Pennsylvania Biking – Fall 2015 September 9-16
Wednesday, September 9
We left home at 8:35 to begin the long drive to the Little Pine State Park north of Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania (north central Pa.). We followed I-81 into Maryland and took I-70 at Hagerstown. Beyond Hancock, we headed up I-99 toward Altoona and State College, Pennsylvania. The itinerary included four new bike trails in north central Pennsylvania and one on the west side of Pittsburgh. By mid-afternoon the temperature was right at 92 degrees. We were glad to have a newer truck with the air conditioning (along with everything else ) working.
Beyond Altoona, I-99 ran out and we headed east a ways on I-80 and then US220 to our exit for highway 44 at Jersey Shore (interesting name, since it was not close to New Jersey or the shore). For the past hour the clouds had been gathering and growing darker. We reached the campground right at six o'clock after driving for nine and a half hours and traveling 470 miles.
The little building at the entrance to the campground had instructions for self registration. We grabbed an envelope just as the rain started. We made a circle of the campground area before settling on a site near the bathhouse. We used the umbrella to get the basics of the camper set up and the awning out. Rhonda started supper while I went down to drop the registration payment in the slot at the check-in station. Pennsylvania has very reasonable state park camping rates. There rates has a senior rate that most other states only give to residents and they do not have the additional entrance fee.
We heated some leftover Salisbury steak and gravy along with mash potatoes in the microwave. Along with it, we had some turnip greens from the garden we had cooked the day before. The microwave in the camper is a nice addition to our camping experience, especially for a quick meal. We ate out under the awning because the inside was still warm from the day's warm temperatures. We set up the fan to begin cooling off the inside before bedtime. The rain shower did cool the outside temperature considerably.
We tried to get a TV station with no success. The park was up a hollow off the main valley of Pine Creek. The camper radio would not pick up anything either. We wanted to get a weather forecast for the next day in order to see if I would be riding reasonably dry. I could have probably gotten reception in the truck, but I did not want to sit in the truck searching and waiting for a report. From previous reports, Thursday had a high probably of rain all day. My plans were to ride the 62.4 mile Pine Creek trail from Wellsboro to Jersey Shore in two days.
Thursday, September 10
Thursday morning it was heavily overcast with a little bit of drizzle. One of our camping neighbors told us that the forecast they heard said there would only be around a half inch of rain. We decided to drive to Wellsboro and scout out where Rhonda could pick me up a little more than half way. We decided on Slate Run which was about a thirty-five mile ride.
In Wellsboro, we located the start of the trail just north of town. There was a light rain falling and it was nearly lunch, so we drove back into town and found the Wellsboro diner, which was build like an old railroad dining car. We had a light lunch and went back to the trail head parking lot.
After unloading the bike, I dawned my biking poncho and headed south for an estimated 4:30 rendezvous at Slate Run. The rain let up after about eight miles of riding, but there was still an occasional sprinkle and drizzle after that. The trail surface a was hard packed material which made one think it was asphalt with a gritty surface.
At approximately the seven and a half mile point, the creek and trail entered what was called the Grand Canyon of Pennsylvania. As I reached that area, I came upon two large horse drawn covered wagons that were carrying tourists for a ride along the creek and trail into the canyon for a seven mile excursion. It is a family operated business called Ole Covered Wagon Tours that charges twenty-five dollars for the ride. The wagon trail ended in the vicinity of the former abandoned saw mill town of Tiadighton, built during the logging days of Tioga and Lycoming Counties of Pennsylvania It once contained a hotel, two general stores, a post office, a sawmill, and homes. It now consist of six cabins and a campground.
There was a light sprinkle of rain, but still very comfortable riding. I met several couples and a small group riding north. It appeared that they were out for a up and back from one village to another. I stopped in Cedar Run Village briefly to take a picture of the general store. They had a big ice cream sign, but the store was closed for the afternoon. I reunited with Rhonda at the Wolf's General Store in Slate Run. Rhonda had already been inside, but went in to have a look at the fishing fly display. They had just about any type of fly you could imagine. For the most part, the store was a large tackle, gift and souvenir shop. From there we headed back to the campground about twenty miles south.
Friday, September 11
The next morning we packed up the camper and drove down to a trail parking area in Waterville to leave the camper. The sky was rapidly clearing itself of the remaining clouds. We did this to avoid the up and back of eight miles from Highway 44 to the park when I reached Waterville on the bike. We then drove back to Slate Run. We talked with a couple in the trail parking lot who were waiting for a shuttle from an outfitter to take them back to Jersey Shore. I started out with a light jacket and wind pants, but the it warmed up as I rode south and the sun got higher in the sky.
I arrived back at the camper just before lunch, so we made sandwiches and had lunch inside. It was a great day for trail riding. I had met a few on the trail and there were several leaving the parking lot as we had lunch. Rhonda headed for the trail's terminus about 12 miles away after I hooked the camper back up. We reunited in Jersey Shore in a nice parking area with a new comfort station and plenty of parking. I also discovered that the trail was a mile longer that it was stated on the website and in the pamphlet.
Before leaving the area, we took a side trip over to the town of Woolrich and visited the company store. The company is the country's oldest continuously operating woolen mill, having been in business for 180 years. They made blankets for civil war soldiers and continue to produce some of the finest blankets in America. Unfortunately, everything else they sell is made outside the US (mostly in China). It is sad to see a brand name that one expects to be American made is not made in America. The mill in the town is still producing wool yarn and the blankets (which are quite expensive, starting around $145).
The next trails on the list were down around Altoona off I-99. The 17 mile Lower (rhymes with flower) trail was east of Altoona and the Ghost Town Trail was west of town. Saturday's forecast was light rain, so we found a campground in Altoona. It was not before the sometimes stupid GPS sent us about 10 miles west to a town with a road name the same as the one in Altoona with the campground. We figuratively kicked ourselves for not recognized the error and following the direction in the Woodall Directory. Since it looked like it was going to a day off from biking, we wanted to stay at a campground with internet and TV reception. There was a outdoor sportsman store and a mall near by for passing the rainy day .
The campground was small and very neat. The long time owners lived beside the office. There were three rows of sites with about ten campsites in two of the rows and fifteen in the one we chose. We got a Good Sam discount, but had to pay for the cable tv.
Saturday, September 12th
After breakfast, we drove a little ways up the street to the Field and Stream store and then over to the mall. We returned after lunch in time to watch some ACC football. While I was watching the games, Rhonda walked across the street to a music store and bought some clarinet music.
Sunday, September 13th
Sunday morning was overcast, but the rain was gone and clearing skies were forecasted to be on the on the way. After we prepared the camper for traveling we headed southeast through the town of Holidaysburg (the home of the Slinky) to the next trail near Canoe Creek State Park I was surprised to discover that the Lower Trail ran along an old transportation canal long the Juniata river and was the Frankstown branch of Pennsylvania canal system. This canal was a link from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia. The Juanita Division ran from the Susquehanna River to Lewiston and finally to Holidaysburg, opening in 1832. It was 127 miles long with 86 locks and had an elevation change of 584 feet. I saw remnants of two of the old locks as I rode along the trail. Rhonda was waiting with the camper at the entrance of the parking lot at the east end of the the trail.
From there we headed west on US 22 to the town of Edensburg where the Ghost Town trail started. It had been cloudy all morning, but there were breaks in the clouds and some wind gusts as we reached town. We found the trail head parking lot and decided to eat lunch in the camper out of the wind. Rhonda heated some Maryland Crab soup we had found in a local grocery. We had homemade pimento cheese sandwiches along with it.
The campground at which I had made a reservation was just out of town. It was not one we would have chosen if any others were in the area. It was run down and had close to 150 sites; mostly seasonal and weekend units. We agreed that it rated in our top five worst campgrounds.
A shower passed through after we set up. The Ghost Town trail was thirty-two miles long, so I decided to see if I could knock off a few miles to shorten the distance for the next day. We drove over to the next small town where there was a trail head, which was Nanty-Glo. A little ways down the road, we ran into another shower. When we got to the trail, we sat and waited to see which way the clouds were moving. After a short time, we decided they moving away, so I unloaded the bike and headed east for seven and a half miles back to Edenburg. The clouds were breaking up but there were still a few sprinkles as I left town.
The town of Nanty Glo was founded by Welsh miners and the name means “the stream of Coal”. It was established as a lumber town in the early 1890s. Huge deposits of coal in the area attracted more settlers and commercial mining began in 1896. There were a number of smaller mines that produced “house coal” (selling coal by the truckload directly to homeowners for heating).
Along the way back to Ebensburg, I passed the sites of two of the ghost towns, one was Beulah. I read somewhere that Pennsylvania had more ghost towns than any other state, even Colorado. Others along the trail going west were Webster, Scott Glen, Twin Rocks, Braken and Armerford. All these were served by the Edensburg and Bladdick railroad and later the Cambria and Indiana railroad. These were primarily company towns that diminished when the mining decreased or ended.
Monday, September 14th
The next morning we hooked up the camper and drove back down to Nanty-Glo where I headed west to ride the remaining twenty-five miles. Rhonda took the camper to the other end to Saylor Park in Blacklick.
The temperature was moderate, the sun was out, and the trail surface was great; making it a absolutely wonderful day for riding. It did not take long before I need to peel off a layer. I stopped briefly outside of Vintondale to look at some mining related displays and memorial and a blast furnace. I stopped for lunch at a trailside shelter and chatted with a middle aged couple who lived just east of Pittsburgh. Along the way there were historical displays and signs telling about the coal mining in the Blacklick Valley. The creek beyond Vintondale had a polluted color of a gold-orange from the minerals still flowing out of some of the mines. Rhonda was waiting at Saylor Park in a large parking lot at the end.
Our next destination was a campground near Debois north of I-80. It was Cayman Landing at Treasure Lake, a resort community and campground. It meant we would be paying a little more, but it was the closest to the next trail.
About halfway to Dubois, we went through Punxsutawney and had to stop to see Phil. We parked at a McDonald's and went in for a ice cream cone. There were Punxsutawney Phil fiberglass statutes all over town. A customer took our picture with the statute in front of McDonald's. We then went down the street to a gift shop that had everything you could imagine relating to ground hogs and Phil. Most of it was more than I wanted to pay. I only purchased a postcard and a few stickers.
The gift shop clerk told us we could see the real, living Phil just up the street at the library next to the town hall and police station. There was a glass front on his living quarters, but the sun's glare made it almost impossible to see much, so we went inside. Phil was in a little cave like rock structure and we could only see a small portion of his fur on his back.
Up at the resort community, we found it to be huge with full time residences, boat docks, golf course, a club house and restaurant. The camping area was in the back and there must have been over 300 sites. In the section we were assigned, there were a couple of dozen units set up permanently. As far as we could tell, there were no other short term or overnighters. Once we got set up, I got out a bucket and did a quick wash of the truck. I had collected some dust on a dirt road getting to one of the trail heads.
Just before we arrived at the resort entrance and south of I-80 in Dubois, we saw a Ponderosa Steakhouse. The possibility of a good salad bar enticed us to go back for supper.
Tuesday, September 15th
The next morning we were off to Brockway where the Clarion River- Little Toby Crk Trail began. After Rhonda headed out to the other end via US219 to Ridgway. I started my ride, but it took three tries before I actually found the trail. The first attempt ended up at the town treatment plant. The second trail was on a dike of the river where I asked a jogger if I was on the trail. He directed me back behind the ballfield and was on the way. I arrived in Ridgway a little after eleven and we headed to Pittsburgh and to a state park on the west side of town. We had stayed there a couple of years previously when I was riding the Panhandle Trail from Wierton, West Virginia to Carnegie, Pennsylvania. It was a rail line that one connected Pittsburgh with Cinicinniti.
The route to the park took us right through downtown Pittsburgh on US 22 and I-376 at about 4 pm. Of course, we were up on a raised roadway. The traffic was slowed to a crawl in several places and I was relying on Rhonda to use the GPS and report to me what lane to be in and to keep us from taking the wrong road. We made it through without error. In several instances other drivers were very courteous, letting us merge with the camper.
At one point, we were at a place on the highway creeping along with the PNC field (Pirates) on one side and Heniz Field (University of Pittsburgh and the Steelers) on the other. We crossed the Monongahela River and almost immediately entered a tunnel under Mt. Washington. My friend Chuck told me there was a tram ride up the mountain; giving you a great view of the city. We exited I-376 out near the mall and town of Robinson and headed out to the Racoon Creek State Park.
Once in the park, we found a nice site, set up and self-registered. There were only a couple of other campers around in the section we were in. Several of the sections were closed for the season. It was a nice quiet setting with a good bathhouse. We rested a bit before having supper. Being relatively close to Pittsburgh and Stubensville, Ohio, we were able to get a number of TV stations.
Wednesday, September 16th
We headed out after taking our time to allow for the rush hour traffic to subside a little. The trail to be conquered today, was the Montour Trail. The trail began in Coraopolis on the Ohio River and near the airport. The GPS got us close and I used a close up map I printed off the internet to find the entrance to the parking lot.
The entire trail was 46 miles long, but I decided to only ride twenty-seven miles to Hendersonville since there were uncompleted sections with road detours on the southern end. The Montour Trail follows a portion of the old Montour Railroad, which was built between 1877 and 1914 to link the Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad with ther region's many coal mines. The trail forms a “C” on the west side of Pittsburgh and ultimately ends up in Clairton on the Monongahela River. It also connected other railroads, including the Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh & West Virginia, the Baltimore & Ohio and the Union. Both the trail and the railroad are named for the creek that runs alongside for the first 8 miles. When all the trail connections are made, one can ride from Washington, DC to the Pittsburgh airport using the Great Allegheny Trail and the C&O Canal.
It was another nice day and the trail surface was great except for a short sandy stretch south of US 22 near Quicksliver. Also in this area there was more of an uphill grade that I expected, but nothing to whine about. One, of a number of highlights of the ride was the Enlow Tunnel in the Findlay Township which is 500 feet long between mile seven and eight. On the outskirts of McDonald, the impressive McDonald Tressel spans more than 900 feet. Here, there is a trail connection with the Panhandle Trail. Between McDonald and the small community of Southview, the trail offers beautiful rural landscapes.
A few miles before reaching the rendezvous point with Rhonda, there was a detour where there was a very nice trail bridge was being constructed over highway 50 at Miller's Run. When completed, it with make it a safer and easier crossing of a busy road. It was also the location of one of the newest segments of the trail known as the Westland Branch, where it splits off from the main route and heads southwest to Mount Pleasant Township paralleling a main railroad. It was a little confusing and I ended up going about a half mile up the new segment before realizing this was not part of the detour.
At mile 25, the 625 ft. National Tunnel went under Klinger Road in the Cecil Township. The trail through the tunnel was paved and lighted. It was one of those drippy tunnels where an occasional drop of water dropped down from the ceiling. One big drop landed right on the back of my neck as I was riding through.
Rhonda was waiting in the shade when I arrived. She had spent some of the time checking out a shopping area in nearby Hendersonville while I was riding. At one end of the parking lot was a bike shop and snack bar, where we split an ice cream cone. Some day after they get the remaining road section on to the trail, I hope to finish the last twenty miles all the way down to the connection with the GAP trail.
Back at the park, we stopped at an area called Frankfort Mineral Springs that had been a famous resort complex in the 1800s and at the time believed to have healing properties. The main resort building was destroyed by fire around 1930. The park had been originally been owned and operated as a national park. We hiked up to the slow trickling spring on one trail and returned on another. We spent the remainder of the afternoon relaxing at the campsite.
Thursday, September 17th
We left the park taking highway 18 down to Washington, Pa., where we connected to I-79 and made our way through West Virginia passed Morgantown and stopping for lunch in Summerville. We arrived home in time to unload and store some of the equipment. It was another of the many wonderful trips we've been blessed to enjoy.