2019 Bike Tour: Kentucky to Lake Erie (KY + #OH2ERIE) – Day 4: Milford OH to Cedarville OH (63 miles)

I had a spectacular night of sleep last night and woke up ready to go. After morning prayer, I packed up, did my pre-ride ritual of slathering on sunblock and chamois cream. Father took me back to Milford where I was reunited with my bike.

I did not have breakfast before leaving the rectory. I looked on my way through Milford, but no options presented themselves. So I decided to head about 10 miles north to Loveland in search of calories.

The Loveland trailhead is probably the nicest of the trailheads along the Little Miami. There are several restaurants, a park, and shops nearby. Mr. Redlegs is a new addition – I don’t remember seeing him here before.

I made a lap around the block(s) near the trailhead and none of the restaurants in the area seemed to have breakfast options. So I went a little ways off the trail and found a Dunkin’ Donuts. A bagel and egg sandwich hit the spot and gave me a good start for the day.

My legs were still pretty sleepy today. I think the miles have caught up with me a little. I decided for a high cadence spin at lower speed, which seemed to help get things going.

The Little Miami trail is completely off road, traveling through a tree lined canopy for most of its length. I decided this morning that I would do something that I very rarely do: listen to music while I ride. I never do that when I’m out on the road so that I can hear traffic. But today seemed like a good opportunity to break the silence. I was originally going to listen to an audio book, but decided that I would put on some upbeat music to start. I started by listening to “Fake Nudes: Naked”. I downloaded this acoustic album a few weeks ago. I did a little sing-along as I went, not paying any attention to those who I passed by – hopefully they enjoyed my singing.

Heading north from Loveland, you eventually come across the Peterson Cartridge Factory. This is an old munitions plant. The tall tower on the right is an old “shot tower”. Molten lead would be poured down in drips, which would make lead shot as it cooled on the way down. The factory has had a few different purposes over time, but has long-since been abandoned. A major abatement effort over the last few years has cleaned up the industrial contamination. I saw a sign that a new craft brewery is going in someplace on the campus, so they must be trying to give it the next chapter of life.

Most of the rest of my day looked like this:

When I arrived in Morrow, I pulled over to take a short break and use the bathroom. I met these two guys under the picnic shelter there. We talked for a few minutes and their smiles lit up my morning. They were mid ride and shooting for about 30 miles today.

On the way out of town, I grabbed a few pictures of the caboose and the bridge.

Still listening to music. I think about this time I had Siri randomly playing rock from my library and “Free Ride” by Edgar Winters was on. Again, it was a sing along. Loudly. It helps the miles pass, really.

Around 50 miles into today’s ride I arrived at Xenia Station. The Little Miami trail ends here. This is the intersection of several major rail-trails. Xenia is a medium sized town with chain restaurants and stores. My stomach was feeling rocky again, so I looked and found that there was a Walgreens just a mile or so away. I went and found some medicine and then returned to the trail.

My home for tonight is in Cedarville – about 8 more miles away from Xenia. I picked up the Prairie Grass Trail heading north east. About this time, the sun was getting hot and this part of the trail has very little shade.

I picked up the pace a little bit. About this time Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody came on the play list.

This old caboose welcomes you into Cedarville.

I arrived at the Hearthstone Inn right on the trail. I’ve stayed here twice before. It is an independent hotel. The owners are really nice and keep the place very clean.

After a long shower, I went in search of food. Earlier in the day, I was thinking that the one thing that sounded good was spaghetti with sauce. I walked into a small diner down the road and there on the menu was exactly what I wanted! A grilled chicken breast on top for protein, a good salad, and I was a very happy guy.

After dinner, I wandered around town before returning to the hotel.

Overall, a decent day of riding. I’m starting to get some saddle sores, but otherwise feeling pretty good.

Tomorrow I will head through Columbus and stop just north east of the city for the night. The weather looks to be a bit cooler, with a 30% chance of storms mid morning. I’ll keep the raincoat handy!


St. Dymphna, pray for us.

2019 Bike Tour: Kentucky to Lake Erie (KY + #OH2ERIE) – Day 3: Falmouth KY through Cincinnati to Milford OH (64 miles)

I anticipated some high temperatures today, so I left Falmouth right as the sun was rising. That meant that there were no open restaurants to get breakfast. I went to a mini-mart the night before to get a few snacks and bought a calorie-dense option to add to my breakfast: Pop Tarts. Not particularly a favorite, but lots of calories packed into two of them. I knew I would have a lot of miles before a real meal. There is *nothing* between Falmouth and Newport, basically.

So this was my breakfast. It turned out to not be enough, but I did survive:

Falmouth is located right on the Licking river. Cincinnati is on the Ohio river. Between the two are some major hills that you have to get over in order to get to Cincy.

So, I knew that I’d be doing some serious climbing in the first 5-7 miles of the ride. Looking at the google map elevation was a bit intimidating. If you look at the elevation chart that my GPS logged, you’ll see that there are a handful of steep climbs. It turns out that the most aggressive percent-grade was within the first mile of today’s ride. It was the first hill I’ve done this season that just wiped me out. I got to the top and had to stop for air for a minute. I was treated to an awesome sunrise at the top for my efforts. The sun shown down on the valleys around me and reflected off of the morning mist. (The grey line on the right axis is the temperature. It hit mid 90s late in my ride)

I had originally intended to go up over a different route, but I realized that I could go right past Our Lady’s Farm on my way if I just stayed on Rt.159. Our Lady’s Farm was built on the sight of a Marian apparition. It is a fantastic area and the views are spectacular. I stopped there for about 30 minutes and walked around. Unfortunately the chapel was locked, but I certainly soaked up the breathtaking views around.

Behind the chapel is a very old thorn tree. I was told that if you look in the upper branches, you can see some branches that have self-woven into a crown of thorns. I was not able to see it – I’ll have to come back when someone can point it out to me.

One of the nice parts of reaching Our Lady’s Farm is that it was a nice waypoint – it was the top of all of my climbing over the hill. It stands at the top of the hills around it, so generally-speaking, I didn’t have any major climbing left. If you look at the stats, the elevation change is not very impressive for a typical 60+ mile ride, but when you take into account that all 2000+ feet was within the first 7 miles, it was a challenging start to the day. At least only the first hill really kicked my tail, the others weren’t quite so bad.

After leaving the farm, I went along the ridge line for several miles before descending down to the Ohio river valley and joining up on Route 8. This view was from up top. Great view … except for the nuke plant cooling tower.

After giving back all of my hard earned elevation on a fast and fun descent, I rode about 25-30 miles NW on Route 8. It is a pretty road, but after 25 miles, I was a ready for a change.

Route 8 has been replaced by AA highway, which parallels it and is much faster speeds. At one point about 20 miles from where I joined it, Route 8 is closed with concrete barriers. Cars can’t get through. I had driven Route 8 early this summer and could still get through at that time. It used to say “local traffic only”, but now it is really closed. I cautiously went around the concrete barriers because the only alternate route was definitely not bike friendly on a high speed highway.

Route 8 is in bad shape for cars in this section. The road is sliding off of the hillside with lots of potholes and ripped open pavement. Shortly after I went around the barriers, I saw another rider coming up behind me and I asked him if we could get through. He said yeah, but there was a mudslide we might have to walk around.

His name was Rex. Rex is a local rider and was out for his Sunday ride. He seemed happy to pace back to my touring speed and kept me good company all the way to Newport – about 8+ miles. We eventually found the mudslide and the trees that had come down with it. We walked our bikes around them without much difficulty and resumed our journey.

It was about this time that my lack of food was catching up to me. Badly. I had been drinking a lot of water, but probably needed even more. I tried to eat an energy bar, but it just did not want to be swallowed. I forced down about half of it and hoped for the best. I nursed myself along and knew I needed real food before I bonked.

Rex peeled off when we arrived in Newport. The temps were getting very hot. The wonderful cool temperatures of my morning climb had been replaced with heat and powerful sunbeams that seemed to be cooking me.

Once in Newport, I found some shade, soaked my head covering in cold water from a fountain, and pulled out my phone. There were not too many choices near by that were open yet, but I did find a fancy-schmancy sandwich and salad place two blocks away. Although I needed to eat, my stomach was very sour feeling, a bit nauseous, and nothing sounded good. I settled on a grilled chicken sandwich with avocado spread and a side of fruit. I slowly ate it, enjoying the air conditioning.

Newport is on the south edge of the Ohio river directly across from downtown Cincinnati. There is a pedestrian bridge called the “Purple People Bridge“. It is a very old bridge that used to carry public trolleys, cars, and pedestrians. In 2001 it was repurposed for just pedestrians and the public voted on the name.

I rode across the Purple People Bridge and stopped for a snapshot as I arrived into Ohio! That’s the Queen City behind me.

Once on the other side, I cruised along the river front until I found a place where I could dip my wheels into the Ohio River. I’m going to do the same when I get to Lake Erie.

There was a neat festival going on in Yeatman’s Cove park along the riverfront, but because it was so hot and I wasn’t feeling 100%, I decided to keep moving and get to my destination.

The first few miles of the #OTET are on River Drive in a bike lane. Sadly, the bike lane was a total disaster today. The city is doing some sort of sewer work and about every 100 yards, the bike lane is coned off so I would have to go out into the traffic lane and back. Generally that went without incident, but there was one doofus in a pickup who insisted that although I signaled and gave him plenty of room, he did not feel like returning the favor. I was able to very easily avoid danger, but … geez man, taking another five seconds to let me over is not really going to make you late. Don’t be a doofus!

My next picture opportunity was in front of Lunken Field. It opened in 1925 and was at one time the largest municipal airport. It is primarily used for private planes now. I love the Art Deco stying of this building. There is a cafe inside that I have really wanted to check out, but the heat was starting to get to me and I still had another fifteen miles to go. I’m going to make it a point to stop by next time if it is open.

Just north of Lunken Field, I deviated from the official Ohio To Erie / Route 1 route to save a couple of miles of hills up into Mariemont and back down to the other side of the Little Miami river. It took me onto a busy street for a mile with a wide shoulder. In hindsight, probably not the best choice. Much too busy and fast for my liking. Next time, I’ll just do the climb.

I finally joined up with the Little Miami bike trail at the very south end. This is a spectacular bike trail. I’ve ridden it end-to-end numerous times. It is about 65 miles long and stretches from near Lunken Field all the way to Xenia Station. Paved, mostly shaded, with neat little towns and rest stops along the way.

I made arrangements earlier to stay with a priest in Milford. My stomach was still a bit rocky and the sun was baking me, so I was glad the end was coming up soon. 10 miles on the Little Miami was just about enough. When I stopped at the Milford trailhead, the bike shop there had free frozen fruit bars. Divine intervention! Calories and coldness all in one. It tasted amazing for a simple Kroger brand treat.

I left my bike at the parish in Milford and Father Cordier picked me up to take me to his other parish – Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton about 6 miles away. It is their summer festival. He’s been a delightful host and the festival was fun. Very family oriented rides and games.

After a very thorough shower and a load of laundry, I wandered over to their school cafeteria where their traditional festival dinner was served: home made fried chicken, with fresh off-the-vine tomatoes (YUM!). My stomach was craving real food and it hit the spot. I finished it off with some cherry pie. This parish knows how to feed its people! For $12, it was a great fundraiser and probably the best fried chicken I have had in many years. On the up side, a good meal seems to have greatly improved how my stomach feels.

Here are the stats for today. The Temp says 70 degrees. That was the start. It was in the mid 90s when I finished.

So I have officially finished the Kentucky part of the KY + #OTET route. From here forward, I’m going to be following the Ohio To Erie Trail with a couple of minor detours to do some sight seeing and lodging.

Tomorrow I will be on the Little Miami to Xenia, then NE from Xenia to Cedarville. It is supposed to be a very hot day again tomorrow, and I’m very familiar with this part of the route. So I won’t likely do much sight seeing. Instead, I’ll probably try to get my miles in early to avoid the heat. I might even arrive by lunch time and have time for a much needed resting afternoon.

The last three days of riding have been very hilly, especially the last two. My legs are a bit sore for the first time this entire riding season. The next two days are incredibly flat. That’s sounding nice for a little while. I enjoy a mix of flat and hills, but I’ll take little less climbing for a few miles.

I have received a few more names to pray for and carry to the shrine for St. Dymphna. As a reminder, if you have anyone you’d like me to be actively praying for along the route, please send them along and I’ll keep them anonymous, of course.

More to come tomorrow. I’m going to do some reading and hit the sack early today.


St. Dymphna, pray for us.

2019 Bike Tour: Kentucky to Lake Erie (KY + #OH2ERIE) – Day 2: Paris KY to Falmouth KY (40 miles)

Today was a really great day of riding. Beautiful scenery, my legs did well on the hills, temperatures were comfortable during my ride, and met some really great people along the way.

As usual, I always try to get out at sunrise for two reasons: to beat the heat, and to avoid as much traffic as possible. I was a few minutes late, but that’s about what I did.

I had a really good night’s sleep last night at the rectory and woke up early. Got in my morning prayer, ate a bit, and said goodbye to Father Danny. He gave me a very nice pilgrim’s blessing as I departed.

As I left Paris, this curious little dog was walking proudly down Main Street. He was carrying something in his mouth – I think it was just an empty plastic bottle, but to him it must have been a treasure. It made me laugh.

Nearly all of today’s ride was in rural parts of central / northern Kentucky. If you were to look at a topography map of my route, you’d see that this is a very hilly area. My route would descend down to the various creeks, then ascend up to the top of the ridge line, and then back again. Although it was only about 2,200 feet of climbing, a few of the climbs would take the starch out of the legs. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

The views from the upper areas are fantastic. You can overlook beautiful rolling hills and valleys below.

The last time I rode this route from Paris to Falmouth, I was chased by several dogs along the way. This time, I was playfully chased by one yellow lab, stared at by an old dog, and barked at by a couple of small breeds. Lots of fun. No menacing dogs this time, which I really appreciate.

Between Paris and Cynthiana, there are not any major towns, just a few little ones. Ruddles Mill is one of the few. It is named after the mill that was built along the creek in this tiny little town.

A few miles later, I made it to Cynthiana. I didn’t go into town, but rather stayed on the east side to pick up Rt. 62 heading North East towards my next road. I arrived just in time for the setup of the Farmers Market. I struck up a little bit of a conversation with the farmers, topped off my water, got a snack, and then went back on my way. I could not find any way to stay on country roads to get out of Cynthiana, so I rode on Rt 62 for about 5-6 miles before getting onto my first rural road. I had hoped to beat traffic, but Cynthiana clearly wakes up before 9AM on Saturday! Lots of traffic, but every one was well behaved, gave plenty of room, and most of them waved back when I waved.

I have noticed that when I am wearing one of my favorite jerseys, the one with the constitution and American Flag on it, I get more respect from drivers. So I always wear it if I expect to be doing any road riding. I receive a lot of compliments on it, when I’m stopped, too.

It is roughly 25 miles between Cynthiana and Falmouth on the route I laid out. This part of my ride was so beautiful. Most of it was on tiny one-lane roads in the valleys and hilltops. As I said before, lots of climbing, and lots of downhill too. In cycling what goes down, must come up (climbing follows a descent), but the opposite is true too: what goes up, must come down (whee!).

There was a moment that struck me particularly funny today. As I was riding along, I passed a yard that had this sign in it: “electriC feNCe DO NOT TOUCH WILL LIGHT YOUR ASS UP”. The reason it made me laugh is that it surrounds a fenced in pen full of … chihuahuas.

The last 3 miles of my trip are hopefully the only ones that go into the “yellow” on my danger meter for the remainder of my journey. After studying maps quite a bit, I just could not come up with a good way to get to Falmouth without being on Rt 27 for the last 3 miles. I screwed up my courage, checked my garmin’s radar (yeah, it is super cool, I’ll tell you more in my gear review after my journey), and pointed down the road.

I’m happy to report that although the traffic was fast, there wasn’t much of it and I arrived safely in Falmouth.

Roughly 2 miles south of Falmouth on Rt 27 is a place called Punkyville. It was created in 2003 by Charles “Punky” Beckett as a great way to display his many antiques, especially old signs and stuff. He and his wife are the only two residents of Punkyville, and he is the self appointed Mayor.

I stopped in Punkyville for a about 30 minutes and looked around. Each of the buildings has been built sort of like a movie set. You can go into these buildings and see the various antiques on display. Punky’s son (I think) was working on a truck trailer in the parking lot and we talked for a few minutes. These are the hidden gems of small town America! It was a fun way to spend a few minutes.

Sometimes when I am riding, a song will pop into my head and stick there until I find a way to get it out. Some people call that an “ear worm”. After being in Punkyville, my brain recalled the chorus to “Funkytown” and I had to work hard to pry it loose. I bet you have it in your head now too. You’re welcome 🙂

The last two miles took me to downtown Falmouth. I don’t know much about Falmouth, but I was told ahead of time to eat at the Smoking Pig… so far be it from me to turn down BBQ on a recommendation.

Inside, I met a couple who has lived here for many years and we talked throughout lunch. I really love how friendly people are in small towns.

I did not realize that Falmouth experienced a major flood which wiped out much of the business district downtown back in 1997. The licking river, which runs right into town, flooded when the Ohio River flooded through Cincinnati. It was so devastating that the town has not really recovered. The biggest boon to the local economy now is tourism and B&Bs that provide lodging for people who go to the local Ark experience – a recreated version of Noah’s ark a few miles NW of here.

I have arranged for a room here in Falmouth. After a thorough shower, I’m relaxing in my room, recharging my body as well as my electronics. My stomach is a little rocky this afternoon, so I’m going to take it easy and look for something lite for dinner.

Next stop is mass at 4PM at St. Xavier church, which happens to be about 30 feet away from where I’m staying tonight.

Some stats from today:

Miles: 39.90

Climbing: 2,200 feet

Mean dog chases: zero

Friendly dog chases: two

Tomorrow will start with what appears to be a major climb to go up from the Licking River and over the hill that separates it from the Ohio River. I’ll then follow the Ohio River into Newport KY, and cross into Cincinnati, OH. I’m hoping my legs are up for it!

St. Dymphna, pray for all those I carry with me.


– Deacon Matt

2019 Bike Tour: Kentucky to Lake Erie (KY + #OH2ERIE) – Day 1: Lexington to Paris KY (20 miles)

As I woke up today, I had some butterflies in my stomach. A bit of anticipation about beginning this ride had set in. I think facing the unknown is both exhilarating and stressful for me.

This year’s ride will be not only my first completely solo long distance ride, but also the longest. I hadn’t thought about that until yesterday… I expect to finish around 450 miles when I make it to Cleveland.

My original itinerary for day 1 was going to be 60 miles from my house to Falmouth KY. I did a test ride two weeks ago and it was very doable. However, I decided to break it up into two shorter days since the trip through Northern Kentucky will be very hilly with a couple of steep climbs. Without extra weight, that probably wouldn’t bother me a at all. But carrying an additional 25+ pounds makes a huge difference when climbing hills.

So today I scoped out 20 miles to go from my house up to Paris KY. That will leave about 40 for tomorrow, which feels very comfortable. I can take a nice leisurely pace, stop for some pictures, and still make it to Falmouth by lunch time.

My day began by going to work. I did a half-day, then packed up, set my out of office voicemail, and headed home. Before I left, I was able to say goodbye to one of my daughters who is also working at Lexmark this summer. I said goodbye to my other daughter before I left for work today.

After getting home, I changed into my riding clothes, slathered on the sunblock, and put my panniers on the bike. Stephanie came home to see me off. I wish she were coming with me – but alas, this is a journey I supposed I’m meant to do by myself. We kissed goodbye and prayed for safety for me and for my family while I’m gone.

I didn’t take very many pictures today because I’m in very familiar territory. I routinely ride the roads between my house and Paris. Here are a couple just to give you an idea of the ride today. I am very blessed to live in an area where the cycling is fantastic. Beautiful farms and many low traffic roads.

I rode early enough today to avoid most of the rush hour traffic, and it worked out great. I arrived in Paris and got settled in with Father Danny. I had plenty of time to get cleaned up and attend evening mass.

After mass, we went to Pho for dinner. My Pad Thai was yummy and we enjoyed a good conversation about theology. Apparently, this building is the tallest 3 story building. Who’d have thought – right here in the Bluegrass!

After dinner, we came back to the rectory and I’m getting ready for an early bed time. I want to be up and out at sun-up to avoid any real traffic on the road as I head the last few miles into Falmouth. It will be a very hilly ride tomorrow, so I am expecting to ride slowly. Even so, I should make it to Falmouth by lunchtime.

As I had written about previously, I am making a pilgrimage to a shrine for St. Dymphna in Massillon Ohio, then continuing to Cleveland to finish my route. St. Dymphna is the patron saint of those who suffer from emotional or mental issues. I am carrying about 30 names of people and praying them along the way.

One resource that I recommend reading if you or a loved one is struggling is “the mighty”: themighty.com.


St. Dymphna, pray for us.

– Dcn. Matt

2019 Bike Tour: Kentucky to Lake Erie (KY + #OH2ERIE) – Prologue

For those of you who know me or just follow my blog, you know that I like to tour by bicycle.

This is my first blog post for this year’s major tour. I’m testing out my blogging software and making sure it’s all working properly. My tour won’t start for a few more days yet.

Since 2010 I have been taking one multi-day bike trip each year. I enjoy the peace of bike touring, seeing new places, and spending time on two wheels. I enjoy the research before the trip, the company of good people that I tour with, and those I meet while I’m riding. I’ve always toured with someone in the past. I’ve been with large groups twice, my daughter once, and my good friend Joe several times. This year is going to be very different.

Unlike years previously, I’m starting very close to home.  In fact, I’m starting from my own driveway.  This year’s bike tour will start at my home in Lexington, KY, riding through the rural roads of Kentucky north to Cincinnati, then across Ohio and ending in Cleveland at the lake front, with a stop in Massillon OH. I expect to log around 450 miles over 7 or 8 days of riding.

The first difference is that I will not be touring with anyone. I am touring by myself, supported by what I carry on my bike. My usual ride buddy, Joe, is not able to come with me. I’ll admit that I have a touch of both nervousness and excitement about solo touring. I’ve always enjoyed having company and also the security of knowing that if something goes wrong, there’s someone who’s got my back. On the other hand, I’m going to have the opportunity to just go wherever my mind and heart wander at my own pace.  I expect to make a few side trips just to check out towns, parks, and perhaps a craft brewery or two.

The second difference is that I have a higher purpose for this tour. This year is not just about getting away with my bike, spending time outdoors, and seeing things. When I was deciding where to ride this year I considered lots of options and consulted my bucket list. In the end I decided to dedicate this particular riding time to a pilgrimage. My first destination is the shrine for St. Dymphna in Massillon, Ohio which is located a bit south of Akron – about 360 miles from my house.  Why?  Over the past year, I’ve been spending time with many people who are suffering from mental illness. St. Dymphna is the patron saint for those with mental challenges. So I will be carrying several names with me and praying for them each day along the way. If you have anyone you’d like me to be praying for or a special intention to carry with me to the shrine, please send it to me.  I will hold all of them in confidence.

After I reach Massillon, I will continue another day’s journey to the lakefront in Cleveland for my final destination.

A few years ago, my friend Joe and I rode south across Ohio along basically the same route from Cleveland to Cincy.   This is great bike route called Ohio Bike Route 1, or better known as “The Ohio To Erie Trail” or #OTET for short. More on that later in future postings.  I’ll be calling this year’s route the “KY + #OTET” tour since I’m using the combination of my own route across Kentucky to Cincinnati, plus the Ohio To Erie Trail from Cincy to Cleveland.

The third difference is that I have a new touring bike this year!  Since 2011, I’ve been touring on a converted Motobecane Cyclocross bike that I bought used.  I had added the appropriate gear to make it viable for touring – racks, fenders, and so on. It has always been a very reliable bike, but not quite right for the purpose. I have lots of wonderful memories and nearly 20,000 miles on that bike!  I performed a complete tear down and rebuild on it two years ago, so it is still in great shape.  However I decided to splurge with all of my “mad money” that I’ve saved over the last several years to buy a new bike that is more appropriate for touring. I purchased a 2018 Specialized Sequoia Expert and have spent the last few weeks outfitting it for touring and doing some test rides.  Although I have about 800 miles on it so far, I’ll save my initial thoughts and post an equipment review after my tour once I see how it holds up to the daily routine of touring.

So, although I’m going to be in some familiar territory, this tour will be different. I am very much looking forward to getting out there.  The closer the date gets, the more excited I am.

My itinerary is roughly the following, but I may make daily decisions to modify the distances and destination:

  • Day 1 (August 16): Home (Lexington) to Paris KY – a very short day just to get started
  • Day 2: to Falmouth or Butler KY (TBD)
  • Day 3: to Milford OH – joining up with the OTET route when I arrive in Cincinnati
  • Day 4: Cedarville OH
  • Day 5: Columbus or Westerville OH
  • Day 6: Danville OH
  • Day 7: Massillon OH
  • Day 8: South side of Cleveland or maybe even all the way to the lake
  • Day 9: Very short day to arrive at the lakefront, meet up with my wife, and then drive home.

I will be starting this adventure on the evening of August 16.

So between now and then, if you have any concerns or prayer requests you’d like me to carry with me on this ride (in confidential care, of course), please send them to me at: matt@coriale.org


2018 C&O / Gap Tour : Epilogue

A little over a week ago, we finished up our tour from DC to Washington on the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage.  I’m just adding a few parting thoughts about our adventure.

Some stats:

  • 372.61 Miles, mostly off-road
  • Total Time on the bike (moving time):  32 hours, 15 Minutes, 44 Seconds
  • 155,083 complete pedal rotations, give or take a few. (310,166 left/right pedal steps)
  • Meals with french fries: 2.  Meals with bacon: 3.


This is the fifth trip that Joe and I have made together.  Usually we’ve found a new route to try, but this time we decided to go back and do the C&O/GAP again.  We rode it together 3 years ago going from west to east (Pittsburgh to DC).  That time, we did it in 6 days, which didn’t leave much time for sight seeing or side trips.  It also made for three very long days on the C&O.

When we picked our trip for this year, we considered a few different bike routes.  There are some on our bucket list that would take longer to ride, or are farther from home.  We narrowed the list down to trips we could get to/from in a day and complete in a week or less.  Looking back, we both really enjoyed the 2015 trip, but we wanted to see a little more of the history along the C&O.  Given that we were very familiar with the course, it also made the planning easy.  So… we chose to do this course again, but start from the DC end.

Every time we do one of these trips, people ask me some common questions.  Here are some answers:

  1. How much did you train?  I recommend at least 500+ miles of training, with at least 2 or 3 back-to-back 50 mile rides.  Build up slowly if you’re not already a cyclist.  I had about 700 miles under me this season, and I stayed in shape over the winter using a spin bike.  Last year, I had about 1,000 miles before our trip and it really helped.
  2. What do you do if it rains?  We put on raincoats and keep going.  We’ve never been caught in a torrential storm.  I suppose it could happen, and we carry enough clothing to keep us safe in the event that we need to seek temporary shelter.
  3. Why do you like this?  It doesn’t sound fun to me! Some people like to run, camp, hike, lay on a beach, or take a cruise.  I really enjoy seeing the outdoors and I enjoy cycling.  When we are riding, there is a lot of time just to let the mind and spirit unwind.  It is like a rolling retreat for me.
  4. What kind of bike is that you’re riding?  I use a converted cyclocross bike because it is a bit more heavy duty than a road bike.  I strongly suggest 34mm or wider tires and fenders.  When dealing with mud, you’ll want them.  The GAP is more forgiving, but the C&O definitely requires at least some decent tread on the tires.  This is certainly not a trail for a road bike.  You might get away with it on the GAP, but definitely not on the C&O.


My thoughts on the overall trip: I enjoyed this trip very much.  We had a great time together, and we saw some neat places.  I enjoy the people we meet the most.  We had a few people we crossed paths with several times throughout the trip.  It was fun to compare notes.

The C&O is not high on my list of good trails.  The surface is very muddy and bumpy.  There are some neat places along the trail: Harpers Ferry, Shepherdstown, and so on.  But it is pretty sparse.  The Potomac is a beautiful complement to the trip since you’re next to it for almost the entire ride.  This year the conditions were very muddy, especially the area between Hancock MD and Cumberland MD.  That 60 miles was really rough.  That made for a very long day with not much to break up the hours in the saddle.

We also saw that the National Parks District had several shutdowns on the C&O just one day after we went through.  The rains caused a lot of damage on the path and washouts.  Back when the C&O was in operation, some flooding is what ultimately brought it to a halt by breaching the canal.  I can see how that would happen.

The GAP was in great shape, though.  We had more rain on that section, but the trail surface drains well.  We didn’t see much of any mud and our equipment stayed relatively clean.  The GAP trail town alliance does a very good job of building up the micro economies in the towns, providing food and shelter along the GAP.

I don’t know if I’ll ride the C&O again any time soon.  If you like trail riding, it should be on your bucket list.  After riding it 3 times now, I can say it doesn’t rate in my top 5 trails I’ve been on by itself.  Combined with the GAP, it does make for a very nice week-long bike trip.

If you’re interested in learning more about either the C&O or GAP, feel free to drop me a note and I’d be happy to talk you about it.  You can also find more information here:

Great Allegheny Passage trail: Web Site
C&O Canal from the National Parks: Web Site

We’re not sure where we’ll go in 2019.  If you have any good suggestions, let me know!



Deacon Matt

2018 C&O / Gap Tour Day 7: West Newton PA to Pittsburgh – We Made It!

37.9 miles.

Plus a 6 hour drive home.

Today was a much shorter day. We planned it this way so we could drive home to Lexington after we finished up today.

We left the rectory at Holy Family and started our trip out of town from West Newton. It was a little sad to say goodbye because we felt so at home there.

This last part of the trail is one of my favorites. There are lots of neat things to see and there is enough change going on to hold your interest. In 30 miles you go from small towns, past lots of little water falls, some old coal mining history, industrial areas, the outskirts of of the city, a bunch of nice bridges over the rivers and train tracks, and finally down into the heart of Pittsburgh. That’s a lot to see in such a short distance.

Here’s a neat example of one of the water falls. This particular one is full of iron so it runs red.

This one, a little farther down runs white due to some sort of aluminum runoff. I made a very short video so you can see it. In a picture, it looks like a regular waterfall. But in the video you can see that it looks more like a milky color.

We also passed this really neat little cemetery that is where two small railroad towns used to be.

As we pedaled along, we came through McKeesport. About this point, you start to see more of the industrial beginnings of Pittsburgh. Lots of old steel bridges and structures.

The Great Allegheny Passage has some really nice bridges across the river. I’d love to know the history of some of them – I’m sure some were former railroad bridges, and some of them appear to be new structures built specifically for the GAP.

We stopped mid-bridge to take in the view of the Monongahela River with some barges being pushed along.

You can see how overcast it was early this morning. We had chilly temperatures and some light rain for about the first half of the ride.

We reached Homestead, the sight of the famous strike clashes between the union and the steel mill owners.

We were getting hungry – we had just a very light breakfast of pocket food before leaving. We cycled past the Eat ‘n Park. Joe had never seen one before, so we went in and had a good breakfast. When we went in, it was raining. When we came out, the skies were blue and the sun was shining. It was an amazing change in such a short time. The nice weather stuck with us for the rest of our trip today.

The Hot Metal bridge is just on the south-east side of the city. It gets is name from its original purpose: it used to carry molten metal across the Mon river to be processed. Now it is a bridge for cars and a separate deck for bikes & pedestrians. The bridge also gives some great views of downtown.

Here’s the first real view of downtown we were treated to. It was a beautiful day once the rain stopped!

A few more miles took us down on a few city streets and to The Point State Park. This is at the confluence of the Monongahela, Allegheny, and Ohio rivers. It also is the historical location of Fort Pitt.

Inside the park is an iconic fountain that you will often see in pictures of Pittsburgh. There is a large marker in the concrete to show the confluence, as well as the official end of the Great Allegheny Passage.

Although it had been pretty chilly earlier in the day, it was getting a bit warm, especially in the direct sun. The water of the fountain looked very tempting. I’m quite sure the parks people would frown on our behavior, but we decided to take off our shoes and soak our feet in the fountain for a few minutes. It was delightfully cold and felt great. It was nice just to soak up the end of our trip. We talked for a few minutes and just enjoyed the accomplishment.

We did it! 373 miles in 7 days. 4 states + Washington DC.

We still had to get back to our car and drive home. We took a bike path up the eastern side of the Allegheny that took us very close to St. Stanislaus parish and our car. We quickly changed our clothes and did a quick bird bath with some wet wipes before driving home.

It has been a great trip, but I was awfully glad to get home and be greeted by my wife and our two schnauzers. If you ever really want a great greeting committee, it is hard to beat a happy dog – or two.

I’ll follow up with a couple more notes for the trip in my next posting. I’m really looking forward to my own bed tonight!


Dcn. Matt

2018 C&O / Gap Tour Day 6: Confluence PA to West Newton PA

54.3 Miles.

Our day started with a quick breakfast of “pocket food” (energy bars and a pop-tart) before leaving the hostel. It wasn’t enough for our day, but we just needed enough to get us to Ohiopyle – about 12 miles away. The Yough river was running pretty high as we crossed the bridges back to the GAP.

The weather today was cool and overcast, with a few gentle sprinkles throughout the day.

We arrived in Ohiopyle about an hour ahead of schedule, which allowed us to get a decent breakfast.

Today we were able to do something that has been on my bucket list since I was 16 years old: I visited Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright house here in Ohiopyle.

Originally we thought we would cycle the 4 miles from the trail out to Fallingwater. But when I called for tickets, the person at the desk said that it was a dangerous ride. Then Joe called a place in Ohiopyle that could give us a ride. They said the same thing. So … we paid for a shuttle out. After seeing it for ourselves during the shuttle, I am very glad we took their advice. The grade was very steep, very long, and had a narrow shoulder.

We arrived a few minutes before our scheduled tour.

Fallingwater was designed by Wright for the Kaufman family – the family who owned the Kaufman department stores in Pittsburgh. Eventually their son donated the property to a conservancy which now cares for the property and maintains it as a museum.

Fallingwater was designed to be Organic Architecture, meaning that it takes its form from its surroundings. This area is full of rocks and water falls. These were the inspirations used for the home. The rocks used for the structure were all quarried from just a few feet away from the structure.

The Kaufmans liked to vacation in the Laurel Highlands. They had Fallingwater designed to be their vacation home. There are many interesting features of the home, but perhaps the two most distinctive features are that it is built over a waterfall, and that it is cantilevered so that it is suspended over the surroundings. Even the furniture inside has been designed to be cantilevered to carry the motif throughout the structure.

I had studied this house for a project in high school and although I had forgotten many of the details, the tour was really fun for me. I’m not sure Joe had quite the same level of enthusiasm as I did, but he seemed to enjoy it as well.

We were not allowed to take pictures inside the structure.

This picture from the outside is where the stairway from their great-room descends down to the water. Just beyond the stairs (left side of the picture) the water turns into a waterfall to the forest below.

After our tour, we made quick progress back on the trail. We had some good distance to cover to arrive at West Newton.

Along the way, our next stop was Connellsville. On the East edge of town, we are greeted by these interesting silos. I’ve seen them before. The murals seem to be fading a bit with time.

We needed a good lunch before leaving town. We took a random chance at a pizza & pasta place. We both got some pasta and it was definitely a good choice. Yum.

As we left town, we passed through a park. I’ve been through here before and this sign always motivates me… we’re most of the way to the ‘burg!

We had about 26 more miles to go. Lots of miles passed uneventfully. Both of us are starting to have some tired legs, so I’m glad tomorrow is a shorter ride.

We finally made it to our home for the evening: Holy Family Parish in West Newton. We were greeted by Paula – she has been a phenomenal host.

Tomorrow we will finish out with about 35 miles to get to The Point state park – the end of the Great Allegheny Passage, at the 3-rivers confluence in Pittsburgh.

It has been a good trip, but I’m looking forward to being done and getting home.


– Dcn. Matt

2018 C&O / Gap Tour Day 5: Cumberland MD to Confluence PA

63.4 miles today.

We started the Great Allegheny Passage today, leaving the mud of the C&O canal behind.

It was a very rainy day, but the GAP drains very well. Not very many puddles and very little mud. Glad to have the worst of the mud behind us.

As we left the Fairfield inn, the rain started and just kept with us for about the first three hours of our ride today. It was a chilly rain, but with a nice raincoat and the ride going on, we stayed plenty warm.

The first 22 miles of the GAP are a constant climb. It is not a terribly steep grade, but you climb and climb and climb. We paced around 10 MPH so it took a little over 2 hours to reach the top. The ride up is beautiful and you pass a lot of great views. Today had its own beauty because of the very low clouds in the trees and valleys. But because of the weather, we couldn’t see some of the long distance views.

Along the way up we passed Frostburg. It is a neat little town to see, but with the rain pelting down on us and a few more miles to go, we decided to keep going up to the top.

The next stop along the way is the Mason & Dixon line separating Maryland from Pennsylvania.

We met this nice couple at the Mason & Dixon line. They’re on their way to Cumberland.

This is usually one of my favorite views anywhere I’ve been on bike. On a clear day, you can see 4 states from here. Today, you could see a few trees. It was actually more beautiful than it looks in the picture, but you don’t get any feel for how high you are above the valleys below.

The next few miles of the GAP are loaded with great bridges and tunnels. This is the Big Savage Tunnel – about 3,200 feet long. It is really neat.

Eventually we reached the top: The Eastern Continental Divide.

Inside this overpass is an elevation map – you get an idea of the elevation change. We came from Cumberland, just below my hand, and went up to the top, where my finger points. In 22 miles.

Some cyclists really enjoy climbs. Joe isn’t known to be one of those kind of cyclists… but he did well today.

We were getting pretty hungry so after crossing the divide, we went into Meyersdale to the G.I. Dayroom. Yum. We stopped here once before and it was worth coming back.

A BLT with some macaroni salad, home made french fries, and pie for dessert. Got some calories, for sure.

This is John. We met John in the Pittsburgh Amtrak station. He’s riding the same general direction as we are. We’ve crossed paths with him about 10 times since we left him in DC. He’s been camping on his way across. We invited him to join us for lunch.

John’s from Cincinnati, so I gave him my contact info and perhaps we’ll meet for some riding later in the season.

Leaving Meyersdale, we made our way west. The next highlight is one of my favorite rail-trail things anywhere: the Keystone Viaduct. A former railroad bridge that has been converted for bike traffic. It is really high and really long. The views from up here are awesome.

We stopped in Rockwood to get something to drink. I love this mural they have celebrating their town’s history as a railroad town.

A couple more bridges and tunnels, including the newly opened Pinkerton Tunnel.

Eventually we arrived in Confluence PA and we’re staying at a hostel. It is very clean and pretty comfortable, but meager. Fortunately, Joe and I are the only two staying here tonight so we spread out and took over. Hoping most of our clothes dry out overnight.

Here’s the route for today. It’s all downhill from here into Pittsburgh.

Tomorrow we’ll begin by heading to Ohiopyle and then onto West Newton for the evening.

It is supposed to be very rainy and cool tomorrow again. It would be nice if the rain could hold off until evening… but we’ll take whatever we can get. It sure beats 94° from last year on the KATY!


Dcn. Matt

2018 C&O / Gap Tour Day 4: Hancock MD to Cumberland MD

61.1 Miles.

Our day started with a modest breakfast at the B&B before heading out. We finished out a few more miles on the Western Maryland Rail Trail. I didn’t realize this, but the WMRT is being extended many more miles. It’s too bad that the C&O can’t be paved like the WMRT.

Between Hancock and Cumberland is pretty sparse. It is about 60 miles with no food choices and only water from the C&O campsite pumps. The only real place to stop is a place called “Bill’s Place” in Little Orleans. Little Orleans is a very tiny little town and Bill’s is the only place there. One fun tradition is to go to Bill’s place and sign a dollar bill. They then put them up on the ceiling and you can try to find your dollar bill next time you come through.

Last time Joe and I did the C&O we gave them dollars. Unfortunately, Bill’s was closed until 11AM and we didn’t have the time to wait. So we couldn’t take the time to find them today.

One of the neatest things on the entire C&O canal is the Paw Paw tunnel. It is a mile-long tunnel that was carved through the mountain over 14 years. The National Parks had closed the access to the tunnel last year to clear the rock walls of falling rock and repair some of the decking on the approach. The alternate route involves hiking your bike about 2 miles I’ve an old logging route with 11-14% grade (yikes!).

I had called the project office and they said that it would not be open for a while longer. I talked to some riders who have come through in the last few days and they indicated that you could squeeze past the fences and go through. I like to follow the rules, so I was pretty excited to hear that they opened the tunnel TODAY! As we approached the tunnel, I thought the news was too good to be true, so we were going to check things out. For sure, we were allowed to ride up to the tunnel and walk through, saving us about 2 hours of hiking with our bikes. Yay!

The approach to the tunnel was really beautiful this time. I’ve never seen water falls here in my previous two trips here. There has been enough rainfall to feed some amazing water falls around the entrance to the tunnel.

Approaching the tunnel there was a nice lady taking pictures. She was a photographer and offered to take our picture. You can see the waterfalls on the right and left (next to the steps).

You have to walk your bike through and you really need to have a good headlight because it is pitch dark in there. (Please do not try to ride it, the surface inside is very very rough and choppy!). This is what it looks like about 100 feet from the exit.

The next 20 miles from Paw Paw to Cumberland were just a plain ‘ol slog. Lots of mud and puddles. It was very slow going and made for very tired legs. Joe explained it best: it was like when you are driving your car in a snowstorm or rain storm. You have to be always be alert and your muscles are tense waiting for any unexpected movement of the bike. The mud makes the rear tire lose traction very easily and the bike gets out of control easily.

A few miles away from Cumberland there was a large tree down across the path. It was far too big to move and we couldn’t get around.

There were several cyclists gathered around and there was a team of people helping to lift bikes through the large branches and across to the other side. Many hands made for light work.

A few more miles of slugging through brought us into Cumberland. Tradition is that you kiss the mule’s behind when you arrive. So we did.

Cumberland is the end of the C&O canal path. This is also the start of the Great Allegheny Passage, which we will start riding tomorrow. Over the next 3 days we will climb over the continental divide and then cycle our way to Pittsburgh.

It is good to leave the C&O behind. The Potomac is a beautiful backdrop for the trail, but the surface is bumpy and muddy. After 4 days, I’m ready to move on. The GAP is a much better trail surface.

The C&O is a national park, which means it takes an act of congress (literally) to make any changes or improvements. It is too bad, because if they would resurface with crushed limestone like the GAP or even, gasp, pave it like other high-use trails, it would be a fantastic path. But as it stands, the surface makes an otherwise great trail, less than ideal.

When we arrived at the Fairfield, first business was to rinse the C&O off of our bikes and gear. My bike was so caked with mud and muck that my lowest gear didn’t work anymore and shifting wasn’t reliable. I rinsed down my legs, shoes, socks, and panniers, too. Here is the before and after:

After washing up and showering, it was time for dinner. Some steamed clams and a rack of ribs, plus the obligatory blue moon rounded out the dinner. Yum.

Time for sleep soon. I’m exhausted.

We start tomorrow morning by climbing for about 2 hours up to the continental divide. We have about 60-65 miles ahead of us tomorrow on the GAP.

Weather forecast is looking like rain all day from sunrise to sunset. I’d appreciate some prayers for weather again – they’ve been working so far!


Dcn. Matt

2018 C&O / Gap Tour Day 3: Shepherdstown WV to Hancock MD

50.1 Miles

We started our day early. We went to bed expecting the worst: lots of rain making the trail into mud, with rain chances towards the end of our ride. We had a very pleasant ride today with only a little mud and muck. Our bikes were still pretty messy, but not nearly as bad as we had expected. The temperatures were pretty warm. It was about 91° when we finished today.

We didn’t have much sight seeing today because there really isn’t much between Shepherdstown and Hancock. We did make a side trip to see Fort Frederick, but that was about it.

The C&O parallels the Potomac and is usually only a few yards from the river. If you can afford the moments to look up, you are treated to some beautiful views.

There are two major dams that are on the Potomac in this area – Dam 4 and 5. Huge slackwater areas are behind them and the roar of water over the dams is very impressive. The dams used to support water-wheel power generation for mills, but have been converted to hydro-electric power with small generating plants. You can see the regenerating station in the top-left of the picture:

There is a really neat part of the trail that is on a concrete platform along the edge of the river. The rock walls to the right are beautiful and the water on the left is peaceful.

When we were leaving Pittsburgh, there was a young guy who was heading to DC that had just completed his trek. He warned us about a section just west of this where there was a washout with about 10″ of water to wade through. When we arrived at one of the trailheads, the parks district had put up a barricade and “trail closed” sign. No detour posted.

I have made very good use of my Garmin’s built in GPS routing. This time I told it to take me to Williamsport. We took a ~5 mile detour on surface streets to get us into downtown Williamsport. It was a good detour and actually felt pretty good to get out on the roads and away from the mud.

We stopped at the Desert Rose Cafe for a quick lunch. We’ve stopped here once before and decided to do it again because the food was good. I picked up a PB&J, chips, and a coke.

The staff here is really fun. We remembered one guy, Alex, from the last trip. We made a comment that we had been there before. Alex said “yeah, you are the guys who were here on bikes, who were not from around here and were wearing spandex, right?”… He didn’t remember us. Joe made some small retort and Alex came back with “I’m sure your wife is glad you’re on vacation this week”. Game, set, match. We laughed and laughed.

But then, he saw Joe’s ring and asked if we were clergy and the light began to flicker on. After a brief discussion about our ride mascots, he did remember us. It was a fun conversation.

After our detour around Williamsport, we were back on the canal and making our way to Fort Frederick. We saw several black snakes like this one. He watched me very intently as I cycled around him. Sit, stay… good boy.

Dam #5:

Eventually we arrived at Fort Frederick. I’ve never found it open before. No tour guides inside the park, but we did watch a 10 minute video at the visitors’ center. I hadn’t realized that the fort had fallen into complete disuse and disrepair. It was restored, or should I say reconstructed to what you see today.

Leaving the fort, we picked up the Western Maryland Rail Trail. This is a paved path that parallels the C&O for 22 miles. Glorious! This took us all the way into Hancock for the night.

Our bikes were pretty filthy by now and I couldn’t shift my front derailleur. But the B&B had a hose to clean up our gear. Here’s what a day on the C&O canal does to your bike. Just imagine if it had rained, too!

We stayed at the River Run B&B again. It’s very clean and comfortable. Susan didn’t remember us at first. She meets hundreds of new people each year, I’d guess. But after a little conversation and mentioning our ride mascots, she said “I do remember you guys – you guys are fun!”

Dinner was at a local place: Buddy & Lou’s – named after the restaurant owner’s two dogs. I had Ahi Tuna steak … and a beer of course. You have to trust me that it looked nice before I ate it. It was deeeeelicious.

Happiness is clean laundry. Yay!

It’s time for bed. Ms. Bug thinks so, too.

Tomorrow is supposed to be a very rainy day on the mushiest part of the trail. Prayers for the rain to hold off would be greatly appreciated!


– Deacon Matt

2018 C&O / Gap Tour Day 2: Leesburg VA to Shepherdstown WV and out to Antietam

56 miles today.

Last night we got in much later than we had planned. Instead of arriving in Leesburg around dinner time, we arrived after dark. We both had our headlights and bright taillights working as we crossed the Potomac on White’s Ferry. We made our way up to route 15 and followed it in towards Leesburg. There was a very wide shoulder so it felt pretty safe … but then the shoulder disappeared! The traffic was going about 60+ MPH and I said to Joe “No way!” We needed to find another route.

Living in the digital age is pretty handy some days. We pulled out our phones and researched the streets. Joe noted that if we backtracked, there was a route that took a couple of extra miles, but looked OK. I put our AirBNB address into my Garmin Edge cycling GPS and like magic, it routed us back and roughly the same way Joe was pointing out.

As we turned onto the quiet country roads, the sun went down. Thank goodness for a strong headlight and a trusty GPS. The GPS brought us to a gate of Morven Park. It was locked. We were stressed, it was dark. We decided that trespassing was warranted. We took our bikes around the gates and cycled through the park streets. We had to exit the other side around another set of locked gates. But our little, um, maneuver took us to a very safe set of roads right to the door of our B&B. Whew. Felt good to be off the roads.

Here’s the very cute B&B we stayed in right as we left this morning. I really liked it. It was like the original Tiny House, built in 1841.

Breakfast was a good omelette. Fuel for the ride.

We returned via the same Morven Park route today. Only the park was open this time, so we didn’t break any laws getting through. Morven Park is some sort of equestrian park, like the Kentucky Horse Park. It was very pretty and made for an awesome start to the day’s ride.

Then, back over the ferry from VA to WV:

The C&O is a pretty rough trail. It varies a little in condition, but most of it looks like this:

There is a lot of mud, many puddles, ruts, and squishy sections. On an normal road ride, I average around 16-17 MPH. On the C&O, I average around 11-12 MPH for the same physical effort. The surface just sucks the energy out of you.

In several places along the canal there are Lock Houses. These are the original residences of the families that would operate the locks. Some of them can be rented for staying over. They are primitive – no water or electric.

We crossed a number of aqueducts. These are bridges that used to carry the canal water over the creeks that feed the Potomac. Several have been restored, but none of them carry water any more. You can ride through the trough of the aqueduct or walk your bike along the old mule path on the side.

I had a mishap today. When we were riding along there was a short wooden bridge. The front edge was above the trail by about an inch or two. When my front wheel hit the edge, it popped up. The deck of the bridge was very slick and when my tire came down, it slid out from under me and I went down hard. I only have a couple of bruises to show for it, but my rear fender snapped in two and my front fender got pretty banged up too. It could have been much worse.

For lunch we decided to pop into the town of Brunswick MD. We found Beans in the Belfry and got a little to eat. I wasn’t hungry yet, so I just had some really yummy hummus and warm pitas.

When we got to Harpers Ferry WV, we decided to walk over the bridge and take a few pictures. We didn’t spend any time in the town this time – we’ve stayed here before. Instead, we wanted to save our time to spend at Antietam battle field.

Harpers Ferry is at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. You have to cross over on a foot bridge from the C&O to the town. It’s a really neat walk over the bridge. But note that if you want to bring your bike across, you have to climb 50+ stairs with your equipment before crossing! We did that before, but this time we decided just to leave our bikes behind.

Back on the trail, we kept on pedaling along.

We still wanted to get to Antietam. Joe is a Civil War buff and this was high on his list. But there was one catch: my GPS unit kept warning me about severe thunder storms approaching. We decided to get to the bridge to Shepherdstown and then decide whether to visit tonight or try in the morning tomorrow.

To get to Shepherdstown, you have to climb a set of switchbacks up to the bridge level. To go to Antietam, you go about 6 miles NW. We looked at the weather and it said we had about 2 hours before the storms would hit. So… we made paces to get to the battlefield.

I have not studied much about the Civil War in the past, but I knew a bit about Antietam. It was powerful to think about the thousands of men who died that day and realize that I was standing where so many people died.

It is also kind of surreal: it is so beautiful and peaceful up here. But the amount of death unleashed that day was incredible.

This is the restored Dunker Church, a focal point of the battle. It was destroyed by wind in the 1920s but was reconstructed in the same place. The place where I am standing is where Abraham Lincoln stood at one point.

Right after that picture, we started to hear thunder. It was time to go. It is too bad, there were a couple of more places I’d have liked to see… but when the GPS keeps saying “SEVERE THUNDER STORM WARNING”, you have to pay attention.

We made very good time heading about 6.5 miles back to the bridge and up to our hotel in Shepherdstown WV. As we pulled into the hotel, a couple of raindrops hit. Then as we were under the carport by the front door, the skies opened and the rains came down in buckets. Wow. Perfect timing! I credit my wife who was watching our progress on the internet and praying hard for us to be safe from the weather. Thanks, Steph!

Even though we didn’t get rained on during the ride, the C&O provides a lot of opportunity to get wet, muddy, and dirty. Here’s what my legs looked like when I took my sock off. Yuck.

After a shower with LOTS of soap and water, we went in search of dinner. Both Joe and I have been hankering for Chinese food. During a break in the rain, we walked next door to the shopping plaza to pick up some Chinese food and brought it back to the hotel. Shrimp with mixed vegetables and rice. Mmmmm….

Tomorrow we head to Hancock MD. We only have one side-trip planned to Fort Frederick. Other than that, it should be a straightforward day of 55 miles. We’re hoping that the rain stops and that the path isn’t too muddy from the rains tonight. I’m expecting to be very muddy tomorrow.

Time for bed. Peace!

2018 C&O / Gap Tour Day 1: We finally got here…

I’ll put a short blog together tonight and hopefully get some time to put an addendum together tomorrow. It is about 10:30PM here in Leesburg, VA. I need sleep.

Quick summary of the day:

  • Left St. Stanislaus at 4:30AM for Amtrak
  • Amtrak train delayed. And Delayed.
  • Had a really nice trip on the train. Food was very expensive…
  • Got to DC very late. Had a nasty lunch at McDonalds because we needed food for fuel. Yuck.
  • Had a little bit of trouble getting on the C&O and a couple of mid-cues due to detours.
  • Got to the ferry across the Potomac as it was getting dark. Headlights are good.
  • Found out that route 15 into Leesburg is NO PLACE for a bicycle! Backtracked and had to go through a horse park (shhh, don’t tell them we went around the locked gates!)
  • Arrived at about 8:45, showered and had dinner.
  • Time for bed.
  • The End.

Today’s stats: 48.6 miles


2018 Cycling Trip Prelude – Familiar Territory

This year, we thought about several different trips and decided we would go back to a familiar route, but do it a bit differently. Joe and I will be cycling the C&O Canal + Great Allegheny Passage. We will be cycling from Washington DC to Pittsburgh on these two great off-road trails.

This will be my third trip on the C&O and fourth on the GAP. Joe and I did this route a few years ago, but in the other direction (we started in Pittsburgh last time). Our total trip will end up being somewhere between 375 and 400 miles probably.

This time, we will do it in 7 days instead of 6. This way we will have a little more time to do some sight seeing. We hope to stop by some civil war battlefields, and see the Frank Lloyd Wright house “Fallingwater” as well.

Today we drove up to Pittsburgh and were greeted at St. Stanislaus parish by Father Nichols. We’re staying overnight here and then catching a 5:00AM train to DC. We’ll then cycle back over the next 7 days to the ‘burg.

This church is gorgeous. We caught 4PM mass and then after a little conversation with Father Nichols, we went and grabbed dinner in one of the Mexican restaurants here in the Strip District of downtown Pittsburgh.

It is really raining here, and the forecast for the next few days looks wet along our ride. I don’t mind a little rain when riding, but the C&O will get really muddy and slow us down. So, prayers for good weather would be greatly appreciated! 7 days of rain could make this a long ride.

One small change this year: my traveling mascot, Mr. Hamster, won’t be with me for the first time ever on a trip. He’s still at Rose-Hulman with my daughter. So instead, Ms. Bug (a ladybug, of course) is coming along. She’s also one of my daughter’s crochet creations that she gave me a few years ago. Somehow, it seems quite odd not to have Mr. Hamster with me … but Ms. Bug will settle in nicely, I think.

Time to turn in soon. That 4AM wake up alarm will be coming far too soon. I’m going to get some reading done and hit the sack. Next Stop: Washington DC and off to Leesburg VA.


Israel Pilgrimage: Final Thoughts

Many years ago, I was visiting Gethsemani abbey in Kentucky for a few days of retreat.  One of the monks commented that there are people who come and then don’t want to leave because it is so peaceful.  He made the point that visitors can’t stay – they are there for only a period of time.  Visitors are supposed to take the peace they found at the abbey and carry it out into the world.  We need to take our encounter with God back to the rest of the world.  Ite, missa est. The same is true for our pilgrimage.

Pilgrimages come in different shapes and sizes, and of course, no two people will experience the same pilgrimage even if they are walking together.  We bring different experiences into the pilgrimage, and we leave with a unique encounter with the Living God.  In some way, we’ve been transformed.  Some may have a large transformation, and others may not see transformation because the seeds have not yet sprouted.

In this particular trip, I had several profound moments of encounter – “close moments with Christ” as we would say in Cursillo.  Most of them had to do with physical contact.  I had not expected this before the trip.  I expected to see and hear new things things that would be impactful for me.  And I did – I heard a lot of really amazing things and saw some beautiful things.  However the deepest moments for me had to do with things I would not have been able to experience in a video or book.

I was pleasantly surprised at how touching the water in the Sea of Galilee felt.  I had a sense of commissioning when touching the rock where Jesus fed the Apostles at the end of John’s Gospel.  I was flooded with emotion when I kissed the spot where Jesus laid in the tomb.  I felt a sense of joy and sadness when I stared into the baby’s eyes at the orphanage in Bethlehem and received a tiny smile in return.  I enjoyed relaxing while floating in the Dead Sea.  I felt pain as I knelt down and my knee struck the edge of the rock where Jesus prayed in Gethsemane.  And I had overwhelming peace when I walked amidst the ruins of the monastery at the top of Mt. Tabor where the monks had all been slaughtered.  That’s not something you can get from a book.

I suspect that I will return to Israel again.  As we left, I didn’t feel like it was goodbye forever.  Instead, I felt that I was being sent home to carry my pilgrimage experience home for others.  I am considering getting together another group for another similar trip in the not-too-distant future.  I know that others need to see, hear, and touch the Holy Land.

When I was looking for pilgrims to come along, I had a lot of interested people, but only a handful of people who made the trip.  There were three major concerns: Cost, Timing, and Safety.

Cost: this was not the cheapest trip to Israel.  I found several cheaper itineraries.  However, I wanted to make sure this was truly a pilgrimage with great leadership.  That’s how I chose to work with The Crossroads Initiative for this trip.  Dr. D’Ambrosio and his team did an exceptional job of making a great faith-focused itinerary, with strong scholarship, and top-notch tour guide in Israel.  I don’t think you can do much better than what we received.  So if cost is your concern, perhaps start setting aside a little money each month and prepare for a trip 18-24 months out.  It will be well worth it.

Timing: we chose an itinerary that left between Christmas and New Years.  For some people, that was a difficulty because of their holiday plans.  If I bring another group of pilgrims, we probably will look at an itinerary in late spring.  From a weather perspective, our timing was very good.  The temperatures were cool and comfortable.  You probably do not want to go during the summer – it would be very hot in Israel.

Safety: The news we get in the US about Israel seems to delight in showing conflict.  What we encountered in Jerusalem and Palestine was quite friendly and peaceful.  Every Palestinian person I encountered was friendly.  At no time did I feel the least bit uncomfortable or unsafe.  Having lived in Chicago I can tell you that I felt safer in Jerusalem than I did in Chicago.  Crime statistics for both cities would back me up on that as well.  Sadly, I know of at least one person who was going to join us until their adult children sternly told them not to go because of safety.  From what we saw, I would have absolutely no qualms about sending my loved ones to Israel.

One last tidbit. I often get asked about the little stuffed-animal buddy that shows up in many of my pictures.  His name is “Mr. Hamster”.  Mr. Hamster was created by my youngest daughter many years ago.  She taught herself to crochet and this was her first project.  When I used to travel a lot for work, she would send him with me so that I would have a little bit of her along for the trip.  I would then take pictures of him in interesting places and send them back to her, sort of like Flat Stanley.  It was our way of keeping in touch.  Mr. Hamster has been all around the world with me.  I’ve lost track of his full passport, but I know he has sent home pictures from Canada, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, China, The Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Spain, Italy, The Vatican, Israel, Switzerland, France, and Portugal.  He’s also been on every one of my bicycle adventures all over the US.  Even though my daughter is in college now, I keep up the tradition of taking Mr. Hamster with me and sending her pictures.

As I wrap up my final thoughts, I am grateful for the opportunity to have visited the Holy Land, and I hope you are able to do it as well some day.  My special thanks to Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio for his passion and guidance on our trip.

I’ve put a link to the blog entries for each day below so that you can find them all in one place.  I have found quite a few typos in the blog entries – I guess that’s what happens when you blog half-awake… I’ll try to go clean them up some time.

If you’re interested in talking more to me about my trip, drop me a note.  I’d be happy to share some thoughts with you.

Deacon Matt

Pilgrimage to Israel – No bikes this time…

Israel day 1: “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?”

Israel Day 2 – The Old City of Jerusalem.

Israel Day 3: The Mountains of Jerusalem

Israel Day 4 – Bethlehem: About The God Child and Children of God

Israel Day 5: Jerusalem Old City – the Via Dolorosa and the Holy Sepulchre

Israel Day 6: Into the Wilderness

Israel Day 7: A Mountain Top Experience Beyond Words

Israel Day 8: Capernaum, Rocks, Fish, and Loaves

Israel Day 9: A Windy Day with Carmelites, Elijah, and Caesarea

Israel: Room At The Inn in Bethlehem … PA