Summer in the South often brings to mind the sound of cicadas, sultry nights and outdoor concerts. But, when that idealistic notion takes place among the lush Appalachian Mountains with a cold craft brew in hand after a long day of pedaling to Delfest, a nostalgic satisfaction takes root as the late night set walks on stage. A music festival featuring some of the best Bluegrass and Americana acts in the U.S., Delfest occurs in Cumberland, Maryland each year. The 150-mile bike ride across the Mason-Dixon line, however, begins in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania along the Great Allegheny Passage. Arriving at the event quickly diverges into a celebratory welcome to summer over Memorial Day weekend.
While the concept of the rails-to-trails pathway began in 1995, the first 100 miles of the Great Allegheny Passage, or GAP, opened in 2001. Now in conjunction with the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath, the project connects Pittsburgh to Washington, D.C.. Once a trade route, the path follows alongside the Potomac River and is reminiscent of the western expansion George Washington once envisioned for the country. Today Cumberland, Maryland, dating to 1787, is a beautifully-preserved Victorian town that exemplifies the Appalachian culture, music, and lifestyle as the Potomac River Valley and its settlers grew.
While the rise of rails-to-trails projects including GAP has drawn tens of thousands to the foothills region annually, slow travel has allowed travel-inclined cyclists to more deeply delve into their surroundings. Skittering along the packed, crushed limestone path in the shadow of the Appalachian Mountains, the trail never exceeds a two percent grade, which allows festival-going cyclists the opportunity to slip into a kicked back mindset before arriving at one of the region’s best music festivals.
Once immersed into the atmospheric landscape and refreshing temperatures en route to the festival, Delfest provides a unique way to experience the Potomac River Valley. The pickin’ begins at 10:30 a.m. each day and continues on three stages until the wee hours of the morning — 3:30 a.m. In a down-home atmosphere, the festival’s founder, Del McCoury, personally selected each of the 40 artists featured in the 11th annual Delfest.
Things To Do At Delfest
Apart from the near round-the-clock performances, the festival brings guests an elevated experience. Morning yoga classes are offered daily, and the arts and crafts festival allows the chance to browse during a break from the stage. A wide array of globally-inspired dining options from vegan and vegetarian to Thai and locally made custard keeps crowds fueled and full.
While on-site camping is classic, the event has added deluxe experiences including oversized pre-constructed tents or new, rented fully-equipped RVs. Guests opting for this festival package also receive VIP tickets, lounge access with complimentary snacks and beverages, drink vouchers, a festival shirt and even an invitation to the welcome party and farewell brunch.
Bring your own instrument to participate in the “playshops,” or casual workshops which teach performance. Rather than focus on instruction, jump in jam sessions be they in the campgrounds or sitting in a picking session. For more musical instruction, plan to attend Delfest Academy, which occurs over four days leading up to the event. Select performers such as Frank Solivan, mandolin; Mike Munford, banjo; Chris Luquette, guitar; and Jay Starling, dobro, lend advice and instruction for their instruments.
Planning your Trip
To make it happen, select a nearby rails-to-trails project that connects to Cumberland. A friend or family member may drive a return car along the same route for support. Start the day early to complete the entire route in a single go, or divide the ride for a more relaxed descent into Delfest. Overnighting in a hotel provides a shower, but bikepacking is always a good option.
Getting Ready To Ride
Be sure to gradually build up to a long-distance ride. Begin with a normal distance ride and add 15 to 20 miles each week. If splitting the ride over multiple days, attempt to ride several days in a row of approximately the same distance to ensure the body knows what the distance and multi-day rides feel like. Taper rides and workouts the week of the big day. Salt pills and magnesium tablets formulated for cycling, which replenish the salts sweated out and electrolyte levels, are very useful during particularly hot spells.