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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Goldilocks Panniers: Confluence to Cumberland

01/19/12 #244 65m
Rode from Confluence, PA to Cumberland, MD with R and S, 65 miles on the bike. This was an impromptu trip. Originally "the plan" was riding Friday, Saturday, Sunday but the weather forecast for Saturday-Sunday was truly nasty, and an important occasion called for being in town on Saturday so at the last minute we decided to ride Thursday-Friday in excellent weather. It worked out real well.

We drove to Confluence and were unsure of where to leave a vehicle overnight; the trailheads seemed a bit too isolated so we parked on the town square. As we were assembling our bikes a local resident pulled over in his car, rolled down the window and said "Just want to say it's great to see bicyclists here in town, taking advantage of the nice weather". Wow. I just don't often get people welcoming me in a town.

As we assembled our bikes in Confluence it struck me that we'd recapitulated the Goldilocks theme: I was way overpacked, R went minimalist, and S probably probably packed just right.

It was a beautiful day for a ride, and we got started at about 11:15 am. The 18 miles to Rockwood seemed like the longest stretch, interrupted by the Pinkerton bypass. Today brought the best view I've seen of how close the current train tunnel is to the abandoned Pinkerton tunnel. The daylighting operation is moving a lot of earth around.

The first stop was Rockwood with its trailside bike shop, changing station, and cellphone repeater. I really like Rockwood because it's certainly embracing the trail economy, but I would offer one kvetch: there's no public water available.

< rant > A long time ago I read that the mark of a civilization, a culture, or a city was how easily a visitor could obtain (and later discharge) a free drink of clean water. Look at old towns and there's a fountain in the plaza. The GAP trail towns are wonderful and I enjoy them but they generally fail the basic test of offering visitors drinking water. (They do much better on the porta-potty test.) They'll sell water to be sure, but there's no public drinking water - in sharp contrast to the C&O, with public water pumps every 10 miles. I think West Newton does the best job of trail hospitality, with a 24x7 water fountain, possibly the best rest rooms on the GAP, and they take your picture - and then I'd rank Ohiopyle and Connellsville, trailed by Meyersdale with its water fountain. (edit)

(wishlist: The ultimate prize for Trail Hospitality will go to the trailhead that offers a shower for transient campers.)

Twelve miles to Meyersdale, the halfway point on the trip. The windmills and the Somerset Viaduct looked great as always. It's still early in the season and the visitor center was closed, and the attraction of the town didn't overcome the task of climbing back up the hill so we took our break at the train station. Departing town and crossing the Bollman Bridge I thought about how much progress has been made, compared to when that bridge was sitting in a field for years waiting to be placed on the trail.

Climbing out of Meyersdale I realized the folly of carrying full bags "for the experience" and regretted the load. I thought about how climbing the mountain was generally a metaphor for enlightenment, and I remembered the story about the two monks who carried the woman.

I realized that my panniers were a self-induced burden, and extended the metaphor to "we all choose what baggage we carry", and that's about as metaphysical as I can get while riding uphill.

The Eastern Continental Divide was a welcome sight, and I never realized until R. pointed it out that the brick facing on the portal was trompe l'eoil. The descent was a pleasure, especially given the weight, and I really didn't have to pedal that often. Stopped in Frostburg (no public water) and then continued into Cumberland, arriving at about 8.15 pm.

Checked into our hotel, the new trailside Marriot, and put the bikes in our rooms and went straight back out to get dinner before the restaurants shut down. We ate at the Crabby Pig (closes at 9!) and enjoyed an excellent meal. Back to the hotel, showers and cleanup, email on the computers in the lobby. We had hoped to indulge in the hotel hot tub after riding but the pool complex was closed for maintenance. A most excellent day's riding.


  1. I continue to enjoy your blog!

    I have a matter of point:
    Please consider West Newton civilized. There is a public water fountain at the bottom of the steps of West Newton Station, on the trail; one doesn't even have to dismount to use it. Also, there is a side spigot for bottle-filling, as well as a dog water bowl.

  2. I stand chagrined and corrected, especially on remembering the boot-scraper-thingy at the entrance, which is certainly a mark of civilization. Thanks!