Day 14: Up the Eastern Continental Divide and down to Confluence, PA

I woke early at the Y in Cumberland, thanks to a passing train right next to the field reserved for hikers and bikers around 4:30am. After lots of coffee and a breakfast I began the 24 mile, 1700 foot climb up the Eastern Continetal Divide.

The trail out of Cumberland began pleasantly enough, with gorgeous scenery surrounding the beginning of the climb. The view of Mt. Savage in the distance and the constant crawl of train tracks parrallel to the trail in the forefront made me not fully aknowledge the effort I was putting in to keep moving up.

Every gentle turn of the trail offered more views of lush expanses of green that my pictures can’t do justice to. It is quite a feeling to lock into a climb on the bike and have an unshakable focus for a brief bit, then make a turn, and get smacked by the epic beauty of the rolling countryside.

I got excited when I saw some cows. It’s the small things out here.

But the climb was wearing me down fast, especially considering the heat of the day was beginning to settle in. Mercifully I came across the pit stop at Frostburg where plenty of other cyclists were stopping for water and food.

And some of them are goofballs:

I ate a quick snack and kept pushing forward, making it to the first of several tunnels on the day. Other than being beautifully worn bits of American infrastructure, they offered a most welcome respite from the heat. I got very excited by the tunnels.

By this time the climbing never seemed to end. My constantly sore legs were starting to scream at me just as I made it to another state line, out of Maryland and back into Pennsylvania across the Mason-Dixon Line.

It was another moment to reflect on how far I’ve come since New York, and to appreciate my brief time in Maryland. I didn’t enter the state with any preconceived notions, but I left it with gratitude for the friendly locals, patient drivers who kept me safe, and the challenges it threw at me that I in turn accepted and conquered.

The wind farm on Mt. Savage, just a glimmer hours before, took front and center where some benches attracted more fellow cyclists taking a lunch break. I did the same and we chatted about the trail and how our rides were going. The camaraderie the trails between DC and Pittsburgh brings about was a highlight of the trek. I never talked to anyone for too long but it was always refreshing when I did given our common goals.

I eventually made it to Big Savage Tunnel, second only to the Paw Paw Tunnel in terms of length and coolness on these two trails.

It felt about 20 degrees cooler than the hot, humid wilderness outside of it, and I breathed a sigh of comfort as I pedaled through. On a certain level I didn’t want it to end, but I knew the Divide was waiting for me up the trail ahead.

By the time I made it to the Divide my exhaustion from the climb inhibited too much celebration, but I felt a calm sense of accomplishment… 

…Especially after looking at the elevation profile of what I just endured.

And then it was time to start my descent into Pittsburgh.

I was a bit disappointed to not really “feel” the ride to a lower elevation. It was very gradual, and my legs were too spent to notice a reduction in effort.

But the bridges were awfully nice to ride over:

I soon made it to Meyersdale,the first pit stop after crossing the Divide. The friendly staff at the train station turned visitors center turned on the hose for me and I finally got to clean my bike, spraying down all the mud from the C&O. I bet I shed a pound of mud by doing this. 

I lubed my chain and derailleur pivot points, and added a sticker to my seat tube:

And the trail moved on, past plenty of delightful waterfalls that begged for bike portraits:

Looking at these pictures might seem redundant. But to spend hours a day riding through the vast expanses of unending trail and lush landscapes surrounding the river I was riding along brought on a level of internal calm that was met equally by my exhaustion. It was a feeling I’d never before experienced, and it was made all the more potent by the true solitude I was in. Yes, I passed plenty of cyclists. But I would go hours between doing so, and we often didn’t do more than nod hello to each other.

The night was coming on and I decided to camp at a campground in Confluence, PA, rather than in Ohiopyle 10 miles further north. I had heard the campgrounds in Ohiopyle weren’t necessarily easy to get to for cyclists, but the point was moot anyway. Daylight was diminishing, but not nearly as much as my strength. At this point I had been on the trail for 11 hours including breaks and I needed to rest.

I passed a breathtaking view of the river…

…before making it to get some ice cream before heading to the Outflow campground a stone’s throw away at just the right time.

I set up the tent and was out pretty quickly, as my body and mind rested for the next long day ahead of me.


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