NEW BALTIMORE, PENNSYLVANIA
I came to Pennsylvania on a scouting trip for some friends preparing a charity ride across the country. Google Maps show the most direct route from Bedford to Ligonier is through New Baltimore then up Imgrund Mountain Road. The problem was I wasn’t finding anyone who knew much about the road. (Or perhaps people knew and were unwilling to talk. Imgrund Mountain Road is believed by some to be the real crash site of Flight 93 and, as the lore goes, no outsiders are supposed to know since Flight 93 has put this area on the map.)
My dad drove the upper portion for me last week and told me it was “red dog” (look it up). But he never saw the nasty lower portion. I called the supervisor for the township and when I told him we were thinking about biking up it, he recommended against driving up it.
Non-cyclists view many hills, if not all hills, as something they wouldn’t ride on a bike. I knew that I could not rely on outside intel to make the determination if this was a safe route for my friends’ ride. I had to see it, and ride it, for myself.
I went exploring and first started up Wambaugh Hollow Road, part of the Pennsylvania Bike S Route over the mountain. I remembered on Google Maps that near the top of the climb a road connected with Imgrund Mountain Road. Except that it didn’t.
I met a local and when I asked about the road that connected to Imgrund Mountain Road he told me there may have been an old hunting trail through there but assured me the only road over the mountain started back at the base off of New Baltimore Road. And then he looked at me in disbelief when I told him I was going to ride up it. Not to be outdone, then his “friendly” dog chased me, nipping at my heels.
I descended back to New Baltimore Road and found the entrance to Imgrund Mountain Road. I saw gravel. Dirt. Rocks. And a forest floor. My immediate thought was “no way.” I almost turned back knowing the answer.
But my next thought was to see just how far I could go. So I started up the road. The first half-mile was rough. By rough I mean hard. The surface was mixed stones and dirt and even some water flowing down it creating gullies, so I couldn’t get any rhythm pedaling. I was trying to find a line that would do the least damage to my wheels.
I would not recommend a car travel up this road. Big enough for one car it has a very uneven surface and some rocks protruding from the surface. It is, however, perfect for a 4×4. And an adventurous spirit.
I kept climbing, at times getting out of the saddle but always finding the rear wheel would slip with each pedal stroke. After the first half-mile, the grade lessened some but still was considerable.
The road threw everything it had at me for two and one-half miles. Just when it seemed I was at the top I saw a curve to the left and another climb. There was heavy gravel on the curve and my GPS showed a 22% grade.
I made it and the road leveled off. The surface got better – all packed dirt or gravel and flattened out and even trended down.
But the other factor was the wind. Heavy winds were blowing and it was cold. Memorial Day weekend it was 45 degrees at the start, never getting higher than the low 50s.
I wanted to ride 10 miles over to Friedens and surprise my parents but felt uncomfortable controlling the bike in the winds. Instead, I headed to US 30 and rode back to New Baltimore.
I could not recommend this ride for anyone on a road bike. Yet a huge sense of accomplishment swelled over me. I even thought of recommending the route to my friends just so I could chide them knowing I did it and some of them couldn’t. But that would be foolish. Real foolish. I’ll find them another way over the mountain.
EPILOGUE (April 13, 2014) – I contacted Google and they have since corrected the hunting trail and the power line which showed as connecting to Imgrund Mountain Road. I still wouldn’t recommend it on a bike