Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Cumberland’ Category

Robert Morris Pittsburgh to D.C. Bike Ride – Day 3

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 third day of the journey as experienced by RMU Senior Writer Valentine J. Brkich.

DAY THREE – Cumberland to Hancock (Md.)

After a hearty breakfast at the hotel and a quick stop at the local drug store for some insect repellent – a MUST on the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) Canal Towpath – we set off for our next destination, Hancock, Md., a little over 60 miles to the east. Despite the previous day’s challenges and the uncomfortable task of putting on sopping wet shoes first thing in the morning, we were in good spirits. After all, we had made it through the toughest part of the journey—the long uphill climb to the Eastern Continental Divide. From here on out the path would either be flat or downhill.

Piece of cake.

As we started out, we were having a lot of fun riding through the muddy mess that was the C&O—the result of the previous day’s torrential downpours. Within just a few miles, we were splattered with mud and laughing at our utter griminess. A couple miles in, we stopped briefly to check out a Confederate soldier’s family cemetery along the trail, one of the first signs that we were officially on the southern side of the Mason-Dixon Line. (Photo: One of the many old locks along the C&O)

It didn’t take long, however, for the novelty of the mud to wear off. Before long, my legs had grown weary of fighting through the thick, foul-smelling slop. It soon became mentally exhausting as well trying to avoid the puddles, switching back and forth, back and forth, from one lane to the other. And when you did get a chance to stop for a break, you had to be sure to spray every inch of your body with a generous amount of insect repellant in order to fend-off the hundreds of blood-thirsty mosquitoes that would instantly descend on you. (Photo: Fixing a flat in West-Nileville)

And what about this “downhill the rest of the way” stuff I’d been promised? Every once in a while, when you’d come upon an old lock, you’d experience a brief downhill run. But for the most part it was up and down, up and down. The ups were never that steep, but when you’re slogging through thick, energy-sapping mud, even the slightest incline is unwelcome. It didn’t take long before I’d fallen back and was once again on my own.

Our first stop was the tiny town of Paw Paw, about 30 or so miles down the trail. Of course, I missed the turn off and had to backtrack a half mile once I realized my mistake. In town I saw a number of mud-caked bikes parked outside of Anthony Jr.’s, the local pizzeria. I found the crew I’d been riding with earlier in the day already inside. We were all getting some pretty bizarre looks from the locals, who’d probably never seen a grungier bunch of bikers. And I’m sure we all smelled delightful, coated in a mixture of stagnant canal water, mud, sewage, and bug spray.

Bon appetit, everyone!

After woofing down an Italian sub and pausing briefly to admire the Paw Paw Memorial Day parade (fire trucks, John Deere tractor, livestock, etc.), I returned to the C&O beneath the unforgiving midday sun. I was glad when I finally reached the cool shelter of the 3118-foot Paw Paw Tunnel. Since the tunnel has no lights and is nearly pitch dark inside, you have to get off your bike and push it the nearly ½-mile to the other side, hoping that you don’t stumble across a water moccasin as you focus on the light at the other end. (Photo: RoMo outside the Paw Paw Tunnel)

By the time I’d reached mile 40, I was really hurting. My legs, worn out from the previous day’s never-ending climb, felt like Jell-O, my back ached from hours of crouching over my handlebars, and let’s just say my bicycle seat and I weren’t getting along. I was also feeling sick—a combination of allergies and a lingering sinus infection. And since I had run out of water, I was forced to drink the “treated” well water along the trail, which had a lovely, metallic, slightly rusty flavor to it.

It was around this time when the other riders, seeing that I was near death, took pity on me and selected someone – Todd’s dad, Ed, – to stay back and ride along with me. He’d never admit to it, of course, but I knew what was going on. And I appreciated it greatly.

A little further on down the trail, we stopped at a local establishment known as Bill’s Place, one of the few watering holes along this section of the C&O. Jeff Foxworthy would have a field day with this joint. It’s the kind of place where you wouldn’t look out of place walking in shirtless, wearing a pair of oil-covered bib-and-brace overalls, a golf-ball-sized wad of tobacco in your cheek, and a “Git-R-Done!” hat on your head. We, on the other hand, clad in our skin-tight biker shorts and over-sized helmets, stuck out like a bunch of sore thumbs.

The only real charm of the place is in the ceiling, which is covered with dollar bills that people have signed and left there over the years (Bill’s and bills…get it?). We even located the one Todd left there the last time he and his dad rode through. (Photo: Hamer’s bill at Bill’s)

Since Billy Bob and his cousins weren’t exactly giving us that warm-and-fuzzy feeling from over by the bar, we just ordered a few waters and skedaddled whilst we still had the chance.

With about 13 miles to go until Hancock, I found myself riding alone again amidst the jungle-like vegetation of the C&O. Every pedal was agonizing by this point, and the mud and slop had caked both me and my bike in a layer of thick, heavy, smelly filth. Somehow I missed the turn-off to the paved Western Maryland Rail Trail, which would have provided a smooth, almost effortless ride for the last 10 miles of the trip. Instead I continued on down the muddy trail, past the ruins of the Round Top Cement Plant and something with the charming name of the Devil’s Eyebrow. (Photo: Ruins of the old Round Top Cement Plant)

When I finally rolled into town, hungry, thirsty, muddy, and somewhat delirious, I came upon some of the other riders relaxing in the shade enjoying some ice cream. Seeing that I was in no mood for joviality, they hopped on their bikes and led me directly to the hotel, which, of course, sat atop a punishing hill about a half mile down the road. When I stumbled into the lobby looking like the Swamp Thing, they said they couldn’t find my reservation and that there were no vacancies either.


I ended up having to get a room over at another hotel—at the top of ANOTHER HILL!—and it was one of the filthiest, least inviting hotels I’d ever stayed in. The lock on the door was broken, so before I went to sleep I jammed my mud-caked bike between the door and the wall, hoping that it would buy me some time should someone try to break in. Which, after the day I had, seemed totally plausible. (Photo: My filth-covered shirt right, before I threw it in the garbage)

It was an appropriate ending to one of the most physically and emotionally taxing days of my life, and I couldn’t bear to think that I still had two more days and over 120 miles to go.

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 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…