A Vacation to Love

A number of months back, good cycling friends asked if I wanted to take a bicycling vacation, riding the Chesapeake & Ohio (C&O) and the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP). I jumped in, having loved the vacation the last two times we rode the challenging but beautiful terrain.

A mountain view into the valley, with mist

This view greets tired cyclists with, a few miles before the Continental Divide

As the time to make reservations approached, I realized I’d never have the mileage base to make this a vacation to love, at least, not if I kept my focus on writing time around the day job, and the hours I take caring for my own property. Inspiration struck—why not shorten the mileage now that Amtrak had rolloff service, and I could stop in Cumberland, Maryland, while my friends continued to Washington, DC? And why not make it a writing vacation just as much as a bicycling one? Rivers, creeks, streams; the rocky bones of mountains; stands of trees—they all inspire me.

I chose Confluence, Pennsylvania, as my writing layover because in my two previous adventures down the C&O and GAP trails, I had loved the terrain and rivers. Also, that crushed limestone surface of the GAP makes it easier to ride than the C&O, which can be just a few inches wide, and tree roots, rocks, and ruts make riding even more challenging.

Flowers greet guests to the River's Edge B&B

Welcome to River’s Edge B&B

Two B&Bs sounded great. Ultimately, I chose River’s Edge B&B, with the clincher the description that from the “Garden” room I would hear the Youghiogheny River and enjoy the perennial garden. The hostess also owns the Rivers Edge Café, and I remembered how quaint the restaurant looked when I viewed the diners enjoying outdoor seating with a view of the river.

My vacation got off to a bumpy start when I sprained two toes not even three days out. Maybe it wasn’t all bad, though—because I amended my first day’s ride, catching a shuttle to Frostburg instead, getting me there far sooner than the several hours it takes to ride up the mountain. I spent a delightful afternoon meeting one of my online writing friends, and talking a lot of “shop.” Now I have more books and short stories to hunt down!

By my second day’s ride, a short nineteen miles to Confluence, I picked an inviting spot along the Casselman River to begin writing when I was halfway. Yeah, I was loving this vacation.

A spiderweb hanges beneath a birdhouse.

From every view, something to explore

No sooner had I checked into the B&B than the hostess invited me to write from anywhere I wanted—including at any of the tables that give the restaurant its name of “River’s Edge,” while the restaurant was closed Monday-Thursday. A scenic balcony off the kitchen of my own B&B provided a view of the garden, the river, the trees. Dang, but this was shaping up to be a vacation to love!

Heading into dusk that day of check-in, I had moved to a sycamore I’d scoped out as a great back support, with an excellent view of the river to my right and left, around the beauty of an oak ahead of me. The sycamore reminded me of the massive oak tree, more than 250 years old, that I’d grown up with. This sycamore also passed the “safety” test—no poison ivy. I settled in to write, my laptop perched on my knees, and my wireless keyboard in my lap.

Engrossed in writing my previous post, I startled at the whoosh of wings powering through air. Before I even turned, the bird passed me, intent on its destination, a small island in the Yough where a branch hung low over the flowing water. I abandoned my writing, scrambling for my camera. This wasn’t just a bird. It was a bald eagle. I bemoaned my decision to limit myself to the smaller camera, a way to balance out the weight of the laptop.

Bald eagle swims with something for dinner, back to the island

Bald eagles swim with heavy catches

After a few minutes, the bald eagle dropped into the water. Whatever the catch, it weighed enough that the eagle swam to shore dragging it. Now I doubly bemoaned my lack of a longer lens. What a fantastic vacation!

When dusk sent me inside, I switched to “reader” mode, devouring another few chapters of book two of the Allie Beckstrom series.

Mornings, I started with the “work” of writing—building more pieces parts of my website, like the book reviews; finishing the first vacation blog post. Writing the review of Karin Shah’s The Lion’s Share. Hunting down my review of Gary Wedlund’s The Shaman Within. Finding the threads for writing competitions and recording their deadlines and details, along with the prospective pieces I could update. All of these “steal” from my writing time, but they’re part of where a writer’s time must go to make it in this business.

By eleven am, I’d switch back into vacation mode, free to unleash my creativity in writing and editing. Across my writing layover and my riding days, I worked on three short stories and my novel. I submitted one short story to Lit Mag and another to the Bartleby Snopes “Dialogue Only” contest. I massively revamped a story I wrote maybe fifteen years ago, targeting it for a contest that closes October 15. And, I worked on my next chapter of my YA novel Solve for x.

A gently flowing river, strewn with rocks

A pedestrian bridge makes crossing the Cassleman River easy

Whenever I was ready for my late lunch, I’d grab my book, jump on my bike, and cycle over to Sisters Café—which closes daily at 2 pm. They served such huge portions, I’d box up the leftovers for dinner. Dang, but was this a vacation or what? No meals to cook, no dishes to clean, no dirty floor reminding me it had been a month since I washed it. Lovely housekeeper Tracy would chat with me as I wrote. She’d throw a new coffee filter in the coffee maker for the next day. When B&B owner Anna Marie asked if I needed anything, I mentioned how much I loved half and half with my coffee, and the next day a half pint appeared!

And then there was the way nature itself made me love this vacation. Nature inspires me, calms me, frees my creativity. I drank in the beauty of the Youghiogheny River. Before the rains came, the Yough ran clear, and descended through a line of rocks. I laughed more than once, watching the ducks float towards them slowly, then race through the mini rapids. I listened to that delightful bubbling river, never needing to put on headphones to drown out voices, since the River’s Edge Café wasn’t open most days. Until the school bus dropped off the area kids, I shared an occasional “hello” with dog-walkers. When the kids arrived, they’d feed the ducks, show me how they could leap the small rain gully (ending with a tuck and roll). Other than that, it was me, the ducks, and the camera-shy woodpeckers.

When the rains came, or my muscles protested at the time spent sitting on the ground, I’d gain a new perspective from the café’s row of tables that bordered the river or from the B&B balcony. If I wasn’t writing, I was enjoying the pristine beauty around me, and keeping an eye out for the bald eagle.

three bicyclists in rain gear

Bill, Larry, and Christine arrive at Ohiopyle

When my friends passed through Confluence, my writing layover ended, but the vacation was still a blast. We took in landmarks, shot photos, cheered each other on. And, in twenty miles of rain on the final day, we enjoyed seeing whose bike had collected the most GAP dirt.

I loved the vacation I took, immersing myself in nature as the foundation of every other activity. Beyond a doubt, I must return to beautiful Confluence, PA, for another biking-writing-reading-loving nature vacation.

What’s a vacation you would repeat in a heartbeat—or maybe already have? Tell me! Tell me!

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