Back in December when I saw Schwinn was recruiting brand ambassadors, I knew I’d have plenty of stories to tell, and the desire to write has always been right up my alley. One thing, however, made me hesitant to volunteer. I already had a pretty substantial fleet of bicycles and I didn’t think I should add another one (or even had room for more). Additionally, with the exception of the Schwinn 411, all three of my other bikes are at least 20 years old (albeit impeccably maintained).
But, there was a type of bike I didn’t have. I didn’t have a good running mate for my riding partner’s, Robin’s bicycle. I didn’t have a hybrid. Robin’s hybrid bicycle, the Schwinn Searcher works for all the different types of riding we do, and between my vintage Varsity, my GT and Cannondale Mountain Bikes, and the 4 One-One, I had a choice of bike to take wherever our destination, but not one that can cross the channels.
That is why when I was accepted as an ambassador, the best choice to add to the arsenal was the Schwinn Vantage F1; a 27 speed hybrid. I gotta say, Robin’s Searcher Comp (the top of the Signature line women’s hybrid in 2012) and the Vantage F1 do make great fleet mates!
We were still in the continuing pattern of unseasonably cold weather in the mid-Atlantic through the first three weeks of the month, but my sights were set on two major bike rides. First up was my birthday/Mothers’ Day weekend the 6th-8th. It’s been our tradition to go out to Western Maryland to visit our daughter and ride the Great Allegheny Passage .
Our daughter, her husband and their 10 month old son live in the Historic District of Frostburg, just a half mile from the Frostburg Depot of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad and GAP in a 120 year old house right on Main St.
Our first trip to the GAP was back in 2012. We started in Frostburg and rode southeast to Cumberland, and got there just in time to board the scenic railroad train for the (uphill) trip back to Frostburg. The rail trail parallels the tracks for most of the 16 miles between Cumberland and Frostburg. Twice, we’ve done the Cumberland to Frostburg 32 mile round trip, but our favorite, (and the easier) ride is heading into Pennsylvania from Frostburg, which we’ve done our past two trips out west.
There are some notable landmarks on the trip from Frostburg to Meyersdale, PA, the first being the Mason-Dixon Line Park on the MD-PA border with an obelisk displaying the two states’ founders and coats of arms, an aluminum strip marking the border inlaid among cobblestones, with large stone blocks embossed with letters spelling out Mason’s and Dixon’s names.
The next landmark, which itself is over a half mile long, is the Big Savage Tunnel. The tunnel is paved and lighted and the temperature inside is like a giant refrigerator.
Shortly after emerging from the tunnel you come to the high point of the 150 mile trail, the Eastern Continental Divide. From there to Pittsburgh, PA is mostly downhill.
Cruise another 8 miles and you arrive in Meyersdale, PA. Meyersdale has an historic train station that houses a museum, model train layouts, restrooms, souvenir shops, refreshments, a guestbook, and a 1960’s caboose. About a mile and a half from the train station is the next landmark, the Salisbury Viaduct. The trestle is 101 feet above CSX railroad tracks and PA Route 219 and is 1,906 feet long (not for the faint of heart if you don’t like heights). At the end of the viaduct is a small cemetery with tombstones dating back to the late 19th-early 20th Century and is our turnaround point. Depending on where we’ve turned around, it’s a 37 to 40 mile round trip.
The WMSR’s “Mountain Thunder” 100 year old steam locomotive #734 has been taken out of service for its mandatory boiler overhaul, but the 67 year old C&O Railroad # 1309’s restoration is due to be complete in time for the Fall Foliage season. Meanwhile, they have their diesel locomotive pulling the train. I’m planning a visit to the Frostburg to Cumberland leg of the GAP to see 1309 pulling into the Frostburg Depot and using the turntable when she’s in service. I’m curious to see whether they retain the Chesapeake & Ohio road name or if they’ll repaint it in Western Maryland’s livery. Seeing a century old, coal fired steam locomotive in action is an awe-inspiring sight, sound, smell!
We lucked out a little for this year’s ride. May 7 started out in the 50’s and overcast, but by the time we made our 180 degree turn, so did the weather, and our return to Frostburg was sunny and in the high 60’s.
Shortly after the ball got rolling on the Schwinn Ambassador program, I caught wind of an event which sounded like the perfect way to incorporate bike riding, sight- seeing and blogging in another one of my favorite cities; Washington DC. Robin and I hadn’t yet participated in an organized group ride, so I signed us up for the inaugural. No surprise in 2016, the DC forecast deteriorated throughout the week leading up to the event and the 22nd dawned in the low 50’s with a high in the Nation’s Capital expected to be 58 with rain all day.
In spite of the raw, unseasonably cold weather, the first annual DC Bike Ride went off without a hitch. The 17 mile course began at the US Capitol Building, looped around the east end of the National Mall, past the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. Then we passed between the west end of The Mall and the Washington Monument and continued along The Ellipse with a slightly obstructed view of The White House. Continuing NW along the Potomac River, we then doubled back, over the Potomac to Arlington, Virginia, turning around adjacent to the Pentagon. Finally we returned NE back to the Start/Finish line at the Capitol.
Maybe if it hadn’t been so cold and gray and my glasses blurred from rainwater, I would have also noticed the infamous Watergate Hotel (for those of us old enough to remember the scandal). At the end of the journey was a festival with merchandise stands and live entertainment featuring a local DC band “White Ford Bronco” (I’m assuming named after a certain infamous ‘slow speed chase’ vehicle from 1994) and DJ Questlove from the Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon and the show’s Philly based house band “The Roots.”
For an inaugural event, the partners did an excellent job with refreshments, medical support, rest facilities, and bike tech support. The date has already been set for 2017 and the countdown clock is running on their website. I’m in!
Two ideas Robin and I decided we’ll keep in mind for next year. The first is to select a higher speed pace. I put us in the 10-14 mph pace since that’s my comfortable speed for sight-seeing. When we arrived to the starting corral we got into the 10 mph queue. In retrospect we should have chosen the 14, 16 or 18 mph category since there was a huge bottle neck by the time the 10 mph people got to go. Traffic thinned out once we got 4 or 5 miles into the ride though.
The second idea we had will be to consider spending the whole weekend in town. Washington DC is an extremely bike friendly city and touring monuments and memorials via bicycle would be the way to do it! I’m a cheapskate (I won’t use my friend’s nickname, this being an all ages forum) by nature, but the first thing I did at the conclusion of the ride was purchase a 2016 DC Bike Ride jersey as my souvenir. All in all, the first annual DC Bike Ride was worth every penny we spent.
As is typical of May in Maryland, the breakout weekend where early spring weather can transition literally overnight to July weather happened, although a week later than usual. Memorial Day weekend was nearly perfect, with the exception of an early tropical season storm (Bonnie) that brought rain into the area Sunday night and mid-Atlantic mugginess Monday. Saturday was forecast to be the best of the 3-day weekend so my plan was to visit the Monkton Station NCR trailhead for the 14 mile ride north to have lunch.
Last year on Memorial weekend we took the same ride, and again this year a section of the trail in Parkton, MD was lined with American Flags. (and for the second year, I forgot to gauge the distance they stretched) As we arrived at the New Freedom Rail Trail Cafe for lunch, so was the “Steam into History” NCR train ride, with their reproduction 19th Century train, and I noticed for the Memorial Day holiday it was dressed as the Lincoln Funeral Train, with a portrait of the 16th President and black garland adorning the locomotive. The Northern Central Railway was how President Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg to deliver his famous address, and was the Baltimore to Harrisburg leg of the Funeral Train in April, 1865.
Our three major rides of Bike Month have inspired some ideas for new destinations in the near future. Being history buffs, many bike tour-able areas of Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia have connections with the Civil War which we hope to discover by bike in the near future.
Rob Rides the Schwinn Vantage F1.
My name is Rob, and my wife/ partner in crime is Robin. We’ve been together for a little over three decades, and married 27 years. We have a daughter and son, both in their 20’s and we have one grandson who will have his first birthday in July. I have many interests and hobbies, including all forms of mechanized transportation. I’m a tinkerer who has been riding, maintaining and rehabilitating bicycles since around 8 years old.
This year, 2016, will be our 5th year of biking adventures around our home state of Maryland, and into Pennsylvania and Delaware. Maryland has the nickname of “America in Miniature” and we experience the whole state from the rail trails of the Allegheny Mountains out west, to our neighborhoods in the Northeast, to the Atlantic beach resorts.
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