Day 2: Cumberland, MD (83.12 miles, 151.82 total miles)

Today’s ride began with a surprise: when I left my hotel this morning it was chilly. Like, actually, chilly. I wasn’t about to complain; I could have been biking in last week’s 90-100 degree weather.

I headed through Charles Town and made my way along Summit Point Road. The road ran along rolling hills whose ups weren’t that bad and made up for by the downs. After about 11 miles I had reached the Virginia border. The road changed to a smaller country lane without any lines (and shoulders). The terrain was still rolling hills but I began to notice that the wind was picking up again. In fact, the headwinds were pretty strong requiring me to pedal when going downhill. Whenever I experience those kinds of winds, I’m tempted to think that it’s just the air rushing by as I move. But I could see flags and leaves blowing in the wind and it confirmed that it was a strong wind.

In the realm of tradeoffs, I’ll take wind over excess heat but the wind can certainly be demoralizing. I was beginning to wonder whether I should have taken the much longer route along the Potomac and the C&O trail. It would have been muddy and bumpy, but it would have been flat.

Eventually my route took me to US 522, the Frederick Turnpike, which headed north towards Berkeley Springs. There were several sustained uphills but the grades were not terrible and I found that I could make pretty decent time with moderate effort. Eventually I turned off onto Bloomery Turnpike (although the idea of continuing on to Berkeley Springs and soaking in the springs was appealing).

The C&P Towpath has mileposts on the trail and so it’s easy to keep track of how far you’ve gone. Today, I wound up doing a lot of guess work. I had been keeping my eyes peeled for a place to stop and get something to eat, but I was on some pretty back roads and there weren’t any as it was pretty remote, and even lost cell service for a while. The other problem with some of these back roads is that while a major road like the Frederick Turnpike is that while it has hills, their generally large and low grade. Back roads have smaller hills but they come up suddenly. Strangely, these are often much harder to go up because you often have no lead in. There’s just suddenly a hill and while I had been able to go up larger hills in higher gear, these little sudden ones often required me to go up them in increasingly ridiculously low gear.

Mark Schaefer bike

So after I figured I’d gone about 33 miles (it turned out to have been farther than that) I decided to take a break. I hadn’t found anywhere to eat but as I rounded a corner and saw another steep incline, I decided to stop at the side of the road before attempting it. I pulled over and leaned up against the guardrail, eating a Cliff Bar and taking some Hammer Gel and stayed there for about twenty minutes.

I headed up the incline. It was pretty steep but once I crested the hill there was a nice long downhill. At the bottom was Omps Grocery in Bloomery that advertised sandwiches and subs on its sign. That was good enough for me. I went in and bought a large bottle of water to refill mine, a chocolate milk (good for regenerating muscle), a turkey sub, chips, and a snickers bar. Then I sat on the lawn under a big tree and had my lunch, resting up from the ride thus far. The last sign I’d seen said Cumberland was 45 miles away and while my ability to judge distance is not very good on these trips, I figured that meant I had about 43 miles from Bloomery.

Feeling refreshed from the nearly 45 minute long break, I headed back out onto the road and was pleased to discover a long downhill. I knew that the trip would culminate in a downhill toward Cumberland, what I didn’t know (or remember) was when that downhill would begin. For some reason (probably wishful thinking), I allowed myself to believe that this downhill was part of the end. That was a mistake. That wonderful downhill was followed by five mile incline of about 700 feet. Add to that the still blowing headwind, the incline was demoralizing. It was followed by a downhill that went for a couple of miles. The countryside was beautiful, but the mountains definitely looked better over my shoulder than in front of me.

But that downhill then was followed itself by an even steeper three mile incline. I kept waiting to see the crest of the hill, but every time I rounded a corner (it was a fairly windy road), there was another incline. I finally just stopped along the side of the road at a clearing where a house was. It was fairly wooded, so I stood there at the roadside in the shade and just tried to catch my breath. While I stood there a number of cars went by, including a delivery truck that was racing up the mountain, undeterred by the winding road. After 15 minutes, I got back on the bike and pedaled up the hill. It turned out I was not far from the summit of the ridge and was treated to a couple of miles of downhill at a 6% grade. I was flying down that mountain and it felt great. At the bottom of the mountain was a general store and so I stopped to get some more water and Gatorade.

At this store was the delivery truck driver. He told me he’d seen me along the road and he thought I’d made good time down that hill. He was surprised to discover both where I was going and where I’d come from. “You’re making good time!” he said. I asked him about the road ahead and he said that aside from a modest size ridge a couple miles ahead, it was fairly flat headed into Cumberland (“a couple of small hills”). After I left the general store, rehydrated and restocked with water, I headed out. True enough, there was the incline down the road. It was not as steep as the previous ridge, but my legs didn’t care; they were tired. The downhill on the other side was nice but unfortunately, it was not the end of the hills. There was another three mile incline ahead. I was a little irritated since the driver had said it would be smooth sailing from there, but then I remembered, you don’t remember hills in cars. Not these kind anyway. It eventually turned back into a downhill, but not after I’d had to stop by the roadside yet again and just collect myself for a few minutes. At this point, even moderate hills felt like mountains and the last five miles were relatively flat, though at this point my tired legs were engaged in full protest.

Eventually, I crossed the Potomac back into Maryland. I thought my journey was over but then realized that Cumberland isn’t directly across the river. But mustering a final burst of adrenaline, I made it to downtown and as the hotel hove into view, I knew I’d made it.

All in all today’s leg was 83.12 miles, which is the second longest trip I’ve ever made in one day (Day 1 of the Albany trip was 87 miles), and hopefully the longest day of this trip. Tomorrow I face some daunting uphills as I cross the Alleghenies. Hopefully, the fact that the uphills will be early in the day and the practice I had today with these hills will be a help. All I can say at this point is that the broad flat plains of the Midwest are looking really, really inviting right now.

The map of today’s trip, with elevation chart:

map of route from Charlestown to Cumberland