Flat as a Pancake

On July 22, 2015 · 1 Comments

The expression "Flat as a Pancake" obviously means that something would be considered extremely flat. There are several U.S. states, led by Florida, that are indeed even flatter than a pancake. That’s not what this article is about. Rather I found a location that may or may not have been flatter than a pancake although it should be flatter if its name did it justice. The Geographic Names Information System identified it as Pancake Flats.

I expected to find virtually nothing about this highly obscure spot northwest of Altoona, Pennsylvania that wasn’t even significant enough to be identified on online maps (for example). Yet, people have been there. Lots of them. It was one of the signature features, albeit a relatively flat feature set amongst much rougher terrain, along the Greensprings Trail at Wopsononock (Wopsy) Mountain. The Bureau of Land Management described it as a "2.2 mile loop. Mainly level, low difficulty."

That was the only Pancake Flats listed although there were 48 other entries for various other Pancakes in the United States.


Pancake, West Virginia

I found very little information about populated places called Pancake. Locations in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Texas did manage to stand out from the crowd a bit.

Pancake, West Virginia (map) consisted of little more than an abandoned whistle stop along the South Branch Valley Railroad named for the Pancake family. However, nearly everyone bearing the Pancake surname listed in Wikipedia came from West Virginia. The surname clearly signified something significant along the South Branch of the Potomac River.

Pancake, Pennsylvania (map) was a bit more notable. It gained its name in the early 1800’s. I found a Pancake History that included an excerpt from the Saturday, April 2, 1955 edition of The Washington Reporter, of Washington, Pennsylvania.

An air of mystery hovers around the name of George Pancake, one of the early settlers at the little village of that name just east of Washington. Where he came from, when and what became of him are questions that will probably never be answered. He was here for 12 years, and then drifted on west to Ohio… In spite of all efforts to change, the name of Pancake has clung to this village through more than 135 years. First it was Williamsburg, then Martinsburg, and finally Laboratory after Dr. Byron Clark secured a post office for his patent medicine mail order business. But, everyone called it Pancake, and Pancake it still is because it struck the popular fancy as the name of America‚Äôs most popular breakfast dish.

Unfortunately, visitors cannot buy pancakes in Pancake, Pennsylvania.

Pancake, Texas (map) didn’t exactly qualify as a booming metropolis either. It was large enough nonetheless, to gain an entry in Texas Online from the Texas State Historical Association.

Pancake is at the intersection of Farm roads 2955 and 217, thirteen miles northwest of Gatesville in northern Coryell County. A post office opened there in 1884 with John R. Pancake as postmaster… The population of Pancake was reported as twenty-five from the 1930s through the 1960s. No further estimates were available until 2000 when the population was eleven.

Interestingly, anytime I uncovered the origins of a town called Pancake it tied back to someone named Pancake. I attempted to find out where the name came from with mixed results. Ancestry.com said it was German: "Translation of German Pfannkuch(e), North German Pannkoke, Pankauke, or Dutch Pannekoek(e), metonymic occupational names for someone who made and sold pancakes." One of those family crest websites — and yes apparently there was a Pancake family crest — said it was Cornish.

Geographic Features

On the other hand, geographic features named pancake seemed to derive from their appearance, said to resemble either a single pancake (i.e., very flat and round) or a stack of pancakes. Pancake Flats was a good example of that principal and I found a couple of others that seemed to qualify likewise.

Pancake Summit sagebrush steppe

There was an entire set of mountains stretching 90 miles (140 kilometres) in the central part of Nevada called the Pancake Range. That was probably the largest geographic pancake feature anywhere. U.S. Route 50, a stretch once dubbed the loneliest road in America, crossed directly over the range. It traveled across Pancake Summit (map) at an elevation of 6,521 feet (1,988 metres).

Pancake Bay Beach

There were pancakes in Canada too! I found a nice one in Ontario called Pancake Bay (map). There was even a Provincial Park located on the bay with "3 km of beautiful sand beach and Caribbean blue water."

Now I’m hungry.

Nimby Lane

On May 13, 2015 · 2 Comments

Twelve Mile Circle has an international audience so I’m never sure whether a term that’s part of my lexicon translates geographically. Many readers probably know the term NIMBY. For the rest of you, and particularly the foreign-language readers, NIMBY is an acronym for "Not In My Back Yard." As defined by Dictionary.com NIMBY is…

…used to express opposition by local citizens to the locating in their neighborhood of a civic project, as a jail, garbage dump, or drug rehabilitation center, that, though needed by the larger community, is considered unsightly, dangerous, or likely to lead to decreased property values.

The term has become somewhat of a personal inside joke during my formulation of articles for 12MC. I’ve attempted to write a NIMBY story for years and I always get about fifteen minutes into it before dropping it. I can never seem to make it flow well. Maybe I’ll write that article someday although for today I’m going to punt once again and take a slightly different twist on the topic.

Nimby Lane

Nimby Lane, Jackson, Pennsylvania, USA

Instead of providing examples of NIMBY behavior I thought I’d focus on a few people who live on streets named Nimby. These had to be some rather special residents as I thought about it, who acknowledged their passive-aggressive behavior with a healthy dose of irony. Good for them! What’s the expression? — something about the first step in solving a problem is accepting that one has a problem?

First I discovered Nimby Lane in Pennsylvania. It was funny because a humongous 4-lane highway was in the figurative backyard. I wondered if the residents had fought the battle and lost or were collectively thumbing their noses at other nearby people who had fought and lost. It was quite the paradox, and of course 12MC loves a good paradox.

I noticed an odd little map symbol just to the west; I wasn’t sure if it was a person kneeling in prayer or a tabletop microscope. Was it a place of worship or a laboratory? It took some digging on OpenStreetMap to confirm that it was indeed a place of worship. Some additional searching determined that this was the site of the Chickaree Union Church, "The Jesus Saves Church" That led me to wonder when one would use a Christian cross symbol versus a person kneeling in prayer. I know we have some OpenStreetMap contributors in the audience. Perhaps one of them could enlighten us.

The name of the highway also provided a tantalizing point of trivia since we’ve already veered along an unrelated tangent once again. It’s not difficult to derail me. It was labeled US Route 22, the Admiral Peary Highway. That seemed like an odd choice.

Robert Edwin Peary
Robert Edwin Peary via Wikimedia Commons in the public domain

Admiral Robert Edwin Peary was an Arctic explorer who was credited with leading the first expedition to the North Pole in 1909. Later research showed that he probably missed it by quite a few miles although he certainly garnered significant fame during his lifetime for his achievement. He was born in Cresson, Pennsylvania. That was less than 20 miles away from Nimby Lane. Clearly a lot more had happened in Nimby Lane’s back yard than met the eye.

Nimby Drive

Nimby Dr., Savannah, Georgia, USA

Nimby Drive in Georgia seemed less clear-cut. It was located within a nascent golf course community at The Club at Savannah Harbor. Actually I wondered if it might have been nothing more than a cute placeholder name. The residential area, at least on the most recent satellite view, seemed to be in the early stages of development with a street grid and very few houses. It was funny because the back yard was a golf course and usually people like golf courses in their back yard. In fact I think that houses in golf course communities commanded premium prices? Maybe it referred to golf balls, as in it might be nice to live near a course except for the places where a wicked slice could send something crashing through a window.

Sam Snead hanging out in Savannah
Sam Snead hanging out in Savannah by Jesse Hirsh, on Flickr (cc)

The Club at Savannah included a bust commemorating golfer Sam Snead. I wondered if there might have been a local connection like I’d observed with Admiral Peary in Pennsylvania. Nope. Snead was born in Virginia and died in Virginia. Apparently it was simply a tribute to a legendary golfer instead of a local connection. Snead was not in their back yard.


Nimby Place, Cooma, NSW, Australia

I found a couple of Nimby Roads in New South Wales, Australia. I’ll have to defer to the Australian readers to determine if NIMBY is actually a thing there or not. I got the distinct feeling that neither road referred to the acronym, though. They were found in areas where roads carried aboriginal terms so it probably meant something innocuous in a native language like "pleasant view". I could be completely wrong though. I made that up.

The Nimby Road in Cooma actually had a rather lovely backyard, the Cooma North Ridge Reserve:

The North Ridge Reserve area on the edge of Cooma comprises approximately 80 hectares which was a consolidation of a Crown Land Reserve and land purchased by the Council from the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority in 1996. The area is home to many native animals and flora and is a favourite area for the many people who enjoy bushwalking.

I would think that just about anyone would want that in their backyard.

There was another Nimby Road near Harden (map). The two Nimby spots were only about a three hour drive apart via Canberra. That might make a nice weekend trip for readers in New South Wales.

Great Allegheny Passage, Day 4 (Meyersdale to Cumberland)

On May 3, 2015 · 2 Comments

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?


Twisted Chain

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

Cumberland, Maryland
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:

12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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