Thursday 9 July 2009

The Great Allegheny Passage, Day 2

We awoke for the second day of our adventure in America’s heartland and fortified ourselves by going to the diner next to the motel for breakfast. The joint was hoppin’ and everyone had their plates loaded up with what the menu described as “Amish meat.” Our wildly exuberant waitress, Hope, high-fived us all when we sat down to eat. The food arrived rapidly and in sufficient quantities, as could be expected. My omelette was quite alright but when Dr. Chef shared his potato pancakes with me I realized that we had perhaps hit the establishment’s culinary ceiling. Both the good doctor and I commented for the remainder of the day that we could still feel those pancakes sitting there, leaden and immobile.

As we left the motel, the Badger and Mrs. B. struck up a conversation with a group of cyclists from Las Vegas who were also riding the GAP trail. They had various kinds of rental bikes and at least one support vehicle. Apparently the men did the riding and the women went antiquing so everyone was happy.

A future B&B?

We enjoyed the very rapid downhill that took us through Connellsville and back onto the trail, although by going back to where we had left the trail the day before we found ourselves facing the wrong way. Backtracking past an impressive old house that looked abandoned although the grass had been cut, we passed a large bike shop and soon found the signs directing us to the Great Allegheny Passage.

Today would probably be the wildest part of the ride as about 8 miles after leaving Connellsville we entered Ohiopyle State Park, one of the most visited parks in the state. This section of the GAP trail, opened in 1986, is the oldest and remains the most popular. The Las Vegas group caught up to us along this stretch, although some of the cyclists in the group were definitely faster than others. A further 9 miles of cycling took us over a wonderful pair of bridges over an oxbow of the river before we came into the village of Ohiopyle proper.

More than 2 million visitors come to Ohiopyle, many for the white-water canoeing and kayaking on the Youghiogheny. There was a very nice Visitors’ Center in the restored railway station and it was here we decided to split up as Dr. Chef wanted to take me to Fallingwater, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright house, which the Badger and Mrs. B. had visited numerous times before. They would have some lunch further along the trail and meet us at our day’s destination of Meyersdale. The lady at the Visitors’ Center suggested we leave our panniers with her as the ride to Fallingwater, while only 6 miles, included some big hills.

Properly fortified with ice cream, we rode our now much-lighter bicycles along Rt. 381 north to Fallingwater. The sun was out and we were getting pretty hot as it was around noon but we arrived at the parking lot pretty quickly. We had booked a tour for 1:00 p.m. but could get into an earlier one with no problem. The area where the tickets sales were was attractively done up, and there was a small café and a bookshop as well. We waited for our group to be called and today was the first day for one of the staff to make an announcement, so we recorded Becky’s inaugural speech:

Fallingwater is a house designed by renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright in 1934 and was designated a national historic landmark in 1966. It is unique in that it takes its natural surroundings and incorporates them into its overall scheme. The house itself is built above a waterfall, cantilevered out from the surrounding rocks. It was constructed for Kaufmanns, who owned a department store in Pittsburgh, and was their weekend residence from 1937 until 1963, when it was given to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and opened to the public.

The house is quite extraordinary, with an impressive sculptural quality. The rooms have huge windows, and open onto wide terraces. The idea was to blend the outdoors and living spaces. In this it is successful, although as a practical home it has had certain issues, including mildew and other maintenance problem. The biggest problem was that Frank Lloyd Wright reduced the amount of structural steel in the cantilevers recommended by engineers and the house began to top over. A major renovation project to correct this was undertaken in 2002 to retension the floors and for the first time since the house was built there has been no scaffolding anywhere around it. It really is quite magnificent although perhaps more as an artwork than a house. Another Wright house, Kentuck Knob, is close by, and this was more designed for family living needs.

Dr. Chef and I climbed the big hill on Rt. 381 before rolling down at high speed to Ohiopyle, where we reclaimed our panniers and settled down for lunch. Our timing was ideal as a few minutes later the sun disappeared and was replaced by black clouds and a monsoon-like downpour. We enjoyed our lunch, starting with another large plate of deep-fried vegetables–a sort of Pennsylvania tempura, I suppose, and watched the rain fall.

The downpour over, we took to our bicycles and rode along the river towards Confluence. The trail was wet and quite muddy and we had to stop at one point as more rain came, but nothing was interrupting the enjoyment of the white water kayakers we saw.

We stopped briefly in Confluence, where the Youghiogheny and Casselman Rivers meet Laurel Hill Creek. George Washington once camped here when it was still called Turkey Foot. Now following the Casselman, we passed Fort Hill, once a stockade of Native Americans and abandoned before the Europeans arrived, and came to an abandoned tunnel, the Pinkerton. It was completed in 1871 and, as was the practice then, lined with timber. It subsequently burned in 1879 and a temporary grade was built around it. The grade is where the bike path now goes but there are plans to eventually repair the tunnel, as has been done elsewhere on the route.

The town of Rockwood was to our left, on the opposite shore. Passing a ridge punctuated with wind turbines, we approached Meyersdale over the Salisbury Viaduct, an impressive structure that dominates the valley. It was opened in 1912 as part of the Western Maryland Railway’s Connellsville Extension, and gives a wide view of the valley, the Casselman River and existing CSX railway. The viaduct is 1,908 feet long and 101 feet high and was abandoned for railroad use in the early 1980s and brought back to life for cyclists in 1999.

Dr. Chef and I soon after came to the Meyersdale Trailhead and Visitor Center, in another restored railway station and turned left along Main Street, rolling down the hill into Meyersdale, Pennsylvania’s “Maple City.” Without much difficulty we found the Burgess House, a large Victorian home where we would stay. The Badger and Mrs. B. were already there and we spend the next while hosing down our bicycles and shedding the layers of mud acquired on the day’s ride.

The Burgess House is available for up to nine guests, and we had it to ourselves. After getting cleaned up, we walked over to Take Six Pizza for dinner, ending the evening with yet more ice cream. It had been a great day, with 65 miles of cycling, some memorable sights and even some bad weather.

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