Estimated mileage: 75 miles, actual: 82.26 miles
Avg. speed: 15.1 mph
Cumulative distance: 754.42 miles
An early, but exciting start to the day. When we planned the trip, we knew that we’d have an opportunity to see some iconic buildings in Chicago and Washington. During the detailed route planning stage, we realised that our journey would take us close to Fallingwater, a country retreat designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1935. It’s perhaps the most famous piece of twentieth century domestic architecture in the wold. To be honest, although we both knew about the house and had seen pictures of it, neither of us had any idea about where is was. So for it to be so close to our route meant that we had to make a little detour to have a proper look.
Fallingwater was designed as a weekend house for the family of Edgar J Kaufmann, a Pittsburgh department store owner. The family owned the land and liked to be near the waterfall on Bear Creek. They wanted their house to be near the waterfall, but were surprised that Wright designed the house to ride above the falls rather than face it. The Kaufmann’s took to the design with very few changes.
Fallingwater exemplifies Wright’s concept of architecture that is in-keeping with the landscape more than any of his other buildings. The house had alternating sandstone walls, glazed bands and offset horizontal cantilevered concrete ‘trays’. The concrete trays are a pale orange colour – that are designed to blend in with colour that the rhododendron bushes turn in the autumn. The whole building therefore sits snugly into the landscape with the horizontal local stone helping to blend and connect the house to its surroundings.
In 1963 the house, its contents and grounds were given to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy by the son – l knew that he’d never married, one of the guides referred to a gender-neutral “life-partner”, which was unhelpful but intriguing. I looked Edgar jnr. up afterwards – and of course he was gay – but it’s not mentioned or referred to at Fallingwater. Edgar jnr. was responsible for persuading his parents to choose Wright as the architect, (their budget was $50,000 and they paid $150,000 for the house in the end!). Edgar jnr. supervised the build when Wright was away, which was most of the time apparently. Edgar jnr. donated the house to the public. Edgar jnr. Is intimately connected to the house and after he died his ashes were scattered at Fallingwater. But we’re apparently not allowed to know that there was a talented, generous, innovative, hard-working gay man behind Fallingwater – it’s all about Wright and Kaufmann snr. This makes me cross – there were lots of references to the parent’s marriage and what they did, so it’s clearly a deliberate policy.
In true Symonds style we were up at 6 am – extremely early – so as to be in time for our 8:00 am tour, which was only just over 3.5 miles away! We’d been warned that the climb was very steep and the receptionist at the motel advised us against cycling it – pah! We Are European Cyclists. The Alps and the Pyrenees are our playground … and the Mendips and the (very flat) Somerset Levels! But we are not going to be easily deterred here in the Appalachians. We did make one concession to the climb – we left most of our stuff at the motel after we’d checked out and only took one bag with a change of clothes for looking around the house. In deference to my age, (I think) Matthew carried the one bag to Fallingwater and Mike (McL) carried it back.
It was absolutely tipping down with rain when we left our motel and there was a very steep climb from Ohiopyle to Fallingwater so we arrived hot and wet. We changed and had a coffee before the tour began.
Our guide was Caitlin. She was really knowledgeable and we went through the whole house visiting every room – even those now used as offices for the current staff. We were allowed to wander about – so long as we didn’t touch anything – and as we were there so early, it was good to get pictures without the crowds. Our tour was meant to last two hours, but by the time we’d been around the house and looked at the grounds and had some lunch, it was gone 12 noon when we left!
Back to Ohiopyle and onto the trail. The rain had stopped but the trail surface was fairly poor. It deteriorated through the day. To be honest, although the scenery has been beautiful, the trail shouldn’t be regarded as a cycleway in my opinion – it’s certainly not suitable for narrow-tyred road bikes. Cue lots if ranting about the acres of tarmacked roads and the crap uneven bicycle trails that would cost a fraction of the roads to make good.
The bulk of the ride was a fairly steady – a gentle climb followed by a very steep descent into Cumberland.
We took the ride fairly easy through Confluence, Harnedsville, Fort Hill, Markleton, Rockwood, Garrett and into Meyersdale at about 4:00, where we stopped for something to eat. We saw some super-long trains – that was exciting. Over Meadow Mountain and through Sand Patch and Deal. Then over the highest point on the trail, which is 2,392 feet and start 25 miles of descent. Through Big Savage Tunnel, which is 3,294′ long. An epic piece of construction work. Riding through the tunnel was exciting – we were still high up and cloudy-mist was swirling around the entrance. The tunnel was dimly-lit and once inside it was quickly impossible to see forward to the exit or back to the entrance. We rode through whooping and making steam-engine whistle noises!
A sharp stone cut into tyre into Mike’s tyre and he punctured. The wall of the tyre was cut through and when the inner tube was repaired and re-inflated it bulged through the hole – that was never going to work in the medium term, but I hoped it would take us 20 miles to Cumberland.
We crossed the state border out of Pennsylvania and into Maryland at the Mason-Dixon Line, which was marked with a metal strip across the trail. North of the line, slavery wasn’t allowed, apparently.
Through the Bordern Tunnel, which is 957′ long and on to Frostburg, Mount Savage, Barrelville and Brush Tunnel, (914′ long). 11 miles to go Mike (McL) flatted again – we didn’t even bother to try and repair it. We decided to change the tyre and the tube – that way we had a good chance to get in without it puncturing again. Mike (McL) was a little surprised that we carried a spare tyre! Alongside the Maryland Scenic Railway line we passed deer and groups of runners. A very fast descent took us through Corriganville and into Cumberland.
At the Cumberland Lodge and Spa we found that we apparently had no reservation – Matthew had emails to prove that we did! It wasn’t a problem in the end, though, as they had room and were very kind and made us comfortable.
We also discovered that Matthew had miscalculated the route and that we weren’t going to be able to get to Mike’s (McL) house tomorrow. I left Matthew and Mike to sort out tomorrows destination and headed off to bed!