home    about    bikes    packing    planning    trips  /  rides       winter    night       rain       gps    commute             links       contact

Pike 2 Bike Trail

 

Abandoned PA Turnpike Bicycle Trail

Map showing original route (now the Bike Pike) and the new Turnpike route. Orange lines mark trailheads and ends of ridable trail.

This is a ride along a 8 mile stretch of closed highway, formerly part of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. I had a very cool experience riding the Pike2Bike Trail in March 2006 with Murray Schrotenboer of Grouseland Tours, who offers a guided tour of the Pike2Bike Trail. (Pike2Bike.org) I really enjoyed this and I highly recommend the tour; there's a lot of details that I wouldn't have understood if I just rode through there myself. There's a list of links to other Pike2Bike sites at the bottom of the page.

We rendezvoused at the Breezewood Ramada Inn, but to get on the trail we drove a tiny bit further east on Route 30 and parked on the new trailhead on the other side of the road. Apparently a bridge carrying the trail over the road has recently been removed, so the trailhead and trail end are located just east of Breezewood's commercial strip on Route30.

Murray was very well prepared and quite the tour guide. He had a very cool Cannondale mountain bike which had a very interesting "Lefty" front fork, with a left-side strut assembly connecting the front wheel to the frame, without any symmetrical hardware on the right side of the wheel. It looks a bit like an A-10 nosewheel.

  We started riding along the former highway / current trail. The surface is paved but somewhat irregular; this is a hybrid/mountain bike ride more than a road bike ride. You could do it on a road bike, but there's a few bumps.

Beautiful country all around, and if I were by myself I would have thought "wow nice green scenery" and that would have been it, but Murray was pointing things out and giving a history of the trail. There were a lot of little things I might have noticed but wouldn't have understood.

The first tunnel, Rays Hill Tunnel, is 3500 feet long, and you can see the light at the other end before entering. It's way cool and feels like a bit of a movie scene to be riding in an abandoned highway tunnel. It's a bit strange to be by yourselves in what seems like it should be a crowded public place.

The ride is not hilly, but there's a bit of elevation in it - it's just not your basic rail-to-trail designed to train standards. There's a few places where you'll either increase or decrease speed a little bit because of the grade - nothing challenging or technical, but just a little but more grade than the Great Allegheny Passage.

The second tunnel, Sideling Hill Tunnel, is over a mile long, and there's a 30' rise in the center, so when you enter it's just a black void and there's no seeing the other end. After a while you can see a glimmer of light spilling over the hump in the middle, and since this a mile-long tunnel it takes a while to pass through. There was a bit of ice buildup where dripping water had frozen. The picture at right is a photo Murray took of me while we stopped at the edge of the tunnel.

You definitely want good lights in these tunnels. I ride at night a bit but this is as dark as I've ever seen, sort of spooky dark. It was much colder inside the tunnel that on the outside.

After we exited the Sideling Hill tunnel, to the side of the trail was a clearing. The center of the clearing was dirt and trees, but around the trees was a very old parking lot where you can still make out the lines painted for car parking - this is the location of the old turnpike rest stop and gas station. Just a little further and we came to the end of the Pike2Bike trail - a bridge connecting to another trail section has been removed, and the trail practically ends here.

  We turned around and rode through the Sideling Hill tunnel again, then at the western portal we parked the bikes outside the tunnel, had a snack, and Murray took me exploring through the working spaces of the tunnel. The area does have some graffiti.

 

The tour inside of the Sideling Hill Tunnel was fantastic. We went through some equipment rooms, up to the control room, and then up again into the ventilation level. The photo at left shows one of two huge blower motors that forced air into two ventilation shafts that run on top of the tunnel.

 

The photo at left shows me inside one of the two plenums, which runs out above the tunnel's vehicle level. There are holes in the floor for the lights and vents going into the tunnel below, and several are large enough that you could easily fall into the lane below.

Walking through the plenum was the coolest thing about the tour. Depending on where you stand, it seems like there are three different echo patterns. The floor is suspended from above with a row of stainless steel poles, and on one of the poles we found a tiny hibernating bat - smaller than the palm of your hand.

 

This was a very cool ride, and Murray's pointing out and explaining different interesting things made it a higher-level experience than just getting out there and riding it yourself. When we were finished by bicycle computer showed 17.1 miles and a riding time of 1+25, although we'd spent 2+30 total time on the trail with the tour included.

I highly recommend riding this trail with good lights. The western trailhead is just off the main drag in Breezewood. If you're ever in the area, or if you're in DC or Pittsburgh and looking for a somewhat different bike adventure, this is an excellent time. I also highly recommend the guided tour; Murray is an excellent guide and really added a lot to the afternoon.

^ top ^
# # #