Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Connellsville, PA to Cumberland, MD: Canadians, Waterfalls, and Wildlife

When we last left off, I was in Connellsville, MD, having just gotten not much sleep because of all the trains passing through town, taking an easy day because of the resulting fog brain. I then stopped at a local Italian restaurant for some much needed soup and went on my way. Almost immediately, I ran into Greg and Corinne from Canada, biking from West Newton to DC to see the graduation of a relative. They had other priorities than biking at the moment: having just gotten to town, they wanted beer! And I can't blame them; in fact, I would have liked to join them if it hadn't been for my fog brain. We talked a bit about our trips and they mused about how I was going around the world, yet carrying less than them. To each their own! I was sad to leave such a friendly couple, but we would see each other again. Such is the nature of cycle touring.

Out of Connellsville began what I can only describe as “the waterfall tour.” The next city I would see larger than a few thousand people would be Cumberland, MD, two nights from where I was, so except for the trains there was a heck of a lot of nature. At first I was taking a picture of every waterfall I passed because they were all beautiful, but at some point I realized the waterfalls were endless, so I kept the camera away and enjoyed them the old fashioned way.

The trail was beautiful, and in the style of “taking it easy” I made a point of parking the bike to climb up some of the waterfalls and trails that looked interesting. There continued to be countless cyclists along the way, most doing the trail end-to-end (Pittsburgh to DC) but some just out for the day. I didn't make the acquaintances of any just yet, as I seemed to be the only one in “What's that? Let's climb it!” mode, but there was still plenty of cycling to be done. After a relaxing 30 miles in 5 hours, I found a quiet place to sleep off in a flat part of the woods.

When I was done reading, journaling, and practicing uke for the night, I lay down and noticed through the small window in the fly what appeared to be a satellite with a rather erratic orbit. It would blink once directly above me, then five minutes later it would blink off to one side, then two minutes later it would blink off to the other. I thought maybe aliens were coming down to abduct me or NASA had recently been forced into some difficult hiring decisions, but fell asleep with the riddle unsolved.

Since I was fog-braining I'd been drinking lots of water and had to exit the tent in the middle of the night for obvious reasons. I had my headlamp on just long enough to make sure I didn't step on any snakes, then turned it off, and... fireflies, everywhere. I was surrounded by hundreds of fireflies. They weren't aliens, nor satellites programmed by drunk engineers at NASA. I wish I'd been conscious enough to take a picture (my camera is supposedly half-decent at long exposure shots), but all I could do was pee in awe and then stand in awe until I was too cold to be out of my tent. They flashed all around me, lighting up the forest from the ground to the canopy for as far as I could see.

It was a glorious way to go to the bathroom.

The next morning, the nature continued. I stopped in Confluence for breakfast and a nap and visited the bicycle shop despite not needing anything. The owner, Brad, regaled me with stories of other long-distance cyclists passing through, though there hadn't been any recently. He also educated me about his chain of shame, which included, but was not limited to: the helmet that got backed over by a car, the wheel whose spokes were ripped out by a stick (which resulted in a fully loaded touring bike that had to be carried three miles to the shop)...

It was, he said, for the stories and the people that he worked there, not for the money. Brad specifically mentioned a couple from England who had come through last fall, nearly done with their round-the-world. He took my picture, we shook hands, and I went on my way.

On the way out of town, I encountered another cyclist who had stopped to take photos of a bird on the trail. He said it had started chasing him and theorized it had a nest around there it was protecting. He took off, and the bird starting accosting me! I tried various methods to dissuade it, but in the end just got on my bike and rode as fast as I could. To my next nap spot.

I awoke just in time to catch the Canadians going by. We caught up on the events of the last day and continued to pass each other for the next few hours. At one point I pulled over to relieve myself, looked up, and saw my first snake of the trip. Or, more correctly, my first two snakes.

Fortunately, I think said snakes were napping, and didn't notice me, just as I hadn't noticed them. I made a note to check the trees above me before venturing off the trail from then on. In any case, I'd been playing tag with the Canadians all day, and I caught up to them one last time as they arrived at their campsite for the night. I regret not asking if they wanted to share a site, as they seemed like fine folk and that would be the last time I got to see them, but in the end I decided to go a bit farther that day in order to camp for free.

A few more waterfalls and a flourishing peacock in the middle of the trail later (I wasn't quick enough with the camera, but yes, there was a peacock, tail fanned, right in the middle of the trail. It collapsed its tail and returned to its ostentation as I got closer), I eventually found a place to settle for the night in an old cemetery next to some cows. It wasn't exactly “stealth” camping as it was right next to the trail, so I elected to sit in the grass and play my uke until the sun went down. The result was that as I ran into people over the next few days, they would say, “Were you the guy playing uke in the cemetary?” And thus, I became “the uke guy” (I'd like to campaign for something cemetery-related like “the ghost uke” or “the graveyard strummer,” but nicknames aren't like that).

To the cows, I was just the "do you have food?" guy.

That night some strange things happened which I would attribute to sleeping in a cemetery if I was superstitious, but I'll let you make your own judgments. I've added them as a story to the map.

The next morning was spectacularly foggy, so I opted to make breakfast in order to wait for the sun to come up and dry my things. This also afforded me the opportunity to take some pictures... you know, of the cows, and the viaduct.

Just a mile down the road I stopped in Meyersdale for second breakfast, and ended up being regaled by the local folk about all the cyclists that come through. They had a guest book and, despite it being 8 AM, I discovered I was the fourth cyclist to come through that day. Surely they aren't that busy all the time, but it was quite humbling all the same. Just for giggles I asked about the couple from England on their round-the-world; sure enough, the cafe folk remembered them, and I was able to find their entry in the guest book. On the way out from Meyersdale, I had my first encounter with Larry and Vinny, two cyclists from Queens, NY, who had almost comically strong accents, raspy voices, and dry senses of humor, but we didn't get to know each other much just then.

From Meyersdale, it was some unknown number of increasingly sweaty miles to the Eastern Continental Divide, the highest point on the trail and probably for my trip in the US. I already posted a picture of me at the top of it on Instagram/Facebook, so here I'll post the vantage point where there were about eight other cyclists all enjoying the view.

I sat for about half an hour as cyclists came and went. A few traded stories, a few just enjoyed the view. I was offered a place to stay by a Warmshowers host in New Mexico (or was it Arizona? I have it written down...) when I make it around the world. After a while, there was nothing to do but get on and pedal on.

The Great Allegheny Passage (GAP trail) runs 150 miles from Pittsburgh, PA to Cumberland, MD. From Pittsburgh to the Eastern Continental Divide, about 120 miles, it's a 2% uphill grade. From the Divide to Cumberland, about 30 miles, it's a 4% downhill grade. So I did the next 30 miles in about two hours, with very little pedaling, arriving in Cumberland with time to do some grocery shopping and head out on the next trail, the C&O Towpath. The Towpath is a different beast altogether than the GAP, but...

...I'll cover that in my next post.


  1. Great blog! Waterfalls, fireflies, the cemetery, the ghost uke, the snakes, the peacock, the other cyclists!!! This is a grand adventure. Love you, Mom

  2. Kyle, Sounds like your doing well. Let me know if you reach Provence, France. I have an acquaintance there who might like listening to your travels. Take care jt

    1. Oh, this bird. I asked a few people but nobody seemed to know.

      I'll almost certainly be passing through Provence in the fall -- late September to mid October. If you want to pass along your friend's contact info to me at that would be nice!