Rockwood Trail House Bike Trip Report
This is a trip report for a 2004 two-day excursion from McKeesport, PA to Rockwood, PA along the Great Allegheny Passage; an overnight stay at the Rockwood Trail House; and a return trip the next day. All photos are by Mark T. Conaway.
Sometimes people ask, What's the Right Kind of Bike for the Trail? so here's pictures of our bikes, you can click on them for a full-size image that opens in a new window. Usually the right kind of bike is a hybrid or mountain bike with hybrid-width tires.
We planned our trip as a Fall Foliage ride and an overnight at the Rockwood Trail House, but we were a few weeks early for the changing colors. This was a party of four, Mark, Gregg, Joe, and Ed. For Gregg and Joe it was their first experience with this sort of distance.
Day1 started at 0400 with pancakes and lattes (kudos to my wife!). Three of us met at Gregg's at 0500, then we all rendezvoused in the Kennywood McDonalds at 0600, and drove to the trailhead in McKeesport, parking in the lower end of the police lot. We started on the trail right after sunrise at about 0650.
The Great Allegheny Passage Trail proper starts across the river from the McKeesport Marina, but there's a long-standing trail closure until Boston that's described on the ATA website. So there's an alternative trail through McKeesport that takes you to a second bridge, which joins the trail in Boston at a point beyond the closure. Fifteen minutes into our two-day ride I took a hard fall on the McKeesport alternative trail.
Why We Wear Helmets:At the south end of a paved section, there were three vertical stanchions in the trail, positioned to keep larger (motor) vehicles off the trail. Apparently the middle post is removable, and this morning the middle post was missing. I was riding fourth in line doing about 13mph. I saw the two outer posts and went between them. I never saw the base of the middle post, rising about 8" above the pavement.
My front tire missed the obstruction, but my rear tire attempted to go right over it, pitching the bike up in the air. I applied the brakes, which sent the bike rotating over the front wheel and me flying. I fell forward and went down hard head-first, major bouncing off my helmet, then hitting the ground again before coming to a stop. It's the worst fall I've had; I thought I was seriously in trouble. (The photo at left is our next-day re-enactment.)
My helmet really saved the day, I bounced my head a few feet off the concrete. If I hadn't had the straps fastened, the helmet would have landed a few feet away from my head. I was a bit dazed for a little while, some road rash on my leg and my left ribs are stiff, my right wrist took a beating, but no major injury. It really could have been much worse but for the helmet taking the impact. After a helmet takes a shot like that it loses its structural integrity-- the foam is compressed and won't absorb any subsequent shocks-- so I kept it for the trip but I won't use it again. Bell has a trade-in program for damaged helmets, they're replace it for $35, but you need the receipt so it's no dice.
It took us +50 minutes to repair the damage to the bike -- replace the rear tube, then we saw a hole in the tire that we booted with some duct tape-- and we resumed the trip. It was a nasty way to spend the first leg. Right after "the scene of the crime", the trail offers a choice of three paths without any indication of the right choice, and this photo indicates the one that you want to follow.
The day before we rode we checked the Great Allegheny Passage Group at Yahoo, and there was a message about construction on the trail between Buena Vista and Brush Creek. I was concerned about needed to detour onto Route51, but the good folks at the Regional Trail Council told us to attempt to proceed and to use good judgement. When we got out there we found a few spots of construction but we were able to move around it and it was no problem. I really recommend the Yahoo Groups for Great Allegheny Passage Group, the Montour Trail Group, and C&O Canal Group -- they're good sources of timely info.
After the spill I was pretty much wired, I think I got a bit of a boost out of almost dying. We passed through West Newton, where Gregg grew up, and it was pretty cool to ride through there and hear his stories of what happened in different places, the spot where two kids drowned, his cousin's outfitter business.
We took our first major break at the Brush Creek State Park, which has a small snack bar (drinks) and rest rooms. This was the end of the construction area and we didn't need to take any road detours.
Joe's knee was problematic, and as we approached Ohiopyle there was a group of 30 riders in the 60+ category going opposite direction, they were on a guided group tour to a Mennonite retreat center. They all had nametags on. We stopped at a waterfall and fell into conversation with a couple from the group, and the gentleman's nametage said "Dr. Whittaker". Mark asked if he was an orthaepedic and he said, "Why Yes I Am", and so Joe got a trailside consultation on his knee issue. I thought it was a remarkable scrounge to get a surgeon to look at your knee in the middle of the forest.
Ohiopyle is one of the big payoffs for your riding effort-- the country is magnificent, the waterfalls, rivers, bridges etc; the town is set up to cater to visitors; there's a country store with everything; the train station has the best rest room between Pittsburgh and DC.
For this trip, Ohiopyle also marked the two-thirds point, so it was pretty serious after Ohiopyle, and quite serious after Confluence. Somewhere around Ohiopyle/Confluence you'll lose cellphone coverage, and we didn't find it again till we returned to Ohiopyle.
We ended up completing the first day in 8:11 of actual cycling time, covering 92.3 miles. The weather was great-- cool, overcast to keep the sun off us.
We ended the first day's ride at the Rockwood Trail House, which is a trailside B&B that we've ridden past a few times but never visited before. We left the trail at 7:20 pm, and by the time we'd moved our bikes on the porch and our bags inside, it was 7:40 pm and we feared that our chance of getting a pizza was slipping away, so we walked about five blocks over to the Mill Shoppes.
The Mill Shoppes turned out to be a mini-destination of its own, there's a very nice pizza place-- they'd just closed everything up for the night when we trooped in, and they were gracious and took good care of us, even if we did look like aliens with our shorts and wierd jerseys on. We met a local businessman (Terry) who runs the Mill Shoppes, and there was a dinner theater/ murder mystery going on upstairs, so some folks were dressed up, but as for me I was just very glad to have the pizza. We walked back to the B&B in darkness.
They'd left out some muffins for us and iced tea in the fridge-- I felt quite gruntled. We used their laundry to dry our wet clothes, spent a little while in the living room and then shuffled off to our rooms at 2230. We'd have 8 hours until breakfast the next morning, which is more sleep than we usually get on a trail trip.
Read an interesting Bicycling article in the living room, with two nuggets I hadn't heard before: If the front of your knee hurts, raise the seat. If the back of your knee hurts, lower the seat. Also: If your knees hurt, switch to an easier gear. If your lungs hurt, switch to a harder gear.
The next morning at 0600 our hostess Debbie was preparing pancakes, eggs, and sausage for our 0700 breakfast. The place smelled of coffee and cooking, it was much nicer than our usual trail accommodations.
After the major breakfast we reloaded our bikes, fixed our drinks, and got back on the road. It's the shortest trip you'll ever make to get back on the trail-- it's right next to the B&B. We really enjoyed the Rockwood Trail House, and we'll probably stay there again.
The other guys had been using this chamois cream and found it effective, so I tried it in Ohiopyle and it made a huge difference in lack of suffering on the parts you sit on. It's got a funny name, "assos" (sort of an abreviation of 'ass-s.o.s.' but it worked very well. (find it here, here, or here.)
Also, Ohiopyle represents a return to cell phone coverage, so we all checked in with ThoseWhoCare.
In Ohiopyle we'd said hello to a couple that was travelling with the most heavily laden bikes I'd ever seen- their panniers were 5-gallon kitty litter buckets, they had tents and plastic boxes and bags, but they were well organized and seemed to know what they were doing. I think their panniers may have come from this place.
When we entered Connellsville we stopped at Bikes Unlimited so Gregg could get his handlebars adjusted, which they were very nice about (it's an excellent shop), then we went to Sheetz for lunch, and then the same couple we'd seen before couple rode in for their lunch.
I asked them where they were going, and they said, "Tucson". As in Arizona. Rob and Sarah are brand-new Georgetown grads with some time, and they need to be in Tucson for a December wedding, so they decided to bike down there. They were following the PA "S" route westbound, to intercept the PA "A" route southbound, down to West Virginia. They're having the bear's picture taken in each place they stop.
I made a major mistake about lunch, I ordered a ham&swiss sub, looked at the large mass of food and just ate the ham&swiss, discarding the bread. Apparently bike tours are the wrong time to try an impromptu Atkins transition; I should have eaten the bread and tossed the meat. For two hours I felt lousy and couldn't keep my previous pace, but that seemed to pass when we got to Brush Creek Park. But it took a long time to get over the choice of an unwise meal, it was a dramatic demonstration of a loss of performance due to bad eating.
Joe was riding in front of us by about a half-mile when a curious thing happened. On a straight-away, a guy on a bike came out of the trees, pedalling furiously, and caught up to him. We thought we were about to see Joe get waylaid by a highwayman. The rider seemed to hear us coming up behind him, made some coversation, and then disappeared. It was a bit wierd and in an isolated place.
As we approached West Newton I think we were all a bit tired, we stopped in the trailside bike shop (Korber's Bicycle Shop) and it was very impressive, especially their recumbent selection. I'd like to go down there and rent one for an afternoon and see what that's all about. They had a real nice Burley recumbent that was whispering "take me home" to me.
We ended up completing the second day in 7:10 of actual cycling time, covering 92.6 miles. Total time riding was 15:21, and total pedal revolutions was 78,285 for my bike at 85 rpm.
My handlebar adjustments by the Ambridge Bike Shop eliminated my previous hand numbness issues, and the chamois cream left me in a much better state than what I'd encountered after other long rides.
On this ride I carried five water bottles and found that I always had enough to drink between stops.