My Advice to an Adolescent

February 14, 2016

You probably hate advice. Okay, but that doesn’t make the advice bad, so think about it okay? And my advice is based mostly on my own life experience – it’s not the answer, it is just something for you to consider.

You don’t have to figure everything out

This is a time of life for you to explore, but you can’t explore everything at once. Finding answers to your questions will take some time. Some questions may take your whole life to answer. Learning to be okay with uncertainty is a good life skill.

If you are worried about finding love

Spend some time to make yourself into a person you find lovable. If you like people who are into music, studying music will help you be closer to those people. I’m not talking about making yourself into a different person, I’m just saying that you want to have something to share with the people that you like. Doing these things can also put you into places and activities where you are likely to find compatible people.

But be easy on yourself: appreciate your strengths! You don’t need to be “fixed”, but everyone needs to grow. Try to grow in areas that interest you.

If you are worried about finding friends

During my junior high and high school years, I felt terribly alone most of the time. I had friends, but not the kind of intimate friendships that I saw in the movies. I thought something was wrong with me, but it turns out that that sort of intimacy is usually not comfortable for me. It is easier for me to spill my guts to a therapist and keep things lighter with friends. Figure out what works for you.“Perfect” relationships don’t exist.

When you do find someone to love, love them as best you can. But find and keep your friends – never quit spending time with them. Don’t worry if your friendships don’t always match up to expectations. Maybe your friendships will be more like “we do things together because we like to do the same things” rather than “we share so much.”

Your gender is X

Yes, things can be hard to figure out. Things don’t always feel “right” when your body is going through so much. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t fully and authentically X – it means that you are growing and changing. While you will come to a better understanding of your sexuality over time, your gender is extremely unlikely to change, so don’t worry about it. If you were comfortable with your gender at 7 years old, just stick with that for a while.

Love and sex and gender are terrifically important right now to you. I get that, but our culture is way over-sexualized. Slow down and remember that you are more than just your body and your sexuality; you are a whole person and a good person.

Hang tough and don’t give up; things do get better

I’m sorry, but puberty can be a bitch and adolescence is often terrible. It’s chemical and it will get better. Some of your brightest times and your darkest times may be between the ages of 12 and 19 – at least that was true for me.

Having self-control means that you can decide when to let go. It can be hard, but power over yourself is important. It can be developed.

Do things that make you proud of yourself. Do things that are challenging. Do things where you can celebrate you – and I don’t mean the Elf-Orc-Wizard-Priest character that you play! That character is one form of self-expression, but it is not you.

But don’t give up and sit alone worrying. If things are not going well in one area of your life, take action: reach out for help, focus on something else, distract yourself for a bit, etc. I think there are two ways that we let problems become magnified in our lives: one way is to let the problems absorb us and overwhelm us. The second way is to ignore the problems while they grow to monstrous size. Look for a middle way. Also, realize that the problems may not be as monstrous as they seem at first.

More advice

You probably don’t want more advice! And in the end, you do have to figure out a lot of stuff yourself. Personally, I found a lot of solace and food for thought in books like Herman Hesse’s Siddhartha; books that made me think about myself and the world in different ways.  Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki is another book that I still have. None of these are weighty philosophical tomes. Books helped me when I had questions that I didn’t want to share with my friends, and that I wouldn’t dare ask of my parents.

 


Talking with teens about gender and sexual identity

February 13, 2016

When I was growing up, there were only two genders: male and female. Your genitals determined which one you were. There was no discussion or decision. If you were a male, you were supposed to be attracted to females, and vice-versa. Again, there was no discussion.

Of course, one reason there was no discussion in my house – or millions of other American homes – was because the adults pretended that no other options existed. As I grew up, I encountered the words “homosexual” and “hermaphrodite;” they were fearful words, not to be spoken. The poor folk so labelled were either shunned or considered circus freaks. And so like most American children, I was sheltered from learning about the real world.

I was fortunate to easily align with cultural expectations about my gender and sexual orientation. As a heterosexual female, I dated and married men. But at the same time, the sexual revolution and the gay liberation movement made me aware that “normal” might not be exactly what my parents said.

Today, I know so much more about biology and genetics and sexual function and mental health. I have been fortunate to know all kinds of people; my understanding of the world has become broader and more accepting and loving. I am still a happily married heterosexual female, but the world is much larger and more magical than what I learned as a child.

But now I am stumped. In this new open world, how do our children navigate puberty and adolescence? I am seeing young people (and some adults) who are ambivalent about their gender and sexuality. As a young girl, I did not care a whit about “Teen Beat” or who was the cutest Beatle; all my friends did, and it made me feel different and left out. Today, a young girl in that same situation might wonder if her difference was a matter of gender or sexual preference.

Encountering this situation, I want to say “WTF!” Gender and sexual preference are not a matter of choice. Feeling like you are different than your peers is perfectly normal. Also, this situation might not be related to any other aspect of your identify.

But when you are young and confused, how can you tell?

It seems to me that our children can be confused by this new world where it seems “everything is possible.” We may not be like our parents who denied reality – but are we talking about reality in a way that helps our children or not? I think that children need more than just a bunch of information about all the options with platitudes about “being who you are.” I think our children need

  1. Help to realize that gender and sexual preference are not choices – children don’t get to change their mind back and forth about this. Some people change during puberty, but I believe that almost everyone intuitively knows their own gender and orientation long before adolescence. I also believe that an observant and kind parent usually knows this too.
  2. Help and time to mature enough to find out who they are. Most kids already know about their gender and sexual preference, but those are only two parts of who we become. Maybe it is more important to think about the things where there are choices: setting healthy personal boundaries, being considerate of others, taking a place in the community, deciding what occupations are interesting, etc.
  3. Support to get them through the ups and downs of puberty without being unduly pulled in too many directions. Days of longing for a boyfriend followed by a reluctance to be around boys at all – this doesn’t mean that your sexuality has changed. This is just puberty and it sucks. It gets better with time and we all need to be reminded of this sometimes!
  4. Help to be gentle with friends and acquaintances. Because they are immature, children can be harsh and judgemental. They may ostracize those who are different, while trying to conceal their own differences. I think that children who are more accepting of others, can also be more accepting of themselves.
  5. Love and to know that they are loved, no matter who they are, or how confused they are.

Am I wrong about this? Do you have suggestions or experiences in navigating gender and sexuality with your own children? Or just an opinion that you want to share? I am still trying to figure out my practical belief system here. I could have bad information, and I am open to new ideas.

I know that religion provides the proper answer to these questions for many people. If you and your children are among those people, good for you! However, this post is not about religion, and those are not new ideas to me. I will delete any comment – positive or negative – that proposes religion as the solution. Sorry, but those comments are off-topic for this post, and they often generate a lot of unhelpful anger on all sides.


Rational Discourse

September 8, 2014

Most people that know me (or at least follow me on social media) also know that I am a progressive. I have been called a bleeding-heart liberal, and I am not offended by the label. I disagree with the implications of the label, as I like to think that my positions are based on facts and logic. But I am prone to think that my beliefs are facts, just like most people.

I saw a Robert Reich posting on Facebook today, where he talked about the importance of engaging in dialogue with people who don’t share your opinions. His posting talked about what makes a productive talk; I would have titled it “the six signs of willful ignorance.” It inspired me to pull together this post, which has some tools for dialog that I’ve found on the ‘net.

I try to use these tools to judge my own position and arguments. Don’t you just hate it when you are arguing with someone and realize that you are the one who is being an ass in the discussion? These tools will help you avoid that. They will also help you recognize the holes in the other side.

To be honest, one of the biggest reasons for this post is to remind myself of a few things:

  • Why are you arguing? What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Why aren’t you listening and learning about the other person? Even if you completely disagree, there is something that you can learn.

One of my favorite sites is: Thou shalt not commit logical fallacies. I have a few of their posters up, although I still forget some of these. Logical fallacies are a favorite technique for winning arguments without using data. (Before you get all righteous about this, remember that your opponent may have data that they aren’t using – yet.)

LogicalFallaciesInfographic_A3

 

The University of British Columbia has a toolkit for their students called Thinking Critically.  It is a more general approach, with basic questions like “Is there any information that is missing?” and “What is the source of the information”. I particularly like the flowchart.

UBC-CriticalThinker

Univ. British Columbia – Critical Thinking Questions

 

As you find the holes and logical fallacies, you also need to consider how you are building your own position. Paul Graham’s “disagreement hierarchy” is a simple diagram that can help you elevate your argument.

Graham_Disagrement

Graham’s Hierarchy of Disagreement

 

Finally, before you engage in a discussion, you might consider if it is worth the effort. You or your opponent may not be interested in a open discussion – perhaps one of you just wants to harangue the other into agreement. The “Debate Flow Chart” from AtheismResource.com is pretty good. Consider the motives and the potential costs before you begin!

AR_RationalDebating

Rational Debating

 

[Please note that I have linked all images back to their original sources. Don’t just copy on the Internet, be sure to give credit to the authors!]


Another Medical Journey Begins

July 29, 2014

Many of you know that I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1999. I had surgery and treatment and reconstruction. It was a multi-year journey that included almost a dozen surgeries, and months of chemotherapy and radiation. Sometimes it was tough, but now it is 15 years later. All that stuff is in my past. I don’t mind talking about it, but breast cancer is not part of my everyday life and it has lost most of its emotional impact. Yay! 

Today, July 29, I received a diagnosis of squamous cell bladder cancer. It is not unexpected, as I have had a number of tests in the past 3 weeks. (I’ll tell the full story below, for those that want the details.) I will have surgery to remove the tumor on August 4th. I’ll be in the hospital for less than a week, if all goes well. I will need a few more weeks to recover before I can go back to work. After that, I might also have chemotherapy, but we still don’t have the final pathology on the tumor. So I might not need chemo at all.

You might think that this is terrible news, but Steve and I were actually relieved when we left the doctor’s office this afternoon. We were afraid that this was a recurrence of the breast cancer or ovarian cancer – which could be a much worse diagnosis. Some other types of bladder cancer are worse as well – and I would have to have my entire bladder removed, with obvious ongoing life consequences. I thought that I could even hear that my cancer was terminal.

Although this will still be a “medical journey,” I believe it will be much less than the breast cancer saga. Well before the end of the year, I expect to be back on my bike and back on the dance floor. Look for me there!

The Details

During the second week of July, I was in Canada teaching a class and got a bladder infection. I’ve had these off and on for my whole life and so I knew what to do – I went to a Canadian doctor who gave me a prescription for antibiotics. [BTW, chronic cystitis is a risk factor for bladder cancer.]

But when I got home, the infection didn’t seem to be getting better. So I made an appointment with my urologist. I have a urologist because I have chronic cystitis – Kaiser doesn’t make me go through any hoops to get to him if I feel the need. He said he wanted a culture of my urine for a more thorough analysis. He also wanted me to go to Radiology for an ultrasound of my kidneys and bladder. He felt that I was at risk for kidney stones or some other complication. My urologist is great.

So 6 days later, I went to Radiology. They found a mass in my bladder – of course, they don’t tell you that on the spot. But that same night, my urologist called and asked if I could come to his office tomorrow for a cystoscopy, so we could look at this mass. Did I say my urologist is great? He is.

So of course I went – that’s not the kind of call that you ignore. And my co-workers and bosses at Splunk were completely supportive – taking over for me on a moment’s notice.

There was a tumor in my bladder, but it looked pretty small. So we planned a minor surgery on July 22 to remove it and do some pathology, etc. But in the process of preparing for surgery, I got a bunch of tests, including a CT scan of my abdomen. The CT scan showed that minor surgery was not going to be enough. I have been waiting, in some fear, of the results of the biopsy.

And now we are here. No, it’s not good news. But when you know the news is going to be bad, you also get a perspective on just how bad things could be. This is really the best news I could have gotten today.

This is do-able and I am ready to work through it. I don’t plan to post every step of the way – I don’t think that the world needs (or wants) that much information about my life!


Today’s Letter to Clipper “Customer Service”

March 11, 2013

Sorry that this blog continues to be a ranting forum for me. I try to keep that sort of thing on Facebook 🙂

Following is a copy of an email that I sent yesterday to Clipper Customer Service. I wrote it while I was riding on Caltrain; I’ve edited it here only to correct my typographical errors.


In January, I was robbed. I used the automated phone system to report my ClipperCard stolen. I did not ask for a replacement, because it would take at least a week to get one. Then I immediately went to the drug store and bought another card.

I registered my new card on my Clipper account and started to use it.

I was surprised, but not upset, when I unexpectedly received a new CipperCard in the mail, since I did not ask for a replacement in the automated phone system. (Sorry to repeat that, but the Customer Service person seemed very unclear about this.)

I wasn’t too surprised to find I had been charged $5.00, although I wasn’t sure why I was charged $5.00. I figured I would just let it go; it was just too much trouble to deal with. I was surprised to find that my autoload was automatically switched to the new, unasked-for card. The cash balance from the stolen card was also moved to the unasked-for card. I didn’t notice it until a week or so later, when the card I purchased would not autoload and I had to pay $14.00 for a day pass. While waiting for the train, I tried to call Customer Service and was jacked around on the automated phone system until almost closing time – and then put on automated hold until after closing.

When I got home, I went online. I found that I could not move my balance from the unasked-for card to the card that I purchased. However, I could fix the autoload, so I did.

I just tried to use my ClipperCard again today. My card has 8 rides on it, but because it does not ALSO have cash on it, I had to buy another day pass. Apparently, cash does not autoload, even though I have autoload set up. Another $14.00.

On my third attempt, I finally got Customer Service on the phone. Now I am being charged a SECOND $5.00 to move my money from the card-I-didn’t-want to the card that I purchased. Plus, it will take another 72 hours before the money is transferred! They explained to me that first they have to block the card, then they have wait 24 hours to see if any transactions were placed on the card. Then they finally do the transfer.

So that I could ride the train without paying $14.00 per day – I added $10.00 cash to my good ClipperCard. I knew it was a waste – another $10 that I will never see again. At the end of my transaction, I find out that this money will also not be available for 72 hours. What!! What?? Why does this transaction have to wait 72 hours? Do you send in my credit card charge by mail?

On top of that, I will have to pay $5 if I want a refund of my $10.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to actually talk to a person with your “Customer Service”? You do everything you can to discourage someone from actually getting help.

Do you know how bad your web site is? It is impossible to do basic things, like move a balance. It took me 3 tries before it accepted my credit card number – and I know it was right every time. (BTW, it only took once for the Customer Service lady to charge it.) The interface is awful, and you aren’t notified up front of charges.

Do you know how horrible your service is and how ridiculous your policies are? I am sure that you charge my credit card immediately when I put it in the ticket machine. So you are sure speedy about getting your money, but sloowwww to give service.

Is there anyone that could refund the second $5.00 charge that I should never have had to pay – and maybe also give me back my $10? I feel like I should get a refund of the two day passes I bought already, but that’s surely a lost cause.

In summary – I was robbed in January and I reported the crime to the police. Since then, Clipper has been robbing me, little by little. Sadly, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to report this crime.


Sunnyvale hates commuters – so Sunnyvale, I hate you back!

May 14, 2012

I am currently sitting at the northbound Caltrain waiting area. I missed my train, again. It will be an hour before another northbound train arrives. Sunnyvale Caltrain Station

So you would think that I would be mad at Caltrain because they have a lousy schedule, especially at mid-day. But that would be pointless, since Caltrain does not control its own funding. For that, I’m mostly annoyed at Santa Clara County.

Nope, today I am mad at Sunnyvale. For the past decade, they have been tearing up their downtown area and redo-ing it. It’s a never-ending disaster of a project. For years, it wasn’t a big problem for me, since I don’t live there. But then I started commuting to San Francisco; my nearest station is Sunnyvale. Until two years ago, there was adequate car parking within a block of the Caltrain station – but then Sunnyvale demolished at least 50 spaces. They also didn’t bother to put signage up that would direct you to other parking. After months of frustration with this, I decided that I would drive to Palo Alto and commute from there.

But of course, I would really prefer to ride my bicycle to the train station – it’s healthier, greener, blah blah blah. And I do try. But of course with the roads torn up a different way every week and all the lights messed up, I keep getting caught for 10 minutes when I least expect it. Now the lights near the train station don’t allow certain turns when trains are approaching. Great. This is the third time I’ve gotten to watch my train go by in the last month.

Goodbye Sunnyvale. I’ll miss Dish Dash the most, but I will be happier if I never come to Sunnyvale again. I can ride my bike to the Mountain View station. It’s farther, but I am in shape for it. And I’m not coming here by car any more either, just for spite. So a big raspberry right back to you!!


A ride along the C&O Towpath and the Great Allegheny Passage

September 20, 2011

The Whole Gang!

This year, I took a week-long vacation to ride my bicycle with friends. From September 11 through September 17, 2011,  we rode approximately 270 miles from Leesburg, Virginia to McKeesport, Pennsylvania. Here is the daily diary of my trip with my husband Steve, and my friends Barry, Dana and Kim.

Day 1 – Leesburg to Harper’s Ferry – 30 miles 

Day 1 Route

Where we started...

We flew into Washington DC the previous night, and stayed overnight at the Leesburg Colonial Inn.

The staff was helpful and  friendly, and the rooms were cheap.  They let us leave our truck here for the entire week, which is pretty amazing. On the other hand, the place was old and a bit dingy. I didn’t sleep well, probably because of the 3 hour time shift from California. We all got up at about 8:00 am and met in the restaurant for breakfast.  It seemed to take forever for us to pack up our bikes and finally leave.

We took the local roads from downtown Leesburg to White’s Ferry. In places, the roads were narrow and a bit uncomfortable, but it was Sunday morning and traffic was light. The river was still high from the previous week’s rains, but the ferry was running. I felt unbalanced by the panniers on the bike, and was hesitant about starting and stopping.

C & O Towpath

As soon as we passed the ferry, the C&O Towpath appeared on the left. At first, I wasn’t sure, as it looked a lot like a disused dirt road. But after a moment, we took to the path at a blazing 8 miles per hour. It was mostly dirt and occasionally gravel. Throughout the 4 days on the Towpath, we would go though a lot of mud puddles and ruts. It got better each day, but it was never entirely dry. While I disliked the mud, I really hated the occasional tree root in the path – roots are bumpy and slippery when wet.

For lunch, we ate at El Sloppy Taco & BBQ in Brunswick; it was pretty decent, and close to the Towpath. I’ve forgotten exactly what I ate. But I do remember how the rain poured down on us for the last 5 miles into Harper’s Ferry. It was a good thing that we didn’t plan for a longer ride on the first day, because we were all wet and miserable. The rain slowed to a drizzle and then quit just as we arrived at the bridge across the Potomac River into Harper’s Ferry. We saw people rafting the Shenandoah River, which was still running high where it joined the Potomac.

High water and rafters at Harper's Ferry

We rode up a steep hill to the Town’s Inn – our B&B for the night. The price was great, because we rented the third floor room. It had a single bunk-bed and a queen-sized bunk-bed, so it could sleep 6. When we arrived, wet and muddy, we asked to use an outside hose to wash off our bikes and panniers – and ourselves – before going inside. I was surprised to find that they did not have (or were unwilling to let us use) any outside washing facilities. In addition, they had very limited space for bicycles, and most of ours had to be chained on the front porch in the rain. So we brought in all our dirty gear and washed it in the shower.

Town's Inn

(Not good for the plumbing, but hey, we tried to tell them…)

By the time we were finally cleaned up and ready to eat, it was raining again. There wasn’t anywhere to eat nearby, so we had dinner in the Town’s Inn. That was a mistake. The room was cheap, but the food wasn’t.  And it was pretty bad.  I can’t recommend that you stay here; the room did not make up for the lack of facilities and the poor quality of the food.

Day 2 – Harper’s Ferry to Williamsport – 35? miles

Day 2 Route

Antietam

Fortunately, it wasn’t raining when we got up on Monday morning. We ate breakfast (it was okay) and packed, then cleaned the bikes. We were on the road at the crack of 11:15. When 5 people share a bathroom, you just can’t move quickly! Our plan was to visit Antietam, so we left the Towpath after just a few miles and headed into Sharpsburg. OMG, the hills. On the Towpath, you are following the canal next to the Potomac. There aren’t any hills, just an occasional 15 foot climb whenever you come to a lock.

But once you leave the Towpath, there are hills. Lots of hills. None of them were long hills, and the grade was probably less than 7% in most places. But it was tough with the panniers. I had plotted a route that would take us through the battlefield at Antietam, but we found that we would be going the wrong way down a one-way road.

Dunker Church - Antietam

Fortunately, there were a couple of bicyclists there who had just taken the “driving tour” of Antietam, and they gave us directions to the Visitor Center. By the time we saw the film at the Visitors Center and toured around the battlefield, it was getting pretty late – probably around 5 pm. Our original plan was to return to the trail and ride to the Candlelight Inn in Williamsport, but I was afraid that it would get dark while we were still on the trail. Plus, the owner of the Candlelight Inn had promised to have dinner ready for us at 6:00 pm. So we called and changed dinner to 7:00 pm, and then took the road to Williamsport instead of the trail. It wasn’t terrible and it wasn’t too hilly – but it wasn’t great either. The roads were narrow and the traffic was heavier than I’d like. I am not sure of the total mileage for the day, but I think it ended up being less than our original plan of 37-40 miles.

Ice Cream

Rolling into the Candlelight Inn) was a relief. This place is set up to accommodate bicyclists and it is very professionally run. We had a fine dinner, with plenty of food, for just $15 per person. (You have to make advance arrangements for dinner.) After dinner, we walked down the block to the local ice cream parlor. The ice cream cones were enormous and only about $2 for a double. We waddled off to our comfortable beds, content. I recommend the Candlelight Inn; it was well worth the money and the owner is very helpful.

Day 3 – Williamsport to Little Orleans – 41 miles

Day 3 Route

A lock on the C & O

By Tuesday morning, we were getting better at getting up and getting organized in the morning. We had waffles for breakfast, with fruit and yogurt. Later in the morning, I’d wish that we had asked for a heartier breakfast, but it was all I wanted at the time. We stopped at the bicycle shop next door – River City Cycles – where  I got my shifting adjusted; it was a bit out of whack. We also aired up our tires. The guy in the shop was very helpful, with lots of advice about the trail. I recommend it.

It was day 3 on the Towpath, and we were getting in the groove of riding every day. We stopped at a lot of the locks, and took pictures of most of them. After about 13 miles, we switched over to the Western Maryland Rail Trail; it’s paved and runs from about Towpath milepost 113 to approximately milepost 136. On the pavement, we upped our average speed to about 13 mph – we were flying! It wasn’t as interesting as the Towpath in some ways, but we were happy to avoid the mud and bumps for a while.

Bill's Place

We stopped for lunch in Hancock and ate at Weaver’s Restaurant & Bakery. In one of the guidebooks, it was listed as “a towpath favorite. great desserts.” We definitely found that to be true; my peach pie was fabulous. After lunch, we rolled on to Bill’s Place in Little Orleans. This is a well-known stopping point along the Towpath. When we pulled up in front, we were dawdling a bit.  A woman stepped out of the front door and asked “Are y’all coming in?” I said yes, and she went back inside. A few minutes later, she came back out and asked again – which I thought was a bit strange. So I headed inside as quickly as I could. It turns out that she and Bill were going to close up and go fishing. So we all just grabbed a soda or Gatorade and headed back outdoors. It was warm, but not hot, and we sat at the picnic table and waited for our ride.

Buck Valley Ranchhouse

There isn’t much around Little Orleans, and we had seen mixed reviews on the local lodging.  So we made arrangements with Buck Valley Ranch. Leon drove down to Bill’s Place to pick us up; his truck is equipped to carry bicycles. We all piled in for the drive back to the ranch. It wasn’t a long trip, but we had a great time chatting with Leon. That night, we had a huge feast of pork ribs, corn on the cob, asparagus, green beans, potatoes, rolls and a dessert that I can’t even describe. We were stuffed, and it was great. Afterwards, Steve and I had a soak in the hot tub. We sat around and chatted for a while, and went to bed late.

Day 4 – Little Orleans to Cumberland – 44 miles

Day 4 Route

On Wednesday morning, we got up to the sound of a rooster crowing. We were all starting to feel the wear of over 100 miles on bicycle and so we were not fans of the rooster. I heard a variety of remarks about its life expectancy at the breakfast table. Barry, who is not a morning person, was still groggy. In one of the highlights of the week, he got confused and poured the orange juice on his pancakes instead of into his glass. He ate them anyway. Like the dinner the night before, breakfast was plentiful and tasty. I have to say that this was the best food that we had all week. And the price was amazing – $90 per person for the room, dinner and breakfast. And they let us pack a lunch to take with us! Nadine took off for work, and then Leon drove us back to Little Orleans with our bikes. I was sorry to leave so soon. This would have been a great time to take a day off and just hang out, but we had reservations in Cumberland and a schedule to keep.

Paw Paw Tunnel

After 15 miles, we came to the Paw Paw Tunnel. It was long and dark; we walked our bikes. I would have preferred to ride, as it would have been quicker, but the drop-off to the canal scared me, even though there was a rail. You definitely need lights to go through the tunnel. Shortly after that, we stopped at the Paw Paw Tunnel campground for lunch. It was a good thing that we had packed a lunch from the ranch, because there wasn’t much in Paw Paw. Barry and Kim rode into town (about a mile) to pick up some more water and Gatorade; the rest of us just hung out in the campground for a while.

The End of the C & O

That afternoon, the weather turned rainy again, although not as badly as the first day. We came to the end of the C&O Towpath, but at first we didn’t recognize where we were. Fortunately, the Fairfield Inn is right there at the end of the Towpath. They even had a bike washing station outside, so we were able to get all the mud off our bikes before stashing them in our rooms. After sharing bathrooms, it was great to have 3 rooms and 3 bathrooms – we got ready for dinner a lot faster.

We walked down Canal Street from the hotel, and then up to Ristorante Ottaviani. We had a good dinner, if a little more expensive than most. After enjoying the Fairfield’s spa, we turned in. Tomorrow, we would start on the Great Allegheny Passage.

Day 5 – Cumberland to Rockwood – 29 miles (44 miles, but…)

Day 5 Route

Canal Boat

On Thursday morning, we found out some sad facts: first, the breakfast at the Fairfield is not very good. Second, it was raining again. Third, the Western  Maryland Scenic Railroad does not run on Thursdays. Actually, we already knew about the railroad, but we hoped we were wrong. The WMSR runs a steam train from Cumberland to Frostburg, which would cut 15 miles from our route and feed us lunch. Those miles are all climbing, but only at an average grade of less than 1%. We knew we could do the climbing, but we weren’t very happy about riding in the rain. Uphill. So we visited the museum and then stopped in at the bike shop next door. The folks at the Cumberland Trail Connectionwere happy to transport us to Frostburg; we were lucky that their shuttle was available.

Click to check this out!

So our ride really started at Frostburg and then went uphill from there. By the time we started riding, it wasn’t really raining. Also, we were happy to find that the Great Allegheny Passage is a much better trail than the C&O Towpath. The GAP trail was finely crushed rock that rode almost as nicely as pavement. That was a good thing, because we didn’t get to Frostburg until around 11:00 am or so. We rode uphill for just about 8 miles to the Eastern Continental Divide. It was an easy ride, although the elevation map in the tunnel at the continental divide makes it look like you have climbed straight up.  Now we understood why all the east-bound cyclists told us that we were going the “hard way.”

We stopped in Meyersdale for a late lunch at the Morguen Toole Company. This was one of the best lunches we had. Afterwards, our waitress gave us a tour of the whole building, including the lodging upstairs. We were impressed; I’d stay here if I ever come back to the area. Some of the rooms were still under construction, which may be why it didn’t appear in any of the guides. It was a neat old building. But we had reservations in Rockwood, so we were off again after lunch.

The Great Allegheny Passage

One thing about the C&O Towpath: there are campgrounds every few miles, and port-a-potties (or better) are frequent. This was a disadvantage of the
Great Allegheny Passage – I found that I was using the bushes fairly regularly on the final 3 days of our trip. Personally, I don’t mind using the bushes, but it seems an unsanitary way to run a popular trail. Fortunately, there wasn’t much traffic on the trail and I was not discovered.

We arrived at the Gingerbread House B&B fairly early in the evening; it was just up the hill from the trail. They had a secure spot for storing our bikes and a nice setup for the house. We were fascinated by some of the pictures, including a beautiful portrait of the owner in her wedding gown. We walked into town for dinner at the Rock City Cafe; it wasn’t a long walk, but I was very cold on the way back. The Rock City Cafe was a fun place; they specialize in wings and fried food, so that’s what we had. I am not a fan of wings, and even I liked them. The only bad thing about Rockwood was that the cell service was terrible.

Day 6 – Rockwood to Connellsville – 46.5 miles

Day 6 Route

Along the GAP

For mileage, this was our longest day. I thought it would be an easier day, since it was all downhill. But an average grade of less than 1% isn’t really a downhill. We had to pedal the whole way.  t was easy pedaling, but still pedaling. Our average speed was up to 11.5 mph, which is certainly better than it was on the Towpath. But we were getting tired. And to be honest, the scenery along the trail wasn’t changing that much. Unlike the C&O Towpath, there just isn’t much to look at on the GAP.

We had lunch at the River’s Edge Cafe in Confluence. I was not impressed. Other people seemed to like the food better.

Fallingwater


Our big event for the day was to visit Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright house that is just a few miles from the trail. Unfortunately, those miles are extremely hilly, on narrow roads that are used by trucks. So we did the smart thing and reserved a ride from the Wilderness Voyagers in Ohiopyle. We made the shuttle reservation for 2:00, but we didn’t get there until about 3:00 – I think we had the slowest lunch service on the planet. But maybe I was just impatient, because I knew that the last tour of Fallingwater starts at 4:00. But we did make it, just in time.

Fallingwater was great. We should have reserved tickets in advance, but we were lucky and able to get in. The regular tour lasts an hour, and goes through all the major rooms of the house. Afterwards, you get to roam the grounds. I was very impressed with the overall design, although I saw places where I thought that Wright had made mistakes as well. Still, what he did was very revolutionary at the time, and would probably not be allowed today. I loved the blending of the house and nature.  In the store, I could have purchased one of everything; I think it would all have been perfect for our Eichler. Fortunately, touring on a bicycle limits the number and size of souvenirs that you pick up!

By the time we got to Connellsville, it was nearly dark. Fortunately, the Connellsville Bed and Breakfast was easy to find.  The owners, John and Lucille, are great people and very helpful. We used the coin-operated washer and dryer. They have secure storage for bicycles, too. They recommended the local Mexican restaurant, El Canelo. Steve and I were dubious – we were happily surprised! This is good authentic Mexican food. The chili relleno was great, and most places don’t cook it very well. The prices were good, too.

Day 7 – Connellsville to McKeesport – 42 miles

Day 7 Route

Steve woke up sick this morning, and just couldn’t eat the great breakfast. If you can’t eat, you can’t ride. In fact, I had become concerned a day or two earlier, when I realized that he wasn’t snacking like the rest of us. Everyone else was eating granola bars, Clif bars, etc. at least twice a day in addition to meals. So we made arrangements for Steve to get a ride into McKeesport with his bike. Since the van had room, we also loaded in most of our panniers. It felt weird to be riding with so little weight on the bike!

We stopped for lunch in West Newton at the restaurant above the West Newton Bicycle Shop. I can’t remember the name of the place, but they served a good sandwich. The bike shop downstairs let us park in their bike racks. This was all visible from the trail; it couldn’t have been more convenient. We met a couple who was riding the trail with their two-year-old daughter in a trailer. I think she was still in diapers. Brave people.

The trail got a bit more interesting on the last day. There were some coke ovens, and a bunch of coal around. We passed near the entrances to several coal mines. On the downside, we also smelled some “factory odors” and started to see some graffiti. We were leaving the country and entering the suburbs of Pittsburg. The trail began to travel through residential areas, sometimes crossing streets every quarter of a mile.

Mile 132 of the GAP

Without panniers, we got into McKeesport pretty quickly. We stopped at mile 132 on the Great Allegheny Passage, near the intersection of 5th and Water Street. Some locals told us that we could go on, that the GAP had been extended, but we were done. This is where we had told Steve to meet us, and this is where he showed up with the rental truck.

From here, we went to the Embassy Suites near the Pittsburg airport, and the next morning I flew home.

It was a great week, with great friends. This posting doesn’t do it justice. But I don’t think that we will do that ride again. And the next time, I would reduce the mileage to around 30 miles per day. Plus, I’d make day 4 a day of rest. We did a lot of riding. We saw a few things, like Antietam and Fallingwater, but we really didn’t have enough time to appreciate the country we were riding. So I might not do it this way again, but I’m glad we did it.

Here is a link to the full photo album Bicycle Vacation
And a link to Kim’s Blog

For anyone planning to ride the trail, I’d say “go for it.” There are no steep sections on the trail, except for a few quick hills in McKeesport. Get the Trail Guide. Ride east to west. Look at some of the other web sites; here are a few

http://www.bicycletouringoncarfreepaths.org/
http://bikewashington.org/canal/print.php
http://gaptrail.org/
http://www.atatrail.org/
http://www.bikecando.com/