a corner, I startled a doe and her two young fawns as they grazed on the succulent grass growing along the side of the trail. They sauntered away, as if they hadn't a care in the world.  I knew how they felt.

Up and up I went, unaware that I was actually climbing. At times, I felt I was actually descending, but a look at my bike computer confirmed that I was still climbing. This sometimes happens in mountainous areas and is called a false grade.  It is the illusion of going downhill, when the road is actually going up.  It can be frustrating at times, as one wonders why pedaling is so laborious on a descent; I always think it is me, that I am out of shape.  It is a comfort to be able to look at the computer and realize that Mother Nature is playing tricks.

Onward I went, stopping only to take in the magnificence of the views in the high vistas. Looking out over the panoramic scene of the Appalachian mountains, I watched as the day awakened, mist hanging in the valleys like a comforter gently placed on a sleeping child.  If one did not believe in God, this would surely be convincing evidence.  And all around me,  I was bathed in the 'silence' of the woods and the songs of the towhee. The tranquility, the solitude and my sense of serenity was so great, that the old folk song, 500 Miles, sprang into my mind, escaping from my lips;  I sang it as I climbed, savoring my surroundings, with the birds providing harmony.
Tranquil farms nestled in the valleys
The sun is slowly rising
America, the beautiful
Up...up...up... past the Mason-Dixon line, which divided the Northern states from the Confederacy,...past the Eastern Continental Divide.  Still I climbed, through tunnels and passing others now joining me on the trail.
The Eastern Continental Divide
Ah....the tunnels.  From out of the sunlight, I entered my first tunnel, taking off my sunglasses and flipping on my light.  I was as blind as a new born kitten.  It was DARK!  Three of the four tunnels were unlit, so I proceeded with caution...lights on, as well as my red rear flashing light.  Signs warned of not entering the tunnel if a train was present; I cannot imagine the sound and vibration that must be occur if one were to be in the tunnel with a train!!  The fourth tunnel was daunting; it was long....very long.  Long enough that dim lights were hung from the ceiling and the end looked like a pin prick in a piece of black paper.  I pedaled very slowly, waiting for my eyes to adjust.  I pedaled for what seemed an eternity, but the end never seemed to get closer.  Was I on a treadmill?   Finally, I felt myself being drawn to the light; I imagined that this must be similar to a near death experience. At last, I arrived at the terminus; emerging into the brightness of day.  I now know what a mole must feel like coming out of its hole.
A short, picturesque tunnel

Light at the end of the tunnel.
Summiting the mountain, my mileage read 25 miles. Though I wanted to ride on, I knew I needed to check out of the hotel, then drive over 250 miles to the east side of Delaware. It was time to return.  Riding more of the GAP would have to wait for another trip (anyone want to go?), so with remorse, I turned and started back.  The good news?  It was all downhill!!!

Down I flew, glad that I had taken time to enjoy and savor the serene beauty on the way up.  The ride was exhilarating, and stopping was not on my agenda.

"Wheeeeeeee",  I shouted gleefully, sounding like the Geico pig.

Riders sweating their way up, looked at me with envy.... 


Hopefully my obvious exhilaration encouraged them, or at least made them laugh.  It took my a third of the time to descend as it did going up.  All too soon I was at the bottom, with time to spare.

I took advantage of this extra time to explore the C & O Towpath trail.  I wanted to see just how rough it was.

I am not sure what the men I met yesterday encountered, but the trail I rode on was more than doable.  It was a flat, easy ride, with some potholes, mud puddles and roots, but easily navigable.  Stopping at a bike shop where the trails converge, the owner told me I could have ridden it on my road bike without difficulty--that the challenge was more mental than physical.

Regardless, today's ride was one which reminds me of how blessed I am on many, many different levels.

Early morning light filters through the trees.
Sharing the bridge.
"If you miss the train I'm on......"
Small town access to the trail
A farm nestled in the valley

The climb; not as daunting as it would appear.
My ride up; no grades were over 3%, but that is 3% for 25 miles
The canal, the trail, the train......
Extremely well marked trails

I may have exceeded the speed limit.....

Plaque giving the history of the canals and G Washington's involvement.
Early morning berry pickers.  I thought they were feeding the wild turkeys I had just flushed off the trail.
The canal on the C & O portion of the trail.  Swim, anyone?
Old mill
My purchase for the day.
Which way do I go?
The C & O portion.  This is the Potomac River.

Take a ride with me. the way....I didn't get to race the train.  It didn't start running until noon, long after I had completed my ride.  Oh, well.

1 comment:

  1. Glad it was enjoyable...I rode the C&O in 2005 and saw more deer than people...when I got to Cumberland I hopped on Hwy 40, also called the National Pike...through Frostburg and on to Ohiopyle...and the grades were significant...I'll be curious to see where you are riding in Alaska...