Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Spinning Wheels (From DC to PGH - Day 6)

           Several loud freight trains passed by on the nearby tracks across the Casselman River, blowing their shrieking whistles as they passed through Rockwood. After the first few woke me from sleep, leaving me somewhat startled, I scavenged for my ear plugs, popped them in, and slept soundly through the rest of the night.

            Vince and I were awake, prepared and ate breakfast, cleaned and packed up, and were headed west on the Great Allegheny Passage by 8:30 AM. Our day’s goal was the Stewarts Crossing Hiker Biker Site near mile 88 in Connellsville and hopefully one of its four Adirondack style shelters. With a Forty-five mile ride ahead of us, this would be our longest day. It wasn’t supposed to be that way, but thanks to the rain and mud that slowed us down and shortened our rides on the Towpath, that this the way it ended up.

Vince, in blue, outside Confluence Cyclery
            Our first leg was an eighteen mile ride from Rockwood to Confluence which we cycled without stopping to rest. When we were cycling on the Towpath, slogging through first the rain and mud and then just the mud, we could barely ride five or six miles without stopping to rest. Now we were really making time and I wished we had planned to ride longer days on the GAP and shorter days on the Towpath.

            At Confluence we detoured into town to stop at the Confluence Cyclery. Parking our bikes outside, we walked into the store, looking for nothing in particular.  I really liked this shop. It was airy, bright, and the staff was friendly. I bought a bubble compass bell for my handlebar and a 2016 GAP badge, the price of the badge benefitting the trail. S framed print of a Linda Harris (no relation) poem about cycling that was hanging on the shops’ wall caught my eye so I stopped to read it. Once back outside, I attached the bell to my handlebar and the badge to the back of my rear rack.

            As Vince and I were riding back to the trail, I found myself thinking how nice Confluence seemed to be. It impressed me as a quiet, clean, small town nestled in the Laurel Highlands around the confluence of the Casselman River and Laurel Hill Creek with the Youghiogheny River with great access to both the GAP and the Youghiogheny. I thought it would be a nice place to return to and spend some time in one of its Bed and Breakfasts. Over a couple of days I could explore the town by bike as well as ride along the Gap unencumbered by a week’s worth of gear in four panniers attached to my bike. I could also bring my kayak and paddle on the river.

            Since our stop in Confluence was too early in the morning for lunch, we rode on Ohiopyle, eleven miles distant. This small Laurel Highlands village holds a special place in my heart and mind. In the summer of 1974, when I was an impressionable teenager, I was introduced to white water rafting here.  A camp counselor who was an experienced white water kayaker and a few years older than I, one of the kitchen staff a year or two older than I – all of us from the same summer camp – and another experienced white water kayaker who was the counselor’s friend, two or three times rafted the loop of the Youghiogheny’s rapid strewn loop just below the falls.

            I returned to Ohiopyle two years after that day of rafting to park my car in the parking lot and head off for a weeklong solo backpacking trip on the recently officially completed seventy mile Laurel Highlands Trail. That LHT thru-hike was how I decided to bring my summer after high school to an end, before heading off to college. It was not only my longest solo trip at that time but my longest backpacking trip at that time.

            I didn’t own a nice road bike until my freshman year of college, so cycling was the farthest thing from my mind during those first two trips to Ohiopyle. Nor did the GAP exist back then, but this was the second time in the past twelve months to ride through Ohiopyle on the Gap. Times and people change. I now cycle more than I backpack and all my kayaking is on slow moving streams, lakes, or in the ocean.

Fellow Cyclists at Falls City
            Reaching Ohiopyle also marked a turning point for me as I was also no longer exploring. Over several day trips I had already cycled the rest of the Gap from Ohiopyle to Pittsburgh. While I was committed to finishing our trip and riding all the way to Pittsburgh, I felt like the hardest part of the trip, and the most exciting part of the trip, was now behind me.

            We made our way over to the Falls City Restaurant and Pub where we planned to enjoy lunch. Three other cyclists we had leapfrogged with earlier in the day were there also enjoying lunch. Vince and I sat at a nearby table with a handy electrical outlet to charge our phones. A server soon took our order. Mine was a Cuban sandwich and a Guinness. I think Vince ordered a burger and an IPA.

            After we placed our order we struck up a conversation with the nearby cyclists. It turned out that one of them was from Wheeling, WV, one from Washington, PA, and one from Florida.  Both Washington and Wheeling are very near to Wellsburg, WV where I live and I often ride a rail trail from my home town to Wheeling and back. The cyclist from Washington knew one of Vince’s Cousins and the cousins’ family.  What were the odds of such coincidence? We thoroughly enjoyed the conversation with our fellow cyclists and our lunch, and we appreciated the opportunity to charge our phones up to 100%.
The beginning of the LHT
           Vince and I finished our lunch and left Falls City before the other cyclists. Vince rode down to nearby Wilderness Voyageurs Outfitters while I pedaled the opposite direction to the beginning of the Laurel Highlands Trail. At the trailhead I added it as a waypoint on my GPS and thought about trying to fit in a 40 th Anniversary southbound backpacking trip before the end of the summer.

            I eventually joined Vince at Wilderness Voyageurs where I purchased a Chums Pouch Microfiber Lens Cloth to replace the one I had been carrying for years and that was showing a lot of wear. I also bought a few other small, inconsequential and inexpensive items. I would have picked up a closeout Axiom handlebar bag but the store could not find the mount to attach the bag to my handlebars.

            Fueled and hydrated but not inebriated, Vince and I finally left Ohiopyle with our sights set on Connellsville, seventeen miles to the west and our day’s final destination. Somewhere between Rockwood and Connellsville I became more aware of how every day of our trip had seemed to be warmer than the day before and how now the afternoons were getting hot. Several places between Rockwood and Connellsville, however, we would enjoy the natural air conditioning of cool, moist, air rising up from cold mountain streams flowing down through dark ravines, giving us a short break from the warm, humid, afternoon heat. At times I wished we could have stopped pedaling to make camp and spend the night by one of those Laurel Highlands watercourses.

Tom and Conrad
Outside Bikes Unlimited
            As Vince and I rode through Connellsville and were about to stop at Bikes Unlimited I spotted a familiar face. Standing outside near the shop was Tom, whom I had met the first morning at mile zero on the Towpath as I waited for Vince. Standing next to him was his son Conrad with a bandaged right elbow and left knee. They explained that son had been following too close behind father and Conrad’s front wheel clipped Tom’s rear wheel, causing son to spill. No worse for wear, they still had managed to cycle farther and faster than Vince and I, for here they were, In Connellsville ahead of us, and they had started a day after we had and had not skipped over a seventy five mile section! Vince and I walked into the cycle shop, looked around, admired the train layout in the front window, but did not buy anything.

            By the time we reached the Adirondack style shelters near the Martin’s supermarket at the western edge of Connellsville, my phone told me that it was 88°, 25-30° warmer than when we started a few days earlier. No wonder I was appreciating those naturally air-conditioned spots along the GAAP between Ohiopyle and Connellsville. Although my phone also forecasted sunny skies with little chance of rain, some dark clouds passed by and we were glad that only one of the four shelters was occupied. Vince and I picked the shelter farthest way from town and close to the rode. With a roof over our head we would be able to do without our tents for the third night in a row.

Vince and our gear inside Connellsville Shelter
            I had been carrying a solar shower with me but had yet to use it.  After the day’s long, hot, sweaty, ride and not having had a shower since the morning before, I decided it was time to use that solar shower. I filled it with water and laid it on top of the shiny side of my sleeping pad which I had spread out on the ground in full sunlight. We then went about unpacking the rest of our gear, changing out of our riding clothes, and started to prepare dinner.

            I rehydrated some Mountain House corn and some Mountain House chili mac. Once both pouches were rehydrated I combined them into a single meal in a single pouch.  Vince, once again tried a recipe from the Bike Camp Cook and made crepes. My Mountain House, dinner, however, didn’t fill me up after the days longer ride so I walked down to Martins, purchased two small containers of Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia and a package of sliced watermelon and brought it back to the shelter area. With the exception of a slice of watermelon I offered to Vince, I ate every last bite of my purchase.

Ched Vince preparing crepes
            After dinner I stripped down to my nylon trail shorts, wet my body with warm water from the solar shower that was now suspended from a tree branch,  and soaped up with some Dr. Bonners on a wet sponge. I then rinsed clean with most of the warm water left in the shower and dried off the best I could with a dry trail towel. By the time I finished it was near dusk and time to turn in for the night.
            As I drifted off to sleep I once again I found myself looking back over the past few days and wishing that we had planned for shorter days on Towpath and longer days on GAP. While we had cycled 45 miles that day, our longest day, I could have cycled another ten or fifteen miles and we had plenty of time to do so. As it was, Pittsburgh was only about 56 miles away. We could do that in one day now cycling downhill on a dry GAP rather than cycling uphill on wet and muddy Towpath, but we would do it in one and a half instead.
Here are links to previous installments in the "Spinning Wheels" series:

My First Tour the Montour (22nd Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 5 (21st Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 4 (20th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 3 (19th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 2 (18th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 1 (17th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Day 0 (16th Installment)
From DC to PGH - Prologue (15th Installment)
Transitioning (14th Installment)
Flats (13 Installment)
Beware Dehydration (12 Installment)
Creams & Powders for your Butt (11th Installment)
Group vs. Solo Rides (10th Installment)
Competitiveness (9th Installment)
Stats (8th Installment)
Accidents Happen (7th Installment)
Pedals for Cleats (6th Installment)
Riding Shoes with Cleats (5th Installment)
Be Kind to Your Behind (4th Installment)
Combating Hand and Arm Numbness (3rd Installment)
Reading and Riding (2nd Installment)

Starting Over (1st Installment)

No comments: