This is a story about a group of friends who happen to go on cycling vacations together at least once each year, or at least, most years. These vacations have taken us to various parts of Ohio, Wisconsin, Quebec, New York, Minnesota, and other places long forgotten. This year’s adventure took us through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. We rode our bikes on the C&O Towpath and the Great Allegeny Passage, plus a few more trails, from Georgetown, Maryland to the forks of the Ohio in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Some say that memory is selective. We tend to forget things we dislike and remember the things we enjoy. Although we all had been on the C&O Towpath before, we remembered the history, the shade and the rustic nature of the towpath itself. We forgot that we remembered the spare keys to the truck and an essential pair of cycling shoes, so we got new spares for both of them. We forgot the bugs, the heat, the crowds at Harper’s Ferry on the day after Memorial Day, and yes, the mud. Mud that packs so tight into your front fender that even downhill becomes uphill. Mud that spatters your legs, your shoes, your socks, your water bottle and your derailleurs. Mud that makes a long day even longer.
There is some neat stuff on the Towpath, including over 70 locks, the PawPaw tunnel, Bill’s Place in Little Orleans, a British fort (Fort Frederick), a few dams, White’s Ferry, and more than a few places of historical significance to Civil War buffs. The Great Allegheny Passage is a much finer place to ride a bike than the C&O Towpath. Especially when you are going downhill. This was the case for much of our adventure as we traveled East to West (or South to North) as we followed the oxbows of the Potomac, the Casselman, the Youghiogheny, and the Monongahela.
There were five of us who began our bicycling journey in Rosslyn. We originally planned to have a group of ten but we lost half of our crew to injury prior to the start of the ride. Nonetheless, two who could not join us for the ride itself gave two of us who did the ride a lift from our home to the starting point; these same good friends met us at the Point at the end of the ride to take our picture at the end of the ride. As a warm-up to our adventure, we toured the Rock Creek Trail north through the National Zoo in Washington, and followed Beach Road (closed on weekends to car traffic) to Bethesda. At Bethesda, we took the Capital Crescent Trail downhill for miles back to our starting point near the Key Bridge. Saturday’s dinner was at a forgettable sandwich place in Arlington (Ray’s) that was recommended by a friend and by Yelp.
The adventure began in earnest on Sunday morning. Four of the group crossed the Potomac into Maryland and rode the C&O Towpath to White’s Ferry. As it was Rolling Thunder weekend, they had to wait for over a hundred motorcycles to cross before they could cross with their pedal bicycles. As I was the designated driver, I rode the Mount Vernon Trail south along the Potomac to Four Mile Run. From there, I rode west along Four Mile Run to the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, and thence on the W&OD to the Custis Trail and then back along scenic I-66 to the Rosslyn Holiday Inn. Riding the Custis Trail is a lot like riding a roller coaster. There are a lot of “ups” and “downs” on the Custis, with more “down” than “up” if you are heading towards Rosslyn.
The Best Western Leesburg was our destination for Sunday night. As it was only noon when I arrived, I took the opportunity to ride the W&OD from Leesburg to Purcellville and back through beautiful horse country. Along the way, I stopped for lemonade and cookies offered by a young lady and her father, who were planning to go to RAGBRAI this year. At the end of the trail is Purcellville, a picturesque village with an outdoor restaurant with live music and a well-appointed bicycle shop. I took my bike into the bike shop for a minor repair and was quickly on my way back down the hill to Leesburg.
That evening, my wife and I had dinner with two great friends who now live in the area. You know you are with good friends when you both, independently, make reservations for the same restaurant (Tuscarora Inn) at the same time (6:15 pm). The food was great, the service was impeccable, and the conversation lively. We will be seeing them again soon, I hope! Monday, we followed the W&OD a few blocks to the historic part of Leesburg, and then took VA 15 to the road to White’s Ferry. We lined up with a number of other cycling tourists and rode the ferry across the Potomac to the C&O Towpath uneventfully.
We crossed the impressive Monocacy Aqueduct and took a few pictures. We also stopped at Dam 4 and followed the newly opened concrete pathway along Big Slackwater. Nice, but we also encountered long stretches of four-inch-deep mud. I guess that the Potomac had flooded recently. We stopped at Beans in the Belfry in Brunswick for coffee. Beans in the Belfry used to be a church, now it’s a coffeeshop with delicious baked goods. It was recommended by cyclists from Iowa whom we met on the trail next to a fallen tree that completely blocked our path. We looked for the Brunswick Visitors’ Center but could not find it, so we rode on to Harpers Ferry. We carried our bikes up the stairs and walked them across the bridge across the Potomac, seeking sustenance amongst the hordes of Appalachian Trail hikers, bicyclists, climbers, and tourons. We found the Holy Grail of lunch spots most of the way up a hill, the Town’s Inn. Behind this B&B is a patio seating area best described as a “grotto,” with a stone wall, stone floor and ample shade. The food was delicious (I had a pulled pork sandwich) and the service was good. Best of all, it got us out of the bright sun and the crowds.
We continued on to Shepherdstown, West Virginia, home of Shepherdstown University, the Bavarian Inn, a Clarion Inn, and a Comfort Inn. We stayed at the Comfort Inn, a newer hotel at the far end of town. Thoughtfully, the powers that be constructed a bikeway along WV 45 out to the hotel. The hotel is adjacent to a Food Lion, a laundromat, and several dining establishments. As we needed more exercise, we skipped the nearby pizza joints and Chinese restaurant and decided to walk into Shepherdstown for dinner at the Blue Moon Cafe. We guessed it was formerly a speakeasy as a stream ran through the outdoor seating area where we ate more good food. There was so much of it we could not finish it all!
Tuesday’s destination was the 1828 Trail Inn in Hancock, Maryland. Bill and Darlene Smith, the innkeepers, were wonderful hosts. The Trail Inn boasts a huge front porch overlooking the two bike paths that run through Hancock – the C&O Towpath, and slightly nearer, the Western Maryland Rail Trail. We took the WMRT in from Fort Frederick and rode it out to the other end as we left Hancock. The juxtaposition of the two trails shows how different they are in character. The C&O Towpath is a muddy dirt road. The WMRT is a newly paved asphalt ribbon, eight feet wide. If I were a roller skier or roller blader, there’s no doubt in my mind which one I would choose!
Lunch was at Williamsport. The Desert Rose Cafe is a good choice for lunch. Two of us went to the Desert Rose. Two went across the intersection. Enough said.
Dinner was at Weavers’ Restaurant in Hancock. The service was fantastic and the pie ala mode was delicious. We asked for a bag of ice for a tired knee. They gave us enough ice for our cooler!
Wednesday was one of our longest days, Hancock to Cumberland on the Towpath. We saw lots of wildlife, toured Bill’s Place in Little Orleans, and walked our bikes most of the way through the Paw Paw Tunnels. We had a number of flat tires along the way, leading a couple in the group to look for Flat Tire Ale in Cumberland. We stayed in the Fairfield Inn in Cumberland, a grand new hotel right on the end of the Towpath. They knew we were coming as they had a large patio with bike racks and a hose to rinse off the bits of Towpath that clung to our bikes. The Fairfield Inn has a nice pool, whirlpool, breakfast and great service. They carried our gear in to the hotel rooms where we were staying; suggested a great place for dinner (Ristorante Ottaviani); and gave us shower caps for our bike seats as we were checking out.
On Thursday it rained. It started as a drizzle and continued from Frostburg to the Eastern Continental Divide. Some of us stayed at the Morguen Toole Company. The Morguen Toole Company is a three-story building with a restaurant on the first floor, a pub on the second, and loft-style sleeping accomodations on the third. Dinner was good and breakfast was nearby. A sixth member joined our party Thursday evening. He rode from Homestead, PA to Meyersdale, PA, a distance of 115 miles, to join us.
The rest of our party stayed at the Levi Deal Mansion. It was very different from Morguen Toole. The Levi Deal Mansion is a restored coal baron Victorian, furnished exquisitely with antiques, a large parlor and front porch, and hosted by Jan and Michael. Our stay came with complimentary beverages and snacks upon arrival and a delicious omlette with fresh all-you-can-eat blueberry pancakes with local maple syrup for breakfast. The Jacuzzi tub was a plus!
From Meyersdale, the rest of the ride was all downhill. Literally. We stopped at Sisters’ Cafe in Confluence for lunch, a favorite place of ours for years. At Ohiopyle, we stopped for ice cream, and then rode down the trail to a newly found “Northwest Passage” to the Melody Motor Lodge, our accomodations for Friday night. Our “Northwest Passage” was Riverside Drive, a shortcut from MP 86 on the Great Allegheny Passage to US 119, approxiately 100 yards north of the Melody Motor Lodge. The Melody Motor Lodge meets the three “C’s” of frequent travelers – clean, comfortable, and cheap.
Dinner was a phone call to Domino’s Pizza and breakfast was at the Valley Dairy in Connellsville. While the Valley Dairy has dependably excellent food and service, I think the next time I’m in the area I’ll try Ed’s Diner behind the Melody.
Leaving Connellsville, we were on the home stretch to Pittsburgh. We stopped in West Newton at the trail visitor’s center and in Boston at Generoso’s for lunch. On familiar ground, and pavement, we nearly flew to the Point to meet our friends and complete our ride. Point made!