After a lifetime of not riding with my dad, three years ago I was able to take him on the Great Allegheny Passage which runs through his backyard in Somerset County, Pa. We went again in 2013 but missed a ride last year (despite trying but my dad was too tired the day we were going to ride). This time, we got it right.
I told my sister, Betsy, that I would meet her and Dad at Markleton, Pa. on the Great Allegheny Passage. Betsy followed him to Fort Hill, where he left his Jeep, then the two of them drove and met me at Markleton. It was in the low 60s but absolutely beautiful.
I chose this route because of the newly opened Pinkerton tunnel. Also, my dad hadn’t been this far on the trail. I knew it trended downhill from Markleton to Fort Hill and packed a lot of scenery into its five miles.
With leaves mostly still on the trees in Northern Virginia, it was strange to be here where most leaves are on the ground. The trail was fully covered in places.
Words cannot describe how pretty the trail is. We went a couple of miles then came to the Pinkerton Trestles. It was probably 10 years since I last rode through here which was always Trestle – Detour – Trestle. And that was a beautiful route.
Prior to the tunnel, the trail followed the railbed across the Pinkerton Low trestle. Rather than enter the tunnel, there was a one-mile detour out and around the tunnel which followed the natural flow of the Castleman River. But with the tunnel open it was now a straight shot from trestle to tunnel to trestle.
With the tunnel opened, it was even more beautiful. Although the trail trended downhill, it is mostly flat. One can’t coast but pedaling is a little easier in this direction. We were in a heavy forest and with leaves on the trail one could not see the surface of the trail.
And then – the trestle. We came to the Pinkerton trestle although we didn’t stop on it. We saw the tunnel and kept riding. It is not lighted, one would be helpful but is not necessary.
At the far end, we were on the Pinkerton High Trestle. We stopped and took pictures off of this one.
Reaching Fort Hill where his Jeep was parked, my dad asked, “Is this the end?” There was resignation in his voice but he wanted to keep riding. I was worried that if we rode four miles down to Harnedsville it would be too much for my 86 year-old father to ride another four miles back up to his car. I grabbed his keys and drove his Jeep down to Harnedsville. And so we rode.
Betsy and my dad rode ahead. Arriving at the trailhead with his Jeep, I rode back up to the trail to meet them and we then continued to the Harnedsville trailhead. At the end, we got a little concerned when he went into the middle of the road where the trail crosses. He stopped. This is a road normally lightly traveled, but now there was a car coming from each direction. Betsy yelled “Dad!” I got the attention of one car and motioned for him to slow or stop. All of a sudden it click and Dad said “OK!” Then he moved. Whew!
Although my Dad wanted to ride ahead and look at a church in Harnedsville, there was no way we were going to ride on the road with him. I loaded his bike in his Jeep and he drove home.
Betsy and I rode on down to Confluence. We looked for a place for a snack and found stairs leading from the trail with a bike trough to walk the bikes. The problem was the trough was on the side and not in the middle so the pedals hit the supports as I pushed the bike. Oh well.
We grabbed some cookies and a drink then rode back up to Markleton. What a gorgeous day on a bike.
UPDATE: (SEPT. 14, 2016) – This post has been updated to “My Last Ride With Dad.” With each ride, we wondered if this was our last ride with him but this ride had more of a finality to it than the others. My dad seemed a little out of it standing in the road and I worried for his safety going home. He made it safely and then promptly sold the Jeep.
He never talked about it but looking back I sense he knew his mind was failing and that it was best to sell that beat-up Jeep he loved so much. We were just talking about another ride this spring when he fell in April. I wanted one more ride. I looked at first at recumbent bikes. Handcycles. Tandems where I did the work. Ultimately, he would never ride again. And on this day we said goodbye to him we were thankful for the rides we shared with him. We were the lucky ones.