Rome, Italy – Day 8: After getting settled into our Air BnB apartment, we headed out to grab a bite to eat and get started exploring the area near the Colosseum. We had scheduled a guided tour of the Colosseum, Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum for 4:00 pm. Our apartment was within walking distance of all of the major sights in old Rome. After all the walking over the last week, we were starting to get used to walking everywhere.
The interior of the Colosseum was very interesting with the history of the building and the continued excavations going on. The guide gave us the history of the building and it’s many uses over time.
The short walk from the Colosseum to the Palatine Hill, brought with it droves of people who were visiting one of the busiest sites in all of Italy. It was nice to be moving away from the Colosseum and exploring the gardens and ruins of Palatine Hill and the Roman Forum.
There were lemon, olive and grapefruit trees in the many gardens on Palatine Hill. The picture below is from an overlook near Palatine Hill looking into the Roman Forum. The guide was very helpful in identifying significant building ruins and the history behind each particular ruin.
While taking in the view of the Roman Forum from above, we met this very friendly seagull who was begging for food. He was not one bit scared of anyone and obviously had been treated pretty well by the droves of tourists.
Walking around the Roman Forum as the sun started to set was very pretty with the light casting different colors on the ruins.
We continued to walk around the old city of Rome and there were several spots in the city that have ruins right next to the sidewalk or even beside a new building. It’s surprising to see such old relics everywhere you look. The old city and the new have been blended into what is Rome today.
Throughout the city there are these water filling stations, for you to refill your water bottles. At first, I was unsure of what they were, but then we started to see people using them. They were located every few blocks and the water was always running out of them. You would occasionally see someone come up and fill a bottle and walk away. Once I decided to try it I was surprised how good the water tasted and how cold it was.
Rome at night is very cool, the sights take on a whole new look, especially the colosseum as you can see from the picture above.
Rome, Italy – Day 9: We had an 8:45 am tour of the Vatican, so our day started pretty early. We took an Uber to Vatican City to save our legs for a day we knew would involve a lot more walking. The tour of the Vatican Museum was incredible. I had no idea that there were so many artifacts contained within this museum.
To be quite honest, I was more in awe of St. Peter’s Basilica than the Sistine Chapel. You could not take pictures in the Sistine Chapel, but it was so crowded in there that I am not sure I could have even lifted my arms above my head. St. Peter’s Basilica was absolutely breathtaking. The dome ceiling was the highlight for me.
Saint Peter’s remains are stored in the small tomb shown in the picture above.
Not many churches have artwork by Michelangelo in them. The artwork throughout the Basilica is that of the top museums in the World.
The Swiss guards were standing tall guarding the Vatican. The one on the right was on the phone for awhile though. You can see him leaning into their little booth on the right side of the entrance.
This lady right here was very happy to go on the Vatican tour and see the inside of St. Peter’s Basilica.
We took the walk from the Vatican past Castel Sant’Angelo and head into the old city for some more sightseeing.
The Pantheon was a very interesting building with the opening in the top so when it rains the floor has drains that quickly take the water away.
The Trevi Fountain was very cool to see, but it was so crowded that we had to wait our turn to even get up to the front of the fountain. We heard it is much better to visit after dark, but it just didn’t work that way in our schedule.
The Spanish Steps are another popular place to visit and you can see how busy this attraction was as well. As a whole, Rome was the busiest city we traveled through during our time in Europe.
Rome, Italy – Day 10: We booked a tour of Positano and Pompeii. Our tour took us down the beautiful Amafi Coast over dangerous, curvy roads on perilous cliffs.
The drive from Rome to Positano along the Amalfi Coast had incredible views and I am so glad I was not the one behind the wheel of the van. I had heard it is very dangerous and they discourage people from trying to drive it. At one point, we had to wait while a slightly larger van had to do a 5 point turn to navigate around a very sharp corner.
The picture below is the walking path that takes pedestrians down to the Positano Beach. The beautiful walkway has shops & restaurants all the way down to the beach.
With the sand in your feet this is the view back up the hill to where we came down the beautiful covered walkway.
Our tour gave us a couple of hours to enjoy our time in Positano, so we spent it at a lovely restaurant on the beach and then spent some time exploring the many shops on our way back up the walkway.
Positano is known for it’s lemons. There were lemon trees everywhere, the stores were all geared towards lemons. They sell a lemoncello alcohol, which is pretty tasty. Many shops offered free samples. We opted for the frozen lemon drink, since it was so warm out and we didn’t have enough time to seriously enjoy the water at the beach.
After our afternoon break in Positano we had a little drive to Pompeii. The tour of the ruins was very interesting, but it was very hot, so I felt we were ready for the cliff notes and get back in the air conditioning of the van.
After another long day, we found an authentic Italian restaurant not too far from our apartment for our last nice dinner in Rome. Spaghetti and meatballs got the thumbs up from me.
So today, the adults took the young teenagers out on the trail with us to see how they would do. We headed out to Oak Openings Metropark in Swanton, just west of Toledo. The metropark & volunteers have been building trails for quite a few years and have built almost 12 miles of trails to this point. They have also added an obstacle park for beginners to practice on too.
The boys did well only a few spills, but that might have had something to do with their rides. I am sure their will be upgrades on the list for future rides.
Post ride meal at MailPouch Saloon in Swanton was a quick way to get those lost calories back into our systems.
Day 6: Florence was our favorite stop on the whole trip through Switzerland & Italy. It was a much more laid back atmosphere without the hustle and bustle of Rome, but not the touristic qualities of Venice.
After a short walk from the train station, we checked into our Air BnB. Actually the hostess met us and walked us through everything in the apartment and gave us many great tips on what to see and where to eat. This was quite a bit different than our last experience with our Air BnB in Venice, where we had a broken air conditioner that was never fixed during our stay there.
We grabbed lunch at a small deli near the Duomo. What was so cool about this particular deli was the fact that the worker gave us samples and a brief history of each meat and cheese prior to him building our individualized sandwich. Nearly all of the products are locally made in the surrounding areas near Florence. Once the sampling was done, we had to make our choice of which type of fresh bread to use to complete the masterpiece. I wish there was something similar in America, but something tells me it would never work, since everything is based on speed and this process was by no means a speedy one. Europe operates at a much slower speed than in the states. This gentleman was truly a sandwich artist.
They do offer a Bell Tower climb, but we opted for the Duomo climb since that is the focal point of the architecture of the city of Florence.
We did take the short tour of the museum in the basement of the Duomo, but for us the main attraction was the Duomo climb. We booked a 6:00 pm climb, so we had to wait in line for awhile, before we would be led into the building. This is when we were able to enjoy the rest of our delicious and skillfully crafted sandwiches, while watching people interact on the square.
The Duomo climb is 463 steps with some very tight quarters along the way. This is not something someone who doesn’t like heights or tight spaces willingly signs up for, but my wife was a trooper and did it knowing it would be an amazing view once we got to the top.
About halfway up the climb there is a very small catwalk just below the inner dome. This catwalk is not more than 2-3 feet wide and doesn’t feel the sturdiest. I can honestly say that this is the most nerve-racking part of the whole climb.
Once you get to the dome portion of the the climb, the ceiling drops significantly and you have to climb the stairs bent over. The quarters are so tight, you actually have to wait for other groups coming down, because there isn’t room for two people to pass each other.
Above is the view of the last set of stairs that pops you out on the top of the Duomo and a breathtaking view of Florence and the surrounding Tuscan countryside.
Now she is happy she made it to the top of the climb, but she isn’t getting too close to the edge of the railing either.
The climb down was pretty quick since we didn’t have many people to pass trying to climb to the top. The close quarters of the Duomo and very little air moving inside the stairways made it pretty sticky and I can see why some older climbers faint on their way to the top.
After a short walk from the Duomo, we arrived at the Gallery of Academia. This museum is fairly small, but there are plenty of famous and noteworthy pieces of art housed there. It’s wasn’t overwhelming like some museums, but it had a nice collection of artwork. Michelangelo’s statue of David was obviously the featured piece.
After a lot of walking and climbing stairs we were ready for some good food and a nice gelato and call it a day. As you can see from the picture above, we were getting a little goofy from being on our feet all day.
Day 7: Prior to our trip, I honestly can say I was looking forward to our Tuscany Vespa Tour the most. I had done some research and from everything I had read it was usually everyone’s most memorable experience in Florence and oftentimes of their entire time in Italy. So needless to say, we were very excited for our day out in the fresh country air of Tuscany while riding a motorized scooter.
After some quick practice on the Vespa, our guide led us through the countryside, while stopping at several vineyards and olive groves along the way. Our day would also take up to an castle which now produces wine and olive oil.
As you can see our guide was very energetic, but also a great wealth of information about Tuscany and the process of making wine.
The views from the top of the castle were absolutely stunning.
Tuscan wine, with an amazing view. Does it get any better than this?
Our guide had us grab some of the grapes growing near the castle wall and try them. They had small seeds in them, but the taste was so sweet and delicious.
After our Vespa tour, we wanted to explore a little more of Florence, so we took the advice of our Air BnB hostess and walked to the park on the far side of the Arno River and climbed the long walkway and many more steps to the top where the park was located.
The views from the park were worth the effort. The Duomo is easily seen from just about anywhere in Florence. The Rose garden was so beautiful and unexpected.
As we descended the hillside from the park, we walked along the Arno River and took a moment to check out the Ponte Vecchio and the many shops located on the bridge.
After a long walk back to our apartment to freshen up, we headed back to the area near the Duomo where there is a wonderful area nearby that had many outdoor restaurants and live musicians. It was a very romantic atmosphere and one where you would want to return to in the near future.
So Florence is know for it’s Florentine Steak, which has a special history of beef being raised locally in the Chianina area and is customarily served rare. As you can see, mine is as rare of a steak as I have ever eaten. That is saying something from a son of a meat cutter who was raised on red meat.
As we headed back for the night, I did have to snap this picture of the meats just hanging in the store window. Apparently, the owner is quite proud of these cuts of meat.
Day 4: Venice: Before we left the train station in Lausanne, we had to indulge ourselves in the delicious sweet pastries at the train station bakery. I had a couple of powdered sugar and jelly filled croissants while also purchasing some sandwiches and a baguette to munch on during the train ride to Venice.
First stop on the After Tour – Venice, Italy.
Our train followed the north side of Lake Geneva with beautiful views of the vineyards, Alps and Lake Geneva. The view was awesome through the train windows, but as we continued further east, we began to go through more and more tunnels and our beautiful views of the Alps disappeared until we come out on the other side of the large mountains and into Italy, which had more rolling hills and lots of rural farmland dotted with olive groves and vineyards.
Once we arrived in Venice, we had a short walk to our Air BnB. This rental had a small balcony over one of the many small canals of Venice. Occasionally you would hear a small motor boat pass by the apartment. This took a bit of getting used to, but there was no traffic once the sun went down. I am not sure if that is a regulation or something, but we were never woken up by any boats outside our apartment at night. Again, there was no AC so we had the windows open and had to content with some mosquitoes at night.
After getting settled in we headed out to check out the Grand Canal. We explored the many side streets and smaller canals and stopped at the Rialto Bridge to take in the views and do some people watching. This was the busiest part of Venice during the time we were there.
My initial impression of Venice was that it is breathtakingly beautiful with the water and historical value, but it seems very commercialized. Most of the shops on the island were geared toward the many day tourists. It felt like a huge outdoor shopping mall, almost Disneyesque if you stayed near the main attraction areas. However, if you got off the beaten path you got to see the real Venice, where there were small courtyards and families enjoying their evening. This is the Venice we came to see and it took a little bit of searching to find it, but we did on our last night.
We continued winding through the small alleyways and found our way to St. Mark’s Square were we found a nice restaurant for drinks and dinner. There was a band playing in the open air of the square and it had a very nice atmosphere. We could have sat there all night and watched people walk by.
St. Mark’s Square is one of the main hubs of tourism to the island. There is a lot of hustle and bustle, but a very pretty location to spend an evening while in Venice.
Arcicchetti Bakaro was not far from our rental apartment, so we visited this square a few times for a meal and would just have a seat on the steps next to the canal and enjoy ourselves.
Day 5: We knew we had to go on a gondola ride to truly appreciate Venice. Our gondola ride took us through the many side canals and out into the Grand Canal. It is truly amazing watching the gondolier maneuver the boat through the many narrow passageways, but also under the many foot bridges. Ours had us move to one side of the boat, while he leaned it to the side to slip it under a couple of low foot bridges. It was very impressive. I see why the gondoliers have a certain training and requirement in order to maneuver their crafts and island.
My recommendation while in Venice is to go on a gondola ride and get off the beaten path and enjoy some authentic Italian food away from the hustle and bustle of the main attraction of Venice. You will be glad you did. It’s a lot more relaxing too.
The Bridge of Sighs is just off St. Mark’s Square and is another famous sight that draws a lot of tourists to this area of Venice.
We explored Venice away from the main attractions and found out how truly beautiful Venice can be away from the crowds.
Day 6: A Venice breakfast then catching the train to Florence, Italy. I fell in love with he orange marmalade filled croissants in Venice… so I had a few more before we departed.
I qualified for the World Triathlon Championships in Lausanne Switzerland help on August 31st, 2019 by placing in the top 20 of my age group at Nationals in Cleveland the previous summer. This earned me a spot on Team USA. I have known several local Team USA members who had competed for Team USA in previous World Championships in England, Australia and other exotic locations. My wife and I had always wanted to visit Switzerland, so I set a goal of qualifying for Nationals & Worlds with the hope of traveling to Europe the following summer. Once my spot on Team USA was secured, my wife and I decided we wanted to spend the following week after the race traveling through Italy before flying home.
Day 1: August 29: We landed in Geneva after an overnight flight from Detroit. There was a train station in the basement of the airport that took you to Lausanne. From the Lausanne train station we used an Uber to take us to our hotel. We stayed at Hotel Discovery, a short distance from the downtown area. The hotel took some getting used to in their relationship to the environment. European countries are much more eco friendly than any place in America. There are recycling containers for different plastics and refuse every time you turn around. The room lights turn off all the time unexpectedly and there was no AC. When asked, the front office said they just use refreshed air, since it is better for the environment. With all that said, it was still a nice hotel, but most importantly for me, it was the staging area for the main rental company I would be renting my bike from for the race. I lucked out with the bike, it happened to be one of the owner’s own personal bikes and was a very nice ride, while the disc brakes proved invaluable on the descents on race day.
Once we were settled into our hotel, we headed downtown near the event and explored the downtown Lausanne area. We went to the triathlon expo and got some authentic food then participated in the Team USA photo shoot before walking in the Parade of Nations. The Parade of Nations was such a cool event, similar to the Olympics where the teams from each county parade in front of a grandstand at the finish line. This was a great opportunity to meet other Team USA members as well as hang out with the ones you already knew.
Day 2: August 30: The race organizers opened up the swim course for athletes to practice in Lake Geneva. The shallow area was littered with large rocks, but once in waist deep water, you began to realize just how far you could see down into the water. At the deepest point of the swim course, you could still see the bottom of the lake through the chilly water. This was totally a new experience for me and probably most of the other triathletes completing. Usually in open water swims you cannot see much more then a few feet down, but not 20-30 feet of clear water to the bottom. After a trial run on the swim course and a quick walk through a small part of the run course, we took a boat cruise down the north shore of Lake Geneva.
The cruise stopped every few miles to either let passengers off or on at various docks in each little town. These stops were in perfect synchronicity as you would expect from anything associated with Switzerland.
The views of the wineries and mountains were breathtaking from the vantage point of the boat cruising along the north shore of Lake Geneva.
Once we disembarked from the boat, we headed to Chateau Chillon for a tour of the medieval castle. It was everything you envision in every storybook ever read. It had everything and it wasn’t just some Disney castle, this thing was hundreds of years old and was still a living and breathing castle. As you can see, I really enjoyed our time going through the castle and being taken back in time to medieval days of yore.
Someone had told us to take the walking path from Chateau Chillon back towards Montreux and catch the boat back to Lausanne from there. We were glad we decided to walk this way back and enjoyed the beautiful views of Lake Geneva, but also the many flowers and vineyards along the way. This was a highlight of our time in Switzerland.
Freddie Mercery was born in Montreax and this statue of him is right on the shores of Lake Geneva. There are many people who leave flowers, notes and cards for him and it seemed this was very soon after the movie Bohemian Rhapsody was released.
After a nice long relaxing dinner, we met our boat at the Montreax dock for a beautiful sunset cruise back to Lausanne for the evening. Dinner in Europe is an experience, not to be rushed. Usually the waiter will leave for long stretches of time and not wanting to bother the guests. It is definitely a change of mindset for Americans where everything is rush in and out and be done eating in 30 minutes. We ended up walking over 10 miles that day. Not exactly what I had in mind the day before by biggest race ever, but you only get to go to Switzerland once in a lifetime. It wasn’t like I was going to win the thing or finish last, so I was Ok with walking that much. It really was a beautiful walk with the scenic overlooks.
Day 2: August 30: Race Day. Another morning of getting up from a not so restful night of sleep without AC. Yes much of the EU doesn’t believe in AC, so our normal room temp in the summer back home is set to 68 degrees at night, the room temp in Switzerland was like 75 degrees and not exactly good sleeping temps in my eyes. Not even a fan to blow the hot air around.
Nonetheless, my wave start time was first at 7:15 a.m. As you can see from the bike coral, the sun was just starting to come up prior to the start of the first wave. I had to use a headlamp to set my transition area in the dark.
Prior to this race, I tried to prepare for the hills of Switzerland, but there is absolutely nothing in this part of Northwest Ohio that would even give me a hint of the climbs I would face on this bike course. The main hill hits a gradient of about 20 percent going up, but the hill in the picture below is one where the bike course comes down. It is probably only a 15 percent gradient but during a race the athletes are hitting some pretty high speeds coming down that hill before trying to slow and avoid the barricades at the bottom that they had padded up once the race started.
All smiles after surviving the bike course without crashing. The cycling course was a draft-legal event, which is fairly new to me, so that took some getting used to especially with the tight quarters of all of these athletes so evenly matched. I would classify the bike portion of the race as white knuckle the whole time. I found that the run course was much more difficult than I had anticipated. At one point on the run course near the Olympic Museum, the running path turned into running steps due to the steepness of the climbs. I was frustrated with my overall run time, but in comparison with my peers, it wasn’t as bad as I thought. It was most definitely the toughest 5K race I have ever run in my life, let alone after a swim and bike against some of the best triathletes in the World. The overall triathlon course was insanely difficult, from the craziness of the swim in Lake Geneva, to the white knuckle draft-legal racing up and down steep hills, to the hilly and difficult run course. This course kicked my butt! I did happen to place 45th in the World in my age group though. I even got this little medal to prove it.
I posed with my finisher medal and slapped a huge Henry County Cycling sticker on the front of my uniform just to be funny and show some love for my guys back home.Upgrade your plan to use this premium blockUpgradeWorld Triathlon Championships’s #1 Fan from Mexico
During all of the various waves of athletes there are many people you meet along the way. This gentleman was from Mexico and he would cheer for everyone and even ask other people were they were from and then start cheering for their friends/family members. We met so many genuinely nice people from around the World during our time in Switzerland.
After a good meal and a few drinks, we just sat and watched the later waves of triathletes try their luck climbing up the steep hill on the bike course. Some of the older female athletes had to push their bikes up the hill due to it being so steep. We visited a couple of the local shops and purchased some Swiss chocolates and souvenirs, while meeting many people from around the globe. Now that the race was over and I wasn’t maimed or injured on the bike course, we both began to enjoy ourselves in Switzerland and began looking forward to what Italy would bring the following day.
After 3 very eventful days in Switzerland for the World Championships, we were ready to pack our bags and head out for Venice in the morning.
Last fall we started planning a longer tour to do this summer and wanted to bring our own camping equipment to be more self-reliant and without the assistance of stopping at a hotels every night. This next step is a steady progression for an even longer future tour and who knows, maybe a cross-county tour in the next 5-10 years. So after some research, we decided we would ditch our typical road bikes and transition over to mountain bikes in order to ride the GAP trail from Pittsburgh to Cumberland Maryland, then continue on the C.&O. Canal Trail from Cumberland to Georgetown (Washington D.C.) This would be done over 5 days with a few extra side trips along the way which would add some additional miles, but we were not too concerned about the milage in 5 days. We were just happy to get out of lockdown at this point. This would be a change from our previous 2 tours where we had rode across Ohio (4 days) and Michigan (2 days) on road bikes and stopped at hotels each night. This tour we would carry our own camping supplies and about 55 lbs. in total of gear. This would mean we would be traveling with heavy panniers and purchasing many items we typically didn’t use very often or even had on hand. So we started securing these items through the winter and spring.
The June tour date was quickly approaching and the country & World was still amid the Covid lockdown. We were very concerned about the possibility of the tour even taking place. As March turned into early June, we noticed that the GAP trail and the areas surrounding the trail slowly started opening up and allowing cyclists access to the route. We made a decision that we were going to do the tour anyway and bring along extra bottles of water, toilet paper & masks so were were not as reliant on outside factors to complete our tour. After all, we had purchased all of this camping gear and we planned on using it.
Our quick overview itinerary would be as follows: June 18 we would drive to Pittsburgh, stay in a downtown hotel, park the van in a long term parking lot, ride our bikes to Georgetown (Washington DC) over 5 days, check out the National Mall, spend a night in a hotel in DC and then drive the rental car back to Pittsburgh and head home on June 24. Sounds simple right? If you don’t want to read the whole post, here is a video link to our Gap and C&O Trail Ride.
Day 0, Thursday June 18: Once arriving in downtown Pittsburgh we found one of the must interesting museums in the country in Bicycle Heaven. Bicycle Heaven is an active bike shop, but also houses one of the most unique & largest bicycle museums in the country. The pictures do not do justice to the amount of bikes on hand in this museum.
After leaving the bicycle museum, we needed to get a good meal so we stopped at Over the Bar Bicycle Cafe near downtown. Iron City beer and a meaty hamburger was a great way to fuel-up prior to our big adventure the following morning.
Day 1, Friday June 19: Pittsburgh to Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. After a few pictures at mile marker 149 at the confluence of the three rivers (Allegheny, Monongahela & Ohio River), we headed out of the downtown Pittsburgh area and through a series of urban trails alongside the Monongahela River and several steel mills. The urban trail system was a pretty decent riding surface, but did have a steady amount of traffic until we got further east of Pittsburgh.
After making great time leaving Pittsburgh, the stretch of trail from Connellsville to OhioPyle was the prettiest area of the whole trip. This portion of the GAP Trail follows the Youghiogheny River, which is a shallow rocky river known for it’s kayaking and rafting. We constantly saw rafters and kayakers in the river, while continuing to pass other riders on the trail overlooking the river. There are quite a number of natural springs that come down from the mountain tops to create little waterfalls near the trail as well. We ended up taking a mid day break and walked down to the river to dip our feet in the water and have a snack. Once down in the river we started exploring all the rocks & boulders in the middle of the river. This was a new experience for us Northwest Ohio boys.
Once back on the trail we noticed the clouds darkening, but we kept moving thinking it wasn’t going to rain anymore than a light sprinkle. Before we knew it, it was pouring and we were completely soaked. We thought we could just ride through it and keep going instead of stopping and taking cover under a tarp we had brought along just for this particular situation. Wrong, we ended up riding about 10 miles through torrential rains and soaked everything we were wearing. Once we saw the sign for the Ohiopyle State Park – Kentuck Campground we were relived and thankful we could get something to eat and not to mention dry out.
The problem was the connecting trail from the GAP to the actual campsite was up a freaking mountain. Notice that the sign says 1/4 mile, what that sign doesn’t say is it is up a 20% gradient with loose gravel the whole way. We thought it was odd that the second sign informed us to push our bikes up the hill. This was quite the arduous journey pushing our fully loaded bikes up this rocky and loose gravel hill in a downpour. My cycling shoes were not mountain bike shoes, they were road bike shoes with no grip whatsoever. So the slog up the hill was awful when every step I took seemed like my footing gave way to the mud and gravel sliding back down the hill. Eventually we reach the top and a were able to remount our bikes to ride to the the main office. The friendly lady informed us we indeed had secured the last campsite for the evening.
Once we checked-in to our campsite, we set up camp and started to try and dry everything out. Thankfully everything in our dry bags were indeed dry. My phone that was in the back of my cycling jersey… not so much. To our surprise, there was a wall hand dryer in the communal restroom near our campsite that worked wonders on drying socks, cycling shorts & jerseys. Once we showered and changed into dry clothes, we walked into town. We had come to the conclusion we would not be tacking that hill on our bikes again anytime soon. We would ride down the hill fully loaded the next morning. Definitely tricky, but we did it, but wouldn’t advise it for the faint of heart. Ohiopyle is a small but beautiful town with nearly everything catered to the outdoor tourist. Bike & kayak rentals are quite popular, but white water rafting is the main attraction for this town. They do have some small art and crafts shops, but everyone of the restaurants we ate at were wonderful.
Day 2, Saturday June 18: After repacking our campsite into our panniers, we headed back into town to secure some breakfast and check out some of the points of interest in this awesome little town. We rode our bikes to Cucumber Falls before checking in with our rafting company to spend the day on the river. This was kinda an impromptu rafting trip since we had no idea how the weather would be or even if we would feel up to rafting after riding 80+ miles on the first day of the ride. We were so glad we had the opportunity though because the rafting trip was absolutely a blast.
The best part of the rafting experience is how it started. So Laurel Highlands Rafting fitted us up with all the typical rafting equipment and we practiced maneuvering the raft under the direction of the guide in the slack water area prior to hitting the first rapid. I will point out at this time, my buddies have both experienced white water rafting before, either in Montana or on the New River in West Virginia. I however am the rookie, so I was paying very close attention to the instructions our guide was giving us. The guide was telling us about how we will go over a series of 21 rapids this trip and some of them can be pretty tricky so we need to be prepared if someone happens to get thrown from the boat. As we leave the slack water practice area we hit the first rapid and our boat hits a large rock and comes to a complete & abrupt stop and one of my buddies does a header out of the boat into the river. That didn’t take long! Putting my newly acquired knowledge about pulling someone into the raft, I grab both of his shoulder straps and yank him back into the raft. The look on his face was priceless as he got back in the raft and we all had a good laugh about not making it past the first rapid and he gets tossed out.
After white water rafting we quickly grabbed lunch at the Ohiopyle Bakery & Sandwich Shoppe before leaving Ohiopyle. This was our second meal of the day here and the lunch was as good as the breakfast. Initially we only planned to cover about 40 miles since most of our day would be spent in a raft rather than in the saddle. We continued to make great time on the well maintained GAP trail and were able to ride in a paceline much of the ride.
In late afternoon, we stopped in Meyersdale for supper and to look for a campsite to spend the night. We were pretty tired from being on the river and saddle most of the day. After a pizza, some bread sticks and a 2 liter of Mountain Dew at Fox’s Pizza, we made a group decision that we would cover as much ground as we could until it got dark. We knew we would make it to the Eastern Continental Divide, but didn’t know if we would be able to make it down the other side of the divide and cruise into Cumberland before it got dark. We were pot committed and wanted to give it a try, especially since we couldn’t seem to find any campsites in this portion of the trail.
The Eastern Continental Divide is a highlight for many riders who are riding the whole trail (GAP and C&O Canal Trails), because this means that you are roughly halfway through the ride. This also means a steady 25 mile downhill from the divide into Cumberland. We didn’t stick around too much to enjoy the view on the top due to being afraid of losing daylight. We ran a paceline the whole way down the mountain hitting 20+ mph the whole way down with our heavily loaded bikes as it was getting dark. This was probably not our best idea for the trip, but when you have a nice downhill you just go with it.
The trip through the Big Savage Tunnel was refreshingly cool and actually had many working lights in it so you could see where you were going… which is always a plus. The riding surface was pretty decent in this tunnel as well.
We made it to downtown Cumberland and mile marker 0 before it got dark, but not by much. We debated about getting a hotel in Cumberland, but we decided we had hauled all of our camping gear this far and that we should be using it. So we headed east out of Cumberland with our lights on looking for the first campsite we could find. As we rolled up to the first campsite we were greeted by a gentleman we would get to know pretty well over the next couple hours.
Day 3, Sunday June 19: After a good night sleep, Ron and I had the opportunity to discuss life, religion and future job possibilities. As we said goodbye to Ron we were sure to load him up with as much food and snacks we were able to spare.
The C & O Canal Trail does not allow for signage to direct trail riders to lodging or restaurants, so be sure to bring a map on where to stop. We actually lucked out when we looked at a map of this area and saw we were close to the Schoolhouse Kitchen so we decided to stop. What a hidden gem this place was in the middle of nowhere. It was an old high school that they turned into a uniquely designed restaurant which served all kinds of home cooked food. It definitely hit the spot for our Father’s Day breakfast.
As we continued to travel on the C & O Canal Trail, the riding surface became much rougher. For the most part, the trail was a 2 track muddy lane with occasional rocks causing a much rougher ride and more stress on our bikes and especially my spokes. I ended up breaking 3 spokes on the C & O Canal trail alone, but that might have had a lot to do with me carrying too much weight on the rear of my bike.
The C & O Canal Trail riding surface is not as well maintained as the GAP trail with it’s crushed cinders, but the C & O has it own bike-in campsites that each provide a fire ring, serviced & clean Porta-johns, and potable drink water that you just have to prime the pump to get it flowing. We pulled into a campsite a few miles short of Williamsport, Maryland. We set up our tents and unloaded our bikes and headed into town for some pizza and checkout out the Civil War era park near downtown. Doubleday Hill Monument commemorates the crossing of the Potomac River and occupation of the hill by Major General Abner Doubleday. The monument, also known as Doubleday Hill, overlooks the Potomac River into West Virginia.
Day 4, Monday June 20: Today we would continue along the Potomac to Antietam Battlefield and take a step back in time to September 17, 1862.
As you can see there is not a lot of room between the C & O Canal Trail and the Potomac River. One small mistake and you are getting wet on either side. We did encounter two gentlemen on horseback on the trail. As we neared the horses, we slowed down, but it still spooked the horses…especially the front horse. It reared back with it’s rider on it and somehow the rider was able to calm the startled horse before it lurched into the canal or dropped off the steep riverbank into the Potomac. As this was happening we had come to a complete stop and listened to every suggestion the riders made to help calm the startled horse. Eventually order was maintained and we continued on and wished them luck the rest of their ride. We later joked that our wives might not have believed us if we told them we almost got kicked by a rearing horse on this ride.
The slack water area along the Potomac was very cool. There was one section that washed out and was hard to get bikes through, but for the most part this area was like a boardwalk running along the river. This is another highlight of the trail for me probably my favorite part of the C & O portion of the trail.
Antietam is situated just outside the small town of Sharpsburg, Maryland. This side trip was the one thing I really wanted to do since I enjoy walking back in history so much. I have been to Gettysburg, but Antietam was definitely on my battlefield bucket list. It was further off the trail than we originally thought, so it made for quite a long day and nearly 90 miles on the bike that day in total. The temperature was near 90 degrees all day long and the battlefield did not provide any shelter from the sun which is quite a contrast to the trail which is almost exclusively shaded.
The Paw PawTunnel turned out to be pretty cool if you enjoy riding your bike in complete darkness on a rough surface. All joking aside, my headlight wasn’t strong enough to properly light-up the tunnel floor, so it kept me on my toes as I hit almost every mud puddle and pot hole in the blackened tunnel. They suggest you walk your bike through the tunnel, but we had a lot of ground to cover.
No more than we pulled into our final campsite and got our gear set up, did the sky finally open up and soaked us with a steady rain from 6:00 pm to 6:00 am. We did receive word from our wives that night that there were riots in Washington DC and they tried to tear the statue of Andrew Jackson down in Lafayette Square, just north of the White House. Our wives urged us to be careful as we finished the ride into DC. Most of our conversations that evening through our wet tent walls were centered around the following day and events we might encounter in Washington DC.
Day 5, Tuesday June 21: This would be the final day of our ride. The rain left the trail muddy, while a pretty heavy fog lingered as we headed towards Georgetown.
After finishing the GAP and C & O Canal Trails we headed to a nice Georgetown restaurant for some authentic Italian food at il Canale. We noticed the downtown shops were either boarded up or in the process of being boarded up from the rioting and looting the nights prior to our arrival. We stopped two guys who were coming back from fishing on the river and asked about the safety of visiting certain areas of the city. They told us the National Mall was essentially abandoned and no-one was there and that it was safe to visit. They also mentioned so stay clear of the area north of the White House near Lafayette Square where there were Black Lives Matters protests and the protesters tried to tear down the statue of Andrew Jackson two night prior. They said this area is fine during the day light hours, but in order to be safe we should avoid this area after dark. It so happened that our hotel was 4 blocks away from this active area and we were about to find out what all the fuss was about.
Our trip through the National Mall in Washington DC was a dream come true. Two of us had already been to the National Mall prior, while the other it was his first visit. We explained how the last time we had visited every monument had people everywhere and you had to wait patiently to even get to the front of the line to see them. This time however, the place was left almost to ourselves. Many of the monuments we were the only visitors there. The rioting and protesting had scared everyone away that wasn’t already scared of the Covid lockdowns in the city.
As you can see from the pictures, the National Mall was nearly deserted except for a few National Parks Service workers, who were all so nice and willing to talk about everything going on in the city.
So after some discussion we decided we would just see how close we could get to the White House. The picture above is from the south lawn and that was about as close as you were going to get to either for south or the north lawn. We actually had White House security come up and check us out from a few yards away to make sure we were really just crazy mountain bikers on a tour, rather than someone meant to do harm with our bikes loaded with heavy panniers.
So after navigating the streets around the east side of the White House we found the newly painted and coined Black Lives Matter Plaza. To be honest, I was quite surprised how civil and uneventful it seemed. There were many girls taking selfies for their latest social media posts. There were a few protestors hanging around, but there were quite a few families with kids hanging around too.
After getting cleaned up and putting our bikes away, we decided to venture back down to check out the protest again since it was getting closer to dark. This time it was getting a little more intense. There was a live network tv camera broadcasting the events as they were unfolding. The protestors were getting up in the faces of the police and screaming obscenities at them. For us it was time to head back to the hotel and not get involved in anything that was going to happen after dark.
A couple of beers and then some time to people watching those who were heading to the protest. The local police had informed us earlier that nearly all of the protestors were bussed in from outside of the DC area and they knew that these protestors would be here for the next couple of weeks and even months. This was interesting news that you sometimes don’t get from the media. Hearing information from people who live it day in and day out still goes a long way in my book.
Day Z, Wednesday June 24: After a good night sleep, we had to wait until the rental car company opened up, so we walked to the Capital Building and past a few more sights like Ford Theater, the sight of President Lincoln’s assignation. Once our rental car was secured, we carefully disassembled our bikes and gently tucked them into our new ride for the trip back to Pittsburgh.
I hope you enjoyed hearing the story of our nearly weeklong journey through the rural countryside of Pennsylvania and Maryland along the GAP and C&O Canal Trails. If you don’t want to read the whole post, here is a video link to our Gap and C&O Trail Ride.
So after seeing Pictured Rocks from the water, we thought a nice hike through the woods would be tough, but enjoyable. We started at the Chapel Loop Trailhead and headed in a counterclockwise direction toward Chapel Rock. A word of caution, get to the trailhead before 9:00 or you’ll be walking a long way to find a parking spot.
Chapel Rock is the first main stop of the loop and it is truly stunning with Lake Superior’s turquoise water as a backdrop. Notice the tree roots that connect the rock to the rest of the shoreline. There was a ground squirrel that ran across the roots out to the rock while we were there taking pictures.
Just a few yards past Chapel Rock is Chapel Beach. This is an absolutely beautiful beach, which was surprisingly very clean. Chapel Falls is right there too and is really cool watching the water empty into Lake Superior’s blue waters.
The picture above shows the view from Chapel Beach and part of Chapel Falls, while Chapel Rock is a short ways down the beach in the background. This whole area is such a tranquil area, with families enjoying the wonderful beach area.
The view from Chapel Beach is the first of the many highlights of loop. We stopped for a short snack and to enjoy the view while taking a load off our feet. There were many folks refilling their water bottles along the shoreline. The rest of the trail loop doesn’t have much access to spots where you get close to the water.
This group of boys were jumping from the top of the rock formation into the deeper Chapel Cove. My best estimate was just over a 50 foot plummet to the water surface. Int his area the water was about 15 feet deep. Most of the shoreline does not have that deep of water, so I think this is an area where locals know they can jump off the cliffs without worrying about hitting shallow water.
This was the same catamaran that we had taken a cruise on the previous night. The captain was maneuvering the boat into the Chapel Cove in order for the passengers to get up close to the cliffs. This part of the cruise was as close as the boat ever gets to the cliffs due to how shallow most of the water is near the shoreline.
In the picture above, you can see many teens getting out to the edge of the cliff for that selfie pic to post on social media. When we were in the same spot, there was a guy that stumbled while navigating the edge. I joked with him about not sure I would have been able to save him if he had fallen, but there is definitely a real danger near these cliffs that are up to 200 foot above the narrow shallows below. It was kinda interesting that there wasn’t one safety fence or even much signage to warn people of the huge drop-off. Definitely not DisneyWorld or a place for young children.
Some very sore and tired legs after the nearly 11 mile hike along the Chapel Loop. I might not have fully disclosed how long the hike was, but they were glad to be done and get into an air conditioned vehicle. My next trip, will hopefully be to an overnight hike-in camp site. There were a few of these close to the Pictured Rocks Lakeshore and close to the scenic views of Lake Superior. I would definitely go in the Chapel Rocks direction first rather than head to the Mosquito Falls direction. The Mosquito Falls area had less to see in my opinion, but then again we were ready for the hike to wind down.
We have always wanted to visit New York City during the holidays and on a whim we decided to take the kids for a quick 2 day trip to see a midnight Christmas Eve service in downtown NYC. Of course we would hit as many stores and sights as we could, while walking roughly 10 miles a day.
We stayed at the The Roosevelt Hotel about five blocks from Bryant Park. During the holiday season, Bryant Park turns into a Christmas market with hundred of kiosks selling holiday gifts. The park also has a seasonal outdoor ice skating rink during the holiday season. The hotel location would keep us close to the storefronts near Macy’s and not too far from Times Square and Rockefeller Plaza.
The lobby of The Roosevelt Hotel was tastefully decorated for the holiday season. The Christmas tree was so beautiful and elegant it quickly captured your attention as you entered the lobby. It was definitely the focal point and captured your eye’s attention.
Bryant Park was our first stop once we settled into our hotel room. The ice rink was very busy, but to be expected on Christmas Eve. You could rent ice skates or bring your own, you just had to be willing to wait in a very long line to get on the ice. We walked down the many aisles of kiosks selling holiday gifts and sweets. There were some very cute gift ideas that the ladies spent time looking through. I however, used this time to look at the building architecture and the holiday decorations. The Empire State Building was lit up in holiday colors as well as several other downtown buildings.
A visit to New York City isn’t complete without a visit to Times Square to people watch. I enjoy nothing more when traveling than to people watch from a new destination. This visit didn’t disappoint. There was many holiday characters walking around in costumes posing with tourists. Times Squares is one of the busiest pedestrian locations in the World and it seems the whole World is there visiting. You can’t go a city block without hearing 5-6 different languages.
After leaving Times Square we hopped on the subway and rode nearly to the end of Manhattan and got off to go to Trinity Church. It turns out they were not having a midnight Christmas Eve service, so we walked a few blocks north and entered St. Paul’s Chapel of Trinity Church Wall Street. This was a beautiful church that had been turned into a holiday wonderland with Christmas decorations. The service was outstanding, from the angelic choir to the wonderful readings. Most definitely the highlight of our trip to NYC! It was very late once the service was over, so instead of riding the subway or walking at nearly 2:00 am, we decided to call an Uber for a ride back to the hotel. The driver was very friendly and gave us a nice scenic tour of the east side of Manhattan past the Brooklyn Bridge and many others sights.
After opening a few small Christmas presents in our hotel room, we decided we would head out for more exploring. Christmas morning brought Ice skating at Rockefeller Center, which is an extremely common & busy destination for many visitors to New York City. We stood in line for nearly an hour just to rent ice skates and almost another hour to get onto the ice. The time on the ice was very fun and enjoyable, especially with all of the holiday festivities going on all around you.
No trip to New York City during the holidays isn’t complete with walking past the storefront displays. Obviously Macy’s had some of the most creative and interesting for both child and adults alike.
We stopped at Grand Central Terminal to check out the architecture and found it tastefully decorated. We didn’t spend much time there, but just long enough for the girls to get a pic.
The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza is a popular destination for many visitors and well worth the time spent to get there. The crowds were quite heavy, but to be expected on Christmas night. The sea of humanity was manageable and you could get a good picture with the tree if you are patient and waited your turn to get near the base of the tree.
So on Christmas night we had the opportunity to attend the Rockettes’ Christmas Spectacular. I didn’t know what to expect from the performance, but it was very entertaining and the family really seems to enjoy their time watching the show and being in Radio City Music Hall as well. The show definitely made you feel apart of the holiday experience in New York City.
Saks Fifth Avenue department store had a holiday themed light show on the outside of their building. After a very long day I just kept my 3D glasses on from the Rockettes’ show and watched the outdoor light show with them on. Other tourists kept asking me where to get the 3D glasses, which were not necessary for the Sak’s light show. I was past the point of getting goofing from being so tired and on the go all day. We walked past St. Patrick’s Cathedral prior to heading back to our hotel. This was pretty much the end of our quick trip to NYC, but definitely checked off a bunch of items on our bucket list.
Today was a beautiful day to go for a long ride. We left around 8:00 and headed toward Toledo on the northside of the Maumee River. We then crossed over the river in Maumee and rode on the southside of the river all the way to Defiance. We stopped a few times to break up the ride & eat breakfast.
Our first stop was at Farnsworth Metropark along the Maumee River just down the road from downtown Maumee. This park is part of the beautiful Toledo Metroparks and is a great place to bring the whole family for an outdoor experience. This particular spot was next to the river, where we watched both the Blue Heron and the local fishermen wading through the water trying to catch a meal.
Our next stop was to visit this Olympic sculpture between Waterville & Grand Rapids. This sculpture is tucked just off the main road on a small service road. I wouldn’t be surprised if most locals don’t even know it exists. This picture doesn’t do justice to the intricate & small details.
We stopped in Grand Rapids for breakfast and enjoyed the syrupy goodness of freshly made French Toast. The two glasses of Mountain Dew to wash it down, had my blood sugar level going through the roof. It was time to get back on the bike and burn off this sugar rush.
Post ride salt brine on my cycling shorts. By mid afternoon the temperature was around 90 degrees and I was ready to get out of the sun and off the bike. Time for a leap into the cool waters of our swimming pool.
So we decided we would like to go on a family adventure to the upper peninsula and visit Pictured Rocks National Lakeshores.
Our first stop was at Tannery Falls. The parking seems like we were headed to a neighborhood barbecue, but as soon as we started down the trail we quickly realized we were headed to a pretty popular waterfall. The trail was very rutted up and may be hard some some older folks to get down to the falls, but wasn’t too bad if you took your time. I actually had flip flops on still and did just fine. It was a little harder coming up from the falls due to no tread on my soles.
Next we Stopped at Sand Point Beach and were delighted and surprised how nice the beach sand and swim area was maintained. I wish we would have had more time to soak up some rays. Maybe next time.
Miner’s Falls was a bit of a hike through the woods to get to the falls. The trail was well maintained and an easy stroll though. Once at the falls, we climbed down to the base to feel the cool blast of mist on our faces. Nature’s air conditioning we joked.
Miner’s Castle was so awesome it is hard to put it into words. Almost like the first time you walk to the edge of the Grand Canyon and your brain has a hard time comprehending the vastness and beautiful. That is very similar to the view from Miner’s Castle overlook, but the colors are those of the Caribbean. Simply amazing.
We had a 6:30 catamaran cruise to Spray Falls. We thought this might be a great way to hear the tour guide give us the history behind the Pictured Rocks lakeshore before the hike it the following day. The cruise was nice and relaxing. We weren’t able to get too close with the large boat, but next time the plan is to do the kayaking tour.
Once the catamaran passed Spray Fall, it turned around and headed back retracing our path out. The return trip gave the left side of the boat the opportunity to see the sights, however the captain moved pretty quickly from point to point.
We would definitely encourage anyone coming to Pictured Rocks to take an evening cruise to experience the beauty of the sun shining off the rocks bring out the wonderful colors. Next time we will be taking a kayak tour.
Today was such a beautiful day here in Ohio. We decided that we wanted to head out for a sunrise paddle trip. We went upriver and around Girty’s Island and back for a total trip of about 4.5 miles. The fall colors were really beautiful along the south side of the river. The maples were bright reds and oranges.