Car-Free = Care Free

Submitted by lmcshane on Mon, 08/15/2011 - 20:44.


For a change of scenery, I recently took Amtrak to Western Maryland.  I chose Frostburg, because I like the people and the environs.  The views in Maryland are especially restorative. When you think "Purple Mountains Majesty," this is Maryland. 

The entire 3-day trip for one person, including meals/gratuities, rentals and lodging, cost a total of $593.00.  This was not cheap by most standards, but I did not economize in my pre-travel bookings. My intent was to see if it was possible to get from point A to point B, with relative ease and without the hassle of renting a car and the stress of physically driving by myself.  

I waited until the last minute on the Amtrak reservations, because frankly--the train travel did not appeal to me.  And, it still does not especially appeal to me.  Getting to the forlorn Amtrak station in downtown Cleveland in the wee hours of the morning--first scheduled for 1:08 a.m. and then delayed to 2:45 a.m.--was not fun for me or for my ride. 

I realize that since I was technically driven by car to the station, this nullifies the completely car-free aspect of the trip.  But, I did consider the non-car options, and waiting on the fringe of downtown--for hours..and hours and alone--was not feasible.  At least, not to me.  Evidently, however,  from the appearance of the other folks at the Amtrak station--waiting is not an inconvenience.  Some of the folks waiting at the Amtrak when I arrived had lots of food, water, were plugged into their laptops and they  looked like they had camped out there for days.

The waiting room was not crowded, but it filled up steadily as the departure time approached, and when I boarded the train, I entered the surreal world of train travel.  Yes, there ARE people, who like to travel by train.  Because, every seat on the Capital Limiited from Chicago to Washington was taken.  So, I hunkered down for the night on the train.  It was not a restful experience.  But, when daylight arrived --I headed to the scenic car and you can see the results for yourself:

I found families, students, retirees--folks of every size, shape and hue--getting from point A to point B--and seemingly enjoying the ride.  And, I made it to Cumberland MD--two hours after schedule, but I made it. 


Arriving in Cumberland, my next task was to walk down Baltimore St. to the bike rental at Canal Place.  Fortunately, the folks at Cumberland Trail Connection are conveniently open long hours, every day.  The owner Doug "Hutch" Hutchins and his staff and shepherd dogs are friendly to all.  Hutch set me up with a Trek bike and threw in several extras--pump, supply net, spare tube, tire levers, bike lock--for no extra charge and the assurance to call him, if I had any problems on the trail.  I am not sure that this arrangement works for everyone, or whether he just felt sorry for me.  Because, I obviously did not wear proper clothing for the normally two hour ride up hill to Frostburg.  It was a mild day, but I overestimated my abilities and it took three long hours of slow-motion pedalling for me to reach Frostburg.  I noticed as I plowed uphill, that a lot of cyclists wear yellow.  Presumably, this helps folks find you when you pass out along the trail.

This is not to say that I didn't enjoy the ride you will experience along the Great Allegheny Passage.  Every aspect of the trail is as close to perfect as possible.  The scenery, the surface of the trail and the stops along the way, make it the one of the best overall bike experiences in North America.  At least, this is the opinion of two seasoned cyclists I met in Frostburg.  The husband and wife, both professors at Carnegie Mellon, regularly ride the GAP and literally step off their back porch to embark on their bike tour every year as the trail is accessible from their Pittsburgh neighborhood.  I know that I especially appreciated the frequent shady portions of the trail, and the Pittsburgh couple commented that the cool mile of the trail in the tunnel under Big Savage mountain is welcome especially after crossing the elevation of the Eastern Continental Divide.

At Frostburg, here are some of the signs that greet visitors:

You will also see this sculpture that pretty much sums up the climb.

Like a wanderer in the desert, the Trail Inn sign announcing FREE ice & water ALWAYS promised an oasis to me. I staggered up the hill on foot, as twenty-something college students sprinted past me up the hill on their bikes.   And, at the top of the hill, I found respite. The Trail Inn, owned and managed by John & Beth Sayler, is the best accommodation cyclists will find along the entire Great Allegheny Trail.  Again, I am not just inserting my opinion here, but the opinion of the many cyclists I have met on my three visits to the Trail Inn.  For me, John inspires biblical confidence.  And, I am not just saying that.  He is a leader and a great business person, who deserves a giant staff so he can lead others to a promised land.  Okay, I am getting too preachy. 

John Sayler outside the Cumberland Trail Center

But, his sermons on life lessons are worth listening to if you get the chance to spend five minutes with him.  He is always on the go, although running the inn is his official third retirement.   Beth, his wife, has outfitted each room with tasteful decor and there is a comfort level that extends to the visitors who choose to use the beautiful hillside campground.  Guests also have access to the bathhouse with private showers and laundry facilities. 

This time out, I choose to stay in one of the Queen rooms, though the option of renting a tent is also available. The beauty of the Trail Inn experience for any visitor includes not only the scenic vista and peaceful setting, but the convenience of knowing you can walk up a flight of steps to the amenities of a small town.  As soon as I got settled, I walked up to a store and bought some asprin.  Then, I headed to my ultimate destination in town--the Frostburg Pool! 

I can not tell you the JOY I experienced as I settled my weary bones in the shallow end of the Frostburg Pool.  I arrived during the last hour of the day and was able to soak for FREE, but the daily admittance is a mere $5.00.  This pool appeals to an amazing demographic--of all ages.  And, the City of Frostburg has not caved in to the no-fun mentality of big government. 

Teens have a diving board here, seniors (alright me...almost) can soak in peace, little ones frolic and the pool features all sorts of extras, including a concession stand that serves ice cream sandwiches!  And, I did not see one person sink in the pool due to cramps. 

There are also deck chairs, picnic tables and and a pavillion and playground for impromptu parties.  Just as I left for the day, I wanted to cry as I saw boys in their swim trunks engaging in a pick-up game of football on the hillside.

It reminded me so much of America's great artist Winslow Homer and his depiction of boys playing snap the whip--the painting can be found at the Butler Museum:

Although, the image you will find at Frostburg today includes a more diverse picture of kids at play.  Friday night in Frostburg settled into dusk to the strains of marching band practice at Frostburg State University and families congregating nearby to celebrate a birthday with a football themed cake (Steelers fans).

I headed up the hill to the Sand Spring Saloon and grabbed a light dinner--Chicken Ceasar salad and two Blue Moons--for thirteen dollars, served by the amazing Jess, who tends bar there.  As I left, the line for guests waiting to be seated extended out the door and into the street.

 After a restful evening, the next day started bright and early with my complimentary breakfast of Eggs Benedict.  I enjoyed watching the day start with runners and cyclists heading out to hit the trail.  My Saturday plans did not include bike riding, especially after the work out from the day before, so I savored the leisure time and had a great conversation with Bill Shirley, a native of Frostburg, visiting for his Beall High School reunion.  Bill lamented that the lack of jobs in the region made him leave, but he enjoyed a happy career in the military and could always return to his family in the hills.  It is still difficult for young people to make a living in the mountains, although the university in Frostburg provides a more comfortable environment than in Cumberland, where the bad economy seems more apparent.  Still, everywhere, there are signs that a new economy will evolve in self-reliant places like Cumberland and Frostburg.  Folks still help each other in these towns and you can sense that you are not a stranger for long here.

I know that I received a warm welcome from the organizers of the free Saturday concerts at City Place in Frostburg.  Rain threatened to spoil events with severe thunderstorms predicted, but Aurora Celtic bravely continued their show to an appreciative audience, which included me.

Fortunately, the rain held off and during the break, I headed over to Moutain City Coffeehouse & Creamery for lunch.  Located in the former Tombstone building on Main Street, Mountain City serves great vegetarian fare and is owned and managed by the wife of a Frostburg professor.  She is East Indian and adds much needed variety to the standard cuisine in Frostburg. 

I spent the rest of the day, again, at Frostburg's Pool--leisurely swimming and reading books until dinner at the Trail Inn--a light supper of roasted chicken, coleslaw, fries and a glass of chardonnay.  I finished the day by attending the tail end of an art opening at the the Frostburg Museum, which featured Maryland artist Johan Lowie, originally from Belgium.  Here are a few photos from Saturday evening in Frostburg.


 Retired art educator Garry Ritchie has lovingly transformed the old Hill St. School into the Frostburg Museum--and has incorporated art exhibits into the programming.  The labor of love is paying off--as the museum is a place for old and new memories.  Folks will have to be willing to walk a little to find the Frostburg Museum, especially if they are taking the Scenic Train from Cumberland to Frostburg, but it is worth the effort.  The museum is located along the fringe of the Frostburg State University campus and it is easier to orient from the campus, rather than from Main St., but I took Center St. to Oak St. and it is not a bad hike.

On Sunday, because of the severe rains predicted and a dreary outlook for the ride back to Cumberland, I elected to hitch a ride back with John to the Cumberland Trail Connection (next time--I will consider rain gear--to stay car-free). 

As it turns out, the rains subsided and then held off for the better part of the day.  I was able to explore Baltimore St. and Washington St., the Alleghany Arts Council, and the Alleghany Museum before heading back to the Amtrack station to head back to Cleveland.

 I was fortunate to have a short, but rich time in Cumberland, because so many people shared a bit of their life experiences with me.  At the Antique Shop on Baltimore Street, I encountered Alisa Weinstein, the author of Earn It, Learn It--and we briefly shared our library experiences, and at the Alleghany Arts Council, I met Megan, a young art teacher who volunteers her time at the center and who shared some of her success stories and frustrations during the time of "No Child Left Behind." 

The exhibit at the Alleghany Arts Council featured photos of Washington St. in Baltimore and I spent some time conversing with a couple from Baltimore, who came to see the photo of the husband's childhood home. The couple were also familiar with the Cleveland Art Museum and the significance of regional art through their connection with Griff Mann.  The relevance of libraries to community and to the preservation of local culture came up, again and again--and Megan, suggested that I visit the library on Washington St.  It was not open on Sunday, but I include a photo here along with some of the other beautiful homes found on Washington St. in Cumberland Maryland.

Finally, I waited out the last two hours of my time in Maryland with Chris, an American Indian and Vietnam Veteran from Albuquerque New Mexico.  Chris rescued me from the sudden and drenching downpour by signing me in as his guest at the American Legion in Cumberland, MD.  He shared a photo of his handsome 13 year old son Brandon and we waited out the storm until my train departed in the evening.  I have to say, that this vacation--was one of the best that I have ever had in my life.  And, I thank the wonderful folks in Maryland for their hospitality and kindness.

I know that if I had elected to drive a car--I would not have encountered the meaningful experiences I enjoyed in Maryland.  For your next vacation, take the leap of faith and leave the car at home.  I know you will be similarly rewarded.

 More travelogues here:





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Great Society

Pool in Frostburg--nice teenagers...imagine that :) 

It's so great to be able to see kids having fun and getting some exercise. The diving board and antics provide hours of spectator enjoyment. 
And, the mural got an underwater update this summer by a local Picasso :)

Great Allegany Passage

Take Megabus to Pittsburgh and bike to Frostburg :)

Amtrak Capitol Limited does allow bikes but ONLY if they are packaged and unloaded in Chicago or DC - Too bad, because all it would take for train connection would be one train car devoted to bike boarding - similar to the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad program.  Then, folks could disembark and make the trip from Continental Divide-Big Savage Tunnel and  DOWN hill from there to Pittsburgh or Washington DC...

Care-free Car free 2013 Part II Ohio


The fabulous weather yesterday was an invitation to get out on my bike - I headed down to the Ohio and Erie Canal towpath from my house around 11:30 a.m.  I wanted to preview my thoughts for a Canalway Sampler trip - the park system is starting to do a better job of marketing the experience here:

It takes me less than five minutes to get to the trailhead on lower Harvard.  To get there, I negotiate the downhill at W. 14th St. near Gino's on Denison. The Old Denison hill at Gino's is too steep for any downhill ride. The trailhead parking lot was at capacity in the early morning, which means that the parking situation will only get worse as summer progresses.  If you can ride your bike directly to the trailhead - it is the way to go.  Serious touring cyclists ride the trail from early a.m (6:00 - 10:00 a.m.) as the day progresses the trail users become more pedestrian and less gearhead.

For families - I was scoping out the idea of starting at Cleats - a nearby and decent sports/bar restaurant - but they were closed over Memorial Day.  The next logical place to park (if you do elect to take your bike by car) is Steelyard Commons.  This gives you a base to return to with the option of eating at any of the restaurants and the all important restroom accommodation.  After my roundtrip - I helped some riders from Broadview Heights - and recommended that they take the trail to Tremont for lunch.  I opted for 5 guys and their ice tea felt especially refreshing after my ride to Rockside Rd. and back.

The overall ride from Old Harvard along the towpath is lovely and visually interesting as industrial landscape gradually becomes bucolic.  The easiest destination for beginners is to ride from Old Harvard to the Metroparks Leonard Kreiger Center and then back to the trailhead.  Roundtrip at a leisurely pace it can take anywhere from 2-4 hours.  

If your kids are patient and in shape, you can try for Rockside Rd. or even for the train ride south from Rockside Rd.

But, it's best to stage each itinerary to focus on one attraction at a time.  For instance, you might decide to spend the day at The Range - a relic of a larger sports complex (the golf dome came down in a windstorm about 8 years ago) - where you and your kids can drive golf balls or play the putt-putt course. 

You might want to make another trip with the goal of fishing during one of the scheduled derbys or just to pack a picnic and while away a beautiful day outside. The Kreiger Center also offers snacks, ice cream bars, programming, great field guides and bike rentals for the mountain bike trail adjacent to the center.  The mountain bike trail is more of an option for teens on up.  

For anyone - get out and enjoy OUR Cuyahoga Valley National Park.  There is much to offer and the chance to meet interesting people all along the trail.  This past Sunday (Memorial Day weekend) - I discovered that I am not the only one out there who knows about this well-kept secret.  There were cyclists, joggers, hikers, folks fishing and more - all ages, shapes, sizes and colors.  The park is moving northward and reaching into our neighborhoods. I only hope my neighborhood benefits before we demolish all of the historic character that makes it unique.

Get out and skip the car - you will be glad you did. And, while you are at it, climb jackass hill (Old Denison) to visit Brooklyn Centre - Gino's serves ice cold beer and the kids can play cornhole :)

For more images taken on 5/26/2013 - see header and attached images:


BTW- fishing is not free

Kudos to Jennifer Coleman and Debbie Berry

Architect Jennifer Colman and Metroparks Debbie Berry had most insightful comments of the night -

Jennifer mentioned Amtrak station - and I would love to see it moved from present location to Battery Park - where lakefront is accessible via W. 65th. St. Debbie Berry grew up in Old Brooklyn, so I am hopeful that she can make the connection with Towpath - Denison - W. 65th to Lakefront.  Denison is also a nexus to east side of Cleveland via Harvard.

CVSRR to Tower City?