Sunday, June 23, 2013

Alone in a Crowd: Montour/GAP/C & O Tour, June 2009 - Part 5

I used the morning in Rockwood to get a proper breakfast and headed out to the trail late. My plan was to take it easy on the remaining ride to the top of Big Savage Mountain and the Eastern Continental Divide, and then simply coast down the 2 per cent grade to Cumberland, MD. The downhill is often called the "Frostburg glide" after the only town between Meyersdale and Cumberland on the 28 mile slope. JAGraham took some of the gear from my trailer, and would ride down to Cumberland with me, racing me in her TerraTrike. 

Before I left Rockwood, there was one man I wanted to see. I pulled into the trailside visitor's center and greeted Maynard Sembower. I'd met him in August last year when he was a callow youth of 99, and I wanted to see him now that he'd reached his century year. I hope I'll look half as spry as he does should God allow me to reach his age. The town of Rockwood honored their oldest citizen by naming the town visitor center in his honor, and incorporating him into this mural that greets visitors crossing the bridge into town. That's Maynard looking at his watch:

Maynard accepted my wishes with a good grace but also, I thought, with bemused resignation. I recalled what my late friend and co-author Martin Simsak had told me about turning 90. "Everyone thinks it's a big deal," Martin told me a few months before his death at 92, "but it's just another day." I hoped someone in Rockwood takes one of those 'days' and works with Mr. Sembower to record some of his stories. After all, he remembered when the Western Maryland Rail Road came into Rockwood, laying track on the same ground I, and thousands of others, ride their bikes on. Time ran out, and Maynard died three months after I met him on this June morning. 

I headed towards Cumberland. I was feeling very chaffed from the Brooks saddle, and I had lingering stiffness in my right knee, so I took frequent stops. I met two middle-aged women riding north to Confluence as part of a credit-card tour, and rode several miles with a middle-aged guy on a mountain bike who had never been on this part of the trail. Even though this is perhaps the most scenic stretch of the GAP, I kept the camera in the case. I was both too distracted by my chafing and anxious to make time to Cumberland. 

And I was rankled by the attitudes of some of the riders in the group. The previous night, someone had gasped when he saw how badly my right leg was knocked. Another rider told me, with some passion, how I needed to take better care of myself and and my condition and switch to an electric bicycle. I should have been hardened to garbage thinking like this, but still, it bothered me. 

I stopped outside the 1900 foot long Salisbury Viaduct and visited the small graveyard before the crossing, and then headed over the Cassleman River. The sky looked threatening. I put the cover on my Brooks saddle in case of rain. While it didn't rain, my saddle felt much better under me with the cover on. 

I rode past Meyersdale, Bollman Bridge, Keystone Viaduct, and across the tableland on top of the mountain to the Eastern Continental Divide. I looked for Nola the trail cat, the pussy who greeted me back in August as I rode through Deal, but she must have found a mouse or something, for she didn't appear. The Divide sported new murals and signage since my last visit. I was passed by a young couple on mountain bikes, touring with everything in enormous backpacks. Since they were stopping in Cumberland, I offered to take their gear down the mountain in my trailer, but they declined. 

Once I crossed over the descent began. The trail drops 1800 feet in 24 miles. First up was Big Savage Tunnel. The 1900 foot long hole is lighted, but I still stopped to turn on headlights and blinkers. I should have pulled out a jacket as well, since the tunnel is about 15 degrees colder than the outside air.

On the other side, at the wonderful scenic overlook of Maryland....

...I met JAGraham, who was touring as I should tour, with plentiful breaks for photographs. We headed down the mountain, stopping at the Mason-Dixon line for photos...

...and continued to Frostburg. JAGraham and I share an interest in history, and I tried to ask intelligent questions about the Passage and C & O, tapping her immense personal experience with these trails. 

We also talked about more personal issues. As I remounted after a stop Judy asked me, "why do you think you don't mount the bike correctly?"

"'cause I don't. It's wrong."

"Why is it wrong?"

"It's awkward, it's inefficient, and it's not recommended by bike fitting expert Sheldon Brown."

"Sheldon knew a lot about bikes, but he didn't know everything. You're out here riding, aren't you?"

"I don't get up enough speed as I kick off."

"It's not a race. You get enough to get moving. That's all you need."

"Point made. Should I serve cheese with my whine?"

At the base of Frostburg's switchback we observed a group of our fellow tourers. I met Chuck and apologized for my dragging him along yesterday on the fruitless search for the covered bridge and then my bullheaded insistence on going off alone to find it. My rash actions were forgiven. We then continued down the mountain, passed through the two remaining tunnels, and entered Cumberland. 

After leading some of the new riders to Canal Place, I headed to Cumberland Trail Connection, the bike shop that had treated my injuries back in June 2008. Both Kurt and Hutch were in, and surprised to see me again. Judy called to make arrangements to get taken back up to her car on the mountain, and I got directions to our campsite at the Cumberland YMCA, a mile from the trail. When I arrived there I found Bike Forum members had already taken over the pavilion in the camping area.

I set up my tent, ate, showered at the YMCA building across the street, and retired to my tent at 9:45. By 10 I heard the patter of raindrops on the tent, and went to sleep wondering what the trail conditions would be like tomorrow morning.

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A Taste For The Woods: Alone in a Crowd: Montour/GAP/C & O Tour, June 2009 - Part 5

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Alone in a Crowd: Montour/GAP/C & O Tour, June 2009 - Part 5