I had some apprehensions this morning. The weather forecast had a 70% chance of rain in my destination, Frostburg, by 1 PM. Things didn’t look too much better for some of the towns along the way. My route was planned entirely around the Great Allegheny Passage, an unpaved trail. Would it be like the Katy Trail and rideable for Hidalgo, or would it be loose gravel and torture?
According to google, it looked like I could jump on the trail by riding back the way I had come into Connellsville on one of the side streets, rather than go into downtown. This would save me a couple of miles. I went down the side road and got a bad feeling when I saw an old railroad bridge above me. I was pretty sure that was the rails to trails path I wanted, but I didn’t see a way to get on. I followed the road a little further and crossed what I thought was the bike path. Google seemed to think I was on the right course, so I kept going. Things seemed fine until I came to a fence that said No Trespassing that barred my path. I decided I had just made a bad judgement and decided to take the safe path and double back. It meant I would have to ride back into town, away from my destination, but I was guaranteed to get on the trail. Near the fence that blocked me was a foot trail going up at a steep angle. I thought that it might be a shortcut to the trail, but I had been wrong once and I didn’t want to take any more chances. The day was going to be a race against the rain and I had already lost precious minutes. Losing 2.5 miles right off the start, I did find the trail in downtown Connellsville. I started quickly. I would be riding uphill for about 70 miles, but it was a very low grade all the way.
The trail was pretty compact and didn’t give big rolling resistance. I was now on the bridge I had seen earlier, but the view was much better, especially since I was now on the trail. As I left Connellsville, I could see the footpath I had ignored earlier. It turns out that it could have led me to the trail in about 250 yards walk! There was no time to waste arguing with myself – one of the many benefits of traveling alone.
I knew the food stops were going to be spaced pretty far apart and might take extra riding off the trail to get to them. I had grabbed an extra milk from my breakfast stop to go with the PBJ sandwich I had made yesterday. It had a proper execution 13 miles down the trail. Each bridge crossing offered a spectacular view of the river, mountains and railroad tracks.
I was glad to find a grocery store in Ohiopyle and got a snack there. I was holding out for something more substantial in Confluence, another 11 miles down the trail. I made good time and hit the edge of town by 10:35. I went to 2 different places, but neither opened until 11. In that time, I could be another 4 or 5 miles down the trail. The skies were overcast and the race against the rain was not going to wait. I worked on the trail mix I carried in my jersey and rode on.
I was hoping Casselman might have possibilities, but it came and went without anything to offer. I hit the visitors center in Rockwood and was given some suggestions that added an extra mile round trip, but I needed food and a bathroom break. I had a short conversation with another biker. He was fully self sustained with camping gear. In my mind, he hadn’t traveled far, maybe 10 miles. Unfortunately for him he had encountered rain. I was hoping it was done by the time I reached Garrett. I think it’s funny that those who camp point out that if given an opportunity to pitch their tent in or near a graveyard, they won’t do it. I object to camping, but if I did camp, I would be okay with a cemetery. Seems like a place you wouldn’t be disturbed.
I ate my Philly cheese steak sandwich quickly and washed it down with 2 gatorades. The sun was breaking out, but there were still clouds in the horizon. The race was still on. Meyersdale was 14 miles away. Along the way I saw the kindness of strangers from someone that had created their own water station outside their yard. I had some close encounters with large snakes, and a deer. However it was a small flock of geese that created my first fall of the entire trip. The parents were protecting the chick’s from my riding in their direction. I thought that I had the right of way, but mama or papa decided otherwise and charged me. I tipped over before I could unclip from the unexpected stop. I was tempted to pepper spray them for making me fall. Instead, I rode past them a little faster while their backs were momentarily turned. When I finally got to Meyersdale I was beginning to think I might win the race. All along the trail, I had hardly seen any bikers. I had gone stretches of 10 to 12 miles without seeing anyone. This was a pretty lonely ride, even by my standards. After Meyersdale, I started seeing some more people. What really got my attention was some very long bridges and tunnels. At one of the tunnels, I could barely make out the light at the other end. There was a cold draft emanating from the entrance. It reminded me of the entrance to the cave in the final Lord of The Rings movie where Aragon goes in to recruit the army of the dead. But I didn’t have Anduril. I only had a couple of lights on Hidalgo’s handlebar.
In the final stretch I came through both the Eastern Continental Divide and the Mason Dixon Line. Just after exiting one of the long, dark tunnels, I was surrounded by clouds and fog. It was a reminder that the race against the rain was not over. At least now, I was going downhill. I instantly went from a 11 to 13 mph pace to a 15 to 17 mph speed. The ground was wet from recent rain. The sky was dark, letting me know that it still had more to give.
I finally made it to Frostburg. My phone battery was getting very low. Even worse, my reception was such that I couldn’t get any data about local places, like hotels. I called Becky for assistance. With her help, a map I found a little farther, and asking anyone that passed by, I made my way into downtown from the trail and checked into the historic Failingers Hotel Gunter. Although it was a little more expensive than another choice, it advertised a free bike wash. It also had continental breakfast that the other didn’t. Finally, I didn’t have to climb 2 more killer hills to get there. Just after I checked in and was hosing the worst of the trail off Hidalgo, the rain came pouring down. I had won the race by minutes.
The Lone Rider