Summary – day 14 – Frederick to Columbia (Wednesday 03 July)

Estimated mileage: 35 miles, actual: 38.14 miles

Avg. speed: 14.9 mph

Cumulative distance: 884.49 miles

A very short ride today. We weren’t realistically going to be able to get to Columbia before it went dark last night, so we could have something of a leisurely morning in Frederick before setting off. We woke up and there was torrential rain outside – another reason to take it easy this morning!

Over breakfast at the Hampton Inn, we were talking about the Tour de France – a Mark Cavendish sprint-finish win in Marseilles! On the next table Were Jeff and Ally from Richmond, Virginia. They had been cycling around Gettysburg – the site of the biggest battle in the US civil War in July 1863 – and perhaps the turning point in the war. We chatted about the Tour and our ride. Later, as we were leaving we met up with them again and took some photos – Jeff had a friend who he said would admire my Condor frame – so several pictures were taken of that! The bike’s the star!

We braved the downpour and made pretty good time along highway 144/Old National Pike. There were some undulating sections, but nothing at all taxing. The rain eased and it started to brighten up about through the journey at Mount Airy.

The houses and townships were all looking very prosperous now. Also, the roads were in good condition – smooth and well-maintained. Not far from Mike’s (McL) house we saw our first sign to Washington – 32 miles! We’re almost there!

We arrived at Mike’s at about 12:30 and just had time to change before Mike’s friend Chris arrived to get Mike to his car. Which was left at Chris’ house after Mike had flown to Pittsburgh with his bike. Mike is from San Francisco but said that he didn’t sound like he was from there – I’m not sure that I could exactly pinpoint a San Francisco accent, but Chris does have an extraordinary voice – I could hear South African, British and Irish when he spoke.

Chris was not far from Baltimore, so I took a risk and made a pitch for a visit to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Museum – Sean and Lynda back just outside Valparaiso had recommended it. Mike had never been, so we ignored Matthew’s slightly downcast air and off we went.

It was baking hot in Baltimore when we arrived at the B&O Railroad Museum. The main complex is a huge round engine turning house – faced in red brick and with an enormous slate roof. It was 2:45 when we arrived and they closed at 4:00 – so it was going to be something of a flying visit.

Baltimore was where the very first passenger railway track was laid in the US in 1830 – the start of the track was in the turning house. The B&O Railroad Museum has a huge collection of nineteenth and twentieth century engines – they’re really impressive … so much bigger and more powerful than what we saw in Europe. There were some lovely model trains, too. I wish that we’d had longer – but it’s often the case on these sorts of trips. Just before they closed I was speaking with one of the volunteers and he told me about the collapse of half the roundhouse roof after a heavy snowstorm in 2003 – the pictures were incredible and it’s a miracle that what was underneath survived. The restoration was beautiful though.

After the B&O Railroad Museum there was time to wander along Baltimore’s waterfront – some nice-looking ships, a huge Barnes & Noble bookstore where I bought Mike a present: a Calvin and Hobbes anthology. I was surprised that he didn’t know about Bill Watterson’s comic strip that follows the adventures of Calvin, a six year old boy, and his rather sardonic stuffed toy tiger Hobbes who Calvin imagines is alive.

We’d not eaten, so Mike took us to a vegan restaurant near his house: Great Sage – was fantastic. After we’d eaten a woman on next table started talking to us. She’d heard speaking to each other and knew that we were English. She’d been to Manchester to visit her sister’s family and had liked it, but she hadn’t liked Wolverhampton! We thought that it made a bit of a change for an American to have been somewhere other than London or Stonehenge! So after a good dinner – home to bed. Another very happy day!

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again

Would you ‘Adam and Eve it’? We’ve cycled nearly 900 miles from Chicago and have been in Columbia at Mike’s house for about an hour, when I find myself on my way to Baltimore to visit the Baltimore & Ohio Railway Museum! Mike had heard about this museum from Linda and her son Sean who we’d met when we stopped to fix a puncture on their lawn on day one of our ride. I didn’t actually think we’d end up visiting, (especially as we had to spend an extra morning on the road today) but true to form, Mike found a way to squeeze in a visit to see the choo choos. Now who else do I know who likes nothing better than visiting railway-related attractions? Yep, that’s right – it turns out I really have ended up being attracted to a man who shares an uncanny similarity of shared interests with my father!

A very British affair

Our ride yesterday and today has taken us closer to the east coast, as we’ve cycled along you notice the architecture changing. Some of the buildings look older – well by USA standards – and certainly more familiar. The architectural style resembles elements of Georgian buildings that we have in Bristol and Bath. Sash windows, columns, porticos are all quite common around here, however the materials used are very American. Most of them are constructed from wood and painted white or pretty colours, all very pleasant. The style of buildings are not the only familiar sight on our travels today – we saw roundabouts (or traffic circles as they call them in the USA). The Americans love their roads but much prefer cross roads and flyovers to these weird European round things that get in the way of the traffic. So uncommon are they that traffic circles here are often accompanied by signs telling drivers how to use them, for example, ‘yield to traffic on circle’ (we would say give way) and arrows telling drivers which way to drive around them. This is quite a contrast to the UK where roundabouts are common and liked to the degree that there are actually groups that campaign for roundabouts and who take care of existing ones with planting and art installations . We must have seen about ten roundabouts along our route today (unfortunately they weren’t as pretty as European ones) – fortunately we managed to go around them all the correct way.

Sir Elton would not be amused

Last week as we cycled out of Columbus Ohio I couldn’t avoid seeing the giant advertisements along the road for a local radio station called ‘Oldies’ – clearly targeting a certain demographic. The cover boy for this particular advertisement campaign was not other than our own Sir Elton John (or as he’s known back in England, Reg Dwight). I pondered the irony in this choice as Elton seems to have spent most of the last few years trying to defy the ageing process be it by hair replacement surgery or marrying a man many years younger than himself, I’m not sure he’d like to see a 12 foot image of himself plastered across the road alongside the slogan ‘oldies’! It was quite a busy road, so I didn’t fancy stopping to take a picture so you’ll just have to use your imagination. I did, however, notice another oldies radio station advertises in Cumberland, clearly it’s a growing target market here in the USA – Reg will always have some to listen too when he’s here.

Summary – day 13 – Cumberland to Frederick (Tuesday 02 July)

Estimated mileage: 89 miles, actual: 91.93 miles

Avg. speed: 14.1 mph

Cumulative distance: 846.35 miles

Last night, while we were all in bed asleep, there was a terrific crash at about 12:15 am. Next door in Mike’s (McL) room a framed picture fell off the wall and smashed on the floor! There was glass everywhere. The hotel staff were fine about it – and laughed when we said that we’d had a wild party! They told us that it was probably one of their resident ghosts – funny they hadn’t told us about them last night!

The main task when we got up this morning was to get all the dirt and dust from the cycle trail cleaned off our bicycles and ready for the day ahead. Matthew and Mike (McL) had determined that our destination should be Frederick as our destination – about 89 miles away. Between Cumberland and Frederick there were the absolutely ginormous hills, though – we’d have to take those carefully.

The Cumberland Hotel and Spa offered various treatments and one of staff told Mike (McL) that he smelled dehydrated! Whatever that means! He’s been chugging back water ever since! We had to go for breakfast and Mark’s café in the centre of town was recommended. It was really good – they had soya milk and made my oats with it. I was asked if I wanted ‘craisons’ – I assumed this would be a mix of cranberries and raisins, but they turned out to be sweetened dried cranberries.

While we were having breakfast Mike (McL) went to a bike shop to top up the air in his tyre. While he was there he talked to the staff about our route and was advised that it was probably the best way to go given that we’re riding bicycle with narrow tyres.

Meanwhile we took advantage of the free Wifi in Mark’s Café to FaceTime Mam and Janet – it was nice to be in touch with family back home and show them where we were.

We set off out of Cumberland and the road undulated before a series of slow, hard climbs then fast swooping descents: Rocky Gap and then down to Flintstone (accompanied by Matthew ‘singing’). Then up Green Ridge, a quick descent and on to the monster of the day: Town Hill – we took some pictures from the Town Hill Overlook, (while we recovered!). Then down and up Sidelong Hill for a descent into Hancock where we paused for lunch. We met two other cyclists who were riding from Pittsburgh to Washington DC . One told us about a 20 mile trail that we might have used! There was about 5 miles left she thought. We were surprisingly sanguine about this news – there was nothing we could do now, but we thought that we might make use of the trail as it would take us off the road for a while.

We bought provisions in a petrol station Sheetz – this is third one that we’ve used on this trip (see Matthew’s post about this). They have free wifi and it’s usually possible to find some stuff that I can eat. We took our food to a local park and picnic spot (adjacent to the elusive bicycle trail).

There were some young men hanging out at the park – mostly complaining about being bored. “This town is sheet. There’s nevva nuthin’ to do” that sort of thing. They were impressed with our journey though and had the good grace to acknowledge that the cycle trails had brought life and a certain amount if prosperity to the town; they also thought that tourists had the effect of driving up prices.

We went up onto the trail, which ran for more like ten miles rather than 5. We had our first proper look at the Potomac River, which runs through Washington DC – exciting. I fantasised about finding a little rowing boat and sitting in it until we carried into Washington DC (“Or the mid-Atlantic!”, Matthew retorted!). In any case, of course, that would be cheating.

The trail went to Big Pool and rejoined the road to go past Fort Frederick State Park. Then on to something of a roller-coaster road in to Williamsport where we called at the Desert Rose Café for a break and drinks – they had a copy of Canal Quarterly! That made Matthew very happy! The staff there said that half of their summer trade was people on bicycles. They also said that Mike (McL) looked like he was too tired to go on!

The countryside was really beautiful now – we rode alongside Antietam Creek over little hump-back bridges and past ponds near the Devil’s Backbone Park.

A series of historic quintessentially American civil war era towns – all with lots of buildings and houses decorated for 4th July. Boonsboro, Middletown, Braddock Heights and final (we hope) very hilly up and down to Frederick.

Mike (McL) had been to Frederick before and said it was an attractive place, (the outskirts were not – acres of very wide roads, stop-start junctions, food outlets, malls etc.), but we decided to take a look at the downtown area before searching for a hotel. It was really nice – lots of old stone and wood buildings – some quite grand. There was a real lively buzz about the place. As we cycled through the main street- Market Street, we were cheered by some lads on the pavement/sidewalk. One of then shouted: “Lance Armstrong!” Funny! We wondered which of us had been taking the most stimulants throughout the day – and decided it was Mike (McL), he’d virtually survived on energy gels!

Garmin came into his own in Frederick – I called up a list of hotels and there was a Hampton Hotel less than 2 miles away. Garmin took us there and they had a room with two queen-size beds that we could all three share.

While I was waiting for my turn in the shower, my sister Lisa called on FaceTime – it was 1 am back in the UK – she was a but the worse for wear, having fun with her friend and when she caught sight of Mike (McL) thought that he looked like Action Man – hilarious!, But he said that he was happy to take that! Lisa is planning a ‘Monopoly run’ at the weekend with some of her club mates: the aim is to run through London and go to every point on the London-themed Monopoly board. She’s doing it to raise money for cancer charities and I asked her how it was going – she has over £1,000 already. Amazing. Good on you, sis!

Near the hotel there was a Weis supermarket and we went there to pick up food for dinner. On the way back we heard a thud on the road by the junction – a car had hit another – they drove into the car park looking cross and the little red sports car looked pretty badly mangled. Prompting a conversation about how the US might reduce its dependence on the car!

Back in our room and time to catch up on the Archers podcasts – listening made difficult with Mike (McL) making comments and/or asking questions about characters and plots every minute and with Matthew too obligingly providing long convoluted explanations about who everyone was, their relationship to each other and what had happened to them – this is the longest-running radio soap opera in history … and it was going to be a long night!

Mountain stage

So far on our travels they cycling has been pretty flat – partly because we’ve followed as many old railway trails as possible and partly because the bits of Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania we’ve cycled through have been pretty flat. The only serious climbing we’ve done to date was in the tiny bit of West Virginia and the street Patrick, (our Warm Whowers host) lived on in Pittsburgh. This all changed yesterday on our route from Cumberland to Frederick. To avoid going on the windy and not sealed Chesapeake and Ohio canal towpath, the only way was through the Appalachian Mountains. We took on five serious climbs, but they were worth it. The views were fab and the descents were fast and (mostly) long. As I always like to say, hills are only a problem for cyclists 50% of the time – they’re a bonus when you come down them! In the Tour de France the winner of the mountain stages are rewarded with a red polka dot shirt, there wasn’t any one winner on our mountain stage, we all shared the pain pretty evenly taking turns to lead. However, it was hot and the heat (and sweat) under my helmet has brought out a nice polka dot rash on my forehead. I did win the prize for the least moaning (I just put my head down get on with the hills), but the two Mikes both moaned their way uphill – more like a moantain stage for them!

What we (now) know about Maryland

We passed the ‘Mason-Dixie line’ between Pennsylvania and Maryland on Monday so our now in the fifth and final state on this trip – so here are a few things you may or may not know about Maryland.

Maryland is one of the smallest states in terms of area, but it remains one of the most populous as well as one of the most densely populated states of the United States. The state’s largest city is Baltimore, and its capital is Annapolis. Although the state is officially claimed to be named after Queen Henrietta Maria many historians believe Maryland was named after Mary, the mother of Jesus by George Calvert, prior to his death in 1632. The original intent may never be known. Maryland has the highest median household income, making it the wealthiest state in the nation – you can certainly tell this when you cycle here, the roads in Maryland are very well maintained.

Ethnically, Marylanders are chiefly of German, Irish or African-American ancestry. Maryland has a large Korean American population. In fact, 1.7 percent are Korean, while as a whole, almost 6.0 percent are Asian.

The two counties of Western Maryland, Allegany and Garrett, are mountainous and sparsely populated, resembling West Virginia more than they do the rest of Maryland. Guess which two counties we cycled through yesterday? Yep, you guessed it – the hilly ones.

Maryland’s economic activity is strongly concentrated in the tertiary service sector, and this sector, in turn, is strongly influenced by location. One major service activity is transportation, centred on the Port of Baltimore and its related rail and trucking access. You get a sense of this when you see the improbably long freight trains carrying metal cargo boxes stretching for miles.

Since before the Civil War, Maryland’s elections have been largely controlled by the Democrats. Maryland has supported the Democratic nominee in each of the last five presidential elections, by an average margin of 15.4 percent. The Governor of Maryland is a Democrat, both of Maryland’s U.S. Senators and seven of its eight Representatives in Congress are Democrats.

Famous Marylanders include Cass Elliot, singer of pop band The Mamas & the Papas, Philip Glass, composer, Billie Holiday, singer and Michael Phelps, Olympic swimmer.

Summary – day 12 – Ohiopyle to Cumberland (Monday 01 July)

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!

Between the Sheetz

Two years ago when Mike and I cycled down the west coast of the USA we were regular customers at Safeway’s supermarkets and Starbuck’s coffee shops. These suited our needs a) because they had a reasonable choice of vegi food and b) they had free wifi, (ideal for updating the blog). Unfortunately Safeway doesn’t really have much of a presence in the mid west/eastern board of the USA and we’re boycotting Starbuck’s due to their habit of not paying their taxes in the UK. This and the fact that Mike is now vegan has made finding feed stops on this trip a bit more challenging. Thankfully, as soon as we arrived in Pennsylvania our task was made a bit simpler by their discovery of Sheetz. These stores are really just petrol-station shops, but they have a self-order deli system where you use screens to choose your own burger, wrap, sub (what we call rolls) or salad – you can also add extras such as fries and onion rings. This system works well for Mike, since he can choose only the vegan content – sorted. The only trouble comes when he forgets that hot and spicy foods give him the hiccups – steer clear of the jalapeño peppers Mike – hick!