Mesa to Pitt 2015

Mesa to Pitt 2015

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Altoona, PA to Hagerstown, MD. June 27 (via the Abandoned PA Turnpike)

132 miles in 11:48..... Yea, that's correct, 132 miles. I started at 7:30 in the morning, thank goodness, for what the GPS said was going to be a 99 miler. I'm not sure what is happening with the GPS, but I have been having problems like this since I left Slippery Rock a few days ago. The only thing I can figure, is with the loss of satellite signal that I've been experiencing in these forested mountains, the GPS recalculates when signal returns, and it's not the same route as was originally plotted. Or, I made a wrong turn and didn't know it, because it recalculates without telling you, like some GPS devices. They will actually say ' recalculating,' so you know there are changes being made. Mine doesn't do that. Or, GPS girl is just messing with me.
Whatever roundabout route I took was beautiful, and great riding. A lot of the roads followed the green and white'  PA Bicycling' signs, which gave me confidence that I was taking the best route possible, because the routes are pretty good in my experience. I was on parts of routes G,V, and S, which I will have to research sometime. Even though there were no significant, major climbs on the entire route, I climbed 6667 ft. I think that's more than I ever climbed going through the Rockies and Sierra Nevada's in a single day. The big total was as much a function of the huge distance I covered as any mountains. As a matter of fact, the entire trip was surprisingly flat in relation to what I thought I was going to get. Central Pennsylvania seems to have these very wide valleys ( example: Happy Valley where Penn State is), separated by very big mountain ridges. Fortunately, the roads all travelled in the valleys, and didn't have to cross any ridges on the route I was traveling. There were always green mountains to my right and left, and all the landscape was plush and green. The corn and soybean fields were very healthy, and covered every hillside that was plowable. The floods that were occurring further west in my trip were not happening here, and the creeks and rivers I saw were running clear and cool.
When I left Altoona, I was worried about being out in the middle of nowhere with no food or water access, so I packed heavily with those staples, but there was no need. The course hopped from small town to small town, and food and water were plentiful. Some of the towns were big enough to have their own Dollar General, but there were no other chain stores or restaurants anywhere. There were a lot of mom and pop places, and the course was very heavy Mennonite country. Buggies, ladies in long dresses and boys in bib overalls were everywhere on the farms and in the towns. There was very little traffic anywhere, and the roads were smoothly paved, most with good shoulders.
I took PA 36 out of Altoona, through residential and farm areas until I picked up a multi use trail that followed Canoe Creek through wooded areas, but parallel to PA 36. It was serene and beautiful, easy creek side riding, but I could still the trucks as they rolled by on the road. The trail was about ten miles long, and I spent some of it with a guy who saw my bike jersey that I picked up in Jackson, Wyoming, and had tons of questions because he wanted to ride a tour out there next summer. He said my stories inspired him to confront his wife when he got home, because she wasn't so enthused about him doing it. The end of the trail came out in the town of Williamsburg, PA ( not Virginia), where I picked up PA 866, which is a beautiful ride for sixteen miles, through farm country, with corn fields that were six feet tall already. The farms were mostly Mennonite operated, and it eventually came to the idyllic town of Martinsburg, PA ( not West Virginia), which was surrounded by beautiful mountains. There was a town wide garage/yard sale going on, and people were everywhere, walking the streets, from sale to sale.
I continued for quite a while before PA 36, then PA 26 emptied me into New Stanton, the hotel and restaurant oasis that is in the middle of nowhere on the PA Turnpike. That's when the trip became even more interesting. New Stanton was very busy with traffic and bustle that goes along with the area, and I began climbing US 30 out of town, when, GPS girl threw me a curveball. She told me to turn left, then right. There was an old road that turned left, but there was nowhere to turn right as I was descending back down into New Stanton. I knew that wasn't right, that she was messing with me again. I pedaled back out to US 30, and she told me to turn left before I got there, onto the  'Abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike.' There was nothing there but a single track, dirt path,  that was so steep I couldn't possibly ride my bike up it. I thought to myself 'Really?' Fortunately, there was a woman and her son parked there, with bicycles on the back of their car, that hadn't been there before. I asked them about this abandoned turnpike, and they told me to go up the steep path, and prepare for an adventure, and oh yea, I would be needing a flashlight. Fortunately, I had a helmet light in my bag that I brought just in case I got caught riding after dark. 
It turns out that the turnpike was reconfigured back in the 60's and miles and miles of road, with several tunnels laying dormant and decaying for the last 50 years, unknown to anyone except the locals. The original turnpike followed the path of an old railroad, and even used the railroad tunnels. They rebored them to widen them for the road, but they were still only two lanes wide, one each way through a single tunnel. The road was known as the 'tunnel turnpike' because of the eleven tunnels that cut through the mountains. As traffic increased in the 50's, traffic jams occurred at each one of these tunnels as four lanes filtered into two at each tunnel. The road was eventually reconfigured to include mountain cuts, with fewer tunnels, and four lanes the entire way. The abandoned sections were used for PENN DOT worker training, road paint testing, military exercises and equipment storage, movie making, state police shooting ranges, and other such things. Not until 2000, did a bicycle  group  take control of the old road, and begin to 'maintain' a trail for adventuresome hikers and bikers. The only signs of 'maintenance' that I saw were two signs that said no glass was allowed (" because that's how you are getting your flats!") and 'no motorized vehicles'. The road was discernible in most places, with some sections being worse than others. Trees grew right through the crumbled asphalt in places, and weeds prevailed. I saw one other lady, out for a walk, over the entire 10-15 miles that I rode. It was a bit eerie, riding on a 'twilight zone' highway, complete with abandoned toll booths and an abandoned rest area (that was replaced by the Sideling Hill rest stop on the new road). It was a very unique ride, unlike any other I've done in the country, but it got really cool when I looked into the distance and saw an entrance to a tunnel, that was just about obscured by overgrown trees. As I got about 200 yards from the tunnel, I could already smell it and feel the cold air pouring out of it. As I pulled up to the entrance, there was no light at the other end. This was a long tunnel! I pulled out my helmet lamp, which I thought was bright, but it really didn't cut through the darkness at all. The dripping of water echoed loudly as I rode along, just guessing where the road was, and hoping that I didn't hit a pothole or a rock, or a booby trap of some sort. I unclipped my pedals, and listened for lions, tigers, and bears, as I rode. It wasn't too long before a pinhole of light appeared at the other end, and as it grew, it only served to give me a target to aim for as the glare rendered my light totally useless and became greater as I got closer, but not increasing visibility at all. I cleared the tunnel, and my eyes had to adjust to the screaming sunlight as I pulled out. After riding a few miles, I spotted another tunnel ahead. It was longer than the first, with the same eerie ramifications, but this time I did hit something with my wheel that bounced my butt off the seat, but didn't cause my top heavy bike to go out of control. The road ended for me at some jersey barriers that led me through someone's property onto a back road. There was an overpass that was missing, but the abandoned turnpike carried on to who knows where. This is one of those examples of the crazy things GPS girl tells me that I really enjoyed. Sometimes she brings frustration and terrible ideas, but this is why I follow her directions, for the gems that I would otherwise miss. 
The next adventure was another of the 'orange barrel' state's detours that I had to negotiate. GPS girl doesn't do detours, so as I followed the detour signs, she kept arguing with me about which way to go. Finally, I came across a couple of locals, who it is safe to say, probably have never been on a bike in their lives. The probably have been gumming their food for a few years too, but they were friendly. The guy told me that it was a long way around on the detour, to Hustonville, and that I could go back to the detour, and I could get through because the road was closed only because they were working on a turnpike overpass that crossed it. My ride already was getting pretty long, and I still had 50 some miles to go, so I chose to run the detour. I'm glad I did, because I wiggled through, between the construction equipment and mud, and was on my way. Another ten miles on the detour would have guaranteed that I wouldn't have enough daylight to make it to Jamie's in Hagerstown. 
As I approached Maryland, I had a pleasant interlude through the Buchanan Forest, and a state park whose name escapes me. ------ Gap State Park. It was heavily forested, shady and flat, as it followed a nice stream. Then it was out onto US30 to the towns of St. Thomas, Fort Loudin, and Greencastle, across the unmarked state line into Maryland, which I believe is the twenty ninth state of the journey.  As I came into Hagerstown I was now racing darkness, but determined to do the entire ride to Jamie's doorstep. I had to go through downtown on US40 to the other side of town, and back out into suburbia. As I approached the house, I was greeted by Jamie and four year old Fallyn cheering me from the doorstep.
That evening, as I got to know David, Jamie's boyfriend, and his daughter, Fallyn, I was waiting for the leg cramps to attack after 132 miles, but they never came. My legs held up amazingly well, potentially due to my diet of Gatorade and Clif Bars that I had packed and grazed on all day. My sit bones didn't fair quite so well, but I don't think I was sitting on the couch with a limp.
Corn fields and soybean fields dominate the landscape south of Altoona

The mountains were there......I just didn't have to climb them!!

Young cow with personal feed bucket!

Mennonites at yard sales in Martinsburg, PA

Bicycle and buggy scenic route on PA 866

Mennonite landscape

Corn and buggies with the mountains in the distance

Path to abandoned turnpike road - that I missed the first time I passed it!

Abandoned turnpike that is now a bike trail

Abandoned turnpike

First (short) tunnel

In the tunnel looking ahead

In the tunnel looking behind

Flat pass thru the mountains

I made it!  Second longest ride ever

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