SO... (and BTW, pictures are on my Facebook page! If you can't open them, send me a friend request.)
The first few miles weren't bad - nothing worse than what I tackle on my commute to and from work. The grade was anywhere from about 1% to 2%, and there was plenty of shade. It was hot - mid '80s - but when you're riding, you kick up your own personal breeze, so you don't feel the heat until you stop. (When you stop, though, for a "hydration break," it does seem like the water goes down your goozle and straight to the pores...)
After we crossed over the highway, it got a little steeper. Gradually, at first, so I didn't notice I was getting tired until my upper thighs caught fire. Still, there was shade, and the trail surface is good, so I was able to keep on truckin'.
The trail follows the old railroad bed - some of it still in use for freight, some not - from Cumberland to Pittsburgh, so when there is an incline, it's gradual. The difference is this: Around here, I encounter inclines daily that are between 3% and 6% - but they rarely go more than a quarter of a mile. The Great Allegheny Passage between Cumberland and the Eastern Continental Divide probably never exceeds 2%, but it's a continual 24 miles at an average of 1-1/2%. In fact, the Website claims the grade never exceeds that, but I'm pretty sure some of those stretches were a little more - just not long stretches. Rarely, though, does it level off to zero. And after a while, it becomes a very LONG 24 miles.
Somewhere along the way, I gave Bob clearance to ride ahead, hoping he could get a phone signal and find lodging for the evening. Shortly after he took off toward the rendezvous point at Frostburg, I encountered a blast from the past: a real live, honest-to-God steam engine - in service. There's a tour train that uses the tracks - when I heard it coming, I knew what it was. I haven't heard that sound in at least 40 years, but what a beautiful noise. If you've never heard the vibrant crescendo of a steam engine whistle, you haven't any idea what you've missed. I stopped and waited - and yes, there are pictures.
Met Bob at the Frostburg trail head, where he was collapsed on the grass. Looked like a good idea to me - I stretched out and took a little cat nap, after shedding my shoes and socks. My toes resent being cooped up in hard shoes, and 18 miles out, my ankles were beginning to take serious exception to the hard edges of those hard shoes. After a bit, Brother Bob got on the cell and located a hostel in Rockwood, MD, with beds for the evening. Then we put our footgear back on and headed for the summit.
The Mason Dixon Line isn't quite to the top. Nevertheless, I found a lovely, big flat rock whereon to stretch my weary body and eat a banana. The two guys who were a ways ahead of us (after passing us around mile three...) were coming back down as we cooled off, and Bob heard them as they flew by. One said to the other, "Damn, that banana smells good!" It made me laugh.
And since I know banana peels are great fertilizer for roses (try it sometime!) and other flowering plants, I do not consider my next move "littering." The rhododendrons will thank me.
Almost at the summit, I chalked up Injury #2 when I came at the concrete pad next to the, um, facilities at an angle. In every fall, there is a lesson; the lesson for this one was, "Head on is best." The angle caused me to flip my bike, and I landed on the same elbow I'd smacked on the asphalt a week earlier. (Lesson for that fall: If you must ride in sandals, make sure your panniers are set well back, out of range of the dismount.)
I'll tell you a secret: Concrete has a LOT less "give" than asphalt. Who'd've thunk?
By this time, I was not only the proud owner of a still slightly bloody shin and a throbbing elbow, but I also had flames shooting out of my extreme upper thighs. I broke down. To this point, I'd determinedly kept the headphones in my bag, choosing to listen instead to the woods, the train, the breeze. That last few miles, though, it was only Delbert McClinton on the iPod that kept my feet pushing 'round in circles.
And with that, I'll say, "Nighty-night - more later, kids!"