First off, I’d apologize for misspelling “Allegheny” in the title of the first post (since corrected) except that here we are in Cumberland, where apparently they spell Allegheny “Allegany.” So my own “Alleghany” comes off as a compromise between Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Second off, eat breakfast at Ed’s Diner just behind the Melody Motor Lodge. It’s a throwback too–exactly what you want to get from a diner.
Third: we discovered a theme on the trail. Towns commission sculptures that incorporate bicycle wheels and at the same time symbolize something distinctive about the town. In a sprinkle, our day began with this symbol capturing the essence of Connellsville. Interpretations are welcome.
Fourth: let me say that if the prevailing winds blow from Pittsburgh to D. C., as the website promises, they have not prevailed. We rode into a head wind–not to say “gale force”–of pretty considerable strength. We felt gipped, because a tail wind was supposed to compensate for the slow steady climb, and we were uncompensated.
It was Stephen Crane’s “The Open Boat” only the boat was our Trek 7.2’s, constantly moving, constantly balancing like a dingy bobbing on the ocean making its very slow oar-driven forward progress. If you haven’t read “The Open Boat,” click on the live link right now and read it: it’s far more important to your cultural health and pleasure than my meager blog. But there are no pictures, so if you’re lazy stay right here and just nibble on the opening lines:
None of them knew the color of the sky. Their eyes glanced level, and remained upon the waves that swept towards them. These waves were gray, except for the tops, which were white, and all the men knew the colors of the sea. The line between sky and water narrowed and widened, and fell and rose.
The idea is that four men are crammed together in a row boat after their ship went down off the coast of Florida. It’s fiction from real life: a ship really did sink to the bottom out from under the feet of Stephen Crane, and after the life boats were away all that was left for four final men was a little dingy. They can see the shore, but they have to row and row to find a place where they can approach it, and they take turns rowing, keeping the nose pointed into the rising waves, keeping up their little progress to keep from swamping. It’s about long hard labor.
That sums up Day 2: long hard labor. A couple of professors in their 50s pedaling their hearts out in a very low gear (because they’re out of shape) like ship wreck survivors rowing and rowing to keep the prow pointed towards the rising waves, waves of green Allegheny Mountains, their peaks high above us, their troughs far below.
Then there’s the shark that keeps following them. All through the night its fin slices through the water back and forth like a knife. The shark was the ominous skies that peeked over the hills first from the left, then from the right, then from straight in front of us, which was unsettling, because that’s where the wind was coming from. All day long the dark clouds pursued us, shark fins darting over the close horizon.
Except we could get off the bikes while the open boat men obviously had no respite from continuous labor. You feel the motion of the bike most when take a break, lie down on a bench, and close your eyes. You can feel the inside of your skull swaying more or less in harmony with the wind coming through the leaves. Your senses seem keener when your thighs are sore and your shoulders are sore and your blood is tired. Maybe it’s like a runner’s high.
One thing I can say for sure is that pictures don’t come close to capturing what it’s like to see these sights along the Passage. The tiniest purple wildflower on the side of the trail lit in a piece of sunshine no bigger than a child’s palm. (That’s a poetic phrase, isn’t it? You think like a poet after about mile 30.) The obvious grand view like a bridge over a gorge ending in a tunnel through the shoulder of a mountain.
We ate trailmix in Ohiopyle, which is the prettiest town in America. Nothing like your Smithton mining working class town. Ohiopyle is the Sante Fe of the Alleghenies, a vacation paradise for the last hundred years. Picturesque church. Impressive waterfall.
Three guys in wet suits were standing next to us when we took the picture of the waterfall. Two looked like city folk. The third, a tall man in his twenties was a river guide. Very handsome except when he smiled his ochre teeth showed he dips tobacco regularly. When the river’s running lower, you can go over that waterfall–an 18 foot drop he told us. It used to be illegal, so the locals only did it at night. He was never scared till the first time he did it in the daylight–then he could see what he got himself into.
After mile 35, the wind blew harder. We leaned our heads into it. Our speed dropped down to 8.5 miles/hour, announced to us every five-mile interval by my iPhone’s MapMyRide app. We felt that the female voice was slightly disappointed with us. Day 1 averaged 9.9.
You can see by the chart that elevation steepens after Connellsville. So you can imagine how we felt when in the waning afternoon we finally reached the Rockwood sculpture. We swung our legs over our saddles and stood on dry land. It felt like we were dropped from a roof. And there to save us was a shining locomotive. No disapproval at all. Only welcome.