JOHNSTOWN (FRANKLIN), PENNSYLVANIA
I was looking at the Winter 2020 edition of Rails to Trails magazine and saw a very brief article about the Allegheny Portage Railroad. I had seen the eastern end many times, it is well preserved as a National Park Historic Site but I had not been on the western end.
In 2010, on my first ride from Somerset to Punxsutawney, I had taken a wrong turn and ended up at the trailhead of the Path of the Flood Trail. I turned around when the pavement ended and the trail became crushed limestone.
I wonder what adventure I would have had if I had stayed on the trail that day. Lost, that’s what adventure.
But today I decided I would do a loop by following the trail to South Fork then taking the road back to where I had parked. The forecast was for rain starting around 11:00 a.m. so I went early.
I drove to the trailhead but the park was closed. Not sure if it was the season (a weekday in March) or was in response to the Coronavirus. I went back into Franklin and parked on the street.
It started to rain as soon as I started to pedal. I was in it to win it and the rain would not stop me.
It was here the trail would have been a true “rail-trail” because in this section it followed the path of the Allegheny Portage Railroad. And the surface felt like it. There was the “climb” up to the tunnel. It was probably about 6-7% grade, and while I could ride it, it took me a few steps before I could get going.
I decided to try it. I would ride deep into the tunnel and see if I could see. I had a helmet light and a small portable flashlight. I started pedaling and scanned the flashlight back and forth. I made noise, lots of noise. I was fearful there may be an animal or two in the tunnel. At some point, maybe halfway, I could begin to make out some daylight.
But I went, down and under the train tracks and across the bridge into Mineral Point. This town was virtually wiped out in the 1889 flood. Here I picked up the Path of the Flood Trail. The trail climbed on the north side of the river. It was never a hard climb but a gradual one.
The Pennsylvania Rail Road needed to get trains back in service and amazingly, had a new structure in place within two weeks! A permanent stone structure built in the early 1890s.
I got into South Fork and planned on taking the road back. But first, I wanted to continue east towards the remnants of the dam, which I have seen many times. But then heavy rains came. I turned around and decided to head back to the car.
I had gone a little more than two miles when I pulled over to put on my glasses. I couldn’t find them. I had started the day wearing sunglasses, despite the absence of sun, to keep the rain out of my eyes. But they had fogged up and eventually, I tucked them away. They were in my back jacket pocket and now they weren’t. They had fallen out when I got my phone out at the tunnel and I thought they must have fallen out somewhere between the tunnel and South Fork.
At first, I decided to roll on without them. It was raining, and cold. The glasses served me many miles but they were old. My $50 investment would be gone. I went about half a mile farther and decided I would backtrack and I may find the glasses. I knew no one would be on the trail and if they fell out, I would find them. They had white frames, not black, so should be easy to spot. I made the decision I would trace my route to Mineral Point but not the final section through the tunnel as it was pretty rough riding.
On my way back, as I came to the viaduct, the morning fog had lifted and I went for a photo. Then I took the flashlight out of my jacket and put it in my jersey pocket. There wasn’t room. My glasses were in my jersey. Duh! I must have put them there after they fell out of my jacket. They were with me the entire time.
I rolled on to Mineral Point. As I crossed the bridge a geyser of sealant came gushing out of my front tire. I had a leak. I quickly turned around for a slight downhill section to go as fast as I could to rotate the wheel and get the sealant to seal it. It worked. I think.
I started the climb on the road out of Mineral Point. The tubeless tire seemed to have sealed. This road was steep. It was also about 3 1/2 miles. I got to the top, turned right, and began the coast home. I was worried about the tire but it appeared to be holding. I got back to the car and tried to wipe the bike down. I inflated the tire as it was down to 35 psi (from 80) I put it back to 80 and it appeared to hold. I drove through Johnstown on my way to a bike shop. Then I heard the tire. It was leaking again. A not so good ending to a wet and otherwise, perfect, day.
EDIT/EPILOGUE – The great tubeless experiment 2020 lasted little more than a month. I needed to get a repair fast and City Cycles in Johnstown was closed – forced closed by the governor. I called Paul McIntyre, in Pittsburgh. Paul had been my go-to mechanic in Reston before moving to Pittsburgh. Their bike shop was also forced to close but Paul met me in a dark alley in Pittsburgh and we repaired the tire so I could ride another day.