GAP 7, To Meyersdale

September 17, 2018

As forecast, the rains came with a vengeance, curling around from the east and Hurricane Florence. Having nothing to do with the rains, but somewhat of a portent of our day, was this tree across the street from our lodging. Happily, it did not cause a power outage at our place.

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Eventually, I got wet enough that I feared for my “good” camera’s well-being, even as I kept it under my raincoat, so I put it in safe-keeping in my waterproof pannier. My iPhone has a waterproof case, so what photos I took in the steady, pouring, insistent rain of the day were taken with the iPhone camera.

Honestly, there’s not much to say about the ride for the day. We got wet. The trail was wet. Our bikes got filthy.

Happily, however, it was warm, temperature-wise. In fact I got so hot riding that I eventually took off my jacket which was wet from the inside as well as the outside from my own sweat and the nonstop rain. This was the day during which we climbed to Meyersdale, known as the highest town along the GAP Trail.

There is some interesting history associated with several bridge/tunnel/railroad structures we rode over and through. The Pinkerton bridges, tunnels and horn have an interesting story. From the 14th Edition of the official GAP Trail Guide (which I recommend if anyone is going to ride this trail):

There were two railroad tunnels built through the Pinkerton Neck (MP52), a narrow pinch of erosion-resistant geology that created a peninsula in the Casselman River (locally called “The Horn”). The first was the B&O (Baltimore & Ohio) tunnel, completed in 1871. Like many tunnels of the era, it was lined with timber, and when it was destroyed by fire in 1879, a bypass or “shoofly” was built around the horn while the tunnel was being repaired.

CSX completed a major construction project in 2014 to “open-cut” or “daylight” the B&O tunnel so it would accommodate double-stacked rail cars. The fill from this massive cut was placed on top of the Pinkerton horn and has drastically changed the way this area looks.

The Western MD RR built its tunnel in 1912, flanked by the Pinkerton Low and High Bridges over the Casselman River. It had not been open to trail use until 2015 due to its severely deteriorated condition. GAP Trail users had traveled along the B&O shoofly for a scenic 1.5 mile “detour” around the Pinkerton horn.

Major work was undertaken in 2015 to re-line the WM RR tunnel, making it safe for trail use.

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This photo is from the official GAP Trail Guide, 14th Edition.

We dripped our way into the town of Rockwood, PA (MP43, across the river from the Trail) to visit and eat lunch at the Mill & Opera House, for which we got a lovely tour of the truly ancient (and the proprietress reported, haunted) structure. While Rockwood was laid out in 1857, it was not until after the American Civil War that it began to boom with the arrival of the Baltimore & Ohio (B&O) railroad. By the 1880s, Rockwood was southern PA’s fastest-growing villages.

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Our lunch (and slightly-drying-out-spot) in the Mill Shoppes & Opera House was most definitely “comfort food.” Many of us chose the chicken pot pie for lunch and man, was it warming and delicious. Lumber and feed were processed in the old mill building for nearly a century, and like many small towns with large warehouse-like structures, the building has had a performance area above the working mill and storage areas for nearly as long.

Judy Pletcher had a dream to restore the old mill and opera house, and her dream was realized in 2000. She described some of the renovation challenges, and indicated a few of the “left as-was” rooms (mostly storage areas) on our tour. These days the structure is a café, pizza shop, gift and retail shop “mall” on the lower floor, and a presentation space for the community upstairs. Along the upstairs wall, which includes a catering area for dinner theater and special events, are signed photos of many “stars” who have performed in the renovated Opera House. A large-ish (bigger than HO scale) model train runs around the main café room, along a track suspended near the ceiling.

Next we came to the Salisbury Viaduct (MP33.5). This is one of the most distinctive features of the GAP Trail. At 1,908 feet long, this amazing structure dominates the Casselman River Valley. The 101-ft. high steel trestle was a key engineering achievement for the Western Maryland Railway Co.’s Connellsville Extension. Hundreds of spectators cheered when the first train rolled across this engineering wonder in the early 1900s.

It was not built without cost, however. Disaster struck in 1911 when an electric traveling crane crashed to the ground while trying to lift a 14.5 ton girder up to the deck. Six men were killed and one was severely injured. A month later, a worker fell to his death from the trestle deck.

Like most of the train bridges in this part of the Western Maryland RR line, it was built to accommodate a second track, but that expansion was never built. Decommissioned as a through-route in 1975, the trestle was decked for Trail use in 1998.

There is also the Keystone Viaduct (MP30) at 910-feet long, and the Bollman Iron Bridge (MP30.5) originally built by the B&O to cross Gladdens Run in another county entirely. It was moved 100+ years ago to serve as a farm road crossing above the RR in Somerset County. In 2007 it was moved again to augment the GAP Trail as a piece of history. It is an early example of a cast and wrought iron bridge (by Master Bridge Engineer, Wendell Bollman).

Here are a few random images from along the ride.

At last we rolled into Meyersdale (MP32) and the Yoder Guest House where we were met by Charles Yoder. We had a nice bike shed in which to put our gear, and a hose with which to clean our bikes of the grit and grime the rain had not already washed away. It was somewhat horrifying to walk into this lovely renovated old home dripping like sponges—but we did, in fact, remove our disgusting shoes before entering.

Jack and I had a very nice room and the big bonus was that the bathroom had a heater included with the shower vent, so we were able to drape, hang, and spread out most of our wet gear in the bathroom to get mostly dry during our stay (after we ourselves had taken showers, of course).

Denise Yoder cooked a scrumptious meal for us, and we spent some good “community” time on the Yoder front porch, watching the traffic pass and chatting about this and that. The Yoder house is definitely a recommendation, because they were very friendly and accommodating, and have covered their walls with bicycle art.

It was a very fun place that I’d recommend to anyone passing through Meyersdale. Up from the Yoder’s is the renovated depot next to the trail that is also worth a stop. It is a museum of the railroad heritage and an interesting building to boot. There you can get GAP gear, a snack, water, and other necessities of trail riding.

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Picture taken the next day, after the rain.

Bike Stats:

  • Ride time: 3 hours
  • Stopped time: 3.25 hrs.
  • Distance: 32.3 miles
  • Average speed: 11MPH
  • Fastest speed: 23.3MPH
  • Ascent: 796 ft.
  • Descent: 125 ft.

 

GAP 5 Part 2: To Connellsville

September 15, 2018

Before we left West Newton, in the Ruritans’ reclaimed rail car, we learned about some of the sights we were to see along our way toward Connellsville. There’s a lot of history along the GAP trail that is worth at least a fleeting glance, so a rider can understand the context of the trail’s roots and bones, rising from its origin as a railroad bed.

When talking about The Ruins Project in the most recent post, I mentioned the town of Whitsett (MP 103). As a traditional “company town,” Whitsett is a living example of the “cracker-box” houses that were owned by the company, along with the infamous “company store.” In the song Sixteen Tons, the singer says, “I owe my soul to the company store”—not an uncommon situation in which many of the coal mine workers found themselves. Because goods in the company store were tremendously expensive, most miner families had to buy food and goods on credit, ending up owing the mining company more than their wages, and plunging them into indentured servitude.

But Whitsett is known for another reason: the populace is extremely proud that the town has always been an integrated community. Neighbors in Whitsett have watched out for and stood by one another through many hard times. The floods of 1936, ’54, and ’72, plus two train derailments (1947 & 1974) brought distress to the families of Whitsett. But the town has become more closely-knit, and today is known, among other things, for generating some of the finest amateur baseball teams known.

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Early in our ride, I stopped to see this marked feature along the trail (marked with a post and the words “Mailbox Formation”). It was pretty cool.

The Tufa

A tufa is a rare formation of limestone that grows out of fresh water seeping through the ground outside of a cave (as the water warms, calcium carbonate emerges and fossilizes, covering anything it falls upon, drip by drip). It’s like the deposits found in caves (stalactites and stalagmites) but without the protection of the surrounding rock. A tufa is exposed to and vulnerable to the elements.

To teachers, students, and naturalists interested in geology, it is a delicate outdoor classroom—it’s difficult to ‘get’ geology indoors because of its scale (this tufa stands 37 feet tall). To archeologists, the tufa is a scrapbook: layers upon layers of calcium salts have trapped the history of the last 18,000 years. Every day, something else disappears (and is preserved) under the constant, slow, drip, drip. For example, dust from passing trains in the 30s; from distant volcanic eruptions; even from the first atomic tests in the 40s—could be recovered and studied, telling tales and stories intimate to the era in which it has been preserved.

As such, the tufa is vulnerable to destruction by curious visitors, fertilizer runoff, logging activities, pipelines, and exploration. Therefore, not many of the locals let folks like us know exactly where it is, because its fragile situation is quite close to the trail. Happily, it is difficult to see and to find, and it’s on private property. 

I did try to find something like what I’d read about and seen in an old newspaper article. But what I saw and photographed (and intentionally left off here) might simply have been a slow-moving spring polluted by a long-gone mining operation. I mention it because it’s interesting, but I leave the photo out so the tufa won’t be destroyed by folks as curious as I am.

Coke ovens

In the industry’s heyday, hundreds of these beehive-shaped ovens would be burning, all in a long row (for ease of loading coal from rail cars into the ovens; and then for transfer of the coke back to rail cars to head up to Pittsburgh for steel-making). Elder residents can remember the coke ovens lighting up the night sky. The area around MP 89 and Connellsville became known as Dante’s Inferno.

A fellow named Cochran, who lived in nearby Dawson, had discovered how to make coke from coal around the 1840s. The key was a small, dome-shaped oven, modeled after bread ovens. For nearly 100 years afterward, coke ovens (also called “beehive ovens”) were in use along the Yough River (until about 1930). Cochran’s method was the biggest industrial discovery ever made along this section of the GAP trail, and resulted in the greatest number of millionaires per capita residing in the geography between Connellsville to Perryopolis than anywhere in the United States. At one time, 13,000 bushels of coke were boated from Connellsville to Cincinnati.

Here’s a brief primer on coal, coke, and steel.

Bituminous coal (black coal) is relatively soft, and contains a tar-like substance called bitumen (asphalt). Bituminous coal is of higher quality than lignite coal; yet it is of poorer quality than anthracite.

If it is to be used for many industrial processes, bituminous coal must first be “coked” to remove the volatile components. Coking is achieved by heating the coal in the absence of oxygen (to the extent possible), a process which drives off hydrocarbons (for example propane & benzene among others) as well as sulfur gasses. Much of the water in bituminous coal is also driven out during carbonization.

While the coal is heating in the “beehive oven” in a very low-oxygen environment, it softens, allowing the volatiles escape through its pores. When cooled, the resultant coke has swollen (as compared to how it began) resulting in a larger volume—contrary to what we know to be typical of burning, where the end result is most frequently a much smaller volume than what was burned in the first place.

Coke (also called metallurgical coal) is used in the manufacture of steel, where carbon fuel must be as volatile-free and ash-free as possible. The strength and density of coke is particularly critical when used in a blast furnace. In steel-making, the coke is not only a fuel but also a reactant in the steel-making blast furnace.

In steel making, impurities (nitrogen, silicon, phosphorus, sulfur, and excess carbon) are removed from raw iron ore. At the same time, alloying elements like manganese, nickel, chromium, and vanadium are added, which produce different grades of steel. The use of coke in the furnace also limits impurities (termed “inclusions”) in the steel, which is also critical to ensure the quality of products cast from molten steel.

This is how the “beehive ovens” worked: A fire brick chamber shaped like a dome, typically ~13 ft. wide and ~8 ft. high, was used to make coke. The roof had a hole for introducing the coal and other kindling from the top. 

In the lower part of the wall was an opening (with a door) through which the coke was removed. In a coke oven battery, a number of ovens were built in a row with common walls between neighboring ovens. An average battery consisted of a great many ovens, sometimes hundreds, in a row.

Bituminous coal was introduced from above to an even layer of about 25 to 35 inches deep. Initially, air (and sometimes kindling material) must be supplied to ignite the coal. Carbonization (burning) then began, producing the volatile gases, which subsequently burned inside the oven, providing both the heat as well as the oxygen-free carbonization environment required to make coke.

Carbonization happened from top to bottom of the layer of coal, and was completed in 2 or 3 days. Because the heat was maintained by the ignited and igniting volatiles, no useful by-products of the burning were recovered. Exhaust gasses were allowed to escape to the atmosphere.

The hot coke was then quenched with water and removed manually through the side opening. The walls and roof of the beehive oven retained enough heat to ignite the carbonization process for the next layer of 25-35 inches of bituminous coal.

Impurities not driven off and/or burned as gasses accumulated to form “slag.” Basically, slag is the accretion of those removed impurities not burned, evaporated, or discharged out the roof hole. In the early days of coke-making, slag was simply an unwanted by-product and was discarded into enormous piles. Later, it was found to have some use, as an ingredient in brick-making, mixed cement, and granule-covered shingles.

The man who discovered this process, Cochran, lived in Dawson, and we rode across the river to see the town. Possibly due to the floods of Gordon, but possibly because its a dying community, we found a ghost town. But we did see the well-maintained former Cochran home.

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Much of the area, however, looked like this elderly structure, which some intrepid soul had once tried to turn into a shop-filled destination.

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Another ambitious person had tried to set apart his/her home, sited right next to the active rail road, by painting it purple.

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This neon-colored house was difficult to miss.

There was a pretty church in the town, and the sign outside said there were Tiffany windows preserved within. We didn’t get inside, so we couldn’t see the windows.

As we were riding toward the bridge back across the Yough, another interesting home with a wrought-iron fence around it caught our attention. In one of the gate “posts” was an active honey bee hive. We thought it was quite appropriate to see these gentle workers after seeing the coke ovens, and considering the mosaic of the “beehive” oven we discovered at The Ruins Project (see my post here).

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We passed under the glass arch into Connellsville around lunch time. Since the demise of the coal and steel industries, Connellsville has re-made itself as a glass making center.

We rode into town to the Connellsville Canteen—site of a railroad stop-over for troop trains heading with soldiers toward the ports from which they’d ship to fight in WWII. Mrs. Rose Brady, founder of the Canteen, organized 600+ women volunteers between the ages of 21 and 80 to offer warm, healthy food and smiles to troops heading to fight. The Canteen served more than a half-million servicemen and women between April 1944 and April 1946, an average of 3,500 people every week.

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The place had lots and lots of WWII memorabilia, photos, icons, stories, and objects donated to the “museum” by Connellsville residents. It is a very personal museum dedicated to honoring the military men and women and their families who haled from Connellsville. We ate an excellent meal, before which we were invited to go see the elaborate HO-gauge train town set up in a back room.

Sept. 15 was a great ride full of interesting stuff, topped off with excellent meals including a hole-in-the-wall, local Italian dinner at Ruvo’s Italian Restaurant. Well worth the discovery. 

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We slept for the night at the Cobblestone Hotel and Suites, just off the trail, complete with a bike-washing station and free towels to wipe the bikes down after their rinse.

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Bike Stats:

  • Ride time: 2:30
  • Stopped time: 5:00
  • Distance: 29.3 miles
  • Average speed: 11.75MPH
  • Fastest speed: 17.8MPH
  • Ascent: 301 ft.
  • Descent: 77 ft.

Next up: Connellsville to Confluence

GAP 2, Cumberland, Maryland

Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018

Before jumping into the shuttle service van that was scheduled to drive us, our bikes, and all our gear (in Minnie-Van) to a ‘burb of Pittsburgh (West Homestead, PA), we had time to take a quick walking tour of Cumberland, mostly along the waterfront GAP trail, and up Washington St. to the famous Episcopal Church on the hill, in which Tiffany windows glow even with the dull, cloudy day on which we started our adventure. But more of that in a bit.

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There’s a lot of history in Cumberland, where a very young George Washington surveyed the area, and where Wills Creek (channeled with concrete in the photo to mitigate flooding in the downtown historic district) meets the Potomac River. Historically, Cumberland was first a Fort, then a transportation hub; today, it is a hub for recreation, where the C&O Canal towpath trail meets the Great Allegheny Passage rail-to-trail conversion: Mile 0 of the GAP trail. The terminus of the C&O Canal, in the ebb of its heyday, became the beginning of the first US National Road.

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As a National Historic Place registrant, Cumberland has a lovely pedestrian area where old building facades have been preserved and are in use as boutiques, restaurants, businesses, and shops, accessible from the GAP trail. Much artwork adorns the Wills Creek area.

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This is just a small section of an enormous mural adorning two complete building walls framing the corner of the pedestrian mall area.

As we walked across Wills Creek and up Washington Street toward two amazing tours Allen had arranged for our group (one was a Historic Society preserved Victorian home with most of the period furnishings and structure intact), we saw many homes and churches in the oldest, highest-above-the-river part of town. Among the prettiest is the one at the top of this blog post. 

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Some of the homes need a bit of TLC.

The original Fort Cumberland, a colonial-era stronghold, was built atop the high ridge, with a protective (and controlling) view of the mighty Potomac River.

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Artist’s interpretation of what Fort Cumberland might have looked like when it was used in the 1700s. This image shows the Potomac River in the foreground, with Wills Creek joining it near the lower right—that is not a turn in the Potomac, but rather the two flowing together, then meandering off to the right, out of the picture and toward the Atlantic.
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View of Cumberland today from the old fort site.

At the time, much more of the municipality was on high ground. The earth has been removed for building and roadways over the long years since it was just a fort. Now Cumberland occasionally floods. This knowledge and seeing where our cars would be parked for the trip left the three couples who had vehicles in the Canal St. long-term parking area slightly concerned about local flooding with Florence’s potential trajectory. What we hadn’t counted on was the pigeons—more on that in the final installment of the cycling part of this trip.

Upon the site of the old fort was built, in the 1800s, the Episcopal Church with the Tiffany windows.

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The neatest aspect of this building, in my opinion, is the way in which they preserved some of the abandoned fort infrastructure, and used the old fort’s tunnels upon which the church sat as a stop along the Underground Railroad. For many, many years the pastors of the church hid, nurtured, and transferred escaping slaves to the next stage of safety along their road to freedom. 

Our guide began our tour with a digital “playing” of the old organ (complete with a heraldic horn section). The congregation’s organist is also an organ tuner and builder, and he’s adjusted the equipment so it can be played digitally or manually; from the back of the room or from the front (during special musical events). It was pretty awesome.

Louis Comfort Tiffany was the talented son of Charles Tiffany, the jewelry store owner. L.C. Tiffany was an interior designer in the mid-1800s, when his interest turned toward the creation of stained glass. He opened his own studio and glass foundry because he was unable to find the types of glass that he desired in interior decoration. He wanted the glass itself to transmit texture and rich colors, and he developed a type of glass he called “Favrile,” which he patented in 1892. Favrile glass has a superficial iridescence, which causes the surface to appear to shimmer, and “collects” light from that which surrounds it. “It is distinguished by brilliant or deeply toned colors . . . iridescent like the wings of certain American butterflies, the neck [feathers] of pigeons and peacocks, and the wing covers of various beetles” — according to Tiffany himself.

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While this image appears blurry (and it was, in fact, taken from a long distance, but with the camera solidly on a firm surface) I think it is a technique used by Tiffany to affect a “painting” or brush stroke with the glass. I may be wrong, but I think it’s made of streamer glass. The phrase “streamer glass” refers to a pattern of glass strings affixed to the glass surface, to represent twigs, branches, and structures like feathers. Streamers are made from molten glass that is vigorously swung back and forth to stretch into long, thin strings which rapidly cool and harden. These are pressed onto the molten surface of sheet glass during the rolling process and become permanently fused.
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This Tiffany triptych is not backlit. Instead, it’s made using many, many layers of glass, to “shadow” areas, and to leave other areas able to capture the ambient light and direct it—as with using lighter-colored paints—to illuminate the areas in the scene that either show light or reflect it. Here the light comes off the actual torch raised above the saint’s head, and the glass gathers light where the torchlight hits the martyrs bodies in the scene.
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Another Tiffany window one might think is backlit, but it is not. There are many layers of glass in the darker portions to create the many, many shades of blue throughout. It is an incredibly heavy window.

One of the stories told by our guide involved the integration of the church, just after the American Civil War. Some of the former slaves had been “raised” to be Catholic, but when they got to the north (Maryland was actually a slave state prior to the ACW) they were not welcomed to attend the Catholic Church’s services. One of the white friends of the Catholic congregation asked the Episcopal priest if the former slaves could attend his church (same fellow who ran the underground railroad stop) and he said, of course. There was an upper concourse set aside for the black folks—but even then, some of the Catholic blacks would not attend a non-Catholic service.

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Along this wall above the main floor was once the “blacks only” balcony. In the mid-twentieth century, it was reserved for the choir. And finally, it was removed and renovated as it appears today.

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Later in the tour, we saw the original drawings for a cross and candelabra, also designed and made by Tiffany for the church. None of the pix I took of the golden items nor the drawings turned out, I’m afraid.

As we entered and exited, I was interested in the patterns of the limestone slabs in the walkways, after years and years of erosion. They looked a bit like those relief maps of the ocean floor.

After admiring the “above ground” amenities of the structure, our guide took us downstairs, into the tunnels. There were rooms, narrow stairs, thin “runways” and low-hanging structural elements everywhere. It was frightening to think of a live person with black skin coming here for refuge and respite after a long, dangerous trip from Georgia or Virginia. Afraid every second that he or she would be betrayed. Near starvation or looking over the edge toward starvation at every moment. Too tired to sleep—too afraid or hungry or sick or injured to rest.

The fort’s ammo magazine and all the protective below-ground structures were made by erecting wooden forms and filling behind them with clay and rocks from the river. Those hardened and, with the exception of a few river rocks that have come loose over the centuries, the walls have held up to this day.

Our guide told us that, while the fort used long, underground tunnels to access water for the fort’s uses from Wills Creek and the Potomac, by the time of the underground railroad, the same tunnels were used to get human cargo from the “bad part of town” (the red light district, near the waterfronts) up to safety, nourishment, and rest under the church, and then off to the north and across the Mason-Dixon Line, a mere 10-ish miles by crow flight from Cumberland; Milepost 20.5 along the actual rail line that is now the GAP trail; and freedom for the escaped slaves.

There was much more to Cumberland that we did not see, including the structure out of which George Washington worked, and the Visitor Center. But we had a shuttle to catch at 2PM.

And we were off to West Homestead, a suburb of Pittsburgh. 

It was every bit of a 2-hour drive up interstates and toll roads, but we made it without too much problem, except for missing a turn during Pittsburgh rush hour.

But the hotel we occupied, Hampton Inn, was right on the trail and the Monongahela River (the GAP trail heading east follows the Monongahela until McKeesport, where it turns to follow the Youghiogheny River (pronounced Yawk-a-gain-ee, or the Yawk for short). Milepost 150 of the GAP trail is at what the city calls “The Point” where the Monongahela and the Allegheny rivers come together to create the Ohio River. 

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Homestead was once known as the Steel Capital of the World, symbolizing Pittsburgh’s dominance in the industry. Our city guide (tomorrow) reminded us that, at its peak of production, Pittsburgh was commonly known as “Hell with the lid off.”

Homestead’s flagship complex of US Steel was shut down in 1986. At that time, it had 450 buildings on 430 acres, and employed 200,000 workers throughout its years of making unprecedented amounts of steel.

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West Homestead is a mere 10 miles from Pittsburgh’s Point, and along with other suburbs of the city, is re-making itself as a shopping and recreation/tourism draw. Bravo to Pittsburgh and environs for making progress cleaning up and re-focusing the city.

We took a quick shake-down ride to assure our bikes made the trip in good shape (about five miles) and then got cleaned up to walk across the road to an enormous shopping area, with beautiful plantings and flowers everywhere, and more shops and restaurants than you can imagine, including Rockbottom Brewery.

Our group dinner was at Bravo Cucina Italiana, and it was excellent and fun.

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As we walked back to the hotel, we noticed a poster, but couldn’t quite get the idea of Indoor Axe Throwing into our heads.

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Tomorrow, Pittsburgh and a grand bicycle tour of the city!

 

Madison, Wisconsin

July 29, 30 & 31

Said goodbye to Lake Winnebago and hello to Babcock County Park Campground, confusingly, part of the Dane County Park system.

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At first impression, the Babcock campground was unimpressive. We missed it on the first pass, and it’s right next to a heavily-travelled road, so we saw what we might be in store for as we passed: big rigs chock-a-bock in a small, woody park.

But when we pulled in and saw our site (#5), on the opposite side of the total 25 site options from those next to the road, we were more pleased. The hosts, Tom and Mary Lou, are very welcoming and helpful and we’re on the side of the small grounds nearest the Yahara River, with a large lawn behind our trailer, and lovely sugar maples keeping things shady everywhere. The fire ring is out in the lawn, and there’s no problem setting up the screen house behind Roomba on the expansive lawn.

There are no gates, although a sign says “no visitors after 10P” which is also quiet hours. So we were a little apprehensive about security. But with the hosts knowing us and our neighbors knowing us (a couple who share long-distance trucking duties when they’re working) we felt easier after we’d all spoken after the first day.

After taking some time with the setup (we also had to fill our water tank on board, as there’s water, but not at the sites, which are all electric), we asked Tom about reaching a cycling path from the campground, and he directed us to a neighborhood nearby. We decided to walk up there a ways to see what we could see after our dinner, and we caught the sun setting over Lake Waubesa, which the Yahara River flows into, and on which we are situated to the east. I had to stand in someone’s driveway to get the shot, as the whole lakefront is “owned,” but it was a nice walk with not only the pretty sunset to see, but really nicely-done homes with flowers in the yards, and a mix of contemporary and more traditional architectures.

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July 30

Took our bikes into the neighborhood we’d walked last night, but down along the neighborhoods along the lake front, headed north toward the dedicated bike trail that winds up in downtown Madison.

It was a really fun ride, and we passed over what Tom reported is the longest boardwalk in the US, across one of the Lake’s bays. We saw some sand cranes after we moved away from Lake W and toward the urban areas of Madison’s suburbs, but still had a nice dedicated, paved path. Saw a couple of neighbors along the way.

Shortly thereafter, we found the Capital Trail closed for re-paving. A local rode up and offered some work-arounds, and suggested that some folks are still using the leg we needed to get into town, because he’d heard that they hadn’t begun the construction there. So we took a chance, and appreciated his advice, which included how to re-locate the Capital Trail on the other side of the construction.

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With a bit of jiggering, we made it into downtown, and found our way to the “Lake Loop” which was not marked on our map, but had indicators painted on the path and sidewalks. One of the primary problems with the map we had was that it did not include any crossing street names, which left us somewhat asea as we negotiated the more urban parts of our ride.

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Downtown Madison from the bike path.

We saw one part of the trials or the warmups for the CrossFit competition that is going to consume Madison over the weekend: One of the city’s boat ramps to Lake Monona was closed for folks to swim out to a float where (presumably) their efforts would be timed. We also saw lots of signage and other types of infrastructure for the event being installed by work crews. Our hosts had previously mentioned the CrossFit competition, and said that by Thursday and Friday, the campground would be full of young folks with chiseled bodies either competing in or watching the series of events. 

On our ride, we got a bit off kilter when we decided that a real circumnavigation of Lake Monona would take us back where we started, or nearly so—and we thought there were at least segments of bike path to take us there. But as the clouds darkened and we heard thunder in the distance, we had to rely on Jack’s “spidey sense” to figure out general direction, and our positioning without any references to cross streets. We ended up with a pretty nice round path with a small “tail” on it to get up and back to Babcock Park.

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BikeStats

  • Ride time = 1:53
  • Stopped time = 56:40
  • Distance = 22.85 mi
  • Average speed = 12MPH

I had some fun taking pictures of a heron that landed on the little river near us (the rain did not hit locally), and we grilled some bratwurst, grilled some veggies and corn, and had rice for dinner.

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July 31

We’d arranged (before we left home) with my college roommate and W&M Women’s rugby teammate, Val, to meet her and Jody halfway between their home and our campsite, in Delaplane, WI. About an hour’s drive for each of us, we chose the Waterstreet Brewery’s “Lake District” location (they’re a Milwaukee brewery) for lunch.

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It was a wonderful reunion, although something came up and Jody was unable to join us. The last time we were in Wisconsin, we had linked up with them at their lovely home in Racine, and since then, Val has retired and she showed us photos of her garden, which has matured and possibly doubled in size since we saw it in person.

We had a decent meal, but it was the catching up talk that was the main dish. We had a truly wonderful time.

After our meal, we returned to camp and I began to get myself ready for starting work on the morrow, at the NABA Convention, held at the Madison Crown Plaza in town.

High Cliff State Park, WI

July 28

High Cliff State Park is a lovely place, although their maps are quite confusing. But along with the water sports, for which most of our neighbors were there, campers will find lots and lots of walking/hiking/biking trails to enjoy. 

 

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Being in the woods, and having a relaxing day on our hands, I tried to photograph a couple of our insect neighbors.

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We had thought to take a ride, touring the paved roads and taking “every left turn” so we wouldn’t miss anything, but then remembered my bike chain.

Jack dug out the serious bicycle maintenance tool kit he carries in the truck, and with a couple of pairs of pliers, he fixed it right up. When we tried to find the bent link, it was impossible to discern from the others. 

I greased up both chains and took a test ride to see how the fix would work, and voila! Back in bike business. So we began by exploring our loops, and found what would be the perfect site for next time we’re in the neighborhood: #109 on the electric loop. It has good space between it and both its neighbors, is beautifully shady, and has a multi-use (unpaved) trail off its back.

We rode that trail through the woods and although we had many roots and rocks to avoid, it was fine, until we joined up with the horse trail.

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That part was choppy and rutted, and mostly came out of the trees and through hot, sunny, buggy open meadows. Between the mosquitoes and the chopped up terrain, I thought I would lose my mind and my fillings.

Still, we persevered, hoping that the “Overlook Trail” would take us to an overlook where we could see precisely how high these High Cliffs are above Lake Winnebago. But no. There was no overlook available, until we (mistakenly) rode our bikes onto a part of the Red Bird Trail that discouraged bicycle use, and there were short paths toward rocky outcroppings, but there was hardly any view at all due to the thick tree growth from below. In the image at the top of this post, you can see Lake Winnebago through a small window I was able to catch along the Red Bird. Jack actually walked up to one of the edges, but I could not go that close without some sort of barrier keeping my vertigo from tumbling be over the edge.

So we rode back as the sky darkened and threatened, but we only had to deal with sprinkles. 

Bike Stats:

  • Ride time = 56 minutes
  • Distance = 7.3 miles
  • Average speed = 7.8MPH

Every day our battery charged, but we continue to feel there is a problem either with the monitor, or some of the other wiring that sends solar gain into the battery because it seemed that the charge did not last as long as it should, given the sunlight and the relatively small draw (refrigerator, primarily) on the resource. The cross-breeze was such that we only had the vent fan running at the hottest part of the day, when the sun was full on the solar panels. 

That is something we’re going to have to continue to research and test.

After a simple meal of grilled hamburgers and chips, we called it a day and readied ourselves for the trip to Madison, WI, only a 3-ish hour drive southwest.

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Cycling And Rain

July 21-22

Rains came overnight while we were at The Pinery, but it was spit-and-stop for a while, so we took down the bikes anyway and headed to the “long ride” that we’d driven last night to get to the sunset beach. Much of the trail was bike-only, through the pine savannah and appropriately named the Savanna Trail. 

It was both on- and off-road, with at least 12 km along a little-used (badly paved) one-way loop road. The non-paved lengths were mostly packed sand for a really lovely multi-use path. We started getting thoroughly wet as we found the Visitors Center, and took some shelter in there, looking at the kid-friendly displays (it was a great center to initiate “citizen scientist” interest in the younger set). 

I found that most of the “leaflets three leave them be” plants around the sites (and through which we had to high-step to get to the shared pedestal for power) are NOT in fact, poison oak. There is, however, lots of bona-fide poison oak and ivy interspersed amongst these taller, woody-stemmed bushes.

Which turned out to be “fragrant sumac” (rhus aromatica) described as a harmless cousin to poison ivy. The info at the Center said that the bush grows where sand dunes have stabilized, has aromatic foliage and bright red berries, and is the most common shrub in the oak savanna. Fragrant sumac grows up to 5 ft. tall and is food and shelter for countless birds, mammals, and insects. I took a couple of photos of the two plants, both found around our campsite:

The rain became more insistent as we waited, so we retired with our bikes to a nice little gazebo next to the VC, and played on their wifi for a while, checking emails etc.

Then we just had to go on. The rain let up a little, but as we rode, it got heavier and just as I was about to ask Jack to carry my camera, it abated a bit. 

Still, you’re going to be as wet as you’ll ever get within the first half-hour of riding in the rain, so we carried on, and scooped the long paved loop to and along the beach parking areas (but we could not see any water from our vantage, as the dunes are substantial between the road and Lake Huron). 

Just where the one-way road ended (near the end of the beach access points) the Savana trail headed off-road into the woodsy area, and what a great ride that was. We were nearly the only ones out in the drizzle, so we really pushed the speed along the trail, and hit some rollers that were truly fun and exciting to alternately fly down and push up, keeping our speed pretty steady, but still getting a great workout. It was like bicycling along a roller-coaster track.

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The rain finally stopped and we got back to the campsite hoping that by hanging our wet gear (including gloves and shoes) in the screen house, at least some of it would get dry.

Bike Stats:

  • Ride time = 54 minutes
  • Stopped time = 1:10
  • Distance = 10.5
  • Average speed = 11.6MPH

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Then Jack put a “potlatch” dry rub on the salmon steaks we’d bought in town on Friday, the 20th, and we grilled it up, with asparagus and mushies, and heated up half of the remaining frozen mac-n-cheese from our HALS party. Yum! And Jack dug out the Solo Stove from the truck and we had a lovely fire during and after our meal. 

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The rain chased us under the awning a few times, but let up enough for us to thoroughly enjoy the beautiful fire.

Unfortunately, the rain kicked into high gear after we cleaned up from dinner, and kept up through the night and into the 22nd, and really swamped the area. Where a gentle, intermittent rain was able to soak into the sand pretty readily, the steady downpour we experienced created vast lakes of puddles, especially in front of the bathhouse (which, by the way, had too few toilets, showers, and sinks — at least in the women’s side — to accommodate all the adults and kids swarming the place). That also made the campground quite loud, overall, with many screeching and wailing children. Of course, it was a weekend, so I guess we should have expected that.

So we tucked in during Sunday the 22nd. I took some time to ready the backlog of blog uploads, and we went up to the Visitor Center again to take advantage of their robust wifi, and hung out there for a long while.

Returned to Roomba to crank up our next movie: Dunkirk. It was really good, although somewhat confusing in terms of the time frame because the 3 stories that come together in the end are not told chronologically. But once we caught onto the actors playing each major role in each of the three separate stories, it became more clear. But among the focal points near where all the stories intersected was a British mine sweeper that gets bombed by a German bomber, so we had to watch that happen several times, which was not pleasant, but was a bit of a triumph when the stories merged. I’d definitely recommend it, and I might even see it again, knowing now what I was unsure of then.

Our “goodbye Canada” meal was another grill meal. On the same shopping trip on Friday, we’d found turkey thighs—unfrozen, farm-raised, and fresh—and Jack put a bit of Bicentennial Rub (Penzies) on them, and they were delicious!

Every November, we think we need to eat more turkey, but in the states (at least in VA), if it’s not October or November, you cannot find un-frozen turkey—much less turkey pieces. 

So this was a real treat and super easy and yummy. I actually think I liked the turkey more than the salmon (but don’t tell Jack I said so).

We had another campfire in our super Solo Stove, and headed to bed as the embers glowed red.

One final note: Before we left The Pinery, some locals said we HAD TO VISIT a place called Tobermory, north of The Pinery, on the Bruce Peninsula. I place that here with the hope that a reader or two, heading that way might schedule it; and also so we won’t forget, because we will be back in that area again in the future.

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Cycling the Gatineau

July 18-19

Jack and I struck out early-ish to hit the cycle opportunities in the Parc de la Gatineau, created in 1938, an enormous park (with a Blue Ridge Parkway-like roadway throughout, created in 1959) across the Ottawa River from the primary parts of the city (we rode along much of the river yesterday during our circumnavigation of Ottawa).

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Not to be missed sights along the way, recommended by our hosts, were Lake Pink (which is actually green, named thus because it was donated to the community by a family, surname Pink) and lunch in Old Chelsea.

The outgoing leg of the trip was mighty fine, and for most of it, we were able to choose between riding along the Gatineau Parkway with the cars, or taking a paved bikes/pedestrians only route. We did both and both were quite fine, although hilly. One hill we climbed was much like our own Rocky Knob climb, although perhaps a half-mile shorter in length (but every bit as steep).

There is a lot about Lake Pink that is interesting, which I’ve copied off the reader boards here. If you aren’t interested in geology and such, you can skip this part and head down to the paragraph beginning, “After eating lunch . . .”

About Lake Pink

Lake Pink is meromictic, which means the water doesn’t mix like normal, leaving layers of different temperatures and ecologies. There is a total lack of oxygen in the bottom layers, with differing aquatic life and biomes among the various layers.

No one knew the lake was this type of body until the 1960s, when the peculiar turquoise color was noticed, and then thought to be a sign of sickness in the lake. During the 1970s, studies were undertaken to find (and mitigate, if possible) the source of the coloring, but scientists discovered that the layers of water at 13 meters (40-42 feet) had zero oxygen. At this time, they discovered the unique qualities of the Lake. The upper layers, however, are rich in oxygen and microscopic plant life (algae) and the coloration varies by how much algae is living in the topmost layers—more in the summer than in the fall and winter, so the winter/blue lake turns turquoise during the spring and summer.

After eating lunch at a very pretty bistro called Meech and Munch in what’s called “Old Chelsea” (the food was good but the service was inexcusably slow) . . . 

. . . we made an attempt to get back to the Parkway, but missed a turn and ended up on the not-bike-friendly urban streets of Gatineau proper, which is a busy suburb community to Ottawa. That part of the day’s activities was not at all fun, but we survived and found our truck again, and headed back to camp for a shower.

Bike Stats:

  • Ride Time = 1:30
  • Stopped time = 2:20
  • Distance = 17 miles
  • Average speed = 11MPH

With a VERY early departure on July 20 due to an extremely long day of driving to our next destination, we broke down camp as much as possible without hitching up the truck. So when we left camp to return to Ottawa for another evening with friends at Alex and Christine’s home (including Jim & Dale and Jen & Chris). It was a simply delightful evening with drinks, a superior dinner, fun conversation, and many laughs. We are so touched by everyone’s effort and thoughtfulness to include us southerners in their Ottawa hospitality. It was memorable and we left with hearts full of thankfulness and friendship.

We will definitely return. There is much more of the Gatineau to cycle and much more of the City’s museums and exhibits to see. Our appetite was definitely whetted and we will come back—sooner rather than later, we hope.