I arose early, broke camp, showered, and was on the road at 6 AM. From Wellsboro to Bradford is about two hours drive, much of it along scenic Route 6. Traffic was light as I went through sleepy Galeton, Coudersport, Smethport, and other, smaller towns. My destination for the morning was Open Arms Community Church, on the edge of Bradford, for worship service and to meet with the man preparing our new website.
I arrived in time for the early service. Open Arms is a non-denominational ‘come as you are’ church, so while I felt odd not wearing a suit to church, I didn’t stick out in shorts and a t shirt. Afterward I met briefly with Josh Hatcher of Hatcher Media regarding the website you are now reading, and where I might camp that night. Josh suggested Willow Bay, in the Allegheny National Forest, and I headed out there after resupplying in town.
Willow Bay is along PA Route 364 fifteen miles west of Bradford, and as its name implies its on the Allegheny Reservoir. Arriving on a Sunday meant I had no trouble securing a campsite, but I’d arrived before the site I’d chosen opened up. While I was consulting a map trying to determine where I should go next a car with a Canadian plate pulled up to the check in booth at the front of the campground.
Despite some well publicized disdain of the United States from some outspoken Canadians, my country remains a popular land to visit for our largest neighbor. And in particular my state; the Allegheny National Forest, for instance, is within a day’s drive of half the population of Canada. I’ve seen Canadians at Pine Creek Gorge and the elk rutting in Elk County. And while the border crossing isn’t as easy as it used to be, its still not difficult.
However, the Allegheny National Forest is another matter. I don’t find the ANF website to be particularly user friendly, and neither did the Canadian family down here for the day. We were both looking for hiking, but aside from recommending we try Tracy Ridge, the nearest alternative campground, we weren’t offered much choice. Willow Bay had a short trail through the campground, but nothing else. We both left, they to Tracy Ridge, I to wander.
My wandering produced little. I didn’t want to go back to Bradford, and while I noted the North Country Trail trailhead near the campground, I didn’t feel like tackling it today. So I turned south towards Tracy Ridge.
Tracy Ridge is both a campground and a series of hiking trails in the ANF. The trails are a messy but well marked 36 miles of connecting paths from the ridgeline down to the reservoir. Most of the trails start from one trailhead, and while looking for a bathroom before starting on the trails I came across the Canadians again. This time the campground manager was more helpful, and provided not only a map of the trails but suggested parking in an unused campsite and accessing the trail from there. The Canadian family suggested I join them, and I did as we set off for what we thought would be a relatively short hike to the reservoir.
However, we’d misunderstood the instructions we were given by the campground manager. What we thought was three miles round trip to the water was three miles one way. A six mile hike, even on a trail as pretty and well marked as this one, was more than any of us bargained for. One of our group was 65 years old, and the day was very hot. So we turned around a mile and a half into the hike and went back.
The trail was beautiful, but very wet. I made a note to come back to it another time.
On returning to our cars, the Canadian family set up a late lunch and invited me to join them. I did out of politeness and in response to their insistence. While their nationality was Canadian, their heritage was Indian, and I was afraid to give offense by not accepting the offer. I ate very little, explaining I’d eaten before the hike.
Before we parted, we discussed my visiting Canada. I don’t have a passport and I’ve never been outside the United States. Anish, the leader of the group, suggested I visit Ontario, and offered to give me a tour of the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. We exchanged telephone numbers and and good wishes, and they went off to another part of the reservoir in search of scenic views. I decided to return to Willow Bay.
I set up my campsite, had dinner, went for a walk along the lake, and retired early.