It seemed like I was on the road just yesterday and here I was back out in the wilds once again. This time my wife and I were celebrating a round-numbered wedding anniversary so we headed up to coastal Massachusetts and Rhode Island. I’d been to Boston many times previously however I’d never traveled along the horseshoe of Cap Cod nor to the islands offshore nor to very much of Rhode Island other than the Interstate highways running across it on the way to other places for that matter.
Let’s begin another Twelve Mile Circle multiple-article travelogue by focusing on the seacoasts that approximated my route and then move on to other topics in later installments.
We flew into Boston and drove down to the South Shore community of Hull (map). This was one of the oldest towns in Massachusetts, founded in 1622 as a an outpost for the Plymouth Colony to trade with local native American tribes. I captured this image from Fort Revere Park, a place that served as a military garrison protecting Boston Harbor beginning with the Revolutionary War and lasting all the way through World War II. It seemed so quintessentially New England.
Plymouth was a must. Twelve Mile Circle often delves into history so I simply couldn’t skip this most hallowed of New England locations. The site fell along our route and I’d never been there before. I’ll talk all about the Pilgrim connection in a future installment. I’m fixated on seacoasts for the moment so I’ll stick with those. Plymouth had an awesome breakwater to protect its harbor which I guessed stretched about a half-mile (map). Naturally I had to walk to the very end of it along irregularly spaced granite blocks because that’s what one does when encountering a breakwater. There wasn’t anything particularly remarkable to be found at the end although that was hardly the point.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers described it as:
A 3,500-foot-long stone breakwater. This structure begins at a point north of the town wharf and extends easterly from the shore for 1,400 feet, then turns southeasterly, parallel to the waterfront, for 2,100 feet.
My rough estimate of distance seemed to be pretty close to the mark.
Then we proceeded out along Cape Cod, eventually making it all the way to the tip at Provincetown (map). Much of the shoreline was protected within Cape Cod National Seashore. The cape was created by glaciers as noted by the U.S. Geological Survey.
The geologic history of Cape Cod mostly involves the advance and retreat of the last continental ice sheet (named the Laurentide after the Laurentian region of Canada where it first formed) and the rise in sea level that followed the retreat of the ice sheet. On Cape Cod, these events occurred within the last 25,000 years… Sometime after 23,000 years ago, the glacier reached its maximum advance… The ice sheet was characterized by lobes that occupied large basins in the bedrock surface. These lobes were responsible for the location and overall shape of Cape Cod and the islands.
It also created awesome sandy cliffs and dunes, and amazing beaches.
I’m sure Nantucket had some incredible ocean vistas (map). However most of our stay on the island coincided with the arrival of an oppressively thick fog. The bank seemed to sit directly atop Nantucket, permanently affixed, perfectly clear on the ferryboat ride out to the island and perfectly clear once we left. Nantucket had been dubbed the Gray Lady by mariners of yore because of the fog that often shrouded the island. We experienced the Gray Lady in all of her glory. That was fine, actually. It created a mysterious almost haunting atmosphere as we explored weathered cobblestone streets.
Martha’s Vineyard offered considerably more sunshine to the point where it was downright hot during our brief visit at least for most of the island. The far western edge with its spectacular cliffs was enveloped by clouds and a bitterly cold wind, so oddly disconnected with conditions found elsewhere on the island given the small geographic distance. Those photos didn’t turn out well although there were still plenty of sunny scenes like the one I selected.
It was also nice to visit a place with an officially recognized possessive apostrophe.
We finished our whirlwind tour in Newport, Rhode Island (map). The best coastline in town could be found along its famed Cliff Walk. This path was established as a National Recreation Trail, open to the public. Awesome scenes of ocean waves crashing on rocks far down below the cliff framed one side of the trail. Unbelievably huge mansions lined the other side. These homes were constructed primarily during the Guilded Age of the late 19th Century by some of the biggest names of legendary fortunes like Vanderbilt and Astor. Many of these American castles can be toured as museums.
Washington and Idaho seemed to have a little bit of a romance going on with a couple of their towns. Their names could stand alone, however they were paired rather nicely in the form of meaningful symmetry. Those names weren’t accidental either. They were completely intentional.
New and Old
First came the curious case of Newport, Washington and Oldtown, Idaho.
Newport, WA and Oldtown, ID
Newport and Oldtown were contiguous, both situated along the banks of the Pend Oreille River. The distinction between them was somewhat artificial though. They were located on either side of North and South State Avenue and otherwise appeared as a single entity except that one part fell within Washington and the other fell within Idaho.
Newport City Hall by Jimmy Emerson, DVM, on Flickr (cc)
Of the two, Newport was the newer. That made perfect sense. New should be new and old should be old. It happened to be the second town with that exact name in the area. Oldtown was once Newport before Newport became Newport.
HistoryLink provided an explanation:
Newport, originally in Idaho, acquired its name by virtue of being the "new port" when Albeni Poirier (1861-1936) established a trading post and port on the Pend Oreille River in the 1890s. Upon moving the short distance into Washington, Newport soon became the major town in Pend Oreille County, the last homestead frontier in the United States… During its frontier days, Newport was a steamship port serving the settlers in the Pend Oreille Valley. In 1892, with the arrival of the Great Northern Railway, the town was able to link river with rail, relieving the isolation of its people and eventually transporting Pend Oreille County’s wealth of mine and forest products to distant markets.
Albeni dam pano by Jasper Nance, on Flickr (cc)
Newport, Idaho — the original Newport — gradually dwindled to the point where residents felt it should be renamed Oldtown in 1947.
Lewiston, ID and Clarkston, WA
The pairing of Newport and Oldtown was certainly appropriate although there was an even better pairing along the shared border: Lewiston, Idaho and Clarkston, Washington. It even had an accurate historical context.
Lewiston, Idaho by Andrew W. Sieber, on Flickr (cc)
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the Corps of Discovery Expedition between 1804 and 1806, a journey also known by many as the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The two adjoining towns on opposite sides of the state border were named in commemoration of the Corps’ passage. I probably would have placed Lewiston in Washington and Clarkston in Idaho so it could be read Lewis-Clark from west to east on a map, however I wasn’t consulted so it looked more like Clark-Lewis. I’m sure William Clark would have been happy to receive top billing for once.
Tidewater tug at Clarkston Washington by Richard Bauer, on Flickr (cc)
Lewis and Clark actually traversed through the future location of their namesake towns between October 7-10, 1805. As the Lewis and Clark Trail described it:
A succession of treacherous rapids damaged the canoes, and while the canoes were being repaired the Corps dined on fish and dog. It was then that the Captains made the discovery that their Shoshone guide, Toby, had slipped away during the night to rejoin his nation.
Lewis and Clark stopped at the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers on October 10, 1805. That’s where the towns would be founded later, Lewiston in 1861 and Clarkston in 1862.
I tried to see if there were other paired towns situated between Idaho and Washington, or perhaps their neighbors and came up short. The closest example I discovered was The Dalles, Oregon and Dallesport, Washington. I’ve not seen other pairings like these elsewhere although I’m sure they must exist.
The final day, like the end of all great adventures, was bittersweet. Nobody wanted to stop and yet we all had our lives to get back to and our responsibilities awaiting us that needed attention the next day. Most of the day’s ride would fly noticeably downhill. All of the gradual elevation we’d earned over many strenuous hours would come back to us in a 23-mile joyride into Cumberland. All we had to do was reach the final crest a few miles farther down the path. Mother Nature envisioned one more little trick. Prevailing winds cranked up to a sustained 20 mph with gusts even higher, and blew from the opposite direction than usual. Heading out of Meyersdale going uphill with a strong headwind after riding so many miles seemed unusually cruel.
Eastern Continental Divide
Which Way Will the Water Flow?
A little wind couldn’t stop us though. It felt like conditions that I’d biked through all winter long so I pushed forward to the highest point along the trail, the Eastern Continental Divide (map), and waited for my companions. Loyal followers of Twelve Mile Circle will understand my excitement. This was a genuine geo-oddity of some significance. Water poured directly atop the divide would roll either towards the Gulf of Mexico or towards the Atlantic Ocean; two very different locations determined solely by the simple fate of how it teetered along a razor-thin line. I sacrificed a small stream to the Geography Gods from my water bottle and wondered about the journey it would take. Actually it probably evaporated on the spot although I didn’t want to spoil my little fantasy moment.
The keepers of the GAP Trail obviously understood the importance of the Divide too. The small tunnel at this pivotal spot included an elevation map (photo) as well as several murals outlining the history of the area and the trail.
Now the well-deserved downhill sprint could begin.
Big Savage Tunnel
Big Savage Tunnel
Remember my long list of worries during the planning? The Big Savage Tunnel (map) was right near the top. I didn’t have a fear of tunnels even though this one was particularly long, and the longest on the trail at 3,300 feet (one kilometre). Rather I feared it might be closed. There wouldn’t be an easy detour if its imposing steel doors were padlocked.
Its restoration took two years and $12 million so the Allegheny Trail Alliance wasn’t in any hurry to go through the trouble again. They closed the tunnel every winter to prevent ice damage. The tunnel would open again in early April or "sometime" in April or definitely before May, according to various websites I consulted. We’d had a particularly cold winter and I figured it might delay the schedule. I watched the trail alerts anxiously until I saw an announcement saying it had opened for the season on April 3, 2015; two weeks before we would need it. I could relax.
The tunnel was in great shape, well lighted and a smooth ride.
Mason & Dixon Line
Mason & Dixon Line
Another fascinating geographic division appeared just after we passed the landmark tunnel, the renowned Mason & Dixon Line (map). Twelve Mile Circle readers should be well acquainted with the line so I won’t go into great detail (e.g., surveyed by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon circa 1763-1767, the traditional dividing line between north and south in the United States, the state boundary between Pennsylvania and Maryland). For me, it provided a great opportunity to take a bunch of photographs of our bicycles in two states at the same time. Shouldn’t bikes get a little geo-oddity love too?
It was bound to occur. Oddly the first and only bit of misfortune during our entire trip happened a mere fourteen miles from our goal. One of our group ran over a twig at the exact same time as a gear shift. A twig hitting at that vulnerable point must have acted as a lever, twisting the chain and locking the pedals. Even so we were lucky in adversity. This happened right before the Frostburg trailhead. We walked our bikes into town, had lunch, and made arrangements for a bicycle shop in nearby Cumberland to pick up the bike for repair while dropping-off a rental for the remaining few miles. We lost very little time, thankful that it hadn’t happened on an earlier day several miles from the nearest town.
Finishing the GAP
Mile 0 in Cumberland, Maryland
On the Maryland side, the trail followed active tracks of the Western Maryland Scenic Railroad. Active, yes, although not very frequent. The WMSR was a weekend excursion line operating only during the warmer months. I would have been overjoyed to see a vintage steam engine chugging up the mountain directly next to the bike trail. I’m not sure I’d have felt the same way if I’d been in the Brush Tunnel at the time — bikes and trains share the same tunnel (photo) — although seeing an antique train in general would have been nice. Unfortunately the first train of the season wouldn’t run for another couple of weeks.
I pedaled past the town of Mount Savage (photo) which I mentioned in an earlier article, Savages. It was pretty enough sitting way down in the valley although we were on a mission at that point, nearly finished and I kept going. One last attraction did entice us to stop, the Bone Cave only four miles from our destination. Workers constructing a railroad cut stumbled upon the cave in 1912. They found fossilized bones from Pleistocene-era animals dating back 200,000 years. Fossils included cave bears, saber-toothed tigers, mastodons and wolverines, some forty different species according to a marker placed at the entrance.
Finally the surface turned from gravel to asphalt, an oddly quiet situation after riding on rougher road for most of the last four days. People began to appear on the trail in abundance for the first time; walkers, joggers and recreational bikers. This offered another tantalizing clue that civilization couldn’t be too far ahead. Cumberland appeared on the horizon and we rolled into town for our final mile. The trail ended at Canal Place, back where we’d caught our shuttle four days earlier. The countdown to Mile 0 finally ended. We offered congratulations to each other, took plenty of photos as evidence and headed towards our cars. Two hours later I was back home, still feeling great and wondering when I might be able to do something like that again.
The Great Allegheny Passage articles: