Prologue II: The Yough’s Blown Aught

by davidharries

Mileage: 70
Miles so far: 113

A gladiator walks into a bar, holds up two fingers, and says, “I’ll have five beers.”


This being the preface to a TransAm journal, in great literary tradition we’ll use Roman numerals for the stuff at the beginning that everyone flips past.

Wow, last night was wet — really glad I pitched my tent on a well-drained gravel pad. I woke up this morning with a fresh moat fortifying the castle.

I like my morning coffee. I’ll admit it, I’m weak. At home I use a scale, French press and tea kettle (I know). But nuts to hauling all that rigamarole across the country when science has the answer: INSTANT COFFEE. Terrible idea that it was, I brought Trader Joe’s instant along — someone told me it was pretty good, and its own label makes the bold Columbian insinuation that you may not notice the difference. Now, I’m no instant-coffee connoisseur, so it may very well be the best, in the same way that Holiday Inn has beat-all-comers powdered eggs. This shakedown is already paying dividends. Diatribe over. Back to bikes, or whatever we were talking about.

On the trail today I pedaled a few miles with an older married couple from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who were doing an out-and-back between Cumberland and Pittsburgh. They (Kevin — didn’t get his wife’s name) do a ton of touring, so he gave me some nice TransAm tips. We also talked all about robber barons, the genesis of Amish and Mennonites from the Anabaptist movement, Native American burial rites (and rights), and, of course, cycling. Heady conversation for instant coffee, but I was delighted to listen, and for the company. We separated in Connellsville, but not before they pointed out a few old coke ovens to me. Kevin said there were once thousands in the area, back when Connellsville was the coke capital of the world under mega-baron Henry Frick. The ovens are now in disrepair, but during the depression, people who had lost their homes would shelter within.

I decided against calling it a day in Ohiopyle. The rain quit (spoiler: a brief respite) and my legs still felt good. I did stop for lunch and a break, though. Good opportunity to finish drying yesterday’s laundry and air out the tent I packed up wet. Ohiopyle is home to fewer than 100 people, but sees more than a million visitors each year: kayakers, rafters, park and Frank Lloyd Wright Fallingwater patrons, plus GAP traffic and fishing folk who come to plumb the Youghiogheny. No slammin’ trout for at least a few days with all this rain; the river’s high, muddy and scary fast. In exchange, the precipitation brought out and bulked up a ton of waterfalls, rivulets and cascades along the path, providing a cold patch as you roll along.

I saw my first tunnel today in Markleton, but it’s closed. Pinkerton tunnel, at 849 fest, is the shortest on the GAP, and the Somerset rails-to-trails group is raising funds for its repair. Every dollar donated is matched by $17 of someone else’s. Pretty good deal, if you ask me. Until then, there’s a detour — considerably longer than 849 feet.

Home tonight is Husky Haven in Rockwood (MM 45). The private campground is on the trail, with guest house, bath house and lots of extras across Casselman river in town, about half a mile away. A deal at $10, this will probably be the nicest campground I’ll be in between Pittsburgh and D.C. Hopefully it’s restorative, because tomorrow I get to climb to Deal, 2,390 feet above sea level and the GAP’s highest point, before coasting into Cumberland, a more earthly 605 feet above sea level.