The second day of biking on the Great Allegheny Passage may have been my favorite. The rain lifted overnight and conditions improved with lightly cloudy skies, neither too hot nor too cool. Scenery changed from rust belt chic to thick forest hugging a scenic whitewater river. It was our first complete day of biking without any time pressures on either end, with ample opportunity to explore every obscure corner before arriving at our destination for the night.
Banning No. 1 Mine Processing Plant; Perryopolis
We left behind the hulking factories that once forged iron sheets and pressed farther into mining country. Much of the easily-accessible coal along the banks of the Youghiogheny River had already been extracted. We’d encountered signs of mining pollution the previous day. Now we began to experience the discarded remnants of the mines themselves: the forgotten railroad spurs; the abandoned coke ovens; the dilapidated processing plants and other hulking artifacts discarded along the valley reclaimed slowly by natural forces.
One such facility served the Banning No. 1 Mine (map). An interpretive sign (photo) on the site explained that it once "processed coal for the steel mills." Coal came down from the mountain on tracks directly into a plant that washed, sorted, processed and shipped it from the 1890’s until 1956. "In 1951 Banning No. 1 employed 500 men and produced 500,000 tons of coal." Now all that stood on the spot were a few decrepit, spooky concrete rooms that offered little more than refuge to gangs of underage drinkers and graffiti artists.
Coalmines brought jobs and wealth to mountain communities. They sometimes brought tragedy. We biked past a memorial (photo) to the victims of the Darr Mine Disaster of 1907. Some 239 miners died on that spot when an open flame lamp ignited mine gasses and triggered a massive explosion that rocked the valley. Only a couple of miners survived. Many of them were entombed permanently within the mountain. A century later, the Darr Mine continues to be one of the worst industrial disasters in Pennsylvania history although it was largely forgotten. Life was cheap in the mines and Darr was worked by Hungarian immigrants who didn’t have much of a voice.
Fifty Miles Done
Mile 100; Perryopolis
Fifty miles down the trail — one-third complete — and another hundred miles to go (map). The miles melted away almost effortlessly as I fell into a groove and barely noticed my legs moving anymore. I felt great, physically and spiritually.
I’d been more than a bit dubious when my friend suggested the Great Allegheny Passage for our trip. I couldn’t imagine riding that distance on a gravel path. I was pleasantly surprised. The GAP consisted of a finely-crushed limestone gravel that made for an exceptionally smooth ride. The trail itself was abundantly wide with excellent drainage. Certainly the tires created a little more noise than they would have made on asphalt road, and maybe rolled a tad slower, however it was quite manageable and comfortable otherwise. Seven distinct groups maintained different sections of the trail so that the entire 150 mile length remained in great shape. Their efforts should be commended.
A Trail to Ourselves
Quiet Trail Scenery
The time of year also concerned me. We left in early April and conditions could be perfectly wonderful, or they could be miserably wet or horribly cold, or any combination hour-to-hour. Early Spring dates were always a crap shoot, a simple roll of the dice between lovely and wretched. Nevertheless, one takes what one can get, and these were the only dates that worked for all of us so we didn’t have an option. We’d already experienced the rain on Day 1 and managed just fine. The rain passed and remaining days only improved. It was a bit chilly each morning although it never truly got cold. We considered ourselves fortunate.
Taking that risk, not that we’d been give a choice, created perfect timing in one regard: we’d hit the Great Allegheny Passage at the very beginning of thru-rider season. I didn’t expect to see anyone else on Day 1 in the rain. Anyone with flexibility or common sense avoided the trail. However on Day 2, even with nicer weather, we encountered no more than a dozen people biking in either direction throughout the entire day. That included a leisurely lunch at the Round Bottom Camping Area (photo) on the banks of the Youghiogheny. Nobody. We remarked several times how it seemed like the trail had been constructed solely for our enjoyment.
Evidence of Beavers; Fayette Co., PA
I didn’t see any bears and I can live with that. Well, there was that one fake bear (photo) at the miniature golf course in Ohiopyle although that hardly mattered. Neither did I see the nest of rattlesnakes reputed to live near Mile Marker 20, not did I look for it. There were plenty of other more benign creatures along the path that greeted me as I biked through the woods. I spotted a couple of wild turkeys one morning and also a fox. There was also an amazing array of birds in the underbrush and along the river. One of our travel companions was a bit of an amateur naturalist who could describer all manner of flora and fauna to kept us entertained while we pedaled through the forest.
Where was the beaver? I saw the stumps (map). Those trees hadn’t fallen by chainsaw or axe. An entire patch of stumps stood aside the river and yet I couldn’t see any downed trees or a dam or a beaver. Goodness knows I looked.
The Wild Youghiogheny
Youghiogheny Rapids; Ohiopyle
The Youghiogheny began to increase in turbulence as we approached Ohiopyle (map). This also marked a change in terrain. The path would continue slightly uphill for the next sixty-five miles into the Laurel Highlands. This gradual elevation rise also created some of the best whitewater rafting in the eastern United States although we wouldn’t get a chance to experience it on our trip. There weren’t too many people riding the Youghiogheny rapids on a chilly April afternoon although we spotted a few brave souls. We pulled into Ohiopyle for the evening, a perfect finish to a rewarding second day.
The Great Allegheny Passage articles:
- Day 1 (Pittsburgh to West Newton)
- Day 2 (West Newton to Ohiopyle)
- Day 3 (Ohiopyle to Meyersdale)
- Day 4 (Meyersdale to Cumberland)