Big Savage

DSCN0891I lied.

Several posts back I suggested that there was only one section of the route for the Long Walk Home that was not “walkable”: The Chesapeake Bay Bridge.  Well, I must confess that for some time I’ve been aware of one other impassable section … I was, however, in denial, and felt that surely I could find a way to walk this section.  Turns out, the Big Savage Tunnel, along the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) – just north of the Mason-Dixon line – will be closed in the winter.  To make matters worse, the bypass route is along narrow, windy roads, not conducive to wide-bodied walking.  The other alternative is to hike over Big Savage Mountain … in the winter … along a steep, rocky, treacherous path … without a sherpa. What to do?  Well, if hiking across Chesapeake Bay on the one day when it’s possible is acceptable behavior, then why not walk through the Big Savage Tunnel on a nice summer day, and check that off as “DONE”? Hey, I’m making the rules, right?

Okay, so the next question was how to do the one-way walk over about 10 miles between Frostburg, MD and Deal, PA.  The GAP doesn’t have a lot of access by roads, so Alanna and I figured we’d park in Deal, take a shuttle ride down to Frostburg and hike back.  “No problem” said the bourgeois capitalist money-grubbing exploitative nice young man at the shuttle van company … “That’ll be $245”.  “WHAT?”  For that much money I could probably find that sherpa to carry me down the trail.  So, once again, Saint Alanna came up with the solution.  She’d walk half-way down the trail with me, turn around and get the car, and meet me at the other end of the walk.  For that she only wanted $100.

We decided to start in Deal and walk to Frostburg.  That was easier logistically, since there was a big festival going on in Frostburg (more on that later), and parking there would be difficult.  This route is also a bit easier since it’s virtually all downhill from Deal to Frostburg.  Minor detail that irked me a bit, but I got over it pretty quickly.

So … Big Savage.  What’s with that name?  I’ve got to admit that every time I hear “Big Savage” I can’t help but think of the incomparable Paul Lynde on Hollywood Squares (for the younger readers – that is to say, not-yet-senile readers, check out some of the YouTube videos of him … he was hilarious, and in one memorable example, the emcee, Gary Marshall, asked Lynde “According to Compton’s Encyclopedia, when Columbus returned from his famous trip, he brought Queen Isabella six naked savages, some animals, some plants, and something valuable. What was it?” to which Paul Lynde responded: “I’ll say the six naked savages“).

Actually, Big Savage mountain is the larger of two ridges in an anticline along the Mason-Dixon line, and was named after the colonial surveyor of the 18th century named John Savage (who, apparently, narrowly escaped cannibalism in the area in 1736… I suspect he didn’t have $245 for a shuttle either). The mountain is also the site of an infamous 1962 crash of a B-52 that was carrying nuclear bombs; 3 of the 5-man crew died, two of them from exposure after parachuting out of the disabled aircraft, and the bombs were recovered intact.  DSCN0909The tunnel going through the mountain is 3295 feet long, and was opened in 1912 as a railroad tunnel.  Rail traffic stopped in 1975, but Amtrak kept selling tickets until 1982 … just kidding about that last part.

And even more interesting, the mountain is right at the Eastern Continental Divide; all raindrops to the west go to the Gulf of Mexico, those on the east go to the Atlantic.  Cool!
The hike was beautiful.  Remarkably, we saw lots of bicyclists but not one other hiker.  Alanna walked from Deal to the end of the tunnel (about 3 miles) then turned around.  I kept going to Frostburg, for a total distance of 10 miles.  I passed the Mason-Dixon Line, through one more tunnel (the Borden Tunnel), and into Frostburg.

Just before Frostburg, I also walked through an enchanting little park with several fun sculptures.

In Frostburg, the annual Soap Box Derby was underway.  Alanna and I enjoyed an ice cream and watched kids of all ages race down main street.  There was a hot dog eating contest, people in July 4 get-ups, and just a generally wonderful festive mood throughout the town.  We thought Norman Rockwell would approve.

So, one more chapter in the Long Walk Home is complete.  Sometime around the end of February next year, we’ll be back in Frostburg.  I’ll drive around  Big Savage Mountain and will remember fondly this wonderful walk on a summer day.