Bike Tour 2017 - Climbing Hills, Popping Pills, Cheap Thrills, and No Spills

Jim and Tom's 18th Bike Tour


I believe this is the latest we've ever started a bike tour. We started later than usual in hopes of avoiding the heat during the middle of the summer. It is unseasonably warm but, all in all, quite pleasant. We climbed some steep hills, I took ibuprofen for the first time on a bike tour, we flew down some nice downhills, and no accidents. A perfect bike tour in so many ways.

Day 1 Overview Map


Monday, September 19, 74.5 miles, Average 12.6 mph, Max 41 mph, 6h38m riding time, 3,642 Climbing Feet and 3,287 Downhill Feet

Pittsburgh, PA – Jones Mills, PA

Our starting location is Pittsburgh, and with us is good luck dog Angola. This is now a memorial picture as she has since passed away. But she is not forgotten.





We start riding at 7:30am. After riding less than 1 city block, my rear tire blows.



This tire was new - a week old. It had less than 100 miles on it since I replaced the previous one. Hey Continental! I want my money back on that Grand Prix 4000 tire. Fortunately, this was the only bike issue the entire bike tour as I rode without a spare.

Let's try this again. It's a bit foggy this morning. Initially we ride down a long hill and at the bottom head SE and enter The Borough of Swissvale.

There's a nice train mural in the Borough of Swissvale.


Train Mural

As we leave Swissvale we stop for a look at the Carrie furnace - remnants of Pittsburgh's steel glory days. On Braddock Avenue we encounter a building containing elaborate white designs on a black background (like a chalkboard),

Look - a building made out of chalkboard.


Chalk Board

Where's Waldo? How do you find someone to do the work when it needs to be painted?


Chalkboard Building

Soon we come to the Joe Magarac statue by the Edgar Thomson Works (a huge US Steel steel mill).

Joe Magarac was a man made of steel. He was born in an iron ore mine and raised in a furnace.


Joe Magarac

He stirred vats of hot steel with his bare hands and twisted horseshoes and pretzels out of iron ingots. This makes me feel like a wimp.

Here's a wider view of the Edgar Thomson Works steel mill.


Edgar Thomson Works

We bid Joe a fond farewell and soon cross Turtle Creek. This part goes through some Monongahela River Valley industrial towns. After riding through the city of McKeesport (an industrial suburb of Pittsburgh), We come to the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). The GAP follows the Youghiogheny river for a long stretch. It starts as a paved trail but quickly becomes a crushed gravel trail. Fortunately it is on top of an old railroad bed. It is hard packed and relatively flat. By now the fog has lifted.

Here's a photo from the GAP Trail by the Youghiogheny River.



Where life is beautiful all the time.

We stop by this Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) red waterfall.



AMD destroys the environment because the water here is both acid and iron-rich. There used to be a coal mine near here.

We pass by a plaque describing the Darr Mine Disaster of December 19, 1907. The use of open flame lamps caused an explosion that killed 239 miners. I would not have been a very good miner.

The GAP is a nice hard-packed surface built on top of an old railroad bed.


Great Allegheny Passage

It's not very crowded on the GAP on a Monday morning. Jim and I are able to discuss and solve many of the world's problems - most of which involve the President, Donald Trump.

We follow the GAP for 38 miles stopping for snacks and a break in the riding along the way. We leave the GAP at the town of Dawson and, since we are hungry, look for a restaurant called Chubboys. We find it, but it turns out it is closed on Mondays. We did get a nice tour of Dawson however.

So, we head east toward Connellsville to continue our search for lunch. Along the way we climb some hills but also ride a roller coaster downhill and hit the max speed of the day at 41 mph. The pretty city of Connellsvilles has plenty of restaurants and we choose Valley Dairy.

After lunch our route takes us to Breakneck Ave and we see a bridge with a sign that says "caution, do not walk nor trespass on this bridge." An unfriendly lady troll comes toward us. She also has a black pig in her yard.

The troll and some barking dogs are on the other side (even though you cannot see them, they are there).


Wooden Bridge

The troll is glaring at us with hate in her eyes as we take this picture.

Breakneck Road takes us to Quail Hill Road. This turns out to be quite a climb of almost 1000 feet in a 2-mile stretch. It was brutal and also had a fair amount of traffic on it.

When a road has the word 'Hill' in its name, it often means you climb a lot.


Quail Hill

Look at the background and see where we started climbing this hill. Let's say it again, we climbed nearly 1000 feet vertical in a 2-mile span.

Quail hill Road turns into Buchanan Road. We enjoy some pretty scenery and the road is nicely maintained. We also see some farms along here. Traffic is a little heavier and fast here though.

We stop at what we first thought was a cannon but turned out to be a sewer pipe made to look like a cannon.

Does the cannon picture below remind you of something you've seen before? look here


Sewer Cannon

Buchanan takes us to Melcroft for a short stint. Then we picked up County Line Road. This takes us to highway 711 - where we see this giant pumpkin.

It's not every day that you see a 1512-pound pumpkin.


1512 LB Pumpkin

But, if I never see another one again - I'm fine with that.

Shortly after this giant pumpkin, we arrive at our lodging for the evening.

The following picture requires no explanation and is presented here just to make you feel good.


Jim Bear

This place, where we spent the night, also has a private zoo.

Day 2 Overview Map


Tuesday, September 19, 59.4 miles, Average 10.1 mph, Max 44.7 mph, Riding time 5h52m, Climbing Feet 5,794, and 6,194 downhill feet

Donegal, PA – La Vale, MD

We start riding 8:35am and retraced our route back on highway 711 until we get to County Line Road between Westmorland and Fayette counties. As we wait to turn, a man pulls up besides us and gives a brochure for a nearby bike trail called the Indian Creek Valley Trail. We decide that we're not going to explore this trail as we're not sure how much of a detour it might become.

The ride up County Line Road involves a steep ascent for 4 miles. As it turns out, in the first 8 miles we climb about 1500 feet. It is pretty exhausting. The road itself is in great condition though.

Shortly after we start climbing we find this warning along the way.


Shark Crossing

A short distance later there is also a Big Foot crossing sign.

This road has some resort style homes. There are also many beautiful vistas of forests and the country side. We encounter a fancy and expensive resort called Seven Springs as we continue to climb this multi-mile hill.


Seven Springs

At the top there is a nice there is a nice view of a ridge in the distance that we will either climb later in the day, or climb a similar one.

The whole area has a mountain/ski resort theme to it. Next there is a series of downhills (one quite long), then the country side becomes a mixture of farmland and forest. We can see some wind turbines of in the distance.



If you zoom in here, you might see that there are wind turbines on that ridge.

I guess Halloween is just around the corner. We come across a spooky setup called the Haunted Hayloft with some ghoulish scarecrows near New Centerville.



Who is the scariest - this guy or Jim?



OK, I admit it, Jim is scarier than I am.



After this scare, we ride to the town of Rockwood, where there is a steep descent down into the center of town. We decide to have lunch at the Rock City Cafe as there may not be any other place for some distance. The cafe is not quite open so we wait on a park bench and see a sign at a store that says STONER FURNITURE. Maybe they sell tables with builtin bongs.

After lunch we ride out of Rockwood and cross over the Casselman River. Here we cross the GAP again. Right after crossing the river we confront a steep ascent of 850 vertical feet in 3 miles. When we reach the top we see more wind turbines.

Although these are not the wind turbines in a previous picture, many of the ridges have them.


Wind Turbines

Jim makes me trudge out into vicious tick infested tall grasses, risking horrible tick borne diseases, because getting this photo right is so important. So, you better like it

Next is a downhill to Mount Davis Road where we decide to stop briefly and have a snack. We follow Mount Davis Road to the next turn and see some cows.

We always include a picture of cows



I love cows - they taste great.

We turn onto Coal Run Road and discover it is a little rough. Up to this point the roads have been mostly in great shape.

Here we come to a thing that looks like a silo (but is on some stilts) and turns out to be something emitting a white substance that is draining into a stream. It's a red stream so it's probably another AMD stream. We surmise the substance is lime being added to reduce the acidity in the stream. Soon we also see some cleansing ponds that helps confirm our suspicions that the white substance is lime, and being used to improve the environmental quality of the stream.

After Coal Run Road we take US 219 to Salisbury and stop at a small grocery store for some ice cream. We see the Dali American arts newspaper holder for the Daily American.

Near the store we see this neat newspaper dispenser with a Salvador Dali theme. Note that it claims to dispense the 'Dali American' newspaper.

pics/54_Surrealist Paper.jpg

Surrealist Paper

Jim pulls the dispenser out from the wall and we see they even added surrealist art to the backside.

pics/55_Surrealist Paper.jpg

Backside of Surrealist Paper dispenser

Also, if you are looking for a lard press, head to Salisbury, PA.

pics/56_For_Sale Paper.jpg

For Sale

As we're finishing our ice cream, a lady stops with her granddaughter. The granddaughter takes a hard fall but this lady barley notices and the kid seems OK. I guess the kids are tough here in Salisbury. Since we are also looking at the maps, she offers advice on a better route to Cumberland. She explicitly recommends against Pocahontas Road as it is so full of potholes that riding that road would cause you to feel it in your bones for a week. We decide to ignored her, partly because we couldn't understand her alternate directions. You know, like go up the road to the supper club and turn right until you come to a red barn, etc. So we leave Salisbury and ride up Corliss Road. This proves to be one of the steepest climbs of the entire tour - exhausting. We catch our breath and then get on Greenville road and this is where we cross from the Appalachian Plateau to the Ridge and Valley geologic area of PA. It's also called the Eastern Continental Divide as water on the west side flows to the Mississippi and the water on the east side flows to the Atlantic. Greenville Road is in good condition, a low traffic road, and quite scenic. The Fall colors are showing.

Either we've reached an elevation where there are fall colors



or those mushrooms we ate have kicked in.

Interesting that it is so unusually quiet here. No sound of birds or wind blowing or anything. It's eerie and makes me think the tsunami is about to hit.

We turn on Murray Road and it was recently sealed with little stones. Not that pleasant to ride on actually. We are looking for Blue Jay Road but it is not marked and we ride past it for a short distance. We backtrack and figure out that an unmarked road must be Blue Jay Road. It's dirt but only about 0.3 miles long. Soon it becomes paved and we figure out that we entered Maryland. We are now on Pocahontas Road. Pocahontas turns out to be a lovely low traffic road - good thing we didn't listen to that lady. Pocahontas takes us to Alt US 40.

Sweet - a 9-mile downhill.



Big Savage Mountain, at 2900 feet, is our highest elevation point on this tour.


Big Savage MT

We follow this descent into Frostburg and see its historic area. As we ride through town it is apparent that it is rush hour. It is a little hectic, bumpy, and narrow - but pretty. After riding through Frostburg we continue on this descent all the way to La Vale. Along the way I meet a guy that is riding to Cumberland. He tells me that between La Vale and Cumberland the shoulder is a little narrower and there is a steep descent. We will encounter this tomorrow. Soon we arrive at our destination.

Day 3 Overview Map


Wednesday, September 20, 86.2 miles, Average 10.9 mph, max 40.8 mph, 7h53m riding time, 5,794 climbing feet and 6,194 downhill feet

La Vale, MD – Martinsburgh, WV

We begin the ride at 7:15am with some foggy conditions, and a temperature around 60F. Initially our route continues downhill on US Alt 40 for 3 miles into Cumberland. This is the same downhill we ended on yesterday's ride. It certainly doesn't seem too steep and the shoulder is just fine. In Cumberland, we miss a way to the GAP (or Google maps has an error) but finally we find our way there.

Soon we come to the North Branch of the Potomac River near Cumberland, MD.


North Branch Potomac

We follow the GAP into Downtown Cumberland.

In downtown Cumberland there is a nice mural of George Washington.


Cumberland Mural

I like that fox on the left side of the mural.

This is where the GAP ends and we catch the C&O Trail. Once we leave Downtown Cumberland, the paved path stops. Pretty soon it turns into not much more than a goat path. The whole trail is minimally maintained (sometimes there is some gravel on the path but mostly just soil), bumpy, occasionally wet and muddy, and slow going. We will feel it in our bones for a week (just like Pocahontas Road).

We follow the C&O trail and get a view of the Potomac River.



Below you can see that the C&O trail is not much more than a goat path, and this is one of the nicer sections. It was never a former railroad track bed. As mentioned, it's pretty rough riding.


C&O Path

The green slimy water above is a section of an old towpath (barges towed by horses and mules). Along the way we see some nice rock outcroppings and views of the Potomac. It's not high on our list of recommended bike paths though.

When we started out on this journey, we thought this part was paved. *D'OH*

There are some old locks along the way.



The construction of this lock is impressive.

We rode this path for 20 miles and then hit pavement again. We get on MD 51, nice shoulder, and silky smooth pavement. This is a nice change after the bumpy C&O riding. There are 3 shorter climbs and then a 400 foot vertical before a long descent into the town of Paw Paw, W VA. We take a picture on the bridge over the Potomac.



Soon after we leave Maryland and enter Wild and Wonderful West Virginia.


West Virginia

Jim Justice was a Republican, then he switched to Democrat when he ran for Governor. Then, after he won, he switched back to being a Republican again. Can't he make up his mind?

We eat lunch in Paw Paw. After lunch we apply more sunscreen, and head up WV 9. Immediately there is long steep climb. At the top of the hill we take WV 29 - also a nice road. There are some nice views of ridges in the distance and we crossed a couple of ridges ourselves. Took a shortcut called Gaston Road to WV 127. WV 127 has a 65mph speed limit, is busy with cars and big trucks, but has a reasonable shoulder for biking.

Here we have a reflective moment as we pass by these memorials to victims of a tragic accident.



No major hills on WV 127 but a nice descent to US 522.

We enter Virginia



We come looking for love, but only found beautiful scenery.

US 522 is a 4-lane divided highway with a nice shoulder. We planned to take a road called 'New Hope' but it turned out to be gravel and we decide to get back onto 522. In a few miles we stop at a shop call Parrill's Trading Post for Gatorade Aid and water.

Rodeo Jim at Parrill's.


Ride-em Cowboy

We take US 522 for another mile and turn on Chapel Hill Road - quite a descent. The road has no shoulder and there is some traffic as it is getting near rush hour. This turns into Brush Creek Road and it ends at a T intersection, which makes the descent a bit less pleasant. We get onto Howards Chapel Road - still no shoulder. We have many climbs and descents with nice views of ridges. There is still some traffic in this area.

We take Apple Harvest Drive and see a nice ridge.



We reach a stream and that always lets us know we will need to climb. There is a long hard climb and we rest a bit at the top. We continue on Apple Harvest Drive to Tabler Station Road. We zig and zag but no major hills. There is some farmland here.

When we reach the bottom of the hill we take another scenic ridge picture.


Another Ridge View

Near the end of our third day we come into apple orchard territory.



It's actually kind of unseasonably hot for late September - temperatures are in the 80s..

Eventually we reach an area with shopping malls that is near our lodging. We find our hotel and we are somewhat exhausted from the heat, the climbs, and the distance.

Day 4 Overview Map


Thursday, September 22, 75 miles, Average 12.0 mph, Max 34 mph, 6h12m riding time, 3,130 Climbing Feet and 3,254 Downhill Feet

Martinsburg, WV – Fairfax, VA

We start riding about 8:15am and head into the city to ride across town. We pass by the County Court House in an old town area. At one point we zagged when we should have zigged but this allowed us to explore a little more of Martisburg (a 7-block unexpected detour). We get back to Burke St. (where we wanted to be) and head out of town.

In Martinsburg they celebrate being in Apple Orchard country.


Martinsburg Big Apple

As we leave Martinsburg a coal train passes by and we have to wait for it to pass. Soon we pass by a golf course and then travel through some nice farmland country. This is a low traffic route that's made for easy riding this morning. We come to a bike path but there's a too deep ditch that is separating us. We ride on the road some until we come to a place that lets us get on the path. The route has us follow this path until we arrive at Currie Avenue and then very quickly we get onto War Admiral Boulevard.

Before long we stop at the Golden Horseshoe for no good reason and find a bottle of Jack Daniels that still contains some whiskey. This is the first time on a bike tour that I've found a bottle of whiskey with some whiskey still in it.


Golden Horseshoe

My lucky day.



Unfortunately for us, the Golden Horseshoe is closed right now. If you're ever in town when it's open, check it out and let us know.

Soon we come to Charles Town. It turns out that we have been to Martinsburg before and once spent a night here in Charles Town while on a bike tour to Washington D.C. (look here)

Charles Town was named after George Washington's brother. After riding through town we come to the 'Smoking Head' - a far out and psychedelic head shop in Charles Town. I bet Charles Washington did not foresee such a thing happening here. We climb a bit on the way out of town but then there is a nice descent down to the Shenandoah River.

Here is the beautiful Shenandoah River as we approach the Blue Ridge.



After you cross a river, you know you're about to climb. We climb 550 vertical feet on WV 115 up the Blue Ridge. Soon we come across this strange thing.



What is it? Why is it here? What does it mean? I DON'T KNOW!

At the top we stop for a snack and encounter a nice downhill.

Sweet downhill


8% Grade

This will be a steep descent.



As we head down the hill on Chrles Town Pike we enter Virginia again. We go right in Cider Mill Road and see excessively large yards. Then we get on Woodgrove Road and this leads us to Short Hill Road which turns out to be an unexpected dirt road. I wave down a lady in a car and ask her how long the gravel stretch is and she tells me we do not want to go down that road on bikes. It was recently scraped and it is very rough. So, it was a paved road until recently. If it wasn't for bad luck, we wouldn't have any luck at all.

Next we try Allder School Drive and it is also gravel. A heavy equipment operator guy there says that this road is gravel for about 1.5 miles. Jim checks an alternate route and this guy agrees it is paved.

We continue down Woodgrove Road to the town of Round Hill and then catch VA 7. This road leads us to the town of Purcelliville where there is a real nice Italian restaurant named Anthony's. We have lunch and highly recommend Anthony's.

After lunch we ride a few blocks and get on the Washington & Old Dominion Trail (sometimes called "Wad"). This is a 45-mile bike trail that follows old rail and power line right of ways. The general trend of the Wad is slightly downhill. This trail that is smooth and in great condition.



This path will take us most of the way to our final destination. Riding this bike path is great fun and once again allows Jim and I to solve all the world's problems. Eventually we come to Ashburn and take advantage of a nice photo opportunity at Goose Creek.


Goose Creek

They put a chain link fence here to keep Daredevil Jim from jumping off.

We leave the trail, after 25 miles, when we reach the city of Herndon. Here we decide to stop for some snacks. Next we take Van Buren Street, which becomes Monroe Street, and before long we turn onto Foxmill Road. We are close enough to D.C. that we encounter some heavy traffic.

Next we follow roads named Fairfax-this and Fairfax-that but ride on a bike trail that follows the road. Finally the bike trail ends with no logical direction to follow. We muddle around on sidewalks and find a gas station where we get some chocolate milk to replenish sugars and nutrients. It turns out that it's a short ride from there to our lodging.



We made it!

Total Distance 295 miles


The next day we stop by Great Falls National Park on our way home.


Great Falls


Great Falls Part 2


Great Falls Portrait

Here we are with Tim. He is the guy who came and rescued us, and gave us a ride back to Pittsburgh. I tend to forget how breathtakingly beautiful this part of the country is. A bike tour on back roads is a good way to get reacquainted with this part of the country and remember the pretty scenery.

One other note here - soon after I finished this ride I retired. I think they call these the golden years.

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