Monday, December 12, 2016

Day 12: The Great Allegheny Passage

July 16: I slept in a bit late this morning. With only four miles to Cumberland and the end of the C&O Canal, I was in no rush! And, point in fact, I didn't want to get into Cumberland too early--I needed stores to be open!

But I was still hiking by 7:00am--an hour or so later than normal.

Evitts Creek Aqueduct is the last of the 11 aqueducts
along the C&O Canal. It's in bad shape, though,
held together with those steel rods.
The Cumberland skyline rose up as I approached and in the city center, I officially reached the end of the C&O Canal. It wasn't an exciting moment because in the same step I left the C&O Canal, I started hiking the Great Allegheny Passage, or GAP for short. On to Pittsburgh! Instead of following an old canal towpath, though, I'd now be following an old railroad turned into a hiking and biking trail.

Before I left town, however, I had a couple of tasks I needed to do. First up, contact Amanda to coordinate an upcoming visit from her. I still had no cell phone service--curse you, Verizon!--even in the middle of the city I had no service. Cumberland isn't exactly a podunk town--over 20,000 people live here and over 100,000 live in the metro area. Not a big city, certainly, but not an insignificant podunk with 12 people either.

So without cell phone service, my first goal was to find somewhere with a wi-fi connection. From the trail, I could see a Wendy's a short bit away and having had good luck with wi-fi connections at such locations, veered off towards it. From the sidewalk outside, I looked for a wi-fi signal but didn't see anything. However, there was a weak signal for Taco Bell which was almost across the street. I was a little surprised to see a Taco Bell signal at all--I figured I'd have been too far away to pick up from anything there, but knowing Taco Bell had a wi-fi connection and unsure about Wendy's, I veered off to Taco Bell instead.

I wasn't really hungry--I had eaten plenty for breakfast barely an hour ago--but it seemed kind of rude to go in, use their facilities, and not actually order anything. So I put in an order I didn't really want--except for a drink which I really did want--then went off into a corner near an outlet and got to work. I plugged in my computer and phone to the outlets and got online. I gave Amanda a call, caught up with email and messages and enjoyed the air-conditioned inside. I refilled my drink four or five times--I lost count. The one thing I couldn't do was get onto Atlas Quest because their filters prohibited me from it for being a "sporting" website. What?! *grumbling*

I spent over an hour there before finishing up and it was on to my next task: resupplying food for the next section of trail. I wound up at a Save-A-Lot where I bought more cereal and Hamburger Helpers and the usual assortment of candies. Nearby was a McDonalds, which I stopped at briefly. I still wasn't hungry--my belly was already full with two meals!--but it was a convenient place to repack my spoils from Save-A-Lot into Ziplocks and into my pack, and I hoped I'd finally be able to get onto Atlas Quest with their wi-fi connection--which I did. Not wanting to be a freeloader or kicked out for not actually ordering something, though, I ordered a McFlurry. =) Not a meal, but enough to keep the workers from bothering me. I wasn't planning to be there long--just long enough to check AQ and make sure everything was okay and repack my goods.

Cumberland Waste Water Treatment Plant
With that done, I followed Baltimore Street, which was quite lovely, back to the trail. The street had been closed down to traffic and was a pedestrian-only area past some old, historic buildings.

The trail was paved the next few miles, which was absolutely wonderful for pushing my stroller. Except for the sore palms, I hadn't realized how much effort pushing that stroller over gravel had been! It was positively easy on the pavement. A few miles outside of town, the pavement ran out and turned into gravel again, but even the gravel was of a much higher quality than the canal towpath. Much more even and fewer potholes and mud pits to get around.

The trail left the Potomac behind--I wouldn't be following that river anymore!

Leaving town, I was surprised to find the trail following alongside railroad tracks. I had been under the impression that the GAP was a rails-to-trail deal, not a rails-and-trail deal. Eventually I learned that the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad would take tourists between Cumberland and Frostburg, but that was all the tracks were used for. Frostburg would be the next town on the GAP, 16 miles away. I had hoped to reach somewhere near that location by evening.

The trail took a definitely uphill trajectory between Cumberland and Frostburg! It had a maximum 1.5% grade, which isn't actually very steep--but by railroad standards, that's about as steep as it gets and a heck of a lot steeper than anything on the C&O Canal. Between Washington and Cumberland, I had climbed about 600 feet in about 200 miles--an average of 3 feet per mile. In the 16 miles from Cumberland to Frostburg, I'd climb 1,443 feet--more than 90 feet per mile! Not exactly steep, but it was clear and obvious that the trail was rising, slowly but steadily. I had to put a little more push behind the stroller to get it going uphill, and I had to set the brake when I wanted to stop or rest so it wouldn't start rolling back down the trail.

My biggest problem with the GAP--and I knew this before I left Cumberland--was where to stay for the night. Unlike the C&O Canal with relatively frequently campsites where one could pitch a tent (for free!), the GAP had relatively few places that one could legally camp. Bicyclists might be able to do it if they had a some particularly big-mile days, but it was essentially impossible for a hiker to thru-hike the GAP without camping illegally. There were towns where I could get lodging along the way, and even paid campgrounds in or near many of the towns, but it was utterly impossible for me to legally camp for free along its entire length. Which left me with two options: camping illegally, or paying for lodging in towns.

I decided to camp illegally. Lodging in towns was expensive! =)

When I reached the trailhead at Frostburg, I heard some thunder and felt a couple of drops of water. Not rain per se, but certainly a precursor to it! I needed to find a place to set up camp. Somewhere stealthy, preferably hidden off trail, because I knew it was illegal--although if I were caught, I'd claim to not know. Because that's what you do in such situations. =)

It was late in the day as well, and I planned to get moving first thing in the morning. Ideally, nobody would ever know I had camped at all.
I filled up with all the water I could carry at the trailhead--I wouldn't be camped near any rivers or water pumps this night--and pushed on.

A short ways beyond the trailhead a small trail led off the GAP into a forest of trees and I followed it as well as I could. It didn't looked much used, and I ended up picking up my pack and wearing it while carrying my stroller through some brush, up a small rise, and set up camp in the trees.

I had checked the weather forecast when I was in Cumberland and it wasn't supposed to rain during the night, but it certainly looked like it could and with the couple of drops I felt, I decided to hedge my bets and set up half my tarp. =) I let it cover the lower half of my body and could quickly pull it over all of myself if it should start to rain, although it never did.

As dusk fell, loud music drifted out from town. It must have been loud in town for me to hear it so well as far out of town as I was located, and it was a lot of great oldies music. I wondered if there was some sort of music festival or something going on in town, but I had no way of looking it up online. My cell phone still wasn't getting a signal. I hoped it wouldn't go on too late at night--I did want to get some sleep eventually!

I wrote in my journal, read my book and listened to the music mostly killing time until I got tired enough to fall asleep. By around 9:00, I was ready to hit the sack--and the music stopped just then as well. Perfect! And I drifted off to sleep without any trouble.

Cumberland, MD: The end of the C&O Canal and the beginning of the GAP.
None of the original canal boats have survived to the present day, but this is probably the best reconstruction of one that you'll find.
Baltimore Street, Cumberland, MD
Statue at the end of the C&O Canal. I think this is supposed to be one of the mules that pulled the canal boats.
Cumberland had some really nice murals! =)

I'd be following the railroad tracks all the way into Frostburg.
And the first few miles of the GAP were paved--which was absolutely wonderful for pushing the stroller!

The Narrows is a 1000-ft high natural landmark which cuts through Wills and Haystack Mountains, and it's where the trail is headed.
The Western Maryland Scenic Railroad is the only train that travels these tracks now between Cumberland and Frostburg.
In 1912, a Western Maryland Railway cut exposed this small cave. The cave, which became known as the Cumberland Bone Cave, was found to contain a variety of bones from extinct species. Paleontologists were called in from the Smithsonian Institution, and in the following 4 years, the remains of over 40 species of mammals including 28 thought to be extinct were recovered and some are even on permanent exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History. (I went through that on Day 1! I didn't think to look for the remains found from this cave, though, since I didn't even know about this cave at the time.)
Look at that! Stalactites! On the outside of the cave! Of course, that makes a lot of sense when you realize that the cave was discovered by the railroad building a cut through the mountain. These used to be inside the cave until the railroad exposed them to outside elements.

It's not readily obvious, but this section between Cumberland and Frostburg would be the steepest section of the entire trail!





The Brush Tunnel was built in 1911, constructed of reinforced concrete and designed for two tracks.
Inside Brush Tunnel. The best part about this tunnel.... it's so cool inside! You can't see it in the photos, but in July, outside temperatures are very hot and muggy. These tunnels are the only escape from the heat!
Woah, now! Slow down, little stroller! We've got some speed limits here! (Obviously, the speed limits are intended for bicyclists, not hikers pushing strollers!)


Railroad ties eventually rot and wear out and need replacing, and this strange vehicle helps do that. It is capable of running on regular roads (thus, all those tires you see on the truck), but it also has special wheels that allows it to run directly on railroad tracks as well.
Take a closer look at the wheels of this strange vehicle. When running on the railroad, the "railroad wheels" drop under the tires, pushing the tires up above the tracks and move on those metal wheels instead. So very interesting! I wish I had a car that could do this! =)
Not sure what the construction here is about, but it looks like they're making quite a mess of things! =)

Bicycle art. Very few people ever thru-hike the C&O Canal or GAP, but a lot of people thru-bike it and you'll find a lot of support (and art) designed with bicyclists in mind.
Frostburg trailhead, where I stopped to fill up with water and felt a couple of drops of rain. I set up camp probably five or ten minutes up the trail from here.

1 comment:

Karolina Śmiech said...

I like the murals in Cumberland and I like the stalactites! 😊