No Wrong Plan: Day 3 – Meyersdale to Pigmans Ferry on the GAP Trail and the C&O Canal Towpath

No trains. No birds. Just bleary eyes. We woke up and ate breakfast in Yoders. The kitchen had been fully stocked while we went out for dinner and ice cream last night. We ate our full and headed outside dreading another encounter with the Meth Man.

The first order of business today, as it was yesterday, was chain maintenance. The limestone grit covers bicycle drivetrains. If it gets wet it can solidify and freeze up gears, cause chains to skip (mine already skipped a couple of times on the way here) and derail, and incapacitate brakes. A few minutes each morning kept our machines in working order.

We climbed back up to the GAP trail. It was a three step operation. First, we rode uphill to a flat cross street. I slowed to take a picture of a beautiful victorian house that had both a tower and a wrap around porch. (I am a tower person; Mrs. Rootchopper is a wrap around porcher.)

Kevin and Ryan rode ahead and turned uphill. The hill is interrupted by train tracks then continues steeper still to the trail. As I approached the tracks I head a horn. The gate wasn’t down so I proceeded across. I looked left and spotted an Amtrak train coming round the bend. The gate came down behind me.

Pedal. Pedal.

The train gave me a little adrenaline boost which helped me get up the last bit of hill.

On we rode on a slightly damp trail. The trail was wet like a baseball infield, just damp enough to keep the dust down without making it muddy.

We continued the climb through the woods, trestle after trestle over gurgling streams. The water ran more slowly up here, I suppose indicating that we were nearing the top. To our left a freight train rumbled past. It was pulling only new black tanker cars, probably oil from fracking operations.

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Soon we came upon a series of photo ops. First, the Eastern Continental Divide which is marked by a small tunnel. Our climbing was over! Yess!  A map inside the tunnel showed us what we had accomplished and what was in store. A 70–ish mile gradual climb of 1,400 feet would give way to a 1,600 foot downhill run over the next 20 miles.  We took pictures celebrating our achievement and headed downhill to our next landmark, the Big Savage Tunnel. It’s long. It’s lit. It’s a hoot (and much easier than climbing the mountain on the roads). On the eastern side of the tunnel the terrain changes abruptly. The tunnel of green gives way to majestic vistas of rolling mountains with farms as far as the eye can see. We stopped and  gaped at the view. Wow!

Back on the bikes we soon reached another landmark: the Mason Dixon Line. This marks the border of Pennsylvania and Maryland. South of here slavery was once legal.

Onward we rode, now spinning freely at 18 miles per hour. If this were a paved trail, we’d have easily topped 20. Our next landmark was the Borden Tunnel. This one is shorter but rideable behind Kevin’s generator light and with Ryan’s headlamp. (My camp headlamp was useless.)

Soon we arrived at Frostburg where Ryan said the “F” word: he had a flat rear tire. Good timing. We needed a break. We decided to use a $1 bill to boot his tire (covering the hole the puncture made) even though he was carrying two new tires.

After the repair, we rode onward, downward, curving with the trail as it ran back and forth across the tracks of the excursion railroad that runs between Frostburg and Cumberland. We continued to pass westbound bike tourists, all were smiling despite the effort of their climb.

We entered a very dark tunnel, shared by the rail line. This was a bit disorienting for me and my crappy camp light. I focussed on the reflective material on Kevin’s back and concentrated on staying upright.

After a stop to admire a barn and the countryside it was located in, we came to the Bone Cave. This cave was filled with bones of ancient critters. Kevin found it fascinating.

Onward we decended through Woodcock Hollow. A ridgeline loomed to the east. Covered in green with some rocky parts for visual variety. Woodcock Hollow gives way to The Narrows where US 40, a river, a train line, our trail, and our train line all squeeze through a gap in the mountains. In a few minutes the trail became paved as it wound its way into Cumberland. We had biked the GAP!

The canal boats on the C&O were towed by mules. We stopped so that I could pose The Mule with a statue of a mule and its driver.

Next up was lunch at a cafe in the touristy part of Cumberland. The sammiches were good and the beer was cold. We had ridden 150 miles in 2 1/2 days. Once fed and watered we were ready for more.

The C&O Canal towpath has a very different character than the GAP trail. Like the GAP, it is mostly unpaved but it is much bumpier with many more tree roots and rocks. This means that riding requires much more focus on the trail and less on the scenery. As it turns out this is just fine because the scenery is constant for long stretches. The canal, usually on the left. is either filled with clear water, a stagnant swamp, a bog, or a wooded sunken tract. To the right more often than not is the Potomac River. Woods and mountains encroach on the canal, towpath, and river in various configurations. Wildflowers, purple and white, line the towpath for miles and miles. This different sort of trail results in a different meditative quality to the ride. Where the GAP lets your mind wander and lets you feast your senses on your surroundings, the C&O rewards your wandering brain with a jolt of a rock or tree root.

Focus. Pedal. Breathe.

We stopped to admire a canal lock and lockkeepers house. A solo hiker bound for DC chatted with us. He was stocky but had calves of steel. We hadn’t seen the Meth Man all day so he became the Anti-Meth Man. A solo rider heading west warned us that there was no food to be had for many miles ahead. I was happy that I kept and apple and a banana from Yoders.

At after a few more miles we spotted Pigmans Ferry campsite near a farmers field with no animals in sight. We pulled off and set up camp. A short day of only 48 miles. Ryan cooked up some mac and cheese with Velveeta. I thought it was disgusting, but it was fun to watch his cooking process. I decide to eat my remaining food rather than take the chance that a critter would find it while I slept.  Anti-Meth Man showed up and made his dinner, Thai food in a pouch. He had is act together for sure. Westbound cycle tourists, a family of three, set up camp at a distance.

The campsites on the canal have water pumps. The National Park Service treats the water with iodine. The water here had a brown tint to it. It didn’t taste all that bad, but I was reluctant to gum up my water bottles with the taste. It was useful for bathing and getting all that GAP grit off our bodies.

At sunset I looked westward across the farmer’s field. A distinct yellow haze hung in the air. Ryan had been sneezing all day. I had itchy, watery eyes (despite having taken an antihistamine). Each day I was awakening with eye boogers from all the pollen. Ick. As annoying as this was, I’ll take pollen over cold rain any day of the week.

I am not a good tent sleeper. I think I need a thicker sleeping pad. I closed my eyes and listened as frogs peeped in the woods. Birds tweeted. A train whistled in the distance. ZZZZZ.

Check out my pix on Flickr.

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One thought on “No Wrong Plan: Day 3 – Meyersdale to Pigmans Ferry on the GAP Trail and the C&O Canal Towpath

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