I awoke in the morning at my usual time of 7 or 7:30. Everything was almost ready to go except for my change of clothes from my sleeping gear to my riding gear. Once I did that, I loaded the bike and was off to breakfast. Jeff and Ron were still sleeping soundly when I left.
There was a small gas station and convenience store that I scoped out the night before. I knew that they had breakfast sandwiches. I ordered a pile of food. The sandwich was made to order rather than taken out of a refrigerator and microwaved. The morning was cool so I stood inside the store eating.
As I stood there, a young guy in his twenties came in to borrow a tool. His story was that he and his girlfriend were staying at the Husky Haven Campgound. When the got up this morning they found that she had a flat tire. He brought the rim and tire to the station to repair it, hoping to find a screwdriver to pry the tire from the rim. He was working hard to make this a great experience for her. He was trying to sell her on the sport of bicycle touring. The flat tire wasn’t helping with that task. He repaired the tire, inflated it and headed back to the camp.
I finished eating and headed for the trail myself. It was very cold that morning and I stopped to put on a jacket to give me a layer against the cold air blowing by as I pedaled down the trail. As I passed the campground, I waved to the lovebirds who were packing up their stuff and getting ready to leave. There was a thick fog over the trail. Deer crossed at a couple of points as I moved through the silver gray air. One of them jumped out of the woods and ran on the trail in front of me for about a quarter mile. I passed it as it stood in a thicket off the trail.
It became sunny and warm by mid-morning. I came to the Salisbury Viaduct that is over 1900 feet long. There was a beautiful view of the Casselman River and the valley below. The viaduct spans the Casselman, a major four-lane high, a local road and an active railroad bed. There was a shelter and a picnic table at one end where I stopped to hydrate and rest in the warm sun. That’s where I took the cover photo.
I stopped briefly in Meyersdale at an old train station and visitor center and talked with someone about my trip. As we talked my two tenants rode up. They were stopping in Meyersdale for breakfast. I though about that because I wouldn’t want to ride as far as they did before breakfast. “By the way,” Ron said, “Did you leave something on the clothesline?” “Oh, yeah! A pair of riding shorts.” He was quick to get it out of his pannier and toss it to me. He didn’t want my guy to be near his guys any longer than necessary. They went off to breakfast and I continued up the trail.
It didn’t take me long to reach the Eastern Continental Divide. It had been uphill at about a 1% grade from Connellsville. From here it would be mostly downhill at about a 1.5% grade. Next would be the great tunnels.
The first tunnel was the Big Savage Tunnel built in 1911. The tunnel is almost 3300 feet long. It is lighted so that it’s not so hard to traverse. Still, you want to be careful since visibility is not the best, especially after coming out of the bright sun. As you ride through, the distance to the portal at the other side is deceiving because the tunnel messes with your perspective. It always seems closer than it really is. Another couple was coming through in the opposite direction and as they neared I let out a “Woo-woo”, which probably only frightened them. It was supposed to be funny and it was something that I was compelled to do in a railroad tunnel. The trail on the other side is wide, gave me the feel of the rail bed, and generated the image of coming out of the tunnel in a locomotive with the curve ahead. There were many other places on the trail that gave me an appreciation of the achievement of building this railroad in 1911 since the trail runs high above the farm land, meadows, and forests below.
The next tunnel is the Borden Tunnel. At nearly 1000 feet long it is still impressive. This one isn’t lighted, but the ambient light was enough for me to ride through slowly without bumping into things or losing my balance. It is an interesting experience almost like flying an airplane by instruments. You ride through, keeping your eyes on the far portal for the horizon, and hoping someone hasn’t pulled the cruel trick of placing an obstacle on the floor of the tunnel.
The next stop was Frostburg. This is where the scenic steam locomotive turns around for the trip back to Cumberland. Unfortunately, it was not in service on Monday. I ate lunch at a wonderful little restaurant where I was the only customer. I walked in and asked if the restaurant was open. The woman who owned it said, “No, but I’ll make you something if you wait a minute.” Of course, she wasn’t willing to stoke up the grill, which was understandable. She made a chicken salad sandwich that was wonderful. I paid and tipped her well, giving her propers for a great sandwich. I climbed the stairs above the train turntable to the main street of Frostburg. It wasn’t a busy town and I was struck by the antiquity of some of the architecture, such as the deco marquee on the town movie theatre. I stopped in a diner and had a chocolate malt. I walked back down to the turntable and the train station to unlock my bicycle and head downhill.
The final tunnel is the Brush Tunnel, which is a little more that 900 feet long. There is a warning for this one that if the steam locomotive is coming, stay out of the tunnel. I imagine the coal smoke and steam would be a problem. Very soon after the tunnel I came to the Cumberland Bone Cave. This was a fossil cave that was unearthed by the people who built the railroad. The fossils date back 200,000 years. As I approached Cumberland there were other reminders of the achievement of building the railroad here. One of the last “artifacts” that I passed near Cumberland was “Lover’s Leap” where allegedly a distraught Indian maiden and her beau jumped to their death for romantic reasons.
The ride from Frostburg was all downhill at nearly a 1.5% grade. I barely needed to touch the pedals to keep up a speed of 15 to 20 miles per hour. The grade became less steep as Cumberland drew near. In town, I passed the station used by the scenic railroad. I came to the official end of the GAP and the start of the C&O Towpath Trail.
I checked into the Fairfield Inn and rolled my bicycle into my room on the first floor. After showering and getting ready for dinner, I went outside and ran into Jeff and Ron as they were rolling into town. That day they were slowed by tire problems. In spite of the mechanical problems, they were still having a great tour and were eager to continue on the C&O to Washington DC. The invited me to join them on the C&O, but I had commitments at home and needed to get back. I would return to do the C&O another time.
This was the end of a great ride from start to finish. I didn’t mind the rain that I experienced at the start. Thankfully it didn’t rain very long that day. The weather for the remainder of the trip was fine. It was a great ride because it is difficult to find one such as this that is off road for such long distances and away from the crush of cars and population centers. Next time I’m going all the way to Washington DC.