Melodee Kornacker, 70, of Upper Arlington, Ohio, will journey 600 miles by bicycle during May of 2010 to return to Bryn Mawr College. Ms. Kornacker will join fellow class of 1960 classmates for their 50th reunion. Ms. Kornacker's triumphal arrival on May 28th will be the capstone to the two week, four state, bicycle tour.
Bryn Mawr is a community of "insatiably curious intellectuals", possessing a purposeful vision of life, and the desire to make meaningful contributions to the world.
Joe Honton 707-400-7569
The tour will follow the Panhandle Trail across West Virginia; the Montour Trail near Pittsburgh; the Steel Valley Trail at Glassport, Pennsylvania; the celebrated Great Allegheny Passage in western Pennsylvania and Maryland; the C&O Canal Towpath Trail from Cumberland to Williamsport, Maryland; and back country roads through eastern Ohio and eastern Pennsylvania.
The tour's participants are Melodee Kornacker and her entourage, Al Moore, 61; E.J. Honton, 55; and Joe Honton, 51.
I've located many of the motels (plus a few B&B's) that are situated along the planned route. The route, as now shown, was adjusted to fit them in. There are also plenty of motels that occur mid-day, which we could use if we decide to adjust for weather or other circumstances.
PDF (24 MB)
The difficult spots, which require care, are Morristown OH, where there are non-AAA motels that we can use near Interstate I-70; and Shrewsbury PA, where there is a nice motel, but no other nearby towns have accommodations.
|1||Carroll to Zanesville||Flat farmland, then gently rolling||47|
|2||Zanesville to Morristown||Gently rolling valleys, forested||62|
|3||Morristown to Steubenville||Hilly open ridgetops, steep near Ohio River||45|
|4||Steubenville to Clairton||One hill in morning; flat all day; one hill at destination||56|
|5||Clairton to Connellsville||Flat all day, adjacent to Youghiogheny River||47|
|6||Connellsville to Confluence||Fallingwater at mid-point. Flat, forested||35|
|7||Confluence to Cumberland||Slowly rising, then slowly falling, with tunnels and viaducts||60|
|8||Cumberland to Hancock||Flat, follows Potomac River||58|
|9||Hancock to Emmittsburg||First half follows river; second half climbs over mountain||57|
|10||Emmittsburg to Shrewsbury||Flat farmland, then gently rolling||44|
|11||Shrewsbury to Kennett Square||Gently rolling, quick climb out of Susquehanna River, then flat||61|
|12||Kennett Square to Bryn Mawr||Longwood Gardens. Flat, suburban, then urban||30|
The Bryn Mawr festivities are on Friday May 28, so we should arrive in Bryn Mawr Thursday May 27. The minimum number of travel days is twelve, but I would like to add three days for contingencies, or rest, or to split long days into two. This would put our departure day on Thursday May 13.
The May 2010 bicycle tour from Carroll to Bryn Mawr will traverse three distinct geographic regions: the rolling hills of the Appalachian Plateaus; the rugged Allegheny Mountains; and the Piedmont farmland.
The important geographic and safety restrictions are: getting across the Ohio River, avoiding Pittsburgh, crossing the Alleghenies, getting across the Susquehanna River, and avoiding Philadelphia.
The most important asset working in our favor is the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), the multi-use trail that goes from Pittsburgh to Washington DC. Additional multi-use trails west of Pittsburgh have recently been opened, making it possible to ride off-road from West Virginia to a suitable point in the GAP.
The two river crossings present challenges though. Fortunately the Ohio River crossing at Steubenville/Weirton aligns perfectly with the trail spurs that are now in place west of Pittsburgh. Reaching Steubenville requires a more northerly bearing than otherwise would be necessary, but the alternate route through Marietta would leave us with too many winding state highways and limited use of the GAP.
The Susquehanna River crossing is more problematic; there is only one suitably safe crossing: the Norman Wood Bridge. Reaching this mandates that we leave the C&O Canal trail a bit earlier than would otherwise be necessary. Regardless, this alignment carries us through the beautiful Piedmont with plenty of good farm roads to choose from.
The final day's approach to the Philadelphia area will need to be done after the morning commute since the roads are all narrow, winding, and heavily used.
South Zanesville (2000)
The first half day's ride going east from Carroll will traverse Central Ohio's ever-familiar fields of corn and beans. This will be the case through Pleasantville and Somerset, with forests beginning to encroach upon the fields as we approach South Zanesville and the bridge across the Muskingum River.
We will have the pleasure of the gently rolling Appalachian Plateaus from this point of the trip across Ohio all the way through West Virginia and beyond. The ride east continues, through mixed agriculture, with our route following open valleys to Chandlersville. Further east, the ride will be along semi-forested ridge-tops to Pleasant City/Buffalo, where Interstate 77 is easily crossed.
Pleasant City (450)
Quaker City (600)
The ride from Pleasant City/Buffalo will be on the high shoulder of Wills Creek as we approach Senecaville and its namesake reservoir before traversing the last open valley—in the Ohio segment of our trip—along the way to Salesville and Quaker City.
Quaker City is the frontier to Ohio's black gold country, with the land heavily damaged by strip mines, ("reclaimed" and replanted with trees, but in a bizarre fashion, missing hilltops and pockmarked with a terrain that consists of thousands of snakelike quarries that unnaturally trap and store rainwater.) There will be only a few villages with amenities in this upcoming stretch.
The first part of our coal country ride, through Barnsville and on to Bethesda, continues with the easterly bearing that we pursued so far. A northerly bearing begins at Bethesda, immediately crossing north of Interstate 70 at Morristown, heading through the remote villages of Lafferty, Uniontown, and New Athens on the way to Cadiz, the only sizable town in this lonely stretch of coal country.
The easterly bearing resumes at Cadiz, staying just south of US Route 22 on the way to Hopedale, where the route departs from its parallel course with the highway, and follows a designated scenic highway to Smithfield.
New Alexandria (250)
Mingo Junction (3700)
The ride from Smithfield to New Alexandria, at an elevation of 1200 feet, might be considered "top of the world" for Ohio. New Alexandria marks the end of the coal country. From there the ride is all down hill to the Ohio River at Georges Run/Mingo Junction.
Steubenville will be the first large town of the trip. It is also the best place to cross Ohio River, having the only low traffic bridge—not an Interstate or US highway—above of the Sistersville Ferry (which is located 65 miles the the south).
West Virginia is only 4.5 miles wide at its narrowest point. This is the point where we cross, but our ground route will a full eight miles, as we head slightly north to Weirton to pick up the western terminus of the Panhandle Trail.
The Panhandle Trail is 29 miles long and has been developed through the cross-state cooperation of West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The Collier Friends of the Panhandle Trail proudly announced the completion of the trail in August 2008, although their outdated PDF map still indicates a few unfinished sections.
The trail uses the roadbed of the former Panhandle Division of the Pennsylvania Railroad, which was donated by Conrail in 1999 for use as a multi-purpose trail.
The track from Weirton follows Harmon Creek upstream to Colliers and beyond, reaching the pass just before a gentle ride down to Burgettstown. From there, the ride is along the headwaters of Raccoon Creek to the shallow pass at the community of Bulger and gently down Robinson Run to the village of Midway.
We will pick up the Montour Trail, which crosses the Panhandle Trail two and a half miles east of Midway, just before reaching the town of McDonald.
The Montour Trail is Pittsburgh's recreational "outer-belt", arcing in a semicircle from northwest to southwest to southeast for 47 miles. Someone has helpfully traced the route here.
We will follow the trail along its bottom half, which has several discontiguous segments open for use, and several short segments still requiring road detours. From where the Panhandle Trail intersects the Montour Trail, the ride will follow a southerly bearing through open hay fields to the community of Southview and on towards the village of Cecil-Bishop.
Bethel Park (34,000)
Here the trail's scenery shifts to intermittent forests. It crosses under Interstate 79 just before reaching the community of Hendersonville. Between Hendersonville and Thompsonville we begin the climb from 940 feet up to 1150 feet elevation at the pass between McMurray and Bethel Park. The trail is incomplete at Bethel Park but resumes a mile later at Library. The area from Hendersonville to Library is Pittsburgh's rural residential playground, home to nearly a dozen golf courses.
Three short trail segments and two short road segments will carry us through the rural residential areas between Library and Clairton. Clairton is the eastern terminus of the Montour Trail.
The Monongahela River crossing is conveniently made at Clairton. From here through Glassport to McKeesport, a distance of three miles, the Steel Valley Trail follows the Monongahela to the confluence of the Youghiogheny.
The Youghiogheny River Trail (YRT) is part of the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), which is part of the National Park Service's Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. The YRT, from McKeesport to Confluence, is 71 miles long. We will ride the entire distance.
As its name suggests, the trail follows the course of the Youghiogheny River. The Youghiogheny, or just the "Yough" (pronounced "yawk" by the locals) is the native name given to the water that turns upon itself. The trail is a gentle railroad-grade ride, on crushed limestone, upstream to the village of Confluence.
Port Vue (4300)
West Newton (2500)
The first few miles will be through suburban Pittsburgh: Port Vue, Versailles and Boston. Afterwards, a continuous series of small river communities snuggle up to the water's edge: Blythedale, West Newton, Smithton, Perryopolis and Dickerson Run. West Newton and Smithton are situated on the opposite bank of the river, but are accessible by bridge. All of these communities are small, but should provide any amenities we need, as the trail is an important part of their commerce. The scene should be picturesque, with the low grade, broad river peeking through the dense stands of riparian forest that dominates this stretch.
Connellsville is now home to about 9000 residents, down from its peak of 13,000 during the early part of the 20th century. I expect it to have some classic middle America architecture, but with a large percentage of the population living below the poverty line, I don't think there will be much hustle and bustle here.
South of Connellsville the trail will go through the densely forested, and deeply canyoned, Ohiopyle State Park. The trail itself hugs the bottom of the canyon floor, following a nearly level grade. This scenic and remote stretch will be our first unspoiled view of the Yough. It is famous among whitewater enthusiasts. The trail is twenty-seven miles from Connellsville to Confluence, with a single break point at the recreational outpost of Ohiopyle. Ohiopyle is just three and a half miles from Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater.
Confluence Pennsylvania, with a population of only 850, surprisingly hosts seven B&B's, six guest houses, and ten eating establishments. () Named for the joining of Casselman River, Laurel Hill Creek and the Youghiogheny River, it is a big draw for hikers, bikers, and whitewater enthusiasts—big enough that cell phone service will soon be bringing this dark zone into the 21st century, so says the Daily American in their November 4, 2009 issue, "Confluence preparing to go mobile."
Welcome to Confluence PA, Playground of the Laurel Highlands.
The Allegheny Highlands Trail (AHT) is another major segment of the GAP system. The AHT, from Confluence, Pennsylvania to Cumberland, Maryland is 63 miles long. We will ride the entire distance.
The trail east of Confluence follows the Casselman River upstream through an area of mixed agriculture and forestry. The Casselman is much narrower than the Youghiogheny, and the passage to the communities of Rockwood and Garrett follows the rapids between high bluffs on either side. The final approach to Meyersdale opens out to an area of intense agriculture of both sides. The trail from Confluence to Meyersdale circuits the base of Mount Davis, the highest point in Pennsylvania at 3213 feet above sea level. Meyersdale has the Allegheny Trail Hostel, with accommodations for ten people, located in the former Meyersdale High School.
Meyersdale presented a topographical challenge to the former Western Maryland Railway, which was solved with the construction of two viaducts: the Salisbury Viaduct, 1908 feet long; and the Keystone Viaduct, 909 feet long. We will ride across both of these.
Although Mount Davis will be behind us at this point, the ride out of Meyersdale to the southeast will be our approach to the trip's highest point: the Eastern Continental Divide at 2392'. Our approach will be along Flaugherty Creek where we will gain 300 feet of elevation in the first two miles, and the remaining 100 feet over the next six miles. This climb is up the first ripple in the series of Allegheny Mountains—mountains that on a topographic map have the appearance of straight-grained bark: long parallel ridge-lines of striking appearance. A 2 ½ mile long row of wind generators on Meadow Mountain, this first ridge before the summit, is clearly visible in the satellite imagery and a certain indicator of how the Alleghenies impede the natural flow of wind, water, and human transportation.
Immediately past the Continental Divide the trail to Cumberland crosses three more mountains: Big Savage Mountain, Little Allegheny Mountain, and Wills Mountain. The first mountain has been tamed for us: it is bored with two holes, the Big Savage Tunnel, 3294' long (bring your lights); and the Borden Tunnel, 957' long. These were reopened in 2003 after an expensive rehabilitation project.
The town of Frostburg lies between the Big Savage and Little Allegheny Mountains. It is home to Frostburg State University, boosting the town's population with an additional student population of 5400. The university has a planetarium, library, and a regular cultural events program. Frostburg is a destination in itself with stopovers of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad that allow passengers to visit the Thrasher Carriage Museum or to get lunch. Accommodations are available at the Trail Inn B&B.
The second mountain in this series, the Little Allegheny, is traversed with less engineering bravado than the Big Savage, as the trail snakes back and forth along the tributaries to Jennings Run, quickly loosing 400 feet of elevation on the way to the village of Corriganville.
The third mountain, and the short distance between Corriganville and Cumberland, is through, not over Wills Mountain via the Cumberland Narrows. This natural water gap looks similar to the unnatural cuts made through mountains by our Interstate highway system. It measures nearly 900 feet from base to top, and drops down so dramatically that it has become one of the country's more famous "Lover's Leap". During work on the railroad bed through the narrows, in 1912, Cumberland Bone Cave was discovered and subsequently studied, revealing the skeletons of extinct Saber-toothed cat and Cave Bear, both of which are now in the Smithsonian's Museum of Natural History.
Cumberland is the eastern terminus of the Allegheny Highlands Trail.
At Cumberland we pick up the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park. The full length of the trail is 184 miles: it connects Cumberland with Washington DC. We will only ride the first 65 miles, to Williamsport. This trail is unpaved, consisting of two lanes of hardpack clay and limestone, much like any country road.
The departure from Cumberland follows the North Branch of the Potomac River. About 18 miles later, just past Oldtown, the South Branch joins the North Branch and from here it is simply called the Potomac River. The ride to Oldtown is along a narrow valley bottom that cuts straight through the jumble of Warrior Mountain.
Beyond Oldtown and the confluence of the two Potomac branches, the trail continues to Paw Paw in much the same fashion: along the narrow valley bottom flanked by forested hills on either side.
Paw Paw (500)
At Paw Paw, the river contorts itself making five 180-degree bends in just two miles (as the crow flies) as it carves its way through Spring Gap Mountain. While the river takes a six mile journey, the trail itself takes a shortcut, through the 3118-foot long Paw Paw tunnel. This is one of only twelve such tunnels in the US that were cut for use by a canal. It took fourteen years to construct (1836-1850).
The trail more sensibly follows the river through the next seven horseshoe bends as they wind their way through Sideling Hill to Woodmont. This entire passage is through unbroken forested lands. The remaining segment to Hancock is straighter, but just as rugged in natural appearance.
Hancock Maryland beats out even Weirton West Virginia as being situated in the narrowest point between two states: the distance from Virginia to Pennsylvania is only 1.75 miles.
The twenty-five miles from Hancock to Williamsport will be the last stretch of C&O Canal towpath for us. This segment is nearly a straight run as the Potomac has found an easy course past Dickeys, Tuscarora, and Cove Mountains. The man-made oxbow cutoff at "Four Locks" is the only time we leave the river's edge, shortening our route by two miles. Williamsport is where we'll leave the Potomac River and venture back onto roads, leaving the luxury of the past week of bike trails to memory.
The departure from the C&O will be to the east, or more accurately, the east-northeast, heading towards Hagerstown. Hagerstown is one of Maryland's cultural centers, home to the Maryland Symphony Orchestra and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. This part of the Great Valley is referred to as the Cumberland Valley, not to be confused with the Cumberland Gap or the Cumberland Narrows. It is a great agricultural region extending far to the north. We will only experience a small part of its greatness on our ride from Hagerstown to Smithburg.
Leaving Smithburg we will skirt the base of the forested Quirauk and Catoctin Mountains on our way Emmitsburg. Emmitsburg is at the western edge of the truly great agricultural region made famous through the "Pennsylvania Dutch Country" moniker. More properly, this is the Piedmont.
Glen Rock (1900)
Our route has lots of flexibility through here with plenty of safe roads to choose from. Gettysburg and other Civil War sites will be within a short distance of the route I've chosen, if we are inclined to visit. The route with the fewest population centers, yet still with accommodations at appropriate intervals is this: Emmitsburg, Taneytown, Littlestown, Hanover, Jefferson, Glen Rock, Shrewsbury, and Stewartstown.
This route puts us on a course to cross the Susquehanna River at the Norman Wood Bridge, the only acceptable crossing point for bicycles of the Eastern Seaboard's mightiest river. Near the river crossing is Susquehannock State Park, famous as the Continental US's first bald eagle preserve.
Kennett Square (5300)
East of the Susquehanna the geography is nearly indistinguishable from its western counterpart. A reasonable route through this region is slightly more complicated as we approach the major population centers. I have chosen a route through Buck and Quarryville, followed by numerous choices getting over to Kennett Square. Kennett Square is the nearest town to , which I would like to see in May. Longwood Gardens
West Chester (18,000)
Bryn Mawr (4400)
The final run, from Kennett Square to Bryn Mawr has plenty of roads to choose from, but will need to be done at a suitable time of day when the traffic isn't swollen with morning or afternoon commuters. We'll be staying below West Chester and above Broomall.
I estimate the total distance to be 598 miles from Carroll to Bryn Mawr. This works out to 50 miles per day average, but as you can see, the range is from 30 to 62.
Now that I've looked more closely, I'm sure that this will be a very interesting trip: varied topography and land use; plenty to experience culturally; a balance of nature, agriculture, and population.