2012 Bike Sojourn – Day 8 (Updated)

Everything seemed to go a little faster today. Over the past week, I was one of the earlier risers, getting in morning prayer and breaking camp early so that I could get out on the trail. Today, I woke up at the same time, but there were many others who had already started breaking down their tents and getting ready for the ride. I suspect that the excitement of finishing the ride was the motivator.

The agenda for today’s ride took us about 22 miles for a brunch celebration in McKeesport PA, a few miles outside of Pittsburgh. Then after brunch, the final 16 miles took us back to Station Square in downtown Pittsburgh.

It didn’t really make any sense to get started very early today, so I took a slightly more relaxed pace. We needed to arrive at brunch at a fixed time, and that would only take about 90 minutes of pedaling. So, Jim and I took our time getting a light breakfast and set out at a moderate pace for McKeesport.

These first few miles took us past West Newton and a few neat things to see. We saw two different interesting waterfalls: one deep-red with iron, and another that is white liquid full of aluminum (I think?). There were many interesting rock formations along the sides of the path. We passed through some older small towns along the way.

A few miles before McKeesport, the scenery started to change. As we got closer to Pittsburgh and its steel industry heritage, the path became less forested and more open. We also began to see direct evidence of industry: buildings, roads, traffic, and such. The peace and quiet of the trail gradually gave way to more traffic and noise.

Finding our way through McKeesport could have been a bit confusing if we had been on our own, as GAP signage was a bit hard to spot. If you are considering a ride through there, plan carefully and carry a good map of your path. Fortunately, for us, there were volunteers at each corner directing us to our destination. They were a welcome face for our last few miles.

Just outside of McKeesport, we entered an industrial area and had a short set of climbs and descents to go around some business areas. Then we were on surface streets for the first time since our detour on the C&O. Not much traffic, but we did ride over a couple of streets that might have been busy at another time of day.

A mile or two later, we arrived at brunch and waited for the rest of the riders to join us.

The town put on a nice lunch with music and a few brief welcomes from local dignitaries. I ate a good amount and was ready to roll! We had to wait until 11:30 to leave, though.

We left en masse, all bunched together like the start of a race. I was anticipating some major pileup, but we avoided it by some grace. A police escort led us through McKeesport and the group slowly re-sorted itself with stronger riders to the front. It took several miles to allow the fastest riders to make their way forward since there was not much room or opportunity to pass.

We wound toward downtown along the rail path, up and over a couple of bridges.

Normally, you can’t follow the GAP all the way to downtown yet. The trail doesn’t have right-of-way through some key pieces in Pittsburgh. However, the tour organizers were able to arrange a special time to allow this group to go across some of these properties that normally are closed off. That’s why we needed to be bunched up and go through together.

Our last few miles took us along the riverfront. We passed right next to the roller coasters of Kennywood park and along a water park that looked really appealing in the warm afternoon sun.

Sadly, I couldn’t really stop to take any pictures because I had a zillion bikers lined up right behind me.

Arriving in downtown, I had wanted to get my final snapshot at some iconic place in Pittsburgh. I talked to some folks who were going to go to the park with the fountain at the confluence of the 3-rivers. This would involve departing from the group at the Hot Metal bridge and going a little different path. When I arrived there, the ride organizer insisted that I must follow the prescribed route.

Another mile took me back to Station Square and my waiting car where this adventure started a week ago. I found a couple of my new friends for some last snapshots before we each went our own ways.

With a little sadness, the trip came to a pretty uneventful conclusion.

I totaled 360 miles over the week and really enjoyed the ride. I’m glad to have made some new friends and glad to have seen a new slice of our great country.

I’ll put together another post with some final thoughts and links to my GPS tracks soon.

Thanks to all who sent me fond wishes and prayers this week. I really appreciated it!

Peace & Blessings,
– Dc. Matt











2012 Bike Sojourn – Day 7 52 miles from Confluence PA to West Newton + 10 more miles…

Today’s ride weather was nothing short of perfect. Low temps, blue skies, gentle breezes. Couldn’t ask for better. I joined up with Jim and we struck out early.

The scenery today was great, too. We joined up with the Youghiogheny river and follow it up to Pittsburgh.

We wound through the Ohiopyle State Park and soaked up some beautiful views. I need to come back here some day soon and look around the town.

Several miles, bridges, great views, and miles took us to Connelsville PA for lunch. A big turkey club sandwich filled me up.

Back on the trail, we hurried along to a camp ground about 3 miles before West Newton, where the amazing shower truck was waiting.

After setting up camp, I rode on ahead into West Newton to attend mass at Holy Family parish. Fr. Sweeney went out of his way to welcome us and even introduced us to the congregation during his homily. The trip to mass added about 10 miles to my day.

Dinner was waiting when I rode back to camp: fantastic barbecued ribs and chicken. Yum!

Evening consisted of some great conversation with Jim outside of our tents, and packing up for tomorrow.

Overall, I’ve ridden 320 miles this week so far. And it feels great … except for a couple of saddle sores in sensitive areas.

Time for sleep! 40 miles to go to get to Pittsburgh!

– Dc. Matt

P.S.: I have such poor Internet connection that I probably can’t post pictures until tomorrow. So stay tuned.










2012 Bike Sojourn – Day 6 62 miles from Cumberland MD to Confluence PA

The C&O canal ended here in Cumberland, and the Great Allegheny Passage (“GAP”) starts here with mile 0.

Today has been my favorite day of the ride so far. I have really enjoyed riding the Great Allegheny Passage. It has a great riding surface, spectacular views, and lots of neat things to experience.

I slept so well last night, thanks in large part to renting a room at the Fairfield Inn in Cumberland. Stephanie had gotten this arranged for me and it was such a treat to have a real bed, comfortable temperatures, properly laundered clothes, and a hot shower of my own!

I also have to backtrack to the evening when we arrived in Cumberland for one neat detail: the local bike shop on the trail in Cumberland. Not only was it a nice shop with a great selection of high-quality parts and bikes, but they also sell home-brew beer making equipment! Talk about two things that go great together. We took the opportunity to sample some of their delicious brew. I highly recommend checking out their fine establishment.

Back on the first day of the ride, I met a guy named Rich, a retired iron worker from Pittsburgh. He and I chose to ride together today for the climb up to the continental divide. He was great company for the ride. He had recently done a training ride up this section, so he was able to explain what to anticipate.

On the elevation map, it looks pretty intimidating: you climb for nearly 25 straight miles, rising about 2,000 feet. Add onto that, the overall distance of 62 miles, and I will admit that I was rather nervous about what I was in for. My fears were not really warranted. We climbed to the summit pretty easily, just dropping a couple of gears and taking a slower and steady pace. Rich was excellent company and before I knew it, we were overlooking some gorgeous views from near the top.

We passed Frostburg and moved on to mile 20. At mile 20, the Mason-Dixon line crosses the path and we moved from Maryland into Pennsylvania. Check off another state of places I’ve biked!

In just the last few weeks, the GAP people found out that their old Mason Dixon line was on the wrong place for many years, so they have put down a new marker in the correct spot. I took the requisite picture of standing in two states at once.

After the state line, we pedaled on to the Big Savage Tunnel. It was awesome! The tunnel is over 3,200 feet long and very cold inside. It was recently renovated and is well lit and surfaced.

Somewhere around here, Jim caught up with us and we reached the Eastern Continental Divide. What an amazing feeling! “I’m on top of the world, looking down on creation…”. Very neat murals mark this site at a very short tunnel on the divide.

I took the opportunity for a short sprint to stretch my legs, after feeling reinvigorated by the accomplishment of the climb. It was fun to zoom off for a couple of miles.

There were windmills up there, too. Note to self: when you see a windfarm directly facing you, it probably isn’t a good sign for favorable headwinds.

We rode over the Keystone Viaduct today. A 909′ long structure that is very high up and passes over the countryside and local highway. It was really fun!

Moving on, we pedaled to Myersdale and ate lunch at the train station. The caterers, once again, provided great food to fuel us up.

Back on the trail, dark clouds moved in, and brought a heavy downpour and some sparse lightning for the last 15-ish miles. I got soaked and covered with grit from the trail.

By the time I arrived at the Turkeyfoot School in Confluence, the rain had stopped, but I was soaked.

All-in-all, this was a spectacular biking day.

– Dc. Matt













2012 Bike Sojourn – Day 5 45 miles from Little Orleans to Cumberland MD

Today was another very hot day: high 90s and heat index over 100. I rode with Jim again today and we got out very early to beat the heat.

Last night was super hot and difficult to sleep, but I did eek out a few good hours of sleep.

We wound past Bill’s place and got right to the ride on the towpath, bidding a nice farewell to Little Orleans.

The first hi light of today’s ride was going through the Paw Paw tunnel. You can see a picture of me standing atop the entrance.

This amazing structure was tunneled through a mountain to allow the canal to go through and save several miles of going around. It was estimated that it was going to take 2 years to tunnel it out, but it ended up taking 14 years to create this amazing tunnel! The tunnel is only wide enough for one barge and mule, so if two barges needed to pass, they had to be agreeable to take turns … which wasn’t always the case and could jam up boat traffic.

The tunnel is over 3,100 feet long (!) and lined with a brick archway. I’d guess millions of bricks are in that structure. We had to dismount and walk our bikes along the mule path inside the tunnel, navigating by headlight. Without a light source, it is pitch black. One other nice part: it was nice and cool inside – a great break from the heat!

Most of the rest of the ride was beautiful and uneventful. Many miles of countryside and spectacular views. The shady lengths were nice, and the sun was very toasty.

The second hi light was that we arrived in Cumberland MD at lunchtime. This means we are more than half way done at 185 miles! It also means that we say goodbye to the C&O canal and begin riding on the Great Allegheny Passage: a rail-trail that runs all the way into Pittsburgh. I’m told that the surface is much better than the C&O, so I am looking forward to that.

One more great surprise was awaiting me in Cumberland. After the last two days of miserable heat for camping, I asked Stephanie to try to get me a hotel room. She delivered! A clean, air-conditioned, great room at the Fairfield Inn greeted me and really lifted my spirits! Thanks Steph!!!! I washed my clothes and myself, and loaded up on food. I’m SOOO looking forward to a real bed tonight.

Tomorrow is the most difficult day: 62 miles, including a climb up to the Eastern Continental Divide at around 2,000 feet of climb.

My back is still a bit sore, but not terrible. Some Alleve and rest tonight should help.

– Dc. Matt








2012 Bike Sojourn – Day 4 42 miles from Williamsport MD to Little Orleans

2012 Bike Sojourn – Day 4
42 miles from Williamsport MD to Little Orleans

It was super hot today – upper 90s. Heat index near 100. I broke camp very early and joined up with Jim, a guy I met yesterday. We got out before breakfast was served to try to avoid the worst of the heat. This proved to be a very good strategy.

By 9:30, we had already arrived in Hancock MD about 2 hours ahead of schedule and had a huge breakfast at a diner we found called “The Potomac Grill”. The cool, air-conditioned restaurant was a welcome sight and the food was excellent. After breakfast/brunch, we scooted out and promptly got back to the trail.

The C&O path is heavily canopied with trees, so it helped to keep me cool. A few miles in, we arrived at Fort Fredrick and wandered around. The downside to our ‘leave extra early’ strategy was that the Fort was still closed when we arrived. So we just looked a bit and stretched our legs.

After departing the fort, we were able to join the Western Maryland Rail Trail for about 22 miles, which parallels the C&O path … but is paved! Those miles went pretty easily. The conditions on the path were a much welcomed break from the bumpy forest C&O path, but it wasn’t quite as nicely canopied, so it was a bit more hot.

A few miles later, we arrived at Little Orleans, MD. Very hot. Very sweaty. I had consumed about three quarts of Gatorade already and have drunk a fourth while sitting down.

Little Orleans is a very tiny town. I am sitting at “Bill’s”, a (the only?) local place that appears to be somewhat famous on the C&O path. People come and put dollar bills on the ceiling and stock up on everything from food, beer, worms, and local news. It has a character all its own. And it is the only place along the towpath for 20 miles in either direction! I gave Bill a dollar to post on the ceiling with my name on it, so look for it there.

As I sit here cooling off, I am really not looking forward to heading to the camp sight and setting up camp in 97 degree weather. Perhaps another bottle of water here at Bill’s would be a better idea.

Aside from the Fort, there weren’t many tourist spots along the way. Lots of pretty scenery, but not much to write about.

My upper back started hurting from where I stressed it unloading bags from the truck on Sunday. As I write this, it feels pretty sore.

I don’t have any cell signal, so I’ll post my blog and pictures later. By the time you are reading this, I’m already a day or two ahead.

Until then, keep praying for cooler weather and that my back feels better soon.

Peace & Blessings!
– Dc. Matt






2012 Bike Sojourn – Day 3 52 miles from Brunswick MD to Williamsport MD

Last night was my first good night’s sleep in a few days, even though the campground was around 150-200 feet from a major train thoroughfare. I did hear lots of trains through the night, but they didn’t really wake me. Back when I first graduated from college, I took an apartment in an old house that backed up to some tracks. I enjoyed those trains then, and this reminded me of those days.

Sleeping weather was excellent. No rain fell on us and the temps were cool. It was very humid, so my wet laundry remained wet all night and today until we stopped here in Williamsport.

I started the day with a quick trip into Brunswick to look around, but nothing was open. The ‘Beans in the Belfry’ coffee shop is supposed to be really neat, but it was closed still. On my way out of town, I had to wait for a long coal train before I could pass back to the bike path. It was fun watching it … for a while.

Our trip was pretty nice and generally cool until lunch time. We cycled through the woods and soaked up some shade and nice breezes. At lunch, we ate next to the Potomac and chatted with some new friends. Then the heat started.

We had a 15-mile (?) detour off of the path and onto some surface streets to bypass a part of the towpath that had been destroyed by flooding. It started with a pretty aggressive climb that most people were walking their bikes up. It wasn’t too long, but my legs were burning and I was glad it wasn’t much longer!

Out of the shade, the sun was really hot. The bypass rode some pretty countryside, with some rolling hills. But after already putting in around 35-40 miles, my legs got a little rubbery on a couple of them.

We finished with several more miles back on the shady towpath and emerged next to the “Cushwa Coal” building here in Williamsport. Nearly 52 miles for the day.

This campground is very sunny. And it is H-O-T. I was so hot it was hard to concentrate on setting up camp. After getting everything situated, I went for a nice long soak in the Potomac. It was cold and felt awesome. A shower and some laundry (in the shower) completed the adventure. One good thing about the sun: my laundry will actually be dry for the first time in three days.

(paused here while I ate dinner)

Ok, did I mention it was hot? Still is at 6:15. And hotter weather is on the way.

Dinner was awesome. These people catering are doing a spectacular job. When you ride 40+ miles it is amazing how hungry you get. And the food has been very very good. Tonight, we had fresh grilled beef on skewers, served fajita style with grilled veggies and tortillas. Yum.

Probably the sightseeing hi light of the day was Harper’s Ferry WV. To get there, you have to lock up your bike and climb up some stairs to a train bridge crossing the Potomac. There is a pedestrian way on the bridge.

I probably should know more about Harper’s Ferry from History class, but I don’t recall ever learning about it. Sadly, most things were still closed, but I did walk around town for a while and decided that I should go back some day. Lots of neat old buildings and history. I’ve posted a couple of pictures from there, including the Catholic Church.

All-in-all, today has been a pretty good ride. If I could change anything, I’d just like to have some family with me, and maybe some cooler weather.

Tomorrow is a bit shorter, but high temps are expected for the next several days.

Please pray for cooler temps! Highs near 100 are predicted.

Here’s a link to today’s GPS tracks:
gps log-

Peace & Blessings!
– Dc. Matt








2012 Bike Sojourn: Day 2

Last night was a bit rough for me. I had a very difficult time falling asleep, and it was in the very early hours before I finally dozed off. Then the rain started. The sound of rain is usually very soothing. As long as I am not getting wet and trying to get to sleep!

I did finally get a couple of hours of sleep but woke to the feeling of coldness seeping into my tent. I had not expected rain and had put the footprint a little outside of the tent. So all of the water running off the fly was pooling on the footprint and running under the tent, then soaked the tent bottom. No fun.

Morning was only slightly better. The rain paused for an hour or two and I used this time to break camp, fold up my soaking belongings, and get going.

Breakfast was good and I hit the trail fairly early, suited up for rain. It rained for largely the entire ride. Some heavy periods and some light. Combined with cool winds, it made for a chilly ride.

The C&O path is pretty rough in this stretch. Mostly packed mud, which gets really messy when it rains. One thing I have noticed is that my bamboo fenders are quite a conversation starter. Not sure why. But they were added for a purpose and today they were worth every penny. Mud covered my whole bike, but I stayed relatively mud-free.

Today we pedaled across a couple of different aqueducts and past a few neat scenes, but I didn’t linger very long in any one place because of the rain. I did go down to White’s Ferry to see the only working ferry boat on the Potomac. There is also a small general store & bait shop that has flood markings up on the 2nd floor from past floods.

I completed the 33-ish miles pretty easily, in spite of cold rain and mud, and I am hoping that my tent and sleep gear dry out enough for a pleasant night’s sleep. A warm shower helped my spirits a lot, but a good night’s sleep would be even more welcome!

Tomorrow, we go past Harper’s Ferry WV. I’d like to go into the town, if I can get there early enough.

– Dc. Matt






2012 Sojourn: Day 1 Washington DC to Seneca, MD

Today started by joining up with the rest of the tour group in Pittsburgh PA to drop off our cars and catch a bus, along with our bikes on a truck, to Georgetown, right outside of DC.

After arriving in DC mid afternoon, we rode a pretty easy 22 miles, finishing up at the Seneca campgrounds.

The trip hugged the Potomac River and provided many beautiful views of the river and wildlife. We are riding on the C&O canal path from here until Cumberland, MD – about 180 miles. This canal path is not paved or finished with crushed stone, and had quite a few potholes. Thank goodness it has been dry, so it wasn’t too bad today.

When I met up with the group today, I was struck at how few younger people are on the trip. I would guess the median age is around 60+. A few young kids, but not many middle-aged folks. I feel very young :). Tonight at dinner, the couple I sat next to were 77 and 80 years old! So for all of you who think you are too old to do something like this… you should reconsider!

About half way through the day, I hooked up with a nice guy named Rich and we rode the last 12 miles together. It was nice to have a little company and it made the time pass quickly.

The C&O canal is not usable for boat traffic. It is really just a historical path. Unlike the Erie Canal, the C&O has not been maintained in many years and the locks are neat to see, but not able to function due to disrepair. Most of the canal doesn’t have any water in it. Nonetheless, it provides a really nice backdrop for the ride.

I passed several lock houses that used to house the lock master and family. One was open for a tour and I stopped in to see it. Pretty neat.

I walked out to see the Great Falls of the Potomac. No wonder they needed a lock system to get around them! The pictures don’t do justice to the amount of water being forced between those rocks.

The only bad part of the day was that there was a detour off of the canal path that involved carrying my fully-loaded bike up TWO flights of stairs, then going a little, then back down two more flights. On the way down, my bike got a little ahead of me and I pulled my back trying to get control of it. I bet I’ll be feeling it tomorrow 😦

Tonight’s dinner was really good. The catering company did a great job serving up baked chicken breasts with roasted garlic cloves, fresh green beans, and chocolate cake. Not your typical camp food. Yum.

After getting my tent set up in tent-city, I took advantage of an amazing invention. The shower truck! An 18-wheeler outfitted with about 20 shower stalls and plenty of hot water. Whoever designed it should get the Nobel Prize for something.

Tomorrow, another pretty easy ride of about 33 miles. Time for bed!

Dc. Matt






All packed up!

Well, the big weekend is almost here!  I drive to Pittsburgh this weekend, then take a bus to DC with my bike and start riding back on Sunday morning.  I’ve trained quite a bit more than my last long-distance trip, but somehow I’m not quite feeling as confident.  Perhaps it is that I’ve done this before and now realize how tough it might get 🙂

Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to the trip and getting some beautiful views as I anticipate crossing the continental divide, seeing the Ohiopyle area of PA, and enjoying nature.  I’ll be blogging and taking pictures as much as I can during the trip.


– Dc. Matt