The Hobbit, The Historian, and The Lady - two nights on the Allegheny River Trail
My vacation for 2010 was spent on an auto tour of scenic and natural places in central and western Pennsylvania. However, I did manage to work in a short bike tour during my trip. Prior to leaving on the seventh Bike Forums poster JAGraham and Troy "the Hobbit" from the Great Allegheny Passage Yahoo Group agreed to join me for a little trip down the Allegheny River Trail.
Friday, August 13, I left my hosts' home near the New York border early for my long drive to Franklin and the Allegheny River Trail, my next stop. I visited Bradford's downtown to see the oldest working oil well in the city, which is in the back of a McDonald's. It's been producing oil since the 1870s, which is a heck of a lot longer than McDonald's has been inducing gas.
As I headed south, I stopped at several observation platforms and overlooks in Allegheny National Forest. While I found the much praised Jake's Rocks to be overgrown and unimpressive, the Overlook Rocks were much better viewing:
... and hiking. These stairs to the base of the rock formation are a very tight fit for a Clydesdale. I was brushing both walls.
Kinzua Dam was worth a few minutes of my time:
I reached Franklin by 4:00 PM. The plans I'd discussed with my friends JAGraham and Troy were to meet there, spend the night at the campsite a mile down the trail, and head out from there tomorrow morning. When I reached Franklin, they'd both decided to meet me Saturday morning instead. Having time to kill, I decided to ride up the connecting Justus Trail. I found it boring, and started the processes of putting my trailer together and loading it. This took forever, partly because I had to move anything of value into the trunk before leaving the car at the trailhead for the next two days. By the time I'd finished it was 6:30, and I wobbled off.
I'm not indulging in hyperbole to say I wobbled. Aside from ten miles in Pine Creek Gorge and three miles earlier that afternoon, I'd not ridden a bike in eight weeks. And I'd not pulled a fully loaded trailer in 14 months. It took everything I had to hold a line and keep the rubber side down. When I wobbled to a stop a mile and a tenth later, I found a canoe trip of Boy Scouts had taken over the campsite. I set up at the far end of the area and spent a quiet night.
Since I was riding such a short number of miles today, I rode in street clothes. I missed my Lycra, however:
I retired early to the sound of the river a few feet from me. Fortunately the Boy Scouts were too tuckered out to be noisy.
I woke up early and had a cold breakfast of trail mix while the canoe group left.
Once they were down the Allegheny, I got ready for my ride. I packed and spent ten minutes hunting for a place I could change other than the cramped portable toilets. No such luck - already there was heavy trail and river traffic and there were no blind spots at the campground.
My two companions showed up as I was finishing loading my trailer. JAGraham came first, tipping over her trike thanks to a careless stop on a slope. Troy showed up five minutes later and took this photo while I was loading up.
Off we went south on the Allegheny River Trail. Again I felt wobbly, but as the miles rolled on I gained control of the heavy bike. I had trouble keeping up with Troy, who is very fit and a strong rider. There's something to be said for being a farmer; all that labor keeps you in condition. In addition to his farm, Troy is also a moderator on the Yahoo group for the Great Allegheny Passage and other trail groups, which is where I met him. His jokes about being a hobbit are partly due to his appetite, and partly from his "there and back again" trips on the GAP and C & O.
After a few miles, we reached the intersection of the Allegheny River Trail and Sandy Creek Trail. JAGraham, who had gotten up before 6 that morning to drive up here, volunteered to stay 'below' with our gear while we rode the trail. As she pulled into the shade, we unhitched and walked up the stairs to the Sandy Creek Trail. The stairs connecting the two trails are horrible, and Troy helped me get my bike up and down.
I'd already begun to sour on the Allegheny River Trail, but Sandy Creek was a delight, with seven bridges, including a massive span over the Allegheny, and a tunnel to play on. Aside from the awkward climb up to the trail, and one short uphill near the river, the trail was flat, paved, and beautiful. Sandy Creek reminds me of the Casselman River coming down into Confluence - rocky and wild. The water level was very low, however, and the stream would be more impressive had it been fuller.
After 14 miles 'upstairs', we went back down to the patient JAGraham, and continued south to our campsite north of Emlenton. The ART continued to Indian God Rock, a massive stone with Native American carvings. Unfortunately the rock has been extensively defaced since it was discovered two centuries ago. Troy scrambled down to the rock itself while JAGraham and I remained up on the trail at the overlook.
As I mentioned above, I'd begun to like the ART less and less as I rode it. True, it was paved. But there were no services - no towns, stores, restrooms - anywhere along the trail. There was a half-mile detour onto a gravel road that included two hill climbs. And there were the tunnels. The first one, Kennerdell, was three thousand feet long and lit only by reflectors. I quickly discovered my lighting wasn't enough, and I walked the distance. Even then I became a little disoriented in the tunnel.
Once through the tunnel, the search for the campsite began. I had been told there was a site south of the tunnel. We kept going, and still no site. Then I spotted a table and fire ring. We pulled over and set up camp. The Boy Scout troop I'd camped with the night before floated by on the Allegheny, but decided not to stop here.
We settled in for the night shortly after seeing our first bald eagle over the river, and just as the drizzling rain set in.
We awoke to a day of drizzle. My original goal was to ride to Emlenton, and then ride back north to Franklin, but my poor showing on the bike yesterday squashed that idea. Also, JAGraham had enough of the trail. So we developed a plan - Troy would ride south for breakfast, then turn round and ride north. JAGraham would ride back to Franklin from the campsite. I'd go on to Emlenton and wait for JAGraham to pick me up. So 15 minutes after Troy headed south, I left JAGraham as she packed up.
The drizzle began to break as I headed down the trail. I stopped at Rockland Tunnel, 2500 feet long, to capture the fog that poured out of the mouth. Would I meet Puff the Magic Dragon inside? Or, knowing my luck, would it be Fafner? If it was Fafner, I regretted leaving my road bike Notung at home...... Again, like the previous tunnel, I walked through it.
Muddy bike. Note the grocery bag under the saddle cover - I wasn't taking any chances!
Passing through the former Quaker State facility. Emlenton is where the well-known brand of motor oil originated. You can see several old buildings and structures over the fence, but since this is a Superfund site I wasn't crossing over it.
I met Troy as he came back from breakfast:
We tried to ride the unfinished portion of trail between Emlenton and Foxburg, but turned back because it was as muddy as the C & O after a rain. And unlike the C & O, this one has low overhanging trees as well. I nearly crashed as I tried to avoid one water-filled pothole. After Troy left north with snacks in his bag for second breakfast, I spent my afternoon at the little park along the Allegheny, at the gazebo on the trailhead, and at an ice cream shop with Internet access. Emlenton is a nice little community, and I didn't draw too many stares as I pedaled my bike and trailer back and forth through town.
I was joined at lunch by three riders who were taking a break from their century training ride on the trail. Paul, his brother, and his 13 year old son were from Ohio and riding a 100 mile route in September. We chatted about bikes, Brooks saddles, and riding a century. I think they found it a little hard to believe that I'd ridden a century and completed the Pittsburgh to DC trip three times - Paul's brother inspected my bike and shook his head. But I'm used to that response from cyclists, and they were nice enough people otherwise.
JAGraham arrived a little after three to pick me up. We arrived in Franklin and we headed north to the campsite she had reserved for us in Two Mile Run Park. This is a big park run by Venagno County, and it's fitting JAGraham chose this site to unwrap her latest surprise: Mega-Tent!
This six-man shelter was purchased with JAGraham's hobby of historical reenactment in mind. Now she can change standing up in a space separate from that of 50 sweaty men changing into their French and Indian War battle uniforms. As a bonus, if she takes it on a bike tour, she can store her bike inside with her. I named the tent the "Pleasure Dome" as Coleridge's poem came to mind as she tried to set it up.
Speaking of bike touring, JAGraham discovered that the actual campsite we had tried to locate was a mile or so north of where we camped. The rain had knocked over enough brush that the trail shelter was visible as she rode north. We had missed it and instead pulled into a picnic area with a table and fire ring. I became excited at learning this. "You know what this means, don't you?" I said.
"That we stealth camped."
"Yes, we stealth camped. According to the 'rules' of the Touring Forum, we are now 'real' bike tourists!" I raised my water bottle in triumph.