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Posts from the ‘Chesapeake and Ohio Canal’ Category

Robert Morris Pittsburgh to D.C. Bike Ride – Day 4

From May 26-31, a group of Robert Morris University staff members, students, alumni, and friends embarked on a group bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., with stops in Ohio Pyle (Pa.), Cumberland (Md.), Hancock (Md.), and Harpers Ferry (W. Va.). The following is an account of the fourth day of the journey as experienced by RMU Senior Writer Valentine J. Brkich.

DAY FOUR – Hancock (Md.) to Harpers Ferry (W. Vir.)

When Annie sang “The sun’ll come out tomorrow…” I used to think she was full of crap.

(Yes, I’ve seen Annie. Twice.)

But you know what? After one of the most miserable days I can remember, the sun really did come out the next day, and my ride to Harpers Ferry, W. Vir., turned out to be best day thus far.

Following the misery of the previous day’s ride, I wasn’t sure if I’d even be able to get out of bed let alone ride another 60-plus miles along the muddy, skeeter-infested C&O Canal Towpath. But rather than mope about my situation, I decided to get up early and try to get some good miles in before lunch.

Down at the local convenience store I stocked up on Gatorade and bought a couple sausage and egg burritos for fuel. I ran into Ethan and Mark, who like me wanted to get moving while it was still somewhat cool out. So at 6:30, the three of us hit the trail together.

After slogging it through the fetid mud and slop from Cumberland to Hancock, starting the day off on more than 10 miles of paved trail along the Western Maryland Rail Trail was heavenly. Yesterday I had struggled to keep a pace of 8-9 mph. Today, right from the start we were wooshing along the smooth asphalt track of the rail trail at a brisk 13-mph clip. We were moving so fast, in fact, that we missed the connection to the C&O and ended up riding a couple miles down the road to Ft. Frederick State Park, where we were able to reconnect. We had 25 miles in the bank by 9:30 a.m.

When we finally made it back on the C&O, we were elated to see that most of the mud and water had dried up, creating a firmer surface that was much easier to ride on. For once I was actually enjoying myself out on the trail, taking time to appreciate our remote surroundings, wedged between the old canal and the rushing waters of the Potomac River. At one point we saw a deer up ahead, and we followed it for quite some time as it bounded down the trail ahead of us before disappearing into the brush along the side. (Photo: One of the many new friends I made along the ride)

Things were going great!


Part of the trail was being repaired at the time, so they put us on a six-mile detour around the work, along some nicely paved but hilly Maryland back roads. At first I welcomed the change, enjoying the cool breeze as I glided down a lengthy hill along the road. But of course, what goes down must come back up, and I soon found myself pushing my bike up the hills as the midday sun radiated off of the black asphalt underfoot.

Riding your bike along the road can be a humbling experience, too. You don’t realize how slow you’re really moving on a bike until a motorcycle whizzes by you effortlessly at five times your speed.

Now I know how the Amish feel.

Eventually the detour came to an end and we were back along the C&O. I was still feeling pretty good but I noticed I was running low on water. So, a few miles down the trail, as Mark and Ethan decided to take another break, I told them I was just going to push on alone and try to make it to the next town as soon as I could. (Photo: Mike Yuhas conquering a downed sycamore along the C&O)

That next town was Shepherdstown, about 12 or so miles outside of Harper’s Ferry. After carrying my bike over a couple downed sycamores and navigating some washed-out parts of the trail, I took the exit to this lovely college town and headed straight for the nearest eatery, the Sweet Shop Bakery. Other than people staring at me like I was a leper, I had a wonderful lunch outside of the bakery as the normal, showered masses went about their daily business. (Photo: Sweet Shop Bakery in Shepherdstown)

I rode the rest of the way into Harpers Ferry alone, rolling into town around 2 p.m. as the temperatures hovered in the low 90s. I didn’t find out until about an hour later that I had been the first person to arrive! It was an amazing turnaround. The previous day I had barely survived, and here I was the first rider to reach our Day 4 destination. When the others got into town and saw me sitting there sipping on an iced coffee, they looked at me as if I were a ghost come back from the dead. Which, in a way, I guess I was. It was one of my prouder moments.

Later that evening we chowed down at The Anvil Restaurant (I actually ate an order of something called “Crab Balls”) and then we walked back into town for some ice cream.Spirits were high. We only had one more day to go in our adventure. Just 60 more miles to D.C.!

Was this nightmare…I mean, adventure really coming to an end?

(Photo: The RMU crew enjoying ice cream outside John Brown’s Fort)

Robert Morris Pittsburgh to D.C. Bike Ride – Day 2

Fom May 26-31, a group of Robert Morris University staff members, students, alumni, and friends embarked on a group bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., with stops in Ohiopyle (Pa.), Cumberland (Md.), Hancock (Md.), and Harpers Ferry (W. Va.). The following is an account of the second day of the journey as experienced by RMU Senior Writer Valentine J. Brkich.

DAY TWO – Ohiopyle (Pa.) to Cumberland (Md.)

I dragged myself out of bed at 6 a.m. on Friday, feeling sore but refreshed following the best sleep I’ve had since before my kids were born. I think my body put itself into some sort of comatose state in order to recover from the previous day’s abnormal physical exertion. Today was to be the toughest day in our itinerary: 72 miles, over 40 of them uphill, to Cumberland, Md., where we’d leave the G.A.P. and begin along the C&O Canal Towpath.

You may have been awakened by a horrific scream around 6:30 that morning. It was just me sitting down on my bike seat.

After an 11-mile, taking-it-easy ride to Confluence, we stopped for breakfast at the Lucky Dog Café, which had graciously agreed to open its doors early for our group and provide some much-needed nourishment for our long ride ahead. One of the people I ate with was Steve, an Oracle database guru for Highmark, who’s pursuing his M.S. in Computer Information Systems from RMU. He and Garrett, an associate consultant and researcher for RMU’s Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management, were our group’s speed demons, and they usually finished the day’s journey hours before the next closest rider. For Steve, who rides his bike 45 minutes to and from the office every day, this journey was all in a day’s work.

It started to sprinkle as we left the café and began our ascent towards the Eastern Continental Divide, forty-some miles away. An ominous sign greeted us as we hit the trail: no cell phone service for the next 30 miles. I felt like we were entering into the dreaded land of Mordor.

Fueled by a hearty meal of eggs, bacon, home fries, and coffee, I managed to keep up with a few of the riders for a little while as we rode through the light morning drizzle. However, by the time we reached the now closed Pinkerton Tunnel, about a mile south of Markleton, Pa., I was ready for a break. From that point on, until I made it to our lunchtime stopping point at Meyersdale, thirty-plus miles away, I’d be on my own. (Photo: Taking a break at the old Pinkerton Tunnel)

When you’re out on the trail alone, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, a million things run through your mind:

Boy, it must have been something when the trains used to run here…

Look at the beautiful wildflowers!

I wonder if there are any bears out here?

God, my rear-end is killing me.

Was that a banjo!?!?


A little before Rockwood, I caught up with the Eschenfelder crew at one of the trail’s rest points. As I chit-chatted with Mike and Jonathan, I noticed Mark was staring directly down at the ground. For a moment I thought he might be praying, which is something I found myself doing many times out along the trail. But then I noticed he was staring at some sort of beetle/caterpillar/crustacean-like creature slinking along the trail’s rocky surface. I have no idea what it was, but let’s just call it the Black Scorpion Monster Thingy From Hell. (Photo: Black Scorpion Monster Thingy From Hell)

After a quick pause to stretch my legs and refuel with one of those cardboard-esque energy bars, I was back on the trail. Bypassing Rockwood, I decided to push on to Meyersdale, where the promise of a downhill trail lay just beyond the horizon at the Eastern Continental Divide. Along the way I paused in Garrett where, coincidently I ran into Garrett, who had just finished his lunch. After making sure that I was OK, he popped in his ear buds and was again on his way. In a flash he was gone, like some sort of bicycle-riding superhero.

From there to Meyersdale I encountered a variety of wildlife including a copperhead, two turtles, and dozens of suicidal grinnies (i.e., chipmunks) who, inexplicably, kept darting out in front of me, narrowly evading the knobby tires of my mountain bike. (Photo: Copperhead, I think)

Arriving at Meyersdale I felt a renewed sense of positivity as I joined up with others for a short lunch break in town at the Java Café. We were getting close now. It was a mere 11-12 miles to the Divide. From there we’d be able to relax and glide downhill for the next 25 miles to Cumberland. Meyersdale, a.k.a., The Maple City,seemed like an inviting town, unless, that is, you were drunk. (Photo: Not-so-subtle warning to drunks) I even met a woman in the café who hailed from my hometown of Beaver—a coincidence I took as a sign of good things to come.

But then, as I enjoyed an iced coffee, it began to drizzle again. Off to the west a line of seriously dark clouds was moving in. I decided it was time to get moving and get to the Divide before the real heavy stuff started coming down. So I pushed my bike back up the long hill to Meyersdale Station to rejoin the trail. (Photo: RMU bikers at Meyersdale Station)

Before I had embarked on this journey, when people asked what I would do if it rained, I scoffed at their concern. It would be fun to ride in a storm, I said. It would only add to the adventure.

Then the rain came. And the thunder. And the lightning.

Should I take cover under the canopy of trees off to the sides? No, they tell you not to do that. Then again, if I stay out here, I’m the highest point on the trail…


Great. They’re going to find me dead out here. Fried to a crisp by a bolt of lightning! And just as the trail was about to get easy…

More lightning and thunder…

I want my mommy.

The rain was relentless, and the condition of the trail quickly deteriorated. For 10 miles or so, It was like riding through oatmeal.

Then, finally, I saw it—the Eastern Continental Divide, just a few hundred yards ahead inside a small tunnel! After one final and, in my opinion, highly unnecessary incline, I pedaled my bike into the beautiful, lovely, dry concrete shelter. Todd was only a hundred yards or so behind me, and when he reached the tunnel I felt like hugging him. However, I make a strict policy of mine never to hug a co-worker. So we just high-fived. (Photo: Todd, after the high five, holding RoMo in front of the map at the Eastern Continental Divide)

Soon the rest of the group from the café joined us as we celebrated the official end of the climbing. From here on out, it would be nothing but an effortless downhill ride into Cumberland…and then on to D.C.!

When you’re out on the trail, you can’t get your hopes up. The minute you think you must have ridden for three or four miles, you pass a marker and see that you’ve only gone one. The minute you think there just can’t be another hill, you turn the corner and see another mile-long rise ahead of you. And the minute you think the ride is going to be easy, another monstrous, hail-producing storm blows in.

Riding through the Big Savage Tunnel, we reached Frostburg and began what should have been a relaxing 16 miles into Cumberland. But then Storm #2 struck, complete with hail, lightning, and a stiff wind that was trying to blow us back up the hill. Instead of coasting down the trail, I had to pedal with all my might, all the while beseeching the Almighty to protect me from being scorched by a fiery bolt of electricity. (Photo: RoMo at Frostburg before Storm #2)

By the time I reached Cumberland, my entire body was a giant prune and there was an inch of water in my saddlebags. I’ve been dryer swimming pools. At the Holiday Inn, I took a shower and then, since I wanted to remain in the shower but no longer had the strength to stand, I took a bath for the first time in around 20 years.

I couldn’t believe we’d only made it through two days. We still had three more to go along the C&O Canal Towpath, which, I’d been told, was basically a narrow, bumpy, 185-mile dirt path.

But surely things couldn’t get any worse…right?

Robert Morris Pittsburgh to D.C. Bike Ride – Day 1

From May 26-31, a group of Robert Morris University staff members, students, alumni, and friends embarked on a group bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C., with stops in Ohio Pyle (Pa.), Cumberland (Md.), Hancock (Md.), and Harpers Ferry (W. Va.). Over the next five days, RMU Senior Writer Valentine J. Brkich will be sharing his first-hand account of the journey. SPOILER ALERT: Val survived. Barely.

DAY ONE – Boston (Pa.) to Ohiopyle (Pa.)

Ride my bike to D.C. It sounded doable.

Sure, I may just be your average desk jockey, but I try to keep in shape, going for the occasional jog and walking instead of driving to the bank or the grocery store when I can. I even stand up at my desk while working. Surely I was fit enough to ride 60 miles a day at a leisurely pace over a span of five-days.

During the first two days of the trip, the 22 of us would be riding along the Great Allegheny Passage (G.A.P.), an old rail bed covered with a layer of packed, crushed limestone, which snakes its way through southwestern Pennsylvania down to Cumberland, Md. The average grade is only 1% until you reach the Eastern Continental Divide. After that, I was told, it would be “all downhill” as we continued on the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath to D.C.

Heck, this was going to be more like a vacation than anything.

We hit the trail at 9:20 a.m. on May 26 in Boston, Pa. It was the perfect morning. Partly sunny. Temperature in the mid-60s. We were abuzz with anticipation as we mounted our pedal-powered steeds and shoved off for our nation’s capital, a mere 300 or so miles down the trail.

If you’ve never ridden along an old rail trail, it triggers an awakening of the senses. A spring trickles down the rock face to your right. A butterfly flutters through the air to your left. The perfume of spring flowers. The crackle of rubber tire on crushed stone. It’s peaceful and exhilarating, and you feel as if you could ride forever.

Then you hit the 5-mile mark.

Five miles! Is that all the farther we’ve ridden? How many more do we have? FIFTY-FIVE?!?!

I just need to get warmed up, I told myself, as fatigue began to set in. Then my allergies kicked in, and soon my eyes felt like they were filled with sand (Photo: My feeling-like-they’re-filled-with-sand eyes). Then my left knee began to throb. My upper back ached. My lower back began to spasm.

Maybe I should have trained for this.

This first day of our adventure saw a series of bad omens. At Boston, before he had even put foot to pedal, Todd Hamer, the ride’s organizer and RMU’s strength and conditioning coach, got a flat tire and immediately fell behind the pack. Bill Joyce, RMU’s director of planning and design, busted the crank on his bike and had to backtrack for a lost bolt. Further down the trail, Ethan, a sophomore finance major, clipped a wooden post and tore a gash in his right arm. Later on, his father, Mark, collided with an oncoming rider, flipped over his handlebars, and bent his front fork. Jamie, a sophomore psychology major, had a bad spill and suffered a painful cut on her left arm and a bruise on her hip. All along the trail there were landslides and signs of recently downed trees, giving you the eerie feeling that, at any moment, you could be pedaling your little heart out to avoid being crushed by a falling sycamore or an avalanche of mud and rock. And did I mention the unforgiving headwind?

So much for a leisurely ride along the trail.

We persevered, however, and continued on down the dusty trail, past the Old Dravo Cemetery (est. 1824); past secluded hamlets like Buena Vista, Van Meter, and Whitsett; and past the ghosts of former industry, like old trestles and the site of the once bustling Banning No. 1 Coal Mine.

Somewhere along the trail I caught up with Jamie, who was struggling mightily under the mid-day sun. Luckily Mark J. Eschenfelder, Ph.D., associate professor of economics at RMU, his brother Michael, and their friend Jonathan were already there helping. After a brief stop to rest and rehydrate, we decided to walk a ways down the trail before hopping back on our bikes. Jamie recovered and was soon chugging along again.

After a brief stop in Connellsville for lunch at the local Sheetz (Gatorade and a pre-wrapped mystery-meat sandwich), we continued on down the trail. By this time I had learned to hate milepost markers. You try to ignore them, so as not to see what little distance you’ve covered, but it’s impossible. They stick out from the foliage along the side of the trail like signposts of your physical inadequacy, mocking you as you huff and puff your way along the path.

Finally in mid-afternoon we began to trickle into our day-one destination: Ohiopyle. Around 3:50 p.m. I slowly rolled across the town’s familiar arched bridge, which spans the white waters of the Youghiogheny River. Ethan and Mark were already there, so I had them pose for a photo with RoMo, who I’d brought along for the ride (Photo: Ethan and Mark with RoMo).

Famished and fatigued, I stumbled passed Armand Buzzelli, RMU’s director of campus recreation, and Mike Yuhas, RMU event manager, sitting at the local ice cream shop enjoying milkshakes and looking way too composed.

“Don’t worry,” said Armand. “You’ll feel better after a shower.”

I hope I can stand up long enough to take a shower.

An hour later, just as we were about to head off to dinner at Falls City Pub, a freak squall blew through, knocking out all power in town. Clearly the gods were against us. Fortunately there was enough cold beer to hold us off while Seth, an online MBA student, ordered pizzas from the next town over. When the pies finally arrived nearly an hour later, we tore into them like ravenous piranha. I managed to grab just two pieces in the frenzy, as the pub’s menu of mouthwatering specials stood nearby, reminding us of what we could have been eating (Photo: What we could have been eating).

And so, still hungry and getting stiffer by the minute, I staggered back to my room to hit the sack early (8:30 p.m.) and prepare for the next day—the mostly uphill, 72-mile jaunt to Cumberland.

Stay tuned….

Robert Morris Rides to D.C. – Day 3

The following is a post by Valentine Brkich, RMU senior writer, who along with 27 other RMU staff members, students, alumni, and friends, is taking part in a 300-mile bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. Over the next three days, leading up to and in honor of Memorial Day, Val will be writing about each stop along the way and its connection to the Civil War, which began 150 years ago…

Cumberland to Hancock (Md.)

Today is the third day of our pedal-powered journey to D.C., and we have now past the halfway point to our destination. Tonight we will rest our weary legs (and sore rear-ends) in Hancock, Md.

Other than being known as an old canal town along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, Hancock can also lay claim to being located at the narrowest part of the state. The north-south distance between the Pennsylvania and West Virginia state lines here is a mere 1.8 miles.

During the Civil War, the Battle of Hancock occurred January 5–6, 1862, as part of Maj. Gen. Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson’s campaign to disrupt operations on the Baltimore and Ohio (B&O) Railroad and, therefore, cut off Union supply lines.

On January 5, after skirmishing with Federal troops, Jackson’s force reached the Potomac River opposite Hancock, where his artillery fired on the town but did little damage. As the bombardment continued for two days, Union forces under Brig. Gen. F.W. Lander stood strong, refusing the Confederate commander’s demands for surrender. Jackson, unable to locate a safe river crossing to take the town, decided to withdraw his forces and instead marched on Romney, W. Va.

Thanks to the brave fighting men under Gen. Lander, today we are able to enjoy this scenic hamlet from the safety and comfort of our Schwinns and Huffys and Treks.

Did I mention how lucky I feel to be living in the 21st century?

And now…off to Harper’s Ferry!



Robert Morris Rides to D.C. – Day 2

The following is a post by Valentine Brkich, RMU senior writer, who along with 27 other RMU staff members, students, alumni, and friends, is taking part in a 300-mile bike ride from Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C. Over the next four days, leading up to and in honor of Memorial Day, Val will be writing about each stop along the way and its connection to the Civil War, which began 150 years ago…

Ohio Pyle (Pa.) to Cumberland (Md.)

Today my fellow RMU colleagues and I pedaled our way to Cumberland, Md., along the former towpath of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which had its western terminus here. The city itself was built on the site of Fort Cumberland, which served as the starting point for British General Edward Braddock’s ill-fated attack on Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh) during the French and Indian War.

The Battle of Folck’s Mill, also known as the Battle of Cumberland, was a small cavalry battle fought August 1, 1864, as part of the Valley Campaigns of 1864 during the Civil War.

After burning Chambersburg, Pa., on July 30, Confederate Gens. Bradley T. Johnson and John McCausland led their cavalry brigades towards Cumberland to disrupt the B&O Railroad. On August 1, Union Brig. Gen. Benjamin Kelly, leading a small force of soldiers and citizens, ambushed the Rebel cavalrymen near Folck’s Mill, just outside of town. After several hours of fighting, the Confederates were forced to withdraw. In the end, Kelley’s stand saved the town of Cumberland and prevented further damage to the all-important railroads.

Check back tomorrow as we ride further down the old Chesapeake and Ohio Canal towpath to Hancock, Maryland…