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Bicycling: Washington-to-Pittsburgh: What a rush

Sunday, September 01, 2002

By Larry Walsh

Greg Siwik wanted to bike from Washington, D.C., to Pittsburgh but didn't want to miss too many days from his one-man auto repair business in West Elizabeth.

So Siwik, 48, of Clairton, went over the details of the trip with Tony Abruzese, 65, and Marty Wendell, 59, both of Greenfield and both retired. Abruzese worked in the city's forestry division; Wendell worked at the postal service bulk mail center in Warrandale.

After reading Mary Shaw and Roy Weil's yellow booklet, "Linking Up: Planning Your Traffic-Free Bike Trip between Pittsburgh, Pa., and Washington, D. C.," they figured they could ride it in four days if they averaged 80 miles a day.

And they did.

They had a great time, saw a lot of wildlife, marveled at the construction of the C & O Canal and the Paw Paw Tunnel were impressed by the size and power of the Potomac River, got rained on a few times and were grateful for comfortable beds and hot meals.

Although Siwik wouldn't mind taking four days to do it again, Abruzese and Wendell would prefer five or six.

"It was kind of tedious," said Wendell, a former mara-thoner, ultra marathoner and triathelete. "It was just riding and sleeping, riding and sleeping. You have to have the will to do it. You have to keep pushing to get to the B&Bs."

But they made it, even if it meant riding until dark.

Their longest day was the first one, May 16. Harry Passarell of Beechview, Siwik's father-in-law, drove them to Georgetown that morning. They arrived shortly before noon, changed clothes, got their bikes, waved goodbye to Passarell and his friend, Lou Rego, and started pedaling.

Seventy-seven miles later, they arrived in Shepherdstown, W.Va. They dined on hoagies and pizza and crashed at the Days Inn.

They had logged 87 miles the second day when they rode up to the Heritage Trail, a combination B&B and nursing home in Paw Paw, W.Va. They were impressed with the Paw Paw Tunnel just outside town. It was part of the C&O Canal, took 14 years to build and is more than a mile long.

"I had no idea about that tunnel," said Abruzese, who walked through it because the battery in his light had burned out. "The brick work is incredible. It just amazes me what the workers of that era were able to do by hand."

Siwik and Wendell said the highlight of the trip for them was the number, variety and size of some of the wildlife.

"We saw beavers as big as dogs, deer, foxes, hawks, herons, turtles, woodpeckers and bass swimming in the canal," Wendell said.

Unfortunately, mosquitoes thrive in the canal. And, when Siwik repaired a flat tire, the mosquitoes showed no mercy.

"I looked like I had measles by the time they were done with me," Siwik said. "Marty used a towel to whack them away from me, but it was hot and I was sweating and they just kept coming."

The trio can't wait until a 34-mile section of the trail is completed from Cumberland, Md., to Meyersdale, Pa., via Frostburg, Md. The C&O Canal towpath ends at the renovated Western Maryland Railway in Cumberland.

They decided to ride along the road from Cumberland to Meyersdale. It was fairly easy going until they reached Barrelville, Md. After turning right on to Route 47, they crossed the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania and started up what is known as Wellersburg Mountain, a steep and narrow two-lane road that climbs for more than 3 miles.

"It is gruesome, much more than we bargained for," said Siwik, the only one to pedal it to the top.

It was all downhill -- ever so gradually, of course -- once they got to Meyersdale, the highest point on the bike trail between Washington and Pittsburgh. They sped across the concrete surface of the breezy Salisbury Viaduct, saw the 200-foot-high towers of the wind farm above Garrett and passed by geologic formations near Rockwood.

Bob Koontz of the Four Seasons Guest Farm met them at the Markleton trail head and drove them up a steep hill to the B&B he and wife Sue operate along the Porter Road.

"We had our own three-bedroom house up there," Wendell said. "They told us to make ourselves at home and we did. We got a good night's sleep, had a great breakfast and were ready for the final [84-mile] leg of our trip to Boston."

They arrived about 7 p.m.

Here's what they recommend for such a trip:

Plan ahead. B&Bs fill up quickly between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Get in shape with longer and longer rides. Use a mountain bike with front suspension, especially for the bumpy towpath. Pack light, but include rain gear, power bars, mosquito repellent, a disposable camera and Shaw and Weil's updated booklet.

For more information on the Four Seasons Guest Farm, call 814-926-3572, go to http://www.pafarmstay.com/fourseasons or e-mail fourseasonsguestfarm@juno.com.

Larry Walsh can be reached at 412-263-1488. His e-mail address islwalsh@post-gazette.com .

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