Thursday, July 30, 2015

 WELLSBORO, PA:  The sizzle-crack of cinders grinding under bike tires rolls my mind back to a childhood of riding winding cinder roads in Delaware Park in Buffalo. That same sound is ready to be released by the cinders of Pennsylvania’s Pine Creek Rail Trail, a public treasure about an hour from Wellsville. You can bike, walk, ride a covered wagon, post on your horse or wait for winter to cross country. It’s well designed and maintained and it’s free.
                Rick and I have carted our bikes to Pine Creek on several occasions to ride the popular trail. We drive over Route 6 in Pennsylvania to access the trail. Route 6 was once a destination itself and, while during the last 2 years many businesses have disappeared, there are a few interesting places along the road. If you like watching kids feed deer or “mine for gems” or if you enjoy an afternoon of antiquing, Route 6 is still worth a drive. On warmer Saturdays, there’s a large flea market with a Mennonite bake stand that generally catches Rick’s eye.
                Just after turning south from Route 6 onto Route 362 (the road to Wellsboro), you’ll see the Darling Run Access Area. While the parking areas seem large, they are often nearly full on weekend afternoons. It’s a nice staging area with composting toilets and some shady parking spots.
                The rules of the area are posted. From Darling Run to Tiadaghton Campground, horses are welcome on the gravel road while bikes are given the cinder path. Horses tend to put the odd obstacle in the way of bikers so it’s lovely that there are 2 paths following Pine Creek on the century old rail bed.
                Other than that, one might sum up the rules as, be nice. No drinking.  Ride single file on the right but listen out for people calling “On your left” when they want to pass you.
                The herds of teenagers we saw needed no additional warning sounds to announce their arrival. We knew they were behind us the way we know to watch a gaggle of geese ski onto the creek.  
                We rode a total of 25 miles from Darling Creek past Tiadaghton and back last Thursday afternoon, passing about 107 distinct riders, mostly couples. Sometimes we passed people heading north while we were going south and then found them again when we both returned so we tried not to double count people. Often it’s easy to remember outfits (a couple in black shorts, yellow shirts and orange helmets or a multi-generational Mennonite family) or bikes but some people may have been counted twice. 
                That same day we saw 9 walkers, most with dogs, and passed both the morning and afternoon covered wagon ride.
                This week we went again but arrived late on a Tuesday and rode only a few miles after setting up our camp. There were a few bikers and some afternoon picnickers with kids playing in the water but they all left by dusk when the bullfrogs began their ruckus.
                We shared the Tiadaghton Campsite with 2 other tent parties. Both of them camped with what they carried on bikes while we had arrived by car. Cars are not allowed to park in the forest overnight so had to drive to a public road. Saying that we parked on a road may cause an elevated image of what is available. It was a steep, pitted, gravel path suitable for people who tent camp. The road, chiseled out of a hill, was made with no thought of future paving, Glamping or RV travel.  
                In the morning, we started riding south, passing nobody for half an hour. The sun skipped on the creek where deer waded but the shady trail stayed pleasantly cool. We steered around the huge Narceus americanus centipedes struggling across the path and stopped to photograph a rattlesnake as it glided and sidled in the weeds.
                We rode, rested, ate, drank and watched as we covered about 16 miles before finding the wisdom to head back. On that ride we saw about 115 bike riders, several in groups of 8 or more. Serious bikers sped, Amish families laughed, groups of teens raced, fishermen and campers trundled their kits but only 2 walkers were out.
                Some bike riders rented rooms or cabins or camped in RVs. One couple hadn’t ridden the trail for 15 years and remarked that more of the rail bed had been developed so that it is now 63 miles long instead of just a short ride. They also said that shade trees had grown nicely and that the businesses along the way are new.  
               One of those businesses is Ole Covered Wagon Tours that offers both waterfall rides and covered wagon rides.  We found some interesting little stores. At Blackwell the main draw may be ice cream. Their weekend was so busy that they were still out of some favorite flavors but they had other snacks and offered house, cabin, room and inner tube rentals near the hotel. They also sold water, campfire wood and hand woven work.
                Further south at the Cedar Run Access Area are other accommodations including a bed and breakfast, a hotel, restaurants and a charming store with ice cream, drinks, lunches and the most unusual round ice box just inside the front door. A sign stated that public restrooms were 3 miles away on the trail but their shady porch and bike racks could be used.
                Signs for rafting businesses and accommodations are sprinkled along the trail as are signs regarding private property. Even though much of the surrounding land is private, Pine Creek Rail Trail is a wonderfully manicured area open to anyone.

NOTES:      Pennsylvania State Forests campsites are free but require permits from the appropriate office. Explore the website for details. Camp areas have tables and food poles (for hanging food bags off the ground). These tent-only camp grounds are smooth, flat, nicely-mowed fields.  There are water pumps where a minute of vigorous work will reward with a few minutes of water flow but the water is not tested and not deemed potable. There are composting toilets with hand sanitizer. Areas are carry in/carry out with no trash receptacles.
                Bugs may be wildly numerous and active while cell phone service is nil. A GPS bike map app will work. There is no electricity, no lights. After noon the trail is sunny and warm. If you park at Darling Run and ride south, the closest place to buy food or water will be 16 miles south (slightly downhill) in Blackwell.
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ice box  - The ice goes in the top segment.

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